Saturday, August 28, 2021

Phantom Yankee found

 "Typee" proved the most successful hit in book-making, since the publication of Stephens's first book of Travels. An English critic said it was "Yankee all over." By which he meant that it was entirely new, fresh, and devil-may-care; free from the dry, stale, and wearisome conventionalities of trained literature. It was a book of itself, not made up of pickings from other books, but from the personal observations and individualities of the author.... 
--Charles Frederick Briggs, review of Omoo in the National Anti-Slavery Standard for May 27, 1847.

A footnote in the third Norton Critical Edition of Moby-Dick calls attention to the quoted expression "Yankee all over" in remarks by "B." on Melville's first two books in the New York National Anti-Slavery Standard. As first identified by Robert K. Wallace in Douglass and Melville: Anchored Together in Neighborly Style (Spinner, 2005), this "B." who then reviewed books for the Anti-Slavery Standard was Charles Frederick Briggs

03 Jul 1846, Fri The Liberator (Boston, Massachusetts)
According to Briggs, an unnamed "English critic" had characterized Typee as "Yankee all over," meaning "new, fresh, and devil-may-care." Norton editor Hershel Parker thinks "this reference may yet be discovered" and so it will be, herein. 

In the review-hunting game, searching for stray quotes most definitely can yield new, that is, previously unidentified or unlocated reviews from whence they came. Blurb-searching works. The trick is to search for different combinations of key terms in the blurb or stray quote. I call it the Mrs. Bennett play, in honor of the “luckiest and most ingenious benefactress” of MOBY-DICK as Doubloon (W. W. Norton, 1970). As acknowledged by the editors of that landmark compendium of criticism on Melville’s masterpiece, the enterprising Mrs. David Bennett (aka Lee Bennett) located a marvelous and previously unknown review of The Whale in the London Morning Advertiser (October 24, 1851) after seeing it quoted in an advertisement in the Morning Post (14 November 1851). The Morning Post ad that Mrs. Bennett found at the British Library quoted six different reviews of The Whale. Of those six, two were then unknown to Melville scholars. Mrs. Bennett found the one in the Morning Advertiser and kindly left the other for me to find, fifty years later. As announced on Melvilliana, the other unidentified quote came from a paragraph of early and uniquely colorful praise in the London Globe and Traveller
and before that, in the London Morning Herald
Here on Melvilliana, the Mrs. Bennett play also resulted in discovery of a longer, highly favorable and previously unknown review of The Whale in the London Morning Herald

Back to our missing Yank. Outside of the National Anti-Slavery Standard, "Yankee all over" does not appear in any review of Typee, British or American. To find this one you have to do a reverse-Mrs-Bennett, by re-examining previously known reviews. No Yankee there either. What to do? Leave him alone and focus on the "all over" part. 

VoilĂ ! Melville's style in Typee is "New World all over" according to the London Athenaeum. Most likely, Briggs substituted "Yankee" for "New World," either misquoting from memory or paraphrasing. In context, either term means "American." The London critic's view of Typee as "New World all over" was prominently featured in Harper & Brothers ads for Omoo, for example this one in the New York Literary World on April 17, 1846:
A book full of fresh and richly coloured matter. Mr. Melville's manner is New World all over.

Briggs could have found Typee described as "New World all over" in numerous places:

  1. The original review of Typee in the London Athenaeum

  2. Reprints of the London review in the New York Anglo American on April 4, 1846; and  Littell's Living Age volume 9 on April 11, 1846. 

  3. With excerpts of favorable "NOTICES OF THE ENGLISH PRESS" bound into copies of Omoo (1847). 

  4. Harper & Brothers advertisements in New York newspapers and journals.

Glossing the "epithet" New World as a synonym for American, the English critic referenced "Stephens, the foremost among American pilgrims." In the National Anti-Slavery Standard, Charles F. Briggs similarly compares Melville's debut to that of John Lloyd Stephens, calling Typee "the most successful hit in book-making, since the publication of Stephens's first book of Travels." 

Stephens's first big hit was the 1837 book Incidents of Travel in Egypt, Arabia Petraea, and the Holy Land


No comments:

Post a Comment