Sunday, May 30, 2021

David Urquhart, eccentric ideologist

David Urquhart, 1805-1877. Diplomat
National Galleries Scotland
Deep into Melville's 1852 novel Pierre; Or, The Ambiguities, readers belatedly learn that the young hero Pierre Glendinning was a writer, and already famous as the author of popular verses on comically trivial themes. As disclosed in the satirical chapter on "Young America in Literature," Pierre had been invited to lecture before the ridiculously named
"Urquhartian Club for the Immediate Extension of the Limits of all Knowledge both Human and Divine."
The joke, in part, is on the vanity of philosophers for whom nothing could be deemed unknowable or beyond the grasp of human intellect. Melville specifically makes fun of Unitarian minister Orville Dewey, as Hershel Parker shows in Herman Melville: A Biography Volume 2, 1851-1891 (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002). Dewey had recently delivered a popular series of lectures on The Problem of Human Destiny, a preposterously, almost blasphemously grandiose theme that Melville incorporates in a mock-formal letter of invitation from the local lecture committee in Zadockprattsville. Addressing Pierre as Author of the 'Tropical Summer,' &c., the chairman proposes "Human Destiny" as a suitable lecture subject for a teenaged maker of miscellaneous sentimental verses and fragments of prose. Another target of Melville's satire is transcendentalism, particularly as expounded by American disciples of Thomas Carlyle. The most obvious pointer to Carlyle and his influence appears in the super-Scottish name of the committee chairman, "Donald Dundonald." More broadly, as discussed by Tom F. Wright in Herman Melville in Context, edited by Kevin Hayes (Cambridge University Press, 2018) the fictional lecture-committee letter in Pierre finds humor in the rural pretensions of the lyceum movement in America. Beyond that, as remarked by C. S. Durer in Herman Melville, Romantic and Prophet (York Press, 1996), the lecture invitation burlesques "the ludicrousness of atheneums and, even more so, the general ludicrousness of what passes for the pursuit of knowledge" (164).

But why "Urquhartian?" 

When they bother to notice, Melville scholars usually gloss the name as a reference to seventeenth-century British writer and translator Thomas Urquhart. Thus explicated in the back of the Penguin Classics Pierre (page 377), edited by William C. Spengemann:
Urquhartian: after Sir Thomas Urquhart (1611-1660), English polymath and translator of Rabelais.
Similarly, the Norton Critical Edition (page 251 footnote 2) of Pierre detects
A reference to the Scottish author Sir Thomas Urquhart (1611-1660), celebrated for his translations of the French writer François Rabelais (ca. 1490 - ca.1553).
In his notes to the 1949 Hendricks House edition of Melville's Pierre, Henry A. Murray skipped over the letter from Zadockprattsville inviting Pierre to lecture there on Human Destiny, and made no mention of the Urquhartian Club. 

The perceived allusion to Thomas Urquhart in Melville's imaginary Urquhartian Club fits well enough as a play on the family name, and with reference to the reputation of Sir Thomas as one of the more notable Scottish Eccentrics. 

Sir Thomas Urquhart via NYPL Digital Collections

Particularly worthy of satire according to David Irving in the second volume of Lives of Scotish Writers (Edinburgh, 1850), the "extraordinary career of genealogy" in which Urquhart fantastically "traces his descent from Adam to Noah" and beyond. Understood as part of the satire, the association of Urquhart with François Rabelais might also evoke the outrageous comedy of Gargantua and Pantagruel, nominally enlarging the club's stated mission of extending knowledge while undercutting its seriousness. 

On the other hand, they don't call it the Rabelaisian Club. And Pierre has us laughing at the letter, not with its writer Dundonald, who sounds intensely serious, rather the opposite of jolly Rabelais. Melville seems to envision the Urquhartian Club as something like Philosophers-without-Borders. That limitless pursuit of knowledge might be overreaching, more Satanic than Rabelaisian, is signaled in the grasping for "Divine" as well as "Human" knowledge, and also in the proposed lecture subject of Human Destiny. Maybe we need a supplementary honoree. Happily, Thomas is not the only Urquhart implicated in Melville's Urquhartian Club. More immediately, for the author of Pierre and the novel's first readers in 1852, the term Urquhartian would have conjured up a living namesake: not Thomas but David Urquhart.  

In Melville's epic religious poem Clarel: A Poem and Pilgrimage in the Holy Land (1876), one of two unnamed speakers in an overheard conversation recalls David Urquhart as a vain, unreliable, and "Eccentric ideologist." By then Urquhart was out of vogue, "obsolete." In 1852, however, Melville and his contemporary readers had a direct and readily accessible point of access to the ideas of David Urquhart via the Harper edition of Urquhart's book The Pillars of Hercules, and in the review that appeared under the title "Urquhart's Pillars of Hercules" on pages 5-7 of The Literary World volume 7 for July 6, 1850. 

If he did not write it for the New York Literary World (a possibility worth following up, considering that Melville's pseudonymous review-essay Hawthorne and His Mosses would be published in two parts by the same journal in August 1850, only a month later), Melville as a reader might have been entertained by the light satire of the Urquhart family lineage that opens the anonymously published review:
We shall not wonder at the learning of this book, if we reflect upon the antiquity of the author's family, which is clearly traced by his ancestor, Sir Thomas Urquhart, it is said, all the way down quite from its founder Adam. Antiquarian lore must have come to such a man as an inheritance; and the Hebrew and other roots been the daily fare of his childhood.
The title of Urquhart's 1850 book of course alludes to the Strait of Gibraltar. Throughout, the reviewer takes a kind of amused pleasure in Urquhart's dubious yet entertaining displays of universal learning:
There is an amusing play of the imagination among etymologists and antiquarian travellers, in running up the genealogies of speech and customs to their tiny sources among the shadows of the dim and distant past. Our traveller is, perhaps, not entirely exempt from a slight degree of quixotism, any more than the many others who have bestridden their Rosinantes before him. But though enthusiasts, deep-grounded in ethnology, are very serious themselves in their laborious excavations of long-interred knowledge, they nevertheless exhibit a smack of humor to lookers-on like us. Does not genuine wit, for instance, flow from the ingenious lucubrations of Horne Tooke, or the learned Noah Webster, when, with a flash of light, they reveal the dark relationship of obscure, forgotten etymologies, and tickle us by sudden shifts of phrase with unexpected surprises, which everybody knows to be the soul of wit? 

One of several excerpts from Pillars of Hercules relates Urquhart's visit to a "gambling establishment" or "club" in Tarifa, Spain. Repeating Urquhart's word club, the reviewer highlights "antiquarian theories" suggested by the peculiar brand of Andalusian cards they used "in a certain club," and the earnest imitation of English and French models of government by "grave politicians of this club."

Urquhart's diction, adopted by the anonymous reviewer in the Literary World, may have inspired Melville to denominate the "Urquhartian" organization a "Club" rather than another term like "Society" or "Lyceum" or "Association." Wrapping up, the reviewer summarizes Urquhart's Pillars as a narrative reconstruction of

"interesting and learned travels, composed of a mosaic, where natural philosophy and imagination, archaeology, the arts, military and descriptive, ethnology, history, and political science, have each contributed a characteristic stone."

New York Spectator - June 10, 1850

The New York Spectator (June 10, 1850) treated Urquhart's characteristic "desultoriness" as a virtue since "in such moods he lets the reader into minor things which otherwise might have been overlooked, and their revelation adds greatly to the engrossing interest of the work."

The more substantial, and less cheerfully tolerant review in the London Spectator was reprinted in the March 2, 1850 issue of Littell's Living Age volume 24:

Mr. Urquhart takes an oriental bath; and thereupon writes a disquisition on bathing among the Romans, the Moors, and the Orientals, and non-bathing among some other peoples, ourselves included, with a passing touch on cheap bath-houses, and the Mosaic and Moslem notions of uncleanliness. The traveller went on a sporting excursion, though he seems to have killed nothing; but he ate of the national dish called kuscoussoo, and anon he favors the reader with the whole story of it; how it is made, which is practical information—how to eat it—what authors have said of it—bread compared with kuscoussoo; including a digression upon wheat and its original country, which is not known to Urquhart, but he makes up for it by describing the origin of the “damper” of New South Wales, says a word on Indian corn, pronounces “England in the art of cookery behind every other people,” informs the world that pilaf is never eatable “when made by a Christian,” and closes the topic with some remarks on teeth. In the course of his excursions Mr. Urquhart set eyes on the Moorish haik; which he traces to the garden of Eden, to father Abraham, to the Jews in the wilderness, to the Greeks, to the Romans. 
Delightfully or damnably digressive, with a passion for endless "extension of knowledge" (Pillars of Hercules volume 1, page 157), this Urquhart seems the true namesake of Melville's fictive "Urquhartian Club for the Immediate Extension of the Limits of all Knowledge both Human and Divine." 



A few years after Melville probably alluded to David Urquhart in Pierre (1852), Urquhart definitely and explicitly referenced Herman Melville in The Effect of the Misuse of Familiar Words on the Character of Men and the Fate of Nations (London, 1856). In support of his contrarian view of civilization, David Urquhart quotes this passage from chapter 17 of Typee, Melville's first book:
* "The fiend-like skill which we display in the invention of all manner of death-dealing engines — the vindictiveness with which we carry on our wars, and the misery and desolation which follow in their train, are enough of themselves to distinguish the white civilized man as the most ferocious animal on the face of the earth." — Herman Melville's Marquese Islands


https://hdl.handle.net/2027/mdp.39015020116904?urlappend=%3Bseq=32

Two decades later, Melville worked Urquhart into one of the dialogues in Clarel, where somebody labels him an "eccentric ideologist." Part 4 Canto 12 Of Pope and Turk gives part of a conversation between two unidentified speakers, overheard at breakfast by Rolfe. They argue in a friendly way about virtuous actions attributed to Muslims, and the nobility of support for Poland at different times by Ottoman Turks and Roman Catholics. One stranger respectfully acknowledges David Urquhart as a notable "commentator on the East" who "stands for God" when appealing to the Pope (though a Protestant) and supporting the Ottoman Sultan in the righteous cause of Polish independence. The other guy (secular minded and evidently more of a materialist, resolved to "stand by fact") considers Urquhart a vain and "very inexact / Eccentric ideologist." 

As pointed out by Dorothee Metlitsky Finkelstein in Melville's Orienda (Yale University Press, 1961; and Octagon Books, 1971) some of the published commentary to which Melville alludes in Clarel was available in David Urquhart's The Spirit of the East (London, 1838; #727 in Melville's Sources, ed. Mary K. Bercaw). 

Urquhart, a British diplomat, was known as an extravagant Turkophile whose enthusiasm clouded his judgment, and Melville's reference to him as an "eccentric ideologist" accurately reflects the view of his time. -- Melville's Orienda, pages 89-90

Even so, Melville made great use of enthusiasts and their crazy causes in prose and verse. For literary purposes, the more eccentric the ideologue, the better. That anonymous New York reviewer was on to something about the appeal of "quixotism" as displayed by David Urquhart in Pillars of Herclues:

But though enthusiasts, deep-grounded in ethnology, are very serious themselves in their laborious excavations of long-interred knowledge, they nevertheless exhibit a smack of humor to lookers-on like us.  -- Literary World, July 6, 1850 


Related post:

Friday, May 28, 2021

Race hustle to save the whales (except that very bad one Melville wrote about)

Join the New Bedford Whaling Museum and the New Bedford Lyceum for a candid discussion with feminist and anti-racist scholar-activist Loretta J. Ross. Ross’ work emphasizes the intersectionality of social justice issues and how intersectionality can fuel transformation. She is a visiting associate professor at Smith College (Northampton, MA) in the Program for the Study of Women and Gender, teaching courses on white supremacy, race and culture in America, human rights, and calling in the calling out culture. Ross’ new book, Calling in the Calling Out Culture, is forthcoming in Fall 2021.

 https://www.whalingmuseum.org/program/http-nblyceum-org/
Hopefully the New Bedford Whaling Museum has already done the right thing and canceled called out "called in" their racist Moby-Dick Marathon. Allow me respectfully to suggest that the Whaling Museum, by way of partial atonement for promoting white-whale supremacy over several decades, replace the fetishistic glorifying of Moby-Dick every January with the annual continuous reading of the complete works of Ibram X. Kendi.  

We should probably start with Antiracist Baby and work up. 


Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Calling card

 Herman Melville's calling card, this one left for his uncle Herman Gansevoort...

Calling card of Herman Melville via NYPL Digital Collections
Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library. "Calling card of Herman Melville" The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1840 - 1859. https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/65c170e0-4908-0137-b6a1-0733c8883f81


Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Flash of expression

"As, in the human countenance, more may, oftentimes, be conveyed by a flash of expression than by the most laboured words; so, in the Bible, a whole train of ideas is frequently awakened, or a most powerful effect produced, by some brief phrase or sudden exclamation." -- Clement C. Moore, Lecture Introductory to the Course of Hebrew Instruction (New York, 1825) page 17.
https://hdl.handle.net/10288/25503
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.
-- A Visit from St. Nicholas, 1823.

More from C. C. Moore's Lecture Introductory to the course of Hebrew Instruction in the General Theological Seminary of the Protestant Episcopal Church, pages 16-17: 

“Those parts of the Hebrew Scriptures which are written in prose, are remarkable for the ease and clearness of their style, and their entire freedom from any thing like ambitious or unnecessary ornament. The descriptions to be found in them are like paintings whose lights and shades are in masses, and whose touches are few and bold. The effect produced by the Hebrew manner of relating is, to place the objects and actions described immediately before the eye of the mind. The leading facts are seized by the author, and all attendant circumstances neglected. Thus a life and vigour are imparted to the descriptions and to the speeches, quite peculiar to the Scripture compositions. As in the human countenance, more may oftentimes be conveyed by a flash of expression than by the most laboured words; so, in the Bible, a whole train of ideas is frequently awakened, or a most powerful effect produced, by some brief phrase or sudden exclamation. These writings possess a wonderful and unrivalled union of pathos and strength. In them everything appears natural and unsought. And, with regard to the character and conduct of persons therein portrayed, the most perfect candour and impartiality are manifest; their vices and crimes are related in as simple and unqualified a manner as their virtues and good actions. No false colouring appears to be thought necessary; all bears the stamp of truth and reality.”
--as quoted in Samuel H. Turner, The Claims of the Hebrew Language and Literature (Andover, 1831) pages 26-7.

Friday, May 21, 2021

Churchman notice of TYPEE

Theodore Hook via NYPL Digital Collections

Submitted by "F. M. H." (Fordyce Mitchell Hubbard?), this review of Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life appeared on the front page of The Churchman for April 17, 1847. Then edited by Samuel Seabury (1801-1872), the Churchman was a weekly religious newspaper published on Saturdays in New York City by the Protestant Episcopal Church. The reviewer excerpts and comments on the Hawaiian material in Chapter 26 of Herman Melville's first book. Specifically, "F. M. H." condemns the immoral and abusive behavior of missionaries there as portrayed by Melville in two segments, "Story of a Missionary's Wife" and "Fashionable Equipages at Oahu." In the Churchman heading, the word Polynesian in Melville's subtitle is misspelled "Polneysian."
For the Churchman.

TYPEE: A PEEP AT POLNEYSIAN LIFE.


BY HERMAN MELVILLE.

This is a singular work and reminds one forcibly of the facetious Daly’s “Travels in the Interior of Africa,” the glossary of the latter work of certain words of the native dialect, bearing a marvellous affinity to sundry words in the former, given as the Typee tongue. The work purports to be the composition of a sailor who deserted from a whaler at Nukuheva, and who in running away reached the Typee country, (the natives of which are notorious cannibals,) instead of that of the Happars, their enemies, and a less barbarous people. The whole matter may be as purely inventive as Daly’s Africa, but the style is “vraisemblable,” and sufficiently dashing to make it attractive. It is an objectionable book for general reading, as the author omits no opportunity to cast a sneer at religion. Speaking of Honolulu, he makes the following bold charge against the Missionaries there established, and against one in particular; we extract from the work, pt 2 p. 251 and seq.— “The natives have been civilized into draught-horses and evangelized into beasts of burden. But so it is. They have been literally broken into the traces and are harnessed to the vehicles of their spiritual instructors like so many dumb brutes! Among a multitude of similar exhibitions that I saw, I shall never forget a robust, red-faced and very lady-like personage, a Missionary’s spouse, who day after day for months together, took her regular airings in a little go-cart, drawn by two of the Islanders, one an old grey-headed man and the other a roguish strapling, both being, with the exception of the fig-leaf, as naked as when they were born. Over a level piece of ground this pair of draught bipeds would go with a shambling unsightly trot, the youngster hanging back all the time like a knowing horse, while the old hack plodded on and did all the work.

Rattling along through the streets of the town in this stylish equipage, the lady looks about her as magnificently as any queen driven in state to her coronation. A sudden elevation and a sandy road, however, soon disturb her serenity. The small wheels become embedded in the loose soil,—the old stager stands tugging and sweating, while the young one frisks about and does nothing; not an inch does the chariot budge. Will the tender-hearted lady, who has left friends and home, for the good of the souls of the poor heathens, will she think a little about their bodies and get out and ease the wretched old man, until the ascent is mounted? Not she; she could not dream of it. To be sure, she used to think nothing of driving the cows to pasture on the old farm in New England; but times have changed since then. So she retains her seat and bawls out,— “Hookee! Hookee!” (pull, pull.) The old gentleman, frightened at the sound, labors away harder than ever; and the younger one makes a great show of straining himself, but takes care to keep one eye on his mistress, in order to know when to dodge out of harm’s way. At last the good lady loses all patience; “hookee! Hookee!” and rap goes the heavy handle of her huge fan over the naked skull of the old savage; while the young one shies to one side, and keeps beyond its range. “Hookee! Hookee!” again she cries— “Hookee tata kanuaka!” (pull strong, men,) but all in vain, and she is obliged in the end to dismount, and, sad necessity! actually to walk to the top of the hill.

At the town where this paragon of humility resides, is a spacious and elegant American Chapel, where divine service is regularly performed. Twice every sabbath towards the close of the exercises may be seen a score or two of little wagons ranged along the railing in the front of the edifice, with two squalid native footmen in the livery of nakedness standing by each, and waiting for the dismissal of the congregation to draw their superiors home. * * * * * * To read pathetic accounts of Missionary hardships and glowing descriptions of conversions, and baptisms taking place beneath palm trees, is one thing; and to go to the Sandwich Islands and see the Missionaries, dwelling in picturesque and prettily-furnished coral rock villas, whilst the miserable natives are committing all sorts of immorality around them, is quite another!”

There is no mention in the book of the name of the parties alluded to, and no particularizing of the Society by which they are delegated; but there can be but one opinion that the “husband” of the lady is a gangrened member of the Mission, and should be at once cut off! Can such things be? If there be truth in the charge, better were it a thousand times that the poor natives were left to themselves, than that they should be depressed below their common nature, under the assumption of christianity. Can it be a matter of astonishment, that scoffers abound, when such things exist under the sufferance and by the support of “a Church,” so called? Is it surprising that men hesitate to contribute to such purposes? There is—there must be a lack of judgment—a perversion of right feeling, that the appointments to such stations should be so misplaced.

Much as there is to object to in this work, if it be but the cause of uprooting this direful ill, it is welcome. That it may do evil, it is feared: but that it cannot fail to effect a certain good, there is no doubt.

F. M. H.
March 31, 1847.
Cite:
"F. M. H." “Typee: A Peep at Polneysian Life.” Churchman (New York, NY) 17, no. 7 (April 17, 1847): 26. http://search.ebscohost.com.i.ezproxy.nypl.org/login.aspx?direct=true&db=clp&AN=52063187&site=ehost-live.
The opening reference by "F. M. H." to the "facetious Daly" alludes to the comical friend of Gilbert Gurney in Theodore Hook's autobiographical Gurney Papers, originally serialized in Hook's New Monthly Magazine (1837-8). In the July 1837 installment, Gurney samples Daly's bogus journal of "Travels in the Interior of Africa" which includes a fictitious "vocabulary." Daly's fake "vocabulary" or glossary of common African words reminds the Churchman reviewer of Melville's questionable transcriptions and translations of Polynesian words in Typee.



Thursday, May 20, 2021

Yale Literary Magazine notice of THE CONFIDENCE-MAN

This notice of Herman Melville's The Confidence-Man appeared in the April 1857 issue of The Yale Literary Magazine. Not transcribed or listed in Herman Melville: The Contemporary Reviews, ed. Brian Higgins and Hershel Parker (Cambridge University Press, 1995; paperback 2009).
The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade. By HERMAN MELVILLE. New York: Dix, Edwards & Co. For sale by T. H. Pease. 

Mr. Melville’s new book outdoes in strangeness and eccentricity even his own later stories, which have made people wonder, by the odd kind of metaphysical wildness which pervaded them. We can use no terms which will adequately characterize this his last production. It has evidently a moral, and yet this is so hidden by grotesque incidents and strange situations, that we cannot be sure that we have hit upon the right key to this metaphysico-romantic novel, in which there is no word of love, no heroine and a hero who appears and disappears in as many parts and characters, as the sole actor in a small theater. The conclusion seems to promise a continuance of the Masquerade, and we shall be glad to see it, for we are in a state of utter bewilderment as to the real faces under the masks of the present book. Yet, in spite of these drawbacks to the complete understanding of the book, we could not best [but] be charmed by its pure style and by the beauty of many of the thoughts. If its plan is poor, (which we cannot decide without further light,) its execution is sufficient to redeem it. The book may attract by its novelty, but we doubt if it adds anything to the reputation of the author of “Typee.”
This book, as well as the others published by Dix, Edwards & Co., is issued in that neat and elegant style which marks all the publications of this house. 

 The Harvard copy of Yale Literary Magazine volume 22 was Google-digitized in July 2018. 

https://books.google.com/books?id=Irq-BwX2TfgC&pg=PA246&lpg=PA246&dq#v=onepage&q&f=false 

 EBSCO Cite: 

“Literary Notices.” Yale Literary Magazine (New Haven, CT) 22, no. 6 (April 1857): 245–47. http://search.ebscohost.com.i.ezproxy.nypl.org/login.aspx?direct=true&db=lpn&AN=43393372&site=ehost-live.

Melville poem Lost Youth in the Christian Register

Retitled "Lost Youth," a version of Herman Melville's poem "C——'s Lament" from Timoleon, Etc. (1891) appeared in the Unitarian Christian Register for November 8, 1900. Then edited by ordained Unitarian minister George Batchelor (1836-1923), The Christian Register was a prominent weekly newspaper published in Boston by the American Unitarian Association.

This is basically the same version later reprinted in the Springfield MA Republican on June 13, 1909, as documented in the previous Melvilliana post Lost Youth

Christian Register - November 8, 1900

Lost Youth. 

How lovely was the light of heaven,
What angels leaned from out the sky
     In years when youth was more than wine
     And man and nature seemed divine,
Ere yet I felt that youth must die!

Ere yet I felt that youth must die,
How insubstantial looked the earth!
     Aladdin-land! in each advance,
     Or here or there, a new romance:
I never dreamed would come a dearth. 
And nothing then but had its worth,
Even pain. Yes, pleasures still and pain
     In quick reaction made of life
     A lovers' quarrel, happy strife
In youth that never comes again.

But will youth never come again?
Even to his grave-bed has he gone,
     And left me lone to wake by night
     With heavy heart that erst was light?
I lay it at his head,—a stone!

-- Herman Melville.
A digitized version of Christian Register volume 79 with Melville's poem "Lost Youth" is accessible courtesy of the HathiTrust Digital Library.

https://hdl.handle.net/2027/mdp.39015080394300?urlappend=%3Bseq=1247

Related post:

  • Lost Youth
    https://melvilliana.blogspot.com/2021/05/lost-youth.html

 

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Lost Youth

Samuel Taylor Coleridge via NYPL Digital Collections

Herman Melville's poem "C——'s Lament" from Timoleon, Etc. (1891) appeared in the Sunday edition of the Springfield, Massachusetts Republican on June 13, 1909 under a different title, "Lost Youth." 

Springfield MA Sunday Republican - June 13, 1909
via Genealogy Bank

Reprinted with the same title in the Burlington, Vermont Free Press on June 18, 1909, and again in the Burlington Weekly Free Press on June 24, 1909. The poem "Lost Youth" by Herman Melville was also reprinted in the Davenport, Iowa Democrat and Leader on June 25, 1909.

18 Jun 1909, Fri The Burlington Free Press (Burlington, Vermont) Newspapers.com

LOST YOUTH.  

How lovely was the light of heaven,
What angels leaned from out the sky
   In years when youth was more than wine
   And man and nature seemed divine,
Ere yet I felt that youth must die!

Ere yet I felt that youth must die,
How insubstantial looked the earth!
   Aladdin-land! in each advance,
   Or here or there, a new romance;
I never dreamed would come a dearth.

And nothing then but had its worth,
Even pain. Yes, pleasures still and pain
   In quick reaction made of life
   A lovers' quarrel, happy strife
In youth that never comes again.

But will youth never come again;
Even to his grave-bed has he gone,
   And left me lone to wake by night
   With heavy heart that erst was light?
I lay it at his head,—a stone! 

-- Herman Melville.

Along with the different (editorially revised?) title "Lost Youth," punctuation also differs in these 1909 newspaper versions from that of most printed texts including the 1924 Constable edition of The Works of Herman Melville, volume 16. There as in Timoleon the last line reads

O, lay it at his head—a stone! 

but the 1909 versions have the singular first-person pronoun "I" in place of the interjection:

 I lay it at his head,—a stone!

The change from "O" to "I" in the final stanza affects the mood of  the verb "lay," making it declarative instead of imperative, parallel with the "I" statements that close the first two stanzas. 

In manuscript, earlier versions of the title read "Coleridge's Lament," as reported in the editorial notes for this poem in the back of the 2009 Northwestern-Newberry edition of Melville's Published Poems, edited by Robert C. Ryan, Harrison Hayford, Alma MacDougall Reising, and G. Thomas Tanselle, with Historical Note by Hershel Parker. 

Alternatively, in manuscript, titled "Anacreon's Threnody," as Douglas Robillard pointed out in the introduction to his edition of The Poems of Herman Melville (Kent State University Press, 2000).



Melville's poem Lost Youth was previously published with that title and distinctive last line (I lay it...) in the Unitarian weekly Christian Register on November 8, 1900.

Related post:

Timoleon, Etc.

Timoleon, Etc.: Timoleon, Etc. was the last work by Herman Melville published during his life. It was printed by the Caxton Press in May 1891, in an edition of 25 copies. This ebook edition presents a facsimile of the 1891 first edition, in PDF format. Ultimately, the Northwestern-Newberry edition will establish and make available the authoritative texts of these 42 poems. Until such time, the texts here are offered for the use of researchers, scholars, and readers. Timoleon, Etc. includes the following 42 poems: Timoleon • After the Pleasure Party • The Night March • The Ravaged Villa • The Margrave’s Birthnight • Magian Wine • The Garden of Metrodorus • The New Zealot to the Sun • The Weaver • Lamia’s Song • In a Garret • Monody • Lone Founts • The Bench of Boors • The Enthusiast • Art • Buddha • C_____’s Lament • Shelley’s Vision • Fragments of A Lost Gnostic Poem of the 12th Century • The Marchioness of Brinvilliers • The Age of The Antonines • Herba Santa • FRUIT OF TRAVEL LONG AGO [section] • Venice • In a Bye Canal • Pisa’s Leaning Tower • In a Church of Padua • Milan Cathedral • ...

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Project MUSE - Remembrance and Remediation: Mediating Disability and Literary Tourism in the Romantic Archive

Project MUSE - Remembrance and Remediation: Mediating Disability and Literary Tourism in the Romantic Archive

Link above to groundbreaking work by Jessica Roberson on the life and poetry of Sophia Hyatt, presented in the Spring 2020 issue of Studies in Romanticism. Roberson's article is valuable for original archival finds and helpful readings, despite the oppressive and practically worthless ideology and jargon inherent in academic disability studies.

Cited in the Melvilliana post, "Teenage Nervous Breakdown; or, Melvillle's deaf monster and the critics." https://melvilliana.blogspot.com/2021/05/teenage-nervous-breakdown-or-melvilles.html

Teenage Nervous Breakdown; or, Melville's deaf monster and the critics

 
Bad for the heart, bad for the mind,
Bad for the deaf and bad for the blind.
-- Lowell George, Teenage Nervous Breakdown

The most thorough critical study of Herman Melville's 1839 "Fragments from a Writing Desk" is still the one by William Henry Gilman in Melville's Early Life and Redburn (New York University Press, 1951) pages 108-122. While admitting the limitations of Melville's first known fictions as "distinctly amateurish compositions," Gilman argues that the two numbered newspaper "Fragments" 

offer clues about his personality, outline his intellectual life, and foreshadow his later literary techniques. --Melville's Early Life, page 109

After close readings of each sketch Gilman concludes, in part:

It is lamentable that no other writings survive from Melville's early period to study for Byronic influences. But Melville's first compositions owe much to Byron, not only in direct and indirect references, but also in the extravagant expression, in the disposition to project one's self or one's dreams into one's literary creations, as Byron did in Childe Harold, and in the sting of disillusion with which the second "Fragment" ends.

In the final analysis Melville's first writings tell us a good deal about their enthusiastic but untutored author, In his twentieth year, despite the dismal days on which he had fallen, he could write with good humor and spontaneity, welling up out of an undeniable urge to self-expression. His attitude toward life is lusty and bumptious. The suggestions of romantic revolt against his refined and thoroughly proper background are strong. If his enthusiasms are somewhat youthful, they still evidence zest for the life of experience as well as for art and literature, both classical and modern. He could indulge in the wildest of romantic effusions, as in the first "Fragment," and much of the second. However, he could also subdue them with humor, ridicule, and disenchantment.

His literary style has the faults common to beginners--verbal and imaginative extravagance, self-consciousness, undue length. Yet in many ways his first works anticipate the style of his best period. He learned very early to fill out his story with a wealth of allusion, literary, historical, and artistic. The Second "Fragment" begins with an exclamation as do Typee and Mardi; its abruptness is repeated in Redburn, White-Jacket, and Moby-Dick. The suspense secured by deliberately delaying the ending and the dramatic climax itself are repeated in Typee and Mardi and worked out in Wagnerian form in Moby-Dick. Of profound significance is the fact that the "Fragment" tells the story of a frustrated quest. The pattern of this adolescent experiment with the marvelous is the essential pattern of Mardi, Moby-Dick, and Pierre. Here Melville's hero pursues the trivial end of sensuous perfection. At the very end he is suddenly disappointed. In the works of Melville's greatest period his characters wander over the entire globe and the infinite world of the mind and in the pursuit of ultimate beauty, or of power over nature and evil, or of truth and justice. All of them--Taji, Ahab, and Pierre--are the losers in their quests. The ending of the second "Fragment" shows that as early as his twentieth year Melville's mind had formulated, however crudely, the concept that pursuit of the ideal is foredoomed to disillusion and defeat. 

-- William H.Gilman, Melville's Early Life, pages 119-120.

The best edited texts of Melville's two "Fragments from a Writing Desk" are printed with "Uncollected Pieces" in the scholarly edition of The Piazza Tales: And Other Prose Pieces, 1839-1860, edited by Harrison Hayford, Alma A. MacDougall, G. Thomas Tanselle and others (Northwestern University Press and The Newberry Library, 1987) on pages 191-204. "Fragments" originally appeared in two numbered installments, each published over the enigmatic signature "L. A. V." in the Lansingburgh NY Democratic Press, and Lansingburgh Advertiser for May 4 and 18, 1839. The pseudonymous author was then 19 years old. The joke at the sudden end of Fragment No. 2 is on the narrator who finds out to his horror that his Oriental dream girl is "DUMB AND DEAF!" physically unable to speak or hear. What an idiot! The narrator I mean, so devoted to his ideal of feminine perfection that he runs away from Real Love the instant he finds it. 

Even with due allowance for the exuberance and stupidity of youth, the premise of the "atrocious anticlimax" (Gilman's apt tag, page 113) that finishes off Melville's second Fragment is hard to comprehend. His mystery-girl ain't nothing but fine fine fine. How is her being deaf-and-dumb a dealbreaker? Omnia vincit amor, all the poets say so. Muddy Waters said she moves me, man. Jimmy Reed said if you find true love in this wicked world, sign her to a contract. Chuck Berry said C'est la vieyou never can tell. Big Maybelle said why not take all of me. Obviously Melville never saw Marlee Matlin in Children of a Lesser God. Reject that sexy enchantress? Not hardly. 

Explicating the "extraordinary dénouement" and abrupt ending of the second Fragment, Dorothee Metlitsky Finkelstein agrees with Gilman. Melville's Fragment 2
"has been appropriately called the first of his variations on the theme of a frustrated quest. The final anticlimax is the earliest demonstration of his irresistible impulse to prick the rosy bubble of romance and to reveal its terrible core of tragic reality." -- Finkelstein, Melville's Orienda (Yale University Press, 1961; reprinted Octagon Books, 1971) page 31.
Confronting the same essential puzzlement, Peter Norberg explains that the narrator's "asking to seal their love not with a kiss but with her voice shows he is more interested in a rhetorical exchange than an exchange of sexual favors" (page 76). 

Norberg, Peter. "Congreve and Akenside: Two Poetic Allusions in Melville's "Fragments from a Writing Desk"." Leviathan, vol. 10 no. 3, 2008, p. 71-80. Project MUSE muse.jhu.edu/article/492877.

Failure to communicate in Fragments 2 thus anticipates the predicaments of Bartleby, Babo, and Billy Budd. Invoking Lyotard and Fish, Norberg explains how the abortive conclusion highlights Melville's "persistent interest in moments of discursive disjunction—moments of miscommunication, or non-communication that occur when one person fails to recognize the conventions of discourse being spoken by another" (page 72).

Discursive disjunction! So, not dreadful misogyny? No prospective violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act? Norberg would absolve teenage Melville of misogyny in No. 2 by emphasizing the extended satire on hyper-romanticism:
"the deliberate manner in which Melville directs readers’ attention back to the narrator’s overblown rhetoric makes his rhetorical posturing, not women, the butt of the joke." 
Similarly excused as a literary device, the narrator's heartless rejection of a disabled woman after the big reveal. Call it a metaphor, rather than obvious ableism. The shocking silence of Inamorata figuratively represents 
"the romantic movement’s failure to propose an alternative to the cultural order of things it ostensibly challenged" (page 76).

 

Maybe, but my own research, particularly my deep reading in National Lampoon, teaches me that premium adolescent humor revels in misogyny, along with gross outrageous satire of everything under the sun. Not excluding the most vulnerable of our fellow mortals with disabilities. Also, as a committed feminist I refuse to bar women from any exposé of posturing and butts, however academic or adolescent. No More Separate Spheres! Speaking of which, the contribution by Elizabeth Renker to that seminal volume offers probably the best analysis ever of the literary figurations in Melville's Fragments: 

The virgin whiteness thematized in these sketches under the sign of the female is metonymically the whiteness of paper and is ultimately figured as a blankness or dumbness that terrifies the narrator/writer.... (pages 104-105)

In the confrontation with the dumb white face that concludes sketch 2, then, the writing debut of sketch 1 ultimately gives way to a terrifying scene of writing anxiety.” (pages 105-106)

Reprinted there from Renker's 1994 article in American Literature 

Renker, Elizabeth. “Herman Melville, Wife Beating, and the Written Page.” American Literature, vol. 66, no. 1, 1994, pp. 123–150. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/2927436. 




and reprised in Strike Through the Mask (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996), pages 59-60.

Renker's biography-based reading of Fragments has the added virtue of accounting for violence associated with women and scenes of writing in later texts like Pierre; or, The Ambiguities (1852) and The Tartarus of Maids (April 1855), even if you would acquit Melville on the unproven criminal charge of physically abusing his spouse. 

Norberg footnoted Gilman but not Renker or Metlitsky Finkelstein. In due course, Norberg is now ignored along with Gilman, Renker, and Metlitsky Finkelstein in the recent Leviathan essay by Daniel Diez Couch and Michael Anthony Nicholson. 

Couch, Daniel Diez and Michael Anthony Nicholson. "Silent Eloquence: Literary Extracts, the Aesthetics of Disability, and Melville’s “Fragments”." Leviathan, vol. 23 no. 1, 2021, p. 7-23. Project MUSEdoi:10.1353/lvn.2021.0001.

In this particular quaternity of academic neglect, the women get the worst of it. Renker, instead of receiving credit for her most original and provocative and directly relevant work, gets cited with the late Douglas Robillard for a minor and easily dismissible reference to "Fragments from a Writing Desk" in their introductory essay on Melville and Poetry in the October 2007 Leviathan. Amnesia has definite advantages here. You could not very well acknowledge Renker on Melville's "Fragments" in American Literature or No Separate Spheres! or Strike through the Mask and still claim that critics have dismissed it. Best forget her, and suppress the terrifying realization that Leviathan and The Melville Society are just nothing but cultural monuments to gender-based violence and misogyny, not to mention white supremacy. As predicted in another post, Melville is bound to be cancelled and soon. 

Renker's dangerous take is bravely rescued by Michael D. Snediker, riffing on Fragment 2 in the preface of his latest book, Contingent Figure: Chronic Pain and Queer Embodiment (University of Minnesota Press, 2021). On Melville's alleged abuse of his wife, Snediker accepts the guilty verdict rendered by Renker as "well documented." Reverential and creepy invocations of Foucault, especially his refiguring of the Cheshire cat's disembodied grin, are not similarly qualified by any reference to the French philosopher's sexual abuse of children in Tunisia. Better-evidenced by eyewitness testimony which is more compelling than the documented rumor and hearsay in Melville's case. However, breaking news of Foucault's abuse of North African boys only emerged in March 2021, months too late for Snediker to have confronted it in Contingent Figure

https://theoryreader.org/2021/03/30/french-philosopher-michel-foucault-abused-boys-in-tunisia/

Snediker seems the rarest of postmodern theorists in that he has not forgotten how to read. Closely reading and re-reading Fragment 2 in the wake of Renker and the 2006 introductory essay by Samuel Otter to a special issue of Leviathan on Melville and Disability, Snediker frames the big critical question
“How, then, to cull from the invectively capitalized last words of Melville’s text some sense of his profound and provoking explorations of disability? 

but realizes, as a reader, you don't. Melville's Inamorata is, after all, imaginary. A fictional character, and barely that in Snediker's view:  

“Conceiving Inamorata as a woman treated like an object asks, however, that we suspend our readerly disbelief regarding her elaborate textual flatness.” -- Michael D. Snediker, preface to Contingent Figure.

https://books.google.com/books?id=gN0PEAAAQBAJ&pg=PT22&lpg#v=onepage&q&f=false 

As Snediker suggests, the personality of Inamorata gets lost in the oriental opulence of her surroundings. The felt "flatness" of Melville's representation betrays her essence which is literary and thus unreal. Considering the skill with which Couch and Nicholson dissect Melville's first Fragment as a generic collection of literary "beauties," it is strange to find them ignoring literary antecedents of Inamorata in Byron's The Bride of Abydos, Moore's Lalla Rookh, and The Arabian Nights. Metlitsky Finkelstein surveyed those and more sixty years ago, discovering along the way
an American model for Melville's story which has not been previously noted. The subject of the deaf and dumb mistress is the theme of Amir Khan, a popular Oriental verse romance by a young American poet, Lucretia Maria Davidson, who died in 1825 at the age of sixteen....

Like the Inamorata of Melville's Fragment, Amreta, the heroine, is deaf and dumb and is characterized by "long dark lashes" and an appropriately amorous name. The passionate ardor of Amir Khan meets no response in the beauteous damsel. But Amir Khan finally resorts to a ruse. With the help of a magic herb, he pretends to be dead and succeeds in evoking speech in his mistress. Unlike Melville's Fragment, the story ends happily. 

... Miss Davidson was inspired by the Arabian Nights and even more by Thomas Moore, the Western prophet of Oriental romance. One cannot help feeling that Amir Khan may have given Melville a special impetus for his "hoax." 

--Melville's Orienda, pages 29-33 

With Amir Khan before us, Inamorata looks a lot like Davidson's disabled heroine, Amreta. When Melville's narrator begs Inamorata,
Speak! Tell me, thou cruel! Does thy heart send forth vital fluid like my own? Am I loved,--even wildly, madly, as I love?
he echoes Amir Khan's plea to Amreta: 
"Oh speak! Amreta--but one word!
Let one soft sigh confess I'm heard."

 Davidson's models were Melville's, too. As pointed out in a contemporary review, Davidson's poems

“are to be estimated by the age of the writer, and by the subjects of imitation before her—Byron and Moore; from whom all our young poets and poetesses have more or less made their sketches. And why not,—if the sketches be tolerable? " -- New York Spectator, June 2, 1829.
Peter A. Obuchowski takes Fragments as Melville's satire of Edgar Allan Poe and his ornate stylings, especially as manifested in the 1838 short story Ligeia
In "Fragment 2," he continues the satire of the idealization of women in popular romantic fiction begun, and put in contrasting perspective, by "Fragment 1," The absurdly saccharine and lace-edged female portraits of "Fragment 1" evolve in "Fragment 2" into a mysterious lady who, much to the narrator-hero's chagrin, turns out to be deaf and dumb....

...  The main joke of the piece centers on Poe's preoccupation with mysterious women of ethereal beauty and perfection. In "Fragment 2," the narrator's quest does not lead to a great transcending love that transports him to a vision of Poe's Other-World but to the hard reality (presented as black humor) that the loved one, very much of this earth, is deaf and dumb. The satire may cut deeper to suggest that her dress, surroundings, and general appearance disguise her defects, or even deeper to suggest ironically that if she is a supernatural emissary she can neither hear man's petitions nor speak any wisdom or comfort to him. But the general tone of the "Fragment" is light and humorous, and highly serious thematic interpretations probably should not be pushed too far.

Obuchowski, Peter A. "Melville's first short story: a parody of Poe." Studies in American Fiction, vol. 21, no. 1, 1993, p. 97+. Gale Academic OneFile, link.gale.com/apps/doc/A13926333/AONE?u=nypl&sid=AONE&xid=9008082d.

For Obuchowski, Melville's 1839 parody of Poe revealed a talent for literary satire that would be developed and exploited throughout Melville's career as a prose writer, most brilliantly in The Confidence-Man

Obuchowski is out with the rest in 2021, but Couch and Nicholson, like Snediker, do recognize Samuel Otter for pointing the way forward in Melville's Anatomies (University of California Press, 1999) and the aforementioned essay on Melville and Disability. However, the existence of the 2006 effort in print further erodes their supposition of "scant scholarly attention." Introducing a special issue of Leviathan all about Melville and Disability, Otter anatomized and for the occasion literalized both Fragments with particular attention to No. 2. Flipping the script on the disillusioned narrator, Otter pointed out that "the fancies of Inamorata, too, are thwarted." When boy meets deaf girl, both are disappointed and "the final scene depicts a mutual shock." 

Otter, Samuel. "Introduction: Melville and Disability." Leviathan, vol. 8 no. 1, 2006, p. 7-16. Project MUSE muse.jhu.edu/article/492743.

Taking the hint, Couch and Nicholson extend Otter's argument by placing Melville's Inamorata at the moral and aesthetic center of Melville's Fragments (regarded as one story in two parts). Good! That is, if you can forgive and forget the silencing of Metlitsky Finkelstein and Renker, the disability angle looks promising and almost new with respect to Melville's Inamorata. In developing their case for a deaf female character as hero of creative expression and activism, Couch and Nicholson situate Fragments in the interesting and clearly relevant context of "emergent deaf American communities, institutions, and forms of expression." As they show, literary landmarks of deaf culture, overlooked in previous scholarship on Melville's Fragments, include "literary works by an array of deaf and hearing writers from James Nack and John R. Burnet to Washington Irving and Sarah Josepha Hale." Excellent!!! Especially interesting to me are the examples of Hale's 1828 story The Deaf Girl and Irving's narrative of The Little White Lady in The Crayon Miscellany (1835). 

Fascinating in their own right, these two texts supply analogues and possible sources that might illuminate Melville's teenage treatment of deafness. The amazing and accomplished Sarah J. Hale was future editor of Godey's Lady's Magazine where "Deaf Girl" would be reprinted in October 1852, with the revised title "The Deaf Beauty." Her protagonist is Marianne Willis, a bright and beautiful young lady deceived by the romantic attentions of her callous suitor, Captain Hall of the U. S. Navy. Unfortunately, Marianne never rebounds from her disappointment: "She had worshipped truth-she found the world false—her spirit was not formed to endure it." 

Hale's pathetic tale of Marianne Willis is an American fiction. Couch and Nicholson dump Irving's "Little White Lady" into the same category, fiction. Granted, with Irving it's good to be on your guard, otherwise you might mistake Diedrich Knickerbocker for a real person, and his famous book for a veritable History of New York. Another of Irving's pseudonyms is Geoffrey Crayon, putative author of The Sketch Book and The Crayon Miscellany. Nevertheless, when Irving in the literary guise of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. presents the sketch of "The Little White Lady" as "a little tale of real life" (page 203), he's not lying. Irving's 1835 sketch of The Little White Lady is a true story about real people and events at Newstead Abbey in Nottinghamshire, England. Irving's first informant was Byron's former schoolfellow Thomas Wildman who had purchased the estate from Byron. In 1831, Colonel Wildman and his wife Louisa hosted Irving for several weeks at Newstead Abbey. From Thomas and Louisa Wildman and others, Irving learned all about the Byron-obsessed deaf lady who haunted the Abbey like a ghost, often habited (like Melville's Inamorata) in white. 

Manuscript notes on Newstead Abbey are preserved in the Washington Irving Collection Accession 6256-a, Special Collections Department, University of Virginia Library. Transcripts (and some originals, apparently) of letters from the eccentric subject of Irving's sketch are now held there with Irving's Correspondence, as indicated in the online Finding Aid. Independent confirmation may be found in the manuscript autobiography of Mrs. Rebekah Heath (1797-1870), as reproduced in J. H. Beardsmore's History of Hucknall Torkard and transcribed on Nottinghamshire History:
The White Lady of Newstead
http://www.nottshistory.org.uk/hucknall1909/hucknall14.htm

As described by Irving, locals at the farm house where the White Lady stayed courtesy of Colonel Wildman did not know the name of their troubled and troublesome guest. But Irving learned it eventually and does not leave her "nameless" as implied by Couch and Nicholson. In Irving's plain words, "Her name was Sophia Hyatt." 

In 1825 the circumstances of Sophia Hyatt's difficult life, eccentric and intensely romantic personality, and accidental death were communicated in a newspaper article for the Nottingham Review. The richly detailed mortuary notice in the Nottingham Review circulated immediately and widely in British newspapers and journals.


12 Oct 1825, Wed The Bury and Norwich Post (Bury, Suffolk, England) Newspapers.com
Reprinted frequently, for example in the London Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction (October 8, 1825). American versions include the New York Spectator for December 2, 1825; New York Truth Teller, December 3, 1825; and Springfield, MA Republican, December 7, 1825.

New York Truth Teller - December 3, 1825
In our time neo-racists masked as anti-racists like to project their own racist fantasies onto unoffending waitresses and truck drivers, cooks and clerks, police officers and other emergency responders, schoolchildren and college students, mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, friends and neighbors who build and grow and fix things for a living. The morally equivalent crime in disability studies must be ableism. When the victim of ableism is a woman, tack on an extra charge of anti-feminism. Unfortunately for Wokademia, between the Oriental fantasies of teenage Melville and varying psycho-sexual responses of sympathetic readers, there should be more than enough isms to go around. Like I said before in the post on Memory-holes in the Broadview Benito Cereno, Melville will have to be cancelled along with Dr. Seuss. Exile the White Whale to Mulberrry Street where he belongs! Obvious problem, you absolutely can't publish in Leviathan or patronize the Melville Society, once Melville has been exposed as the misogynist and ableist upholder of systemic racism and apologist for white-whale supremacy that he most certainly and demonstrably was. 

Solution: re-imagine teenage Melville as the Greta Thunberg of disability rights advocacy:
"Melville's active, signing women serve as a rejoinder to Hale and Irving, whose objectifying fictions combine ableism and antifeminism." -- Couch and Nicholson on Melville and Disability, page 17.

Hahaha.

 Objectifying fictions? Personally, I live for objectifying fictions.

Peeping from beneath the envious skirts of her mantle, and almost buried in the downy quishion on which it reposed, lay revealed the prettiest little foot you can imagine; cased in a satin slipper, which clung to the fairy-like member by means of a diamond clasp.

Talk about active signing. Baby, you know what I like. Do that sign with the downy quishion.



Sorry, all that peeping and hiding and clasping and clinging around Inamorata's pretty little foot, not to mention the feather cushion, made me dazed and confused. For a moment I forgot who's getting cancelled for composing objectifying fictions. NOT teenage Melville in Fragment 2 for turning Lucretia M. Davidson's deaf fairy princess into a monster of cosmic silence. PAY NO ATTENTION TO THE DOWNY QUISHION! Focus instead on politically incorrect stories about talented deaf women by Washington Irving and Sarah Josepha Hale, fatally flawed by ableism and antifeminism. 

How can that be? Sarah J. Hale, blessed co-author of Mary Had a Little Lamb with Buddy Guy and Jimmie Vaughan's kid brother, a vicious ableist and antifeminist? 
Mary had a little lamb,
Its fleece was white as snow
. -- Sarah J. Hale and Buddy Guy
Mary had a little lamb,
His fleece was black as coal
.... -- Stevie Ray Vaughan
So they say: "Melville's active, signing women serve as a rejoinder to Hale and Irving, whose objectifying fictions combine ableism and antifeminism." Melville's fake deaf lady rights all wrongs, even those committed by real 19th century women. To clinch their case against Hale, Couch and Nicholson use the popular technique of lying with ellipses. This is also a favorite trick of media propagandists. 
Melville's active, signing women serve as a rejoinder to Hale and Irving, whose objectifying fictions combine ableism and antifeminism: as Hale writes, "a beauty who cannot speak, is no more . . . than a statue" (226).

Great God! As presented in Leviathan, the severed quote makes Hale sound like the ultimate ice-queen, mean and evil enough to categorically deny human dignity to non-speaking persons. Case closed. Anybody who would cruelly marginalize disabled people by calling them statues could probably dash off five or six ableist fictions before breakfast. But that only happens in pseudo-reality. In the real world of verifiable facts, here's what Hale actually wrote:

But a beauty who cannot speak, is no more to our intellectual beaux than a statue. And yet, where is the great advantage in having the faculty of speech, if it be only employed in lisping nonsense?
Deleting the key phrase "to our intellectual beaux" dramatically changes the sense of Hale's words in their original context. For Hale's narrative purposes this is exposition, early on, establishing in a general way the ignoble motivations of--

Who? Uh, men. Young men if you want to be particular. Alright, highly educated (rather, over-educated or mis-educated, as Hale digressively dares to theorize) "intellectual" young men, "beaux" who idolize young women for their most superficial attributes. Important plot point for the romance underway, since Marianne's apparent suitor Captain Hall turns out to be one those beaux with bad intentions. Far from endorsing the sophomoric view of non-speaking persons as statues, Hale's narrator endows her deaf beauty with lively features, a "soul-beaming smile" and "laughing eyes." Marianne lacked for nothing:
"She was as happy as she seemed, as happy as she was innocent—she had never known a single sorrow, or privation." (Deaf Girl, page 227)
Marianne's caller the Navy officer is described as generous and gallant, but "thoughtless." The Captain admires her beauty and pities her misfortune, so regarded, of being unable to speak. However charming, he's no Romeo. Hale's Captain Hall is more like Austen's Willoughby, dashing but undependable suitor of Marianne Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility. Both Marianne's are deceived then eventually undeceived. True, Hall's Marianne Willis never recovers from her disappointment. That's melodrama for you. Pity her misfortune! Marianne Dashwood was just luckier, maybe, in catching Colonel Brandon. In reality, the heartless endorsement of ableism and antifeminism that Couch and Nicholson re-assign to Sarah J. Hale (by taking words out of her mouth) is according to Hale the normal view of over-educated young men. True enough. But you can't fault the co-creator of Mary Had a Little Lamb for that. 

With mangled texts for their only evidence, Couch and Nicholson similarly convict Washington Irving of perpetrating an objectifying fiction titled "Little White Lady" in Crayon's Miscellany. In our time, even minor literary crimes, or sins, may have severe social and cultural penalties. The code-phrase "objectifying fiction" probably means the writer is done, de-platformed, exiled. Banished from the canon of American Literature. Canceled! like poor Bartleby's dead letters. (Dear Reader, beware. You could be next.) Normal use of conventional language is no excuse. For college professors turned inquisitors, it's bad enough that Irving described the physical and mental condition of his protagonist in negative terms of "defective organization" and "morbid sensibility." The clincher, "Irving's deaf female poet" incriminates herself by complaining of her social isolation.

Reality check: this is victim-blaming with a vengeance, by critics who can't distinguish fact from fiction. Irving quoted her own words, transcribing from real letters and real verses by a real person. Say her name: 

Sophia Hyatt

In their reality-denying rebuke of Irving's "Little White Lady," privileged literary critics Daniel Diez Couch and Michael Anthony Nicholson combine ableism and antifeminism by reductively dismissing the traumatic lived experience and creative legacy of Sophia Hyatt, the accomplished deaf female poet, early disciple of Byron, and trailblazer of self-advocacy, as "objectifying fiction." 

Sophia Hyatt, "The White Lady of Newstead" in real life and Gothic legend is the focus of a chapter by David Herbert in The Gothic Byron, ed. Peter Cochran (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2009) pages 159-164.

For more groundbreaking work on the real life and poems of Sophia Hyatt, and varied mediations thereof including Irving's in "The Little White Lady," see the recent article by Jessica Roberson, Remembrance and Remediation, in the Spring 2020 issue of Studies in Romanticism. Valuable for original archival finds and appreciative readings, despite the oppressive and practically worthless ideology and jargon inherent in academic disability studies. Roberson does not engage or cite Herbert's chapter in Gothic Byron.
Roberson, Jessica. "Remembrance and Remediation: Mediating Disability and Literary Tourism in the Romantic Archive." Studies in Romanticism, vol. 59, no. 1, 2020, p. 85+. Gale Academic OneFile, link.gale.com/apps/doc/A625498000/AONE?u=nypl&sid=AONE&xid=9fe2e60c. Accessed 11 May 2021.


2 + 2 = 4-fold Exegesis for Medievalists


1. Literal. 

Melville's 1839 newspaper story "Fragments from a Writing Desk No. 2" is about the pursuit of a mysterious Lalla Rookhish enchantress who turns out to be deaf and dumb, stunning with silence her over-educated wooer who experiences something like what Lowell George of Little Feat called Teenage Nervous Breakdown. Academic criticism on Melville's adolescent Fragments abounds, for example in published studies by William H. Gilman, Dorothee Metlitsky Finkelstein, Peter A. Obuchowski, Elizabeth Renker, Samuel Otter, and Peter Norberg; now usefully and entertainingly augmented by Michael D. Snediker, and Daniel Diez Couch and Michael Anthony Nicholson. 

2. Allegorical. 

As first suggested by Gilman, the figure of Inamorata foreshadows Melville's later representations of the frustrated seeker's dream girl or fish or god or rock-wall as awfully and fearfully silent. Presto! In Fragment 2, teenage Melville turns Amreta, the deaf fairy princess of Lucretia Maria Davidson's Amir Khan, into a monster of cosmic indifference. 

3. Moral. 

The recent contribution by Couch and Nicholson in Leviathan signals the upside-down state of academia, herein dubbed Wokademia, a clown show devoted mainly to constructions of pseudo-reality and accusing others of heretical thinking and doing. Academia is dead. Long live Wokademia! Until the Dragon comes for Melville and thee, which it inexorably will. 

4. Anagogical - Spiritual.

When Life or Leviathan gives you lemons, make lemonade! Melvilliana refreshes with yet another exclusive, this time spiked with the recovered text of "To Insensibility," a long-lost poem by Sophia Hyatt. 

Enjoy!

Years before Irving's account, supporting evidence of Hyatt's background and creative artistry was supplied by a letter from "E. B." to the editor of the London Morning Chronicle, printed there on October 6, 1825. Notice of Sophia Hyatt's death in the London Morning Chronicle (October 3, 1825) prompted this personal reminiscence of the "eccentric & romantic" deaf lady, followed by her original and before now unrecorded sonnet "To Insensibility." Who knew she was Irish?

Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Transcribed below, the letter to the editor signed "E. B." appeared in the Morning Chronicle on October 6, 1825; found on British Newspaper Archive <www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk>. Reprinted in the Baltimore Gazette and Daily Advertiser on January 5, 1826. 
Mr. EDITOR, – The notice of the deceased Sophia Hyatt, “the White Lady,” which appeared in your Paper a few days since, having met my eye, I beg to inclose you a little piece from the pen of that unfortunate, but interesting female. It is now, perhaps, about 30 years since I met with her at the house of a lady in Hoxton. Miss Hyatt was a native of Ireland: she had received a liberal education, and was possessed of a small annuity. Her deafness and other bodily afflictions were occasioned by fits; and those afflictions, with the eccentric & romantic turn of mind that she possessed, rendered her an object of great interest to those to whom she happened to be known. Among such she distributed her poetical effusions: the sonnet to “Insensibility” is that with which she favoured me. From the kind attention paid to the unfortunate subject of this letter by the family of Colonel Wildman, I have some hope that the Poems committed to them by the deceased, will be suffered to meet the public eye.— And am, Sir, your humble servant, 
E. B.
Walworth, October 6.

TO INSENSIBILITY.

Thou foe profess’d to joy, grief, hope, despair,
   With all the ills that from those sources flow,
Insensibility! Oh hear my pray’r,
   And give a bless’d oblivion to my woe.

What though, confess’d, joy brightens not thy mien,
   Nor pleasure sparkles in thy vacant eye,
No pang can reach that bosom’s calm serene,
   Arm’d with thy shield, Insensibility!

What though the foe of ev’ry Muse divine;
   Nor where thou art can Fancy’s radiance beam;
What is the Muses—Fancy’s bliss to thine?
   Thine—undisturb'd repose—theirs, a perturbed dream!

Come, then, thou truest, only friend to peace,
Possess my soul, and bid its sorrows cease.
-- London Morning Chronicle, October 6, 1825; reprinted in the Baltimore, MD Gazette and Daily Advertiser, January 5, 1826.