Who has not read with delight the charming books of Life and Adventure in the South Seas, by Herman Melville? They first truly presented to the world men and manners in this enchanting region. The Mercantile Library Lecture this evening will present their author as a public speaker, and we know of no one half as well qualified as he to transport us, in fancy, to the ever clear sky and ever green shores of the Pacific Islands--to observe the strange life of a people to whom nature offers, without labor, a perpetual feast--or to lead us on the dashing adventures of whale fishing in the surrounding seas. --Baltimore Sun, February 8, 1859
Baltimore Daily Exchange - February 8, 1859
Melville's lecture on "The South Seas" at the Universalist Church in Baltimore was favorably reviewed the next day in the Baltimore Sun. Edited versions by Merton M. Sealts, Jr. in Melville as Lecturer and the Northwestern-Newberrry edition of The Piazza Tales and Other Prose Pieces give fuller reconstructions of all Melville's lectures, based on extant newspaper accounts. But I like this one, transcribed below, for the picture of Melville paddling through his subject.
"He would not repeat old sayings, or summon back the memories of old
voyagers, but would paddle among its aspects at large, whether personal
Although banished to endnotes in twentieth-century editions, as a variant, the paddling image sounds like Melville's (rather than the reviewer's) and recalls the way Taji and company canoed from isle to isle in Mardi.
When Melville lectured there in early 1859, the old Universalist Church at Calvert and Pleasant had long served as a public meeting place. Five years later the building was dedicated for worship by the congregation of St. Francis Xavier Roman Catholic Church, "the first African American Catholic Church in the United States."
St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church - Calvert & Pleasant Streets, Baltimore
via Library of Congress
From the Baltimore Sun, February 9, 1859:
MERCANTILE LIBRARY LECTURES.--Herman Melville, Esq., of Pittsfield, Mass, delivered the tenth lecture of the course before the Mercantile Library Association last night, at the Universalist Church, Calvert street. His subject was "The South Seas," being a narrative of personal experience among the Archipelagoes, and the Polynesian isles that lie scattered through that ocean, like stars in the heavens. His subject, the lecturer said, was literally an expansive one, and embraced an arena he would not dare say how much. He would not repeat old sayings, or summon back the memories of old voyagers, but would paddle among its aspects at large, whether personal or otherwise.
The name South Seas, generally applied to this body of water, is synonymous with Pacific ocean, which was afterwards applied to it because of the tranquility of its waters. Little was known of the "South Seas" by Americans until 1848-- The discovery of gold in California, in that memorable year, first opened the Pacific and made its waters a thoroughfare for American ships. Much might be said of the finny inhabitants of this waste of waters--of the sword-fish, and the tilts he runs with ships; of the devil-fish, and the weird yarns of the sailors concerning him. The lecturer only wondered the great naturalist, Agazzis [Agassiz], did not back his carpet bag and betake him to Nantucket, and from thence to the South Seas--the argosy of wonders. The birds, also, in their variety and strange plumage--birds never seen elsewhere--were a study.
The South Seas, or Pacific Ocean, is reckoned to embrace one-half of the earth's surface, or an expanse of one hundred millions of square miles. Explorations have failed to rend away the veil of its mysteries, and every expedition thither has brought discoveries of new islands until on our maps the ink of one is run into another. A lone inhabitant on one of these islands would be as effectually separated from his fellow man as the inhabitant of another world. They would be good asylums, the lecturer said, for the free lovers and Mormons to rear their pest houses in--provided the natives, degraded as they are, did not object.
The lecturer spoke of several adventurers who went in search of mystical spots, said to be embosomed somewhere in these seas. They were like those who went to Paradise--they probably found the good they sought, for they never returned more. There were only two places where adventurers can most effectually disappear, and they are London and the South Seas.
The lecturer spoke of the "beach hovers," class of adventurers, or those cast by accident or chance upon the Polynesian Isles. This cognomen was derived from the fact that they always hovered upon the shores, and seemed every moment on the point of disembarking. He also alluded to the natives and their modes of tattooing. Unless a man submits to be tattooed, he is looked upon as damned, which was the case with the speaker, as he frequently resisted the importunities of the native artists to sit. The tattooing, like the uniform of a soldier, is here symbolical of the Isle, or class to which the person belongs. The lecture abounded in interesting personal narratives, and held the interest of the audience to the close.
In the second volume of Abraham Lincoln: A Life, historian Michael Burlingame cites a newspaper clipping of an 1879 letter to the editor of the Chicago Tribune in which Lincoln's friend Herrring Chrisman (1823-1911) recalled the president-elect's determination, early in 1861, to conciliate pro-Union Virginians. The scene that Chrisman wrote about happened in Springfield, Illinois before Lincoln left for Washington, and before the Virginia Secession Convention. Professor Burlingame quotes the part of Chrisman's published reminiscence that detailed specific actions Lincoln would commit to for the sake of preserving the Union, including his promises to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act and "protect slavery" where it legally existed already:
"Tell them I will execute the fugitive slave law better than it has ever been. I can do that. Tell them I will protect slavery in the states where it exists. I can do that. Tell them they shall have all the offices south of Mason's and Dixon's line if they will take them. I will send nobody down there as long as they execute the offices themselves." --Abraham Lincoln: A Life, Volume 2, page 120
In Lincoln and the Civil War, Professor Burlingame summarizes Lincoln's stand, repeating the key concessions in the order that Chrisman gave them in 1879:
Lincoln evidently believed that if he could frame an inaugural address that was conciliatory enough for Southern Unionists, yet firm enough to satisfy Republican hard-liners, and then show the South by his actions--enforcing the Fugitive Slave Law, not interfering with slavery in the states where it existed, not appointing antislavery zealots to federal posts in the Southern states--that he was no John Brown, then the crisis would pass. --Lincoln and the Civil War
Professor Burlingame does not deal with all of Chrisman's letter. Professor Crofts cites Burlingame for the good evidence of Lincoln's pragmatism, without elaborating on Chrisman's 1879 letter. Crofts does cite important corroborating evidence of Chrisman's role, in letters from H. Chrisman to William C. Rives written in early February 1861, extant among the William Cabel Rives papers in the Library of Congress. Neither historian mentions the "look of unutterable grief" that Chrisman observed on Lincoln's face. According to Chrisman, Lincoln's expression of "mournful sadness" reflected his private expectation of failure in the effort to prevent civil war. Chrisman attributed Lincoln's gloom to his understanding that southerners would not finally abide the restriction of slavery to slave-holding states in the South.
In reporting Lincoln's promises to Virginia Unionists and the anguish they evoked in the president-elect, Chrisman also quoted Lincoln as saying something never attributed to him since:
His Prevision of the War—The Reply He Made to Virginia—"Slavery Is a Sin, and Ought Not to Be Extended, and I Can't Go Back on Myself."
To the Editor of the Tribune.
ABINGDON, Ill., Oct. 22.—Seeing the marked interest attracted to the period of the inauguration of Lincoln by the recent publication of several papers from the "Diary of a Public Man," it has seemed not improbable that some of your readers would perhaps be interested to know, if any one could tell, at what point of time it became known to this "unlettered greenhorn," to whom the Republican party had so recklessly intrusted "the life of the Nation," —became fully aware we were engaged in a war with the "dissatisfied" States. This knowledge came to him, as most of his knowledge did, by the slow process of his reasoning powers, before he left Springfield, and before the Virginia Convention had even met to consider the position that State would take, and it came round in this wise: Mr. Lincoln's chief point of anxiety, between the election and inauguration, was to have the "border States" stay, and he kept up negotiations with the Union men of Virginia to secure that end until the result of that election was known. Along with the news of their triumphant success came a letter from Col. John B. Baldwin, since dead, stating the danger was immense, and refusing to be responsible for the result in convention at all without an implicit declaration from Mr. Lincoln of a policy on which he could safely intrench, giving him a cart blanche, without so much as a hint of what it should be, but so ably and succinctly setting forth the situation he should have to meet as to make us at once and fully sensible a crisis had come. Mr. Lincoln took the letter in the evening, for "a night to reflect." and promised to return it with his answer next morning at 8 o'clock. Precisely, almost to the moment, he came with the letter to my room, and his answer made up, and it was this: "Tell them I will execute the Fugitive Slave law better than it ever has been. I can do that. Tell them I will protect Slavery in the Sates where it exists. I can do that. Tell them they shall have all the offices south of Mason and Dixon's line if they will take them. I will send nobody down there as long as they will execute the offices themselves." This much he intended for "them." "But," said he, with a mournful sadness it was impossible to hear without deep sympathy at once, "all this will do no good. They are in a position where they must have the right to carry slavery into the territory of the United States. I have lived my whole life and fought this thing through on the idea that slavery is a sin and ought not to be extended, and I can't go back on myself." Without salutation or other word he unfolded himself and stalked out with a look of unutterable grief, and I laid down and wept. Our minds at his last words had met. We felt what it meant. And war was the word we saw at that instant, red-handed, and grim, and distinct. The negotiation with Virginia was transferred to Washington, and he got himself there as quick and as safe as he could. He went there to fight, and, if need be, to die.
H. CHRISMAN. --Chicago Tribune, October 25, 1879.
Chrisman's published letter was widely reprinted in contemporary newspapers under the heading "A Reminiscence of Lincoln"; for example in the New York Times on Friday, October 31, 1879; the Daily Saratogian on November 6, 1879, the Cleveland Leader on November 7, 1879, the Staunton Spectator (Staunton, Virginia) on November 11, 1879, and the Philadelphia Inquirer on November 26, 1879. Various reprintings do not always include the writer's published signature, "H. Chrisman," but the ones I have seen all include the statement attributed to Lincoln that "slavery is a sin and ought not to be extended." Below, Chrisman's letter as reprinted in the Staunton Spectator, November 11, 1879; accessible online via Chronicling America, Library of Congress.
Staunton Spectator - November 11, 1879
A different version of Herring Chrisman's 1879 newspaper reminiscence appears in the Memoirs of Lincoln, published in 1930 by Herring's son, William Herring Chrisman, with an editorial note of introduction by John Houston Harrison. According to the son's Foreword, these memoirs were "written in the year 1900, as a family record." Revisions in this later 1900 account include the addition of descriptive details that locate the scene more particularly in the writer's Springfield hotel room, where Lincoln entered and "sat down upon the bed." Lincoln's "look of unutterable grief" has become "a look of anguish I shall never forget." Regarding enforcement of the Fugitive Slave law, Lincoln in the revised version believes "my people will let me do that," introducing considerations of party and politics that did not qualify the commitment as reported in the 1879 version, "I can do that." In a significant addition, Lincoln's Virginia-born friend now credits their "Southern blood" as the basis of their shared understanding of the inevitability of war.
"We were both of Southern blood and knew what the South would do."
In the introductory note to the 1930 volume Memoirs of Lincoln, J. Houston Harrison (like Chrisman in the body of his memoirs) seems keen to emphasize not only Lincoln's friendship with Herring Chrisman, but also his kinship as the grandson of Bathsheba Herring. This Bathsheba was the sister of Herring Chrisman's maternal great grandfather:
Through her marriage to Captain Abraham Lincoln, their son Thomas, the President's father, inherited maternal strains of Colonial ancestry among the most prominent in Old Augusta, later Rockingham County, Virginia.--Introduction, Memoirs of Lincoln
The revised version keeps the essential point about Lincoln's non-negotiable stand on the extension of slavery "into the territories," but drops altogether Lincoln's quoted conviction that "slavery is a sin."
That letter was submitted to him as soon as it came to my quarters at the hotel. It was received late at night. He asked to take it for reflection and promised his answer at eight o'clock in the morning. Promptly to the hour he came stalking gloomily in, and without salutation sat down upon the bed and began to deliver himself with great solemnity in this wise: "You may tell them I will protect slavery where it exists; I can do that. You may tell them I will execute the fugitive slave law better than it ever has been; my people will let me do that. You may tell them they shall have all the offices south of Mason's and Dixon's line if they will take them. I will send nobody down there to interfere with them." He then remarked to me personally, and in a tone that pierced me almost like the faint wail of a suffering infant, and with a look of anguish I shall never forget: "But all of that will do no good. They have got themselves to where they might have the right to carry slavery into the territories, and I have lived my whole life and fought this campaign; and I can't go back on myself." Of course we both of us felt, and knew, it meant War. We were both of Southern blood and knew what the South would do. He went as he came, and I wept. Our minds had met. It was the first time either of us had allowed ourselves to look that awful War squarely in the face. He could have seen nobody to consult, and in so vital a matter he would wish to consult only himself.
Why did Chrisman omit "slavery is a sin" in revision? Perhaps Chrisman felt he had made an error in 1879 and wanted to correct it in the 1900 version. On reflection he may have thought it a mistake to have made Lincoln utter such a familiar tenet of abolitionism. On the other hand, maybe the deleted quote was accurate but deemed regrettable, in hindsight. Several chapters in Chrisman's Memoirs exude nostalgia for the old South. The new century found Chrisman prone to condone the institution of slavery and even to idealize it. Whatever Lincoln thought, Chrisman by 1900 plainly did not regard slavery as inherently sinful. Thus, both the added emphasis on southern kinship and the deletion of
Lincoln's view of slavery as a sin might have been motivated by a
revived identification with southern culture and causes by Herring
Chrisman himself, or by his son, or possibly by others in the family.
The volume Memoirs of Lincoln as published by his son documents southern alliances throughout, for example when John Houston
Harrison points out that Herring Chrisman's brother George Chrisman served as a
Major in the Confederate army. More revealingly, the chapter on Vital Causes of Our Civil War develops Chrisman's hopelessly racist and ultra-romantic defense of slavery as ideally practiced in the southern states, before the mania for "expansion" pervaded and doomed the South. Nevertheless, before and after the 1860 election Chrisman the Virginian was also a loyal Unionist with a job to do. As narrated in "The Hope of Saving Virginia" and elsewhere in the Memoirs of Lincoln, Chrisman had to empower pro-Union Virginians and thereby hold off increasingly militant secessionists in his native state, incited by Jefferson Davis. The mission as Chrisman conceived it, and expressed it to Lincoln in that Springfield hotel room, was to "save the Capitol for his inauguration" (Memoirs of Lincoln - page 87) through relentless personal diplomacy (unrewarded and unacknowledged in the public sphere, as he reflected many decades later). In Chrisman's view, his good work of supporting and placating Virginia Unionists over many months, although ultimately ineffective, at least ensured that militants in Richmond would not have the backing to attack Washington by force before the inauguration.
In any case, as far as I can tell, no subsequent version contains the lost words "slavery is a sin" that Herring Chrisman in 1879 attributed to president-elect Lincoln.
Available online via The Library of Congress:
The Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress include in the category of "General Correspondence" a letter of support from Herring Chrisman to Abraham Lincoln, received evidently in February 1861. Below, my transcription:
Hon A. Lincoln
letter will be handed you by my father. We have sustained a loss by his
withdrawal as candidate for the convention. I learn his vote would have
been almost unanimous. He goes to tender you his friendly offices with
the people of Virginia adopting fully my personal sentiments towards
When you visit Virginia you will come to
understand the absorbing interest I feel in your personal glory. It is
in no idle sense then that I rejoiced in your evident selection of the
Father of his Country for your model. The grand secret of his wonderful
success seems to be owing to two habits-- First to balance & adjust
his powerful judgment like a pair of scales-- 2nd to invite a free
discussion or rather a free expression to himself of all shades of
opinion from the wise and the good of all parties-- & lastly to
follow implicitly his own enlightened judgment under God, regardless of
everything personal to himself excepting his honor.
the happiest reliance as well upon your faculties as your dispositions
and with the most earnest prayers for your successful administration and
I have the honor &c.
On September 17, 1862 Orville H. Browning wrote Abraham Lincoln, forwarding him an encouraging letter from Herring Chrisman dated September 12, 1862. Here is my transcription of Chrisman's letter to Browning:
St. Augustine - Knox Co.
September 12, 1862
seem a little surprised at the generous warmth everywhere manifested by
the democrats towards the President. I have watched its steady growth
among them and believe it to be very general. It grows out of a personal
trust they repose in him that he will preserve the constitution at
every hazard. It seems to be his natural prerogative to be popular. He
is always most so when he is most like himself. The strong man of the
administration among the people in doubtful matters the Cabinet cannot
do better than follow his judgment. Like General Jackson in that he
seems certain to be endorsed by the people.
saved us from anarchy & ruin at home, given us a united North,
preserved the government perfect in all its parts & satisfied the
world we are still a first rate power.
There are it
seems not a few who insist he must hazard all this upon a theory. Some
apprehension was felt that he might be misled by this clamor. Hence the
general joy over the letter to Greeley-- so calm so cool so gentle yet so
firm, it satisfied the Country he was still himself. How much depends
upon his life.
Your presence among the people is
producing a good effect. Many good people who were being misled will see
things more as they are, hereafter. The radical leaders begin already
to call themselves administration men, a fact we were in danger of
forgetting if indeed they were not themselves. The administration is too
strong for them & they know it. Their role will now be support to
betray. They will aim to borrow what strength they can from the
administration to get votes to control it. My best wishes attend you.
Palmer has always regarded Herman Melville, author of Typee and Omoo,
with peculiar admiration and affection, and is still in cordial
sympathy with his "aloofness," his shyness of literary clubs and
coteries. Speaking of so-called "brilliant" men of letters, he says, "In
forty years' acquaintance with American writers, beginning with N. P. Willis, I have known but one
genuinely and spontaneously 'brilliant' personality, and that was William
Henry Hurlburt, of Putnam's Monthly in 1855."
Herman Melville and Palmer both contributed to Putnam'sMonthly Magazine in the 1850's, Palmer during the latter half of the decade. In 1856 their books also were being published by Dix, Edwards & Co. For Melville, Dix and Edwards published The Piazza Tales (1856) and then The Confidence-Man (1857). In 1856 Dix and Edwards issued Palmer's The Golden Dagon; Or, Up and Down the Irrawaddi. On October 11, 1856 Melville gave a copy of The Golden Dagon to his brother Allan (see the catalog entry for Sealts Number 396.2 at Melville's Marginalia Online).
The one extant letter from Melville to J. W. Palmer (dated March 23, 1889) is held by the University of Virginia Library, with other manuscript Papers of Herman Melville. It's printed in The Letters of Herman Melville and also the Northwestern-Newberry edition of Herman Melville's Correspondence. In reply to Palmer's "friendly note" and gift of books, Melville says his wife Elizabeth had been reading aloud to him from "Up & Down the Irrawaddy." He probably forgot that he had given the first edition to Allan thirty-plus years before.
J. W. Palmer's brother was another physician and world-traveler, the distinguished navy surgeon James Croxall Palmer.
Links to some works by John Williamson Palmer that are accessible online:
OUR BOOK TABLE. "Typee; a residence in the Marquesas--by Herman Melville." This is No. xiii and xiv of Wiley & Putnam's Library of American Books, and gives a very interesting account of the Island, by one that resided there several years. The sketches of the manners, customs and superstitions of the people, are free, graceful and entertaining. Taylor & Co. have the work.
Henry Nelson Walker was owner and editor of the Detroit Free Press when this unsigned review of Battle-Pieces appeared on September 2, 1866.
BATTLE PIECES, by Herman Melville. Harper & Bros, New York. For sale by W. E. Tunis.
Some years ago Adelaide Ann Proctor, daughter of the celebrated Barry Cornwall, published a sober crown volume of legends and lyrics: and, with the natural modesty of a woman, and the becoming diffidence of a poet, she entitled it "A Book of Verses." The reviewers, when deciding on its worth, pronounced the so-called verses poems—not all, however, for there is chaff in the finest wheat; but still, they acknowledged that the merits of the greater number of the pieces ranked very high—rising from the table-land of the versified commonplace to the Parnassian heights of lyrical song.
Mr. Melville, we are glad to see, has shown the same good taste in collecting his verses, and entitled them, "Battle Pieces—for, however musical in rhythm, chaste in tone, elevated in sentiment, and unexceptionable in point of polish and expression, some of his verses are, they lack the very elements and essentials that constitute poems. There can be no doubt that these "Battle Pieces" have been wrought with studious care—perhaps with painful study—and yet the result is mostly only a kind of jingling prose, bearing about the same relation to the genuine thing as Martin Tupper's "Proverbial Philosophy" to a page of Milton's "Paradise Lost."
The main fault in the author's versified writings is the frequent recurrence of the trite, so artfully interwoven with odd trappings of metaphor, as to impose on the superficial reader: leading him to accept as poetic thought what is in reality only pretty verse. At the same time, we must do justice to certain dormant powers that give us occasionally an example of what he might do when the higher mood is on him, when the desire to "ring out the false," tinseled and gilt thought has subsided, and the passion "to ring in the true" is evoked and evinced. Among the few really natural and poetic ebullitions of his fancy we may include the following on "Stonewall Jackson:"
The man who fiercest charged in fight,
Whose sword and prayer were long—
Even he who stoutly stood for wrong.
How can we praise? Yet coming days
Shall not forget him with this song.
Dead is the man whose cause is dead,
Vainly he died and set his seal—
Earnest in error, as we feel;
True to the thing he dreamed was due,
True as John Brown or steel.
Relentlessly he routed us:
But we relent, for he is low—
Justly his fame we outlaw; so
We drop a tear on the bold Virginian's bier,
Because no wreath we owe.
The occasion which gave birth to our war poetry has glorified much of it beyond all desert, and the great portion, like Mr. Melville's "Battle Pieces," will therefore be enshrined among those little valueless relics which we treasure more for their memories than their intrinsic value.
MOBY DICK.--The adventures of a whaleman. by Herman Mellville, author of Typee. Harper & Bros.--This peculiarly piquant narrative, reminds one forcibly of the earlier productions of the author. Its stirring scenes and adventures on the bosom of the broad Pacific, will be the life of the forecastle, on many a stormy night,
"When winds are piping high,"
and for landsmen also, will possess a peculiar charm.
For sale by McFarren.
"There is no longer any interest in the subject. It was not possible for any one to say anything worth reading or listening to after Herman Melville's yarns. His "Omoo" and "White Jacket" were the last romances of the sea. Richard H. Dana, Jr., exhausted the field of "before the mast," and Melville left nothing for anybody to tell about whaling."
--Review of Nimrod of the Sea, Brooklyn Daily Union, September 8, 1874
The Brooklyn Daily Union - September 8, 1874
By contrast, and with no thought of Moby-Dick, the Christian Watchman praised Nimrod of the Sea as "a graphically-told narrative of daring exploits" and "a deeply interesting account of the nature and habits of the whale, of the methods employed for his capture, and of the uses which he is made to serve."
A bright boy, in the reading of the book, will not fail to gather a vast deal of new information in respect to the sea and its wondrous forms of life. Scattered through it are many spirited pictures representing the perilous circumstances which surround the intrepid sailors in their attacks upon the whale." --Christian Watchman [Boston], September 10, 1874
The New York Herald (September 28, 1874) described the author William M. Davis as "one of those hardy Long Island mariners who sailed for the whale in the days before petroleum."
So far, the 1874 review of Nimrod of the Sea in the Brooklyn Daily Union is the only contemporary notice I have found that recalls Moby-Dick. However, in the same year, the review of "Jules Verne's Romances" in the Wilmington Daily Commercial favorably compares the "vein of poetry and romantic mystery" in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea with that of Moby-Dick:
a mere fantasy, an intellectual whim, must not be carried too far, lest
in the process of attenuation it should break. M. Verne touches the
limit nicely in "Twenty Thousand Leagues," and that book remains his
best because in addition to its audacity and wealth of invention it had a
vein of poetry and romantic mystery running through it. In those
respects it resembled Herman Melville's "Moby Dick," in which the
practical details of whale-fishing are relieved by a fine play of the
imagination. --Wilmington [Delaware] Daily Commercial, November 4, 1874
The Nantucket Historical Association has whaling journals by William Morris Davis in 1834-1837. According to the catalog description, Log 354 ("Journal of a man before the mast or on board the Whale Ship Chelsea of New London") was "Used in preparation of William M. Davis 'Nimrod of the Sea or The American Whaleman' (Harper 1874)."
As Caleb Crain has observed, some elements in Davis's description of sperm-squeezing in Nimrod of the Searesemble Melville's treatment of the same operation in chapter 94 of Moby-Dick. For instance, Melville imagines himself "in a Constantine's bath" of sperm, while Davis experiences a more luxurious "bath" than ever did "Solomon in all his glory." I would like to know if and how Davis describes the operation of squeezing sperm in manuscript. And everything else, for that matter. It could be a rewarding project to compare manuscript and book versions throughout, to see what kind of rewriting was involved in 1872, and how much. Possibly the style of Moby-Dick in places influenced the editing or rewriting of Nimrod of the Sea. Obviously, Nimrod as published in 1874 could not have influenced Moby-Dick (1851), unless somehow Melville had access to "oil-stained" whaling logs of the Chelsea by William Morris Davis (1815-1891).
BATTLE PIECES AND ASPECTS OF THE WAR BY HERMAN MELVILLE. New York: Harper & Brothers. For sale by Breed, Butler & Co.
who are fond of Melville's writings, and they are many, will doubtless
desire to possess his poems. They are suggested by events of the late
war, and are generally descriptive. We have but little space for
criticism or quotation, but cannot refrain from giving two stanzas from
his noble lines to Stonewall Jackson:
But who shall hymn the Roman heart?
A stoic he, but even more;
The iron will and lion thew
Were strong to inflict as to endure:
Who like him could stand or pursue?
His fate the fatalist followed through;
In all his great soul found to do
Stonewall followed his star.
* * * *
O, much of doubt in after days
Shall cling, as now, to the war
Of the right and the wrong they'll still debate
Puzzled by Stonewall's star:
"Fortune went with the North elate"
"Aye, but the South had Stonewall's weight
And he fell in the South's vain war."
--Buffalo Commercial Advertiser, September 11, 1866
The notice of Battle-Pieces transcribed above appeared in the Buffalo Commercial Advertiser on September 11, 1866. At that time the Buffalo Commercial Advertiser was edited and published by James Newson Matthews and James D. Warren. But Matthews was then in Dublin, getting ready to sail home after the European vacation that he narrated in editorial correspondence for the Commercial Advertiser, published in book form as My Holiday: How I Spent It (Buffalo and New York, 1867). The brief notice of Battle-Pieces may have been written by Warren, later a model of the "stalwart" Republican.
The second installment of "Nights in Our Office," an irregular series of newspaper sketches in the New Orleans Daily Delta, contains a long, critical treatment of Herman Melville's Pierre as an exemplary instance of "transcendental balderdash." For such "trash" as Pierre the critic blames the influence of spirit rapping and similarly fraudulent "spiritual" fads. Ironically, within the semi-fictional setting of "Nights," the very corporeality of the critic seems questionable.
Young "Ben Fox" is said to be alone, "SOLUS," the only person left in the editorial office of the Daily Delta, yet the strong criticism of Pierre first arrives in another voice, disembodied.
"Ben Fox SOLUS. In
the absence of the other young gentlemen, who have gone "across the
Lake," and left him alone with the items, he is compelled to soliloquize."
Being alone, Ben Fox is "compelled to soliloquize." In context then, the voice of Melville's critic is best understood as that of the
solitary editor in dialogue with himself. Further along in the review, commenting on the style and peculiar diction of Pierre, Ben Fox asserts himself in the first person: "I, Ben Fox ...." Still, accepting the conceit
as presented, the critic of Pierre may be regarded as essentially a figment of the narrator's imagination and therefore--a ghost.
Considering the strong distaste expressed for the novel's "disgustingly immoral" contents, the depth of the engagement with them also seems remarkable. Ghost or no, Melville's New Orleans critic read to the end.
Who was he? As confirmed in The Young Irelanders by Thomas F. O'Sullivan, Benjamin or Ben Fox was a pseudonym of Joseph Brenan (1828-1857), the exiled Irish patriot, poet, and journalist who served for several years as literary editor of the New Orleans Daily Delta. (Aka Joseph Brennan.)
On his release without trial in March, 1849, Brenan became editor of the Irishman, which had been started in Dublin by Bernard Fulham, and for six months strove to rekindle the insurrectionary flame in the country. He was implicated in the attack on the Cappoquin police barracks on the 16th September, and in October escaped to America, where he became connected with a number of journals, including Horace Greeley's Tribune, Devin Reilly's People, the Enquirer of Newark, [New] Jersey, and the New Orleans Delta (in which he wrote a series of papers under the pen-name "Ben Fox"). --T. F. O'Sullivan, The Young Irelanders (Tralee: The Kerryman, 1944), pp. 354-5.
One New Orleans friend described Brenan as a "fire-eater," a brilliant writer and fanatic Southerner, but unfortunately
In 1853 (less than one year after publishing the extended attack on Pierre) Brenan contracted yellow fever. Back in New York City for a brief spell in 1854, he collaborated with John Mitchel on the anti-English and pro-slavery New York Citizen. He suffered blindness and wrote about it, in a poem that Melville's friend Evert A. Duyckinck reprinted in The Literary World on November 12, 1853. Brenan died in 1857, in his 29th year.
Earlier in 1852, before publication in August of the two "Nights in Our Office" sketches, Brenan contributed essays under various headings including "Literary Half-Hours," "Fresh Gleanings" (a title confessedly plagiarized from Donald Grant Mitchell aka Ik Marvel), and "Marginalia" (another borrowed title, from Poe, giving "extracts from the notebooks of Benjamin Fox"). Perhaps foreshadowing Brenan's dim view of Pierre, Brenan discounted the sudden popularity of Typee by claiming in one of his "Fresh Gleanings" columns that Herman Melville
"was made a favorite by one review in Blackwood."
--New Orleans Daily Delta, April 11, 1852
The first installment of "Nights in Our Office" appeared in the Sunday morning supplement to the New Orleans Daily Delta on August 15, 1852. No. I reported the after-midnight conversation among three persons in the the editorial office: "Esculapius," "Benjamin Fox," and "The Gaul." Their late night talk touches on literature, politics, and New Orleans society.
As noted above, No. II (August 22, 1852) unfolds as the soliloquy of Ben Fox, writing copy and talking to himself. The tapping sounds made by working typesetters or compositors punctuate the night editor's thoughts and writing.
The nocturnal tapping in several places evokes the practice of spirit-rapping.
"Rap! tap! rap-rap-rap-tap-tap-a-tap-tap! By the memory of all infernal noises, there are the spirits!"
Melville would similarly associate eerie tapping ("Tick! Tick!") with belief in spirits and spirit-rapping in his short fiction, The Apple-Tree Table (subtitle: "Or, Original Spiritual Manifestations"). "Ben Fox" almost anticipates Melville there, when he guesses that
"It might be some insect which has got inside the wainscotting."
Other familiar noises of the night, besides "the click-clack of the type," are the proofreader's "monotonous voice" and "the hissing sound of the steam-engine."
But the click-clack of the type is regular as ever. The monotonous voice of the proof-reader is unbroken in its flow, save when there is a pause to cross a t, or put a dot over an i, and the hissing sound of the steam-engine, which is impatient to stretch forth its strong arm and work, continues its drowsy sameness.
Occasionally the Printer's Devil emerges, too, and sneaks a mischievous comment into the editor's copy.
After a good deal of fretting, Ben Fox manages to convince himself the rapping sounds he hears in the editor's office are not made by ghosts. How long his conviction will hold out, remains uncertain.
From the New Orleans Daily Delta, August 22, 1852:
Friend Ben, it must not be. We must discountenance such absurdity. We must laugh down this rapping infamy, and crush it. We must put our paws on the supporters of it: and, if we cannot do so by gentle means, we must e'en follow your example, and--try them with the Latin! [by speaking a Latin formula for exorcism, like Dominie Sampson in Scott's Guy Mannering]. The practical results of the rascally nonsense are becoming too apparent every day. We have spiritual societies in progress of formation, newspapers edited by spirits, with the aid of gin-and-water, and suicides justified by messages from the supernal finger-points. We have a literature of the skies growing up, and distinguished authors assuring the world that they cannot write save when in nubibus. (A delicate way of saying "high," doubtless.--PRINTER'S DEVIL.)
Dear Ben: On the table, near you, is lying a specimen of the transcendental balderdash which is sent forth in good type and binding by the professors of the new religion. Let us glance at it. First, however, I will give you a brief outline of the story.
It is called "Pierre on the Ambiguities"--an ambiguous denomination enough--and has the name of Herman Melville, as the author, on the title page. It is a tale of spiritual wonders. Pierre, the son of a proud and haughty widow, is a young gentleman of literary tastes, who is on terms of singular familiarity with his mother. He calls her sister, and she always treats him as her brother. At the age of nineteen, Pierre, of course, is in love, and with a young girl whose name is Lucy, remarkable for nothing but never talking in any style save that which you and I are accustomed to call "highfalutin." The first portion of the book is taken up with their conversations, which leave those of Romeo and Juliet far behind them. As you read them, the conviction is forced upon you that those three individuals are as mad as the author, but you could not yet suppose that they are as bad. The second part contains the story of Isabel. This young lady meets Pierre one day, and shrieks. Ever after, her face haunts him. He neglects Lucy, and insults his mother. He suddenly becomes blasphemous, and inhospitably fires paradoxes at the head of a respectable clergyman who visits the family. He addresses the moon and stars, and makes speeches which would take the wind from Governor Foote [Henry Stuart Foote] or old Bullion [Thomas Hart Benton]. The beauty of his monologues is their profound incomprehensibility. They are unintelligible enough to have been dreamed by Swedenborg, or "communicated" to Andrew Jackson Davis.
One day Pierre receives a letter. It is signed by Isabel, and calls him her brother, praying him at the same time in very feminine, though rather dangerous terms, to come to her, and take her to his heart. Without any hesitation he goes and embraces her in a warmer manner than what we usually designate fraternal, before she communicates the proof of their relationship. Then Miss Isabel commences a long and misty narrative, which hints at the fact or the falsehood--for the author does not say which--of her being the illegitimate daughter of Pierre's father. She has no reason for thinking so. The transcendental young gentleman has no cause to believe it, but his resolution is taken on the spot. He is determined to save his parent's character--which the public had never assailed, and as far as we could surmise, would never trouble itself withal, provided Isabel held her tongue--and to carry out his object proceeds to ruin his own happiness. Isabel, he says, must live with him. Must consent to be called his wife, and share his fortunes for better or worse. They accordingly run away to New York, where Pierre enters a Fourierite society, and becomes an author. Their mode of living is somewhat equivocal, though mention is made of two rooms. Their residence is in the "House of the Apostles," w[h]ere a number of rappers have congregated for the express purpose, doubtless, of humbugging the world and themselves. Meantime, Pierre's mother dies of a broken heart, and Lucy--the old flame--is despaired of. By the deceased mother's will, the young transcendentalist is disinherited, and compelled to seek bread with his pen, which does not prove very profitable.
So far so good. But unfortunately, Lucy recovers and flees from her family in search of her lover. She arrives at the Apostles and is obliged to take share of Isabel's bed. Then there is the devil to pay. It is impossible to decide which is Mrs. Pierre. They cannot themselves determine which is which. Spiritualism is no use in this fix, for both go in for women's rights. Meanwhile the gentleman writes books and receives insulting messages from the publishers. Lucy paints portraits, and Isabel, jealous of her earnings, announces that she will teach the guitar. We regret to say she did not understand the instrument, however, and had to give up her project. The family quarrel increases. 'Pierre or death' is the cry of both the women--neither will give him up, and there would have been a very pretty row did not the brothers of Lucy arrive and strive to take her back to her home. Their efforts were in vain, for she held on to the bannisters like a heroine, while Pierre shot one of the brothers. Isabel, Lucy and Pierre were consequently taken to the Toombs, where they anticipated the usual legal forms with the vulgar termination, and killed themselves by swallowing poison!
Such is the tale. It smacks more of romance than reality. The details are unpleasant, and the theories put forward in the course of the narrative disgustingly immoral. The style is a hybrid--an ugly cross between Carlyle and Swedenborg. It has something of Willis about it, too. The sentences are dressed like unmeaning fops, and sometimes display a species of pinchback respectability. Occasionally they are so devoid of any scintilla of sense, that they become quite laughable.
We give a specimen or two for the benefit of persons who may not be acquainted with the manner of writing, which has resulted from spiritual rapping, and such like things. Describing Pierre's boyhood, the author says: "In the country then Nature planted our Pierre; because Nature intended a rare and original development in Pierre. Never mind if thereby she proved ambiguous to him in the end, nevertheless in the beginning she did bravely. She blew her wind-clarion from the blue hills and Pierre neighed out lyrical thoughts, as at the trumpet blast a war-horse pawed himself into a lyric of foam." I, Ben Fox, must remark, en passant, that I have heard many persons called "old hoss" before this, but "young hoss" is an epithet not at all familiar to me. If, moreover, any person skilled in rappings, can inform me what is meant by a war-horse pawing himself into a lyric of foam, I would feel under a compliment to the expounder. I fear, though, an Edipus cannot be found to read the riddle. But, let the young man proceed: "She, (viz: Nature,) lifted her spangled crest of a thickly-starred night, and forth at that glimpse of their divine captain and Lord, ten thousand mailed thoughts of heroicness (bur-r-r! what a tooth-grinder of a word!) started up in Pierre's soul and glared round for some insulted good cause to defend." Mailed thoughts glaring round! upon my personal honor! they seem uglier than the spirits.
Here is a morsel of love-talk: "Wondrous fair of face, blue-eyed, and golden-haired, the bright blonde Lucy was arrayed in colors harmonious with the Heavens. Light blue be thy perpetual color, Lucy; light blue becomes thee best--such the repeated azure counsel of her aunt Tartan. On both sides, from the hedges, came to Pierre, the clover bloom of Saddle Meadows, and from Lucy's mouth and cheek came the fresh fragrance of her violet young being."
"Smell I flowers or thee?" cried Pierre.
"See I lakes or eyes?" cried Lucy, her own gazing down into his soul as two stars into a tarn."
The allusion to Lucy's being "light-blue" in the foregoing extract may be accounted for by the fact that she, too, was somewhat of a literary character. The "azure counsel," though, puzzles us. We have heard of a verdant advice, but an azure one is something new. The beauty of the queries touching Pierre's nasal and Lucy's visual organs, of course, we need not point out.
Towards the middle of the book a clergyman is introduced, whose personal appearance is hinted at in the following sentence: "As Pierre regarded him, sitting there so meek and mild,--such an image of white-browed, and white-handed and napkined immaculateness,--and as he felt the gentle human radiations which came from the clergyman's manly and rounded beautifulness, he felt that if to any one he could go with Christian propriety and some small hopefulness, the person was the one before him." This description is original, is it not? That "napkined immaculateness" is a touch worthy of the smartest waiter in the City Hotel; and the friends of our fellow-citizen, the well-known official, Abdomen, can appreciate the delicacy of the phrase "rounded beautifulness."
But it is in metaphysical morality our author shines with fullest lustre. We have read many dissertations on the subject of Good and Evil, Virtue and Vice; but the following concise definitions are worth the whole of them. Its chief merit, as our readers must remark, is its simplicity and intelligibility. Pierre and Isabel are in conversation.
"Tell me, what is Virtue? Begin."
"If on that point the Gods are dumb, shall a pigmy speak? Ask the air!"
"Then Virtue is nothing?"
"Look; a nothing is the substance; it casts one shadow one way, and another the other way, and these two shadows cast from one nothing--these, it seems to me, are Virtue and Vice."
As a pendant to the above very clear explanation, we beg leave to suggest that two and two make twenty; but twenty looks towards a hundred, and casts a shadow of a naught, and therefore, a naught is considerably more than ninety-nine!
But enough of this trash. I would not have mentioned the book at all, friend Ben, but as an instance of the rabid nonsense which is the result of the spiritual mania. Away with it--away with it. God's stars shine in their place still, and we will not allow filthy oil-lamps or farthing candles to be substituted for them. God's truth is simple, and it shall not be oppressed under a load of stupid stuff. God's law is eternal, and will out-live all the tricks of imposture, and the blasphemy of bastard philosophies.
Meanwhile--tap! Ha! there it is again. Come back, are you? Well, you are fools for your pains. Tap, tap--very singular, I admit, but gammon still. Very awful at this hour, too, and suggestive of shivering.
Tap! Good night. I must get home. Probably, however, you, thirsty denizen of the noisy land, would join me in a "smile." Tap, tap. Deuce fear you, I knew you would.
Herman Melville owned a copy of Poems by James Clarence Mangan (New York, 1859) with Mangan's ballad "To Joseph Brenan" (not marked). You can now see digitized images of the volume Melville owned courtesy of Houghton Library, Harvard University:
In a lady's album. That is, "the lady's album of the nineteenth-century in which verses were inscribed, signed, and dated" (Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries), a later development, alongside the autograph album, of the early modern Album Amicorum. In prose fiction, Melville has already told us how his young hero Pierre became a popular author and was besieged with requests to write in ladies' albums.
"Not seldom Pierre's social placidity was ruffled by polite entreaties from the young ladies that he would be pleased to grace their Albums with some nice little song."
Finding such requests awkward, Pierre wanted a creative way to oblige them without actually writing anything.
What could Pierre write of his own on Love or any thing else, that would surpass what divine Hafiz wrote so many long centuries ago? Was there not Anacreon too, and Catullus, and Ovid—all translated, and readily accessible? And then—bless all their souls!—had the dear creatures forgotten Tom Moore? --Pierre; Or, The Ambiguities
The dodge Pierre finally devises is to blow a kiss over them, collectively, then send them back with one real "confectioner's kiss" allotted to each lady.
Melville describes only the outside of the albums that Pierre receives, making a point to observe the sensory appeal of their "ornate bindings," and the devious manner in which the owners have them scented with expensive perfume. Melville does not say the pages were decorated with beautiful engravings. The more expensive ones were.
For a long time now the italicized poem before Melville's poem "After the Pleasure Party" has had me mystified. I kept trying to imagine the poet in the Louvre or some other museum of art, standing under a painting of Eros, and scribbling away in his notebook. Deep down I knew I didn't get it.
Reading in Zamira, a dramatic sketch (1835) by Jonas B. Phillips, I ran into the following piece, one of the miscellaneous poems collected along with Zamira, the titular verse drama.
LINES Written in a Lady's Album, beneath an engraving of Love sharpening his arrows.
Lines? Under a picture? Of Cupid "sharpening his arrows"? Italics? The heading of these "Lines" by John B. Phillips features all the main elements of the heading to the italicized poem that introduces Melville's "After the Pleasure Party." The title of Melville's introductory poem or epigraph might serve also as a subtitle for the whole "Pleasure Party": "Lines traced under an image of Amor threatening."
Both the poem and the poem before the poem may be read as verses written ("traced") in a finely made Lady's Album, under an engraved "image" of Eros sharpening his arrows, or some other depiction of "Amor threatening."
In the same genre of verses inscribed under pictures in ladies' albums, Mary Ann Browne in Ada and Other Poems (London, 1828) offers "Lines Written Beneath a Drawing of Heart's-Ease, in the Album of a Lady, Who Was Personally Unknown to the Author."
Different image, same genre:
Here's another one, merely hinting at the range of pictorial subjects that might inspire lines in a lady's album:
Pictures of beautiful autograph books on Pinterest look later than the thing I have in mind, but a real material example could be findable. The image from Godey's Lady's Book of Cupid taking aim gets at the right idea, (Beware of boys with wings and arrows) in almost the right place (popular reading for women). His wings should be bigger and fluffier though, since Melville's inscriber notes his "Downy wings." I'm still looking for a lady's album or autograph book with an engraving or other kind of illustration that shows the downy-winged God of Love, pointing. If there's a love-sonnet under it, so much the better. Leads welcome anytime.
Cupid Blindfolded by Piero della Francesca
via Wikimedia Commons
The Nashville and Louisville Christian Advocate was affiliated with the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. Published in Nashville, the weekly paper was edited in 1852 by John B. McFerrin and (in Louisville) by Associate Editor Charles Booth Parsons. McFerrin had officiated in 1849 at the funeral of James K. Polk in Nashville.
Parsons, a preacher and former traveling stage actor, compared and contrasted his "two itinerancies" in The Pulpit and the Stage (1860). His dismissive use there of the expression "etherealized intellectuality" recalls the contempt for "etherealized madness" expressed in the notice of Pierre in the Christian Advocate on September 2, 1852. Parson's authorship is clinched by the fact that the review of Pierre appears on page 3 in the Louisville section of The Christian Advocate, Parson's domain until he formally took his leave as Associate Editor on June 29, 1854.
Nashville and Louisville Christian Advocate - September 2, 1852
PIERRE, OR THE AMBIGUITIES. By MELLVILLE.-- Harper & Bros. N. Y.8 vo., pp. 495.
This is a work which, we should suppose, might have come from some literary "Alembic," set in a cell of lunacy. It is evidently made up of the wild vagaries of a diseased imagination, in which unnaturalness of character and improbable events greet the reader, though a style as cumbersome and o'erwrought as the tale is unlikely and barren of truth. Such as love to wander 'midst the mazes of etherealized madness, will find, we presume, a congenial companion in the "Ambiguities," which is a proper and very significant title to the book.-- What good end can possibly be promised by the publication of such trash, we are at a loss to discover. And yet "their name is legion."
A biographical sketch of Charles Booth Parsons signed "Colley Cibber" was published in three parts in the The Dramatic Mirror and Literary Companion. Below are links to each installment in the digitized Volume 1:
Parsons played the usual leading roles including Macbeth and Othello. For his biographer in the Dramatic Mirror, Parsons triumphed in the role of Oranaska, the Mohawk chief in the tragedy by neglected New York dramatist Jonas B. Phillips. As Parsons also recounts in The Pulpit and the Stage, in New Orleans his performance as Oranaska was witnessed (and approved, reportedly) by an invited group of Seminole chiefs.
Parsons also excelled as Roaring Ralph Stackpole in Nick of the Woods.
Charley Parsons played at the South Pearl Street Theatre, after Burrough's time....
Parsons was an inferior actor, especially
in tragedy — he was of Herculean frame, round shouldered,
and had a voice like artificial stage thunder! He was a
great favorite, however, in the southwest. He played
Roaring Ralph Stackpole to perfection. Had Dr. Bird
seen Ralph and Parsons he would have been puzzled to
distinguish one from the other. It was actually worth
the price of admission to see Parsons as Ralph, without his
uttering a word. Parsons being a speculative genius,
left the stage and went to preaching in the Methodist
church at Louisville, but he soon slid backwards, and
finally slid on the stage again — but the spec wouldn't pay;
he made a failure, and so Roaring Ralph abandoned the
devil's frying pan (the stage), and was once more received
to the arms of his deserted flock. I heard him preach the
next Sunday after he left the stage, but it was Roaring
Ralph all through the sermon, the prayer, the benediction.
--Henry Dickinson Stone, Personal Recollections of the Drama
Charles Booth Parsons performed in Albany when Herman Melville lived there. Melville was fourteen when Parsons appeared as Macbeth at the Albany Theatre on November 4, 1833.
Albany Argus - November 4, 1833
On previous evenings during the same 1833 engagement Parsons starred in the roles of Virginius (November 1st) and Sir Giles Overreach (November 3rd). After Macbeth, Parsons appeared as William Tell (November 5th).
Parsons returned as Macbeth on September 18, 1834. His advertised "last appearance" came the next night, September 19, 1834, when Parsons starred in, hey hey,
"the highly successful Indian tragedy of ORANASKA." --Albany Evening Journal, September 19, 1834
Time to tidy up. We already located favorable notices of Mardi (1849) and White-Jacket (1850) by editors Richard U. Sherman and Erastus Clark, so there pretty much has to be one of Redburn (1849), too, somewhere in the Morning Herald. Here:
Oneida Morning Herald [Utica, New York] - November 22, 1849
Herman Melville, the author of those exquisite creations Typee and Omoo has just published another work. "Redburn, His first voyage being the sailor boy Confession's of a Gentleman's Son in the Merchant service. We have not had time to peruse it yet we have no doubt that the same humor, clearness and minuteness of observation, the same fancy at all times pleasant and oftentimes highly exalted, and a like chaste style which mark his first productions are the properties of "Redburn."