Friday, May 30, 2014

The Working-Men Awake

http://untappedcities.com/2012/11/14/history-of-streets-the-secrets-of-the-slips-on-the-lower-east-side/

From the New York Evening Post, November 8, 1842:
THE WORKING-MEN AWAKE.—An immense mass meeting was held last evening at James’ slip. There could not have been less than three thousand sailors, mechanics and working-men. The meeting was addressed, with great effect, by J. E. Palmer, Esq., Gansevoort Melville, Esq., Maj. Davezac, and others; and adjourned at a late hour, in the best possible spirit.
Found online in the Newspaper Archives at Genealogy Bank
James' Slip is where Gansevoort appeared the following year to deliver another early political speech.

His earliest political speech, his debut at Tammany Hall (or something close to it) happened in April 1842. As reported in the New York Weekly Herald, April 30, 1842, Gansevoort weighed in on the Dorr Rebellion in Rhode Island, arguing against the "Charterites" for elimination of the property qualification and extension of voting rights:
He also denounced the Algerine Act, and called it an act for the propagation of constructive treason generally. The people have rightfully elected officers under their constitution. The others chose to live under Charles’s charter, who though dead 200 years, has still some very dutiful subjects now living in Rhode Island. And who was Charles 2d? A pitiful, profligate abandoned fellow, who, if he was living now in New York, couldn’t be elected Constable even for the 6th Ward; and his appropriate sphere, would be behind the counter of a perfumer’s store dealing out essences to the moustached fools and loungers of Broadway—(Cheers.)—or else he’d be in a brothel with panderers, procurers, and pimps. (Tremendous cheers) The great point contended for by the people of Rhode Island was a universal free suffrage. This had been tried in 22 States out of 26, and works well. Their opponents insist on a property qualification. And what is wealth? The sweat of the poor and the blood of the brave. (Cheers.) This is the old Federal plan to detract the capacity of the people for self government. But the tide of public opinion is sweeping on. Can they stand up against it? Let them try it if they dare. When they shall have rolled back the Amazon, and damned it up with bulrushes, and shaken the Andes to their base, then they may do it, but not before. (Cheers.
--Gansevoort Melville at Tammany Hall, April 1842 (found at Genealogy Bank)

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Dana mentions Melville, October 1853

John Parker Hale
Library of Congress
On Thursday, October 13, 1853 in Boston, Richard Henry Dana, Jr. publicly invoked "[my] friend Herman Melville" in the course of a brief address at Tremont Temple in honor of John Parker Hale. The occasion was the presentation of a special medal to then Senator Hale from New Hampshire, in commemoration of his role in securing the abolition of flogging in the navy. Dana spoke on behalf of the sailors who had commissioned the medal for Hale months before, in early June. As related in the Boston Atlas on Friday, October 14, 1853:

HALE MEDAL PRESENTATION. 

The Tremont Temple was well filled last evening, upon the occasion of the presentation of a Gold Medal to Hon. John P. Hale, by the seamen of the sloop-of-war Germantown, as a testimonial to his efforts in abolishing the use of the lash in the Navy. The meeting was called to order by Dr. J. W. Stone, who regarded the gathering as a cheering omen in the moments of political excitement, that irrespective and independent of party, the vast audience came together to honor a representative man; one whose whole life exhibited him as the friend of all mankind....
After remarks by honorary president Henry Wilson, prayer conducted by the Rev. Dr. Jenks, and some further comments by the Rev. Phineas Stowe and Moses Grant Dana delivered his speech, again as reported in the Daily Atlas:
RICHARD H. DANA, Jr., Esq., on rising to make the presentation, was warmly received. After narrating the various modes of triumph by which men are honored in this world, he addressed Mr. Hale, as having at the hazard of power and popularity, devoted his energies for the obscure and the humble, for men who had no means of requiting such service, and when at length he was successful, it was a triumph far above all others. The military and naval service being of necessity measures of force; it had come to be regarded that they must be sustained internally by force, consequently, while the horrors of war had been ameliorated through Christianity and civilization, captives were no longer put to death, captured cities were not burned, and non-combatants were released on parole, the abolition of the lash was reserved as one of the last reforms.
In all times the public scourge had been deemed the depth of degradation,—a degradation deeper than that of the block or the scaffold, and while eighteen hundred years ago, it was the boast that a Roman citizen could not be scourged, until the 28th Sept., 1850, an American citizen could be scourged under the waving of the stars and stripes, and in the sight of foreigners who made little claim to the acknowledgment of human rights.
Mr. Dana said he wished to add his testimony to the fact that this horror of the gangway, the lash, prevented many men from engaging in the service of the mercantile marine. His friend, Herman Melville, had expressed the same sentiment, and he had no hesitation in saying that more men had been killed at the gangway than at the guns. Many persons who at first expressed doubts on the expediency of the abolition of the lash, had since acknowledged they were in error, and that favorable results had followed from it. He confessed he was somewhat doubtful on the subject of carrying the act into immediate effect, but he whom he had the honor to address was a man of more faith, and he had now the satisfaction of realizing all that he could have anticipated. As the organ of the sailors who tendered to him this evidence of their respect, he entreated that among the triumphs which may yet await him, he would not forget this, their humble testimonial.
Mr. HALE, in reply, said it was pleasant and gratifying to reflect that one’s services, however humble, had been appreciated, and in a labor so important, it was an additional gratification that the consequences of the act were fixed beyond a peradventure. He then proceeded to relate the progress of the efforts in Congress for the abolition of the lash, from the first proposition introduced by him in 1844, till the measure was carried. In these labors he made honorable mention of Mr. Webster and Mr. Benton, which was enthusiastically cheered. As evidence of the good effects of the measure, he gave the testimony of Capt. Nicholas, Com. Lavallette, Capt. Long, and others.
The exercises were interspersed with music by he Chelsea Brass Band, and after the adoption of a series of resolutions, the meeting was closed.

(Boston Daily Atlas, October 14, 1853, available online in the Newspaper Archives at Genealogy Bank)
Earlier that year, in May 1853, Dana recommended Melville for a diplomatic appointment. It's good to find Dana in October publicly and comfortably affirming his friendship with Melville. Without the Boston Atlas we might never have known, since other reports fail to include the Melville mention. The Boston Herald, for example, skips right over Dana's nod to "his friend Herman Melville":
In all ages public scourging has been deemed the depth of degradation, but until the 28th day of September, 1850, the American sailor could be publicly whipped on board a national vessel. The horror of the gangway has kept the best of seamen from the navy. More men have been ruined in the gangway than have been slain in battle....

(Boston Herald, Friday, October 14, 1853; available online in the Newspaper Archives at Genealogy Bank)
Also missing in the Herald report is Dana's reference to "the mercantile marine." The Herald report has Dana referring simply to "the navy." But as reported in the Atlas, Dana invokes Melville specifically on this point with reference to "the mercantile marine."  Melville, says Dana, with me believes that the fear of flogging keeps good men out of the mercantile or merchant marine.  Is Dana thinking of a published view, something from one of the chapters against flogging in White-Jacket?  Or does he mean that Melville expressed this corollary opinion about flogging and the merchant marine in a letter—or verbally, at a dinner party?

Update: From the Boston Atlas report, it does sound like Dana was offering additional insight from his own experience as a merchant sailor. Famously narrated in Two Years before the Mast.  And Dana's practical manual The Seaman's Friend specifically explains "sea terms, customs and usages of the merchant service."

In any case the crowd loved it. According to the glowing report in the Pennsylvania Freeman (October 27, 1853), the "immense audience" at Tremont Temple warmly approved everything: "The presentation speech by Mr. Dana and Mr. Hale's reply were both eloquent and stirring, and the responses of the audience enthusiastic."

Several accounts describe the medal awarded to Senator Hale:
The Medal is from the manufactory of Messrs. Guild & Stevens, Boston. Its design and workmanship evince great taste and skill on the part of the manufacturers. The Medal is not, as usual, an impression from a die, but is worked from the solid metal, by process of manufacture. It consists of an oval plate, bearing upon one side the following inscription:—
"Presented to the Hon. John P. Hale by the crew of the sloop-of-war Germantown, as a mark of their appreciation of his efforts in securing the abolition of flogging in the U. S. Navy, Oct 13, 1853."
On the other side, an engraving represents a scene on shipboard. It supposes flogging to exist, and the barbarous act is again to be repeated. The victim stands with nude back, turning away from his fellows in conscious degradation, while the boatswain's mate, with the instrument in his hand, is ready to strike—when over the other side appears the advocate of Humanity, and, stretching forth his hand, says, "Stop!" displaying to view the law. The centre is surrounded with appropriate designs. At the top is the upper portion of the capstan, spars, cords, blocks, &c; at the sides, filling from staffs, from the top, the national flag, which falls, and appears to mingle in its folds the surrounding objects, consisting of nautical implements. (The Hale Medal Presentation, [Boston] Liberator, October 21, 1853; found at GenealogyBank.com)
And look who's listed among the presiding officers: Dr. J. Ross Dix, named as one of the honorary Secretaries! (Presentation of the Hale Medal, Boston Herald, October 14, 1853)

1952 Hendricks House Moby-Dick

Important edition by Luther S. Mansfield and Howard P. Vincent, with extensive notes.
Harder to find now than the first American edition!


Available online at Hathi Trust Digital Library

Battle-Pieces, edited by Hennig Cohen



Illustrated edition, with great introduction and notes by Hennig Cohen.

Available online at the Hathi Trust Digital Library

Monday, May 26, 2014

Corps Commander Winfield Scott Hancock

Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock
Library of Congress

On the Photograph of a Corps Commander.

Ay, man is manly. Here you see
The warrior-carriage of the head,
And brave dilation of the frame;
And lighting all, the soul that led
In Spottsylvania's charge to victory,
Which justifies his fame.
A cheering picture. It is good
To look upon a Chief like this,
In whom the spirit moulds the form.
Here favoring Nature, oft remiss,
With eagle mien expressive has endued
A man to kindle strains that warm.
Trace back his lineage, and his sires,
Yeoman or noble, you shall find
Enrolled with men of Agincourt,
Heroes who shared great Harry's mind.
Down to us come the knightly Norman fires,
And front the Templars bore.
Nothing can lift the heart of man
Like manhood in a fellow-man.
The thought of heaven's great King afar
But humbles us—too weak to scan;
But manly greatness men can span,
And feel the bonds that draw.

--Herman Melville, from Battle-Pieces and Aspects of War

In this month of May 150 years ago, Hancock as commander of the Union's Second Army Corps or II Corps led the attack on U-shaped rebel works called "The Mule Shoe" at Spotsylvania, Virginia:
"At the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House the II Corps again attained a glorious place in history by Hancock's brilliant and successful assault on the morning of May 12." (Wikipedia)
Horrible hand-to-hand fighting, the longest of the war, took place in a stretch of the Mule Shoe known as "Bloody Angle." Today at the Bloody Angle Trail, Tour Stop 3 specifically commemorates Hancock's charge:
Tour Stop 3: Second Corps Attacks
General Winfield Scott Hancock's Second Corps attacked across the open ground, past where you are standing, and against the works at Stop #2.
"I remember the thin picket line of the enemy, with their bewildered look. There was a little patter of bullets, and I saw a few of our men on the ground; one discharge of artillery. . . and we were up on the works with our hands full of guns, prisoners and colors."
--General Francis Barlow, USA
Brilliant success? or bloody miscue? However costly and temporary,

"Spotsylvania confirmed the position of Winfield Hancock as the premier corps commander in the Army of the Potomac." 
--David M. Jordan, Winfield Scott Hancock: A Soldier’s Life (1995) 
Recent critical studies duly credit Stanton Garner with identifying Melville's Corps Commander as Winfield Scott Hancock. That he did, but before Garner there was Robert Penn Warren, editor of the daring 1971 volume, Selected Poems of Herman Melville. In the textual notes Warren plainly states what to him must have seemed obvious:
The poem is linked with "The Armies of the Wilderness." The hero of the poem is General Winfield Scott Hancock (1824-1886), commander of the II Corps, who at dawn on the last day of the Battle of Spotsylvania, May 12, led a massive attack on a narrow front (a favorite tactic of Grant's), at the Mule Shoe Salient in the center of Lee's line. Hancock broke through, captured two general officers and several thousand men and would, no doubt, have converted Spotsylvania into a decisive battle, had not General John B. Gordon's savage counterattack flung him back to the first line of trenches, where he was contained at the famous Bloody Angle until past midnight, by which time Lee had consolidated a new line. In 1880, Hancock was candidate for President on the Democratic ticket. The poem, in celebrating the manliness of the Federal officer, hints at the theme of manliness which creates a brotherhood beyond particular side or commitment."  (Robert Penn Warren, Selected Poems of Herman Melville 369-70)
Warren then refers back to pages 19-20 in his introduction, which emphasized the point that one's "fellow-man may be a fellow, not by ideology, but only in his manhood."

Update1: And before Warren there was Hennig Cohen making the connection to Hancock in the important 1963 edition of Battle-Pieces, "one of the landmark studies of Melville's engagement with the visual arts" (Christopher Sten, Savage Eye page 286, note 24).

Megan Williams only goes back as far as Garner, whom she tasks with backing up the Hancock claim:
Without providing supporting evidence, Garner argues that Melville honors General Winfield Hancock in this poem (Garner 325).
But Garner had no idea of needing to support such a plain fact. (Garner was cautiously arguing something more debatable and more interesting, that Melville actually met Hancock in person).

Williams wants an opening for Grant, which is perfectly fine and allowable to the extent that, as she observes:
"By refusing to give this commander a name, Melville makes this poem a deliberately generic treatment of heroism that could be applied to any Civil War general."
Source: Megan Williams, "Sounding the Wilderness": Representations of the Heroic in Herman Melville's Battle-Pieces and Aspects of the War, Texas Studies in Language and Literature (Summer 2003: 152 of 141-17) at JSTOR; also Through the Negative, 112.
Grant might be man enough to embody the heroism of generic "manly greatness." However, Grant is just nobody's Corps Commander. The title Corps Commander denotes a particular level of military authority and responsibility in the command structure from Regiment to President, as the National Park Service helpfully explains. Yes the promotion of Grant in March 1864 created an "awkward command situation" while Meade still formally led the Army of the Potomac. Even so,
 "As lieutenant general of the U.S. Army, Grant was answerable only to Lincoln."  (History.com)
Andrew Miller accepts Hancock as the right fellow-man (again after Garner, ignoring Warren and Cohen), but gets bogged down in Neo-Platonism and phrenology (Journal of American Studies). Really, the physiology does not seem all that complicated. It does enrich one's reading experience I think to have one or another photograph handy, of many such available. Miller provides one yet fails I fear to see what Melville is talking about. Good, that's why Melvilliana is here.
Look! Will you look at that fine figure of a man:
Head up! (warrior-carriage)
Chest out! (brave dilation)
Looking sharp! (eagle mien--oh! how focused and determined are those eyes!)
 Oops, what just happened? Was that my narcissism showing? So Timothy Sweet would allege:
"Melville describes a bond between man and an image in a political vacuum. He hints that narcissism is the real ground of the wartime camaraderie Whitman valorized. The viewer of the photograph is supposed to identify himself, ‘a fellow man,’ with the idealized subject of the photograph; but he remains locked in his own narcissistic gaze." (Traces of War, quoted by Hsuan Hsu in War, Ekphrasis, and Elliptical Form)
Quoting and approving Sweet, Hsuan L. Hsu extends the idea, and the irony.  For Hsu, Melville's poem On the Photograph of a Corps Commander

"does not so much indulge in narcissism as parody the narcissistic circularity of a gaze that would aestheticize the war by viewing it in a political vacuum.”
Source: Hsuan Hsu, War, Ekphrasis, and Elliptical Form in Melville's Battle-Pieces in Nineteenth Century Studies (2002): 58.

Irony on top of irony. Exquisite, except now I'm drowning.

Help! Help!

Oh thank heaven there's Geoffrey D. Sanborn with a life saver:
... —it may seem nearly impossible to read this poem “straight.” And yet there are no signs of irony in it. From its opening affirmation that “man is manly” to its closing contrast between the overbearingness of God’s grandeur and the attractiveness of “manly greatness,” it is a pure song of praise, one that bears strong resemblance to Ishmael’s similarly unironic paeans to Queequeg.47 Like Queequeg, the corps commander has a lofty bearing, a dauntlessly daring spirit, and “excellent blood in his veins” (55); like Queequeg, he is “good/To look upon,” a “cheering picture” that “lift[s] the heart.” However bizarre it may seem, in light of Melville’s reputation as a thorough-going skeptic, he asks us, here and elsewhere, to lift our gates, to affirm with him the belief that “there is a something about every man elevated above mediocrity, which is, for the most part, instinctively perceptible” (Corr 121).
Bravo! Now that's one great paragraph, from pages 117-18 of Sanborn's latest book Whipscars and Tattoos. Footnote 47 acknowledges the aforementioned article by Hsuan Hsu. Sanborn's concluding quotation is taken from Melville's 3 March 1849 letter to Evert Duyckinck, as printed in Melville's Correspondence at page 121.
The real General Hancock inspired noble feelings and language. You have to know that I think to get, or say begin to get Melville's poem.
Winfield Hancock already looked the part of one of American's most magnificent soldiers even before Gettysburg. The brilliant and observant staff officer Frank Haskell saved his highest superlatives for the Second Corps chief: "Hancock was the tallest [of the army leaders--six feet two inches] and in many respects the best-looking, dignified, gentlemanly and commanding. He was tall and well proportioned, had a ruddy complexion, brown hair, and he wore a mustache and a tuft of hair upon his chin . . . . Had General Hancock worn citizen's clothes, and given commands in the army to those who did not know him, he would be likely to be obeyed at once, for he had the appearance of a man born to command." "One felt safe to be near him," another said. The freshness of his white shirts, which always seemed spotless when everyone else's were dingy, were often mentioned. As a Maine artilleryman wrote, "his very atmosphere was strong and invigorating . . . . I remember (how refreshing to note!) even his linen clean and white, his collar wide and free, and his broad wrist bands showing large and rolling back from his firm, finely molded hands." Grant himself recalled him as having been "tall, well-formed and . . . young and fresh-looking, he presented an appearance that would attract the attention of an army as he passed. His genial disposition made him friends, and his personal courage and his presence with his command in the thickest of the fight won for him the confidence of troops serving under him. No matter how hard the fight, the Second Corps always felt that their commander was looking after them."
--Larry Tagg, quoting Frank Haskell and others in The Generals of Gettysburg

In remembrance this Memorial Day of the fallen at the Battle of Spotsylvania, May 1864.

Later (5/11/2015): A Currier & Ives print shows the "Glorious Charge of Hancock's Division," further confirming Hanock's popular association with Spottsylvania--you can see it online at the Library of Congress and the melvilliana post on Hancock's Charge.

Related melvilliana posts: