|David Urquhart, 1805-1877. Diplomat|
National Galleries Scotland
"Urquhartian Club for the Immediate Extension of the Limits of all Knowledge both Human and Divine."
Urquhartian: after Sir Thomas Urquhart (1611-1660), English polymath and translator of Rabelais.
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).
|Sir Thomas Urquhart via NYPL Digital Collections|
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.
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 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."
* "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.
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
- Urquhart's Pillars of Hercules, anonymous review
- Urquhartian David Urquhart? Data-based reality check.