Saturday, February 24, 2018

Melville mention in 1878 letter from China by Francis Morgan Barber

From the "Letter from China" signed Frank M. Barber, written on July 29, 1878 from Amoy [Xiamen] aboard the U. S. Steamer Alert, and published in the Sandusky Daily Register on September 16, 1878:
In our mess for instance, we have three standing conundrums which we always ask any European who has lived in the country and appears to know anything. These are--
What is Fung-shue? What are Pagodas for? and what is the signification of the Tree Dragon and the White Tiger that one always sees in Joss houses, and frequently in other places? Fung-shue is to me something like what Herman Melville calls "Taboo" or in Typee and Emor, but that is all we have been able to find out.  The others are equally unanswerable.
As printed in the Ohio newspaper, "Emor" looks like a typo for Omoo. Then Lieutenant Commander Francis Morgan Barber was born in Ohio, which would explain why the letter home, addressed "Dear Father," found its way into the Sandusky Register.

In 1875 Barber delivered a pioneering lecture on submarines that included the first published illustration of the American Turtle. In 1889 he commanded the Monocacy on another cruise to China.

via NavSource Online
In 1900 Commander Barber published The Mechanical Triumphs of the Ancient Egyptians. As naval attache in Europe, Barber later tangled with Marconi over control of wireless radio technology, as discussed by Susan J. Douglas in The Navy Adopts the Radio, 1899-1919, chapter 3 in Military Enterprise and Technological Change, ed. Merritt Roe Smith (M. I. T. Press, 1985).
Retired Rear Admiral William Wirt Kimball surveyed Commander Barber's professional accomplishments  and character in the Army-Navy-Air Force Register and Defense Times:
"Barber's wide reading and deep learning did not, as is often the case, prevent him from obtaining wisdom and knowledge or from retaining well-balanced judgment and common sense. He was always alive to the application of the principles of the algebraic sum to men and affairs, and he was blessed by the possession of a keen sense of humor. He was a gentleman in the highest sense of the term, a most delightful companion, the most sympathetic, helpful and faithful of friends and the truest of shipmates."
According to the New York Times (January 30, 1922), Barber committed suicide after learning of the death of a close friend in the tragic collapse of the Knickerbocker Theatre in Washington, D. C.
Later reports (New York Evening World, January 30, 1922) identified the friend as Baron Roman Rosen, the former Russian ambassador. Baron Rosen had in fact died recently--on New Year's Eve, in New York City, following a traffic accident there. In his memoir of Barber, Admiral Kimball implicitly tempered the more sensational newspaper reports by attributing a serious change in Barber's physical and emotional health to the effects of an accidental fall at the University Club in New York, months before.

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