Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Rewriting Old Zack

The previous post identified the 1847 newspaper source for Melville's physical description of Zachary Taylor in Yankee Doodle. With Melville's base-text in the New York Herald of June 30, 1847 before us, we can compare the original article with Melville's version to see exactly how Melville adapted it for comic effects. A closer look at Melville's changes may prove interesting and instructive.

Here's the author of Typee and Omoo at work, rewriting Old Zack. (The source is shown in black text; Melville's rewrite in blue.)
The hero of Buena Vista,
The hero of Buena Vista,
around whose military brow so many chaplets of fame have been thrown
upon the crown of whose caput have descended so many interleaved chaplets of fame
presents in his personal appearance many of those striking stamps of nature, which mark the gentleman and the officer.
presents in his general exterior personal appearance many of those extraordinary characteristics distinctive of the noble spirit tabernacled within.
Of an average medium height, being about five feet nine inches,
Of about the common length of ordinary mortals—say about five feet, nine inches, and two barley corns, Long Measure—
he inclines to a heaviness of frame and general well-developed muscular outline, with some tendency to corpulency; of square build, he now inclines to stoop;
he rather leans to a squat colossalness of frame and universal spread of figure, particularly on the lower part of the abdominal regions. To counteract a bulging forth of the latter parts, he is said to wear a truss of peculiar conformation. This circumstance, however, is not as yet fully established. Of a thick set and quadratular build, he now inclines to tenuity in the parts lying round about the calf.
and from the great equestrian exercise the nature of his life has led him necessarily to undergo, his inferior extremities are somewhat bowed.
Originally of great agility of the locomotive apparatus, he now betrays on his partially denuded head a want of energy in the capillary tubes of the hair, as his digestive machinery is liable to frequent suspensions of activity. 
His expansive chest shows him capable of undergoing that vast fatigue through which he has passed amid the hummocks and savannahs of Florida, and the still more recent fields of Mexico.
His broad and expanded chest shows the hero fully capable of encountering the prodigious fatigues of war, whether in the interminably interlocked everglades of the Floridian southerly terminus of the Republic, or upon the wide-spreading and generally level table-land savannahs of Mexico.
His face is expressive of great determination—
His face is a physignomical phenomenon, which Lavater would have crossed the Atlantic to contemplate. Of soul-awing determination of expression and significant of inflexible and immovable ironness of purpose,
yet, still so softened by the kindlier feelings of the soul, as to render the perfect stranger prepossessed in his behalf.
it (the external features of the countenance) are softened down and melted into a kindly benevolence which would prepossess a perfect stranger in his favor.
His head is large, well-developed in the anterior regions,
His head is large, extremely well dev[el]oped in the frontal quarter, but not classically elegant in the anterior portion. To employ an expressive, though somewhat rude comparison, it appears as if squshed between his shoulders. By close observers, the lobe of the right ear is thought to be depressed more than the corresponding auricular organ, on the lateral part of the caput. 
and covered with a moderate quantity of hair, now tinged by the coloring pencil of time, which he wears parted on one side, and brushed down.
In early adolescence of a beautiful amber or brown color, the hair, through the gradual ravages of time, has assumed a speckled, pepper and salt external appearance. In a most touching manner the thin and scattered locks are parted picturesquely on one side and combed slickly over the brows.
His eyebrows are heavy, and extend over the optic orbit; the eye grey, full of fire, and expressive when his mental powers are called into play, yet reposing as if in pleasant quiet, when in ordinary.—
The latter are Jupiternian in their awful bushiness—the hairy appendage curling over upon the optic orbits. His frown is Olympian and strikes terror and confusion into the overwhelmed soul of the spectator. The muscular energy of the brows is truly extraordinary. When ever their pupular is under mental excitation, they frequently become knit together in wrinkular pleats like unto the foldular developments under the lateral shoulder of the rhinoceros species of animated nature. His eye is Websternian, though grey. The left organ somewhat effects the dexter side of the socket, while examined by a powerful telescope several minute specks are observable in the pupil of the sinister orbit. But this detracts not from the majesty of its expression: the sun even has its spots. When the hero's soul is lashed into intellectual agitation by the external occurrence of irritating and stimulating circumstance, the eye assumes an inflamed and fiery appearance. The scantiness of the lashes and their short and singed appearance are ascribable, perhaps, to their vicinity to the pupil when thus kindled into fury. When a mental calm, however, pervades the serene soul of the hero, a Saucernian placidity is diffused over the entire visionary orb. 
His nose is straight, neither partaking of the true Grecian nor Roman order; his lips thin, the upper firm, and the lower slightly projecting.
The nostrilian organ, or proboscis. is straight, but neither inclining to the Roman, or Grecian, or, indeed, the Doric or Composite order of nasal architecture. 
The outline of his face is oval, the skin wrinkled, and deeply embrowned by the many tropical suns to which he has been exposed.
The labial appendages (suspended just under the proboscis) are attenuated—the upper tightly and firmly spread upon the dental parts beneath; and the lower pendant and projecting as represented in the prints. The outline of the caput, generally, is an ovalular elipsis inclining to the rotund, but having no predisposition to the quadrangular. The obvious cuticle or scarf-skin is wrinkled, freckled, and embrowned—doubtless through age and constant exposure to the ardent rays of the Floridian and Mexicanian sun combined. 
His manners are frank, social, and no one ever left his company, without feeling that he had been mingling with a gentleman of the true olden times.
The manner of the hero is frank and companionable—and never did mortal leave his society without being constantly impressed with the unavoidable conviction that he had been conversing with a good fellow and a gentleman. 
He at times appears in deep meditation, and is then not always accessible. In his military discipline he is firm, and expects all orders emanating from his office to be rigidly enforced and observed —
At times he is seen in deep and earnest meditation—the left auricular organ with the head attached thereto, deposited upon the open palm and outspread digits of the manual termination of the arm. At other times he assumes when meditating quite a different posture; the fore finger of the left hand being placed on the dexter side of the proboscis. In his military discipline, he is firm and unyielding to the last degree of military inflexibility—
treating his men not as helots or slaves, but exercising only that command which is necessary for the good of the whole. To the younger officers under him, he is peculiarly lenient — often treating their little faults more with a father's forgiveness, than with the judgment of a ruler.
but is, nevertheless, remarkably lenient to those under him, officers and privates included. Particularly to the youthful portion of his command, whom he treats with all the indulgence of a paternal relative or guardian—often permitting them to lay a-bed late in the morning, when the battle is raging at the fiercest.  
In his general toilet he does not imitate the Beau Brummels and band-box dandies of the present fashionable epoch, but apparels his person in unison with his age, and has no great predilection for the uniform.
In his general toilet he is far from imitating a Brummellian precision and starchedness of cravat. 
In this, however, he is by no means peculiar, for a majority of our regular military gentlemen seldom appear in their externals on duty; and the stations to which General Taylor has been assigned, have been in the warm and sunny south, rendering the heavy blue cloth undress coat disagreeable to the physical feelings.
He has no violent predilection for his regimentals and seldom appears in them, which, in fact, is the case with most of his officers, of whom it is even observed, that “they seldom appear in externals on duty,”—a habit indicative of superiority to foppish adornments, but might be construed by the fastidious into a want of good taste and decorousness. Their custom in this respect, however, is defensible upon the ground, that called by Divine Providence to perform their martial functions in the genial and delightful regions of the sunny south, the cumbersome military costume, or, indeed, any dress at all, “is disagreeable to the physical feelings."
I have generally seen him in a pair of grey trowsers,
The hero himself may be usually seen by an ordinary spectator arrayed in a pair of sheep's grey pants, shapeless and inclined to bagging—the latter predisposition being imputed, by a reflecting observer, to the singular fact that the hero never wears the common-place articles called suspenders.
a dark vest, and either a brown or speckled frock coat, reaching lower than would suit the starched and prim bucks of modern civilization. 
His coat is generally of a brownish tinge which in some cases is to be imputed to the original color imparted to the cloth when in the vat of the dyer, and in other cases to an heroic disregard of dust and oleaginous spots on the part of the ungent wearer. His vest usually, though not invariably, is of a darksome hue—resembling the ordinary sable. 
He wears a long black silk neck-handkerchief, the knot not looking as if he had been torturing himself to arrange it before a full-length mirror;
He wears a long crumpled black silk neck-handkerchief, much knotted and super-twisted, and evidently not put on with any great degree of care. But the carelessness with which it is tied in no respect approaches to the studied artlessness of the Byronic bow. The shirt collar is open, revealing considerable superfluous hair just above region of the thorax and windpipe, and betokening a disdain of Gouraud's Depillatory. Several individual hairs partake of the greyish tinge of the sparse covering of the head. 
he sometimes wears a white hat, resembling in shape those used by our flat-boatmen,
The hero sometimes wears a white wool hat, much marked by indentation, and irregular depressions and prominences upon the crown. It resembles in most respects the castor of a Mississippi flat-boatman.—
and a pair of common soldier shoes, not much polished.
His shoes are the common cow-hide sandals served out by the Commissary Departmtent to the free use of the army. They are usually stringless and not much polished.
For further study:
Related post:
Gouraud Bottle via Hair Raising Stories


  1. Applied to an ant or a flea such portly terms might justly be deemed unwarrantably grandiloquent. But when Old Zachary is the text, the case is altered.

    1. Ha! In some places Old Zack sounds like the Whale, in others Ahab. The reference in his newspaper source to the hero's "great determination" made Melville think "ironness." Old Zack's face can display "soul-awing determination of expression" and "inflexible and immovable ironness of purpose."

      "Swerve me? The path to my fixed purpose is laid with iron rails, whereon my soul is grooved to run."