Sunday, May 28, 2023

Where is Melville?

A Man of the Sandwich Islands, with his Helmet
© National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London

Disappointed with Kiana: A Tradition of Hawaii (1857) by James Jackson Jarves, one contemporary reviewer complained that "Romance plainly is not Mr. Jarves' forte" and wondered,

"Where is Melville?"

Surely the author of Typee, Omoo, and Mardi would have made a more entertaining story out of the same Polynesian material. 

A newspaper clipping of the 1857 Kiana review was kept by the Melville family and eventually deposited at Harvard. I'm guessing it's still there:

 Jay Leyda put it in The Melville Log Volume 2 on page [583]:

Cited in the back of Volume 2 as "clipping, HCL-M" = "Papers & library of the Melville family, Harvard College Library."

Leyda got the place (Boston) right, along with the correct month (September) and year (1857) of the newspaper clipping. For those who care about such things, I'm happy to supply the missing name and date of the newspaper in which this interesting query appeared. Transcribed below, from the Boston Daily Traveller of September 14, 1857:

Boston Daily Traveller - September 14, 1857
Mr. Jarves' well known books--Parisian and Italian Sights--led us to look with favor upon anything coming from his pen. We are sorry to be disappointed in KIANA, a Tradition of Hawaii, just published by Munroe & Co. Romance plainly is not Mr. Jarves' forte. He had a charming subject, susceptible of the highest style of treatment in this difficult province of fiction. There is a tradition among the people of the Sandwich Islands, that during the reign of Kiana, eighteen generations of kings previous to Kamehameha I., a white priest came among them with an idol and a new god, lived with them long, and dying, left a reputation for goodness that was green in the memories of the Hawaiians three centuries later. The date of this tradition synchronizes with that of the loss of two vessels sent by Cortez upon an exploring expedition to California. Mr. Jarves supposes the possible identity of the white strangers of Hawaii with the missing adventurers of Cortez, and from this fertile source derives the materials for his story. 
With such a beginning one might look for a romance equal to Mayo's Kaloolah or Melville's Omoo and Typee. The field is illimitable, the colors of every hue, and the license ample, only the skill of the romancer was wanting. It is a pity so good a piece of canvass should be spoiled. Where is Melville? Will he not leave the mazes of Pierre or the Ambiguities, and the eccentricities of the Confidence Man, and with some such charming tradition as this bring back the days and the delights of beautiful Fayaway, or take us voyaging to another Mardi. -- Boston Daily Traveller, September 14, 1857.
Emily Dickinson's friend Samuel Bowles of the Springfield, Mass. Republican had served as editor of the Boston Traveller since April 1857. In Springfield, Bowles was formerly assisted by Melville's "friendly critic" Josiah Gilbert Holland, so identified by Jay Leyda:
  • Leyda, Jay. “Another Friendly Critic for Melville.” The New England Quarterly, vol. 27, no. 2, 1954, pp. 243–49. JSTOR, Accessed 28 May 2023.  
After a short tenure as editor of the Traveller, Bowles would reclaim his position as editor of the Springfield Republican.
The departure of Samuel Bowles as editor of the Traveller was announced on September 10th in the Boston Evening Transcript. Possibly the Kiana review on September 14, 1857 was one of the last literary pieces that Bowles contributed or supervised as editor of the Boston Traveller

Where is Melville?

In the Boston Traveller Bowles or somebody wondered, "Where is Melville?" We might be able to answer the question, now that we know the date on which it appeared in print. Where WAS Herman Melville on September 14, 1857? Back home in Pittsfield, Mass., brainstorming lecture topics, as he revealed the next day in a letter to George W. Curtis:

-- I have been trying to scratch my brains for a Lecture. What is a good, earnest subject? "Daily progress of man towards a state of intellectual & moral perfection, as evidenced in history of 5th Avenue & 5 Points."
Even better, brainstorming lecture topics and satirizing utopian schemes of famous communists after reading Robert Owen:
By the wondrous and, hitherto, mysterious organic construction of man and woman, the adults of the first generation that shall acquire a practical knowledge of their own powers to re-form the matured character of each individual, will be enabled, almost to re-create the character of succeeding generations; to re-create it by training each individual from birth, by a new and very superior arrangement of external circumstances, to have a sound physical constitution, to have superior dispositions, habits and manners, to have much valuable knowledge, and to make a daily progress towards physical, intellectual and moral perfection.

-- Robert Owen, The Book of the New Moral World (London, 1836) page 103.

Robert Owen, Esq. via NYPL Digital Collections
Melville's words and phrasing, specifically the stipulation of "daily progress" in the march "towards" a condition of "intellectual and moral perfection" are Robert Owen's in The Book of the New Moral World (London, 1836). "Subjects: Communism" as catalogued by HathiTrust Digital Library
As it turned out, the real lecture Melville composed on Statues in Rome was delivered in Boston on December 2, 1857 and reported the next evening in the Boston Evening Traveller. Traces of Melville's epistolary parody of Owen linger in his reference to the utopian "scheme of Fourier" that had yet to dissolve the need for a whole code of laws against criminal conduct. 

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  1. "He's around," said the Whale. "He comes down to the pier sometimes; we talk; we watch a movie on the big screen teevee they have in the dockside bar, now. But he's here." The Whale was silent for a time, then made Pontiac GTO noises in the water as he submerged, slowly.

  2. Haha. Leftists lose it when Melville jokes about the impractical schemes and dreams of deluded utopians. For a prime example see the post on Melville's anti-communist math.