Saturday, January 7, 2017

Battle-Pieces in the New York Commerical Advertiser

New York Commercial Advertiser
August 23, 1866

The following notice of Melville's Battle-Pieces appeared in the New York Commercial Advertiser on September 5, 1866. In my transcription, ellipses within brackets indicate deletions from the text of Melville's prose Supplement as originally published in Battle-Pieces.


Harper & Brothers publish "Battle Pieces and Aspects of the War," by Herman Melville. Mr. Melville has not been heard from for a long time, and a book, even of poetry, will be welcomed from his pen. The present volume is full of poems suggested by the war, and concludes with a prose supplement, in which the author ventilates his political "policy," and offers some suggestions to his countrymen. We quote a few lines:
It is enough, for all practical purposes, if the South have been taught by the terrors of civil war to feel that secession, like slavery, is against destiny; that both now lie buried in one grave; that her fate is linked with ours; and that together we comprise the nation. [...] Is it probable that the grandchildren of General Grant will pursue with rancor, or slur by sour neglect, the memory of Stonewall Jackson? [...] Supposing a happy issue out of present perplexities, then, in the generation next to come, Southerners there will be yielding allegiance to the Union, feeling all their interests bound up in it, and yet cherishing, unrebuked, that kind of feeling for the memory of the soldiers of the fallen Confederacy that Burns, Scott and the Ettrick Shepherd felt for the memory of the gallant clansmen, ruined through their fidelity to the Stuarts—a feeling whose passion was tempered by the poetry imbuing it, and which in no wise affected their loyalty to the Georges, and which, it may be added, indirectly contributed excellent things to literature. But, setting this view aside, dishonorable would it be in the South were she willing to abandon to shame the memory of brave men who with signal personal disinterestedness warred in her behalf, though from motives, as we believe, so deplorably astray. Patriotism is not baseness, neither is it inhumanity. The mourners who this Summer bear flowers to the mounds of the Virginian and Georgian dead are, in their domestic bereavement and proud affection, as sacred in the eye of Heaven as are those who go with similar offerings of tender grief and love into the cemeteries of our Northern martyrs; and yet, in one aspect, how needless to point the contrast. Frankly let us own—what it would be unbecoming to parade were foreigners concerned—that our triumph was won not more by skill and bravery than by superior resources and crushing numbers; that it was a triumph, too, over a people for years politically misled by designing men, and also by some honestly erring men, who, from their position could not have been otherwise than broadly influential; a people who though indeed they sought to perpetuate the curse of slavery, and even extend it, were not the authors of it, but (less fortunate, not less righteous than we) were the fated inheritors, a people who, having a like origin with ourselves, share essentially in whatever worthy qualities we may possess. [...] The blacks, in their infant pupilage to freedom, appeal to the sympathies of every human[e] mind. The paternal guardianship which, for the interval, Government exercises over them, was prompted equally by duty and benevolence. Yet such kind[li]ness should not be allowed to exclude kind[li]ness to communities who stand nearer to us in nature. For the future of the freed slaves we may well be concerned; but the future of the whole country, involving the future of the blacks, urges a paramount claim upon our anxiety. [...]
The maintenance of Congressional decency in the future will rest mainly with the North. Rightly will more forbearance be required from the North than the South, for the North is victor. [...] The (test) oath is alterable; and in the wonted fluctuations of parties not improbably it will undergo alteration, assuming such a form, perhaps, as not to bar the admission into the National Legislature of men who represent the populations lately in revolt. [...] --New York Commercial Advertiser, September 5, 1866
Among other fine things, the 1866 newspaper excerpt omits Melville's careful and, for academic essayists and conference goers, still exemplary way of grounding his discussion in respect for the human dignity of every person. Before Melville says one word about "slaves" or "blacks," he gets us thinking about people as people: "our unfortunate fellow-men late in bonds." In case we lost the point (somehow missing or dismissing his relabeling of slavery as "atheistical iniquity") Melville reminds us: "fellow-men." The New York Commercial Advertiser deliberately skipped this essential and repeatedly stated ground-rule of Melville's discussion.
Long extracts from Melville's "Supplement" also graced the favorable review of Battle-Pieces published in the New York Herald on September 3, 1866. The Herald did not reprint Melville's view of slavery as "an atheistical iniquity." Unlike the Commercial Advertiser, however, the Herald did give one reference by Melville to "the blacks, our fellow men."

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