Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Melville's source for "ill-ventilated warmth" in "Poor Man's Pudding"

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.

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.”

… 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.

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Sunday, March 27, 2022

Project MUSE - Peddlers of the Rod: Melville's "The Lightning-Rod Man" and the Antebellum Periodical Market

Just added a cite of the 2010 article in Leviathan by Joshua Matthews

to the first part of my Substack essay, Borrowed Thunder.

... And Dillingham pointed us in the right direction by calling attention to the dialogic structure of Melville’s story, most essentially a conversation developed through a “great number of questions and answers.”

As recognized more recently by Joshua Matthews, the script for the salesman’s part in the dramatized conversation derives from a set of “safety instructions”:

“His performance, intended to produce anxiety in his potential customer, acts out the safety instructions he advises the narrator to take.”10

Saturday, March 26, 2022

Come away from the wall

 Borrowed thunder part 2 is on Substack

with more examples of Melville's extensive borrowing in The Lightning-Rod Man from some version of E. C. Brewer's Guide to the Scientific Knowledge of Things Familiar, a kind of catechism on the "Science of Familiar Things." 

More work is needed to establish if possible which version Melville used for a source-text; possibly the expanded and rearranged series of questions and answers offered in the American edition, Peterson's Familiar Science.

For a glimpse of Herman Melville at his re-writing desk, creatively appropriating a source, here below is one instance of especially close copying that occurs on page 133 of the magazine version (August 1854), page 279 in The Piazza Tales (1856). 


"Is there any part of my house that I may touch with hopes of my life?"

"There are; but not where you now stand. Come away from the wall. The current will sometimes run down a wall, and--a man being a better conductor than a wall--it would leave the wall and run into him. Swoop! That must have fallen very nigh. That must have been globular lightning."

FAMILIAR SCIENCE American edition (Philadelphia, 1852) page 23.

Q. Why is it dangerous to lean against a wall during a thunder storm?

A. Because the electric fluid will sometimes run down a wall; and, (as a man is a better conductor than a wall,) would leave the wall and run down the man. 

Hey, since Melville is copying this bit about the wall directly from his source, let's compare the same Q-and-A in other versions to see if and how the wording differs--just maybe yielding a clue to which version Melville might have been using. Main contenders are the English edition of Brewer's Guide (quoted below from the 2nd London edition); and the American version, published in New York by C. S. Francis & Co. (quoted from the 1854 printing).

BREWER'S GUIDE 2nd ed. (London, 1848) page 17.

Q. Why is it DANGEROUS to lean BACK AGAINST A WALL during a thunder-storm ?

A. Because the electric fluid sometimes runs down the wall of a house or room; and (as a man is a better conductor than a brick wall) would diverge from the wall to him.

 BREWER'S GUIDE, American edition (New York: C. S. Francis, 1854) page 23.

Q. Why is it DANGEROUS to lean AGAINST A WALL during a thunder-storm ?

A. Because the electric fluid will sometimes run down a wall ; and (as a man is a better conductor than a wall) would leave the wall, and run down the man.

I'm sorely tempted to exclude the English edition for printing "sometimes runs" and "the wall" where both American versions (the Francis edition of Brewer's Guide and Peterson's Familiar Science) agree with Melville's wording "will sometimes run" and "down a wall." Moreover, American versions agree with Melville's in placing "and" just there, immediately after "a wall." Postponed in the English edition until after the phrase "of a house or room," which does not appear in Melville's rewrite.

Then again, the answer in Brewer's English edition ends with "to him" which is more like Melville's "into him" than the two American versions that both have the electric juice (hypothetical, thank goodness) going "down the man." Perhaps Melville there just wanted to avoid repeating the phrase down the man.  

Lots more work to do, clearly. Never fear, Melvilliana is here for it!

Friday, March 25, 2022

The Hymn in Moby-Dick: Melville's Adaptation of "Psalm 18"

The Hymn in Moby-Dick: Melville's Adaptation of "Psalm 18": In 'The Sermon,' Chapter 9 of Moby-Dick, the hymn sung by the congregation of Whaleman’s Chapel contributes pointedly to Herman Melville’s realistic depiction of organized worship and to the thematic coherence of both chapter and work. As David H. Battenfeld first discovered, Melville’s source for the hymn is the first part of a rhymed version of the 18th Psalm (subtitled 'Deliverance from despair'), printed in The Psalms and Hymns of the Reformed Protestant Dutch Church in North America. This is the psalter and hymnal authorized by the church of Melville's mother, Maria Gansevoort Melville, in which he was baptized.1 Noting the book was first published 'in 1789, and was expanded in 1830 and 1846,' Battenfeld took his copy-text from an 1854 printing of Psalms and Hymns, apparently assuming 'Psalm 18' remained unaltered from the 1789 edition up to and beyond the publication of Moby-Dick in 1851. Moreover, Battenfelds analysis addressed only the ways Melville changed the hymn 'to fit the specific reference to the story of Jonah' (574); he made no effort to examine Melville’s alterations in light of ideas and images that inform Moby-Dick as a whole. But the actual setting of “Psalm 18” that Melville adopted was, in fact, not the version included in Psalms and Hymns until the book was expanded for the first time, after the synods of 1812 and 1813, and the text of this setting was altered for editions following...

Project MUSE - Melville's Notes from Thomas Roscoe's The German Novelists

Project MUSE - Melville's Notes from Thomas Roscoe's <i>The German Novelists</i>

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Too-Familiar Science in "The Lightning-Rod Man"

Like the "irregular" sound of mountain thunder, much of Melville's 1854 short story The Lightning-Rod Man has been creatively appropriated--that is to say, plagiarized--from questions and answers about the basic science of thunder and lightning in one or another version of a popular nineteenth-century schoolbook. As demonstrated in my first Substack effort,

part one of a two-part essay titled "Borrowed thunder," Melville definitely used some version of Ebenezer Cobham Brewer's influential Guide to the Scientific Knowledge of Things Familiar. Aka "Dr. Brewer's Guide to Science." 

More work is needed to figure out which version Melville used in the 1850's, and where else he used it besides "The Lightning-Rod Man." (Aside: Poor Man's Pudding, for sure, as I will have to show in another post on Substack.) Among the possibilities are two different American editions, both issued in 1851--one published in New York by C. S. Francis, based on Brewer's text in prior English editions

and another, improved American edition published in Philadelphia by Robert Evans Peterson. Melville I think would have appreciated the more coherent arrangement of questions-and-answers in Familiar Science; or, The Scientific Explanation of Common Things (Philadelphia, 1851) and the copious index there, much juicer than in Brewer's English edition. Commonly known in Melville's day as Peterson's Familiar Science.

from "The Lightning-Rod Man"
Putnam's magazine - August 1854 - page 133

One of the more notable instances of creative plagiarism in The Lighting-Rod Man concerns the "returning stroke" of lighting from earth to sky, a phenomenon that fascinates the narrator. Excerpt below is from the first part of my aforementioned Substack essay, Borrowed thunder:  

You can also say with absolute certainty that Melville appropriated essential elements in the conversation about “the returning-stroke” from a printed source, either Dr. Brewer’s Guide or Q and A #36 in Peterson’s Familiar Science:

Q. When lightning flashes from the earth to the clouds, what is the flash called?

A. It is popularly called the “returning stroke;" because the earth (being overcharged with electric fluid,) returns the surplus quantity to the clouds. [page 17]

Here Melville’s rewrite is especially faithful to the original wording of his source-text. Melville has copied it verbatim, in places:

Familiar Science #36 lightning flashes from the earth to the clouds
Lightning-Rod Manlightning flashes from the earth to the clouds

Familiar Science #36 the earth (being overcharged with electric fluid
Lightning-Rod Manthe earth, being overcharged with the fluid,

Familiar Science #36: returns the surplus quantity to the clouds
Lightning-Rod Man: flashes its surplus upward

The boldness of borrowing here is remarkable, even for a habitual plagiarist like Melville. Brazenly, he imports big chunks of stolen text without bothering to disguise the theft. Along with his telling re-use of “returning stroke,” Melville also hijacked single words from Familiar Science, the verb flashes and noun surplus, and conjoined them in the phrase “flashes its surplus” (“supplies” in the original magazine version, page 133, emended to “surplus” in The Piazza Tales, page 281). Where his source is redundant, Melville compresses. The answer to #36 in Familiar Science repeats part of the question: “to the clouds.” Melville avoids needless repetition through revision, avoiding a second instance of the phrase to the clouds by substituting “upward” instead.

To encourage further study, here is the NYPL copy of the 1854 edition of Peterson's Familiar Science, Google-digitized and accessible online courtesy of HathiTrust Digital Library.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Melville's Short Fiction, 1853–1856

Melville's Short Fiction, 1853–1856: This study treats comprehensively the sixteen short works of fiction that Herman Melville wrote between 1853 and 1856, most of which were published in Harper...

Saturday, March 12, 2022

"The Happy Failure," newspaper reprintings in Melville's lifetime

Probably written in spring or summer 1853, Herman Melville's short story The Happy Failure appeared the following year in the July 1854 issue of Harper's New Monthly Magazine (Volume 9, pages 196-199). The humorously instructive tale of a delusional inventor and his impracticable scheme for draining swamps was first published anonymously, but rightly credited to Herman Melville in later indexes to contents of Harper's magazine. 

"The Happy Failure / A Story of the River Hudson" in Harper's New Monthly Magazine volume 9:

Not in The Piazza Tales (New York, 1856), but collected in the 1987 Northwestern Newberry edition, The Piazza Tales and Other Prose Pieces, 1839-1860 edited by Harrison Hayford, Alma A. MacDougall, G. Thomas Tanselle and others. Textual notes in the Northwestern-Newberry edition, page 690, indicate 

"No known manuscript, and no later printing in Melville's lifetime.

However, "The Happy Failure" did get reprinted at least three times in Melville's lifetime, during and after the Civil War. On October 23, 1861 the Gloucester Telegraph and News, reprinted "The Happy Failure" on the front page, concluding the story on the fourth page where credit was given to "Harper's magazine." Also reprinted in full on page 4 of the Cape Ann Light and Gloucester Telegraph for the same day, October 23, 1861, with the same credit to Harper's magazine at the end. The Gloucester Telegraph was owned and edited by John Stevens Ellery Rogers.

Gloucester MA Telegraph and News - October 23, 1861
via Genealogy Bank

More than a decade later, "The Happy Failure" was reprinted in the Columbus, Ohio Daily Dispatch on September 18, 1873. Also reprinted in the Paterson, New Jersey Daily Press on October 31, 1873, under the byline of "Blanche Avignon."

Paterson NJ Daily Press - October 31, 1873

Tuckerman notices "The Apple-Tree Table"

In the latter 1850's, under cover of the pseudonym "Knick," Herman Melville's friend Henry Theodore Tuckerman reported on the latest literary and cultural news from New York City as a valued correspondent of the Boston Evening Transcript. As shown previously on Melvilliana, Tuckerman aka "Knick" wrote favorable notices of Israel Potter (February 27, 1855) and The Confidence-Man (April 10, 1857). 
Surveying the contents of Putnam's magazine for May 1856, Knick described The Apple-Tree Table (without naming Melville) as "a story of Hawthorne-like detail, illustrative of the "spirit rappings."

Boston Evening Transcript - May 7, 1856
NEW YORK, May 6, 1856.

LITERARY. Dear Transcript: With their accustomed punctuality, Dix & Edwards issued "Putnam's Monthly," with a freshness and variety of material that seems to indicate a seasonable revival of Magazine literature and May-day exuberance of wit and wisdom. Opening with a pleasant digest of the Kane Relief Expedition, which gives a relishing foretaste in Captain Heinstein's experience, of the Doctor's complete record, soon to appear. They follow up this appropriate tribute to he benevolent enterprise of the times, with a story of Hawthorne-like detail, illustrative of the "spirit rappings," called "The Apple Tree Table." Hale, the martyr spy of the Revolution, has justice done his brave sacrifice, in a biographical sketch of national interest. The claims of Ruskin, as an art-critic, are then discussed with an evident enthusiasm for his views and style. Kingsley's poems are next considered, and "Napoleon as a Family Man" is viewed as revealed in the letters to Joseph, his brother, lately published....

...We are all astonished at the fact that Hawthorne has made a dinner speech,--he who was only heard to speak once during his voyage to Liverpool. He addressed the company in reply to a toast in his honor, and what he said was appropriate, and manly and sensible. Bravo, silent Hawthorne! now you have found your tongue, resume your pen, too long idle... --"Knick" [Henry Theodore Tuckerman] Boston Evening Transcript, May 7, 1856.

Another newspaper mention, from the notice of "Putnam's Monthly for May" in the Boston Daily Atlas on April 30, 1856:

"The Apple Tree Table is an account of original spiritual manifestations, the mystery of which is more simple and satisfactory than such manifestations usually are." 

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Tuesday, March 8, 2022

The riddle of COCK-A-DOODLE-DOO!

In a long review of Harper's New Monthly Magazine for December 1853, the Louisville Journal offered a fine appreciation of Melville's short story COCK-A-DOODLE-DOO! as a well-wrought "allegory" and "riddle." 

Unsigned as usual, this rare notice of Melville's early magazine fiction was probably written by George D. Prentice. As editor of the Louisville Journal, Prentice was highly regarded for the excellence of his literary criticism, and not only in the south. The subjects of memory and Themistocles particularly interest this reviewer and also emerged in conversation with Prentice, as recalled by his secretary and early biographer Gilderoy Wells Griffin.
In a conversation with Mr. PRENTICE on the subject of memory, I expressed my disbelief in the stories that Themistocles could call the name of every citizen in Athens, and that Racine could recite, word for word, the tragedies of Euripides; and he replied, “You are very much mistaken. The art of memorizing such things is not so difficult as you imagine. When a boy, I knew by heart the first six books of Virgil, and could recite verbatim the whole of Kame’s ‘Elements of Criticism,' Blair's 'Rhetoric,' and Dugald Stewart's 'Mental Philosophy.' Charley Thomason, of Louisville, knew 'Blackstone's Commentaries' by heart; and Cook, the tragedian, memorized on one occasion the entire contents of a daily newspaper. Dr. Bell does not seem to forget anything whatever. Shelley, you know, claims that the human mind is capable of comprehending. all that ever was or ever will be."
"George D. Prentice," Studies in Literature, Second Edition (Philadelphia, 1871) page 56.

Prentice's assistant editor around this time was Paul R. Shipman, also "a fine classical scholar, and an able and vigorous writer" according to Griffin. 

Whoever he was, the Louisville reviewer did not mention Melville by name or indicate that he knew who had contributed the "paper" allegory titled Cock-a-doodle-doo. The first part of the Louisville notice was reprinted in a Nashville newspaper, as previously shown on Melvilliana

Introducing the glowing Harper's notice, the Republican Banner and Nashville Whig (December 3, 1853) explicitly credited the Louisville Journal, but I missed that important detail when transcribing the response to Melville's contribution a few years back. Turns out the editorial praise of Melville's story was abridged in the later Nashville version. 

30 Nov 1853, Wed The Courier-Journal (Louisville, Kentucky)

Transcribed in full below, the original notice of Melville's "COCK-A-DOODLE-DOO!" as it first appeared in George D. Prentice's Louisville Journal  (Louisville, Kentucky, USA) on November 30, 1853:
The paper entitled "Cock-a-doodle-doo; or the Crowing of the Noble Cock Beneventano," is a curious allegory that will puzzle the superficial reader. But he that reads the riddle, who dives to the depths of its profound mystery, and learns what the graces are that are represented by the Shanghai of the story; and why he was found the tenant of the hut of the lowly wood-chopper, and why the family loved him, will find a lesson fully worth the labor its acquisition may cost. The bird thus immortalized in this story was a tenant of classic times. As the Athenian pioneers of the battles of freedom were on their way to the plain of Marathon, Themistocles called the attention of the army to two chanticleers engaged in battle at the wayside. He urged upon the Greeks to observe how courageously, steadily, and unflinchingly the two birds were fighting, yet they had no country, no hearth-stones, no religion, nor freedom to stimulate them; they had no memories of the past, no hopes of the future to sustain them, but they fought bravely for the mere love of victory. Themistocles appealed to the Greeks that inasmuch as they had all to encite them to courage and perseverance, that the chanticleers had not, to remember these things in the coming strife. Chanticleer was the favorite offering upon the altar of Esculapius, and Socrates cheered his fidelity in his dying moments by ordering the payment of a cock to Esculapius. In New Testament history chanticleer is famous through the mnemotechney his clarion notes roused in the denying Peter. And in the most perilous hour of Macdonough's battle on Lake Champlain, the bravery of a chanticleer on the American flag-ship, shown in flying to the shrouds and crowing, stimulated every one who heard the victorious tones. But far profounder than these lessons is the teaching of the paper before us.  


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