Friday, June 11, 2021

Armour Caldwell at Tulane, 1908

07 Feb 1916, Mon Pittsburgh Daily Post (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania)
Here is the paper I read in New York on June 17, 2019 at the 12th International Melville Society Conference. Images and links added for fun and further study. 

 New Orleans Origins of Melville Revival: Armour Caldwell at Tulane, 1908

We know better than to say THE Melville Revival, we just can't help it. As shown in 1931 by O. W. Riegel and affirmed in 21st century surveys by Sanford Marovitz and Eric Aronoff, Melville always had passionate fans, even during the years of legendary neglect after his death, before the first centenary of his birth. In New York City, Elizabeth Shaw Melville collaborated with Arthur Stedman (1859-1908) on reissues of Typee, Omoo, White-Jacket, and Moby-Dick. British admirers and promoters included sea-novelist William Clark Russell (1844-1911) and social reformer Henry S. Salt (1851-1939). From London, New York Times correspondent William Livingston Alden (1837-1908) in 1899 called for "A" Melville revival--and for good measure, A Melville Society. Canadian scholar Archibald MacMechan (1862-1922) touted Moby-Dick as Melville's one good book and 
The Best Sea Story Ever Written.
Less well known as active Melville advocates are two Massachusetts journalists: Charles Goodrich Whiting (1842-1922), editor of the Springfield Republican; and Philip Hale (1854-1934), the Boston music critic who championed Melville for forty years, thirty in his newspaper column "As the World Wags." In Butte, Montana, ladies of the "Homer Club" reserved a day in early 1907 for "sea tales" as part of their daunting program of literary study. Ethelyn Caldwell Adams (Mrs. John Coit Adams) originally was assigned Moby-Dick, but in February 1907 it was Mrs. L. P. Sanders who "presented a sketch of Melville, the author of 'Moby Dick.'"

03 Feb 1907, Sun The Anaconda Standard (Anaconda, Montana)
Still we speak of THE Revival, later than and distinct from the Melville "vogue" before the First World War (Zimmerman, page 23). THE Revival launched with the centenary in 1919 and Raymond Weaver's "foolish and enormously influential" biography, as Stanley Edgar Hyman called it. Martina Pfeiler and I will be looking at precursors, each with ties in New York City--predictably, considering the Columbia University connections of so many participants. Less predictably, one flowered in the South.

On April 1, 1908, a visiting Assistant Professor of English named Armour Caldwell (1878-1929) gave a public lecture at Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana titled "The World's Greatest Sea Story." Mrs. Sanders would have scooped him in Butte, but Melville had to share "Sea Tale" day in 1907 with Cooper and Dana. Caldwell's 1908 talk would seem to be the first lecture devoted exclusively to Moby-Dick in a formal academic setting. Notice of the Tulane lecture was first discovered in online archives of the New Orleans Picayune by Martina Pfeiler; further investigation turned up another report in the Times-Democrat. Three questions to address here: 
  1. Who was Armour Caldwell?
  2. What did he say about Moby-Dick? and
  3. What the devil is a picayune? (Answered first, with help from Grammarphobia: Anglicized version of picaillon, south Louisiana French for the Spanish medio real worth 6 1/4 cents, the smallest coin in circulation and the name of the daily newspaper in New Orleans.)

Who was Armour Caldwell?

On March 31, 1908 the Daily Picayune announced that Armour Caldwell would lecture the following day in "his first public appearance in New Orleans." Subject: "The Greatest Sea Story." The paper added that "Prof. Caldwell is an interesting talker and the public is cordially invited to be present." The lecturer was born William Armour Caldwell on May 21, 1878 in Salt Lake City, Utah to John Armour Caldwell (1849-1911) and Margaret Wylie Cook (1853-1913). His mother was a native of New York and resident of Troy; his father was a Scottish immigrant, engineer, and inventor. Only a year after Armour's birth the family moved back East. Armour grew up in Brooklyn and attended Columbia University. His brothers (Robert John or "R. J." and Jean Cook Caldwell) had highly successful careers in cotton and international banking, but Armour Caldwell followed the different path of English Major.  At Columbia Caldwell developed an interest in social reform and became president of the Social Progress Club (Brooklyn Daily Eagle for January 6, 1901). He earned his B. A. from Columbia in 1902; M. A,. from Harvard in 1907. In between he lectured in the Columbia English Department. Collaborating with Brander Matthews, Caldwell wrote extensive endnotes for the student edition of Washington Irving's Sketch-book, published in 1905 by Longman's. In 1908 he filled in for the absent head of the English Department at Tulane, in "the picturesque old French town of New Orleans" (American Leader Volume 1).  After the Tulane gig he returned to New York City and taught English at Union Theological Seminary. Caldwell next organized and managed the Educational Department at E. P. Dutton and Company before joining The American Leader magazine as managing editor. Published by the American Association of Foreign Language Newspapers, the American Leader appealed to "new immigrants" from southern and eastern Europe and mobilized support for their concerns. After the Great War Caldwell moved west, to Creighton, Arizona and eventually to Los Angeles. Thence, in May 1922, he went to Europe citing health reasons on his passport application. He died of TB at Badenweiler in Germany on August 9, 1929. 

What did Armour Caldwell say about Moby-Dick?

Caldwell's Tulane talk was one in a series of Wednesday noon lectures, following J. C, Ransmeier of the German Department on "A Survey of Germany's Contribution to Civilization"; and before that, Mary Eileen Ahern (1860-1938) on "Library Work as a Career for Educated Men and Women." The fearless Miss Ahearn would have been the harder act to follow; as founding editor of Public Libraries and regular guest speaker she developed a reputation for "spicy comment" that "broadened the horizons of librarians in smaller communities" (Marian C. Manley). 

02 Apr 1908, Thu The Times-Democrat (New Orleans, Louisiana)
02 Apr 1908, Thu The Times-Democrat (New Orleans, Louisiana)
To begin with, Caldwell expected his audience to be "surprised" by the subject of his lecture, Moby-Dick, since "little space has been given to it in literary history or criticism." At the same the speaker did register "the increase of editions and readers." New editions then were the illustrated 1902 volume in the series of Famous Novels of the Sea by Charles Scribner's Sons; and the 1907 volume in Everyman's Library, edited by Earnest Rhys. Availability of these new volumes offered some hope that "Moby Dick is now slowly gaining its proper place in American Literature."

Caldwell told his Tulane audience a little about Melville's life. Facts and phrases in Caldwell's abridged biography reveal his reliance on the intro by Arthur Stedman in the 1892 edition of Typee copyrighted by Elizabeth S. Melville. For example, Caldwell repeats Stedman's misleading claim that Melville first went to sea "as a cabin boy." From Stedman, Caldwell knows that between voyages Melville worked as a schoolteacher. The newspapers do not report that Caldwell mentioned, say, The Confidence-Man or any works of poetry (Stedman did). Apparently, the lecturer did call Moby-Dick Melville's "masterpiece." That was MacMechan's verdict, implied also in Stedman's view that his Whale-book earned Melville "the topmost notch of his fame." Caldwell gets the date and place of Melville's death right, 1891 in New York, adding however the questionable news that Melville experienced mental breakdown and died "quite broken in mind."

Next Caldwell gave this plot summary:
The story tells of how Ismael (Melville himself) happened to ship with an old sea captain. This old mariner had lost a leg in conflict with a monster whale in the South Seas and had vowed to kill the whale at any cost. The voyage, the constant outlook for the whale; the final conflict, resulting in the killing of the whale and the destruction of the ship, none escaping but Ismael--all pictured with tremendous force and vigor.

Of the Pequod's crew the newspaper names only Melville's narrator Ishmael ("Ismael"), reporting that Caldwell identified him as a stand-in for "Melville himself."  But Caldwell keyed on "the old sea captain" and his inflexible, vengeance-driven quest. Enthralled by the revenge plot, the lecturer in both extant newspaper accounts has Moby Dick killed in the end, making Ahab a kind of Beowulf and the White Whale dead as the Dragon.

Next the speaker tackled literary matters. For narrative technique, Caldwell found Moby-Dick "very like to Sterne's Tristram Shandy."
"It has the same perverse disproportion, the same elaborate digressions and the same dramatic dialogue. It abounds with description and philosophizing, and this makes the story rather slow."

In 1851, William A. Butler had said much the same thing when reviewing Moby-Dick for the Washington National Intelligencer. With the help of Mary K's black book on Melville's Sources, we can readily find pertinent scholarship through 1987. In the Hendricks House edition of Moby-Dick, Luther S. Mansfield and Howard P. Vincent particularize debts to Tristram Shandy for the cozy "confidential disclosures" between Ishmael and Queequeg as bedmates in Chapter 10 A Bosom Friend; and for the figure of Cervantes in Melville's apostrophe to "thou Just Spirit of Equality" and "great democratic God!" in Chapter 26 Knights and Squires.

After Sterne, Caldwell named Carlyle as a major influence on the elevated style in Moby-Dick which occasionally "reaches the dignity of Carlyle's best prose." Here again later scholarship has abundantly confirmed Melville's debt to Carlyle, which seemed obvious not only to Caldwell but also to the earliest critics of Moby-Dick (and before that, Mardi). Friendly ones regretted Carlyle's bad influence; hostile ones condemned it. Caldwell's Columbia teacher and colleague William P. Trent counted as a knock, Melville's "obvious imitation of Carlylean tricks of style and construction." MacMechan the Carlyle expert never named the author of Sartor Resartus. In the new 20th century, however, imitations of Carlyle sounded fine to Caldwell, another descendant of Scots.

In the Extracts section of Moby-Dick Melville quotes from Goldsmith's History of the Earth and Animated Nature. But Caldwell names Goldsmith as one of Melville's more important influences for his "unoffending humor," not his geology or zoology. The 1906 anthology, English Humorists of the Eighteenth Century, groups Goldsmith with Sterne, Addison, and Steele, providing a handy collection of possible influences on Moby-Dick. For his part, Melville once scorned the sort of imitation that Caldwell alleges: "We want no American Goldsmiths." Ironically, Melville's own debt to Washington Irving's graceful way of travel writing was already manifest to Evert Duyckinck in 1847, as John Bryant points out in Melville and Repose. What Bryant elsewhere calls "the Ishmaelian mode" carries on "the 'amiable tradition' of British humor" and is characterized by "geniality" (1994, Comic Debate, page 1). In contrast to the early recognition of Melville's debts to Carlyle, recognition of the Goldsmith (English or American) in Ishmael is really a 20th century insight.

Caldwell also addressed philosophical and psychological dimensions of Moby-Dick:

"But Melville has a great power of philosophy also. The powerful strokes with which he depicts the gradual decay of the old captain's mental faculties is as subtle a piece of psychological insight as one will find in fiction.... "

-- New Orleans Times-Democrat, April 2, 1908

Caldwell understands Ahab's whale-mania as a variety of progressive mental illness. The lecturer's appreciation of Melville's "psychological insight" anticipates scholarship on Ahab's "madness" or "insanity," hinting perhaps at the clinical focus of more recent work in the genre of disability studies, rather than psychoanalytic readings inspired by Freud and Jung.

New Orleans Daily Picayune - April 2, 1908 - page 5
via Genealogy Bank

Caldwell ended by quoting a student reader who

"after reading Moby Dick told me that he thought it was a symbol, or had a meaning that it was the story of man's pursuit after his heart's desire, how after a long, hard journey it was only gotten at the end of the voyage, and then both go down together in the awful abyss."

-- Daily Picayune, April 2, 1908

The Picayune reported also that Caldwell "had planned last summer to write Melville's life, but he found some on was already at work on it." It's too bad Caldwell gave up on the idea, since contemplated biographies by J. E. A. Smith, Arthur Stedman, Frank Jewett Mather, and Melville's daughter Elizabeth ("Bessie") never materialized.

Caldwell's Tulane lecture marks the earliest known phase of the specifically academic Melville Revival. Archibald MacMechan had already praised Moby-Dick as "The best sea story ever written." But MacMechan's view of Moby-Dick as best-sea-story-ever did not employ now familiar terms of formal literary analysis. As V. L. O. Chittick points out, "Symbolism, allegory, myth, ritual, and literary sources are not discussed--nor, of course, are fixations, complexes, and compulsions." At Tulane, Armour Caldwell did speak of 18th century literary influences on Moby-Dick, citing Sterne for the technique of narrative expansion through digression and dialogue; and Addison, Steele, and Goldsmith for inoffensive, British-style whimsy. Caldwell explicitly addressed the problem of literary symbolism, sharing the response of a student reader struck by the symbolic meaning of Ahab's quest as "man's pursuit after his heart's desire." And Caldwell did address Melville's treatment of "complexes and compulsions," judging the portrayal of Ahab's monomania to be "as subtle a piece of psychological insight as one will find in fiction." Moby-Dick as a great story is one thing. Moby-Dick as the deserving subject of literary analysis and study is another. At Tulane in 1908 Armour Caldwell bequeathed it to fellow English Majors, for better or worse.

Works Cited

American Leader, volume 1 number 1. February 29, 1912. Photo and bio of Armour Caldwell, Managing Editor on pages 10 and 11.

Aronoff, Eric. "The Melville Revival" in Herman Melville in Context, ed. Kevin J. Hayes (Literature in Context, pages 296-306). Cambridge University Press, 2018. doi:10.1017/9781316755204.030

Bercaw, Mary K. Melville's Sources. Northwestern University Press, 1987.

Bryant, John. Melville and Repose: The Rhetoric of Humor in the American Renaissance. Oxford University Press, 1993.
Bryant, John. “Melville, Twain and Quixote: Variations on the Comic Debate.” Studies in American Humor, New Series 3 number 1, 1994, pages 1–27. JSTOR,
Chittick, V. L. O. “The Way Back to Melville: Sea-Chart of a Literary Revival.” Southwest Review volume 40 number 3 (Summer 1955) pages 238–248. JSTOR,

Hyman, Stanley Edgar. The Promised End. World Publishing Company, 1963. 

Irving, Washington. Washington Irving's Sketch book. With introduction by Brander Matthews and notes by Armour Caldwell. New York: Longman's, Green, and Co., 1905.

MacMechan, Archibald. "The Best Sea Story Ever Written" in Queen's Quarterly volume 7, October 1899, pages 120-130.

Marovitz, Sanford E. The Melville Revival chapter 33 in A Companion to Herman Melville, ed. Wyn Kelley. Blackwell, 2006.  

Manley, Marian C. A Worm's-Eye View of Library Leaders.  Wilson Library Bulletin volume 27 (November 1952) page 233; reprinted in An American Literary History Reader, ed. John David Marshall (Shoe String Press, 1961) pages 150-160 at page 155.

Melville, Herman. Moby-Dick; Or, The Whale. Ed. Luther S. Mansfield and Howard P. Vincent. Hendricks House, 1952.  

Pfeiler, Martina. “‘The Time has Come for a Melville Revival’: Edwin Emery Slosson’s Journalistic Contributions to the Origins of Melville’s Revival in New York City.” Conference paper presented June 17, 2019 at the 12th International Melville Society Conference in New York City.

Riegel, O. W. “The Anatomy of Melville's Fame.” American Literature volume 3 number 2 (May 1931) pages 195–203. JSTOR,
Trent, William P. A History of American Literature, 1607-1865. New York: D. Appleton, 1903. Pages 389-391 at 390. 

Zimmerman, Michael P. "Melville in the 1920's: A Study in the Origins of the Melville Revival, with an Annotated Bibliography." PhD dissertation. Columbia University, 1963. 

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  1. Was Caldwell the same guy who had an autograph book with Melville's signature?

    1. No that was Lafayette Cornwell.