YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

June 17, 2010

Whaleness

American Progress

This blog continues a series in which I show how the post-Civil War Progressives appropriated Herman Melville’s fiction and poetry: one could describe their project as the taming of a rugged individualist, of a frontiersman. Their project was first designed to attenuate sectional loyalties in the American Leviathan: the moderate men will weigh in with their “materialist” history to monitor and ambivalently celebrate the frontiersman. In their construction of a national literature they intended to overcome post-Civil War sectional bitterness, while using that bad example to support the new Progressive reading of American history, as exemplified by Frederick Jackson Turner (an ex-student of Woodrow Wilson). Hence, Ahab (surfacing in 1851) would have to be a negative model for the moderate men of the following century, who attempted unsuccessfully to both defend national interests while simultaneously cooperating with an “international community” as embodied in the United Nations. If Ahab stands for a brutally expanding Amerika, then Melville as the converted Ishmael could be seen as the moderate corrective to a young country fatally dedicated to WASP supremacy and hyper-individualism, or worse, especially after two world wars, with recent immigrant masses frighteningly susceptible to the siren call of Bolshevism.

First read https://clarespark.com/2009/09/03/advice-for-the-lovelorn-with-thoughts-on-hero-worship/ (retitled Manifest Destiny and Political Liberty), and https://clarespark.com/2009/09/06/the-hebraic-american-landscape-sublime-or-despotic/.

I begin with two views of Anglo-American culture and its expansionist frontiersmen as defined by Herman Melville in his allegorical work Mardi (1849).  Vivenza[1] stands for America, Bello is England, Dominora is Europe, Oro is God, Mardi is the world.  The first speaker is Taji the narrator who expects the Jacksonian expansionists to moderate their behavior in time; the second is Babbalanja, the philosopher who calls for all youthful minds in the West to join the Anglo-American project of intellectual emancipation, associating oppressive domination with the English upper classes, who have suppressed their libertarian tradition; the third speaker is a fiery youth antagonistic to free thought, associating it with the tyranny of the newly empowered democratic polity, some of whom, at the time of Melville’s writing, were promoting the extension of slavery to the Western territories.  The dialogue between democrat and aristocrat runs throughout Melville’s writing; but it is the third speaker, the fiery Tory youth, whose fear and anger pervade the humanities throughout its whispering sacred groves. Have they transmuted the boundless expansion of our moral and intellectual development (arguably Ahab’s project) into the illicit penetration and appropriation of Mother Earth, so that the act of discovery itself becomes criminal, tantamount to endorsing slavery?

Materials from my research into the Melville Revival along with the history of “Progressive” history-writing are presented chronologically, in order of publication.

[Taji:]    This chieftain, it seems, was from a distant western valley, called Hio-Hio, one of the largest and most fertile in Vivenza, though but recently settled.  Its inhabitants, and those of the vales adjoining,–a right sturdy set of fellows,–were accounted the most dogmatically democratic and ultra of all the tribes in Vivenza; ever seeking to push on their brethren to the uttermost; and especially were they bitter against Bello.[2] But they were a fine young tribe, nevertheless.  Like strong new wine they worked violently in becoming clear.  Time, perhaps, would make them all right….

[Babbalanja:] “…my lord, King Bello should never forget, that whatever be glorious in Vivenza, redounds to himself…My lord, behold these two states!  Of all nations in the Archipelago, they alone are one in blood.  Dominora is the last and greatest Anak of Old Times; Vivenza, the foremost and goodliest stripling of the Present.  One is full of the past; the other brims with the future.  Ah! did this sire’s old heart but beat to free thoughts, and back his bold son, all Mardi would go down before them.  And high Oro may have ordained for them a career, little divined by the mass.  Methinks, that as Vivenza will never cause old Bello to weep for his son; so, Vivenza will not…be called to weep over the grave of its sire.  And though King Bello may yet lay aside his old-fashioned cocked hat of a crown, and comply with the plain costume of the times; yet will his frame remain sturdy as of yore, and equally grace any habiliments he may don.  And those who say, Dominora is old and worn out, may very possibly err.  For if, as a nation, Dominora be old–her present generation is full as young as the youths in any land under the sun.  Then, Ho! worthy twain!  Each worthy the other, join hands on the instant, and weld them together.  Lo! the past is a prophet.  Be the future, its prophecy fulfilled.”

[Fiery Tory youth:]   “Sovereign-kings of Vivenza! it is fit you should hearken to wisdom.  But well aware, that you give ear to little wisdom except of your own; and that as freemen, you are free to hunt down him who dissents from your majesties; I deem it proper to address you anonymously.

“And if it please you, you may ascribe this voice to the gods; for never will you trace it to man….” [Mardi, 1849; 518, 519, 520, 524]

[Victorian poet and radical journalist (“B.V.”) James Thomson to Bertram Dobell, from the U.S., ca. 1872.  An admirer of Melville and Whitman, Thomson ambivalently contemplates the American melting pot and offers an interpretation of the sublime (“vastitude”) similar to Taji’s and Babbalanja’s; cf. Charles Olson’s emphasis on “scale” in his Melville criticism, along with the anti-expansionism he picked up from Frederick Merk at Harvard:]  I think we must forgive the Americans a good deal of vulgarity and arrogance for some generations yet.  They are intoxicated with their vast country and its vaster prospects.  Besides, we of the old country have sent them for years past, and are still sending them, our half-starved and ignorant millions.  The Americans of the War of Independence were really a British race, and related to the old country as a Greek colony to its mother city or state.  But the Americans of today are only a nation in that they instinctively adore their union.  All the heterogeneous ingredients are seething in the cauldron with plenty of scum and air bubbles atop.  In a century or two they may get stewed down into homogeneity–a really wholesome and dainty dish, not to be set before a king though, I fancy.  I resisted the impression of the mere material vastitude as long as possible, but found its influence growing on me week by week: for it implies such vast possibilities of moral and intellectual expansion.  They are starting over here with all our experience and culture at their command, without any of the obsolete burdens and impediments which in the course of a thousand years have become inseparable from our institutions, and with a country which will want still more labour and more people for many generations to come. [3]

[William F. Allen, Frederick Jackson Turner’s teacher, 1885:]  The solid and substantial character which the Federalism of Hamilton during the years 1789-97, gave to the national edifice secured by the Constitution; the sudden list to individualism, equally unexpected and undesired by the “fathers of the republic,” which was given by the Democracy of Jefferson during years 1793-1800; the territorial expansion of 1803, with its inevitable and far-reaching consequences–here were three fundamental and discordant forces, whose reduction to harmony would alone make this a period of vital importance in American history.  As the ship, sliding from the ways, lurching first to one side then to the other, settles down into her natural position, American history not only then but thereafter, was made during those fourteen years.[4]

[From the Preface to Scribner’s Statistical Atlas of the United States, 1885, the crucial and unappreciated influence on Turner’s sociological method of writing history, Fulmer Mood, 1943, 309.  “Race” and “nativity” are given the same objective status as “physical features” and economic statistics.]  It is the aim of this work to bring together and to present by graphic methods, all the leading statistical facts regarding the physical, social, industrial, commercial and political conditions of the United States.  It portrays the physical features of the country which more or less determine its development, the political history of the nation, the succession of parties and the ideas for which they existed; and the progress of settlement, throughout the valley of the Mississippi, and beyond the barriers of the Cordilleras.  It treats of the population, its varieties of race and nativity, its educational and religious condition, its occupations and its mortality.  Passing to the industries, it exhibits the great leading branches, agriculture, manufactures, mining, trade and transportation.  Under the head of Finance and Commerce, it pictures the wealth of the country, and its public debt and taxation, its foreign commerce and carrying trade, its expenditure and its force of revenue–thus presenting to the comprehension of all, the balance sheet of the General Government.  The work closes fittingly with a series of diagrams which summarize and bring together for comparison, the leading facts previously developed.

[F. J. Turner,“The Significance of the Frontier,” The Frontier in American History, 1921, 2, 3, 33, 34, 38, 39. A scientific warning about conditions favoring the recurrence of populist agitation delivered in 1893 to the American Historical Association:]  Thus American development has exhibited not merely advance along a single line, but a return to primitive conditions on a continually advancing frontier line, and a new development for that area.  American social development has been continually beginning over again on the frontier.  This perennial rebirth, this fluidity of American life, this expansion westward with its new opportunities, its continuous touch with the simplicity of primitive society, furnish the forces dominating American character….A primitive society can hardly be expected to show the intelligent appreciation of the complexity of business interests in a developed society.  The continual recurrence of these areas of paper-money agitation is another evidence that the frontier can be isolated and studied as a factor in American history of the highest importance.

The East has always feared the result of an unregulated advance of the frontier and has tried to check and guide it.  The English authorities would have checked settlement at the headwaters of the Atlantic tributaries and allowed the “savages to enjoy their deserts in quiet lest the peltry trade should decrease.”  This called out Burke’s splendid protest: “If you stopped your grants, what would be the consequence?  The people would occupy without grants.  They have already so occupied in many places.  You cannot station garrisons in every part of these deserts.  If you drive the people from one place, they will carry on their annual tillage and remove with their flocks and herds to another. Many of the people in the back settlements are already little attached to particular situations.  Already they have topped the Appalachian mountains.  From thence they behold before them an immense plain, one vast, rich, level meadow; a square of five hundred miles.  Over this they would wander without a possibility of restraint; they would change their manners with their habits of life; would soon forget a government by which they were disowned; would become hordes of English Tartars; and pouring down upon your unfortified frontiers a fierce and irresistible cavalry, become masters of your governors and your counselors, your collectors and comptrollers, and of all the slaves that adhered to them.  Such would, and in no long time must, be the effect of attempting to forbid as a crime and to suppress as an evil the command and blessing of Providence, ‘Increase and multiply.’  Such would be the happy result of an endeavor to keep as a lair of wild beasts that earth which God, by an express charter, has given to the children of men.” [end Burke quote]

[Turner, cont..:] …[T]o the frontier the American intellect owes its striking characteristics.  That coarseness and strength combined with acuteness and inquisitiveness; that practical, inventive turn of mind, quick to find expedients; the masterful grasp of material things, lacking in the artistic but powerful to effect great ends; that restless, nervous energy; that dominant individualism, working for good and evil, and withal that buoyancy and exuberance that comes with freedom–these are traits of the frontier, or traits called out elsewhere because of the existence of the frontier….And now, four centuries from the discovery of America, at the end of a hundred years of life under the Constitution, the frontier has gone, and with its going has closed the first period of American history.

[Frank Jewett Mather, Jr. The Review, August 9, August 16, 1919:]…no ordinary person loves Melville….Upon the reader’s slant towards this sort of parable [Ishmael and the try-works, as Ishmael separates his persona from Ahab’s] will very much depend his estimate of “Moby Dick.” [5]

[H.M. Tomlinson, The Literary Review of the New York Evening Post, Nov. 5, 1921:]  “Moby Dick” is a supreme test. If it captures you, then you are unafraid of great art.  You may dwell in safety with fiends or angels and rest poised with a quiet mind between the stars and the bottomless pit.

[John Freeman to John Haines, April 23, 1926:]…Melville is out, and I wait to see if two continents are aware of his greatness.  Or will the brave sprats gore this Whale anew?  God forbid that the traducers of Swinburne’s genius should perceive Melville’s, with their little viper eyes all of rancour and squint….

[Lewis Mumford to Raymond Weaver, May 21, 1928:]  Melville is a very whale to handle, isn’t he?  My task waxes as my energies wane.

[Raymond Weaver, 1931, p.190:]  The man who had created Moby Dick had in early manhood prayed that if his soul missed its haven it might at least end in utter wreck. “All Fame is patronage,” he had once in long past written to Hawthorne; “let me be infamous.”  But as if in contempt even for this preference, he had, during the last half of his life, cruised off and away upon boundless and uncharted waters, and in the end he sank down into death without a ripple of renown.

[Poet and editor of the London Mercury, J.C. Squire (former Fabian Socialist, during this period, interested in adapting Italian Fascism for England) delivers a lecture series on American poetry at Cambridge University, his alma mater; this excerpt on Whitman, Nov. 11, 1933.  Squire quietly  warns old fogeys about the stultifying American practice of writing only about the Bay of Naples, Vesuvius, Acropolis, Pompeii, etc. which had been rejected by Walt Whitman, father of modern poetry]: “…all that went on while Whitman was writing that revolutionary stuff.  Can you blame the man for being so spasmodic and violent?  He simply could not bear these cultivated surroundings: it was bad enough in the old cultivated surroundings: it was bad enough in the old cultivated country but when you have got a new one, as Whitman found when he was a young man and a middle-aged man, a thing that was not deeply rooted but just existed because it was supposed to be good form to be cultivated, an extremely violent reaction is sure to be expected.  Had he been born in Europe he no doubt would have been an original, eccentric and rather violent revolutionary, but being born in America with that hot, fiery temper and modulation it was only natural that he should go to the extremes to which he did.  We must forgive him his eccentricities, his endless undigested catalogues geographical and geological…facts which make no music and always any sense even: we must forgive him all this because of the havoc he made of things being too crustified, that music seldom came out in rhyme….[Box 5, J.C. Squire papers, UCLA]

[Ralph Henry Gabriel, The Course of American Democratic Thought, 1940, 74:]  Melville sensed that the concept of the moral law which dominated the Middle Period was a utopian ethics.  The doctrines of progress was [sic] an affirmation that men, through apprehending the moral law and through making it effective in society can advance toward some paradise from which sin and baseness have vanished.  Melville looked upon such a goal as a Never-Never Land.  To found, as Emerson did, a philosophy of individualism upon such a dream of utopia seemed to Melville to be an attempt to transform men into children.

What then is the fundamental moral law?  Melville could only answer that the essence of the world is a dualism between good and evil.  He saw it everywhere: the beautiful English countryside and the rotting tenements of Liverpool where he had seen a mother and her babes starving; Fayaway and the sweating bones left from the cannibal feast; the law of love proclaimed by the Man of Nazareth and the world [“] a den/Worse for Christ’s coming, since His love/ (Perverted) did but venom prove.”….

[From a document first published in 1942: Frederick Jackson Turner’s proposal for “International Political Parties in a Durable League of Nations” (for Woodrow Wilson, 1918):]

[F. J. Turner is saying below that national political parties in America overcame sectional loyalties; that this precedent would be effective in stopping Bolshevism internationally, indeed would respond to the pacifist democratic masses. Note the double bind: the elastic bond makes it possible to cater to local interests without destroying international unity. Remember that Wilson was a Southerner who opposed the sectional bitterness that followed the Civil War, hence his delight with The Birth of a Nation. By following his ex-student Turner’s formulation of wild West in contrast to conservative East, he could displace the North-South polarization—indeed as did Thomas Dixon in his novels.]

[Turner:] The following is an abstract of suggestions (derived from the study of the history of American sectionalism and the geography of American political parties) upon the bearing of American experience on the problems of the League of Nations.  The conclusion is reached that in such a League there should be a Legislative body, with substantial, but at first limited, functions, as well as a Court, or Council of Nations, and particularly that the operation of international political parties in connection with such a Legislature would promote the permanence of the League….

…American ideals as so nobly set forth by the President, have found a quicker response among the European laboring classes than elsewhere, and in the passion for democratic peace among the masses lies the hope of the peace of the World internationally.  What light does American experience cast upon the possibility of so using the masses as to promote international unity?…We have given evidence that immigrants from all nations of the world can live together peacefully under a single government that does justice….In a region as diversified in some respects as Europe itself, and as large, the national political parties ran across all sections, evoked intersectional or nonsectional party loyalty, checked the exclusive claim of the section to a vote in the interest of the section, furnished the dissenting minority within the section an organic connection with party associates in other sections, at the same time that this connection was dependent upon just recognition of the special section in which the minority lived.  It was an elastic bond, but one that was strong.  It ran horizontal cross-sections of party ties across the vertical lines of sectional division.  It enabled the voter to act continentally, and it compelled the statesman to act on lines of policy that transcended his section, if he would secure a continental following strong enough to bring him success.

6. There is a distinct advantage in utilizing this party system in a League of Nations…In essence it means the utilization of that body of internationalism already in evidence not only in such organizations as radical political parties, such as the International, the I.W.W., Socialists generally, etc. but also the opposite tendencies seen in international business combinations, scientific and educational international organizations, and conservative forces generally.  The class struggle, so called, is in fact not a national but an international struggle.  If party organization of the radical element alone exists, and if this organization is also dominated and shaped by some one or two nations, as Germany or Russia, it will be extended, as it has been, to other countries in the form of secret, or intriguing societies, proceeding by revolutionary methods, with little or no regard for the separate interests of the nation into which it is introduced as an alien, and with the helmsman operating from the outside, and steering a course which almost necessarily involves adhesion to the primary interest of the country in which such a party is recognized as a powerful interest in the determination of the policy.

Is it better to try to exclude these international political forces from the organization of the new order, or to utilize their internationalizing tendencies by enabling them to operate upon an international legislative body, responsive to play of parties?  Is it worth while to use the fact of class consciousness to diminish the violence of national consciousness?

There can be little doubt that the common people, whether of the extreme radical wing of socialists, or of the conservative party groups, were reluctant to enter the war, and are now in Germany and Austria-Hungary the severest critics of the autocratic group which deceived them and misled them….

7. One recoils from any suggestion of adding a party loyalty international in its appeal to the loyalty of the individual nation.  But the very idea of a League of Nations involves some diminution of the national feeling, some cultivation of international loyalty.  If one could keep the Bolsheviki serpent out of the American Eden, he would hesitate to admit any international party organization which permitted such organization.

But in the reconstruction and ferment which will follow the return of peace, there will be doubts about the existence of Edens anywhere, and the Bolsheviki serpent will creep in under whatever fence be attempted.  May it not be safer to give him a job of international legislation rather than to leave him to strike from dark corners, and with no sense of responsibility?….

…It must…be admitted that the difference between section and nation are many and deep, and that there are some points in which international jealousy and controversy might be promoted rather than restrained by internationally organized parties operating on a legislature…There will be sectional jealousy and suspicion in any League, with whatever form of political organization.  It is inherent in its nature.  The problem is the introduction of checks and antidotes to this tendency.[6]

[Ralph Henry Gabriel, “Thorp, Curti, Baker: American Issues,” American Historical Review, July 1942, 875-876:]  Dr. Thorp and Dr. Baker insist in the foreword [American Issues, 1941] that aesthetic considerations have controlled the choices for Volume II.  “American eagerness to have a national literature,” they affirm, “has too often led us to praise as creative writers men who produced social documentation rather than works of art.”  “We have aimed”, they add, “to include in the second volume only such writing as can honestly be said to show the artist’s hand at work, consciously shaping his material.”…The functional approach to intellectual history fails to take account of some of the forces that bring about the change from one climate of opinion to another….”

[Fulmer Mood on the molding of a great mind:  Frederick Jackson Turner descended from 17th century immigrants, born in the “native community” of Portage, Wisconsin to newspaperman father and ex-schoolteacher mother, no longer pioneers, hence: “Their home was thus one in which some concern was felt for things of the spirit, a space where limited and cramped views did not prevail.”  His insights into behind-the scenes management were gleaned from father, Chair of Board of Supervisors of Columbia County who had to harmonize the interests of Protestants and Catholics, rival nationalities and towns [284-287].  Turner’s democratic ideals were shaped by the character of his birthplace: “The world of Portage, which he had a chance to study thoroughly, taught him things not learned in books.  Portage was plain, a homespun community, democratic in spirit, neighborly.  Turner was of it, genuine; unassuming.  In after years he was to walk in stately academic processions, wearing the cap and gown, singled out for special distinction, for honorary degrees.  But he took the honors with the humility of spirit of one who knew that thereby American democracy complimented not the man Turner but Turner the scholar, the servant of a nation’s best ideals….The social ideals of this young man, early acquired, never disintegrated.  To the last he retained his loyalty to democracy” [285, 287, 293].  Turner’s conception of American history: “as the history of a group of sectionally different communities, each one established in a physiographic area of its own, each one devoted to its particular economy and social life, its own culture and politics.  In the large view of affairs that he upheld, it was the interplay and interdependence of these sections with one another that formed the stuff of American history.  The forward moving frontier was important because, in its westward progress it advanced with unique virgin physiographic areas and thus generated the beginning of still other sections” [337].  The achievement of (classically educated) Turner’s The Rise of the New West: “The grand topics of Congressional debate and legislation were considered in the light of sectional influences impinging on Congress in the persons of sectional champions, political figures in national life.  Federal policy was thus shown to be a resultant of compromise and conciliation which reduced the originally extreme claims of rival sections to a decent moderation.  Natural history, as studied in Congressional action and presidential policy, came thus to have coordinate interest and importance with the internal history of the sections.  And underneath all, the strong tide of nascent democracy was shown silently on the upsweep, moving toward the political victory of Andrew Jackson in 1828.” [Mood, Development of Frederick Jackson Turner as a Historical Thinker, 1943, 346].

[John Maurice Clark delivers a series of lectures at Columbia University, 1946] …when the world was ‘in the grip of a mighty struggle.  On one side are forces driving toward chaos and anarchy, political, social, economic, and moral.  On the other side are forces of centralized control.  Between them stand the forces and men who are trying desperately to salvage a workable basis for a humane and ordered community, in which some effective degree of freedom and democracy may be kept alive without wrecking society by their undisciplined exercise and disruptive excesses.’  [quoted in Schriftgiesser, Business and Social Policy: The Role of the Committee for Economic Development, 1967, 15-16.]

[Willard Thorp, “Herman Melville,” Literary History of the United States, 468. Fourth edition, revised.] The faith which Melville longed for while he was writing Clarel, and finally achieved in when he wrote Billy Budd was not the faith of his fathers.  He did not receive it in a moment of conversion to any inherited system of belief.  He had to construct it for himself. But it was complete and it was sufficient to satisfy him at last.  That he had to make the faith by which he could live–and that he succeeded in his long effort to do so–suggests why he has been so appealing a figure to many later writers whose struggles resemble his own.  War and economic chaos and the new fears aroused by atomic power have been as unsettling to men of sensibility as were the issues of Melville’s day to men of his kind.  Writers like Yeats and Auden, unable to rest in any traditional faith, had–even as Melville did–to construct their own.  Modern man must believe or he is lost.  That is the meaning of Clarel. “If Luther’s day expands to Darwin’s year,/Shall that exclude the hope–foreclose the fear?  The running battle of the star and clod/ Shall run for ever–if there be no God.” [7]

[William Gilman, Melville’s Early Life and Redburn, 1951, 216]…Like Taji and Ishmael, [Redburn] is another of the “isolatoes” whose social and spiritual predicaments became more and more the subject of American works, from Walden and Huckleberry Finn to “Gerontion,” “Prufrock,” and Look Homeward Angel.  Although Redburn does not realize it, it is the failure of the American dream that produces the sense of being an outcast with which he leaves home.  The emotional brutality of the sailors leaves him “a kind of Ishmael” on the ship.  And his isolation in Liverpool and the monstrous poverty of the place furnish glimpses of the growing conflict in the nineteenth century between man and the modern city.  In his love of historical tradition, Redburn is the civilized Westerner who seeks to assimilate and be assimilated by his own culture.  But in Liverpool Redburn finds a commercial and relatively new metropolis, blind to the past and interested only in profit, inhuman in itself and dehumanizing its swarming populace.  It allows widows and children to starve, and except for its churches it thrusts Redburn out of doors.  In Redburn’s awareness of the way a large city crushes both body and spirit in man, Melville makes one of the earliest statements of the cleavage between the individual and his environment in the modern world.

[H.M. Tomlinson, 1949, epigraph to Introduction, Eleanor Melville Metcalf’s Herman Melville: Cycle and Epicycle, 1953]  Our peering curiosity is the measure of his mastership. His contribution to the fun of life, and his deepening of its mystery, only quicken interest in his person, and desire to examine his relics for traces of his secrets.

[Lewis Mumford prefers the moderate middle distance:]  As far as my general approach goes, I stand by my original treatment of Melville in those very features that least comport with the present style of academic biography and criticism.  Just because every aspect of Melville has by now been subjected to microscopic magnification and ex-ray [sic] analysis, there remains perhaps a special place for works that regard him with the naked eye, at a reasonable distance, bringing out the main features and deliberately suppressing the pores and the pockmarks.  Not the least use of careful documentation is the freedom it gives to abandon the methods that produce it, once the results are taken into account.  Otherwise the scholarly virtues of patience, scrupulousness, exactitude, exhaustiveness would come at too high a price.  Without sufficient will to generalize and select, present-day American scholars are perhaps too often tempted to bury by an overload of minute analysis, meant chiefly to impress other scholars working in the same territory, works that were once in danger of being smothered by indifference.

…Like high-fidelity zealots in sound reproduction, many scholars in this generation make no distinction of value between music and noise; and even cheerfully sacrifice music to noise if the latter can be more accurately recorded and reproduced.  Against such minds my revised study may volunteer, as a scarred veteran, to join an open counter-attack.

…Let the reader treat this book as a guidepost, or rather, a partly effaced milestone, on the original narrow country lane of Melville scholarship.  That road has now turned into a six-lane motorway, busy with traffic: dashing private cars, ponderous trucks, bus-loads of tourists on guided tours.  Those who like to linger on an old shadow-dappled lane will not go so fast or get so far: but they will have the freedom to collect their own thoughts, inhale fresh air, take in the landscape, and pluck a few roadside flowers for themselves.  Since I have drawn freely from Melville’s own words whenever they were available, frequently without quotation marks, the voice that will accompany them on this solitary stroll will often be that of Herman Melville.  My task as a critic will have been well done, according to my own lights, if henceforward they ask for no better guide than Herman Melville.  [Lewis Mumford takes on the supposedly fact-fetishizing Stanley Williams faction of Melville scholarship: “Preface to the New Edition,” Herman Melville: A Study of His Life and Vision (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1962): xiii,xiv.  See my book on the Melville Revival for his suppression of pores and pockmarks in the 1920s.)

[U. of Pennsylvania Professor Hennig Cohen, “Why Melville Isn’t For the Masses,” 1969:]  Herman Melville is no doubt the most famous but least celebrated writer in the history of American literature and the evidence received up to now does not indicate that the 150th anniversary of his birth…was an occasion for popular commemoration.  The reasons are almost Melvillean in their ambiguities.  First, Melville is a writer who arouses intense but private responses.  It is not easy to share him because this means sharing one’s privacy, and the sum total of many intensely personal responses does not equal mass popularity.  Though he identified with the outcasts and wanderers, the Ishmaels, Melville himself was no escapist fleeing the drudgery and frustrations of civilization for high drama aboard whaling ships and exotic adventures on the South Sea islands.  He was deeply committed to the world in which he lived and in his fashion, a sociable man.  Moreover, he was involved in significant manifestations of American destiny as both sailor and writer–to such an extent that the subject matter, even the style of his life and books exemplify the national character, and the metaphysical themes that engrossed his thinking are expressions of the national mind….”

[This is the first of two blogs on the antics of the moderate men who tamed Herman Melville. For Part two see https://clarespark.com/2010/06/18/whaleness-2/. You will find yourself at the end of a journey smack in the middle of the Democratic Party and with progressive Republicans too.]

NOTES. [1] Cf. Vivia, the hero of Pierre’s failed attempt at a masterpiece, in Pierre (1852).

[2] This is clearly a reference to Senator William Allen of Ohio, 1803-1879, a Jacksonian expansionist and supporter of Lewis Cass, the latter implemented Indian removal for Jackson: both were advocates of “Popular Sovereignty,” which in practice would have allowed individual states to determine the legality of slavery.

[3] Quoted in A Voice From The Nile, 1886, marked by Melville (Walker Cowen, II, 699). Thomson, then secretary to an English company formed to operate an American silver mine, had just “discovered that the shareholders had been deluded into purchasing an utterly unsound concern, so that his mission and his situation as secretary came to an end together.” (Dobell, Thomson’s biographer.)

[4] William F. Allen, 1885, writing in The Nation, quoted in Fulmer Flood, “The Development of Frederick Jackson Turner as a Historical Thinker,” 1943.  Allen, Turner’s teacher, brought order to the field by producing the first Syllabus of American History, 1883.

[5] The Review was a new journal welcomed by The Nation, May 3, 1919, p.675, as another voice to brake the rapid drift toward the extreme left, joining them, New Republic,and Dial. Mather refers to the “parable” in which Ishmael, after nearly capsizing the ship, turns his gaze away from the hypnotic try-works that represent the primitive emotions unleashed in violent revolution, and that will sink the Pequod: this turning away (apparently) saves Ishmael.  It is conceivable that the Epilogue to Moby-Dick establishing Ishmael’s survival may have been tacked on after British critics complained that the narrator could not be dead; or, the change may have reflected a typically Melvillean oscillation, or a calculated move to please audiences with different politics.  The Whale, in its original Bentley English edition, clearly establishes the whale as amoral authority, the object of the artist as conquering hero, and locates the work in the tradition of the Miltonic Sublime.  On the title page, there is an epigraph from Paradise Lost omitted from the American first edition: “…There Leviathan,/ Hugest of living creatures, in the deep/ Stretch’d like a promontory sleeps or swims,/ And seems a moving land; and at his gills/ Draws in, and at his breath spouts out a sea.” The Extracts (the montage of quotes from other authors concerning whales) does not begin the book, but ends it; the last verse is a “Whale Song”: “Oh the rare old Whale, mid storm and gale/ In his ocean home will be/ A giant in might, where might is right,/ And King of the boundless sea.” Thus the reader is left, not with an image of the pathetic orphaned Ishmael, transmitting the anti-pride message of Job, but a sea shanty glorifying the force and militarism that was deeply offensive to Christian pacifists; the grabbiness that Melville had repudiated in the chapter on Loose Fish and Fast Fish.  Here the key word is “boundless.” (Cf. Taji’s quest at the end of Mardi.)  He could be referring to the boundlessness of scientific inquiry that conservatives claimed was leading to unprecedented forms of tyranny, and for which Ahab had been punished with blindness.  The point is that no Melville scholar has proven that Melville’s original intention was to save Ishmael, and the issue has been neglected, given the weight accorded to Ishmael’s sudden illumination in teaching guides and other material directed at students.

[6] Turner Ms. in Wilson papers since 1918, published in American Historical Review, April 1942, 545-551; William Diamond of Johns Hopkins explained that Turner’s ms. was taken to Paris by Wilson in 1918, along with “a great staff of technical experts, several dossiers of material which he thought might be of use to him.”  Here was an example of the manner in which historians could put their knowledge to work for society, and one which suggested answers to questions that were current again in 1942.  Italics were added to the ms. by an unknown hand.

[7]Thorp distanced himself from Christian sectarianism and radical Protestantism throughout.  He seems to adhere to Christian Socialism (like Matthiessen); Margaret Farrand Thorp wrote a biography of Charles Kingsley, reviewed in London Mercury.  Thorp was a collaborator of Donald Drew Egbert in his survey of American socialism.

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