Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Melville and Hawthorne seen on Berkshire rambles, "like Wordsworth and Coleridge"




From the Boston Herald, Sunday, June 29, 1890:

WHERE HAWTHORNE LIVED.
The Little Red House in Lenox BurnedThe Novelist’s Life There.

[From Our Regular Correspondent.]

LENOX,  June 28, 1890
* * *
Forty years ago, when Hawthorne lived here, Lenox was the centre of a circle of literateurs. Hawthorne was frequently visited by his friend Herman Melville, who wrote those thrilling tales of the South seas, “Typee” and “Omoo.” Hawthorne and Melville spent much time wandering about the woods and fields encircling Stockbridge bowl. There are men now living in Lenox who remember seeing these two literary men on their rambles through the fields, like Wordsworth and Coleridge about the Lakes of Grasmere...
 

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

New York correspondent Proteus on departure of "our own Melville"

Augustus Kinsley Gardner
Image Credit:  B012640 Portraits, Images from the History of Medicine

Who's Proteus?  Looks to me like Melville's NY friend Augustus Kinsley Gardner (1821-1876), son of the editor of the Newark Daily Advertiser.  The Duyckincks in their Cyclopaedia of American Literature name the Advertiser as one venue favored by Gardner, along with the Literary World, New World, and Knickerbocker.  Several contributions by Proteus deal knowledgeably with the profession of medicine.  Gardner's absorbing interest in his professional life and duties as a physician would explain the abbreviated career of Proteus as NY correspondent.  Letters from Proteus appeared in the Advertiser from 1850 to 1854, the bulk in 1850-1851.

Aha!  According to the biographical sketch by Samuel W Francis in the 1866 Medical and Surgical Reporter Gardner
"Contributed for years an average of many columns a week for the Newark Daily Advertiser."
Gardner's 1848 book Old Wine in New Bottles is compiled from letters to the editor of the Newark Daily Advertiser, signed "A. K. G."

Augustus K. Gardner was also the NY correspondent of New Orleans newspapers including the Commercial Bulletin, which in November 1854 printed Gardner's description of Melville at social gatherings as
 "taciturn, but genial, and when warmed-up capitally racy and pungent..."
(as quoted in Hershel Parker's Melville Biography: An Inside Narrative, 162-3
From the Newark, New Jersey Daily Advertiser, Wednesday evening, November 20, 1850:
NEW YORK, Nov. 18
DEAR DAILY—Although as ever before, I write you from New York, Dr. Holmes has taught us that it is not from the metropolis. New York will not be in his opinion considered such, until
—Our first scholars are content to dwell
Where their own printers teach them how to spell.
This state seems impossible to be attained, for our men of letters seems [sic] to avoid cities.  Recently, Professor Longfellow has bought a farm at Stockbridge, Hawthorne another at Lenox, Mass., and our own Melville has deserted the birth-place of himself and his ancestors, and to the Berkshire hills has hied away to bury his genial humor, his fine understanding, but not, I trust, our friendship. Why these men should feel so ambitious of producing a cabbage or a pumpkin, I cannot tell. Perhaps it is their design to devote themselves to the philanthropic purpose of investigating the cause of the potato rot. Possibly the Bostonians have caught the chicken or pear fever which rages epidemically in that city....

[letter concludes with a plug for the new book by Cornelius Mathews]

…A work, issuing from the press, called Chanticleer, a national thanksgiving book, is recommended to precede the turkey and plum pudding era. The anonymous author will probably prove to be a well-known clever writer, who always commands the public attention.
PROTEUS.
Related melvilliana posts:

Friday, February 22, 2013

Pierre and Wordsworth's "nearer mist"



UPDATE:  The later reference in Pierre to the "resolute traveler" in the Alps (Book 21.1) evokes the mountain setting of the earlier passage with "nearer mist" in it. The later, more elaborate passage on the Switzerland of the soul thus returns to the landscape of Wordsworth's "Descriptive Sketches" which describe "a pedestrian tour among the Alps."  Brian Higgins and Hershel Parker point out the main correspondences of symbolism and imagery in Reading Melville's Pierre, 161.  And why "resolute"?  Melville's characterization of the "traveler" as "resolute" sounds like another nod to Wordsworth, alluding to the "Traveller" of  "Resolution and Independence," the poem that Melville would parody the following year in "Cock-A-Doodle-Doo! (1853).

Hey look! a whole dissertation by Cory R. Goehring on
"The Wordsworthian Inheritance of Melville's Poetics."

And check this out, Robert A Duggan, Jr. on Melville's poem "The House-top" and The Prelude.

It's great to see the gap closing, as critical readers address the need identified by R. D. Madison:
"The study of the relationship between Melville and Wordsworth remains one of the largest gaps in Melville criticism." 
(Literature of Exploration and the Sea, in A Companion to Herman Melville, 285)
In Herman Melville: Making of the Poet Hershel Parker observes the evolution of Pierre in "Wordsworthian" passages that demonstrate "the unfolding of the inner mind in majestic natural settings" (94).

As Parker shows in his biography of Melville, one specific influence is a passage from Wordsworth's Excursion (book 3) on naming rocks, a source for sections in Pierre about boulders named Memnon and Enceladus  (Herman Melville: A Biography 2.57-58).  Another source from The Excursion, book 5, is cited by Thomas F. Heffernan:  the "fertilising moisture" of certain rocks is recast in Pierre as "subtile moisture, which fed with greeness" the nearby ground  ("Melville and Wordsworth," American Literature, November 1977: 338-351 at 340 fn 9.).

The following passage from Wordsworth's "Descriptive Sketches" refers to "nearer mist," an unusual phrasing which also occurs in Pierre, in a similar context:
— 'Tis morn: with gold the verdant mountain glows,
More high, the snowy peaks with hues of rose.
Far stretched beneath the many-tinted hills
A mighty waste of mist the valley fills,
A solemn sea! whose vales and mountains round
Stand motionless, to awful silence bound.
A gulf of gloomy blue, that opens wide
And bottomless, divides the midway tide.
Like leaning masts of stranded ships appear
The pines that near the coast their summits rear;
Of cabins, woods, and lawns a pleasant shore
Bounds calm and clear the chaos still and hoar;
Loud thro' that midway gulf ascending, sound
Unnumber'd streams with hollow roar profound:
Mount thro' the nearer mist the chaunt of birds,
And talking voices, and the low of herds,
The bark of dogs, the drowsy tinkling bell,
And wild-wood mountain lutes of saddest swell.
Descriptive Sketches, Poetical Works p50
And below, the passage with "nearer mist" extracted from the online text of Pierre at
Project Gutenberg:
Well for Pierre it was, that the penciling presentiments of his mind concerning Lucy as quickly erased as painted their tormenting images. Standing half-befogged upon the mountain of his Fate, all that part of the wide panorama was wrapped in clouds to him; but anon those concealings slid aside, or rather, a quick rent was made in them; disclosing far below, half-vailed in the lower mist, the winding tranquil vale and stream of Lucy's previous happy life; through the swift cloud-rent he caught one glimpse of her expectant and angelic face peeping from the honey-suckled window of her cottage; and the next instant the stormy pinions of the clouds locked themselves over it again; and all was hidden as before; and all went confused in whirling rack and vapor as before. Only by unconscious inspiration, caught from the agencies invisible to man, had he been enabled to write that first obscurely announcing note to Lucy; wherein the collectedness, and the mildness, and the calmness, were but the natural though insidious precursors of the stunning bolts on bolts to follow.
But, while thus, for the most part wrapped from his consciousness and vision, still, the condition of his Lucy, as so deeply affected now, was still more and more disentangling and defining itself from out its nearer mist, and even beneath the general upper fog. For when unfathomably stirred, the subtler elements of man do not always reveal themselves in the concocting act; but, as with all other potencies, show themselves chiefly in their ultimate resolvings and results. Strange wild work, and awfully symmetrical and reciprocal, was that now going on within the self-apparently chaotic breast of Pierre. As in his own conscious determinations, the mournful Isabel was being snatched from her captivity of world-wide abandonment; so, deeper down in the more secret chambers of his unsuspecting soul, the smiling Lucy, now as dead and ashy pale, was being bound a ransom for Isabel's salvation. Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth. Eternally inexorable and unconcerned is Fate, a mere heartless trader in men's joys and woes.
I was prompted to wrestle again with Melville's words in book 5 of Pierre after reading Hershel Parker's mind-bogglingly grand Melville Biography: An Inside Narrative, the new book that will be stirring things up and making readers revisit texts, criticism, and hallelujah! libraries for a good long time.  In chapter 2, "Textual Editor as Biographer in Training" (35-36), Parker explains the practically irresistible emendation of "nearer" to "nether." Parker offers this appealing change, now effected I see in the Trade Paper edition of the Northwestern-Newberry Pierre, as an example of the common readerly response of mentally, then marginally correcting a text by substituting "the right word" for a wrong one.  The correction makes good "topographical" sense, neatly clarifying the upper vs lower distinction that is already there, an ongoing contrast that later on includes the explicit reference to "upper and nether firmaments."  Earlier on Melville pictured "the lower mist" hiding Lucy-as-valley from Pierre-as-mountaineer.  Well then, nether means "lower" so correcting "nearer mist" to "nether mist" eliminates the puzzling "nearer" and keeps everything and everybody properly aligned and oriented.  Piece of cake?

Maybe not, after all, considering the precedent in Wordsworth--and considering, too, the shared situation of a youthful traveler in the mountains: Wordsworth's literal Alps and valley, Melville's metaphorical mountain and valley.  Metaphorically, Melville's upper and lower somehow represent parts of the psyche, conscious and repressed unconscious.  But here as throughout Pierre the language is tricky, the progress convoluted.

Two paragraphs are involved, and looking again and trying to follow more closely I see a possible twist in the second paragraph, a turn involving both action and orientation that is signaled at the start of the paragraph in the word "But."  Before, in the first paragraph, we were looking down into the valley with Pierre seeing things as they looked "to him," but here, wait:  has the orientation weirdly shifted?  The grammatical subject of the relevant sentence is an abstract noun, condition--more concretely, Lucy's condition.  What is emerging more visibly?  Lucy's condition.  From what is Lucy's condition "disentangling and defining itself?  From, emerging out from, its "nearer mist."

ITS.  Possessive pronoun, third person, antecedent "the condition of Lucy."  Nearer to whom I guess is still the question.  Most immediately to Lucy, below, still contrasted with Pierre above, in or closer to the "upper fog."  It is the same "lower mist" as in the previous paragraph, only pictured now as nearer, closer to Lucy.  Yes all of this has reference to the mind of Pierre, his conscious thoughts and unconscious stirrings.  These metaphorical mists that lately had hidden Lucy from Pierre's conscious thoughts are both "nether" and "nearer":  "nether" to Pierre on the mountain, "nearer" to Lucy in the valley.  Lucy's condition is emerging from the mists nearer to, closer to Lucy's condition, which are also nether, lower mists in Pierre's subconscious mind.

What is Lucy's figurative condition?  That of a cruelly suffering crime victim, tied up in the basement and held for ransom.  O!


In Wordsworth's scene a sea of mist covers the valley below, seen through an opening or "gulf" in the mist.  Bordering this figurative bay is a figurative "shore" of familiar things, all comfortably natural:  cabins, woods, lawns.  Melville's Lucy belongs to the same kind of cozy valley scenery, seen like the features of Wordsworth's "pleasant shore" through a hole in the mists.  In Wordsworth's passage, bird songs and other sounds from that homey lower world waft up through "nearer mist." That's the mist closer to the birds, people, cows and dogs.

I think.  Hmm.  I have to admit what Wordsworth means by his "nearer mist" is for me hard to de-mistify.  And what about other (later?) versions with many changes including the change of "nearer mist" to "nearer vapours"?  Somebody somewhere must have a better explication of all this.  Here's something helpful, possibly.  Tracing the influence of Beattie's Minstrel and James Clarke (Survey of the Lakes), Stephen Gill explains that "for Wordsworth, the nearer, domestic" sounds are distinct, as in Clarke, "but not those heard through the gloomy midway gulf."  Well, that's the association I was getting at, Wordsworth's "nearer" in relation to the valley as more domestic, which is exactly the condition of Lucy now in relation to Pierre's lofty new enthusiasm.

I still need to get hold of earlier studies, especially:

Maxine Moore, "Melville's Pierre and Wordsworth: Intimations of Immorality."  Ha! immorality.  New Letters 39 (Summer 1973): 89-107; and

Michael Davitt Bell, "The Glendinning Heritage:  Melville's Literary Borrowings in Pierre."  Studies in Romanticism 12 (Fall 1973): 741-762; and

Hershel Parker, “Melville and the Berkshires: Emotion-Laden Terrain, ‘Reckless Sky-Assaulting Mood,’ and Encroaching Wordsworthianism,” in American Literature: The New England Heritage, ed. James Nagel and Richard Astro (New York: Garland Publishing, 1981) 65-80.

UPDATE2:  and Johnathan Hall,  "The Non-correspondent Breeze: Melville's Re-writing of Wordsworth in Pierre." ESQ: A Journal of the American Renaissance 39 (1993): 1-19.

You probably knew Melville's copy of The Complete Poetical Works of William Wordsworth has been reproduced digitally at Melville's Marginalia Online. Descriptive Sketches is one of the Juvenile Pieces, the line with "nearer mist" appears on page 50--nope, no markings by Melville here or anywhere in this section of the book.

More to ponder, as usual. 

Monday, February 18, 2013

links to Chatterton

" .... there is a degree of heroism in his obstinacy." (Warton on Chatterton)
Not to solve Bartleby but wow, Maryhelen C. Harmon makes a persuasive case for Thomas Chatterton (1752-1770) as the model of Melville's eternally mysterious and uncompliant scrivener.  As Harmon shows, Melville refashioned many suggestive passages and hints from extensive biographical materials in the two-volume work he had purchased in London in December 1849,  The Poetical Works of Thomas Chatterton. 
 

Some links to aid further study 

 

Maryhelen C. Harmon on Melville's "Borrowed Personage" 

Sealts Number 137 entry at Melville's Marginalia Online

Volume 1,  The Poetical Works of Thomas Chatterton (1842 Cambridge edition at archive.org)

Volume 2, The Poetical Works of Thomas Chatterton (1842 Cambridge edition at archive.org)

1853 Putnam Text at Bartleby, the Scrivener


In one of the verse epigraphs to The Encantadas, Sketch Eighth, Melville adapted lines from Chattertons' minstrel song in Aella.  Chatterton's and Melville's versions are
presented for comparison here
.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Boy of Learning, Bard of Tropes

That would be Bartleby, see:
Bar / Bard
T / Tropes
Le / Learning
By / Boy  
Wouldn't that be wild if Melville grabbed Bartleby's name Anagram-Style from a line in
"Chatterton's Will":
For had I never known the antique lore,
I ne'er had ventur'd from my peaceful shore,
To be the wreck of promises and hopes,
A Boy of Learning, and a Bard of Tropes  (The Poetical Works, vol 2)

What got me looking into Boy-Bard or better, Bard-Boy Chatterton was the fine inspiring article by Maryhelen C. Harmon, "Melville's 'Borrowed Personage':  Bartleby and Thomas Chatterton" over at Bartleby, the Scrivener the University of Kansas site edited by Haskell Springer.  Originally published in ESQ: A Journal of the American Renaissance 33 (First Quarter 1987): 35-44.

Harmon shows fascinating correspondences not only between Bartleby and Chatterton as inscrutable  scriveners but also between narrators, Melville's smooth Wall Street lawyer and Chatterton's annoyingly smug biographer.

Yes Melville owned and marked The Poetical Works.  Ooh Harmon makes a great connection, most provocative. I'm way behind but would be glad to know of any discussion anywhere that engages or develops or even comments on Harmon's argument.  Robert Sandberg is there already, good. 
Who else?

security in tortoises

In that key letter to the Harpers of November 24, 1853 might Melville be channeling the optimism of his transplanted Peruvian tortoise hunters?  Retrospectively, even though publication of "Norfolk Isle and the Chola Widow" in Putnam's was a good four months away.  Or prospectively if you run with security prospective as metaphor.  Either way, however much or little he had written so far about Hunilla, the verbal similarities hint of a close identification with her predicament. 

Writing as hunting?  as in "hunt the flying herds of themes" perhaps, "the finest line" says George Monteiro in the first of Melville's manuscript Camoens poems.  Buffaloes there, tortoises here.

Melville to the Harpers in November 1853:
Meanwhile, it would be convenient, to have advanced to me upon it $300. — My acct: with you, at present, can not be very far from square. For the above-named advance — if remitted me now — you will have security in my former works, as well as security prospective, in the one to come, (The Tortoise-Hunters) because if you accede to the aforesaid request, this letter shall be your voucher, that I am willing your house should publish it, on the old basis — half-profits.  (Harvard University, Harvard Library bulletin)
Hunilla, Felipe, and Truxill on Norfolk Isle likewise look to tortoises as future security.  Melville wanted cash for literary tortoise hunters; his tortoise hunters want a ride home:
Still, they thought they had, in another way, ample pledge of the good faith of the Frenchman. It was arranged that the expenses of the passage home should not be payable in silver, but in tortoises; one hundred tortoises ready captured to the returning captain's hand. These the Cholos meant to secure after their own work was done, against the probable time of the Frenchman's coming back; and no doubt in prospect already felt, that in those hundred tortoises— now somewhere ranging the isle's interior —they possessed one hundred hostages.
(April 1854, Putnam's)

adding Norman E. Hoyle to Agatha/Hunilla bibliography

How did I miss this one?  Must add now to the bibliography in progress:

Hoyle, Norman E. "Melville as a Magazinist."  Unpublished doctoral dissertation. 
Duke University, 1960.
Melville was always incredibly unreliable about projected publication dates.  It is unlikely, however, that even he would have made such a commitment without having a substantial amount of material already at hand.  If material was available, it was probably the result of his hard writing the previous winter, a by-product or even an outgrowth of the Agatha story.  The most fully developed sketch of "The Encantadas" (seemingly the final outcome of the "Tortoise" book) tells of Hunilla, a Chola woman who had gone to Norfolk Isle with her husband and brother to hunt tortoises and had been isolated there after her companions were killed in a fishing accident.  Like Agatha Hatch, she displays great patience, endurance, and "resignedness."  (Melville as a Magazinist, 107-108)
Hoyle's footnote 40 cites textual examples showing Hunilla's patience, endurance, and resignedness.  Impressively, Hoyle figured Melville must have had a good portion of the proposed book done, "already at hand"--WITHOUT KNOWING of Melville's November 24, 1853 letter to the Harpers, in which Melville in fact did claim to have "now in hand, and pretty well on towards completion" the manuscript for a book of "Tortoise Hunting Adventure."  Hoyle had to infer Melville's progress from the later letter of February 14, 1854, as excerpted in Jay Leyda's Melville Log (1.484).

Saturday, February 16, 2013

early sources for Melville's "Chola Widow" sketch

I'm having fun re-reading and re-thinking The Sources and Genesis of Melville's "Norfolk Isle and the Chola Widow", the 1978 American Literature article by Robert Sattelmeyer and James Barbour.  JSTOR has it online--for a price, without institutional access--but luckily I can look at the PDF also courtesy of my local library and ELM.  Now that we have the 1847 newspaper story of "A Female Crusoe," the influence of the 1853 account of a "Female Robinson Crusoe" proposed by Sattelmeyer and Barbour needs to be reassessed.  Only the 1847 story describes the separation of a young Indian couple, early united:
In the last boat, which was embarking with the last of this people, (some six or eight perhaps in number,) to convey them to the vessel, which was to carry them from the home of their nativity forever, was one of the tribe, small in stature, not far advanced in years, and his dusky mate, then in the bloom of life. The order had been given to shove from the shore; the oars had dipped in the wave, the boat was rising on the foaming surf, then breaking on the beach with awful roar, when, with the impulse of the moment as it were, this young and blooming bride of the red man, the imprint of whose footstep had been the last left on the sands of her island home, waved an adieu to her chosen mate, plunged into the abyss, “strove through the surge,” and, in another moment, stood alone on the shores of her native land. She turned, to give the last lingering look to her departing help-mate; and then, gathering around her form her flowing mantle, wet by the ocean wave, in an instant disappeared forever from the sight of her astonished and sorrowing companions.  (A FEMALE CRUSOE)
Melville in the "Chola Widow" sketch describes Hunilla's mate as
"her young new-wedded husband Felipe." (Putnam's Monthly)
Hunilla looks helplessly on as her husband and brother are wrecked and killed while fishing off shore.  Felipe's body washes ashore, as does the corpse of the lone woman's husband in the
1847 newspaper story.

As source-material for Melville's Hunilla sketch, the female Crusoe story itself is not, as Sattelmeyer and Barbour argue, the "final link" or "culmination" in the conjectured (admittedly) compositional process.  Very possibly the later 1853 article supplied or inspired additional details (the dogs, for example).  But their sequence is backward.  Or inverted, something like that.  Sattelmeyer and Barbour have Agatha as inspirational "germ" and the "female Robinson Crusoe" as "final link" to the Hunilla sketch, but now we know Melville could have started plotting in 1847 to make literary use of the "female Crusoe" story.

So it looks more like the Agatha theme from 1852 complemented a story or idea for a story already in progress, conceivably brewing since 1847.   

Sattelmeyer and Barbour proposed two additional sources for Melville's "Chola Widow" sketch.  Both are early, and the first one Melville is known to have charged to his account with the Harpers on April 10, 1847.  Hey, same day that he acquired Darwin's journal account of the Beagle voyage!  For Sketch Eighth, the early sources identified by Sattelmeyer and Barbour are
1) Benjamin Morrell's ghostwritten  Narrative of Four Voyages (Sealts 372) where suggestive details used in the "Chola Widow" sketch appear in the chapter that will go on to deal with the "Gallapagos Islands," "Elephant Tortoises," and "Alexander Selkirk, or Robinson Crusoe."
"While standing in for the island of St. Felix, my attention was arrested by the appearance of a flag or signal from the top of the island ; which, on approaching nearer, I concluded to be a sailor's shirt fastened to a pole."
In the "Chola Widow" sketch, Melville has reconfigured the plight and rescue of Morrell's five abandoned seal hunters.  Morrell's dissolute Van Doras is the prototype of Melville's "joyous" French captain who leaves the Cholos trusting in tortoises for "ample pledge" of his "blithesome promise" to return.
 He left with them sufficient water and provisions to last three weeks, pledging himself to be back in a fortnight, and take them off. They went cheerfully to work, and faithfully performed the duties assigned them for fourteen days, at the expiration of which they began to look out for the return of the vessel ; but they looked in vain.
(Benjamin Morrell's Narrative)
and 2) David Porter's Journal of a Cruise provided--as Sattelmeyer and Barbour (405) also show--suggestive details used in describing the scattered bones and tortoise shells around Hunilla's hut.
Looking again into Porter I find another borrowing for Melville's Hunilla sketch in the section on Payta, birthplace of Melville's heroine ("A Chola, or half-breed Indian woman, of Payta in Peru").  Nearing Payta, Porter sees
"two rafts or catamarans, steering by the wind...." (Journal of a Cruise)
In describing these log rafts (from Guayaquil, to Porter's astonishment) Porter emphasizes their poor ("clumsy") construction and "frail" appearance:
 there can be no stronger proof of the mildness of this ocean, so justly, in this part, deserving the name of the Pacific, than the fact, that the loss of those vessels, frail as they are, is very uncommon.  (Journal of a Cruise)
Information from the sailors of the catamaran persuades Porter to skip Payta and head for "the Gallipagos Islands."  In the Hunilla sketch, Melville has Felipe and Truxill "too hastily" construct the same type of raft, which Melville also calls a catamaran, that Porter criticized as structurally unsound and dangerous except in the mildest seas:
 ... they, too hastily, made a catamaran, or Indian raft, much used on the Spanish main, and merrily started on a fishing trip, just without a long reef with many jagged gaps, running parallel with the shore, about half a mile from it. By some bad tide or hap, or natural negligence of joyfulness (for though they could not be heard, yet by their gestures they seemed singing all the time) forced in deep water against that iron bar, the ill-made catamaran was overset, and came all to pieces, when, dashed by broad-chested swells between their broken logs and the sharp teeth of the reef, both adventurers perished before Hunilla's eyes. ("Chola Widow")
In writing "The Encantadas" Melville got back to one of his oldest trustiest source-books, David Porter's Journal of a Cruise.  Sketch Eighth too is more indebted to Porter than we knew.  And close by Melville had Morrell's Narrative of Four Voyages, obtained in April 1847, and probably the story of "A Female Crusoe," first published January 7, 1847 in the Boston Atlas and reprinted March 27, 1847 in Littell's Living Age.  Old old old sources.

So when DID Melville compose the "Chola Widow" sketch?  Earlier, rather than later in 1853?  In November 1853 he wrote the Harpers proposing a new book of "Tortoise Hunting Adventure."  Wanted $300, said it was "now in hand, and pretty well on towards completion."  I'm not sure if Hunilla was the heroine of that uncompleted book, but I know she was a tortoise hunter.
 

Friday, February 15, 2013

1847 report of "A Female Crusoe"

This 1847 story concerns the same woman and same island of San Nicolas described in the 1853 newspaper account of "A Female Robinson Crusoe" that Robert Sattelmeyer and James Barbour found and excerpted in their 1978 American Literature article The Sources and Genesis of Melville's "Norfolk Isle and the Chola Widow."

Oh! how thrilling to learn as I just now did a name for her, though late bestowed in Spanish:  Juana Maria.  The story of this Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island also inspired Scott O'Dell's 1960 children's book Island of Blue Dolphins.

In the 1847 story the unnamed Indian woman chooses her lonely fate and does not want to be "rescued."  In 1853 she was supposedly glad to leave, according to the updated newspaper report.  The 1847 story is full of pathos, strong on the themes of self-exile, loneliness, horror of civilization, and silence.  Much of the pathos derives from the separation of husband and wife, in consequence of the woman's fateful decision to swim back to shore rather than leave her native island.  The husband-wife relationship, central to Melville's tale of Hunilla and her deep grief, is not mentioned in the 1853 account, whereas the 1847 story devotes considerable attention to the plight of the lost life-companion, even taking up the husband as "hero" of the story.  The 1847 depiction of the husband's death may have informed Melville's treatment of the fatal accident that killed Hunilla's husband Felipe.  Like Felipe, the female Crusoe's husband is presented as the victim of a fatal accident; and as in Melville's tale, his body washes up on the beach.  The image of the pining husband's "stretched out" corpse washed up on the shore, may have influenced Melville's darkly romantic depiction of the dead Felipe as a still-faithful lover:
"his body was found on the beach a stiffened corse, stretched out, and bleaching, as it were, in the white foam of the surf which was thrown about his lifeless remains as the mighty wave broke on the shore."  (A Female Crusoe, 1847)
Felipe's body was washed ashore... But Felipe's body floated to the marge, with one arm encirclingly outstretched. Lockjawed in grim death, the lover-husband softly clasped his bride, true to her even in death's dream. 
(Encantadas, Sketch Eighth, Norfolk Isle and the Chola Widow)
Melville would have recognized in the poetical language of "stiffened corse, stretched out, and bleaching" a borrowing from James Thomson's The Seasons.  The most obvious of quoted poets in the 1847 report is of course Cowper on Selkirk.

In Melville's "Encantadas" fiction, the narrator's view of Hunilla as "heroine" subtly corrects or complements the respect reserved in the 1847 newspaper account for the husband as "hero":
"....from her mere words little would you have weened that Hunilla was herself the heroine of her tale."  (Norfolk Isle and the Chola Widow)

From the Boston Atlas Thursday, January 7, 1847

 

A FEMALE CRUSOE.

[Communicated for the Atlas.]

Off the coast of Alta California, about two degrees distant, bearing nearly west from Point San Pedro, which is in the latitude of 33 43 N. and longitude 118 14 W., will be found a small island, called by the Spaniards Saint Nicholas. This island was formerly inhabited by an inoffensive, indolent race of Indians, who subsisted almost entirely upon fish, which they caught from the rocks, and muscles, which they found in the sands of the beach. They were a listless, quiet race of beings, who seldom had communication with others of the human family, and who had but few wants, and fewer cares.

About the year eighteen hundred and eighteen or twenty, the Russians, from their settlements at the North, landed on this Island a party of Kodiac Indians, for the purpose of hunting the sea otter, which, at that period, abounded in those waters. This party remained on the island for more than two years: and were the means of sowing the seeds of disease and contention amongst its unsuspecting and unsophisticated inhabitants.

Some ten or twelve years after the departure of the Kodiacs, this tribe had become diminished to about twenty or thirty individuals, when the Governor of the department of California sent over a small vessel and removed them to the main.

In the last boat, which was embarking with the last of this people, (some six or eight perhaps in number) to convey them to the vessel, which was to carry them from the home of their nativity forever, was one of the tribe, small in stature, not far advanced in years, and his dusky mate, then in the bloom of life. The order had been given to shove from the shore; the oars had dipped in the wave, the boat was rising on the foaming surf, then breaking on the beach with awful roar, when, with the impulse of the moment as it were, this young and blooming bride of the red man, the imprint of whose footstep had been the last left on the sands of her island home, waved an adieu to her chosen mate, plunged into the abyss, “strove through the surge,” and, in another moment, stood alone on the shores of her native land. She turned, to give the last lingering look to her departing help-mate; and then, gathering around her form her flowing mantle, wet by the ocean wave, in an instant disappeared forever from the sight of her astonished and sorrowing companions.

The vessel weighed anchor, spread her canvass, and, in forty-eight hours, this remnant of the inhabitants of San Nicholas were landed on Point San Pedro, houseless and forlorn.

From that period to the present—if she be not dead, or has not left within the past eighteen months—has resided alone, on the Isle of San Nicholas, this female Crusoe, the monarch of all she surveys. She preferred to part even with her chosen mate, and sever every human tie that could be binding, rather than leave the home of her birth—that lonely little Isle, that had been to her a world, which she cared not to exchange for the abode of civilized man, with all its promised luxuries.

Since our Crusoe became sole monarch of the Isle, San Nicholas has been visited perhaps ten or twelve different times, by different individuals; but there she has continued to be found, with none to dispute her right—alone, solitary and forsaken.

Her dress, or covering, is composed of the skins of small birds, which she kills with stones, and sews them together with a needle of bone and the light sinews of the hair seal, sometimes found dead amongst the rocks. Her only food is a shell fish, which the surf sometimes throws on to the beach. She never remains long in one spot; but is constantly wandering around the shores of the Island, sleeping, which she seldom does, in small caves and crevices in the rocks.

During the few last years, it has been very difficult to obtain any communication with her. At the approach of the white man she flees, as from an evil spirit; and the only way to detain her, is by running her down, as you would the wild goat of the mountain, or the young fawn of the plains.

Those who have seen her at the latest period, report that she makes only a wild noise, altogether inhuman; and, when taken and detained against her will, becomes frightened and restless; that the moment she is liberated, she darts off, and endeavors to secrete herself in the wild grass, or amongst the rocks which hang over the never ceasing surf.

Every endeavor has been made, and every inducement offered, by different individuals, to prevail upon her to leave the Island, but in vain. The only home she appears to desire, is her own little isle. Her last hope, if she has any, is, to finish her journey alone. She has no wish now, to hear again the sweet music of speech. Its sounds are no longer music to her ear—and, as for civilized man, his tameness is shocking even to her dormant senses.

To all appearance, she is strong, healthy, and content to be alone. What can reconcile her to her lot, who can conjecture?   Humanity may hope that contentment many continue to be hers, to the last hour; for she is destined to lie down and die alone, on the cold shore of her isolated home, with no one to administer to her last wants, and none to cover her cold body, when the spirit shall have left the clay.

But the story of our Crusoe’s chosen mate, the companion of her early life, has yet to be told. He saw her for the last time, as we have stated, when she stood alone on the shores of her own Isle; when the boat with himself and his companions was dashing through the wild surf, that broke in uninterrupted succession against the rocks which encircled the resting place of his fathers, and which he was then leaving forever. With the remnant of the family from San Nicholas, our hero was landed at San Pedro, and there left, with the others who had accompanied him, to find a home in that land of strangers.

San Pedro, it may be known, is a bleak, barren, bluff point, running out into the blue waters of the Pacific, on which no verdure is to be seen, and but one solitary abode of man, rising amidst the desolation which surrounds it. The Pueblo de los Angelos is situated ten leagues distant, with one farm house between the one on the point and those of the town. The mission of San Gabriel lies yet farther on, some three or four leagues; where, at that time, might be found perhaps three or four hundred converted Indians.

But our hero, as he may be called, never left the beach on which he was first landed. Alone and friendless, there he remained; an isolated being, till life ceased to animate his frame. True it is, that several times he was induced, and once or twice forced, to venture as far as the Pueblo, and even the mission of San Gabriel; but he always, as soon as at liberty, returned and resumed his old station on the beach, or fixed himself on the rocks which hung around the Point. And there he might always be seen, a solitary outcast, as it were, and more constantly when the sun was going down, with his eyes gazing on that celestial orb as it sunk into the western horizon, a direction which he well knew pointed to the lost but never forgotten home of his nativity.

With difficulty he sustained the want of nature by fishing about the rocks, gathering muscles, and sometimes receiving a scanty pittance of corn from the house on the Point, or a few pence from a passing stranger.

He studiously avoided, as far as possible, all intercourse with his fellow man, and sought to live and die in solitude; and so did he continue to live a life which manifestly appeared a burthen to him, till one morning, as the sun arose, not two years past, his body was found on the beach a stiffened corse, stretched out, and bleaching, as it were, in the white foam of the surf which was thrown about his lifeless remains as the mighty wave broke on the shore.

It is presumed his death was accidental—that whilst searching for shell fish, in the night, amongst the cliffs, he must have fallen from an eminence, and thus terminated his solitary existence.

Boston Atlas Thursday, January 7, 1847 (accessible at GenealogyBank)

"A Female Crusoe" was reprinted numerous times from the Boston Atlas, for example

New York Evening Express (January 8, 1847) --accessible at FultonHistory

New Bedford Mercury (January 15, 1847)
Philadelphia Public Ledger (January 16, 1847)
Batavia, New York Spirit of the Times (January 19, 1847)  PDF file at FultonHistory
Rondout [New York] Freeman (February 6, 1847)
Windsor Vermont Journal (September 10, 1847)
Huntington, New York Long Islander January 21, 1848  PDF file at FultonHistory
 and
Littell's Living Age 12 (March 27, 1847): 594-595.