Monday, June 13, 2022

Two birthdays, one happy

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.

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
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