The Clare Spark Blog

September 5, 2017

“The rule of law”

2014 demonstration

This blog is about the  Left’s rejection of the Constitution, which is more complicated and simpler than meets the eye, especially on a day when Jeff Sessions has announced a suspension of DACA as unconstitutional. (For a liberal attack on such claims see

Marxist-Leninists view the U.S. Constitution (and all laws derived from it) as the repressive mutterings of an “executive committee of the [aristocratic and imperialist] bourgeoisie. New Leftists, social democrats and the Democratic Party that they more and more inhabit agree with this Marxist and progressive formulation that makes mockery of the notion that there is “one set of rules for the rich and for the poor alike.”

But it is less obvious that “the rule of law” is a subset of Jew-hatred and the resentment of outlandish Jewish/maternal power in the modern world, made apparent in the ever more trendy assault on mass media.

I have written extensively both on the origins of multiculturalism and of antisemitism on this website, but it became even clearer after reading yet another assault on the allegedly merciless devotion to the rule of rabbis and Judaism in late antiquity in a recent much-praised popular book by Tom Holland, In the Shadow of the Sword: the birth of Islam and the rise of the global Arab empire (2012). It should be obvious that this cultural history’s project is to blame the Jews (and their devotion to “law”) for all the monotheisms, including Islam! It is but a short skip to the current leftist notion that all Jews are terrorists, or as the Israeli television series Fauda says, “attack dogs”! (H/t Jennifer Loeb Chocron for pointing this out.)

(Was it a coincidence that a previous British ex-Christian James Thomson wrote The City of Dreadful Night, extending this Counter-Enlightenment tradition to include women, such as George Eliot? See; on Holland’s debt to Christianity see

Turn now to the teaching of American history as dominated by liberals and New Leftists: the Constitution is an “aristocratic” document, forged by pettifoggers/shysters/Shylocks. (

Just look at the attention paid these days to Madison’s Federalist #10 by such popular oppositional writers as Howard Zinn.

Joshua Trachtenberg’s The Devil and the Jews (Yale UP, 1943) comes to mind, but did he mention the connection between “shyster” lawyers and their alleged demonic powers?

September 15, 2013

Authenticity and the “bottled-up”

Free thought by Berkozturk

Free thought by Berkozturk

As visitors to this website are aware, I am a scholar devoted to the propagation of “free thought,” whether those thoughts are directed to the search for truth, or to the unleashed imagination, as transmitted by artists and the creative self that is too often buried by “politeness” and other rules by the dominant culture (I am only criticizing excessive politeness; see I call such “authority” illegitimate and to be avoided at all costs. But to assume such a confrontational posture courts financial disaster unless one is protected by an independent income. That is how censorship and self-censorship work. For purposes of this blog, I will focus on the bottled up woman, for I lived that way until recently, perhaps because I am no longer on the sex/marriage market. (I could have added anti-Semitism to the blog, for there is a strong link between misogyny and anti-Semitism: many “assimilated” Jews are as bottled up as my gender. I made the connection between anti-Semitism and misogyny through reading Symbolist poets, such as James Thomson (“B.V.”) Because this entire subject seems to be off limits to cultural historians, I have of necessity relied upon my own experience as a primary source in this suggestive essay.

In the very first essay I wrote after exposure to Pacifica radio and the civil rights movement, I wrote that “’authenticity’ consists of the right to tell the truth without being abandoned.” My friend, the late political scientist Michael Rogin, found that statement to be “breathtaking.” In retrospect, a New Leftist such as Rogin was, should not have reacted with such amazement, as if he had never thought of such a thing himself. In my naïveté, I thought that the Left had a monopoly on free thought, while everyone else lived in the shadow of self-censorship and hatred of “free spirits.”

(Recently I learned that for those who continue to believe that “race” is the primary way to sort people and their interests out, “authenticity” connotes being true to one’s racial identity. Such a ruse erases class or gender interest from the mind, which of course is the whole point.)

Which brings me to being “bottled up,” a source of harmful stress that can cause fatal diseases.  Yet most of us live with masks, for fear of offending employers, friends, mates, relatives, and our own children. Such is the price we pay for “civilization” such as it is.

What prompted this particular blog was a dispute that broke out on my Facebook page that was apparently about the pro-life versus the pro-choice position, but was, in my view, yet another round in the battle of the sexes. One of my daughters wrote a day or so ago that the two most upsetting words in the language are “God” and “Mother.” All experienced, educated parents are aware that the mother-child bond is the most powerful bond in nature, and that separation from the mother is often mismanaged, with dreadful consequences throughout life. For my insistence in defending the pro-choice position (even with reservations regarding late term abortion/infanticide), I was labeled “a militant atheist”–a term that is often applied to “the Jews.”

Also on Facebook yesterday, the subject of Hillary Clinton’s run for the presidency came up on a friend’s thread. One comment stated that she was too “old and ugly” to get the nomination. A woman on the thread noted that women have “a short half-life”. This did not go over well, but I thought that she was correct. Others jumped on her because she failed to be bottled up in order to please men or other colonized women.

It will not come as a surprise to the thoughtful reader that subjugated populations, including women and many “assimilated” Jews, MUST BE BOTTLED UP. That is what precisely what subjugation consists of. Don’t expect us to tell the truth, for we will be abandoned, and every conscious woman or boundary-crossing Jew knows this.

Barbara Kruger painting

Barbara Kruger painting

On Yom Kippur eve, I wrote a blog criticizing Ben Urwand’s new book Collaboration: Hollywood’s Pact with Hitler. The subject of Hollywood movies, anti-Nazi or not, as collaborating with bogus versions of the real world of oppressive relationships, was not his subject matter. I left the Left (of which Urwand is a part)  because those I thought were my friends and allies thought schematically and did not value attachment to the search for truth above ideology; this loyalty to career and status  above mental health killed a few of them. (On my blog on Urwand, see

This website promotes a marketplace of ideas, because that is the only route I know to emancipation from illegitimate authority. [This blog dedicated to my daughters Jenny and Rachel, and to Melville’s novel Pierre, or the Ambiguities (1852); see]

March 19, 2012

Links to feminist blogs

Bocklin’s Medusa

Feminist in love series (3 collages):,, (On Shulamith Firestone and second wave feminism) (on the Great Dumbing Down)

June 17, 2010


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 (retitled Manifest Destiny and Political Liberty), and

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 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.

October 24, 2009

Murdered by the Mob: Moral Mothers and Symbolist poets (2)

Picasso, Seated Pierrot, 1918

Picasso, Seated Pierrot, 1918

   I did not expect that there would be so many readers for part one of this essay, so I am putting most of the remaining materials on the website today. In the published version of my book, much that is here was either rewritten, deleted, or sharply cut. But I have no better way to link misogyny and antisemitism than I have done here with the study of specific characters as they interacted: Raymond Weaver and Melville’s granddaughter, Eleanor Melville Metcalf.  As you will see, I am particularly interested in the image of the modern artist as Pierrot or Cain, sometimes appearing as Lulu (but not here), in revolt against “the moral mother” and Victorian (bourgeois) culture. The disturbing S-M material has not been published before.

[Daniel Macmillan to his brother Malcolm, June 15, 1833]…though I was very young, only ten, when [father] died, I have the deepest reverence for him. He was a hard-working man, a most devout man, and as I have heard mother say, cared for nothing but his family, that is, did not care what toil he endured for their sakes. You knew him better than I did, you can value him more highly. I now remember with pleasure, and with something better than pleasure, the manner in which he conducted family worship. Though I did not understand a word of his prayer, the very act of bowing down on my knees did me good, at least I think so….[Mother] has such high and noble notions that no one could ever venture to say an impudent thing to her, or talk scandal in her presence. If any one did so once, it never was repeated; some quietly spoken but most bitter and biting saying put an end to such garbage...there is nobody like mother in the whole world. If ever I saw any one with the same tenderness, strength and calmness, the same joyousness of heart, with the same depth, I should instantly fall in love with her, that is if there was any chance of it ever coming to anything! But at present a grave seems the most likely place for me. Pray send mother to Glasgow. I want her to cheer me. No, I can cheer myself. But to go back to the old subject. I tell you that I am proud of my parentage. Besides, I am very glad that my mother is a Teuton. From her we take any mental superiority we may have. What a most beautiful forehead she has! What an eye! What a face, take it all in all! A noble temple for her noble soul! I am rather glad to have some of the Celt in my nature, but glad that the Teuton stands uppermost–as I think it does. I desire to keep the Fifth Commandment.[1]

       Early in his novel Black Valley(1926), Weaver attested to his understanding of Melville’s and Thomson’s dreamy revelations, which he called “the irony of being two.” Weaver transmits Melville’s and Thomson’s images linking sex, revolution, and apocalypse in Gilson Wilburforce’s  confession of his incestuous sexual initiation with an older woman at the age of nineteen (he is a Pierre, just emerging from his teens). Gilson is grilled by his inquisitorial double, the Satanic Gracia West, who plays Ahab to Gilson’s whale (or, if you like, Claggart to Billy Budd):

 “…And the woman with the daughters and the goldfish? Do you remember? The first night off Yokohama?…

     Gilson flushed scarlet, and bit his teeth into his parched lips. Tears gleamed in his eyes. He swallowed a sob. His body was ice.

    Narrowing her eyes, Mrs. West studied him closely for perhaps a full minute, before she replied to his eloquent silence.

    “Now you have told me nearly everything,” she said finally, with cool but gentle deliberation.

    There was another long pause.

    “Tell me. Was it mother? Or daughter?” The words came with slow distant impersonality, her voice bleached of every color of emotion.

    Gilson buried his face in his hands, his rigid body shaken by hot leaping sobs.

    Mrs. West again tilted her head backward thirstily, and held her eyes closed.

    “It’s too contemptible to plead that I was drunk!” Gilson exclaimed between his sobs, fairly spitting his words from him like unclean and loathsome things. “Drunk!”

    “She seemed so lovely to me at first,” Gilson forced himself to go on, his face still covered. “She usually came to sit with us while we were playing cards each evening, and at the end, I’d help her to her cabin. It all happened so naturally, and didn’t seem shocking at all. When we were about to stop, she’d say how she resented that every pleasant thing had always to come to an end, and then she’d order some more drinks, and then some more. Her daughters used to wait up for her. There they were, every evening, in their pajamas, and were terribly amused at her, and used to stand her up under the port-hole–under the goldfish–at the end of the hallway between their cabins–and laugh at her as she tipped about with the roll of the ship–and shake their fingers in her face in great sport–and swear for the fun of it. Then she would laugh too.–She has the most golden laugh I’ve ever heard–and so gay, and so fresh, and so eager for happiness;–and the daughters, in their bright cool pajamas, seemed so clean!–And then, three nights ago–with Mrs. Burgoyne—-”

    Gilson clenched his teeth as if steeling himself against the probe of a lancet into his very quick, and wedged his cheek between his fists, speech obliterated.

 “–you first tasted the mystery of life and death.”

      Like a tongue of lightning, Mrs. West’s impetuous insight had blasted through all reserve and crashed into the inner sanctuary of Gilson’s heart. For one blinding moment the burning air brayed with a blood-red voice. The sky shot molten darts and reeled into black silence. And then the glittering plunge of waves against the boat, the steady vibration of the propeller, and the white railing immaculate in the sun. [Compare to the end of Moby-Dick without the Epilogue.]

    “And now you are dazed; revolted; incredulous,” continued Mrs. West. “Your innocence, your sacred innocence, you feel you have forever lost. And lost among such sordidness. You nursed and cherished it, perhaps. As a wonderful gift to bestow. As if, indeed, virginity were not a thing to be achieved! Now it can never again be yours to give, you feel. Fantastical.–And here am I, acting as if I thought by talking to you I could teach you what every young man should know! Someone else must teach you that. But probably nobody all at once. I believe, Gilson, that we must sin into innocence. Does this seem a hideous idea to you?–But the hideousness of life is, of course, unspeakable. We won’t try to talk about it. I’m warned by Saint Paul’s pernicious example. So!–You have burst through some of the swaddlings of infancy. And you are now convinced that you are no longer fit for the kingdom of heaven!”

    Though Gilson had listened to Mrs. West with wide-eyed absorption, much had seemed to him merely unintelligible. And yet there was to him a kind of necromancy in what she had said. For now that his shame was known to another soul, by some subtle magic the shame seemed transformed, and ebbed away as Mrs. West spoke. And at her closing exclamation, tempered partly in mockery as it was, there had broken across Gilson’s tear-stained face a strange faint radiance, as of a new wisdom, a new pride, a new strength, still elusively shy, but maturing to a deep rich music coursing through his blood.

    “And in her arms,” said Gilson in hushed awe, “the thought of my mother—–”


    It was the voice of Mrs. Wilburforce: a percussion of reality that shattered the enchantment. The stiletto glint of Mrs. West’s black eyes vanished into the wide and haunted vacancy of his mother’s gaze.

    “Gilson,” she said, “your eyes were so dreamy, and moist, and lucid, and pure, as you sat there lost in thought, it almost seemed that my boy was again a little child. Such innocence—-“….[2]

       Father is too weak to protect him from the abuse of the virtuous mothers, a thought that runs through Melville, Thomson, and Weaver.  Raymond Weaver’s story is a valuable testament to the resentments engendered by child-rearing which is moralistic rather than moral; it should give pause to scholars who believe that “domestic feminism” raised the status of women. The Weaver papers contain a fan letter from another victim of the moral mother, a reader who thought he understood the autobiographical content of Weaver’s exposé; from the language, tone and address, we may infer that the writer did not receive an elite education, but rose from a puritanical working class or lower middle-class background to a position where he could afford to live on Washington Square:

 [fan mail:] I want to write you a letter telling you how much I enjoyed your book Black Valley, but I do not exactly know how to go about it. So I’ll make the best fist of the job I know how and begin.

    In the first place you have wonderful courage to set forth the picture of Gilson as you have done, for there is no doubt in my mind that Gilson is yourself. To explain, it took courage to tell the world just how pure the heart and soul of a young boy could be. To be popular you are supposed to make the boy a stout young dumb bell with a strange leaning twords [sic] crime. Then you are supposed to spend pages telling about how pure and spotless some young girl is.

    Then you have what it takes to paint the picture of the pious female. Man, don’t you know that you are losing your best market for your books when you tell the truth that way?

 The young hero in fiction that sells the book is he who is straight only after a great fight with himself. And much must be said about the innocent woman. You and I know there is more going on in the mind of every young woman than any man ever dreams about until he is past forty.

 Black Valley makes one think–and like it. The style is good, the story is well told. Give us some more like it. [Signed, J.L. Fitz-Gibbon, December 31, 1931, with a Washington Square address, but on the stationery of Tex-La Pecan Orchards, San Antonio, Texas]   

     Raymond Weaver also preserved a student paper analyzing Melville’s social ideas. Like Weaver (who socialized with New Humanist critics), David Rein [3]worried about Melville’s mysticism and the romanticism inherited from Rousseau: “He thought too much on the ultimate scheme of things. He was too often at the cosmic extremities of thought.” Having criticized Melville’s (or Weaver’s) defeatism, Rein describes Melville’s manly resistance to witches brews, imputing his alienation to women and the reading public:  “Melville’s pessimism, however, was not passive, something in him, perhaps the very vigor of his manhood, refused to lie still under a potion of helplessness.” “It is known that his wife was intellectually incapable of sharing his thoughts. Melville’s long silence on sex corroborates this viewpoint. What he might have said would, perhaps, have been too offensive and unfair to the wife he was still living with.” “The critics and audience of Melville were too smug and stupid to know his deeper thoughts.”

    Here is an example of Weaver’s “great sense of tragedy” and his “heroic vision” identified by the Spectator and Trilling. Here too is James Thomson’s position of radical pessimism. A “man” is too weak to resist the power of the mother who unfairly uses magic to enslave her young. He does not directly encounter and confront the real mother, but invents an indifferent Nature, an inflexible Necessity that smothers and chokes all human initiative and resistance to oppression. But this is a projection of what the child would like to do to Mother, but cannot. The “heroic” part is the whale turning on his persecutors, Billy’s smashing Claggart’s forehead, then stoically accepting his doom. Such definitions of heroism lead to the “tragedy” of personal and social violence. In the art and lives of Melville, Thomson and Weaver, aggression was directed outward toward women, Jews and the omnipotent Bumble [Thomson’s name for the bourgeois philistine]; inward against their flesh and self-esteem.

       Herman Melville’s astrological chart, drawn in Weaver’s hand, lies in the folder containing the Melville family pictures. A letter to Weaver from Henry A. Murray explains why.  “…I am most desirous of investigating the oracle of Horoscopes. Herman M. was born at 11:30 P.M. August 1st, 1819–I should like to know the position of the stars on that date etc. & the Lady’s interpretation as well. Also as a control my own–Sat. May 13, 1893 I think in early AM before sunrise.—It was the custom among some people to have their horoscopes read & then in a monstrous frenzied orgy–defy the Fates and the stacked cards & swear defiance. Does handwriting come into this game?”[4]

        Both Herman Melville and Raymond Weaver, like Murray, created a defiant persona, a Superman, defined against the philistinism of the middle-class and the suffering but servile lower orders, to demonstrate their successful resistance to the demands of bourgeois society; demands, however, which were transmitted and enforced in the family by the morally superior mother acting as sergeant-at-arms on behalf of upper-class male authority (which in turn is determined by impersonal economic forces, an analysis which is not engaged by the misogynist). But this noble and defiant self was a “pasteboard mask” only partly defending against inner feelings of emptiness and futility. Any wandering but persistent Ahab was likely to strike through the mask. To avoid the humiliating exposé, pre-emptive action was necessary: the whale (in Mother’s eyes the little monster), rises from the deep, now gigantic, now shimmering like a god, to destroy the Ahab/Wandering Jew/Mother whose potions have depleted his sense of himself, his “manhood.” Having written a “wicked book” Melville feels “spotless as a lamb” because he has destroyed part of himself, the internalized “evil eye” (blinded in Ahab and Pierre) which would condemn him. The parricidal ruthlessness, or as Weaver put it, the lack of a “robust conscience” which he attributed to Melville; the “narcissism” so keenly spotted by Melville in others (Annatoo, Ahab, Mary Glendinning) were wryly exposed as self-portrait (in Pierrot and Pierre) to the reader who cared enough to look and look and look and look.

      Walter Benjamin concluded his famous essay, “The Work of Art in the Era of Mechanical Reproduction” with the warning that fascism aestheticized politics; that people were viewing their destruction “as an aesthetic experience of the first order,” as Homeric spectacle.[5] We have been describing the Melville/Thomson/Weaver dreamy detachment from themselves and their fascination with “evil.” We have supposed that their gloomy assessments of human nature and the prospects for social amelioration were distorted by the social relations of early childhood; not derived from the experience of emotionally mature and thoughtful social activity. Neither Melville nor Thomson left a summing-up, a reliable statement to posterity concerning their stance toward the modern world; such an apologia was left by Weaver.[6] It could have been written by Melville or any number of ironic, enigmatic and elusive modern artists and writers who believe they are anticapitalist but who, like Allan Melvill, hold themselves aloof from “the dust of parties,”[7] finding refuge in aestheticism. I reproduce it here, with a bracketed running commentary to remind the reader that the primary source for Weaver’s sketch of the history of Western culture is his failed rebellion against the domineering parent.


     Pierrot is one of the eternal verities of literature and life: immortal like Pan and the Pagan Gods, but with the difference that he realizes that all eternity is but in the fleeting moment, all delight a poignant sorrow, all beauty a snare to the flesh and a thorn in the spirit, all success at the best, a not ignoble failure. [Cf. Maria G. to Augusta, June 29, 1850: “in the midst of life we are in death…May we all have the wisdom to realize this awful truth, to live prepared to dye…” Also Susan Lansing’s copy of “Cling Not to Earth.” Weaver has not escaped traditional Christian other worldliness; even though there is no heaven or hell, the asceticism remains.]

     The eager, sophisticated quick-eyed Greeks were as noble children in their envisioning of this world: staunch-hearted, sobered by a loving intimacy with nature, whom they made mistress and mother. [Once upon a time there were children so strong and manly they were not taken in by deceitful mothers. The children controlled the parent, whose bodies they could enjoy without being swallowed up.] But this ardent Homeric strength corrupted itself with barbaric splendor, and while Roman magnificence spread its broad and mighty conquest, there rose from the lowest depths of humanity the great unrest of the disregarded masses: the voice of the silent slave, of the sorrow-burdened artisan, of the halt, the blind, the leperous, the voice of the passionately hungry disinherited–a deep wild voice that gathered with whirl-wind impetuosity. [Self-aggrandizing, power-mad, narcissistic parents, while mesmerized by the booty of conquest (the colonized are the children, the booty the children’s bodies), are simultaneously sowing the seed of revolution, a storm  which will level everything in its irresistible path.]

      The Roman Empire, the ancient world, was preparing itself to die, and the death-throes were frightful: tumult, blood, poverty and plague from within, and without, the pressure on all sides from barbaric hordes. [“hordes” corrected from “hoards”: a Freudian typo.] Then humanity found in the Cross the justest symbol of its torn, world-weary and crucified spirit, and conceived a new and other-world salvation through apotheosis of pain. Life was painted in sharp and violent chiaroscura, all pure righteousness and deep-dyed abomination, and the consequences of this were exaggerated to eternity.

     The old Paganism, fallen from its former nobility, was regarded as the kingdom of Satan set up in reality; Pagan literature was declared to be obscene, irreverent and unholy, and all Pagan art with its frank celebration of the beauty of the human body, seductive and diabolical.

    In this terrible dilemma of the agonized conscience, natural abundance was sacrificed to moral order. To the Pagan, life was a beautiful thing, to be accepted joyfully in all its rich variety, and every vital impulse was gratified as a gift from the Gods, pregnant with a morality of its own. To the Christian, man entered this world in utter and innate degradation, loaded with the overwhelming burden of a “mysterious[“] “original sin” whose magical properties would have been meaningless to the contrite [sic!] openness of the Pagan mind. This “sin” the Christians viewed with a sardonic optimism, and that sin should exist, and that sin should be punished in eternal Hell-fire, they considered a fitting and beautiful thing. The flesh was made vile and guilty, and the keenest joys came to be in asceticism and mortification of the body. “Ye are not beasts, but immortal souls, not slaves of flesh and matter [mater], but masters of your living bodies, servants of the living God alone.” [The angry children have attacked and killed the parents. Once passions are out-of-control, there is no going back. Divided, and confused, tired and persecuted, parents and children lacked the rational vision to restore the Greek union with nature, this time around tempered with austerity. Instead, the parents think of a new and more effective way to torture little children. Nature is no longer to be enjoyed; the child subdues its body to perfect its eternal bondage to the parent. But what is meant by the “contrite openness of the Pagan mind”? Can it be that there is no escape from history for Weaver; that even as Pagan, he feels naughty for his parricidal and incestuous impulses, and even this pasteboard mask, the best one he’s got, is all too easily pierced with a Freudian slip?]

    Then came Darwin and Industrial Revolution, and in vain the ways of God cried out anew, and in querulous and hysterical disagreement, to be justified to man. Life lost its Pagan thrill of flame-touched winged experience, and ceased to be as it was in Homeric times, something carelessly to use, to waste, to enjoy. [Now we know why he’s contrite; he’s been playing with fire.] The magnificent readiness to persecute and ecstatically to be tortured of the lurid centuries of Christian fanaticism died from the breasts of nature: martyrs ceased to sing in the flames. The broad earth, that once was trod in the calm of self-trusting integrity with proud adventurous purpose, blackened its valleys with a race inglorious alike in its birth and its living: a puny people, small and morbidly self-conscious in its lives, and vulgar in its pleasures: a spawn that made a fetish of riches, and mocked its vaunted freedom by slavery to Mammon. [There are two lines of possible interpretation here. First, Mother, described as “the broad earth” is tired of being walked on by her confident but “proud” Hellenistic sons. She is so burned up that she has impoverished the Greeks by producing a swarm of parasitic Hebraists. Weaver knew Matthew Arnold’s categories, and knew Melville’s image of the Jews as flies living in the skull of the Holy City (in the Journal) and Margoth in Clarel.  The puny people could be rival siblings, or they might represent Weaver as an infant, furious at being removed from the breast, and whose narcissistic needs were never satisfied. But his dependency needs frighten him, because his mother, who may turn on him at any moment, is not reliable. So he recreates her as the one who clings and resents his manly independence. In Black Valley, Gilson’s mother is dying of breast cancer. It is the decay of the middle ages– really his mother’s waning authority, that has produced a “vaunted freedom,” symbolized in Weaver’s novel by the sticky trap of Gilson’s affair with the sensual and narcissistic, vampirish modern woman, black-haired O-Yo-Ake-San, who is also a projection of Weaver as child who takes and takes, and from whom he is rescued by his demonic double Gracia West. Crazy Gracia does Gilson’s dirty work by smothering Mother before she can learn that Gilson has impregnated a Japanese Eve (this act a symbol of his autonomy, like Pierre’s merger with Isabel) and convincing Gilson not to marry, but to put himself into her (evil) hands. There is no escape from evil mothers in the modern world.]

    It was in such later evil times that Pierrot, the last of the lesser Gods was born; neither Pagan nor Christian, but changeling of our modern days. Of his parentage we know nothing, though he was born perhaps by some roue Bishop to a woodland nymph, or else by a satyr to a nun. When we first meet him it is a French Cafe chantant, consorting with all the out-cast of society, whimsical both in dress and in manner, masking from the crowd the deep thoughtfulness at the bottom of his nature, and giving no hint of what he most deeply is–a philosopher who seeks to embody in his life a creed whose one abiding truth lies in its fallibility. [He “most deeply is” not a heterosexual, and he would prefer that his mother not find this out; to protect himself from killing and/or being killed, he pretends that there are no enduring moral values.]

    While still a youth, Pierrot’s adolescent sympathies were stirred by the strange mystery of the suffering that he saw on all sides of him. The spectacle of sky-tapestry and silent summer dawns, and the breathless beauty of the strange men and women of whom he caught but a fleeting glance, no longer held him enthralled by their rich immediacy; but in their presence he felt a new and bated anxiety–a sorrow that in a world so lovely in some of its visible aspects [note the qualifier], so much hideousness, disease and pain could hold sway. The heritage of long Christian centuries had quickened his feelings to which his earlier Pagan ancestors were blind. That harshness, that insensibility, that so frequently was synonymous with cruelty among the Greeks and Romans, and that was a necessary condition of their calm joy in life, he was born to late to enjoy. And that Calvinistic acceptance of the evils of this world as a necessary term in the statement of the moral problem was foreign to his nature. Some told him that God was good, and loving, and omnipotent, and he nursed this belief jealously: but in the end it went down as irreconcilable with the facts of the crowded streets among which he lived. He walked along the lighted boulevards of nights, the long file of arc-lamps burning like threaded jewels, with above the glinting stars so sharp and brilliant they would have clattered if they had fallen; and the immortal stars filled him with a dumb awe as they hung away in dizzy infinitudes of space. Off beyond the rumbling fever of the streets he knew that suns in all degrees of life and death hung in their orbits; and the pettiness of all things merely human froze him into a sense of microscopic isolation. [The facts that prove there is no benignant God: the cities produce “rumbling fever” (his unacceptable feelings) that make him feel immobilized and fearful, totally vulnerable to the punishment of the parents.] And out to sea he wandered for peace, and inland he traveled, and stood among the Alps. Everywhere he saw evidence of the same resistless energy, now spinning into suns, now rearing itself into mountains, now wasting itself in the endless drift and toil of the sea; bringing forth life in infinite variety–the fish, the bird, the reptile, the horse, the dog: his brothers. And before these facts he felt the vanity, the superficiality of all logic, the needlessness of all argument, the futility of all endeavour, the crushing momentum of time, and and the inexhaustable  fertility of matter; and nowhere any intention, any responsibility, any conscious goal. The same energy that had brought to birth suns with cataclysms [birth is hideous, said Gracia to Gilson] and aeons of labor was flowing ceaselessly through him: and struggle as he might to arrest it, with irresistible impetus it would move on. His God-like privilege was to have perceived it in its flux. His dignity, he felt, lay not in what he did, but in what he understood. All matter toiled about him in travail of doing: and he too spun dizzy in the vortex. [How many times did Mrs. Weaver complain about childbirth to Raymond?] Yet within him, constant among change, was the observant eye before which all passed in phantasmagoria: a passive spectator ever alert in the silent theater of his mind, a spectator that compared and pronounced judgement on the actors as they passed. Far from experiencing the impatience of the Lady of Shallot for “shadows”, he felt that only when calmly contemplative before the mirror of his senses could he ever come to any personal significance above the beasts. And so it was that he formulated to himself as ideal, the role of idler, spectator, and poseur. [He made too much trouble for his mother by being born. If he erases himself as a material being, he can pretend that he never hurt her or anyone else.]

    Pierrot, as we have said, soon came to feel the manifold absurdity of attempting to withstand the great momentum of the cosmic forces in whose swirling current he lived. All that he could do materially he saw could avail but little, and in the end, nothing. He saw the epic absurdity of any concern to improve either people or things. Like a huge, good-natured comedy the universe flowed along: and he felt that wisdom lay in accepting the inevitable with all possible grace and charm. The furious moiling in the gold-mill by which most people make their lives so dyspeptic and unlovely; the passion for reform, and the fever for fame–that “last infirmity”-: all these held no compunction [?] for Pierrot. Far more important did he believe it to keep his native preference fresh and unsullied, his senses unclogged and vital [cf. William Blake], and his prejudices frankly and smilingly unreasonable. And though he made idling his life’s chief business, yet he kept clear the distinction between idling and doing nothing. To idle he conceived to mean to give himself up graciously to the moment, with a sweet disposition to accept gracefully all consequences, to glide with the flow of time as with a lovely melody. He sought to avoid sweat and savagery: all was to be merely creative acceptance, a determination to be omniverously interested, a refusal to be caught by surprise. He was an artist at heart, and amusingly repellant did he find the intemperance of reformers and the deluded ebulition of men burning with “missions”. If you never finish your epic romance in ten volumes; if your theories of reinforced concrete construction never come to fruition; if the millions of Mongolians in Asia never adopt an alien religion: what of it? Far more important is it to keep one’s blood cool and one’s temper sweet, and one’s eyes clear to the romantic scenery along the by-ways of life. Pierrot accepts existence, and deliberately, with the attitude of the old Tang poet who resigned a governorship because he disliked wearing a ceremonial robe: a man with an unsoiled sense of relative values. And the Charming old Chinese gentleman who spent his whole life in writing one story that was published by his heirs in one hundred and two volumes–a work not known to have been read by more than three people, and this though there was no lack of clashing adventure and melting sentiment. This delightful old idler is said to have written the end of the story first–very dramatic, romantic, and convincing. And so interested did he become in the conlusion, he wrote backwards toward the beginning, day after day, year after year. He died at the mellow age of eighty one with his work not yet begun but long since concluded. To the highly energised man-of-affairs, such a life must seem a purile waste, a prodigious inanity: but Pierrot smiles approval. The old Chinese gentleman had been true to his nature; he had wasted no time in unbecoming haste; he had made no disproportionate effort to block the mighty rush of nature’s infinite flow with a mean little fence of bristling perpendicular pronouns. He had known no torture of conscience, no racking of the flesh; in peace and gentleness and innocence had he lived and died–and what diviner destiny may a man ask?

    The world lay about Pierrot, a great variegated spectacle, a turgid conflict; singularly beautiful in some of its aspects–too beautiful at times for mortal man to contemplate-: but in the main, huge, bungling, Rabelaisian. And this great spectacle thundered past Pierrot, bewilderingly complex and unmanageable; and Pierrot stood well aside, fascinated by its eddys and back-waters, giving free play to the onward dash. Yet abidingly near at hand Pierrot found one curiously refractory object that challenged to mastery: his own warm, lithe body, stirred by strange whims of the blood and unaccountable tensions of the nerves. And he struggled with this marvelously knit thing of bones and sinews to make it obedient to his will. Around him lived other curiously animated human forms; some loathsome with age or broken by disease and sorrow; some rapturous like the dawn in beauty. And Pierrot was surprised beyond loving expectation to find all these humans absolute strangers among themselves; often though dwelling in deceptive proximity of space yet with souls more separated than antipodal suns of the Milky Way. Pierrot soon learned that in vain do we grimmace to our fellow men for understanding; that love at best can but mirror back to us our own ideals: ideals that only too frequently vanish from their object at the moment of bodily surrender; that he as flesh-bound soul must dwell forever in dumb and toothless isolation. Then it was that Pierrot found ironic solace in the role of poseur, and sought to win what joyn [sic] he could from beautiful masks. [When he feels his body in sex, he experiences himself as an evil, and therefore abandoned, baby. The false self, made as beautiful as a flower, gives him a measure of solidarity with others.]

     While yet a boy, Pierrot had come to a passionate attachment for one of his play-fellows, and Pierrot had been present when the lad he loved had died. “My God, he is dead!” the broken-hearted father had sobbed, and Pierrot was chokingly moved. Yet even at that moment of keenest sorrow, a Something in Pierrot had stood off and pronounced: “That cry was good–it would have gone well on the stage.” And throughout life, in leaping pain and in pulsating delight, always in the central quiet of Pierrot’s mind had sat this Spectator and judged [sic]. Yet these judgments were never moral–for Pierrot knew no standard of virtue by which he dared to measure his fellow men, himself with no rag of ethical certainty, no shred of unequivocal truth: truth being at best an unstable equilibrium of lies. He felt it gigantically absurd that he should permit himself to declare upon the good or evil consequences of any act. His one consideration was to discover in all behavior some grace, some unobtrusive elegance, some mastery of technique. The Jesuits had taught that a goodly result might justify a series of diabolical antecedents–a programme which to Pierrot was twice malicious in its double inversion. To do all things with persuasive grace, to sanctify the meanest act by lovely enactment: that was the ultimate goal of all effort.

     Yet sometimes, fairly smothered by the voluptuous richness of the broad sky and the miraculous earth, he has felt an impotent rebellion against the gaping externality of lovely objects, and has craved to be mastered by them wholly, to be consumed utterly by their loveliness, to slip into their beauty and be lost. Even more has the beauty of fair living bodies ravished him with a passion for some wild and undivined total possession of them; and he has wished that as Cleopatra dissolved her pearl in rosy wine, that he might make a Saturnalian draught of all the souls he had ever loved, and drinking, go divinely mad.

    Thus lives Pierrot, the tireless idler, the sad commedian, the tragically sincere poseur. This is to have failed in life, perhaps–but with what a grace! [end, “Pierrot Philosophique”]

    Masked, Weaver is “joyn[ed]” with  his “Socratic demon,” thirsty Gracia West who drinks Gilson’s rage, leaving him empty but pure. Engorged, her stiletto eyes are his; with the bleakness of Thomson’s “Melencolia” they detect the frauds of the material world: Jew-Marxist-Freudians like Lionel Trilling, students given to vanity and perversity, seductive mothers and adoring wives and sisters, and certain members of the Melville family. But Weaver’s thundering voice belies the wish for “a lovely enactment” in all things; the vocal landslide that mocks–but longs for– the cottage in Nathan’s pastoral (in Clarel). Thus his notes on Elizabeth Shaw Melville’s niece and confidant, Josephine Shaw McK. (Weaver’s informant concerning Herman’s violence toward Lizzie):

“Cousin Josie: Deaf–coarse bobbed hair–walks with a hideous rocking–with strange straps and paraphanalia [sic] rattling under her skirt. Loathsome in appearance–and as keen as an old Devil.”

    Weaver could have been the sea-crabb, or Herman looking under the masculine Fanny Kemble’s skirt, identifying with Pierce Butler so that he too might amputate himself off from his maternal half.

       Besides describing Herman’s relations with his wife and sons, Lizzie’s sloppy appearance and laziness (“Lizzie careless in appearance–slippers–shawl–stockings down–She loved her ease too–fond of settling own news paper”), and the emnity of Lizzie’s brothers (“His brother-in-laws (Sam & Lem) hated him.”), the keen old Devil had apparently described the warm admiration and devotion of the Melville and Shaw women: “Herman lived in a family of adoring women.” “His mother-in-law adoring–when he comes to bring back Lizzie “the perfect gentleman he always is.” There are question marks next to two of the adorers: “Mrs. Melville–adoring?” and “? Frances”; (he must have been thinking of the daughter Frances, not the sister). Lizzie, Helen and Augusta are noted without comment, but the list is finished with “(cf Nietzsche)”.

      As we have seen above, Weaver had his doubts about all ostensibly nurturing women; his notes to Sophia Hawthorne’s diary comment on this deceptive type, the “whole-hearted adoring wife.” “—further adoring reflections. One is reminded of Butler’s Christina or Mrs. Ruskin–the awful mother of that awful prig.” [Folder 2, Weaver papers]. In his 1928 Introduction to The Shorter Novels of Herman Melville, Weaver attributed a major source of Melville’s torment to the duplicities of women, revealed at last in the disillusion which inevitably accompanied sex: it was a trial which the manly author pluckily endured.

 [Weaver:] The riddle of Mardi goes near to the heart of the riddle of Melville’s life…The allegorical part of Mardi…is a quest after Yillah, a maiden from Oroolia [I rule you?], the Island of Delight…Yillah is lost beyond recovery. In its intention to show the vanity of human wishes it is a kind of Rasselas–though a Rasselas which, for its “dangerous predominance of imagination,” Dr. Johnson would have despised. The happiness sought in the person of Yillah is the total and undivined [?] possession of that holy and mysterious joy that touched Melville during the period of his courtship. When he wrote Mardi he was married, and his wife was with child. And Mardi is a pilgrimage for a lost glamour.

  In these wanderings in search of Yillah, the symbol of this faded ecstasy, the hero is pursued by three shadowy messengers from the temptress Hautia; she who was descended from the queen who first incited the kingdom of Mardi to wage war against beings with wings.[!] Despairing of ever achieving Yillah, the hero in the end turns toward the island of Hautia, called Flozella-a-Nina, or “The Last Verse-of-the Song.” “Yillah was all beauty and innocence; by crown of felicity; my heaven below:–and Hautia my whole heart abhorred. Yillah I sought; Hautia sought me. Yet now I was wildly dreaming of finding them both together. In some mysterious way seemed Hautia and Yillah connected.”

    The hero lands on the shore of Hautia’s bower of bliss. “All the sea, like a harvest plain, was stacked with glittering sheaves of spray. And far down, fathoms on fathoms, flitted rainbow hues:–as skeins-full of mermaids; half-screening the bower of the drowned.” Hautia lavished him with flowers, and with wine that like a blood-freshet ran through his veins,–she the vortex that draws all in. “But as my hand touched Hautia’s, down dropped a dead bird from the clouds.” And at the climax of the surrender into which Hautia had betrayed him, it was, between them, “snake and victim: life ebbing from out me, to her.”

    Later, in Pierre, Melville came to reflect upon “the inevitable evanescence of all earthly loveliness.” The nuptual embrace, he says, “breaks love’s airy zone.” The idealities of courtship, he wrote, “like the bouquet of the costliest of German wines, too often evaporate upon pouring love out to drink in the disenchanting glasses of matrimonial days and nights.” And Pierre exclaims: “By heaven, but marriage is an impious thing!”

    This darkly figured hieroglyph of Melville’s discontent was neither acclaimed by the public nor deciphered by Melville’s wife. Withal, Melville was now not only a husband, but a father besides; and for his income he depended solely on the earnings from his books. The reviewers had, in effect, given him clear warning that he could not support his family in luxury by the sale of cryptic libels upon it. Mardi had been followed rapidly by Redburn. Though his household at 103 Fourth Avenue was populous with relatives and visitors, he had shut himself away from the distraction of this varied company. In a letter to Hawthorne he later confessed: “The calm, the coolness, the silent grass-growing mood in which a man ought always to compose–that, I fear, can seldom be mine.” Endless bustle within the house; outside, as Mrs. Melville writes to her mother, screams of street vendors “continually under our windows in every variety of cracked voices”–screams in which the guests from Boston “find much amusement.” Mrs. Melville further writes that “Herman thinks I had better go back to Boston to see if the change of air will not benefit me,” but she could not bring herself selfishly to follow Melville’s solicitude: “I don’t know as I can make up my mind to go and leave him here–and besides, I’m afraid to trust him to finish up the book without me!” It was a life to enamour even a misanthrope to the family hearth.[?] To quiet them all momentarily, Melville would put them copying manuscript. Yet, despite everything, Melville had stuck to his desk. [end Weaver quotes, XXII-XXIV]    

    In this excerpt from Weaver’s essay, we see the continued juxtaposition of the rainbow “half-screening” the catastrophe; the productive silences broken by “cracked voices” and  “screams” are reminiscent of the trance that begins Pierre, shattered by Pierre’s marching off with Lucy’s crimson flower in his lapel; in Yillah and Hautia, as in Thomson’s Mother of Beatitude, bliss is mysteriously connected to the Mother of Annihilation: the Indian skull is interwined with flowers: a snaky image that rivets Nathan and prepares us for the fall into deism, science, and moral insanity: the child of Nature (Pierre as the massacred Indian) is finally arbored by crazy Isabel’s ebon vines. These are the symbols that rule the romantic imagination and adoring but priggish women have put them there; women who, like Jews, have too much power in the modern world and who, like Hautias and Sphinxes, make ceaseless war on “beings with wings.” “Where ‘dat old man?” The rest is anti-history: Isabel’s “All’s o’er and ye know him not” is tied to Billy Budd’s “God bless Captain Vere.” The defenses of the fathers are too dangerous to assail: having granted that, there is no way out of the labyrinth. “Where dat old man?” 

      I have led the reader through the Weaver underworld to avoid the errors of moralism and the defensive aestheticism generated in Melville, Thomson, and Weaver. An oppositional criticism should provide a non-violent alternative to the usual wars on artists and readers. Weaver’s conduct with regard to Eleanor Metcalf is not attractive; we want to understand the social relations that explain his last words on the matter of Herman Melville. The remainder of this chapter will examine Weaver’s repression of the critical evidence that Melville’s mental states were of tremendous concern to him and to his family. We will then try to account for Weaver’s assault on his own carefully nurtured reputation, placing key documents in his papers, literally coming out from behind Pierrot’s mask to expose his naked psyche.


[William Blake, circa 1793] I saw a chapel all of gold/ That none did dare to enter in,/ And many weeping stood without,/ Weeping, mourning, worshipping.

 I saw a serpent rise between/ The white pillars of the door,/ And he forc’d & forc’d & forc’d,/ [Till he broke the pearly door, deleted.] Down the golden hinges tore.

 And all along the pavement sweet,/ Set with pearls & rubies bright,/ All his slimy length he drew,/ Till upon the altar white

 Vomiting his poison out/ On the bread & on the wine./ So I turned into a sty/ And laid me down among the swine.    

 My Dear Mr. Weaver: Mr. Van Wyck Brooks told me this summer that you had gathered a number of details about Herman Melville that you weren’t at liberty to publish in your biography. I wonder if there is anything which would be of help in doing the little critical biography I’m engaged in for the Murray Hill Biography Series; anything, that is, which, without being divulged, might guide or enrich my own interpretation. It would be a great privilege & help if you would permit me to call upon you, at your convenience & discuss the subject. I don’t wish to start any hares that you’ve run to cover. Faithfully yours Lewis Mumford [Oct. 28, 1927]

 My dear Mr. Weaver, …I have been mulling over all the baffling problems that you opened out to me; and I wonder if you can throw any light on the following questions:

 1. When did Melville’s “attacks” definitely begin? 2. Do thy have any relation to the carriage accident? 3. At what dates did the Melville family attempt to put him away? 4. Was the aunt you saw in Boston Melville’s sister or his wife’s? 5. Are there any records of Melville’s services at the Customs Office? 6. When did Melville begin to suspect the paternity of his children?

 The fact that Melville’s wife couldn’t bear to mention his name, or that his son committed suicide does not necessarily throw any light on Melville’s disorder: if they did Dr. Smith Ely Jelliffe would be a candidate for the asylum, and Xantippe doubtless had similar feelings about Socrates. If the relations between husband and wife were venomous and terrible, it is hard to explain Bridegroom Dick (1876) & if the family were inimical, what is one to make of the subsidy that published Clarel?

    I am not trying to counter your facts: I am merely attempting to get them in line with other facts: and since, doubtless, you have asked similar questions yourself I should be grateful for your answer–even if the answer is, that there is no answer.

    With thanks again for your patience and courtesy…[Lewis Mumford to RW, Dec. 14, 1927. Buried in Henry Murray’s annotations to Pierre (1949) is the remark that Melville was “morbidly distrustful of his wife’s fidelity.” (478)]

 Dear Mr. Weaver: I am now finally cleaning up my Melville–the sprat alas! grew into a whale! and I feel, no less than at the beginning, my deep load of gratitude to you. I have tried to signify this in my preface: and I can only reiterate it in private: now matter how far we may differ in our interpretations of Melville, my own work could not have been done without yours and I humbly and gratefully acknowledge this….[October 1928, Mumford to RW, Weaver papers]  

 Dear Mark [Van Doren], Probably you will not have heard, unless in a roundabout way, that Raymond had last week a threatening heart attack. Fortunately the worst of came while he was actually in a specialist’s hands, and in the hospital…The trouble is diagnosed as coronary occlusion. But the prognosis is good if Raymond will consent to manage his energies carefully. And the convalescence will be a slow one. I think he is resigned to this, and naturally he knows that we will want him to take care of himself. He is now in a better state of mind, perhaps, than he has been in for some time….[H.R. Steeves, July 10, 1946]

 Minute for the Faculty of Columbia College upon the Death of Raymond Weaver [.] The death of Raymond Weaver on April 4, 1948, removed from the Faculty of Columbia College one of its most powerful and beloved members. Except for the three years, 1912 to 1915, which he spent as teacher of English in Hiroshima, Japan, he had devoted forty-two years of his life to this academic community. Born in Baltimore in 1888, he came as a student to Columbia College and graduated with the degree of Bachelor of Science in 1910. He was made Master of Arts in 1917; instructor in English in 1917, associate in 1919; assistant professor in 1923; associate professor in 1937; and professor in 1946.

     Raymond Weaver was one of the great teachers in modern times. He cared for his subject; and for his students, with an intensity which kept him always in immediate contact with whatever was personal, important, and alive. The trivial, the neutral, did not exist for him. Poetry was a world in which he naturally lived, sharing its pleasures and its terrors with whose whom he knew. One of his students has written: “To be a great teacher and still to be one’s self, retaining the fine salt of one’s own character–this, too, was within his compass.” And a colleague has said: “He was personally and intensely implicated in every idea he ever dealt with. He related every moment of the classroom to life, and his vision of life was heroic.” Poetry for him was not something that other people wrote and read. It truly and simply existed for him and his students. His concern was never with what Dante and Shakespeare and Homer reflected or represented, but with what they knew and felt in their own souls.

   Raymond Weaver’s death is an irreparable loss to many colleagues in many departments of the University. Without bending his will to please others, he gained universal regard by his unceasing devotion to the profound and the beautiful. His courtesy was unimpeachable, as was his tenderness to those who knew him best. He might have spoken the words that Keats wrote in a letter to his friend Benjamin Bailey: “I am certain of nothing but of the holiness of the Heart’s affections and truth of Imagination.”

   In 1921 he published Herman Melville: Mariner and Mystic, a book which established the modern reputation of its subject and which remains the indispensable biography of a great American writer. In subsequent years he edited from manuscript such works of Melville as Journal up the Straits and the magnificent tale of Billy Budd, a literary treasure which the world owes to his efforts. In 1926 he published Black Valley, a distinguished and successful novel. And he was editor of other volumes. But these things the public has already judged and received into its favor. What only the Columbia community knows is that it has lost a completely irreplaceable man. [Signed] Dino Bigongiari, John Angus Burrell, Andrew J. Chiappe, Mark Van Doren 

 Dear Mrs. Erskine, I have resigned my instructorship here at Columbia–an enterprise exciting enough to me, for I leave with very mixed emotions. Most should I have liked the advice of Professor Erskine. But I had to act rapidly–and have taken the step. I am teaching next year at the Brooklyn Polytechnic–with promise of real and almost immediate advancement. From one point of view I have entered into the wilderness: but at Columbia was wilderness also–though at Columbia there are a very few golden voices. Professor Thorndike was on the whole inclined to encourage my departure. He said he could not advance me here: that his policy must be to use ‘cheap labor’ (the phrase is his) for most of the undergraduate work. He implied that I cheapened myself by staying on here so surrounded: that my final prospects were better if I at this time made my declaration of independence….[Raymond Weaver, July 2, 1919.] Weaver was reading Melville for the first time; his Nation article appeared one month later listing his affiliation with Brooklyn Polytech. In 1921, RW told friends he was to write a biography of Disraeli (which never came off, nor are there notes. In 1922, back at Columbia (when?) RW wrote to Erskine: he had been offered as associate professorship at Amherst, he complained that he was “very tired now–used up by piecing out my life on the stint that I am paid, and in the end getting nowhere beyond each year a little added work and the armed forbearance of those who have blocked me.” Later that year, RW effusively praised Erskine’s Collected Poems; in 1928, he abjectly apologized for having forgotten to teach Erskine’s class on Macbeth. On 17 March 1929, Weaver told Erskine he must seen him: “I’m going into the hospital–and before I’m normal again, you’ll be sailed….”In 1939, Weaver was being considered for the head of the Rutgers English Department (Folder 20).]

 Dear Mark: Who can tell where the lightning’s going to strike! It hit me out of a clear sky–though fantastically enough, the bolt was delivered by hand, wrapped in paper, and by a messenger who smiled a silly kind of kindness as if he hadn’t the smallest realization of what explosives he carried.

   Your Robinson book of course. Mark, it’s gorgeous! I haven’t been so happy, and so moved, in many a day. It has sent me out of my mind (and I’ve read it twice)- you must forgive my intemperance.

   With the madness first upon me, I telephoned Cornwall to confess it. But I got a voice that sounded dead black. That gleamless voice seemed to intend to say that you were out–having driven Dorothy to the station (this was on Sunday night, around 8-thirty.) Still possessed, I resolved to telegraph you. I walked out, found a Postal place, and indited a long night-letter. The operator was a son-of-a-bitch. “Your address,” he said”–Falls Village, Cornwall. Connecticut–there’s no such place.” “I can believe that,” I said. “Yo’ can?” he drawled, with gallows [sic] of phlegm around his wind-pipe as he drawled it. ‘Yo’ ought’a know you can’t send a telegram to two places at once.”

   With this, I got as mad as Hell! I wanted to tell you, as straight and as quick as I could, that I was a lunatic: i.e., that I was so enthusiastic over your book that I knew my enthusiasm to be a rare burst of wisdom on my part: and I wanted to thank you.

   So I cursed out that operator, called him a jack-ass and a fool, tore up the telegram, and walked to 59th Street to regularize,–if I could– my blood. For, having read your book immediately upon its arrival, I had gone out and bought all the best of Robinson I didn’t already have, and plunged into him. What this did to me! I’ve read so much bad poetry in my life that I had, to the moment when your book arrived, boasted a superior sophistication in rating poetry as being pretty much just something to vomit upon.

   Then, the miracle. I read your book–dived into Robinson–recognized what poetry can be–went batty–and in that state of higher grace resolved that all writing that isn’t poetry isn’t worth looking at….[RW to Mark Van Doren, 7 June 1927]

 Dear Mark: I got back early this morning from a week-end in Long Island feeling very fit and set-up. As always, I was short of cash–so I took the manuscript of the Melville book to 59th Street–The Carnegie Bookshop–and offered it for $200. They didn’t blink an eye and said they were sure they could sell it–at a “considerably advanced price” to themselves. I don’t believe they will sell it….[RW, 9 Sept. 1935]

 Dear Mark: [From Honolulu, where he has been on Sabbatical]…As you know, I can be very slow on the pick-up. This has been true of me in my relations with these Islanders. The “best” families are descended from Missionaries–and some of them have been very hospitable to Burrell & me. All the while I never gave a thought to the fact that Melville had expressed himself bitterly about these same missionaries–calling Dr. Judd, the ancestor of one of the most pretentious of the island families “a sanctimonious apothecary adventurer.” I had never given a thought to the fact I had expressed myself contemptuously of these same missionaries.–And only the day after I had very recently been entertained by some of their descendants did I discover that the brother of my hostess (the brother being a Walter F. Fryar, an old boy, formerly governor here) had just published a pamphlet on “Anti-Missionary Criticism” instigated by Melville in particular and me in large parenthesis. Here, it seems, they still tenderly nurse a grudge what once seemed to me self-evident truth–and now that I am reminded of it again, still does.

     The urge in me is to write you what would turn out to be a sociological treatise on this island–its extraordinarily interesting mixture of population,–its blind provincial isolation,–its internal policies, as a Chinese-Hawaiian Irishman at the university recently said, in the hands of “unscrupulous men of wealth, church-going men ‘of noble missionary stock’ whose grandfathers brought the word of God here, and acquired most of the land by a violation of the Seventh Commandment,”–its—-: if I don’t choke myself off, this windy start will land hurdle [hurtle?] me into the void. Im now in the midst of reading Korzybski’s Science and Sanity (one of the most interesting books ever written…), and as a result should be a little less incautious in committing further “semantic disturbance”–an ideal phrase to infuriate the Edmon’s in their Platonizing….[30 April, 1939.]


     It is difficult to analyze Raymond Weaver’s behavior without understanding his identification with Melville. Both writers complain that they are damned by dollars, enslaved by Mammon, muzzled by the market: they dare not tell the Truth. And yet they chokingly blab (with “gallows of phlegm”): Melville with his anonymous monarchist threatened by the American mobocracy, or his graffiti (which express either Tory sentiments or the coexistence of Tory and communist beliefs, cf. “Daniel Orme” “omitted” from Billy Budd); Weaver with the gossip which reached the ears of Van Wyck Brooks, his revelations to Lewis Mumford and Jay Leyda, and the letters, self-portrait, and memoir which repose in his papers at Columbia. Both men viewed “madness” as instinctual liberation which went too far, and worried about their possible “insanity.” Both men could be variously tender and abusive; both felt they had to vindicate their moral purity and loyalty to dominant institutions, yet both thought they should have told the truth (which is a sign of autonomy and self-respect), though it be plucked from underneath the robes of Senators and Judges or the skirts of Fanny Kemble and Cousin Josie. Unable to resolve the contradiction between truth and order, both men protected their innocence by denying the existence of truth but fretted about corrupt expedients, taking their case to posterity.

    Late in life, Melville and Weaver put themselves on trial: Melville in the unpublished “Billy Budd,” Weaver in the unpublished memoir of his gentleman’s agreement with Eleanor Metcalf to protect Melville from the imputations (of insanity, abusiveness, homosexuality?) which could diminish his stature as a “deep-diving” artist; an agreement which Weaver failed to keep. Presumably the ambiguous character of the facts they place before us, the jury, will absolve them of responsibility for the wounds they have inflicted on others. Or perhaps we will see that in art and life they were victimized by forces which, for Melville at least, were too powerful to resist: swindling snake-eyed scientists, modern women, and Mammon, all of whom had blackened the valleys with industrial capitalism and revolts on the ragged edges of female genitalia. Perhaps Weaver’s memoir is a counter-object to Billy Budd. More manly than the acquiescent and womanish Billy Budd (in his student David Rein’s reading), Weaver would strike a blow for freedom, untying pink tape, re-ordering the too-neat bundles deposited in a little boy’s trunk. Or perhaps both these scenarios are operating: defiance coexists with a Calvinistic sense of sin in the psychology of the scapegrace: Pierrot’s white make-up covers the mark of Cain.


   It is impossible to know exactly when Raymond Weaver wrote the curious document that we now examine; like “Pierrot Philosophique,” it is undated. However, given his sense of drama and his identification with Melville, it is possible that Weaver wrote it very late in life, perhaps during the “two-year illness” which preceded his death in 1948.  Weaver’s memoir is hand-written in black ink on thirteen white leaves of heavy paper, hand-cut, 5 7/8″ by 6 7/8″. Affixed to some of the pages are letters, cards and envelopes that document his assertions. There are no page numbers.

   A letter from Carl Van Doren written on Nation stationery and dated July 1, 1919,begins the story: it is an indication of the lack of respect the “real” father of the Melville revival had for the difficulties of writing a competent essay on a challenging artist.

 Dear Mr. Weaver: I find we shall have to ask you for a short article on Melville–not more than 2500 words. As the article must fit exactly into four columns, please try to make it come out 2400-2500 as nearly as possible. As to time, why the sooner the better, tooter the sweeter. His anniversary is August 1. Our  issue nearest that is August 2. How about July 20?

      As you will see, and as I’ve said before, you will have to confine yourself to some special phase of Melville’s achievement or character or art. Sincerely, Carl Van Doren.

   Weaver’s text begins:

A letter from Carl Van Doren [underlined]. Some days previous be [sic] had been seated besides each other at an English Department Dinner.–It was this that started it all. He had said to me: “You know, there will soon be a centenary of Herman Melville. He was a wonderful old boy–and I’d like to do him myself. But if you’d try him, I’m willing.”

   I knew almost nothing of Melville–beyond the fact that Brander Matthews had mentioned him in course. I’d begun Typee–and stopped at the beginning. So, with Carl Van Doren’s offer, being unhampered with information, I feel [sic] in with his request. I thought: “I’ll read a few South Sea travel books, examine Melville’s official biographies, and turn out an adequate article.” The following day, I visited Columbia library, to find books and books by Melville–an indecent spawning–and no “official” biographies at all. So I consulted Poole’s index–to learn, by the references, that Melville had started off well enough, but went wrong, somehow–living to an incredible forty years of sedulous obscurity.

   I read him–with gaping wonderment and incredulity. I also bought him. A first edition of Moby-Dick, in 1918 [sic], could be had for less than a dollar. I picked up easily enough a complete set of him. Duplicates, when they were offered me as pleading gifts, I charitably bought: in my excitement they seemed incredibly inexpensive gifts of an excitement I feared to credit, to unconverted friends. Moby-Dick’s that now are unpurchasable at $200 I scorned at the piracy of anything over a dollar. [This could date the memoir; records of auction prices for Moby-Dick first editions confirmed my surmise that it was written between 1946 and 1948, however, in his review of Mumford’s Melville study, 1929, Weaver also mentions a $200 price for a first edition.] Evidently, I did not view Melville as an investment. He was an excitement, rather–a kind of indulgent madness vastly interesting to myself, but not trusted to wholesale consumption.

   I went to the Faculty Club for Sunday Lunch. A ruddy stranger sat at my table. Who this intruder was I had no idea. “I’ll talk of something remote” I resolved. So I mentioned Martin Luther’s preference for polygamy; I’d the day before chanced upon it in some reading. My rosy dining companion grew rosier, “I took a dissertation on that in Germany” he said. He started to lecture me with Teutonic endurance. I wanted to change the subject.

  “I’m working on Herman Melville,” I said.

  “Melville?’–he repeated. He brighted [sic] hatefully. “Didn’t he live in Pittsfield?”

   I had to admit that in so far as I knew Melville had.

   “My uncle’s librarian in Pittsfield” he said. ‘If you want to get in touch with what survives of Melville’s family, he might tell you. Here’s my card.–

   A card printed with the name of Mr. William Walker Rockwell, and addressed “To Mr. H.H. Ballard [,] The Berkshire Athenaeum” introducing Weaver is pasted on the bottom of this page. The following page contains a letter from Robert C. Rockwell headed by the statement “Mr Ballard (who turned out to be no Ballard at all) answered as follows:….” Only the first page is included and is dated June 24, 1919; it describes the holdings of the library. We may surmise then, that the English Department dinner took place  earlier in June, and a longer article was originally planned.

   [Weaver continues:] “So I wrote to Mrs. Morewood. To my surprise, the answer came from Melville’s daughter. This is it: [The envelope and letter are attached.]

My dear Mr. Weaver, I have just received a letter of yours written to my cousin Mrs. Morewood, and this is merely in acknowledgement of it. You were evidently misinformed as to my proper address. I enclose card for  

correction. I am quite willing to have you write a life of my father, Herman Melville, but fear I can not help you very much. I shall be obliged to put the matter in my daughter’s hands, as I am in ill health, and have serious trouble with my eyes. I shall be above address for the summer. Very sincerely yours, Frances Melville Thomas. [On a small card]: My daughter to whom I refer it. Mrs. Henry K. Metcalf[,] Wellesley Hills[,] Massachusetts [,] Woodlawn Ave.” [Dated July 9, 1919]

   Weaver’s text continues:

    Mrs. Morewood, evidently, wanted to keep her hands clean of Melville. And Melville’s daughter, in her turn, was passing the buck.

   I wrote to Mrs. Metcalf. I have no record of the initial correspondence. But I vividly remember urging her (evidently against provocation) of the importance of getting recorded all that was known of Melville: that a man who has published a dozen volumes had thereby ceased to be a private personality–a public character, rather, at the mercy of anyone who drew his own conclusions from the published books–and the loquacity of the Hawthorne family and friends: that Julian had imputed against Melville a clean-gone madness: that I[‘]d read Melville and lost my own mind: that I needed a little anchorage in fact for my own insanity.

   Mrs. Metcalf lived out of Boston. I went to Boston to call. We neither of us knew the other–so I was happy to be accepted for tea. This left both of us without involvement (it sounds, in retrospect, as if the ghost of Hawthorne were presiding!). Either of us might hate the other: and meeting at tea made the meeting merely experimental.

   It rained when I left Boston. On the train I naturally wondered what I was coming to. When I came to Wellesley Hills, it was still dismally raining. A suburban station–but not absolutely deserted. Mrs Metcalf herself was there. And [sic] English-looking woman, with flat-heels, a rain-coat, and a bad breath. She had a taxi.

   “This weather is enough to provoke conversation” she said at once on the way to her home; “but you don’t want to talk about the weather. So I’ll tell you at once the worst–though I trust you as a gentleman as to what you’ll ever publish.”

   She said: “You say in your Nation article, that Melville was happily married. He wasn’t.”

   And before the short ride to her house was over, I felt that Melville was a man of even deeper secrets than I had expected.

   We opened the trunk of manuscript–as I’ve recounted in an article that follows.

      Always. it rained.[8]

      Of all people, Eleanor Melville Metcalf turns out to be an Isabel: she has shattered the myth of the happy family; she must be exposed and punished. We may now see the dynamic that links good mothers, bad mothers, and two kinds of bad Jews: the commercial Jew (Mammon) and the radical (scientific) Jew. Weaver’s narratives begin to tell a coherent story, one that links the attempt to dump Trilling in 1936 with the exposé of the Melville women and the insanity they have generated.


    Mother’s sin lay in her creation of the blissful connection with the infant, only to sever and withdraw herself in moments of separation (birth, weaning, expression of difference, critical judgment delivered as disapproval); in withdrawal, she becomes a killer; the bad mother has replaced the good. The powerful Jew (enslaving Mammon) could be a projection of the indignant abandoned child’s desire to control and punish mother for wandering off.[9] Disguised as Knight, the cleansed and innocent (cupid) may now rescue the good nurturing mother from her persecutor (Mammon, who is a projection of the child’s forbidden wishes and filthy facts), to reinstate the lost Eden. But along comes the scientific Jew, a regular Freud, a cover for the uninhibited and blabby “modern woman”: s/he peers and probes into the cupid’s mind and flesh, spots him as a greedy parricide.[10] The happy family is revealed as fraud, but so is the rescue: the Knight masked Dragon. Consequently, he may justly be annihilated for his crimes against the family/state. Baby dons the black and white costume of Pierrot and mocks brains, “dreams,” “crusaders,” and facts, i.e., history, materialism and the search for truth.

…My mother [Sophia Hawthorne], in talking of former times, spoke of Melville as most interesting & fascinating, but as if he had a wild Spring in him, like all untamed creatures, and he could not always be followed. Perhaps he did not like the mise en scene so well in England, as that of the little red cottage in Lenox. But I do not remember any remarks in that regard. [From Mother M. Alphonsa Lathrop to RW, August 27, 1920; attached to the Weaver memoir at Columbia]

[Weaver:]   The greatest of all dreamers conquer their dreams; others, who are great, but not of the greatest, are mastered by them and Melville was one of these. There is a passage in the works of Edgar Allan Poe that Melville may have pondered when he awoke at the helm of the Acushnet after looking too long at the glare of the fire: “There are moments when, even to the sober eye of reason, the world of our sad humanity may assume the semblance of a hell; but the imagination of man is Carathes to explore with impunity its every cavern. All the grim legion of sepulchral terrors cannot be regarded as altogether fanciful; but like the demons in whose company Afrasiab made his voyage down the Oxus, they must sleep or they will devour us–they must be suffered to slumber or we perish. [Weaver, M & M, 152, marked in my library copy.]

 …It all ended one day when Mendon had Janice on the rack. He had taken her to a deep-hidden torture room and locked a great succession of doors behind him. At last he was ready to kill her and take her secrets that had made her mistress of all conceivable universes. At his order she willingly stripped and stretched herself on the rack. Mendon began heating the irons. If she told quickly, he would keep her alive for a while, for as long as was convenient to him, she could live here in the dungeons which she now seemed to love. If she was stubborn, she would die here at once and painfully.

      He was all wound up with excitement and he was about to begin by ramming a red hot iron up into her sexual parts when he found himself suddenly grabbed from behind. Two factors held him while a third released Janice Orr who donned a long modest (and concealing) grey robe that he had brought.

   “My power is subject to one limit,” she told the foaming Mendon,” a very paradoxical limit. Its only limit is that I cannot limit my power. I cannot tie myself down with any “now and forever”, the words have no meaning. Half of the secret of my power,” she smiled at the shivering man, “is my knowledge of telepathy which enablem [sic] me and my advisors to know what you were planning all along and only to accept what we willed of it.” Mendon, slavering, writhing in fear threw himself prostrate at her feet but she merely raised a hand in signal to a factor who blew his brains out with a single shot from a heavy caliber piston [sic].

   Janice told the good news to a happily sobbing Fluerry and consoled her poor mad sister whom she still did not trust out of her cage. As she turned away to go back to the little room under the eaves, Fluerry trembled as she heard her sigh and say, “Ah, me! Now I shall have to find another man to torture me.” [S.T., a middle-manager? at Armstrong Cork Company, 12-31-46, Sadomasochism Collection, UCLA Special Collections.]

                                                                   IN A LITTLE ROOM UNDER THE WINTRY EAVES

      There is a grayness to Eleanor’s character in Weaver’s rendition: “Always. it rained.” Eleanor was both the loyal nurturer and  the frank and feisty modern woman, a woman who does not hesitate to take charge of a delicate situation. When Hildegarde Hawthorne expressed her “astonishment and disgust at seeing the Hawthornes (in Weaver’s account) accused of being the evil geniuses of Melville’s career, and the intimacy between the two men derided as ‘ironical’,” Eleanor staunchly defended Weaver.[11] Eleanor’s memoir of 1953, Herman Melville: Cycle and Epicycle, tended to stand with Melville and Weaver against the women in the family (including Augusta, who admired Jesus’s rod, and her own mother, Frances Thomas). 

    But in Weaver’s testament, Eleanor has “flat-shoes, a rain-coat, and a bad breath”: she is the poisonous and poisoned modern woman he obsesses about in all his writings, and with whom he is fused: the double who does his dirty work by choking off emotion, disconnecting him from the experience of his body. “On the train naturally I wondered what I was coming to” degenerating Weaver muses as he heads toward his first encounter with Eleanor, hoping for “a little anchorage in fact for my own insanity.” Is it “we” or is it  “she” who has opened the trunk of manuscript, which along with her confidential “secrets” is as menacing as Pandora’s box; as disastrous as the blackened valley left by (the dwarf) Weaver’s insight into the hypocrisy of the sentimental  family; undoubtedly the myth that Weaver hated swallowing as a boy, and which he partly coughed up in the Gnostic black masses of a homosexual rebellion (but not in his essay of 1919 for the Nation). 

      Eleanor’s crime was probably her ambiguity: what was she and what did she want from Weaver? How could he please her? From Weaver’s side (and assuming the story is not a fantasy) it sounds as if Eleanor wanted to unburden herself of her anger, but without blemishing her family’s reputation and her idealized memory of her grandfather (whose eyes followed her in his portrait, and who pretended to be a jolly cop in her reminiscences). Melville’s lecture on the statues of Rome is only one example of his family’s dedication to pristine character and self-control, to the stoicism that buttresses its respectability, class identity and authority (as managers and intellectuals: the right to command the labor of others, to formulate social goals, to describe social reality). But “stoicism” may cover the systematic suppression of feeling, cultivating impassibility in families when authority appears to be unfair, contradictory, indefinite and unreliable. For rage denies the reasonableness, happiness, purity and closeness of the lovely family which keeps them afloat; expressing rage drowns them in failure and loss of status; holding it in is equally damaging. It seems as if the family reproduced both its exasperation and fear of exposure generation after generation. Eleanor could hardly wait to tell Weaver about the difficulties in her family, but then she pledged him to secrecy, joining him to her family’s crazy-making insistence on both truth and order.  But in demolishing the myth of Melville’s happy marriage (Weaver’s defense against his own aggression: how could Weaver have read Melville and thought he was happily married?), Eleanor may also have been the emblem of  (Jewish) divisiveness in the same way as that confusing intellectual Jew, the anti-aesthete but art-loving Lionel Trilling, who had once taught that art is made in a context of class conflict (Marx) and ongoing struggle between individual desire and social welfare (Freud): a critical methodology opposed to organicist idealizations and painless conformity.

     To some conservative Melville scholars, bohemian aesthetes, liberals and socialists are the same: as a “rebel” and anticapitalist, Weaver theoretically should not have objected to another dissenter like Trilling. But Weaver was a scapegrace and a bohemian, not a liberal or a left radical: we remember that Weaver’s Calvinist contrition lingers, it pops out in “Pierrot Philosophique,” as it does in his deathbed confession.[12] Reading his papers, one may infer that Weaver’s hatred of passivity covered over his desire for punishment and atonement: we are confronted with a disturbed imagination, not a political strategist, a point which brings us back to the issue of insanity and the choking, weedy deaths which finish Pierre, Ahab, and Billy Budd.

    It is clear from his resentful and fearful writings that Weaver believed he and Melville were (at times) both “insane” and defiled by duplicitous and potentially ruinous women; yet they must deny it to avoid more persecution from the type of good/bad woman who first makes you crazy and then tries to put you away when you write a book exposing her (the storm after Pierre). In 1919, Weaver made a gentleman’s agreement to keep the Melville family secrets; he might have felt that he had once more sold his soul to get the esteem he illicitly craved: why else would he have hidden salient facts of his academic career?

     Weaver’s memoir, hand-cut to approximately six by seven inches (and not too neatly), is close to the size of the Billy Budd ms. leaves (6″ by 8″) “we” discovered in 1919 when Pandora opened the trunk, the ms. dimensions specified in the essay of 1931. In an episode of graceful failure sometime before his death in 1948,[13] Weaver impersonated Melville (but rectified both the passivity of Billy Budd and his acquiescence in the cover-up) by leaving a “testament of resistance”: his memoir which certainly insults Eleanor but also makes its author look like a sick man, a cad and an opportunist. Perhaps Weaver’s last swipe at Eleanor recouped his manhood (which may have been nibbled away as he ingratiated himself with powerful men), but it may also have been a Melvillean reproach and cry for reform. Weaver pleads to Eleanor (a woman with too much power in the modern world, like another woman who had made him): I wanted facts that are roots and anchors in a world of poseurs. Instead you gave me sensational “secrets” which, if kept, would only further bind me to the confusing family I abhor, the family which imprisoned me behind this degrading white clown mask. Eleanor’s discretion, as he had predicted, put two public characters, Melville and Weaver, “at the mercy of anyone who drew his own conclusions from the published books….” That is, who might spot the overly compliant child aswirl in a vortex of impenitent rebellion.

   But this too perceptive sharp and nosy common reader was always himself: murderer and victim recognize each other, kiss and kill. Weaver and Eleanor/Melville are Ahab; Weaver and Eleanor/Melville are the Whale. Intertwined like Pierre and Isabel, like Billy and the oozy weeds, they live out the whaleness of Narcissus into Eternity: “there are so many secrets curdled/ curled up inside our scrofulous/ scrupulous embrace.” [14]

 [1] Quoted in Thomas Hughes, Memoir of Daniel Macmillan (London: Macmillan, 1883), 18-21.

[2] Weaver, BV, 58-61. Murray told me he couldn’t read this book.

[3] “Political and Social Satire in Herman Melville,” n.d. Rein was Columbia ’33. His quite excellent and accurate paper (although, like Weaver, contemptuous of the female relatives), written from the left and informed about labor history, is in Folder 14, Weaver papers. Rein recognizes throughout Melville’s awareness of social hypocrisy and “the imminent peril of being honest,” views Ahab as the “defiant spirit of man,” and concludes with a critique of Melville’s irrationalism and its harm to Melville himself: “Out of all Melville’s divings he had returned only with doubt. He failed to reach that attitude which sees the universe as a repercussion of cause and effect, which regards every movement and thought, the whole social system, as the conglomerate effect of alterable causes–this, I believe was his greatest weakness, if not as a  writer, at least as a thinker and man. He could become no greater than an Ahab or a Pierre–could do no more than burst forth in a wild spasm of unreasoned emotion, and then, as in Billy Budd, fall prostrate and acquiescent.” Given Weaver’s writings on BB (Introduction to the Short Novels of Herman Melville, Liveright, 1928, then the Macy anthology of 1931, replicating the 1928 analysis), Weaver’s interest in Rein’s critique is crucial to an understanding of his own ambivalence. But both Weaver and Rein suppressed the possibility of Melville’s subterranean radical, materialist identity. Melville was not a “mystic,” unless  Weaver was thinking of radical puritans such as the antinomian Anne Hutchinson or the New Light radical sectaries of the English Civil War period.

 [4] Weaver papers, Folder 19, n.d. The doorknocker at 22 Frances Street, Murray’s Cambridge home, was a whale. (Also the whale image on Murray’s note-paper to me, the smiling whale on envelope to Leyda, almost used in Log.)

[5] Walter Benjamin, Illuminations, ed. Hannah Arendt (New York: Shocken paperback, 1969), 242.

 [6] Undated; a short but identical description of aestheticism, with a critique, is found Joseph Freeman’s autobiography, unattributed, but obviously the ideas of “Dr. Weaver.” An American Testament, 154, 155.

 [7] Quoted in Hershel Parker’s dissertation which persuasively argued that Melville’s family was conservative, not democratic in the sense that Parker thought liberal Melvilleans were using the term. But Parker views Melville, like Gansevoort (the other debater in the family), as cynical and opportunistic in his stance as democratic reformer, and entirely removed from contemporary politics during the Pittsfield years when he was writing Moby-Dick and Pierre. Parker uses “politics” in a more restrictive sense than do I. As for Melville’s alleged reeking insincerity, the record can be read that way, but it is not my sense of what Melville was doing. Anyway, as Milton said, only God can detect that kind of fraud.

[8] The Weaver article that deals with the contents of “the trunk” is the 1931 essay for the John Macy anthology, described above. Eleanor Metcalf dates her first meeting with Weaver in October 1919.

 [9] Cf. pornography in Julius Streicher’s Der Stürmer: the Jew Louis Schloss who whipped, branded and defiled young Aryan girls. The case is described in Randall L. Bytwerk, Julius Streicher (New York: Stein and Day, 1983), 148-153.

 [10] The evidence supports Erich Fromm’s running critique of Freud’s excessive reliance upon infantile sexuality. In the material that I have examined, the issue is the fear of a sudden turnabout by mother, that the child feels contaminated by rage against domination, or poisons the family when he attempts to resolve dualisms (male vs. female), i.e., blur distinctions maintained by conservative elites. Incest may be associated, not with sex, but either with miscegenation or with a cleansing pain that restores family harmony. I have taken my critique of Freud further than Fromm, however. In the Terror-Gothic classics that I have read, sexuality is linked to the insatiable curiosity of the upstart autodidact. Thus sex is a sub-set of forbidden knowledge; physiologically, it seems to melt defenses and bring up rebellious feelings normally suppressed by veterans of authoritarian families. The material in the sadomasochism collection at UCLA suggests that pain purifies impudence, enabling pleasure to be experienced after the ritual purification. At the same time, the ritual reinforces class identity in the petit-bourgeoisie, and is literally a performance of its social relations with classes above and below, and a promotion to a higher level: i.e., “transcendence.”  

[11] The Literary Review, Feb. 4, 1922, 406, carried the Hawthorne letter; Eleanor’s unpublished response is in the Weaver papers (I could not find it in the LR). As she would in her memoir of 1953, Eleanor criticized her relatives for insensitivity: “Most frequently [the artists’] descendants are less capable of patient inquiry and true critical judgment than others. Families per se have not intrinsically better understanding of the souls of their members than others. Is not the reverse more often true? It seems to me this is just where Miss Hawthorne has made her initial mistake. She has allowed her perfectly natural pride in her precious heritage to obscure her critical faculty, even to the length of imputing “bad taste, spitefulness and sneering scorn” to one who has in my judgment written a most delightful and illuminating chapter on the two men…There is no more an “attack” on her grandmother than there is on my own, Herman Melville’s wife. They are both shown in what the author believes to be their true relationship to the subject of his biography.”…[Weaver papers, Columbia University] 

 [12] The deathbed confession is my fantasy of the memoir. More significant is Weaver’s tragic letter to Mark Van Doren from Payne Whitney Clinic, strongly suggesting that nurture terrified Weaver, in my opinion, because he felt unworthy and therefore expected probingly maternal doctors and nurses to turn on him. The Van Doren letters were read after I wrote the first drafts of this dissertation; I had not discovered  Weaver’s history of mental illness until spring, 1989.

 [13] Or anytime after 1931 when the Macy anthology appeared, see 203-204.

 [14] From an excavated draft of unpublished poem, signed C. Augusta Dupinstein, defective detective et juif errant.

October 23, 2009

Murdered by the Mob: Moral Mothers and Symbolist poets

Mad Kate

Mad Kate

In my own quiet way, I am attempting to revise “psychoanalysis” by inspecting the imaginations of individual artists, many of whom died early. Raymond M. Weaver of Columbia University was the first modern biographer of  Herman Melville; he was also an uncloseted gay man, an author, and possibly a sadomasochist. Numerous subsequent Melville critics attacked his biography as “Freudian” and Weaver himself as a radical.  James Thomson (“B.V.”) was an English nineteenth-century radical journalist and poet, author of The City of Dreadful Night, and was an admirer of Melville, who reciprocated his interest. All three men came from Calvinist backgrounds, but can be seen as pagan in their sympathies.

In this excerpt from an unpublished ms., I use the Melville-Thomson-Weaver triad to probe the sexual and class politics of some Symbolists as they encountered “the modern woman” (for them, the moral mother as Goddess of Annihilation/the Mob). We begin with the perception that Weaver was a radical insurgent, a liberal, or a Freudian; I will try to more fully describe Weaver’s social imagination: we shall see that Weaver, like other Romantics and Symbolists, led a double life, oscillating between the defiance and capitulation we have seen before in the contrasting postures of romantic and repentant Wandering Jews. Quotes from rare sources are used throughout, using my collage technique. The blog is rated X. (For part two see Since the essay is a collage, I shall take the name of  Fuseli’s Mad Kate for my interpretative comments.

[Hughes on Daniel Macmillan, 1837, 58-59:] [Daniel Macmillan’s] recovery was slow, and he had to spend the next two months in Scotland, this time for the most part in towns where he came across numbers of mechanics and weavers, a sad contrast to the poor peasants of Arran, intercourse with whom had so cheered him three years before. “The discontent of the lower classes is most painful in itself,” he writes, “in the form it takes, and the spirit it springs from. How different was the old Covenanter spirit. These Covenanters were most noble. They fought for God’s truth, and wished to rid the earth of whatever was an abomination to the Lord. Duty was the highest thing to them, and they struggled hard to obey its behest. Their boldness was not a brutal, vulgar, ignorant temerity, without reverence, without faith, but solemn and noble. I feel sure of this, notwithstanding Sir Walter’s graphic misrepresentations. I have often talked with some of the remnant of that old stock,–a few who still keep alive the holy flame,–and know what true refinement lies at the bottom of their noble natures. But, alas, that race is becoming quite extinct. The poor men, the mechanics, weavers, and the like in our towns, care not one farthing for the Covenant, or for those deeper matters of which the Covenant was a symbol. They know nothing about duty or faith, or God; they care only about their rights; they talk only about reform, universal suffrage, from which they look for justice and deliverance from oppression. They do not look up to God for help in the old-fashioned way. This may be a ‘progress of humanity,’ and all the rest of that jargon, but I, for one, cannot admire it.”

[W.B. Yeats, Early Memories, MCMXXII, 21] Sometimes here in New York I have wandered into apartments and among people where they were running some great factory for the production of opinion, anarchist, socialist, pacifist, I know not what. The din seemed that of the trenches, only that instead of heroism and the sobering effect of great issues on which man stand face to face with death itself, we have small antagonisms and vanity and temper, always temper, and instead of intensity, vehemence; and pitiful mental and moral squalor of men trying to dominate, and with that end in view quite content to be shallow in feeling as in thought; quite willing, also, to insult with ugliness and to make themselves ugly–in fact, anything for effect! To be with my old friend was like entering a shaded parlor, its quiet only broken by the rustling noise of a fire burning briskly on the hearthstone.

[The Grand Conspiracy of the Members against the Minde, of Jewes against their King, by John Allington [a sequestered Divine], London, 1653:] An example strongly convincing me, that even the Law and light of Nature, were it not clouded with carnall and perverse affections, even that glimmering light were enough to teach the minde, that resist we may not against God’s ordinance.

[Shelley, “Passage from The Wandering Jew”:] The Elements respect their Maker’s seal!/ Still like the scathed pine tree’s height,/ Braving the tempests of the night/ Have I ‘scaped the bickering flame./ Like the scath’d pine, which a monument stands/ Of faded grandeur, which the brands/ Of the tempest-shaken air/ Have riven on the desolate heath;/Yet it stands majestic even in death,/And rears its wild form there.

[W.B. Yeats, The Trembling of the Veil, 1922, 58-60:] I know very little about myself and much less of that anti-self: probably the woman who cooks my dinner or the woman who sweeps out my study knows more than I. It is perhaps because nature made me a gregarious man, going hither and thither looking for conversation, and ready to deny from fear or favour his dearest conviction, that I love proud and lonely things. When I was a child and went daily to the sexton’s daughter for writing lessons, I found one poem in her School Reader that delighted me beyond all others: a fragment of some metrical translation from Aristophanes wherein the birds sing scorn upon mankind. In later years my mind gave itself to gregarious Shelley’s dream of a young man, his hair blanched with sorrow, studying philosophy in some lonely tower, or of his old man, master of all human knowledge, hidden from human sight in some shell-strewn cavern on the Mediterranean shore. One passage above all ran perpetually in my ears–“Some feign that he is Enoch: others dream/ He was pre-Adamite, and has survived/ Cycles of generation and of ruin./ The sage, in truth, by dreadful abstinence,/ And conquering penance of the mutinous flesh,/ Deep contemplation and unwearied study,/ In years outstretched beyond the date of man,/ May have attained to sovereignty and science/ Over those strange and secret things and thoughts/ Which others fear and know not.”…Certainly if wisdom existed anywhere in the world it must be in some such lonely mind admitting no duty to us, communing with God only, conceding nothing from fear or favour. Have not all peoples, while bound together in a single mind and taste, believed that such men existed and paid them that honour, or paid it to their mere shadow, which they have refused to philanthropists and to men of learning?

[Axel to Sara, Axel’s Castle, MCMXXV:] The external world! Let us not be gulled by the old slave who sits fettered in broad daylight at our feet and promises us the keys of an enchanted palace when his clenched sooty fist hides only a handful of ashes!

[Mad Kate:] In both his 1919 essay on Melville and in the 1936 attack on Lionel Trilling, Weaver had distanced himself from “Freudians,” perhaps too vehemently. A receipt in his files show that he was reading The Psychology of Insanity while researching the Melville book; Joseph Freeman wrote that Weaver had introduced him to Freud through A.A. Brill;[1] meanwhile unpublished letters to John Erskine and Mark Van Doren suggest or indicate that he was under psychiatric (probably not psychoanalytic) supervision shortly before his death, and probably earlier. Before we examine these and other Weaver materials at Columbia University, I shall draw out Weaver’s intellectual debt to the Romantic tradition, particularly to the Victorian poet and radical reformer James Thomson (“B. V.”), whose affinity to Melville is well known, but has not been analyzed in the Melville scholarship. Weaver frequently cites Thomson in Mariner and Mystic; the politics of Sphinxes and Medusas are plainly drawn in Thomson’s Symbolist poetry.  Thomson admired Shelley, whose sequence of poems: Queen Mab (1813), The Mask of Anarchy (1819), Beatrice Cenci (1819), and Prometheus Bound (1820), suggests the pattern of revolt and recantation one sees in Hawthorne, Melville, Thomson, and Weaver. For instance, in The Mask of Anarchy, “written on the occasion of the massacre at Manchester,” Shelley advises “the many” to passively resist future assaults by “the few” by resolutely refusing to answer violence with anarchic violence, thus shaming their persecutors who will reform and desist.[2]

Perhaps these pure young men and the readers who respond to their art react furiously against illegitimate parental authority and excessive punishment by “bitter and biting” sainted mothers, but then turn their contaminating aggression inward.  Romantic defiance seeks the inner check to preserve the family: Comes now the repentant Wandering Jew, following, not truth, but longing for the violent death of annihilation or the easeful death of oblivion, “conquering penance of the mutinous flesh” thus “attained to sovereignty and science over those strange and secret things and thoughts which others fear and know not.”[3] Such asceticism, both admired and resented by (the child in?) Yeats, is an evasion of personal history that protects the pure and Christ-like suffering mother. The ancient witch archetype makes sense to these “allegorical” writers and their witch-hunting friends not because of a “collective unconscious” or because they simply copy other writers or because they are inscribed with a cultural code or because mothers (not fathers) socialize children. Rather, my collected witch-hunters share an unusable past, partly or entirely repressing the same searing memory: the now benignant, now malignant evangelical mother whose flashing eyes and burning criticisms implied abandonment and death to the child who has been too needy, dirty, rude, or unhappy and who persistently asks the “why” question. Such writers will create “doubles” to confront the abusive parent whom they may never cease to idealize; but the double will die, dying only to return in another costume.

James Thomson said he was thinking both of Dürer’s figure of Melencolia[4] and the Victorian Radical George Eliot when he constructed the heroic female figure who rules his City of Dreadful Night, but it is possible that he also drew upon Shelley’s Wandering Jew fragment (while installing his own pessimism into Melencolia’s “tenebrous regard”) for Thomson’s Melencolia does not suffer from writer’s block, as does Panofsky’s. Here She is:

[Thomson:] Anear the centre of that northern crest/ Stands out a level upland bleak and bare,/ From which the city east and south and west/ Sinks gently in long waves; and throned there/ An Image sits, stupendous, superhuman,/ The bronze colossus of a winged Woman,/ Upon a graded granite base foursquare.

Low-seated she leans forward massively,/ With cheek on clenched left hand, the forearm’s might/ Erect, its elbow on her rounded knee;/ Across a clasped book in her lap the right/ Upholds a pair of compasses; she gazes/ With full set eyes, but wandering in thick mazes/ Of sombre thought beholds no outward sight….

Unvanquished in defeat and desolation,/ Undaunted in the hopeless conflagration/ Of the day setting on her baffled prime.

Baffled and beaten back she works on still,/ Weary and sick of soul she works the more,/ Sustained by her indomitable will:/ The hands shall fashion and the brain shall pore,/ And all her sorrow shall be turned to labour,/ Till Death the friend-foe piercing with his sabre/ That mighty heart of hearts ends bitter war.

But as if blacker night could dawn on night,/ With tenfold gloom on moonless night unstarred,/ A sense more tragic than defeat and blight,/ More desperate than strife with hope debarred,/ More fatal than the adamantine Never/ Encompassing her passionate endeavour,/ Dawns glooming in her tenebrous regard:

The sense that every struggle brings defeat/ Because Fate holds no prize to crown success;/ That all the oracles are dumb or cheat/ Because they have no secret to express;/ That none can pierce the vast black veil uncertain/ Because there is no light beyond the curtain;/ That all is vanity and nothingness….

…Her subjects often gaze up to her there:/ The strong to drink new strength of iron endurance,/ The weak new terrors; all, renewed assurance/ And confirmation of the old despair.[5]

[Mad Kate:] Throughout Melville, Thomson and Weaver, I have found an obsession with this Mother: the outwardly beguiling and impressive but inwardly terrible Nature goddess of the fatherless nineteenth century: with “the instruments of carpentry and science scattered about her feet” Melencolia is a Promethean figure of science, artisan revolt, and indomitable aspiration, like Milton’s Mammon, turning sorrow into labor, but whose “full set eyes…wandering in thick mazes of sombre thought” crazily pore into the heart of things…to discover the void which Thomson’s desperate characters had asserted earlier in the poem.   Following the logic of Thomson’s imagery in this and other works, however, Melencolia may not have discovered anything; rather, she has created the void by destroying all meaning in the universe with her “tenebrous regard,” with the eyes that belong not to “science” or to the process of introspection, but to the punitive mother crucifying the furious but cowed and silent child, and carrying not only her own deadly disapproval, but his.

The abused child is trapped through introjection of the cruel parent’s judgment; by internalizing the parent’s point of view with masochistic self-punishment and/or the sadistic punishment of other “evildoers,” the child is temporarily relieved of the dragging burden of anxiety brought up by filial opposition, specifically, the sense that his anger has poisoned the family well, that he has brought greyness to a clearly delineated black and white world. Disowning or repenting of his world-destroying feelings, the purified ex-rebel child/man stands tall to declare  “objectively” that all striving for knowledge, goodness, and happiness is misguided, pointless and dangerous; revolution, even reform, is “vanity” or terminal narcissism: the unpardonable sin of excessive self-regard.

[This passage refers to Melville’s “crazy” novel, Pierre, or The Ambiguities (1852).] The apple of the tree of knowledge  (which confers knowledge of both good and evil) has turned to ashes in the mouths of Milton’s rebel angels (the snakylocks); after Pierre learns of his idealized father’s duplicity and tries to rectify this hero-worship by blending previously split images of happy and sad father (a view which brings him into opposition with his mother), he dissociates. After Pierre recovers his “composure” he looks inside himself to see a charred landscape, a frightening image which presages the final catastrophe. We are to conclude that there is no truth, there are only “rebel senses,” “points of view,” and dauntingly endless ambiguities. However, such melancholy formulations may not be hard-won bold and risky “truths.”  Before we acquiesce in the ever more fashionable attacks on the Enlightenment,[6] we might consider how convenient such drastically subjectivist and anti-materialist epistemologies most certainly are and have been to conservatives and reactionaries in class societies bent on monopolizing learning: terrorizing the many in order to limit the impious curiosity and self-confidence of, say, public library patrons that threaten to delegitimize established authority. We look to earlier passages in Thomson’s poem and a predecessor, To Our Ladies of Death (1861), to propose a source for Melville’s Mortmain[a disillusioned ex-revolutionary in Clarel], and the imagery which expressed Raymond Weaver’s nihilism (in his own view, apparently, sadomasochism) and the rationalization for his destructive behavior–but also which may have prepared him to grasp some of the pressing structures in another Ishmael’s psyche.


[James Thomson:] …Some say that phantoms haunt those shadowy streets,/ And mingle freely there with sparse mankind;/ And tell of ancient woes and black defeats,/ And murmur mysteries in the  grave enshrined:/ But others think them visions of illusion,/ Or even men gone far in self-confusion;/ No man there being wholly sane in mind.

And yet a man who raves, however mad,/ Who bares his heart and tells of his own fall,/ Reserves some inmost secret good or bad:/ The phantoms have no reticence at all:/ The nudity of flesh will blush through tameless,/ The extreme nudity of bone grins shameless,/ The unsexed skeleton mocks shroud and pall.

I have seen phantoms there that were as men/ And men that were as phantoms flit and roam;/ Marked shapes that were not living to my ken,/ Caught breathings acrid as with Dead Sea foam:/ The City rests for man so weird and awful,/ That his intrusion there might seem unlawful,/ And phantoms there may have their proper home….

“Who is most wretched in this dolorous place?/ I think myself; yet I would rather be/  My miserable self than He, than He/ Who formed such creatures to his own disgrace.

“The vilest thing must be less vile than Thou/ From whom it had its being, God and Lord!/ Creator of all woe and sin! abhorred,/ Malignant and implacable! I vow

“That not for all Thy power furled and unfurled,/ For all the temples to Thy glory built,/ Would I assume the ignominious guilt/ Of having made such men in such a world.”

“As if a Being, God or Fiend, could reign,/At once so wicked, foolish, and insane,/As to produce men when He might refrain!

“The world rolls round for ever like a mill;/ It grinds out death and life and good and ill;/ It has no purpose, heart or mind or will….”

Man might know one thing were his sight less dim;/ That it whirls not to suit his petty whim,/ That it is quite indifferent to him….” [James Thomson, City, 1874.] [7]

[Raymond Weaver:] Full divers times I fall a thinking,/ Thinking of this life on earth,/ Thinking of the scheme of man,/ Thinking of his roles from birth;/ Thinking how he strives and masters,/ Falling, how he braves disasters,/ Thinking how he shirks square labors,/ Rough cabals onto his neighbors;/ How cunningly he strokes designs,/ To cull the gold from strait confines,/ Until at last, I fall ablinking,/ Blinking in my cushioned chair.

Witness man’s affections waver,/ How untruly full they savor;/ Mastered still by earthly passions,/ Yet impelled by Gobbo’s fashions;/ How unaptly reigns his reason,/ Yet how choicely tricks in season./ Thinking, thinking, thinking, thinking,/ Then I tire in my chair,/ Fidget, wriggle, turn to visions/ And my heart falls in despair./ Nature’s dogmas, planned to follow,/ Leave no loopholes fools to wallow,/ Nature’s laws are last decrees,/ Rendered final, how they tease,/ Enigmatic, sealed, charaded,/ E’er long it was light evaded./ Seeing that ’tis useless picking,/ I subject me to the licking.

Yet postulatum humbly offered,/ If in spirit fair ’tis proffered,/ Can’t but lessen, if a mite,/ The burden of the clouded sight./ This life is but a quickened vision,/ Reserved for men of fast decision,/ Replica’d in salient phrases,/ Birth and love and death that razes,/ This cosmic unit whole, entire,/ Is but a ghastly bog of mire,/ For him who waits and waits and waits,/ And him who prates and prates and prates. [“A Soliloquy,” R.W., Headlined “He Philosophizes on Life, In Poetry. ‘R.W.’ Waxes Poe-esque in Anathemmatizing [sic] the Cosmic Unit.” Oct.4, 1919, Evening Sun. Weaver papers; he was working on the Melville biography.]

[Thomson:] Next Thou, O sibyl, sorceress and queen,/ Our Lady of Annihilation, Thou!/ Of mighty stature, of demoniac mien;/ Upon whose swarthy face and livid brow/ Are graven deeply anguish, malice, scorn,/ Strength ravaged by unrest, resolve forlorn/ Of any hope, dazed pride that will not bow.

Thy form is clothed with wings of iron gloom;/ But round about thee, like a chain, is rolled,/ Cramping the sway of every mighty plume,/ A stark constringent serpent fold on fold:/ Of its two heads, one sting is in thy brain,/ The other in thy heart; their venom-pain/ Like fire distilling through thee uncontrolled.

A rod of serpents wieldeth thy right hand;/ Thy left a cup of raging fire, whose light/ Burns lurid on thyself as thou dost stand;/ Thy lidless eyes tenebriously bright;/ Thy wings, thy vesture, thy dishevelled hair/ Dark as the Grave; thou statue of Despair,/ Thou Night essential radiating night.

Thus have I seen thee in thine actual form;/ Not thus can see thee those whom thou dost sway,/ Inscrutable Enchantress: young and warm,/ Pard-beautiful and brilliant, ever gay;/ Thy cup the very Wine of Life, thy rod/ The wand of more voluptuous spells than God can wield in Heaven; thus charmest thou thy prey.

The selfish, fatuous, proud and pitiless,/ All who have falsified life’s royal trust;/ The strong whose strength hath basked in idleness,/ The great heart given up to worldly lust,/ The great mind destitute of moral faith;/ Thou scourgest down to Night and utter death,/ Or penal spheres of retribution just.

O mighty Spirit, fraudful and malign,/ Demon of madness and perversity! The evil passions which may make me thine/ Are not yet irrepressible in me;/ And I have pierced thy mask of riant youth,/ And seen thy form in all its hideous truth:/ I will not, Dreadful Mother, call on Thee….[To Our Ladies of Death, James Thomson, 1861. Thomson chooses the mother of oblivion, rejecting both this annihilating Isabel (the precursor of the Queen who rules the City of Dreadful Night); and the “gracious mother” for whom he is not worthy.]

[George Eliot:]  Dear Poet,–I cannot rest satisfied without telling you that my mind responds with admiration to the distinct vision and grand utterance in the poem which you have been so good as to send me.

Also, I trust that an intellect formed by so much passionate energy as yours will soon give us more heroic strains with a wider embrace of human fellowship in them–such as will be to the labourers of the world what the odes of Tyrtaeus were to the Spartans, thrilling them with the sublimity of the social order and the courage of resistance to all who would dissolve it. To accept life and write much fine poetry is to take a very large share in the quantum of human good, and seems to draw with it necessarily some recognition, affectionate and even joyful, of the manifold willing labours which have made such a lot possible….M. E. Lewes [George Eliot to Thomson, defining good workers, May 30, 1874]

[Thomson:] Dear Madam,…I have no Byronic quarrel with my fellows, whom I find all alike crushed under the iron yoke of Fate, and few of whom I can deem worse than myself, while so many are far better, and I certainly have an affectionate and even joyful recognition of the willing labours of those who have striven to alleviate our lot, though I cannot see that all their efforts have availed much against the primal curse of our existence. Has the world been the better or the worse for the life of even such a man as Jesus? I cannot judge; but I fear on the whole considerably the worse. None the less I can love and revere his memory….

I ventured to send you a copy of the verses (as I ventured to send another to Mr. Carlyle) because I have always read, whether rightly or wrongly, through all the manifold beauty and delightfulness of your works, a character and intellectual destiny akin to that grand and awful Melancholy of Albrecht Durer which dominates the City of my poem….[James Thomson to George Eliot, June 18, 1874, in Henry Salt’s biography of Thomson, owned and marked by Melville (Eliot on labor and order).]

[Mad Kate:]  James Thomson’s religious and political views are said to have shifted from conservatism to pantheism to pessimism and “confident atheism” during his career as a journalist and poet,[8] but his biographers have not studied the continuities in his image of woman, or the childhood experience of early and devastating loss which, like Herman Melville’s, guaranteed that his “politics” would always be grounded in the irrational.  Thomson was an insomniac and an alcoholic who, like Weaver (but unlike Melville in Pierre), was loath to discuss his childhood directly: he did not consciously attack his parents, but displaced his resentment onto nature, reformers, and powerful Jews (as in his essay “An Old Jewish Firm”, attacking Christianity), viewing himself as “Ishmael in the desert from my childhood.”  Like Melville’s family, Thomson’s experienced a “fall in the social scale.” In the autobiographical sketch he provided for his sister-in-law shortly before his death from alcoholism, Thomson demonstrates the selective memory that implicates himself and a “terrible storm” as chief villain and author of his distress:

[Thomson:] “I was just past eight years old and at the school when mother died, so I can only give you very early impressions. These are, that father and mother were very happy together when he was at home, until, when I was about six, he [a sea captain] returned from his last voyage paralyzed in the right side, the result, as I understand, of a week of terrible storm, during which time he was never able to change his drenched clothes. Before then I think he was a good husband and a kind father; her I always remember as a loving mother and wife. He may have been a bit gay, in the sense of liking a social song and a glass, being, I believe, much better looking and more attractive in company than either of his sons. She was more serious, and pious too, following Irving from the Kirk when he was driven out. I remember well Irving’s portrait under yellow gauze, and some books of his on the interpretation of prophecy which I used to read for the imagery. The paralysis at first unhinged father’s mind, and he had some fits of violence; more generally his temper was strange, disagreeable, not to be depended upon. I remember him taunting her with her being his elder. Mother must have had a sad time of it for a year or so. His mental perturbations settled down into a permanent weakness of mind, not amounting to imbecility, but very, very different, I should say, from his former brightness and decision. Before I went to the school he used to take me to chapels where the members of the congregation ejaculated groaning responses to the minister’s prayer, and to small meetings in a private room where the members detailed their spiritual experiences of the week. Good, bad, or indifferent, these were not the sort of things with which he had anything to do in his days of soundness….

I think mother, who was mystically inclined with Edward Irving, had also a cloud of melancholy overhanging her; first perhaps, from the death of her favourite brother, John Parker Kennedy, drowned on the Goodwin Sand; then probably deepened by the death of my little sister, of whom I remember being devotedly fond, when she was about three and myself five, of measles caught from me. Had she or someone else lived [which one?!], I might have been worth something; but, on the whole, I sincerely judge that it was well for both to die when they did, and I would not, for my own selfish comfort, call them back. At first I would have doubtless have done so, but not for many years past.” [Salt, 3,4. Salt, an English Melvillean, mentions the widespread impression that Thomson inherited his imagination from mother and his dipsomania from father; then suggests that whatever the inheritance, Thomson’s nature contained warring elements of cheerfulness and constitutional melancholia.(5)]

[Mad Kate:] To review this family history (mostly ignored in Schaefer’s revisionist work), but restoring its chronology: At age five, Thomson’s beloved little sister dies of the measles, caught from her devoted brother. At age six, hostile nature destroys his father’s physical and mental health, throwing the family onto the charity of others and subjecting James to an unvaried regimen of Calvinist guilt and self-loathing. At age eight (through the intercession of a friend of mother’s), James is admitted to school (the Royal Caledonian Asylum); mother dies shortly afterward, partly of grief at the loss of the little sister who caught James’ measles. At age eighteen there is more trauma: Thomson meets a fourteen-year-old Angel, Matilda Weller, “the beautiful young girl whose love he won, and whose sudden death was the heaviest calamity he ever endured.” [Salt]

Keeping this personal history in mind, we may infer that Thomson’s three goddesses represent a process; that they are not three separate figures, but symbolize the longings and fears that follow sensual indulgence. The child whose mother demands moral purity and family loyalty, or else, will idealize his mother and feel unworthy of her love; contemplating his secret sins he turns away from any optimistic ideology promising either earthly or heavenly paradise. Unconsciously, he probably resents the relentless demands which crush his sense of self-worth and his capacity for enjoyment, just as he must have resented the intrusion of his little sister, a feeling he may not entertain: he could feel that his anger has killed these (three) angels.

In a revolutionary period, the little monster encounters images that both attract and terrify him. Other victims –mantled in virtue and Reason, carrying the Promethean lamp and wielding the sword of political struggle, their snakylocks blowing in the wind–are rising everywhere to expose and punish deceptive and illegitimate authority.[9] But instead of identifying with the militant oppressed, he sees them as an incarnation of his omniscient Mother/Christ whose eyes are everywhere, punishing him for the sins the poor attribute to the rich and which good evangelical mothers such as Maria Gansevoort, or Mrs. Macmillan, or Mrs. Thomson, or Mrs. Weaver would have tried to defeat in their children: selfishness, jealousy, lying, indolence, sensuality. His mother’s wrath and his answering resentment are both projected onto the all-too alluring and all-too-destructive mob.  He seeks the third Mother who embodies the anaesthesia of oblivion because he cannot bear the memory of his infernal rage, feelings which he unconsciously believes killed his rivals or his persecutors, perhaps also preventing him from rescuing the beautiful mother from father.

Thomson fears becoming father: the sinking, drunken, crazy, violent victim of the terrible storm. He and his affinity group describe themselves as “insane” because they feel possessed by the Infernal One when they think angrily about the persecution of the young and other helpless victims; they are losing control (“poise” and “balance”): they must be irrational to resent the loss of their independence: that is how Western culture had explained and stigmatized such levels of mobbish defiance. They must turn themselves to stone. But while in their cups (or in their dreams), defenses may relax; the vision of early childhood returns. Tenebriously, they suddenly see the “purity” of women as a trap: the whiteness and the promesse de bonheur of the smiling virgin conceals the black heart of the bloody avenger who unpredictably turns on the “naughty” child or who sends her “only recruit” off to die in battle. In the imaginations of Melville, Thomson, and Raymond Weaver, the connections between the Mother of Beatitude and the Mother of Annihilation are heretically exposed, like the crimson flower that creeps or seeps onto Lucy’s white pillow in the opening scene of Pierre. Yillah and Hautia, or Lucy and Isabel, or Thomson’s first two Ladies of Death, are aspects of the same figure (which Melville at least partly understands), and are projections of a writer who has remained fused with the mother: The sinless bearer of eternal bliss and the malicious god (or goddess) are split images of both good/bad mother and good/bad child.

[D.H. Lawrence, 1947:] Sex must go somewhere, especially in young people. So, in our glorious civilization, it goes in masturbation. And the mass of our popular literature, the bulk of our popular amusements just exists to provoke masturbation. Masturbation is the one thoroughly secret act of the human being, more secret even than excrementation. It is the one functional result of sex-secrecy, and it is stimulated and provoked by our glorious popular literature of pretty pornography which rubs on the dirty little secret without letting you know what is happening…In the young, a certain amount of masturbation is inevitable, but not therefore natural. I think, there is no boy or girl who masturbates without feeling a sense of shame, anger, and futility…[which deepens] into a suppressed rage, because of the impossibility of escape…And this is, perhaps, the deepest and most dangerous cancer of our civilization…The only positive effect of masturbation is that it seems to release a certain mental energy, in some people. But it is mental energy which manifests itself always in the same way, in a vicious circle of analysis and impotent criticism, or else a vicious circle of false and easy sympathy, sentimentalities. The sentimentalism and the niggling analysis, often self-analysis, of most of our modern literature, is a sign of self-abuse…This is just the same whether it be a novel or a work of science. The author never escapes from himself, he pads along within the vicious circle of himself…The real masturbation of Englishmen began only in the nineteenth century. It has continued with an increasing emptying of the real vitality and the real being of men, till now people are little more than shells of people. Most of the responses are dead, most of the awareness is dead, nearly all the constructive activity is dead, and all that remains is a sort of shell, a half-empty creature fatally self-pre-occupied…emptier and emptier, till it is almost a nullus, a nothingness. But null or nothing as it may be, it still hangs on to the dirty little secret, which must still secretly rub and inflame…”You may put it to death publicly a thousand times, and still it reappears, like a crab, stealthily from under the submerged rocks of the personality.” We must join the “proud minority” who want to escape from the vicious circle…The greatest of all lies in the modern world is the lie of purity and the dirty little secret. The grey ones left over from the nineteenth century are the embodiment of this lie. They dominate in the society, in the press, in literature, everywhere. And, naturally, they lead the vast mob of the general public along with them. Which mean, of course, perpetual censorship of anything that would militate against the lie of purity and the dirty little secret, and perpetual encouragement of what may be called permissible pornography, pure, but tickling the dirty little secret under the delicate underclothing. The grey ones will pass and will commend floods of evasive pornography, and will suppress every outspoken word. [10]

[The sea Crabb, published 1867]  ITT: was a man of Affrica had a ffaire wiffe,/Ffairest that ever I saw the dayes of my liffe:/ with a ging, boyes, ginge! ginge boys, ginge! taradiddle, ffaradiddle, ging, boyes, ging!

This goodwife was bigbellyed & with a lad,/& ever shee longed ffor a sea crabbe./ ging & c.

The goodman rise in the morning, & put on his hose,/ he went to the sea syde; & followed his nose./ ging &c.

Sais, “god speed, ffisherman, sayling on the sea,/ hast thou any crabbs in my bote for to sell me? ging & c.

“I have Crabbs in my bote, one, tow, or three;/ I have Crabbs in my bote for to sell thee.” ging & c.

The good man went home, I ere he wist,/& put the Crabb in the Chamber pot where his wiffe pist. ging & c.

The good wiffe, she went to doe as she was wont;/ up start the Crabfish, & cacht her by the Cunt. ging & c.

“Alas! quoth the goodwiffe,” that ever I was borne, the devil is in the pisspott, & has me on his horne.” ging & c.

“If thou be a crabb or crabfish by kind, thoule let thy hold goe with blast of cold wind”   ging & c.

The good man laid to his mouth, & began to blowe,/ Thinkeing therby that they Crabb wold lett goe.

“Alas!” quoth the good man, “that ever I came hither,/ he has joyned my wife’s tayle & my nose together!” ging & c.

They good man called his neigbors in with great wonder,/to part his wives tayle & his nose assunder. ging & c. [11]

[Mad Kate:] Charles Maturin, clergyman and eccentric author of the Gothic novel, Melmoth The Wanderer, had told his parishioners that only Christianity had elevated woman: she was neither slave nor toy; mothers had the sacred responsibility to mold infant character, but gently, as Christ would have done, to forestall social revolution.   In Weaver’s 1926 novel, Black Valley, one of the female missionaries gloats over the power Christianity has conferred upon women in the home (“Say what you will, that’s one thing Christianity has done for the world,” Mrs. Shea swept on contentiously. “It has improved the home!–Why out here they don’t know what love is!….” BV, p.65) In Weaver’s fantasy, women fight amongst themselves to carry off innocent young men. Young Gilson lives with his missionary parents, Alurid and Monica Wilburforce, in sensual, clean, feudal Japan. He is having a secret affair with a gorgeous and exciting modern Japanese girl, an admirer of Nora and Salome, who will discard him once she has captured his seed and become pregnant. His pure and clinging mother is dying of breast cancer; an evil older woman named Gracia West, Gilson’s friend and a “Socratic demon,” arrives from America to take over his life. A Mother of Annihilation, acting, she says, in Gilson’s and his agonized mother’s interests, she smothers Mrs. Wilburforce with a pillow and takes the liberated Gilson back to America.[12]

[1] Probably the popular Bernard Hart, The Psychology of Insanity(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1912). Joseph Freeman unfinished letter to Dr. Fries, June 20, 1947, Freeman Papers, Hoover Institution. Freeman does not say when Weaver began to read Freud, nor the title of the Brill which Weaver gave him.

[2] See H.S. Salt, A Shelley Primer (London, 1887). Salt likens the Wandering Jew to Shelley: “he roamed from place to place and settled nowhere.” The geography is a metaphor for ambivalence of the kind I am describing in this study. Salt was an English Melvillean and source of the story that William Morris was a Moby-Dick fan, for which I have found no confirming evidence in the Morris materials at the Clark Library, for instance, in the auction catalog of his library.

[3] And yet the ambiguity remains: is Shelley conquering his asceticism or is he subduing the mutinous flesh? The two plausible readings express the unresolved ambivalence I have seen in every Symbolist here described.

[4] See Erwin Panofsky, The Life and Art of Albrecht Dürer (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1955), 156-171. For Panofsky, “Melencolia I” represents the despair of the artist incapable of metaphysical thought (e.g., conceptualizing angels or “extramundane nothingness”) ruled by Saturn, gifted at geometry, but mired in the concrete: “Winged, yet cowering on the ground–wreathed, yet beclouded by shadows–equipped with the tools of art and science, yet brooding in idleness, she gives the impression of a creative being reduced to despair by an awareness of insurmountable barriers which separate her from a higher realm of thought….”(168). At what point did physiognomy yield to art criticism as the preferred surveillance technique?

[5] The woman who rules the City of iron endurance, despair and terror is linked to the eternal Sphinx before whom an armed male angel progressively crumbles (in the passage immediately preceding these excerpts: these end the 55 page poem).

[6] I refer both to Hayden White-style radical skepticism, and the earlier ego psychology which abused science by a dogmatic loyalty to the status quo; each supports “pluralism” and claims to abhor “prejudice” but without the tools of the radical Enlightenment. Russell Jacoby’s Social Amnesia and The Repression of Psychoanalysis, took up the attack on “adjustment” therapies after Fromm, but with a Frankfurt School conservative pessimism that Fromm did not share. See Fromm, “The Crisis of Psychoanalysis,” 1970, and Greatness and Limitations of Freud’s Thought, 1980. For a classic statement of ego psychology’s peculiar sociology, see Gordon  Allport’s The ABC’s of Scapegoating, reprinted nine times since 1948. Allport deplores all “scapegoating” including labor’s scapegoating of business; Allport has taken a structural antagonism and turned it into a case of irrational projection. Anti-Semitism is rarely linked to the general attack on critical thought throughout the history of the West.

[7] The  passages in quotes from Canto VIII are overheard by the narrator; the speakers may be the phantoms in VII. Cf. Clarel (1876): Celio’s upbraiding of Christ, and the blackly defeated Mortmain’s revelations regarding the vapors and foam of the Dead Sea, representations of evil God and evil matter.

[8] William David Schaefer, Beyond “The City” (Berkeley: UC Press 1965), 77.

[9] Maurice Agulhon, Marianne into Battle: Republican Imagery and Symbolism in France, 1789-1880 (Cambridge: Cambridge U.P., 1981).

[10] D.H. Lawrence, From Pornography and Obscenity Handbook for Censors (Michigan City, Indiana: Fridtjof-Kula Publications, 1958). Reprinted from “Remember to Remember,” New Directions, 1947. In the Gill collection, Clark Library. The cover illustration in red and white (from Eric Gill?) shows a snake emerging from a nude woman’s thighs.

[11] From Bishop Percy’s Folio Manuscript Loose and Humorous Songs (London: Trubner, 1867). Percy Thomas was bishop of Dromore, 1729-1811. The copy of this book in the Clark Library calls attention to the poem in a pencilled notation inside the cover.

[12] Weaver is also identifying with an interesting female character, Frances, who falls apart when her fiancé, a ship’s captain whom she hardly knows, arrives to marry her. Given Weaver’s history of emotional distress, the story of Frances should illuminate his difficulties.

[illustration: Henry Fuseli, “Mad Kate,” 1806-07]

August 24, 2009

“‘The People’ is an Ass” (or a “Herd”?)

A Piranesi “prison”

Prior blogs have touched upon the lineage of so-called multiculturalism, a reactionary ideological offensive that confused individuals with groups and suppressed economic explanations for conflict and change in favor of cultural anthropological ones. As a manifestation of German Romanticism, it was an aesthetic theory buttressing a political structure: an irrationalist völkisch “aristo-democracy” (Herder). The German Romantics and their popularizers in England and America, men like Carlyle and Emerson, waved their supple poetic individuality, unique, yet imperceptibly diffused into race and nation and time itself as Schlegel had advised.

The aristo-democrats were the blooming correctives to the dessicating “mechanical” rationalism and universalism that had undergirded popular sovereignty for the seventeenth-century political theorist of constitutional democracy, John Locke. In the eighteenth century, Piranesi would visualize this Lockean world in a series of engravings, his nightmarish urban spaces/prisons. Lord Byron counterattacked with Lockean Prometheans, images of indomitable humanity: fatherless, yet kind, ameliorative and intellectually fortified. In the later nineteenth century, Piranesi’s desolate, gigantic scenes of torture would reappear in James Thomson’s poem The City of Dreadful Night, the City ruled by numeracy and literacy personified in Melencolia, the Queen patterned after both Dürer’s famous image of writer’s block, and George Eliot, Thomson’s contemporary, the realist novelist, author of Felix Holt, Radical. (See, and look for the passages on James Thomson.)

I have mentioned just a few instances of cultural conflict over accountability: the culture wars are fought over you and me, non-experts in an advanced, complex, and hierarchical, yet “democratic” industrialized society. Confident in the capacity of ordinary people to test their betters, Locke, like ourselves, was up against centuries of conservative antidemocratic propaganda on behalf of a tribal or feudal order where either Nature or arbitrary authority were taken for granted as immovable. Not surprisingly, social obligations (contracts) were vertical, links in the Great Chain of Being, not horizontal agreements between equals, each party theoretically free to walk away from a bad deal. Locke’s antagonistic contemporary, the proto-Tory Robert Filmer (d. 1653) summarized centuries of antidemocratic wisdom in his Patriarcha:

[Filmer:] “I know not how to give a better character of the people than can be gathered from such authors as have lived among or near to popular states. Thucydides, Xenophon, Livy, Tacitus, Cicero and Sallust have set them out in their colours. I will borrow some of their sentences.

‘There is nothing more uncertain than the people: their opinions are as variable and sudden as tempests: there is neither truth nor judgment in them: they are not led by wisdom to judge of anything, but by violence and rashness, nor put they any difference between things true and false. After the matter of cattle they follow the herd that goes before: with envious eyes they behold the felicity of others: they have a custom always to favor the worst and weakest: they are most prone to suspicions, and use to condemn men for guilty upon every false suggestion. They are apt to believe all news, especially if it be sorrowful, and, like Fame, they make it more in the believing: when there is no author, they fear those evils which they themselves have feigned: they are most desirous of new stirs and changes, and are enemies to quiet and rest. Whatsoever is giddy or headstrong, they account manly and courageous, but whatever is modest or provident seems sluggish: each man hath a care of his particular, and thinks basely of the common good: they look upon approaching mischiefs as they do upon thunder, only every man wisheth it may not touch his own person. It is the nature of them: they must either serve basely or domineer proudly, for they know no mean.’ Thus do their own friends paint to the life this beast of many heads. Let me give you the cypher of their form of government. As it is begot by sedition, so it is nourished by arms: it can never stand without wars, either with an enemy abroad, or with friends at home. The only means to preserve it is to have some powerful enemy near, who may serve instead of a king to govern it, that so, that they have not a King over them, for the common danger of an enemy keeps them in better unity than the laws they make themselves.” [end Filmer quote]

The foil to all this irrationality is of course the reformed queen/king; the paragon of moderation has renounced absolutist, arbitrary rule for a limited, constitutional monarchy: one that protects the body politic from combative and divisive “special interests.” Unlike the Cool Head with the Warm Heart, Filmer’s “people” are the locus of selfish individualism; the people are incapable of solidarity without an external enemy; the ever-befuddled people lack the self-control to separate inner voices and impulses from the outer world; the people have no self-respect: they may be servile or, given a measure of authority, they will whip their charges to extract obedience; i.e., the barbaric, headlong people have neither the taste nor the capacity for gentleness or politeness. Let them have outlets for their characteristic sadism and masochism, as Geoffrey Gorer proposed in 1934; ‘tis better than the trap of romantic love. After the second world war Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism popularized the notion of protofascist “mob society”–both cynical and gullible–in terms that echoed Filmer. Similarly, Todd Gitlin has claimed that the mounting Right-wing critique of the new curricula is best understood as a frenzied hunt for new scapegoats after the Cold War was won in 1989; Gitlin asserts that the presence of the Other provides the only source of “national identity.”

Return now to the seventeenth century. Responding to the autocratic Filmer, John Locke adumbrated his concept of legitimate authority. In The Second Treatise on Civil Government, Locke argued that monarchs were not beyond criticism, nor were the people so unbalanced that they could not assess their own interests and the performance of their protectors:

[Locke:] “The end of government is the good of mankind; and which is best for mankind, that the people should always be exposed to the boundless will of tyranny, or that the rulers should be sometimes liable to be opposed when they grow exorbitant in their use of power, and employ it for the destruction, and not the preservation, of the properties of their people?
     Nor let anyone say that mischief can arise from hence as often as it shall please a busy head or turbulent spirit to desire the alteration of the government. It is true such men may stir whenever they please, but it will be only to their own just ruin and perdition. For till the mischief be grown general, and the ill designs of the rulers become visible, or their attempts sensible to the greater part of the people, who are more disposed to suffer than right themselves by resistance, are not apt to stir. The example of particular injustice or oppression of here and there an unfortunate man moves them not. But if they universally have a persuasion grounded upon manifest evidence that designs are carrying on against their liberties, and the general course and tendency of things cannot but give them strong suspicions of the evil intentions of their governors, who is to be blamed for it? Who can help it if they, who might avoid it, bring themselves into this suspicion? Are the people to be blamed if they have the sense of rational creatures, and can think of things no otherwise than as they find and feel them? And is it not rather their fault who put things in such a posture that they would not have them thought as they are? I grant that the pride, ambition, and turbulency of private men have sometimes caused great disorders in commonwealths, and factions have been fatal to states and kingdoms. But whether the mischief hath oftener begun in the people’s wantonness, and a desire to cast off the lawful authority of their rulers, or in the rulers’ insolence and endeavours to get and exercise an arbitrary power over their people, whether oppression or disobedience gave the first rise to the disorder, I leave it to impartial history to determine. This I am sure, whoever, either ruler or subject, by force goes about to invade the rights of either prince or people, and lays the formulation for overturning the constitution and frame of any just government, he is guilty of the greatest crime I think a man is capable of, being to answer for all those mischiefs of blood, rapine, and desolation, which the breaking to pieces of governments bring on a country; and he who does it is justly to be esteemed the common enemy and pest of mankind, and is to be treated accordingly.” [end Locke quote]

Yes, there are demagogues, but they would have no credibility were it not for the excesses of the rulers. Taken with his statements on natural law, it is clear that Locke is not protecting private property as unlimited personal aggrandizement, but the confiscation of lower-class property and labor by tyrannical rulers–a crucial distinction for those who view Locke as an image of Filmer’s people: the “possessive individualist” par excellence. The radical liberal ideal of one set of rules for rich and poor alike and the assumption of rationalism upon which the rule of law depended was a radical innovation; it remains an advanced position and belongs in the democratic tradition, notwithstanding efforts to brand Locke solely as a hypocrite and supporter of slavery.

Tories and Whigs crucially differed on the educational potential of “the people.” If Nature’s God was a democrat for the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century progressive bourgeois, organic conservatives reclaimed Nature for the aristocracy. In antebellum America, Filmer’s good fathers were models for socially responsible slaveholders contrasting their benevolent paternalism with the cruelty of northern laissez-faire capitalism and class struggle. Indeed, the distinguished historian of the South, C.Vann Woodward, a participant in the Martha’s Vineyard conference on “Racism and Education” (excerpted in my blog on Pacifica, Part One) revived the southern apologist for slavery George Fitzhugh to lobby for organic conservatism as antidote to today’s mass society. Filmer’s image of “the people” would be indistinguishable from “the unconscious” in the social psychology espoused by many in the twentieth-century Progressive movement–conservative reformers responding to the rapid growth of industrialism and class warfare that Northern victory in the Civil War facilitated. Mass “irrationality” remains the argument for the eternal rule of philosopher-kings operating “in the public interest” in bureaucratic collectivist societies. While Lockean ideas of the common good have been co-opted, Filmer’s theory shades upper-class secret machinations from the blazing eyes of the lower orders. The unresolved debate between Filmer and Locke frames the work of the Yankee Doodle Society; our models of human capacity determine our politics as we face “the mischief…grown general” on our endangered planet.

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