Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Sons of Blues - Berlin Wall

Melville in Mississippi

Wed, May 9, 1849 – Page 1 · Vicksburg Whig (Vicksburg, Mississippi) · Newspapers.com
Mardi, by Herman Melville, author of "Typee" and "Omoo." If popularity be a test of merit, Mr. Melville's are very meritorious works. Whatever he has written appears to be considered extremely readable both in England and the United States. He is decidedly a favorite of the critics of both countries. The present work is beautifully printed in two volumes, and seems to be full of dashing adventure and exciting interest.  --Vicksburg MS Weekly Whig, May 9, 1849.
Wed, Aug 25, 1852 – Page 1 · Vicksburg Whig (Vicksburg, Mississippi) · Newspapers.com
Pierre; or, The Ambiguities--by Herman Melville.
Melville is now the literary celebrity of America; and although we have not as yet had the pleasure of reading the work before us, we have seen enough to dwell with delight upon the rich treat we have in store. --Vicksburg MS Weekly Whig, August 25, 1852.

Then published in Vicksburg, Mississippi by Marmaduke Shannon, the Weekly Whig was edited in 1848-50 by J. E. Carnes; and subsequently by Rufus K. Arthur until his death in 1855. For more background, check out

The Press of Mississippi, Historical Sketch by I. M. Partridge in Debow's Review Volume 29, October 1860, pages 500-509.

Confidence-Man in Syracuse NY Daily Journal

Syracuse Daily Journal - Tuesday April 7, 1857


The Confidence Man: his masquerade. By HERMAN MELVILLE. New York: DIX, EDWARDS & CO. 

We can hardly believe that this book proceeds from the same powerful pen that created "Omoo" and "Typee." It can only be regarded as an utter failure. Its characters are exaggerated and awkward, and their principal [motivation?] appears to be to utter stupid and vapid things. Its apparent aim is to burlesque some of the popular modes of dispensing charities at the present day--but even its travesty is pointless and absurd. MELVILLE must have been the victim of somnambulism, or of downright insanity, when he consented to the publication of so sorry a volume of trash. We fear that his previous reputation will suffer in consequence. The work is for sale by W. T. HAMILTON. 

-- Syracuse NY Daily Journal for April 7, 1857; found on the great Fulton History site, Tom Tryniski's matchless archive of digitized pages from old newspapers of the past. Link below to support his amazing work on Fultonhistory.com :

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Tuesday, March 16, 2021

London Weekly Dispatch on The Confidence-Man

Found among recently digitized images of historic newspapers on The British Newspaper Archive and transcribed by me below, a review of Herman Melville's The Confidence-Man in the London Weekly Dispatch for Sunday, 26 April 1857. Previously unrecorded in Melville scholarship I think--pages from the Weekly Dispatch and Sunday Dispatch were not available on the British Newspaper Archive before October 2020.

THE CONFIDENCE-MAN: HIS MASQUERADE. BY HERMAN MELVILLE.—Longman and Co., Paternoster-row.— This volume may come very properly under the denomination of Psychological fiction (or any quite as vague or definite, which ever the reader pleases), but it is, in structure and style, in manner, as in matter, as distinct from any of those former magnificent productions of Herman Melville's gifted pen as it is possible to conceive. We confess ourselves puzzled by it, while all the time, a clear analysis of social cant, sham assent to philanthropic dogmas and maxims, which we all ignore (more or less) when put to the test, and a demonstration that selfishness is substituted for confidence in daily and mutual intercourse are fully perceptible. His agent is a masquerader of many parts, assumptions and pretensions, each one more protean and elusive than the other, but each, and every one, harping upon "confidence," the test being, asking frankly for a hundred dollars upon the basis of an unquestioning "confidence" in the representations made. The deduction is, that there is no great reliance placed, or to be placed, in the frank virtue of " confidence " but which, in the form of the expressive platitude "No Trust" (in theory or in practice), is not quite so clear a fact as may be thought. Hospitals, innumerable schools, asylums, places of repentance, of reformation, homes of health, of sanity, &c., without number, have been built, and are supported through "confidence." What means "supported by voluntary subscriptions" but "confidence"? How is it that so many thousand begging-letter impostors live, and live well, but upon the "letter of credit" drawn upon "confidence"? We have not quite lost confidence in each other, bad as the world may be, and "backward as we all may be in going forward." Is it astonishing to the author that his agent should meet with so many rebuffs, that a little solid basis for this "confidence" (value 100 dollars) should be required? If we have got hold of his purpose at all (and we may very easily have failed from the eccentric adumbra veiling his "masquerade") he has not proved his point. If we have not we cannot understand him. Besides, what is glorious rhapsody, almost poetry, in "Moby Dick," for instance, is in this volume, "prose" — that is to say, "prosy"—and we regret to say it. Flashes of the man's strong and striking originality appear not unfrequently; but these cast only a lambent glare upon the misty moorland of his hidden meaning. He may mean that which we cannot solve; and the Œdipus is, therefore, to be found—will be found without question, and questionless with ease. It is a book to read, however queer and quaint, tedious, yet oracular; and, as a specimen of what is to be met with in its pages, take the following: — 


[excerpt from The Confidence-Man chapter 19] "My name is Thomas Fry. Until my 23rd year, I went by the nickname of Happy Tom—happy—ha, ha! They called me Happy Tom, d'ye see? because I was so good-natured and laughing all the time, just as I am now—ha, ha!" Upon this, the herb-doctor would, perhaps, have run, but once more the hyæna clawed him. Presently, sobering down, he continued:— "Well, I was born in New York, and there I lived a steady, hard-working man, a cooper by trade. One evening I went to a political meeting in the Park — for you must know, I was in those days a great patriot. As bad luck would have it, there was trouble near, between a gentleman who had been drinking wine and a pavior who was sober. The pavior chewed tobacco, and the gentleman said it was beastly in him, and pushed him, wanting to have his place. The pavior chewed on, and pushed back. Well, the gentleman carried a sword-cane, and presently the pavior was down—skewered." "How was that?" "Why you see the pavior undertook something above his strength." "The other must have been a Samson then. 'Strong as a pavior,' is a proverb." "So it is, and the gentleman was in body a rather weakly man, but for all that, I say again, the pavior undertook something above his strength." "What are you talking about'? He tried to maintain his rights, didn't he ?" "Yes; but for all that, I say again, he undertook something above his strength." "I don't understand you. But go on." "Along with the gentleman, I, with other witnesses, was taken to the Tombs. There was an examination, and, to appear at the trial, the gentleman and witnesses all gave bail—I mean all but me." "And why didn't you?" "Could'nt get it." "Steady, hard-working cooper like you; what was the reason you could'nt get bail?" "Steady, hard-working cooper hadn't no friends. Well, souse I went into a wet cell, like a canal-boat splashing into the lock; locked up in pickle, d'ye see? against the time of the trial." "But what had you done?" "Why, I hadn't got any friends, I tell ye. A worse crime than murder, as yell see afore long." "Murder? Did the wounded man die?" "Died the third night." "Then the gentleman's bail didn't help him. Imprisoned now, wasn't he?" "Had too many friends. No, it was I that was imprisoned.— But I was going on: They let me walk about the corridor day by day but at night I must into lock. There the wet and the damp struck into my bones. They doctored me, but no use. When the trial came, I was boosted up and said my say." "And what was that?" "My say was that I saw the steel go in, and saw it sticking in." "And that hung the gentleman?" "Hung him with a gold chain! His friends called a meeting in the Park, and presented him with a gold watch and chain upon his acquittal." "Acquittal?" "Didn't I say he had friends?" There was a pause, broken at last by the herb-doctor's saying:— "Well, there is a bright side to everything. If this speak prosaically for justice, it speaks romantically for friendship? But go on, my fine fellow." "My say being said, they told me I might go. I said I could not without help. So the constables helped me, asking where would I go? I told them back to the 'Tombs.' I knew no other place. 'But where are your friends?' said they. 'I have none.' So they put me into a hand-barrow with an awning to it, and wheeled me down to the dock and on board a boat, and away to Blackwell's Island to the Corporation Hospital. There I got worse—got pretty much as you see me now. Couldn't cure me. After three years, I grew sick of lying in a grated iron bed alongside of groaning thieves and mouldering burglars. They gave me five silver dollars, and these crutches, and I hobbled off. I had an only brother who went to Indiana, years ago. I begged about, to make up a sum to go to him; got to Indiana at last, and they directed me to his grave. It was on a great plain, in a log churchyard with a stump fence, the old gray roots sticking all ways like moose-antlers. The bier, set over the grave, it being the last dug, was of green hickory; bark on, and green twigs sprouting from it. Some one had planted a bunch of violets on the mound, but it was a poor soil (always choose the poorest soils for grave-yards), and they were all dried to tinder. I was going to sit and rest myself on the bier, and think about my brother in heaven, but the bier broke down, the legs being only tacked. So, after driving some hogs out of the yard that were rooting there, I came away, and, not to make too long a story of it, here I am, drifting down stream like any other bit of wreck." 
Surveying Putnam's Monthly Magazine for July and August 1855, the same newspaper had noticed "a wild fiction called 'The Bell Tower'" in the August issue:
"... from the wild, fitful and deeply sculptured arabesque of the style (if we may be permitted so to designate it), we should at once point out Herman Melville as the author."

-- London Weekly Dispatch, 2 September 1855. 

Monday, March 15, 2021

Dragooned: Multiplying books by hand

Dragooned: Multiplying books by hand: via medievalbooks By making copies in manuscript, the way publishing used to be done in pre-modern times before the printing press. In a dia...

Friday, March 12, 2021

Praise from whaling captains before Moby-Dick

via Images of Old Hawaiʻi

In a published letter to editor John N. Bradley of the Boston Daily Mail, correspondent  "J. G. S." reports from Lahaina, Maui that "this island is the great resort of whalers for supplies, although for repairs they have to go to Honolulu." The writer is James Gilchrist Swan--positively identified in the Daily Mail on November 21, 1849, about a month before Swan departed for San Francisco and the Pacific Ocean on the clipper ship Rob Roy

“... Mr. James G. Swan, will go out in the ship and will take charge of any goods than may be consigned to him. We have been acquainted with Mr. Swan for many years, and cheerfully recommend those of our friends desirous of shipping to California, that they cannot consign their goods to a better merchant or a better man. Mr. Swan will have facilities on his arrival at San Francisco, which will enable him to attend to any business entrusted to his care, in a prompt and efficient manner.

We have arranged with Mr. S. to correspond with the Mail, and our readers may expect ere long to see some interesting articles from his racy pen.

Like Herman Melville, James G. Swan is sharply critical of missionaries in Hawaii. Near the close of his long letter dated November 14, 1850, Swan registers high praise from whaling captains for Melville's first two books. Found on Genealogy Bank among digitized articles "added within 1 week":

Boston Daily Mail - January 27, 1851

Old Capt. Butler, a resident for many years on the island, and well known by every one who has ever traded in the Pacific, is spinning me a series of yarns which I am balling up for future use. If Melville had the material to work upon that Butler has, he could write a book that would eclipse all the books of adventures that have been written since the time old uncle Jonah went whaling and got into the hold of the wrong ship. By the way, the captains here are much pleased with Melvill's Omoo and Typee. Many of them recognise the characters he mentions, particularly Dr. Johnson at Tahiti, who is a drunken Englishman. Melville cannot have greater praise than he gets from the whaling captains.

-- Boston Daily Mail, January 27, 1851; from the "Interesting Letter from the Sandwich Islands" dated November 14, 1850 and signed "J. G. S."

Herman Melville, having just moved from New York City to the Arrowhead farm near Pittsfield MA, was resuming work on Moby-Dick when "J. G. S." aka James G. Swan prophetically imagined him writing a story of nautical adventure "that would eclipse all the books of adventures that have been written since the time old uncle Jonah went whaling." As Swan conceived it, Melville's best source for the greatest whaling book ever would be the real-life exploits of "Old Capt. Butler," then a "well-known" resident of Lahaina. 

Under the heading, "Death-scene of the Whale," part of Chapter 81 in Moby-Dick was excerpted in the Boston Daily Mail on November 24, 1851. 

If still living, Edmund R. Butler (aka Edward Butler?), one of the early Boston traders and longtime Lahaina resident would have been plenty old enough in 1850 to qualify as "Old Capt. Butler." Back in 1823, this Butler had been the hospitable host of Rev. Charles Samuel Stewart as recorded in Stewart's Journal of a Residence in the Sandwich Islands


In late 1829 Edmund Butler served as sailing master or navigator on the brig Becket, joined with the Kamehameha on a fatal expedition to the New Hebrides islands for sandalwood. The Kamehameha was lost, and the Becket had to return after a month on Erromango, with further tragic consequences:
The company was speedily invaded by a mortal sickness, which carried off the captain [Manuia] and his kind monitor [Kaʻupena], and 180 more of their number, before they returned to Rutuma. There, twenty were left sick, and the Becket returned to Honolulu, August 3d, 1830, with only twelve natives and eight foreigners. Thus ended this disastrous expedition, a total failure, involving the loss of more than 400 lives.  --Hiram Bingham, A Residence of Twenty-one Years in the Sandwich Islands.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

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At 1:11 ... 
 "I learned what I do from people like Ray Charles, Hank Williams--people who can articulate simplicity and make it profound."