But for all that, I will not be defrauded of my natural rights.
Rowland, Beryl. “Grace Church and Melville's Story of ‘The Two Temples.’” Nineteenth-Century Fiction, vol. 28, no. 3, 1973, pp. 339–346. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/2933004. Accessed 17 Aug. 2021.
The two temples. A. Ms.; [n.p., n.d.] 18 num. l.. Herman Melville papers, MS Am 188-188.6, MS Am 188, (389) RESTRICTED. Houghton Library, Harvard College Library. https://id.lib.harvard.edu/ead/c/hou00338c00425/catalog Accessed August 16, 2021
Banned in Melville's lifetime, "The Two Temples" is transcribed herein from volume 13 in The Works of Herman Melville (London: Constable and Company Ltd, 1924), pages 173-191; edited by Raymond W. Weaver. Google-digitized volumes in the Constable edition are available online courtesy of HathiTrust Digital Library. Later print editions include The Complete Stories of Herman Melville, edited by Jay Leyda (Random House, 1949) at pages 149-165; 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) at pages 303-315; and Tales, Poems, and Other Writings, edited by John Bryant (Modern Library, 2002) at pages 134-146.
|Albany NY Evening Journal - November 26, 1834|
THE TWO TEMPLES
( Dedicated to Sheridan Knowles. )
"Too bad. And how disdainful the great, fat-paunched, beadle-faced man looked, when in answer to my humble petition, he said they had no galleries. Just the same as if he'd said, they didn't entertain poor folks. But I'll wager something that had my new coat been done last night, as the false tailor promised, and had I, arrayed therein this bright morning, tickled the fat-paunched, beadle-faced man's palm with a bank-note, then, gallery or no gallery, I would have had a fine seat in this marble buttressed, stained-glass, spick-and-span new temple.
"Well , here I am in the porch, very politely bowed out of the nave. I suppose I'm excommunicated; excluded, anyway. That 's a noble string of flashing carriages drawn up along the curb; those champing horses, too, have a haughty curve to their foam-flaked necks. Property of those “miserable sinners” inside, I presume. I don't a bit wonder they unreservedly confess to such misery as that. See the gold hat-bands too, and other gorgeous trimmings, on those glossy groups of low-voiced gossipers near by. If I were in England now, I should think those chaps a company of royal dukes, right honourable barons, etc. As it is, though, I guess they are only lackeys. By the way, here I dodge about, as if I wanted to get into their aristocratic circle. In fact, it looks a sort of lackeyish to be idly standing outside a fine temple, cooling your heels, during service. I had best move back to the Battery again, peeping into my prayer-book as I go. But hold; don't I see a small door? Just in there, to one side, if I don't mistake, is a very low and very narrow vaulted door. None seem to go that way. Ten to one , that identical door leads up into the tower. And now that I think of it, there is usually in these splendid, new-fashioned Gothic temples, a curious little window high over the orchestra and every thing else, away up among the gilded clouds of the ceiling's frescoes; and that little window, seems to me, if one could but get there, ought to command a glorious bird's eye view of the entire field of operations below. I guess I'll try it. No one in the porch now. The beadle-faced man is smoothing down some ladies' cushions, far up the broad aisle, I dare say. Softly now. If the small door ain't locked, I shall have stolen a march upon the beadle faced man, and secured a humble seat in the sanctuary, in spite of him. Good! Thanks for this! The door is not locked. Bell-ringer forgot to lock it, no doubt. Now, like any felt-footed grimalkin, up I steal among the leads."
Ascending some fifty stone steps along a very narrow curving stairway, I found myself on a blank platform forming the second story of the huge square tower. I seemed inside some magic-lantern. On three sides, three gigantic Gothic windows of richly dyed glass, filled the otherwise meagre place with all sorts of sunrises and sunsets, lunar and solar rainbows, falling stars, and other flaming fireworks and pyrotechnics. But after all, it was but a gorgeous dungeon; for I couldn't look out, any more than if I had been the occupant of a basement cell in "the Tombs." With some pains, and care not to do any serious harm, I contrived to scratch a minute opening in a great purple star forming the centre of the chief compartment of the middle window; when peeping through, as through goggles, I ducked my head in dismay. The beadle-faced man, with no hat on his head, was just in the act of driving three ragged little boys into the middle of the street; and how could I help trembling at the apprehension of his discovering a rebellious caitiff like me peering down on him from the tower? For, in stealing up here, I had set at naught his high authority. He whom he thought effectually ejected, had burglariously returned. For a moment I was almost ready to bide my chance, and get to the side-walk again with all dispatch. But another Jacob's ladder of lofty steps wooden ones, this time — allured me to another and still higher flight, — in sole hopes of gaining that one secret window where I might, at distance, take part in the proceedings.
As thus I mused, the glorious organ burst, like an earthquake, almost beneath my feet; and I heard the invoking cry — "Govern them and lift them up forever!" Then down I gazed upon the standing human mass, far, far below, whose heads, gleaming in the many-coloured window-stains, showed like beds of spangled pebbles flashing in a Cuban sun. So, at least, I knew they needs would look, if but the wire-woven screen were drawn aside. That wire-woven screen had the effect of casting crape upon all I saw. Only by making allowances for the crape, could I gain a right idea of the scene disclosed.
Surprising, most surprising, too, it was. As said before, the window was a circular one; the part of the tower where I stood was dusky-dark; its height above the congregation-floor could not have been less than ninety or a hundred feet; the whole interior temple was lit by naught but glass dimmed, yet glorified with all imaginable rich and russet hues; the approach to my strange look-out, through perfect solitude, and along rude and dusty ways, enhanced the theatric wonder of the populous spectacle of this sumptuous sanctuary. Book in hand, responses on my tongue, standing in the very posture of devotion, I could not rid my soul of the intrusive thought, that, through some necromancer's glass, I looked down upon some sly enchanter's show.
|via NYPL Digital Collections|
By the melodious tone and persuasive gesture of the speaker, and the all-approving attention of the throng, I knew the sermon must be eloquent and well adapted to an opulent auditory; but owing to the priest's changed position from the reading-desk to the pulpit, I could not so distinctly hear him now as in the previous rites. The text, however, repeated at the outset, and often after quoted, I could not but plainly catch: "Ye are the salt of the earth."
At length the benediction was pronounced over the mass of low-inclining foreheads; hushed silence, intense motionlessness followed for a moment, as if the congregation were one of buried, not of living men; when, suddenly, miraculously, like the general rising at the Resurrection, the whole host came to their feet, amid a simultaneous roll, like a great drum-beat, from the enrapturing, overpowering organ. Then, in three freshets, — all gay, sprightly nods and becks — the gilded brooks poured down the gilded aisles.
For a long time I thought and thought, till at last all was hushed again. Presently a clicking sound admonished me that the church was being closed. In sudden desperation, I gave a rap on the door. But too late. It was not heard. I was left alone and solitary in a temple which but a moment before was more populous than many villages.
A strange trepidation of gloom and loneliness gradually stole over me. Hardly conscious of what I did, I reascended the stone steps; higher and higher still, and only paused when once more I felt the hot-air blast from the wire-woven screen. Snatching another peep down into the vast arena, I started at its hushed desertness. The long ranges of grouped columns down the nave, the clusterings of them into copses about the corners of the transept; together with the subdued, dim-streaming light from the autumnal glasses; all assumed a secluded and deep-wooded air. I seemed gazing from Pisgah into the forests of old Canaan. A Puseyitish painting of a Madonna and Child, adorning a lower window , seemed showing to me the sole tenants of this painted wilderness — the true Hagar and her Ishmael.—
With added trepidation I stole softly back to the magic-lantern platform; and revived myself a little by peeping through the scratch, upon the unstained light of open day. But what is to be done, thought I again.
I descended to the door; listened there; heard nothing. A third time climbing the stone steps, once more I stood in the magic-lantern, while the full nature of the more than awkwardness of my position came over me.
The first persons who will re-enter the temple, mused I, will doubtless be the beadle-faced man and the bell-ringer. And the first man to come up here, where I am, will be the latter. Now what will be his natural impressions upon first descrying an unknown prowler here? Rather disadvantageous to said prowler's moral character. Explanations will be vain. Circumstances are against me. True, I may hide, till he retires again. But how do I know that he will then leave the door unlocked? Besides, in a position of affairs like this, it is generally best, I think, to anticipate discovery, and by magnanimously announcing yourself, forestall an inglorious detection. But how announce myself? Already have I knocked, and no response. That moment my eye, impatiently ranging round about, fell upon the bell ropes. They suggested the usual signal made at dwelling houses to convey tidings of a stranger's presence. But I was not an outside caller; alas, I was an inside prowler. But one little touch of that bell-rope would be sure to bring relief. I have an appointment at three o ' clock. The beadle-faced man must naturally reside very close by the church. He well knows the peculiar ring of his own bell. The slightest possible hum would bring him flying to the rescue. Shall I, or shall I not? But I may alarm the neighbourhood. Ah, no; the merest tingle, not by any means a loud, vociferous peal. Shall I? Better voluntarily bring the beadle-faced man to me, than be involuntarily dragged out from this most suspicious hiding-place. I have to face him, first or last. Better now than later. Shall I?
No more. Creeping to the rope, I gave it a cautious twitch. No sound. A little less warily. All was dumb. Still more strongly. Horrors! My hands, instinctively clapped to my ears, only served to condense the appalling din. Some undreamed-of mechanism seemed to have been touched. The bell must have thrice revolved on its thunderous axis, multiplying the astounding reverberation.
My business is effectually done this time, thought I, all in a tremble. Nothing will serve me now but the reckless confidence of innocence reduced to desperation.
In less than five minutes I heard a running noise beneath me; the lock of the door clicked, and up rushed the beadle-faced man, the perspiration starting from his cheeks.
And ere I could defend myself , seizing me irresistibly in his powerful grasp, he tore me along by the collar, and dragging me down the stairs, thrust me into the arms of three policemen, who, attracted by the sudden toll of the bell, had gathered curiously about the porch.
All remonstrances were vain. The beadle-faced man was bigoted against me. Represented as a lawless violator, and a remorseless disturber of the Sunday peace, I was conducted to the Halls of Justice. Next morning, my rather gentlemanly appearance procured me a private hearing from the judge. But the beadle-faced man must have made a Sunday night call on him. In spite of my coolest explanations, the circumstances of the case were deemed so exceedingly suspicious, that only after paying a round fine, and receiving a stinging reprimand, was I permitted to go at large, and pardoned for having humbly indulged myself in the luxury of public worship.
The case was this: The week following my inglorious expulsion from the transatlantic temple, I had packed up my trunks and damaged character, and repaired to the fraternal, loving town of Philadelphia. There chance threw into my way an interesting young orphan lady and her aunt-duenna; the lady rich as Cleopatra, but not as beautiful; the duenna lovely as Charmian, but not so young. For the lady's health, prolonged travel had been prescribed. Maternally connected in old England, the lady chose London for her primal port. But ere securing their passage, the two were looking around for some young physician, whose disengagement from pressing business might induce him to accept, on a moderate salary, the post of private Esculapius and knightly companion to the otherwise unprotected pair. The more necessary was this, as not only the voyage to England was intended, but an extensive European tour to follow.
Enough. I came; I saw; I was made the happy man. We sailed. We landed on the other side; when, after two weeks of agonised attendance on the vacillations of the lady, I was very cavalierly dismissed, on the score that the lady's maternal relations had persuaded her to try, through the winter, the salubrious climate of the foggy Isle of Wight, in preference to the fabulous blue atmosphere of the Ionian Isles. So much for national prejudice.
Having ere sailing been obliged to anticipate nearly a quarter's pay to foot my outfit bills, I was dismally cut adrift in Fleet Street without a solitary shilling. By disposing, at certain pawnbrokers, of some of my less indispensable apparel, I had managed to stave off the more slaughterous onsets of my landlady, while diligently looking about for any business that might providentially appear.
So on I drifted amid those indescribable crowds which every seventh night pour and roar through each main artery, and block the by-veins of great London, the Leviathan. Saturday night it was; and the markets and the shops, and every stall and counter were crushed with the one unceasing tide. A whole Sunday's victualling for three millions of human bodies, was going on. Few of them equally hungry with my own, as through my spent lassitude, the unscrupulous human whirlpools eddied me aside at corners, as any straw is eddied in the Norway Maelstrom. What dire suckings into oblivion must such swirling billows know! Better perish 'mid myriad sharks in mid Atlantic, than die a penniless stranger in Babylonian London. Forlorn, outcast, without a friend, I staggered on through three millions of my own human kind. The fiendish gas-lights shooting their Tartarean rays across the muddy, sticky streets, lit up the pitiless and pitiable scene.
Well, well, if this were but Sunday now, I might conciliate some kind female pew-opener, and rest me in some inn-like chapel upon some stranger's outside bench. But it is Saturday night. The end of the weary week, and all but the end of weary me.
Disentangling myself at last from those skeins of Pandemonian lanes which snarl one part of the metropolis between Fleet Street and Holborn, I found myself at last in a wide and far less noisy street, a short and shopless one, leading up from the Strand, and terminating at its junction with a crosswise avenue. The comparative quietude of the place was inexpressively soothing. It was like emerging upon the green enclosure surrounding some cathedral church, where sanctity makes all things still. Two lofty brilliant lights attracted me in this tranquil street. Thinking it might prove some moral or religious meeting, I hurried toward the spot; but was surprised to see two tall placards announcing the appearance that night, of the stately Macready in the part of Cardinal Richelieu. Very few loiterers hung about the place, the hour being rather late, and the play-bill hawkers mostly departed, or keeping entirely quiet. This theatre indeed, as I afterwards discovered, was not only one of the best in point of acting, but likewise one of the most decorous in its general management, inside and out. In truth, the whole neighbourhood, as it seemed to me issuing from the jam and uproar of those turbulent tides against which, or borne on irresistibly by which, I had so long been swimming — the whole neighbourhood, I say, of this pleasing street seemed in good keeping with the character imputed to its theatre.
Glad to find one blessed oasis of tranquillity, I stood leaning against a column of the porch, and striving to lose my sadness in running over one of the huge placards. No one molested me. A tattered little girl, to be sure, approached with a hand-bill extended, but marking me more narrowly, retreated; her strange skill in physiognomy at once enabling her to determine that I was penniless. As I read, and read — for the placard, of enormous dimensions, contained minute particulars of each successive scene in the enacted play — gradually a strong desire to witness this celebrated Macready in this his celebrated part stole over me.
No use to ponder, thought I, at last; it is Saturday night, not Sunday; and so, a theatre only can receive me. So powerfully in the end did the longing to get into the edifice come over me, that I almost began to think of pawning my overcoat for admittance. But from this last infatuation I was providentially withheld by a sudden cheery summons, in a voice unmistakably benevolent. I turned, and saw a man who seemed to be some sort of a working man .
"Take it," said he, holding a plain red ticket toward me, full in the gas-light. “ You want to go in; I know you do. Take it. I am suddenly called home. There — hope you'll enjoy yourself. Good-bye."
Blankly and mechanically I had suffered the ticket to be thrust into my hand, and now stood quite astonished, bewildered, and for the time, ashamed. The plain fact was, I had received charity; and for the first time in my life. Often in the course of my strange wanderings I had needed charity, but never had asked it, and certainly never, ere this blessed night, had been offered it. And a stranger, and in the very maw of the roaring London, too! Next moment my sense of foolish shame departed, and I felt a queer feeling in my left eye, which , as sometimes is the case with people, was the weaker one; probably from being on the same side with the heart.
I glanced round eagerly. But the kind giver was no longer in sight. I looked upon the ticket. I understood. It was one of those checks given to persons inside a theatre when for any cause they desire to step out a moment. Its presentation ensures unquestioned readmittance.
Debate was over. Marking the direction from which the stranger had accosted me, I stepped that way; and soon saw a low-vaulted, inferior-looking door on one side of the edifice. Entering, I wandered on and up, and up and on again, through various doubling stairs and wedge-like, ill-lit passages, whose bare boards much reminded me of my ascent of the Gothic tower on the ocean's far other side. At last I gained a lofty platform, and saw a fixed human countenance facing me from a mysterious window of a sort of sentry-box or closet. Like some saint in a shrine, the countenance was illuminated by two smoky candles. I divined the man. I exhibited my diploma, and he nodded me to a little door beyond; while a sudden burst of orchestral music admonished me. I was now very near my destination, and also revived the memory of the organ anthems I had heard while on the ladder of the tower at home.
Next moment, the wire-woven gauzy screen of the ventilating window in that same tower seemed enchantedly reproduced before me. The same hot blast of stifling air once more rushed into my lungs. From the same dizzy altitude, through the same fine-spun, vapoury, crapey air; far, far down upon just such a packed mass of silent human beings; listening to just such grand harmonies; I stood within the topmost gallery of the temple. But hardly alone and silently as before. This time I had company. Not of the first circles, and certainly not of the dress-circle; but most acceptable, right welcome, cheery company, to otherwise uncompanioned me. Quiet, well-pleased working men, and their glad wives and sisters, with here and there an aproned urchin, with all-absorbed, bright face, vermillioned by the excitement and the heated air, hovering like a painted cherub over the vast human firmament below. The height of the gallery was in truth appalling. The rail was low. I thought of deep-sea-leads, and the mariner in the vessel's chains, drawing up the line, with his long-drawn musical accompaniment. And like beds of glittering coral, through the deep sea of azure smoke, there, far down, I saw the jewelled necks and white sparkling arms of crowds of ladies in the semicirque. But, in the interval of two acts, again the orchestra was heard; some inspiring national anthem was now played. As the volumed sound came undulating up, and broke in showery spray and foam of melody against our gallery rail, my head involuntarily was bowed, my hand instinctively sought my pocket. Only by a second thought did I check my momentary lunacy, and remind myself that this time I had no small morocco book with me, and that this was not the house of prayer.
"Coffee? — I guess? — ain't you a Yankee?''
"Well, dad's gone to Yankee-land, a-seekin' of his fortin; so take a penny mug of ale, do, Yankee, for poor dad's sake."
Out from the tilted coffee-pot-looking can came a coffee-coloured stream, and a small mug of humming ale was in my hand.
"Never do you mind, Yankee; drink to honest dad."
"With all my heart, you generous boy; here's immortal life to him!"
He stared at my strange burst, smiled merrily, and left me, offering his coffee-pot in all directions, and not in vain.
'Tis not always poverty to be poor, mused I; one may fare well without a penny. A ragged boy may be a prince-like benefactor.
The more I looked about me in this lofty gallery, the more was I delighted with its occupants. It was not spacious. It was, if anything, rather contracted, being the very cheapest portion of the house, where very limited attendance was expected; embracing merely the very crown of the topmost semicircle; and so commanding, with a sovereign outlook, and imperial downlook, the whole theatre, with the expanded stage directly opposite, though some hundred feet below. As at the tower, peeping into the transatlantic temple, so stood I here, at the very mainmast-head of all the interior edifice.
Such was the decorum of this special theatre, that nothing objectionable was admitted within its walls. With an unhurt eye of perfect love, I sat serenely in the gallery, gazing upon the pleasing scene, around me and below. Neither did it abate from my satisfaction to remember that Mr. Macready, the chief actor of the night, was an amiable gentleman, combining the finest qualities of social and Christian respectability with the highest excellence in his particular profession; for which last he had conscientiously done much, in many ways, to refine, elevate, and chasten.
But now the curtain rises, and the robed Cardinal advances. How marvellous this personal resemblance! He looks every inch to be the self-same stately priest I saw irradiated by the glow-worm dyes of the pictured windows from my high tower-pew. And shining as he does, in the rosy reflexes of these stained walls and gorgeous galleries, the mimic priest down there; he, too, seems lit by Gothic blazonings. — Hark! The same measured, courtly, noble tone. See! the same imposing attitude. Excellent actor is this Richelieu!
He disappears behind the scenes. He slips, no doubt, into the Green Room. He reappears somewhat changed in his habiliments. Do I dream, or is it genuine memory that recalls some similar thing seen through the woven wires?
The curtain falls. Starting to their feet, the enraptured thousands sound their responses deafeningly, unmistakably sincere. Right from the undoubted heart. I have no duplicate in my memory of this. In earnestness of response, this second temple stands unmatched. And hath mere mimicry done this? What is it then to act a part?
But now the music surges up again, and borne by that rolling billow, I, and all the gladdened crowd, are harmoniously attended to the street.