Thursday, February 22, 2018

Proof I can still find things at the library

We independent types have to be resourceful. Sometimes that means driving 50 miles to the nearest research library, and then figuring out where they keep the good stuff. Here's something fine from the Winter 1964 issue of Studies in Short Fiction, a note on "The Lightning-Rod Man" as generic salesman's story by a promising young assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Once we establish the genre of "The Lightning-Rod Man," neither its imagery nor its style needs apology. It is time that we frankly commend and enjoy this "devastating little parable" (Leyda, p. xxvi) whose allegorized folklore proved both metaphysical and magazinish and must have encouraged Melville to make extended allegorical use of demonology and folklore in The Confidence-Man.  --Hershel Parker
Truth be told I was making a virtue of necessity, being more or less forced back into the stacks after my allotted computer time ran out. Of course there were empty stations everywhere. Smart students with smart phones don't need them or the library. But the University of Minnesota shows independent scholars no love.

Friday, February 16, 2018

199th edition of The Night Before Christmas, in 1842

The surname of Clement C. Moore is misspelled "More," but clearly "W." of Annapolis knows who wrote "A Visit from St. Nicholas" aka "The Night Before Christmas." The verses and their author are common knowledge by 1842, many months before Moore again acknowledged writing the Christmas poem ("not for publication, but to amuse my children") in his letter to Charles King, published in the New York American on March 1, 1844. Indeed, Moore's holiday poem is so famous by 1842 that yet another reprinting can be called "the 199th edition."


For the Maryland Republican.

MESSRS. EDITORS:--Every child has heard of St. Nicholas, and has kept awake many an hour to get a peep at him; but strange to tell, the little Dutchman persists in travelling only in the night, and always manages to fill the stockings of his good little children after their eyes are fast closed in sleep; thus it happens that very few can boast of having made his acquaintance. It seems, however, that one gentleman once had this good fortune. Children and parents are much indebted to that distinguished gentleman, (Prof. CLEMENT MORE, L. L. D. of New York,) for having given to the world such a beautiful and (as we may well suppose,) faithful description of a personage so universally clever, and of such eccentric modesty. We need not remind any one, old or young that this is the season when we may expect his annual visit. We wish him a prosperous voyage hither, and should be right glad if he would land first in our ancient and beautiful city. We have many large chimnies here, very convenient for him, with many a long stocking, the filling of which will materially lighten his pack. And in the mean time Messrs. Editors, let the children have, by way of antepast, the 199th edition of Prof. More's description of a visit from St. Nicholas, and oblige W....
--Maryland Republican (Annapolis, Maryland), December 17, 1842
In New York City years before, The Knickerbocker politely rejected a good try at representing the magic of Christmas in verse, citing Moore's prior effort as "much better" done, and already widely known:

'Stanzas for Christmas' are certainly clever lines, but they are marred by a little cacophany, toward the close. Moreover, 'H. D. C.' will find the scenes he has chosen for illustration much better described in the 'Visit of St. Nicholas,' written several years since, by CLEMENT C. MOORE, of this city, and still circulated every season, about Christmas-time, in all the newspapers, far and near." --New York Knickerbocker, January 1838

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Nonsense, trash, nursery rhymes: Laughton Osborn on The Night Before Christmas

Over the years, fans of "The Night Before Christmas" have been puzzled or amused by Clement Moore's legendary reluctance to admit that he wrote it. Misguided attribution sleuths take Moore's supposed failure to acknowledge the Christmas poem formally until 1844 (before January 1837, actually, but still a good thirteen years after its first anonymous publication in December 1823) as circumstantial evidence for authorship by Henry Livingston, Jr. Moore's poem has been so spectacularly famous for so long, readers today naturally wonder who wouldn't wish to be immortalized as its author. Only a hopelessly stuffy academic could be embarrassed by association with such universally delightful verses.

Maybe so, but the ridicule that the distinguished seminary professor might have expected, and feared, was remarkably quick in arriving. Soon after Moore revealed his authorship of "A Visit from St. Nicholas" in The New-York Book of Poetry, Laughton Osborn gave "Prof. Moore's nursery rhymes" thumbs down in The Vision of Rubeta (Boston, 1838), a brilliant if demented exercise in verse and prose that one contemporary review judged "remarkable for its wholesale satire and unlimited abuse of every thing and every body" (Washington, D. C. Madisonian, November 25, 1841). Moore was in pretty good company, since the chief objects of Osborn's satire were newspaper editors William Leete Stone Sr of the New York Commercial Advertiser and Charles King of the New York American.

Stone and King had published stinging criticism of Osborn's earlier effort, Sixty Years of the Life of Jeremy Levis. Negative reviews evidently motivated Osborn's relentless satire of the prominent New York editors and their respective newspapers in the text and extensive footnotes of Rubeta. Stone appears thinly disguised as "Rubeta," King as "Petronius."

New York American for the Country - December 31, 1836
In context then, the attack on Moore's Christmas poem reflects Osborn's larger obsession with Charles King and the New York American. On the last day of 1836, King had published a favorable review of The New-York Book of Poetry that generously quoted from "A Visit from St. Nicholas" and specifically called attention to Moore's authorship.   

To make sure readers get the point of the satire in verse, Osborn in prose glosses the apostrophe to the "loveliest book that ever cumber'd stall / Where all Manhattan's costive infants squall" as a reference to The New-York Book of Poetry (figured in the verse as equally fit for book-stall and bathroom-stall). In the footnotes ("libelous notes," according to his 1878 obit in the New York Express), Osborn launches a sustained attack on Moore's best-known contribution, as King had quoted it in the New York American:
"We regret to see this nonsense from so very respectable a man.... Such trash is not to be given to the public as pretty poetry, though it were the product of the whole faculty."
Below, the entire screed from The Vision of Rubeta:

... The other selection is "A Visit from St. Nicholas. — By C. C. Moore." (— puerique patresque severi carmina dictant. [quoting from Epistles of Horace, 2.1]) En voici le style:
"A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he look'd like a pedlar just opening his pack." etc etc.

"The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook, when he laugh'd, like a bowl full of jelly." etc etc.
Vos o patricius sanguis, quos vivere fas est
Occipiti coeco, posticae occurrite sannae. [quoting the Satires of Persius, 1.61-2]
We regret to see this nonsense from so very respectable a man: but
When grave professors stoop to folly
And find too late the Muse betray,
we have nothing left us but to do our duty. Such trash is not to be given to the public as pretty poetry, though it were the product of the whole faculty §:
Hos pueris monitus patres infundere lippos
Cum videas, quaerisne unde haec sartago loquendi
Venerit in linguas? [again quoting from Satires of Persius, 1.79-81]
Parodying famous lines by Goldsmith from Stanzas on Woman, Osborn turns Goldsmith's "lovely woman" into "grave professors," and deceitful "men" into a treacherous "Muse." The attack on Clement C. Moore in The Vision of Rubeta is also interspersed with quotations from Osborn's classical models for satire, here Horace and Persius. Osborn identifies all three sources in footnotes to the footnotes. With his quotation from the Epistles of Horace Osborn ridicules the homely theme and content of Moore's verses for children:
... sons and their stern fathers,
Hair bound up with leaves, dine, and declaim their verse.  --Poetry in Translation
Moore's rhyme of "belly" with "jelly" triggers the first of two quotations from Persius. For emphasis apparently, Osborn italicizes the Roman satirist's picture of a patrician geezer cursed with "a blind occiput" (lacking eyes in the back of his head). In other words:
"You blue bloods, who have to live backwards-blind, turn around and face the gibing behind you." --as translated by Daniel M. Hooley in The Knotted Thong
With his second quotation from the Satires of Persius, Osborn effectively likens Moore both as teacher and poet to leaky old men who lecture in a jambalaya of popular jargon, sartago denoting literally a frying pan.
When these are the lessons which you see purblind papas pouring into their children’s ears, can you ask how men come to get this hubblebubble of language into their mouths?  --Satires of A. Persius Flaccus, translated by John Conington
But Persius does not quite finish off Moore in The Vision of Rubeta. Having slammed one flattering review of The New-York Book of Poetry in the New York American, Osborn goes on to criticize another in the New York Review:
Having done this act of justice, let us ask, how it happens that the N. York Review, (No. ii.,) in noticing the Book of Poetry, selects for commendation the nursery rhymes of Prof. Moore, and the romantic stuff of Mr. Hoffman, while it passes entirely the verses of Mr. Seymour, and the other few pieces which show something like good sense, strong thought, and felicitous expression? Was it that Mr. H. is the editor of a Magazine, and Prof. Moore an influential member of society, and of connexions influential in society, and that both were possibly personal friends of the Reviewers? A want of independence, in a Review which professes to be impartial, is a want of honesty. --The Vision of Rubeta
Osborn's rhetorical question implies the answer, "Yes." His charge of favoritism is undoubtedly true: the impolite observation of an outsider looking in.

Melville readers and students may be more interested in The Montanini; The School for Critics (New York, 1868) where Osborn blasts Herman Melville's friend Evert A. Duyckinck among others.

For their part, the Duyckinck brothers did not fail to give Laughton Osborn space in the Cyclopaedia of American Literature. Another biographical entry for Laughton Osborn may be found in Appleton's Cyclopaedia of American Literature.

Obituary notices described Osborn as "an eccentric genius" and compared his lonely lifestyle to that of Miss Havisham in Great Expectations.

· Thu, Dec 26, 1878 – Page 4 · The Saline County Journal (Salina, Kansas) ·

Monday, February 12, 2018

Brother John

Review of Clement C. Moore's 1844 Poems in the Churchman

Signed "L.*" and published in the The Churchman on August 31, 1844, this seriously formal and favorable review of Clement C. Moore's Poems appeared under the heading, "Communications." One mistake by "L.*" worth noting: the name of the widowed father in A Trip to Saratoga is Henry Mildmay, not "Mayville."

For the Churchman.

Poems by C. C. Moore, LL. D.,
In One Volume. 12mo.

———"O quae fontibus integris
Gaudes, apricos necte flores,
Necte meo Lamiae coronam,
Pimplea dulcis."
Hor. Carm., Lib. I., xxvi. [Horace, Ode 26]

Truly this is an age prolific of doggerel. Witness the puerile efforts and "tender effusions," with which, under the caption of poetry, the periodical press generally teems! Witness also the splendidly bound trash, called "Poetical Miscellanies," which exist, perchance, a brief hour, and then sink quietly into merited oblivion! Every one, now-a-days, that can count his ten digits, or can cause a few syllables to gingle together agreeably, deems himself, of a truth, impregnated with the "gift divine." Here and there a pure gem glistens solitarily amid the surrounding rubbish; but
"Qui nescit versus, tamen audet fingere." Hor. Art. Poet., 382.
[Horace: Ars Poetica]
It is really refreshing, therefore, to chance, in our barren pilgrimage, upon some beautiful exotics from Parnassus; or to listen to tones so heart-thrilling as to remind one of sorrowing Orpheus. Indeed, the "Poems" before us are founded evidently on the best models of antiquity; and prove, moreover, that their author has not drunk sparingly of the "Pierian Spring." It is no light charge against the ancient—(shall we not say also, in too many instances, against the modern?)—Muse, that she exposes, as if purposely, through her glittering trappings, much of shameless obscenity! Now, in this volume we find not a single sentence subversive of modesty; not one vicious thought, nor any terms of vulgarity; all is classical in diction, and in sentiment pure. What a shining and rare example for our rising poets! Space will, at present, allow to notice only cursorily a few of the poems.

"A Trip to Saratoga" is the title of the first, as well as the longest, poem in the collection. Exhibiting vivid powers of description, and much fertility of imagination, tempered with good taste and judgment; it is written in a happy humor, and evinces a shrewd insight of human nature. Its style recalls the chaste and natural manner of our favorite Goldsmith. The poem embraces six parts, and alternates from gay to grave just as the subject or the occasion suggests. Among many others, we notice one beautiful and poetical effort, where "Henry Mayville" (who escorts his children to the Springs) is watching anxiously over his slumbering and guileless daughter. The inimitable "Visit of St. Nicholas" is universally known; and, though originally written for the author's own children many years since, is still taught to our little ones, and served up annually as a merry dessert at our Christmas feasts. The "Wine Drinker" and the "Water Drinker," would not shame even Horace. His Euriosus felicitas [Curiosa felicitas] sparkles in every line. But they ingeniously inculcate the golden and true mean—(so necessary in this ultra-era)—between intemperance and austerity. The lines of the author to his daughter "on her marriage," possess much poetical merit, combined with solid and excellent advice, applicable to all the gentler sex under the same happy but solemn circumstances. But the stanzas composed "On his childrens' requesting the author to have his portrait taken," are, in our opinion, a chef d'œuvre of the pathetic—indicating alike a parent's disinterested and deep affection, and the holiest feelings of humanity. We would, however, refer to the concluding poem, addressed to the late poet-laureate Robert Southey, as a striking specimen of what the author is capable of effecting in the higher ranges of poesy. Here we directly perceive that ϑυμός ζωτικος or vivid ardor, which glows only in the bosom of the genuine poet. If any one can look with insensibility upon the sad but real scene, here so nervously and naturally depicted, he must be any thing but human! Nor can such an one ever duly appreciate the productions of an intellect and sensibilities so highly cultivated and refined. Our author will not, we predict, be ranked low amongst American Poets.

We pass over the minor points, not because they are indifferent, (some of them indeed are rare flowers,) but because our allotted space is filled. But it is the healthful CHRISTIAN tone, pervading this work, that challenges our warmest and most lasting admiration. We rise from it with a stronger conviction, that virtue is not a mere name, nor our holy religion a cunning contrivance; but that there is a place (so to speak) where no "night" is; where we shall embrace again our loved lost ones; and "where sorrow and sighing shall flee away."

The author, in a well written preface, modestly states, that these poems were composed at various periods, in his leisure moments; have cost him some pains, and are dedicated (admirable precedent!) to his children. In concluding, then, this necessarily imperfect notice, we would cordially recommend this collection of poems, as well to the classical as general reader, promising in their perusal—the end of all good poetry—no stinted measure both of profit and delight.


New York, Aug. 26, 1844.
On July 31, 1847 the Churchman reprinted the review of Moore's 1844 Poems by William Alfred Jones in the Literary World.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Willy and Billy, braggarts and claggarts

Scotish Songs: in two volumes  (London, 1794) - Volume 1

Like Willy the wanton Scot, Billy Budd might be described at the start of Melville's uncompleted tale as a "man without a clag," taking clag in the moral or ethical sense that Ritson gives it in the glossary to Scotish Songs: "fault, failing, imperfection." Though Billy stutters and fights when he has to, such actions are categorized early on by the narrator as natural and spontaneous, "frank manifestations" of uncorrupted nature.
"Billy in many respects was little more than a sort of upright barbarian, much such perhaps as Adam presumably might have been ere the urbane Serpent wriggled himself into his company."  --Billy Budd, Sailor - Chapter 2
A Scottish twist to Billy Budd's innocence could be whispered in Melville's reference to "Dundee" as home to the owner of Billy Budd's former ship, The Rights, short for the Rights-of-Man--a merchant ship whose "hard-headed Dundee owner was a staunch admirer of Thomas Paine." Though "God knows" where the handsome sailor came from before that, Melville at the outset emphasizes his radical innocence.

He was a man without a clag,
    His heart was frank without a flaw;
And ay whatever Willy said,
    It was still hadden as a law.
His boots they were made of the jag;
    When he went to the weaponshaw,
Upon the green nane durst him brag,
    The feind a ane amang them a’.
"Clag" may also refer to the imputation of fault. Sometimes it's spelled clagg with two g's:
"CLAG, CLAGG... 2. Charge, impeachment of character; fault, or imputation of one."  --John Jamieson, An Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language (Edinburgh, 1808)

Sir Walter Scott spelled it "clagg" when he quoted the two pertinent lines from "Willy was a Wanton Wag" (without naming their source, or needing to) in a letter to Allan Cunningham:
When there is any chance of Mr Chantrey coming this way, I hope you will let me know; and if you come with him, so much the better. I like him as much for his manners as for his genius. 
He is a man without a clagg;
His heart is frank without a flaw.''' --Memoirs of the Life of Sir Walter Scott
The quoted lines were printed along with Scott's letter to Cunningham in volume 3 of J. G. Lockhart's Memoirs of the Life of Sir Walter Scott which Melville presumably read after or along with his brother Gansevoort:
"Gansevoort Melville's Index Rerum shows a fascination both with Scott's writings and with John Gibson Lockhart's biography of him.  --Hershel Parker, Herman Melville: A Biography, volume 2, 1851-1891 (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002) page 54.
Melville personally thought Lockhart a "cold fish" after meeting and dining with him in London, as Parker neatly compacts the relevant 1849 journal entry in Melville: The Making of the Poet (Northwestern University Press, 2008); reprised in the Historical Note for the Northwestern-Newberry Edition of Published Poems (page 380). Still, Lockhart's biography seems a likely place for Melville to have encountered the lines via Scott's casual quotation. Complete lyrics were frequently reprinted in the 18th and 19th centuries, appearing for example in Allan Ramsay's The Tea-table Miscellany and various editions of Joseph Ritson's Scottish Songs.

The second volume of The Scotish Musical Museum gives the words and music to Willy was a wanton wag, accessible online courtesy of Burns' Scotland. The description there helpfully traces the words to "a later volume or edition of William Thomson's 'Orpheus Caledonius', in 1733" while noting that "the tune itself is generally believed to be much older than that date."

On the warship Bellipotent (or Indomitable, as Melville first called it in manuscript), impeachment of Billy Budd's character begins with false charges insinuated by Claggart. The name of Melville's envious master-at-arms thus matches his dramatic role as Billy's devilish accuser, embodying and evoking various lexical senses of clag or clagg, in particular stain, failing, and "charge, impeachment of character; fault, or imputation of one." As Melville presents him, Billy like Willy "was a man without a clag" until he switches ships and runs into Claggart.

Claggart is a claggart, one who claggs. In a gem of a note on Melville's nomenclature, Avery F. Gaskins explicates the Symbolic Nature of Claggart's Name and what's more, the grammar of Claggart's name as "a noun of agency," like braggart:
What Melville seems to have done is to add the -art suffix to the word clag and to create, thus, a noun of agency. As a braggart is one who brags, so Claggart is one who figuratively "sticks like glue" to Billy in his constant spying upon him and in his relentless persecution of the foretopman, both personally and through his henchmen. Claggart is also one who attempts figuratively to bedaub the character of Billy with false accusations and to stain it in the process. --American Notes and Queries 6.4 (December 1967): 56.
"Claggart" of course does not appear in Melville's writings outside of Billy Budd. To illustrate what Gaskins means by "noun of agency," below are three instances of the parallel form braggart as singular noun. The word braggart occurs twice in Mardi (1849); and once in Israel Potter (1854-5). Applied to Ethan Allen, the example from Israel Potter seems more complicated than the relatively straightforward usages of braggart in Mardi. Ethan Allen's brag is in part a "part," a role that he assumes for self-preservation when doing battle with bullies.
Ethan Allen
  • "his experience must have taught him, that by assuming the part of a jocular, reckless, and even braggart barbarian, he would better sustain himself against bullying turnkeys than by submissive quietude."  --Israel Potter: His Fifty Years of Exile