Sunday, September 11, 2016

George J. Adler

In the last year of his life, George J. Adler (1821-1868) wrote from Bloomingdale Asylum to Henry Theodore Tuckerman. Adler and Tuckerman were both old friends of Herman Melville. Tuckerman mentioned his communications from Adler to another mutual friend, Evert A. Duyckinck:
"Poor Adler writes me incoherent notes--the last from Bloomingdale Asylum. His last trouble is the non-appearance of his notice of "Nathan the Wise" in Putnam & he seems to imagine you responsible for the neglect--says you have been kind in the past & he hopes you will do him justice in the future, attributing the non appearance of his article to a difference of theological opinion--you believing in the divinity of the Church & he in a Bhramanic [Brahmanic] theory! whereas, I believe, the notice was too long & Putnam curtailed or omitted it--after paying Adler $15. If, however, you can do, say or write anything to soothe the poor man--who is evidently very ill & tormented in mind--I hope you will do so. I called to say this, but finding you out, send this line."--Henry Theodore Tuckerman, letter to Evert A. Duyckinck dated May 12th [1868]; now in the Duyckinck family papers, Manuscript and Archives Division, The New York Public Library.
The September 1868 issue of Putnam's included Adler's unsigned article on Nathan the Wise, for which (as Tuckerman explained to Duyckinck) they had already paid fifteen dollars.

Adler's authorship of the unsigned article in Putnam's Magazine on Nathan the Wise is perhaps not so widely known as it should be. Herbert Rowland guesses it might have been written by Edmund Clarence Stedman (another friend of Melville's) in his article on "Laocoon, Nathan the Wise, and the Contexts of Their Critical Reception in Nineteenth-Century American Reviews" in Practicing Progress: The Promise and Limitations of Enlightenment.

In June 1868 Adler received the honorary Ph.D. from the University of the City of New York. Adler died August 24, 1868. Melville and Duyckinck both attended his funeral. The obituary notice in the New York Evening Post (August 24, 1868) ended with this tribute to his reputation:
"Professor Adler was much respected, both for his scholarly attainments and for his personal virtues."
The New York Tribune (August 25, 1868) stated also that Professor Adler
"numbered among his friends many of our most eminent citizens."
Dictionary of American Biography
 Adler's real and debilitating paranoia was on display in Letters of a Lunatic.

In 1860 Melville had joined with Tuckerman, Evert and George Duyckinck, and many other named subscribers to secure publication of Adler's translation of Fauriel's History of Provençal Poetry.

Sanford E. Marovitz examines the influence of Adler on Melville and his writing in More Chartless Voyaging: Melville and Adler at Sea. And again in the chapter on “Correspondences: Paranoiac Lexicographers and Melvillean Heroes” in Ungraspable Phantom: Essays on Moby-Dick.

Here's an item I have not seen before. One year before his death at the age of 47, Adler lectured before "a rather small audience" on a subject of probable interest to his old friend Herman Melville: 
LITERATURE OF THE MOSLEMS IN SPAIN. Prof. Adler, well known as a German lexicographer and classic scholar, delivered a lecture last evening in the small chapel of the New-York University, on the polite literature of the Moslems in Spain. The lecturer evinced an extensive acquaintance with the spirit and manner of Arabic literature, both in its earlier and later days, especially its poetry, which was illustrated with examples selected from different periods. It was listened to with satisfaction by a rather small audience.  --New York Tribune, Friday, March 29, 1867.
Adler's 1867 lecture was printed in a pamphlet titled "The Poetry of the Arabs in Spain," available online courtesy of the Hathi Trust Digital Library.

Many letters from George J. Adler to George Duyckinck and Evert A. Duyckinck are digitized and available online in the Duyckinck family papers, Manuscript and Archives Division, The New York Public Library. The image below shows the second page of Adler's February 16, 1850 letter to George Duyckinck:

George J. Adler, letter to George Duyckinck dated February 16, 1850
From The New York Public Library
“Our friend Mr. Melville has, I hope, long ago reached his home again safely, and you will have gained from him an account of our voyage and peregrinations in England and London. I regretted his departure very much; but all that I could do to check and fix his restless mind for a while at last was of no avail. His loyalty to his friends at home and the instinctive impulse of his imagination to assimilate and perhaps to work up into some beautiful chimaeras (which according to our eloquent lecturer on Plato here, constitute the essence of poetry and fiction) the materials he had already gathered in his travels, would not allow him to prolong his stay.”
On another page of the same letter near the close, Adler writes:
"I beg you to give my regards to your brother, Mr. Melville and any other friends that you may happen to meet."
Several of these letters from Paris to George Duyckinck also close with Adler's request, "my kind regards to your brother and Mr. Melville." Spelled in one letter, "Melleville."

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