Saturday, November 28, 2020

Benito Cereno in Louisville

Lord Brougham in training for the opening of Parliament.
via NYPL Digital Collections

From the Louisville Daily Journal (Louisville, Kentucky), October 3, 1855: 

PUTNAM’S MONTHLY FOR OCTOBER.—The October number of Putnam is a worthy representative of American periodical literature. Its contents are finely varied and are creditable specimens of substantial, instructive, and interesting literature…. 

... The story of “Benito Cereno” opens well, but rather hangs fire toward the close of its first part. But a lively denoument may redeem it.—There is interest ahead in it.
The expression hang fire is a military metaphor for delayed action, like delayed ignition of gunpowder in firearms. To "hang fire" means
"to be slow in communicating, as fire in the pan of a gun to the charge."

In the 1855 magazine version of "Benito Cereno," the first installment closes with Melville's Delano musing on the possibly treacherous intentions of Don Benito. Delano fears the Spanish captain might be a murderous pirate. The American wavers, but his generous and trusting nature overcomes suspicion of a sinister plot against his life. Melville's narrative powder finally fires in the third installment, after Benito Cereno jumps into Delano's boat.

Another Kentucky reviewer had no expectation of an exciting finish in store. From the Louisville Daily Democrat, October 4, 1855:

Louisville KY Daily Democrat
October 4, 1855
"Benito Cereno," a tale, begun in the present issue, is a fanciful production, not having any great interest--very little force--and rather prosy. Some of the sentences are almost Broughamic in their length, indistinctness, and general construction. 

Broughamic alludes to the discursive debating style of Henry Peter Brougham, the eminent Whig reformer and abolitionist who helped establish the Edinburgh Review. In 1828 Brougham delivered the longest speech ever in House of Commons, over six hours. 

Courtesy of Google Books, Melville's "Benito Cereno" as it originally appeared in Putnam's Monthly Magazine Volume 6:
  • October 1855
  • November 1855
  • December 1855

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