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