Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Charles Booth Parsons on Melville's Pierre

Charles Booth Parsons as Caius Silius
via University of Illinois Library Digital Collections
The Nashville and Louisville Christian Advocate was affiliated with the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. Published in Nashville, the weekly paper was edited in 1852 by John B. McFerrin and (in Louisville) by Associate Editor Charles Booth Parsons. McFerrin had officiated in 1849 at the funeral of James K. Polk in Nashville.

Parsons, a preacher and former traveling stage actor, compared and contrasted his "two itinerancies" in The Pulpit and the Stage (1860). His dismissive use there of the expression "etherealized intellectuality" recalls the contempt for "etherealized madness" expressed in the notice of Pierre in the Christian Advocate on September 2, 1852. Parson's authorship is clinched by the fact that the review of Pierre appears on page 3 in the Louisville section of The Christian Advocate, Parson's domain until he formally took his leave as Associate Editor on June 29, 1854.

Nashville and Louisville Christian Advocate - September 2, 1852
Harper & Bros. N. Y. 8 vo., pp. 495.

This is a work which, we should suppose, might have come from some literary "Alembic," set in a cell of lunacy. It is evidently made up of the wild vagaries of a diseased imagination, in which unnaturalness of character and improbable events greet the reader, though a style as cumbersome and o'erwrought as the tale is unlikely and barren of truth. Such as love to wander 'midst the mazes of etherealized madness, will find, we presume, a congenial companion in the "Ambiguities," which is a proper and very significant title to the book.-- What good end can possibly be promised by the publication of such trash, we are at a loss to discover. And yet "their name is legion."
A biographical sketch of Charles Booth Parsons signed "Colley Cibber" was published in three parts in the The Dramatic Mirror and Literary Companion. Below are links to each installment in the digitized Volume 1:
Parsons played the usual leading roles including Macbeth and Othello. For his biographer in the Dramatic Mirror, Parsons triumphed in the role of Oranaska, the Mohawk chief in the tragedy by neglected New York dramatist Jonas B. Phillips. As Parsons also recounts in The Pulpit and the Stage, in New Orleans his performance as Oranaska was witnessed (and approved, reportedly) by an invited group of Seminole chiefs.

Parsons also excelled as Roaring Ralph Stackpole in Nick of the Woods.
Charley Parsons played at the South Pearl Street Theatre, after Burrough's time....
Parsons was an inferior actor, especially in tragedy — he was of Herculean frame, round shouldered, and had a voice like artificial stage thunder! He was a great favorite, however, in the southwest. He played Roaring Ralph Stackpole to perfection. Had Dr. Bird seen Ralph and Parsons he would have been puzzled to distinguish one from the other. It was actually worth the price of admission to see Parsons as Ralph, without his uttering a word. Parsons being a speculative genius, left the stage and went to preaching in the Methodist church at Louisville, but he soon slid backwards, and finally slid on the stage again — but the spec wouldn't pay; he made a failure, and so Roaring Ralph abandoned the devil's frying pan (the stage), and was once more received to the arms of his deserted flock. I heard him preach the next Sunday after he left the stage, but it was Roaring Ralph all through the sermon, the prayer, the benediction.
--Henry Dickinson Stone, Personal Recollections of the Drama
In Players of a Century: A Record of the Albany Stage, Henry Pitt Phelps calls Parsons "a very bad actor" and colorfully describes his conversion in Louisville.

Charles Booth Parsons performed in Albany when Herman Melville lived there. Melville was fourteen when Parsons appeared as Macbeth at the Albany Theatre on November 4, 1833.

Albany Argus - November 4, 1833
On previous evenings during the same 1833 engagement Parsons starred in the roles of Virginius (November 1st) and Sir Giles Overreach (November 3rd). After Macbeth, Parsons appeared as William Tell (November 5th).

Parsons returned as Macbeth on September 18, 1834. His advertised "last appearance" came the next night, September 19, 1834, when Parsons starred in, hey hey,
"the highly successful Indian tragedy of ORANASKA." --Albany Evening Journal, September 19, 1834

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