Saturday, June 25, 2022
Melvilliana: Robert Melvill's 1850 "Report of the Committee on ...: 1846! I got confused for a while about the year of the plagiarized report. 1846 is right, after all. The Society of Middlesex Husbandmen...
Saturday, June 18, 2022
|Ulysses defying the Cyclops|
via The New York Public Library Digital Collections
In White-Jacket (1850) and the poem In a Bye-Canal, Melville refers to Homer's Odysseus as Ulysses. In choosing to call him Ulysses, Melville was guided by then-standard English translations of the Iliad and Odyssey. In his own copy of Chapman's Homer (Sealts number 277), a gift from George Duyckinck in 1858, Melville's annotation to The Iliads of Homer Book 3 (page 69, lines 230-232) reads
"Ulysses sat tall."
In March 1849 Melville bought the three-volume set of Alexander Pope's Homer in the Harpers Classical Library (Sealts number 275c). Melville's set is lost, but that Odyssey was also all about Ulysses, as Pope makes clear in his plot summary:
"Ulysses also, after innumerable troubles by sea and land, at last returned to safety in Ithaca, which is the subject of Homer's Odyssey."
Thanks in part to influential verse translations in English (by William Cowper, too, along with Pope and Chapman) Melville and his contemporaries knew Odysseus, the ingenious hero of Greek story and myth, as Ulysses.
More generally, William Cullen Bryant explained his use of Latin-based names as best practice when translating Greek into English:
I make no apology for employing in my version the names Jupiter, Juno, Venus, and others of Latin origin, for Zeus, Here, Aphrodite, and other Greek names of the deities of whom Homer speaks. The names which I have adopted have been naturalized in our language for centuries, and some of them, as Mercury, Vulcan, and Dian, have even been provided with English terminations. I was translating from Greek into English, and I therefore translated the names of the gods, as well as the other parts of the poem. -- Preface, The Iliad of Homer, translated into English blank verse (Boston, 1870).Academicians howled, apparently, but the old poet stuck to his guns
"The names of Latin origin are naturalized; the others are aliens and strangers."
and Homer's hero remains Ulysses all through Bryant's translation of The Odyssey.
Early in White-Jacket (1850), Ulysses is named with other exemplary heroes of literature familiar to Jack Chase, Melville's great-hearted captain of the maintop:
Jack had read all the verses of Byron, and all the romances of Scott. He talked of Rob Roy, Don Juan, and Pelham; Macbeth and Ulysses; but, above all things, was an ardent admirer of Camoens. Parts of the Lusiad, he could recite in the original. -- White-Jacket chapter 4, Jack Chase
In this initial survey of Jack Chase's impressive reading, Ulysses ranks with other leading literary characters whom Jack Chase knows familiarly, well enough to talk about as fellow men. Melville biographer Leon Howard definitely grasped that Melville here meant to designate men as much or more than the titles of works in which they appear:
"... [Melville's Jack Chase] was a master of languages who could recite long passages from Camoëns' sailors' epic, The Lusiad, in the original Portuguese, and talk in English of Rob Roy and Don Juan, Macbeth and Ulysses, and Bulwer's Pelham." -- Herman Melville: A Biography (University of California Press, 1951) page 74.
Howard's careful paraphrase of the passage from chapter 4 of White-Jacket gives only The Lusiad in italics. "Ulysses" to Howard plainly denotes the hero of Homer's Odyssey. Confirmed by looking for "Homer" in the Index:
"Homer, Odysseus, 74."
Paraphrasing the same passage as Howard, John Bryant wrongly puts Macbeth in italics and Ulysses in quotes to reinforce his bad take through punctuation.
Melville describes Jack Chase as having read all of Byron, Scott, and Camoens's Lusiad (which he recites in the original Portuguese) as well as Macbeth and "Ulysses." Chase's recital of the last work is impossible because Tennyson's 1842 "Ulysses" had only just been published." -- Herman Melville: A Half Known Life volume 2 (Wiley Blackwell, 2021) page 1057.
Fear not! If you made the same mistake by reading the name "Ulysses" as Melville's ineptly managed reference to Tennyson's poem Ulysses, just keep reading. Our matchless Jack will set you straight in chapter 65, A Man-of-War Race:
How many great men have been sailors, White Jacket! They say Homer himself was once a tar, even as his hero, Ulysses, was both a sailor and a shipwright. I'll swear Shakespeare was once a captain of the forecastle. Do you mind the first scene in The Tempest, White Jacket?
Ulysses is Homer's hero. According to Jack Chase anyway, who thus rescues Melville from the false charge of perpetrating an anachronism with an "impossible" reference to Tennyson's version of the archetypal wanderer.
Not that you absolutely have to stay with Homer. Sympathetic readers (for whom Ulysses lives) might freely associate Jack Chase's Homeric hero with Virgil's, or Dante's, or Shakespeare's or Tennyson's or Joyce's version of Ulysses. Unlikely as it sounds, I'm convinced that at least one reference to Ulysses in White-Jacket alludes to George Clooney.
Monday, June 13, 2022
Elizabeth Shaw Melville aka "Lizzie" was born on June 13, 1822, two hundred years ago today. In her handwriting, mostly, the 1850 manuscript of her husband's now famous endlessly-anthologized review essay Hawthorne and His Mosses is accessible online via NYPL Digital Collections.
Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library. "“Hawthorne and his mosses”" New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed June 13, 2022. https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/23ebb010-184f-0133-f66c-58d385a7bbd
Happy Bicentennial Birthday, Elizabeth S. Melville!!!
Coincidentally, Herman Melville's devoted wife shared a birthday with cavalry officer Philip St. George Cooke, born in Loudoun County,Virginia on June 13, 1809.
|Gen. Philip St. G. Cooke|
Birthday musings below are from the July 1852 installment of Scenes Beyond the Western Border in the Southern Literary Messenger; reprinted in Scenes and Adventures in the Army (Philadelphia, 1857) pages 331-333. "I. F." in the magazine version stands for Imaginary Friend, the narrator's fictive travelling companion. Later in the series named "Frank," but only referred to as "Friend" in the revised book version. "C." designates the narrator, in 1845 a Captain of U. S. Dragoons. On his birthday the Captain describes the "melancholy" effects of scenery along the Oregon Trail, somewhere between Scotts Bluff in western Nebraska and Fort Laramie, Wyoming. The Captain is particularly impressed, and depressed, by the sight of blasted cottonwood trees.
|Scenes Beyond the Western Border|
Southern Literary Messenger - July 1852
June 13th.— Twenty-four miles to-day, over a desert! hills and river valley equally a desert! In this last, we have seen many large cotton-woods, seemingly the wrecks of a blasting tempest, mere limbless or distorted stems of trees; and others, the bleached and desolate drift of a flood.
We came over a lofty bluff almost overhanging the river, which commanded a view over vast and sternly sterile plains, breaking up at last into confused mountain spurs, and dim blue peaks beyond; but to this gloomy grandeur the river, far winding amid white sands and green islands, and the foot of many another precipitous bluff adorned with evergreens, lent an element of softening beauty.
I. F. What oppresses you? You seem in mournful harmony with these silent wastes !
C. “ Behold those spectral ruins of trees, strangely white and gleaming in the starlight ! —they are melancholy. But no—it is a day that ever, since it first gave me unhappy life, leaves its influences upon me.”
I. F. Such a mood should always be resisted. [1857: But better resist such a mood.] How do you succeed with your diary now? We are passing remarkable scenery; most wildly picturesque; and there is always some incident.
C. “What is written, may always chance to be printed, if not read: how charming then to the busy denizens of the world, whose very brains have received an artificial mould, to read such incident! Now if I could only introduce the word 'dollar,'—good heavens! it was never heard here before ! tis enough to disturb the ghosts of the grim old warriors, who, I dare say, have fallen here in defence of this narrow pass: fighting for what? at Ambition's call? not, I hope, of intriguing diplomatist—better for Love, or mere excitement sake.
"Whom then shall I address ? —the mock sentimentalist? and begin the day: 'Our slumbers this morning were gently and pleasantly dissolved by the cheerful martins, which sang a sweet reveille with the first blush of Aurora, at our uncurtained couches.' Or the statist? 'Not a sign of buffalo to-day; it were melancholy and easy to calculate how soon the Indians, deprived of this natural resource, and ignorant of agriculture'—but I should soon get too deep."
I. F. But this soil is devilish shallow.
C. “Few will follow me pleasantly or patiently through these solitudes, though sometimes 'pleasant places.' I care not at all, — but that I feel I may fail to awaken the sympathy of any, while, like an artist retouching with kindled affection his painted thought, I linger to answer the appeal of Wasted Beauty to so rare appreciation."
I. F. This profoundly silent Desert—like a world without life—awes and stills the senses : but the soul is excited to speculations on the origin, the history—if it have one—and the destiny of these boundless wastes.
C. “ Or surrounds itself with the airy creations of fantasy, —or, mournfully wanders back among the dim traces of joys and sorrows gone. I address not, then, the shallow or hurried worldling; but the friendly one, who in the calm intervals from worldly cares, grants me the aid of a quiet and thoughtful,—and if it may be,— a poetic mood !"
|Scottsbluff and the old Oregon Trail, Nebraska|
Library of Congress
Saturday, June 11, 2022
Tuesday, May 31, 2022
"Before dark, two or three vessels, outward bound, passed us: one a transport ship from Valparaiso, having on board part of the crew of the British frigate Doris, lately condemned there. Lieutenant Griffith, of the royal navy, the officer in charge of them, paid a short visit to the Guerriere in his boat, and gave us some news from the capital." -- A Visit to the South Seas (New York, 1833) volume 1 page 40.
In a letter to his daughter in New York, he wrote that the Chilean ship had been "lately condemned there" and was now sailing with a crew that included former shipmates of the British frigate Doris. Stewart writes without bothering to explain what "condemned" means or why British sailors crew a Chilean Ship because his daughter, and other readers of his eventually published letters, knew from his three succinct words "lately condemned there" that the transport had once been a Chilean slave ship, that it had been captured by the British frigate Doris, that the mixed commission in Rio had "condemned" it, and that it was now repurposed and crewed by British sailors as their reward for seizing the slaver.
-- John Bryant, Herman Melville: A Half Known Life Volume 2 (Wiley Blackwell, 2021) pages 791-792.
Bryant has wrongly identified the "transport ship from Valparaiso" as a Chilean slave ship. This imaginary slaver is assumed, again wrongly, to be the ship that according to Charles Samuel Stewart had been recently "condemned" at Valparaiso. However, as confirmed by naval records and multiple reports in contemporary newspapers, Stewart's expression "lately condemned" modifies "Doris" (the nearest antecedent) not "transport ship." In reality, the condemned ship was the British frigate Doris, deemed unseaworthy and
Brian Vale helpfully specifies why, in a book all about His Majesty's Ship Doris titled A Frigate of King George: Life and Duty on a British Man-of-war (I. B. Tauris, 2001). Decayed timbers, according to the paraphrase of Vale's final chapter on Wikipedia:"Sold at Valparaiso (for $5,590) because of her decayed state."-- Rif Winfield, British Warships in the Age of Sail, 1793–1817 (Pen & Sword Books, 2005).
More than one vessel was commissioned to bring home officers and crew of the condemned Doris. One such "transport ship" was the barque Lord Wellington:"By the late 1820s, decayed timbers in her bow made her unfit for further service, and she was sold at Valparaiso in April 1829."
The Lord Wellington arrived safely back in Portsmouth, England on the first Tuesday in July, as announced for example in the London Standard on July 13, 1829:"The following vessels of war were at Valparaiso 1st March... barque Lord Wellington, transport ship, for Rio Janeiro next day, having on board Sir John Sinclair, and a part of the officers and crew of the Doris frigate, condemned at Valparaiso."
On Tuesday last arrived the Lord Wellington transport, from Rio de Janeiro, from which she sailed on the 5th of May. This ship was commissioned by Captain Sir J. Gordon Sinclair, Bart., pursuant to orders, to bring home the officers and crew of the late ship Doris, whose very defective state would have rendered extremely hazardous a voyage in her round Cape Horn. A considerable quantity of her stores were brought away, and her hull hand been hauled on the beach at Valparaiso, where it would be sold...."
PORTSMOUTH, JULY 11.
As reported in the "Monthly Naval Register," another transport ship, the Kains (alternatively rendered in newsprint as Hains and Kaius) also
"brought home a part of the officers and crew of H. M. late Frigate, Doris, and a number of invalids, from the South American Station."
-- The United Service Magazine, Volume 2 (London, 1829).
"The Kains transport, from Valparaiso, on her way home touched at Rio Janeiro. The above transport has on board the crew of the Doris frigate, which was condemned." --London Morning Post, June 11, 1829.
Aboard the Guerriere, C. S. Stewart was visited by "Lieutenant Griffith" of the outward bound transport ship "before dark" on Saturday, March 28, 1829 (Letter 5, Visit to the South Seas, vol. 1). The timing as reported by Stewart to his daughter perfectly matches the departure of the Kains transport, which sailed from Rio de Janeiro on "the 28th of March":
PORTSMOUTH, JUNE 13, 1829.
The Kains transport, Lieutenant Thomas Burdwood, agent, arrived on Monday, from Valparaiso and Rio de Janeiro (having sailed from the former place the 17th of January, and from the latter the 28th of March), with seven officers and ninety-three of the crew of his Majesty's ship Doris, which has been found unfit for service. The Kains left the Lord Wellington transport at Valparaiso; she was to bring home the remainder of the crew and stores, and her arrival may be daily expected. The Kains has brought to England twenty invalids of the squadron on the South American station. Two invalids of the Ganges died on the passage. --London Morning Chronicle, June 15, 1829.
By all accounts the Lord Wellington did not leave Rio until the 5th of May. So then, the outward bound "transport ship" sighted by Stewart on March 28, 1829 must have been the Kains. Homeward bound on the Kains, the visiting Lieutenant Griffith was one of the "seven officers" from the HMS Doris, lately "found unfit for service." As reported in the Hampshire Chronicle on June 15, 1829, the Kains transport "with Commander Rich. Griffith, some other officers, and about 100 of the crew of the Doris" arrived safely in Portsmouth on June 8th:
Portsmouth, Portsea, and Gosport. Saturday, June 13.
... Arrived, on Tuesday, the Kains transport, from Valparaiso, with Commander Rich. Griffith, some other officers, and about 100 of the crew of the Doris. Capt. Sir John Sinclair, Bart, and the rest of the officers and men were to follow in the Lord Wellington transport. The Kains sailed from Valparaiso the I8th Jan. and Rio Janeiro 28th March.
Bryant remarks that Stewart's mention of the "lately condemned" vessel is "unencumbered by outrage." No outrage? Does it matter the slave ship is made up, a fake? Maybe not to social justice wacktivists who equate silence with violence.
But Stewart was not that silent. Later in the same book (Letter 11 on "Prisons, Judiciary, Slave Trade") Stewart did in fact describe and condemn the "abhorrent and tremendous evil" of the slave trade conducted at Rio de Janeiro:
A glimpse at a still more abhorrent and tremendous evil was caught, in the same vicinity [near the city prison], while crossing the end of a street appropriated to newly arrived and unsold slaves. It is here the emaciated and half-starved cargoes are deposited from the stifling holds of the slave-ships, and daily exposed to brutal examination, till a purchaser is found. The sight is such, to an unaccustomed eye, as unavoidably to sicken the heart, and unnerve the soul; and hitherto, at the strong solicitation of others, I have avoided it.
Since Bryant notes Rev. Stewart's lack of "outrage" at the nearby specter of a fake Chilean slave ship, he probably should have mentioned Stewart's reaction to a real slave ship at sea, recorded in the third chapter of his Journal of A Residence in the Sandwich Islands (New York, 1828):-- Charles S. Stewart, A Visit to the South Seas in the U. S. Ship Vincennes Volume 1 (New York, 1831) pages 97-98.The number of slaves brought into this port has, for the last ten years, amounted to more than twenty thousand annually; and this year it is probable there will be three times that number, for no less than thirteen thousand have already been entered since the first of January. Ships are daily arriving, crowded with them; and almost at any time, gangs just landed, and nearly naked, may be seen, with their drivers, in one part or another of the city.
It was a Portuguese vessel, of very indifferent appearance. Our captain put the Thames so close alongside of her, that an apple could have been thrown on her deck. The commander could not speak English, and hailed through one of his crew. He merely wished to know our longitude; and informed us he was bound to the western coast of Africa. With the knowledge of her destination, the horrors of a slave ship at once rose on the mind; and the probability of her errand to that land of wretchedness, took entire possession of the imagination. The sighing of the captive, and the groaning of the oppressed, seemed already to be heard from her hatchways; and, as we dropped into her wake, gazing at her black hulk and bloody waist — colors well suited to her character — I could not add, to the farewell wave of the hand, the customary ejaculation, “God speed thee!"
Never before do I recollect to have been so deeply impressed with the enormity of this trade. I involuntarily shrunk from the sight of men who I believed to be engaged in its cruelties; and felt no inclination, as on similar occasions, to watch the lessening sail till it should sink beneath the horizon. Instead of impressions of beauty, before received from the same object, every look brought with it associations of human misery. Oh! what perversion of feeling, what destitution of principle, must there be in the heart that can, in the light of the present day, convert the ignorance and debasement of those who, though sunk below the level of their race, are still “bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh,” into reasons for subjecting them to still greater degradation! Surely, if anything on earth calls loudly for the righteous judgment of God, it is the prosecution of this trade; and sooner or later, the retributions of a just avenger must fall on those who thus make the heavens echo with the moanings of the bereaved, and the earth rich with the tears and blood of the enslaved.
Sunday, May 29, 2022
Thursday, May 26, 2022
Tuesday, May 24, 2022
For the record, the "Freudian slip" ascribed to a schoolgirl in Volume 1 of Herman Melville: A Half Known Life (Wiley Blackwell, 2021) is the biographer's or nobody's. As shown herein, fifteen-year-old Augusta Melville correctly used the expression wean back in her essay on the poetry of Felicia Hemans. As it happens, the text of Augusta's 1836 composition is accessible on Melvilliana:The expression in question occurs in a brief summary of The Sisters by Felicia Hemans. Augusta thus describes the pathetic central predicament of the poem, as one sister tries to keep her "broken hearted" sibling Leonor from leaving home:
"The Sisters," too abounds with beautiful ideas, most beautifully expressed. The broken hearted one is about to leave the tender and devoted sister, the companion of her childhood, who is using every persuasion that ardent love can suggest to wean her back, how touching her answer.
"Oh! woul'dst thou seek a wounded bird from shelter to detain,
"Or woul'dst thou call a spirit freed to weary life again?
The desired "shelter" is a convent, although Augusta says nothing about the intention of the "broken hearted" Leonor to live the cloistered life of a nun. Augusta does reveal that the one being left behind, the "devoted one" of the poem, urges her traumatized sister not to go, hoping "to wean her back." In Hemans' poem the pleading sister succeeds in converting or reconverting her troubled sibling, who excitedly and appreciatively acknowledges,
Oh sister! thou hast won me back!
John Bryant jumps on Augusta's wean as an "unconscious" spelling error for win, assuming I guess that Augusta must have intended to change the form of Hemans' verb won (past participle, technically) into the infinitive to win. With remarkable confidence in his feat of mind-reading, Bryant explains how Augusta wrote "to wean her back" when she certainly meant "win her back":
"The unconscious misspelling of “wean” for “win” — a Freudian slip suggesting a mothering kinship between sisters that hints, too, at an “ardent” same-sex love that would inhabit Augusta's future dreams — may not yield in the schoolgirl's essay any "full decided meaning," but it is an aspect of this half-known sister we shall continue to explore." -- John Bryant, Herman Melville: A Half Known Life (Wiley Blackwell, 2021) volume 1, page 291.In his extended treatment of young Augusta Melville's writing and older brother Gansevoort's revising, Bryant advances a really interesting and original argument for a "sibling coterie of writers" that might have schooled Herman, too, after Augusta. Herman's juvenile school compositions are lost, but the coterie as Bryant conceives it has good documentary support in surviving letters and the partial manuscript draft of Typee, evidencing Gansevoort's crucial role in superintending the publication of Herman's first book.
But wait! Before we cosign on the promise "to explore" and keep exploring the heart, mind, and sexual identity of Herman Melville's sister, under the influence of imaginary "hints" from a "schoolgirl's essay," let's consult a good dictionary. Conveniently accessible online, Webster's Dictionary 1828 gives two main senses for wean. The first relates specifically to the elimination of breastfeeding. The second and also perfectly legitimate dictionary definition of wean generalizes from mother's breast to "the affections" and "the heart."
|Noah Webster, A Dictionary of the English Language|
Another edition, via Google Books:
WEAN, v. t. [Sax. wenan, gewænan, to accustom; from the root of wone, wont; gewanian, to delay; D. wenan, afwenan; G. entwöhnen; Sw. vänja. See Wont.]
1. To accustom and reconcile, as a child or other young animal, to a want or deprivation of the breast. And the child grew, and was weaned. Gen. xxi. [Genesis 21.8]
2. To detach or alienate, as the affections, from any object of desire; to reconcile to the want or loss of any thing; as, to wean the heart from temporal enjoyments.
In commending Hemans' ballad of "The Sisters," Herman's sister Augusta Melville employed wean in the second dictionary sense of the verb, meaning either "to detach" one's "affections" from, or "to reconcile" to the "loss" of, anything desirable or enjoyable. Either or both ideas, detachment and reconciliation, may be denoted by wean. In Augusta's usage, the departing sister's heart is already weaned once, having been gradually "detached" from enjoyment of domestic affections along with her painful experience of unspecified private grief. The one being left aims to wean her sister back--that is, back to home affections, despite the emotional pain there exposed. So the "devoted" sister has to wean back, to detach or alienate the other from her new object of desire, the desperately embraced cloister. Put another way: as the mysteriously heartbroken, would-be nun appears reconciled to her imminent loss of home affections, the devoted sister must "wean her back" by persuading her to give up the convent cell. Leonor must somehow be reconciled to the loss of its lonely yet consoling solitude.In the ballad by Felicia Hemans, the devoted sister finally prevails by singing a favorite song from their childhood, marked by the repeated admonition, "leave us not." Thus convinced to stay Leonor exclaims, "Oh sister! thou hast won me back!"
As correctly used by Augusta Melville, wean back conveys the essence of the domestic drama as lyrically presented by Hemans. By singing an old familiar song, one sister weans back the other, back to the family circle where she once belonged. In a similarly domestic and religious context, Francis Parkman used Augusta's phrase "wean her back" to describe the attempt of a "passionately fond" father to dissuade his daughter, Madame de la Peltrie, from joining a convent:
Religion and its ministers possessed her wholly, and all her enthusiasm was spent on works of charity and devotion. Her father, passionately fond of her, resisted her inclination for the cloister, and sought to wean her back to the world; but she escaped from the chateau to a neighboring convent, where she resolved to remain.
--Chapter 14 on Devotees and Nuns in France and England in North America (Boston, 1867).
Among Emily Dickinson scholars, Augusta's usage remained in play at the dawn of this our enlightened 21st century. In the classroom, confident about the superiority of manuscript study over badly edited texts, Annette Debo provides students with typescripts of Dickinson's poems
"initially, but I try to wean them back to the manuscripts."
Debo, Annette. “Dickinson Manuscripts in the Undergraduate Classroom.” College Literature, vol. 27, no. 3, 2000, pp. 130–43, http://www.jstor.org/stable/25112540.
More 19th century examples
"Rebuke the sin, but yet in love rebuke,
Feel as one member in another's pain;
Wean back the soul that his fair path forsook,And mighty and eternal is thy gain."
-- Hymn 203 on "Brotherly Kindness" in
A Selection of Psalms and Hymns by Baptist Wriothesley Noel (London, 1832).
"But Jane, thou art gone—
Gone to the lonely grave—then fare thee well,
The eloquence of grief cannot wean thee
Back to life.—"
"To the Memory of Miss W——n." Auburn NY Free Press, March 20, 1832
At length those eyes, which they would fain be weaning
Back to old thoughts, wax'd full of fearful meaning.
-- Byron, Don Juan Canto 4, 64
"Mabel was at last able to wean her back from her purpose." --Love's Exchange: A Tale by Charles John Boyle (London, 1839).
Still there was one who clung to him with all the fond devotedness of woman's never ceasing love. In his early career, Julia had strove, by every art and persuasion which she was possessed of, to wean him back to his former mode of life. -- "The Victims of Inebriation" by Joseph I. Matthias, The Ladies' Garland (Philadelphia, 1842).
She could not but look back to him, and determined again to see him—again to attempt to wean him back to self-respect and to himself. -- "Confessions of a Gambler" in The New York Illustrated Magazine of Literature and Art (New York, 1846)
But how are we to reclaim the wicked and immoral? How wean them back again into the path of virtue and peace? --The Primitive Expounder, Volume 2 (Philadelphia, 1845)
Saturday, April 23, 2022
Sunday, April 17, 2022
Saturday, April 16, 2022
The noblest and most promising attempt at scholarship in the March 2022 Leviathan is the essay by Elizabeth Adams on the likely influence of David's famous painting on the theatrical oath-taking scene in Moby-Dick, chapter 36.
... Melville's oath-taking vignette in "The Quarter-Deck"—a scene emphasized in Huston's film but otherwise overlooked by scholarship. I argue that this oath-taking scene proves a previously unnoted ekphrastic passage in which Melville draws from Jacques-Louis David's well-known Neoclassical history painting Oath of the Horatii (1784) in order to depict Ahab's induction of the three mates, and then the three harpooners, into his quest for revenge upon the white whale.
Adams, Elizabeth. "The Oath of the Pequod: Moby-Dick, Jacques-Louis David's Oath of the Horatii, and the Aesthetic of the Distinct." Leviathan 24, no. 1 (2022): pages 3-23 at page 4. muse.jhu.edu/article/852658.It's a great connection, here provoking an interesting take from Adams on Melville's "aesthetic of the distinct." Which to me does not easily or obviously reduce down to realism, but no matter. Once you see it, the painting wonderfully illuminates the Quarter-Deck scene in Moby-Dick. For a start. While worthy of closer examination, certainly, Melville's debt to David's Oath of the Horatii has not exactly been ignored or "unnoted" in previous scholarship. Indeed, a footnote in the 2nd Norton Critical Edition (listed without comment by Adams among Works Cited) concisely points to the painting and the medium in which Melville would most likely have encountered it:
"Melville knew this ritual from Shakespeare (Hamlet makes Horatio and Marcellus swear on his sword in Hamlet, 1.5.146), but he could have seen it elsewhere, perhaps in a print of the 1784 painting, The Oath of the Horatii by Jacques Louis David (1748-1825).
"Melville knew an oath-taking ritual from Shakespeare (Hamlet makes Horatio and Marcellus swear on his sword in Hamlet, 1.5.146), but he could have seen it elsewhere, perhaps in a print of Jacques Louis David's 1784 painting, The Oath of the Horatii."
Unfortunately, Adams also has overlooked prior and directly relevant work by Peter Wagner on David's painting as exemplary "iconotext" in Moby-Dick. Engaging the highest priests of postmodern lit-crit AND the Melville Society, Wagner has written and published on David's famous painting and Melville's famous oath-taking scene in English:
In Herman Melville's mighty Moby-Dick, or, The Whale (1851), art and artists constantly interfere in the text--and so do the fictional readers or observers of art works... One of the more intriguing examples occurs when, in Chapter 36, Ahab first nails the golden doubloon to the mast, and then, as the English of Shakespeare and the Elizabethan revenge tragedy blends with the powerful prose of the Bible and Milton's lofty verse (and many other pre-texts), forces his crew to unite in an "indissoluble league." ... The scene is obviously inspired by two major pretexts (or subtexts), one verbal and the other visual: Shakespeare's Hamlet and Jacques Louis David's Le serment des Horaces (colour plate I). David's painting--and its highly ambiguous, contradictory, socio-political implications--are integrated into Melville's text. The dramatic scene relies for its meaning on the reading of David's canvas and all the sources behind it, including the classical story of the Horatius family...." (9-10)
"Let us now leave ekphrasis for a while and turn to the second provocative term, iconotext, which I applied to the implicit allusion to David's Le serment des Horaces in Chapter 36 of Moby-Dick." (15)
... footnote 39: "... The study of the role of art works in Melville's novel is, as can be expected, still at the "correspondences of the arts" stage, with most critical works exploring text and paintings (evoked in the text) apart. See, for instance, Sten: Savage Eye, and Wallace: Melville and Turner, which are, alas, no exception to the rule." (15)
Peter Wagner, "Introduction: Ekphrasis, Iconotexts, and Intermediality -- the State(s) of the Art(s)" in Icons - Texts - Iconotexts: Essays on Ekphrasis and Intermediality, ed. Peter Wagner. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1996, pages 9-10 and 15.
and German, a whole chapter on the subject in German:
Hans-Peter Wagner, "Herman Melvilles Moby-Dick und Jacques-Louis Davids Le serment des Horaces" in Literaturen der Welt: Zugänge, Modelle, Analysen eines Konzepts im Übergang (pages 269-284). Ed. Patricia A Gwozdz and Markus A Lenz. Heidelberg: Universitätsverlag Winter, 2018.
Wagner credits Harold Beaver for being the first commentator to identify David's painting as the iconographic source for the oath-taking scene, citing the 1972 Penguin edition of Moby-Dick.
Wagner's use of the "implicit allusion" to The Oath of the Horatii in Moby-Dick to exemplify the term iconotext is quoted by Thomas F. Heck in the first chapter of Picturing Performance: The Iconography of the Performing Arts in Concept and Practice (University of Rochester Press, 1999) at page 37.
Here in the blogosphere, Charles Matthews called attention to David's painting in his discussion of Moby-Dick chapter 36, back in 2010:
Then he [Ahab] has the three mates extend their lances and "he grasped the three level, radiating lances at their crossed centre." He glances "intently from Starbuck to Stubb; from Stubb to Flask. It seemed as though, by some nameless, interior volition, he would fain have shocked them into the same fiery emotion accumulated within the Leyden jar of his own magnetic life." The image is somewhat reminiscent of Jacques-Louis David's painting Oath of the Horatii:
But the effect isn't what Ahab hopes for: "Stubb and Flask looked sideways from him; the honest eye of Starbuck fell downright." Ahab resigns himself that if they had taken "the full-forced shock, then mine own electric thing, that had perhaps expired from out me. Perhaps, too, it would have dropped ye dead." He orders the three mates to act as "cupbearers to my three pagan kinsmen there -- yon three most honorable gentlemen and noblemen, my valiant harpooneers." He has the harpooners detach the metal heads from their harpoons. "Forthwith, slowly going from one officer to the other, he brimmed the harpoon sockets with the fiery waters from the pewter." Each officer gives the harpoon-cups to his harpooner."Drink, ye harpooneers; drink and swear, ye men that man the deathful whaleboat's bow -- Death to Moby Dick! God hunt us all, if we do not hunt Moby Dick to his death!" The long, barbed steel goblets were lifted; and to cries and maledictions against the white whale, the spirits were simultaneously quaffed down with a hiss. Starbuck paled, and turned, and shivered.
It's a great, theatrical, melodramatic scene.
-- Charles Matthews, "The Journal of a Compulsive Reader" 6. Moby-Dick, by Herman Melville, pp. 129-165. Link below:
Bottom line: fine find, well deserving of further exploration, but not really "overlooked" or "unnoted."
Wednesday, April 13, 2022
"These proclamations are an act of faith, in a new, as yet unnamed religion, and the vehemence with which one proclaims allegiance to these untruths is an exercise no different from any other ecstatic religious oath."
Monday, April 11, 2022
Thursday, April 7, 2022
|Photo by Prasad Chatterji|
"But the artist, with a heart as callous as that of an army surgeon, continued his performance, enlivening his labours with a wild chant, tapping away the while as merrily as a woodpecker."
-- Typee, Professor of Tattooing
Wednesday, April 6, 2022
Wednesday, March 30, 2022
Here's a sample of my latest effort on Substack, documenting formerly unrecognized literary debts to some version of E. C. Brewer's pop-science guidebook in another 1854 short fiction by Herman Melville, Poor Man's Pudding and Rich Man's Crumbs. The borrowings identified so far all occur in "Poor Man's Pudding," the first of these paired sketches. Evidently Melville, having successfully ventriloquized Dr. Brewer on familiar science in "Poor Man's Pudding," kept his guidebook handy for the more extensive series of creative appropriations just uncovered in The Lightning-Rod Man.
As shown below, a closer look at the mechanics of Melville's rewriting reveals his penchant for parallelism. Further investigation, of the sort I hope to continue on Substack, may reveal other instances where Melville forges new parallel structures from the raw material of a source-text.
Near the close of “Poor Man’s Pudding,” the narrator records his observation of the oppressively “damp” and “heavy” air in the Coulters’ home, and then generalizes about the badly ventilated rooms that poor people too often inhabit, especially in winter. Invoking some imaginary abuser (maybe Malthus) of the poor and their alleged “instinct” for “ill-ventilation,” Melville’s narrator protests in their defense that stale indoor air has one great advantage “to any shiverer” in being warmer than air circulated and cooled through ventilation.
This ill-ventilation in winter of the rooms of the poor—a thing, too, so stubbornly persisted in—is usually charged upon them as their disgraceful neglect of the most simple means to health. But the instinct of the poor is wiser than we think. The air which ventilates, likewise cools. And to any shiverer, ill-ventilated warmth is better than well-ventilated cold.
Rather than evincing habitual neglect of good health, as ostensibly alleged by unnamed critics, the observed preference for bad ventilation in winter results from the natural human “instinct” to keep warm. Thus reasons Melville’s compassionate narrator, who takes his theme directly from Dr. Brewer’s section on “Animal Heat,” #1115 in Peterson’s Familiar Science. Image below reproduces the same Q-and-A as it appears on page 93 of A Guide to the Scientific Knowledge of Things Familiar (New York: C. S. Francis & Co. and Boston: Crosby, Nichols & Co., 1854).
Q. Why are very POOR PEOPLE instinctively AVERSE to VENTILATION ?
A. 1st–Because ventilation increases the oxygen of the air—the combustion of food and the cravings of appetite : and
2dly—Ventilation cools the air of our rooms : to poor people, therefore, who are ill-clad, the warmth of an ill-ventilated apartment is agreeable.
In paraphrasing his source-text near the end of “Poor Man’s Pudding,” Melville has disregarded the first part of Dr. Brewer’s answer. Instead of bothering about scientific processes of oxygenation and combustion, Melville keys on the second part, about ventilation. As the latter part of the answer in Familiar Science #1115 explains, “poor people” without adequate clothing to wear actually prefer rooms without good air circulation for their relative warmth, in contrast to rooms that are better ventilated and therefore colder.
FAMILIAR SCIENCE #1115
Ventilation cools the air of our rooms :
The air which ventilates, likewise cools.
Melville’s rewrite turns Brewer’s word ventilation into a verb, making the grammar of “ventilates” parallel to that of “cools.” Both the original and Melville’s rewrite have the word cools in italics.
The rest of the paraphrase features another parallelism created through revision of Melville’s source-text. Melville copied “ill-ventilated” from his source in Brewer’s Guide page 93 or Familiar Science #1115, and added “well-ventilated” to yield contrasting, parallel descriptors. He strengthened the parallelism through antithesis by copying the noun “warmth” and adding “cold” to sharpen the contrast in fresh, perfectly parallel phrases: “ill-ventilated warmth” vs. “well-ventilated cold.”
FAMILIAR SCIENCE #1115
… to poor people, therefore, who are ill-clad, the warmth of an ill-ventilated apartment is agreeable.
And to any shiverer, ill-ventilated warmth is better than well-ventilated cold.
Another addition is the figure of “any shiverer,” one of the best changes Melville made to his source-text in some version of Dr. Brewer’s handy guidebook of popular science. When creatively rewriting source material, Melville often gravitates to the concrete and personal. In this case, where his source generalized about the predicament of “ill-clad” poor people. Melville individualizes the point of view, changing the perspective from that of “poor people” in the abstract to that of “any shiverer.” At the same, the construction invites empathy by appealing to a relatable experience of common humanity. In the image of “any shiverer,” Melville has visualized how any person, not excluding any reader, might feel and act in a cold apartment, with no winter clothes.