The Clare Spark Blog

June 12, 2010

Preface to second edition of Hunting Captain Ahab

Posa's creator, Friedrich Schiller

His bosom glows with some new-fangled virtue,

Which, proud and self-sufficient, scorns to rest

For strength on any creed. He dares to think!

His brain is all on fire with wild chimeras;

He reverences the people! And is this

A man to be our king?

           — Schiller, Don Carlos, Father Domingo speaking


     I admit it. This is a passionately-written study of censorship and self-censorship that is also more detailed than most academic monographs. As a multi-voiced modernist collage, mining and organizing nuggets of revolutionary and counter-revolutionary thought spanning five centuries, it is unusually presented. I am preoccupied with vindicating Ahab as the explorer-creator who resides within Melville’s nervous imagination, reading and protesting the mixed-messages dispensed by the family and other confusing institutions insisting  that there is no conflict between the post-Enlightenment search for Truth and the maintenance of traditional Order. And why not? Captain Ahab, a stand-in for bemused autodidacts everywhere, is now routinely caricatured as a crusading madman, whose mistaken imputation of evil in his enemy and determination to “strike through the mask” of duplicitous authority is simply a ruse that covers up his own unquenchable and uncontrollable thirst for power and domination. Television writers and newsmen drop Ahab’s name and can expect a self-congratulatory nod from the reader, who would not be caught dead indulging in such narcissistic delusions and misguided rage. Given this apparent consensus of sobered-up Ishmaels, who would dream, say, of scanning the orations of Charles Sumner, the Senator from Massachusetts and Melville’s contemporary, whose antislavery resolve finds resonance in Ahab’s determination to grapple with Leviathan?

[Charles Sumner, 1848:] “This [new coalition of antislavery men] will be the Freedom Power whose single object will be to resist the Slave Power. We will put them face to face, and let them grapple. Who can doubt the result?”

 [Ahab, chapter 135:] “…Towards thee I roll, thou all destroying but unconquering whale; to the last I grapple with thee….”

       Before this book appeared, who has objected, with appropriately extensive evidence, to the misappropriation of this fictional character, this pre-Hitlerian Ahab and synecdoche for America ? And who has traced the shift by politically-motivated Melvilleans away from Ahab as Promethean artist/antebellum reformer, and toward Melville as prophet of totalitarian dictatorship in that subsequent blood-soaked black century doomed through unleashed mass politics?  I refer to those scholars and their followers who have been most responsible for the Ahab-tyrant connection: reacting to Raymond Weaver’s artist-Ahab, they were Henry A. Murray, Charles Olson, and Jay Leyda, whose intellectual biographies are attempted in chapters 6 through 9. Can a scholar care too much about the welfare of students and of other readers where Ahab-ish demystifications of hitherto idealized authority are concerned? Promethean readers would like to make distinctions between legitimate and illegitimate authority so that their own capacities for creativity and innovation are not warped, or their curiosity misdirected. Could it be that Melville’s alleged wife-beating (notwithstanding the lack of material evidence for such conduct) reflects discomfort with Melville as fist-shaking Ahab, avatar of radical Enlightenment (that forbidden rupture with the past suggested in Hawthorne’s “blood-incrusted pen of steel” that the latter associated with the Wandering Jew)? As a creature of  Enlightenment, should I tamp down my indignation that reforms in the humanities curriculum during the early 1940s that are specified here were constructed by ultra-conservatives intent on propagating “the tragedy of mind?” William Ellery Sedgwick (1899-1942), knew that he had found the key to Melville’s psyche as expressed in his art: Thinking can only take us from youthful utopianism and joy to mature and realistic desolation as we discover the foulness of human nature, or so he said posthumously, for he had suffered a heart attack in early 1942 under mysterious conditions, perhaps not the suicide that was rumored, and that I had reported as fact in the first edition. Harvard published his Herman Melville: Tragedy of Mind in 1944, and Jay Leyda sent this book (along with Matthiessen’s American Renaissance) to Sergei Eisenstein in 1946; it is still cited approvingly by Melvilleans. But Sedgwick’s stoicism could only depress and immobilize students trying out an adult identity with new-fangled virtues and intellectual skills that might alarm their families of origin.  Similarly “progressive” advocates of “organic unity” between generations and between ancients and moderns (like Sedgwick), had published with supporters of fascism and Nazism in the mid-1930s (pp.631-33, n.44), or were, like Leyda and Matthiessen, uncritical supporters of Stalin’s Soviet Union (chapter 8).

   So much for my closing/opening argument to the jury of readers, new and old. In response to helpful feedback from other Melville readers, there have been corrections or other refinements in some previous assertions about the personalities and politics of the Melville revival; I believe they strengthen the chief argument of my book: that Melville was ambivalently attracted to a positive view of the human capacity to uncover the secrets of the self, of nature, and of society’s mechanisms of control; that he was obliged, even driven, to resist inquisitorial internal and external voices, and that his (underground, partially erased) optimistic opinions continue to be repressed or marginalized by “moderate” Melvilleans; and that most established academic critics, defenders of the New Deal corporatist liberal state, aver that such radical protestant heresies as had existed in his pre-Civil War stage were mercifully transcended in Ahab-Melville’s conversion to Captain Vere. The irrepressible conflict engendered by Sedgwick’s fanatical abolitionist New England forebears turns out to have been repressible after all.

    The most fruitful corrections and additions to the hardcover book are these: two of Melville’s lengthiest Bible markings ( p.164), previously either unattributed or misattributed to St. Evremond), were actually extracted from major works by Goethe as translated by Carlyle: Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship, and Wilhelm Meister’s Travels. As Goethe scholar Jane K. Brown tells us, the confessional Wilhelm Meister novels encompass Goethe’s Faustian drive to boldly expand his creative powers and the equally urgent call for renunciation of such individualistic self-absorption to protect traditional  hierarchies and social cohesion, a need made more forceful in the wake of the French Revolution. Goethe’s movement from the boundlessly expanded and developed art-making self to the austere and contracted social self can be seen in the contrast between Ahab and Ishmael/Vere. But had Ahab been discarded?

[Schiller’s Marquis Posa:] “…grant us liberty of thought… Tell him in manhood, he must still revere/ The dreams of early youth….”

 [Evert Duyckinck, 1851:] “[Ahab is] the Faust of the quarter-deck.”

      I found in Carlyle’s The Life of Friedrich Schiller, and in Schiller’s play Don Carlos, suggestions that Melville’s “heretic” “irruption” never ceased: he was writing “Billy Budd” with a synopsis of Schiller’s motif  (“Keep true to the dreams of thy youth”) pasted to the interior of his writing desk, perhaps to warn against lapsing into conformity with Vere’s mob-managing “measured forms.” What were those youthful dreams about? Glory, fame, or the uncircumscribed freedom to describe his inner and outer worlds, like other romantics, creating forms that had never been admitted to art as patronized by neo-classicizing elites?  In his Schiller biography, Carlyle likens Goethe to Shakespeare, and Schiller to Milton, invidiously contrasting Shakespeare’s “catholic”  “quiet eye” with the “sectarian” passions of Milton, who is “earnest, devoted; struggling with a thousand mighty projects of improvement; feeling more intensely as he feels more narrowly; rejecting vehemently, choosing vehemently; at war with the one half of things, in love with the other half; hence dissatisfied, impetuous, without internal rest, and scarcely conceiving the possibility of such a state.” (Should we think of Daniel Orme’s “vital glance” or  Margoth’s “brave vitality” as a Melvillean riposte to the Carlyle “quiet eye” quietism he attributed to Faust’s creator?)

     One of the chief themes of my book is the persistence of such Carlylean put-downs,  whether applied to Milton and other radical puritans of the seventeenth century or to left-wing romantics, including Byron or the pacing insomniac Melville in his earnest, enthusiast mood. I have argued throughout that the suppression of Melville’s annotations to Paradise Lost is one of the worst examples of censorship in Melville studies; but since the hardback edition of HCA appeared, happily, the annotations to Milton’s poetry have been published.  Critical commentary, however, tends to render Milton and Melville alike as moderates, while no one has teased out the implication of Melville’s partially erased ratification of Satan’s seduction of Eve (p. 147): “This is one of the profound atheistical hits of Milton. A greater than Lucretius, since he always teaches under a masque, and makes the Devil himself a Teacher & Messiah” ). When I saw this annotation in 1990, I began to wonder if Melville was not simply ambivalent or vacillating (as many Melvilleans, including Hayford, Leyda, and Parker had agreed), but ever masked, his most heartfelt Posa-type sentiments voiced only through his “dark” or Promethean characters–Ahab, Pierre, Isabel, Pitch, and Margoth. We may never know.

    My last thoughts in this preface are directed to political scientists, historians of U.S. foreign and domestic policy, and scholars in cultural studies who remain dubious about “science” and its claims for objectivity, or who doubt that empiricist historians, limited by “point of view,” can reconstruct prior institutions. Too often the history of mind-management has been written by “moderates” or leftists, who attribute antidemocratic propaganda to the protofascist bourgeoisie, to a monolithic and savage right-wing America, wrongly exemplified, I believe, by the hallucinating map-maker and mad scientist Captain Ahab. Melville’s “dark” characters were inadmissible to scholars of “the vital center”; as their private notes and letters have shown, many nevertheless suffered depression and other extreme mental distress while evacuating Melville’s modernists. Similarly “progressive” scholars may be snatching from their students’ hands those critical intellectual and emotional tools essential to Progress, most particularly an educated reverence for the potential of “the people” in analyzing and overcoming the less attractive impulses of our common humanity. I speak of “the people” not as a compact mass or “jacobin” mob, but as the great liberal Charles Sumner envisioned his uniquely blessed countrymen: a collection of striving individuals “created in the image of God,” critical and self-critical, but never succumbing to Bartleby’s existentialist despair. It is to the everlasting credit of Kent State University Press that they have brought this paperback edition and its innovations in style and content to the attention of a wider audience. My gratitude for their support lies beyond words.

April 10, 2010

Columbia U.’s double bind, October! 1917

James McKeen Cattell

[This is an excerpt from my book Hunting Captain Ahab: Psychological Warfare and the Melville Revival, chapter 2 :] Young Raymond M. Weaver, founding father of the Melville Revival, thrashed about in two conflicted venues in the late nineteen-teens, first, the academic freedom controversy that excited Columbia University in 1917 after the summary dismissals of two antiwar professors; second, the Red Scare of 1919 as addressed by the Nation magazine. In the pages that follow, I will scrutinize nutty, yet in their view, logical institutional responses to anticipated mutiny, for similar tactics were followed in other conservative but “liberal” institutions and professions: universities, periodicals, the Dies Committee in the late 1930s (HUAC), the American Historical Association, a prewar organization of social psychologists, and postwar intelligence agencies. They could not describe their operations accurately without threatening institutional legitimacy, thus every human relation was deceptive; under such preposterous conditions the critical intellect would have to waste away, dissimulate or flee. The New Left opposition that entered university faculties after the 1960s has been forced to negotiate the same mixed-message as Weaver; if my analysis is accurate, then it would be difficult for younger scholars to describe their own predicaments without risking expulsion.

The incident at Columbia is infamous in the annals of academic un-freedom. Weaver’s student and friend Joseph Freeman recalled that it started the “reign of terror” that transformed the American Union Against Militarism of 1915 into the ACLU. Carol Gruber, a student of Richard Hofstadter, has, like other liberals, criticized the limp behavior of the Columbia faculty and all professors who fail to protect academic freedom from right-wing hysterics.[i] But the weakly challenged purges of 1917 revealed more than faculty cowardice. There were contradictions in liberal thought, in the rhetoric of the French Revolution, and in Melville’s family that Melville himself had identified as crazy-making in Pierre: how to reconcile manly independence and free thought with loyalty to conservative families? If we are liberals, how shall we simultaneously achieve liberty, equality, and fraternity? Why should socializing institutions in class societies subsidize processes that can get out of hand? Who decides that authority is legitimate anyway? Or, as conservatives from Robert Filmer, to David Hume, to Edmund Burke, to Thomas Carlyle, to the narrator of Pierre, to Henry A. Murray, to Orson Welles, to Hans Jurgen Syberberg would say, “Little man [Leveller, Jacobin, Pierre, Citizen Kane/Cain, Hitler], what now?”  

    During the mid-nineteenth century, Herman Melville failed to get the unambiguous patronage of another gentleman-sailor, Richard Henry Dana, Jr., author, abolitionist, Free-Soiler and Boston Brahmin. Perhaps Dana’s distaste for Lemuel Shaw, his political enemy and Melville’s father-in-law, blighted a stimulating friendship for both men. Dana had written in his journal: “The truth is, Judge Shaw is a man of intense and doating biasses, in religious, political and social matters. Unitarianism, Harvard College, the social & political respectabilities of Boston are his idola specus & fori (1856, Log).” 

     Six decades later, Dana’s grandson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Dana, a Harvard Ph.D. (1910), socialist and peace activist, was summarily dismissed from his position as instructor of Comparative Literature at Columbia University: the New England Red Prince had been blatantly insubordinate. Although America entered the Great War on April 2, 1917 “for democracy, for the right of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their own government, for the rights and liberties of the small nations…and to make the world itself at last free,” as Wilson told Congress, [ii] Columbia President Nicholas Murray Butler announced to alumni on Commencement Day, June 6, that anti-war “wrongheadedness” and “folly” were now “sedition” and “treason”; academic freedom would be suspended in wartime.[iii] Butler referred to the conspicuous agitation of Dana, economics professor Henry R. Mussey, the distinguished experimental psychologist James McKeen Cattell, Cattell’s son Owen, and other friends or members of the Collegiate Anti-Militarism League. With motions magnified by the popular press, these were activators of primal passions, enemies to “balance.”[iv]

   Cattell, editor of School and Society, had been a loud and unrelenting advocate of faculty control and community-responsiveness in the universities; he was nearly “retired” in 1913, but, it was suspected, retained solely to cast an aura of liberal toleration.[v] In May 1917, the irrepressible Cattell read a paper “Academic Slavery,” before the Twentieth Century Club, adjuring professors to remove their snobbish and mobbish propensities to please the king:  “…in fact the professor has no right to hide in the crowd. It is not thieves alone who have a code of honor. Each group has its moral etiquette and its unpardonable sin. The soldier may get drunk and get syphilis, but he must not desert his post; the lawyer may try to deceive the jury and the court, but must not betray his client; the physician and the clergyman may flatter and conceal, but they must try to save lives and souls; the university professor may be “fonder of glory and vain,” a snob and a cad, but in his teaching and research, he must tell the truth as he sees it and seek the truth as it is (18 May 1917).”

    Cattell, a student of the British eugenicist Francis Galton, may have opposed the draft out of fear that the Conscription Act would provoke a revolution, for Woodrow Wilson had been elected on a peace platform.[vi] Along with anthropologist Franz Boas, English professor William Peterfield Trent, co-editor of The Cambridge History of American Literature, was one of the few faculty who supported the long beleaguered Cattell. Trent wrote to political scientist E. R. A. Seligman, June 20: “It ought not to be possible for a man of my training and temperament to feel that at bottom despite all his defects and missteps, my sympathies are steadfastly with Cattell rather with the ostensible attitude of a majority of my colleagues and with the officers of administration. I like peace and order and in many ways am conservative. I have filled, in a small way, administrative positions myself, I practically do not know what friction with my colleagues and the administration means, yet in my fifty-fifth year I find myself continually impressed by the subserviency and the sycophancy observable in academic life, by the parasitic nature of the typical professor, by the growth of the spirit of censoriousness and revolt in myself. This is not as it should be, but self-examination does not leave me convinced that the fault lies entirely with me.[vii]

    During the summer, Cattell had lobbied numerous congressmen, writing to them on Columbia University letterhead stationery; that seems to have been the last straw; on Oct.1, the trustees unanimously voted to “vacate” the positions of Dana and Cattell. Cattell alleged that the firing was a pretext to perpetuate the oligarchy of businessmen: the real targets were those professors who wanted administrative independence from the trustees; John Dewey agreed. As he told the press, “They smeared the whole case over with patriotism. If they had good cause to dismiss Cattell, they might have come out boldly with the reasons.”[viii]

   Raymond M. Weaver was hired on October 8 to take over the teaching of Dana’s classes, the very day that Charles Beard, hailed as the most popular professor at Columbia, resigned from the Department of Political Science to protest continued trustee interference with teaching. Oct. 9, The Columbia Spectator led with the story of Charles Beard’s emotional departure, noting approvingly that “sentiment is almost wholly in favor of Beard’s action”: “Charles Beard announced it in his class yesterday morning. His action was greeted with applause which lasted for five minutes, and many of the students crowded about his desk at the close of the class to express their regrets personally. He was in tears when he left the room…The resignation has created the greatest excitement among the faculties of the various schools and colleges of the university. Unofficially, several of the professors have signified their intention of resigning from the faculty in sympathy with the ideas of Beard…[It] may lead to a secession of the most prominent members of the university.”

    What were Beard’s ideas? According to the Spectator, his classes fostered a spirit of wide-open political debate. Beard’s position was not antiwar like Dana’s, or anti-forced conscription like Cattell’s; he felt that support for the war should be proffered by disinterested intellectuals. He wanted to be viewed as an objective voice for national interests, not as a mouthpiece for the special interests of the trustees.[ix] Whether Beard was a sane liberal or a moderate advocating repressive tolerance like Cattell, he had significant support among students and faculty; but the issues raised by the purge seemed to drag the rational intellect leftward onto the barricades. Worried liberal faculty and press predicted “incipient revolt,” “a riot” and “great upheavals.”[x] James Harvey Robinson said the Constitution had been violated; America’s credibility as a democracy was at risk. John Dewey and Charles Beard felt proletarianized: “To my mind, this college is nothing but a factory, and a badly run factory at that,” said Dewey.[xi] Beard’s Letter of Resignation was even more vehement: “[A] few trustees dominate the university and terrorize the young instructors…the status of the professor is lower than that of a manual laborer…Holding his position literally by the day, the professor is liable to dismissal without a hearing, without the judgment of his colleagues who are his real peers.[xii] 

Columbus Day, 1917. The Spectator of Oct. 12 rocked with three incompatible pieces on the controversy. A front-page statement by Professor Robert Livingston Schuyler defended Charles Beard’s book of 1913, An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution from the attack of a New York Times editorial of October 10. (Beard’s revisionist work characterized the framing and ratification of the Constitution as a virtual coup d’état by government bondholders and other representatives of the rising industrial bourgeoisie at the expense of the agrarian interest, including indebted small farmers and poor mechanics; the Constitution was a conservative class document, cunningly contrived to give the appearance of republican “balance” while actually stacking the deck against the popular legislative branch. Beard’s “scientific history” had attempted to delegitimate federal authority; he unapologetically aligned himself with the Marxists against Bancroft and other early nationalist historians or the unnamed advocates of Teutonic supremacy; however, he imprecisely labeled the Federalists as “aristocrats” and their more numerous anti-Federalist opponents “agrarians”; cf. T. S. Eliot below). The Spectator editorial called for rationality and unity, so the Dana-Cattell firing should be excluded from the agenda of the formal student-faculty meeting to come, while a less visible article headlined “Pacifism Was Not The Issue” quoted Cattell’s suggestion that “A private corporation which now taxes the people to maintain the privileged classes must ultimately be taken over by the people and conducted for their welfare.”[xiii]

    To his opponents, Cattell’s rationalism hitched to Beard’s iconoclasm must have resembled an eruption of the apocalyptic sublime. While Cattell, Dewey and Beard used economic categories to describe class domination and proletarianized professors, corporatist seekers of truth, taking the roles of doctors and clergymen, proposed medical remedies to save the souls of febrile organisms. Political disputes, resolvable only through rational deliberation, organization, and social action, were transmuted into diagnoses and prescriptions for decorous purges and healings. Disparate and irreconcilable interests had been welded by love’s delicately equilibrated machine. An emotionally and intellectually mature person would manipulate the “body” to his (and everyone’s) advantage; failure staggered forth from lapses of self-control and social sensitivity. The Committee of Nine was an early HUAC-type body formed at Columbia in March 1917 “to help the trustees inquire into the state and ultimate tendency of teaching in the university”; or, to be less polite, to sniff out pink and red disloyal professors. Columbia was conceived as a single body, but not One Big Union; the Committee had been denounced by some as an insulting and unnecessary inquisition.[xiv] Amid the furor of petitions, rallies, resolutions and rumors of strikes, uprisings, plots and walk-outs following Beard’s resignation, The Committee Of Nine pronounced “the University mind” quite mad and frantically cried for “corporate interest and corporate responsibility;” then, in a spectacular Freudian slip, begged for closure: [xv] 

    “…the University mind is left a prey to distraction and unrest, which in these critical times may lead to unrestrained outbursts by the impulsive and to severity in discipline by those entrusted with the exercise of power. It would seem wise, therefore, to consider our state of health dispassionately before either by neglect or by improper remedies, our disease becomes chronic…What then should be done?…This occasion ought not to be used to indulge in recrimination, censure, protest, or strife. We are in no fit state for dispassionate criticism and review…If we can not or do not recognize the state of mind we are in, it is folly to suppose that in that state of mind we shall do full justice in any case which stirs profoundly our primal passions when we look upon those who are about to die and the whole tragedy of this present world. Our only hope, our only reason, our only sanity is to try to protect us from ourselves for the future. That we can do if we but set about to do it. We can not do it, however, by devising some happy plan overnight. We can do it only by patient study, for it is the soul of the plan which must be made over. Our house can not be cleaned by the Trustees of the University…there can only be one leader and that is the President of the University. Efforts have been made to reform this place without his leadership and these efforts have failed. These efforts should stop. A new effort should be made under his leadership as chairman of a committee chosen from the University faculties to look into our condition. The findings of such a committee would be final and conclusive, or [sic] they would create issues which can freely and openly be discussed by men who love the University and bear the name of scholars.” (my emph.)

   This is an astounding document to have emanated from a great university: men trained through life to control their emotions in favor of objective judgment, had utterly lost it. Farewell to the Rights of Man they say, while hovering over an Abyss: the whole World is awash in primal Passions–”we” are our own worst Enemies; “we” want a strong Leader to unite our flailing Family; and “we” want an unambiguous Diagnosis of our Insanity, ASAP. Where will the correct Answer come from? Why, from amongst our maddened, divided Selves in a Committee stamped by the Head, where else? Otherwise, we might succumb to the Ambiguity of ordinary Persons, becoming Scholars who love their Students and their Work.

Five weeks later, Butler received a letter from the faculties of Political Science, Philosophy and Pure Sciences upbraiding him, but urging rational reform all around:[xvi]

“[The university is under suspicion]; there is a conviction that the Trustees and Faculties…are becoming increasingly estranged and are approaching an open conflict. [We want to] free the University from the imputation that the Trustees and Faculties have something to conceal and do not trust one another. It is now a great and international institution–we must cooperate with Trustees in this critical time…[the last two years have been embarrassing]. We have been too tolerant of abuses we might have remedied. [But your behavior has been cause of our suffering reputation.] That such things as we have enumerated give occasion to the radical minded and the emotional to hold the university up to scorn is regrettable. [And more, we don’t approve of them] (22 Nov. 1917). “

    The faculties who signed this letter presumably had been trained to analyze institutions, social movements, and competing epistemologies; trained to teach their students how to separate facts from factoids by exploring the material world, clarifying controversies by consulting primary sources to compare competing truth-claims. They should have been relieved that the widening rift between professors and trustees had disclosed their true condition as unfree investigators, but no. They were aghast that their peers, radical critics all over the world, might be laughing as Columbia’s perfectly happy corporatist identity came unglued. In the interest of mental and physical health at Columbia University, an institution devoted to the training of rational gentlemen and rational scholars by rationally cooperating faculty and trustees, disruptive passions were out and factoids were in. The “irresponsible,” “poisonous” and “emotional” Dana and Cattell along with hot-heads like Will Durant and the expelled Jewish student protester Leon Samson (one of the “wild-eyed” ranters and “kickers” pushing “cheap pacifism”) could take their vagrant principles elsewhere, which of course made the leftovers look really liberal, at least to themselves.[xvii]

Two years later, Levering Tyson, Executive Secretary of the Alumni Federation and Managing Editor of the Columbia Alumni News, wrote to attorney John Saxe on the occasion of Cattell’s lawsuit brought against Columbia for denying him his pension. Tyson reviewed the possibly fatal blow inflicted by Dana and Cattell: “It will be years and I doubt if it ever happens [sic] that Columbia will recover from the reputation which activities of these two men gave her. The men were cancers. All [the radicals] needed was a few men like Cattell and Dana to give them standing and Columbia University was always conspicuous in the accounts of their activities. After getting rid of them the University was really able to make some headway in demonstrating to the public and to her alumni the war work which she was actually accomplishing, ready to perform and that she had already entered a regular program in assisting the Government in preparation for and in pursuit of war (29 Nov. 1919).”

    Such was the social environment in which the impressionable and sensitive Raymond Weaver found his thorny nest. Not surprisingly, the young Melville presented in his biography resembled the Columbia troublemakers of 1917; whereas the sadly wised-up older authors (both Weaver and his subject), reeling from the barbs of readers hostile to Moby-Dick and Pierre, became brothers to the sedate and resigned professors who (with a few exceptions) had made their peace with Butler and the trustees.

    Sanely moderate Columbians did not agonize over conflicts between Reason, Conscience and the State. George W. Dithredge of the International Steel Car Company frankly advocated the primacy of order and cost-effectiveness over truth in his letter urging President Butler to fire the seditious bad father Cattell.  Dithredge did not send mixed-messages. Due process, academic freedom–even competence–were expendable. Loyalty to the goals of big business, identified with the national interest, was not: “With the example of Scott Nearing and his progressive descent to the dogs, Columbia cannot afford to cast the mantle of protective charity over a man so clearly unfit to exercise any influence over our young men, who above learning and technique, must be saturated by precept and example with the principles and spirit of good citizenship (14 Sept. 1917).”

   In contrast, some “Members of the Committee on Instruction of the Schools of Mines, Engineering and Chemistry” (perhaps with a more obvious professional interest in the protection of innovation than Dithredge) writing to Butler on September 19, urged him to have it both ways. He should safeguard Columbia’s good name by removing Cattell and Dana, avoiding future Ahabs, but without chilling the critical spirit: “We are also anxious that our students shall be surrounded by those influences which while encouraging vigorous independent thought, at the same time develop unquestioned loyalty to our country.” Similarly, Professor Giddings declared on October 29, “Every loyal alumnus of the university and every loyal student, whatever position he may take upon the question of academic freedom, should make perfectly clear to the public that he does not stand by men who disobey law and obstruct government.”[xviii] These practical men were saying that students could think vigorously about science that stabilized the status quo.[xix] Here is the double bind specific to incompletely realized, subverted modernity, the contradiction that cannot be identified by “moderately conservative” psychiatry: academic slavery was masked by academic freedom. It was an intolerably blinkered situation for sensitive intellectuals, enough to call forth “radical” and “unbalanced” sympathies with an ever more numerous working class. By 1919, the proles were dangerously possessed of (or by) printing presses and movie cameras, some asking trained scientists and engineers to join them. A Wobbly intellectual wrote an open letter to professors, proposing a different image of coalescence than the one offered by Columbia faculty and alumni. One Big Union was designed to protect all humanity, a sublime project in social engineering:

“We are intensely desirous of spreading our ideas of Industrial Democracy before the engineers, chemists, and technical men of the country, for we feel that their interests are identical with the interests of the artisans and laborers and they should recognize the splendid part they can play in the construction of a new society–a society which the workers regard as, in all essentials, a great engineering enterprise.[xx]

   Advocating a different form of uplift, and perhaps justifying his own controversial actions two years earlier, Nicholas Murray Butler testified to the New York State Overman Committee in its hunt for revolutionary radicals, October 9, 1919. The Columbia University President suggested that the teaching profession be upgraded and co-opted: [xxi]  “What the loyal and patriotic citizens really have to confront is a widespread state of mind that is both disloyal and patriotic, and which glories in the fact because it regards patriotism and loyalty as outworn and ‘capitalist’ virtues. This state of mind is especially frequent among those who often read but who rarely think. It has infected many school teachers, editors, clergymen and these have, consciously or unconsciously, become aids in a movement to break down the American civilization and the American government.

To combat a state of mind like this the only effective weapon is a better and more reasonable state of mind. Force does little more than create martyrs, except, of course, in months of acute national danger, when force must be resorted to by the nation for its self-protection. In ordinary times, however, the effective weapon to use with unwisdom and folly is reasonableness. This habit of reasonableness coupled with adequate understanding of social, economic, and political facts, should be constantly urged upon teachers, editors and clergymen, as well as upon any others who undertake to influence and guide public opinion. Columbia University, in its various parts is doing what it can do to instill the habit of reasonableness in those who go out from its doors.

It is a fact that the material compensations for the teaching profession are not sufficient to attract permanently to it men and women of the highest competence. On the other hand, competence alone will not change a state of mind, although it may have some effect upon the conditions which, in any case, have given rise to such a state of mind.”

    For Butler, as for other Progressive mind-managers advocating the vigorous and systematic investigation of the social, economic, and political environment, the co-existence of “disloyalty” (to upper-class interests, narrowly understood) and patriotism was intolerable. Definitions of “reasonableness” and “folly” would be adjusted accordingly.

                [i]     34. Carol Gruber, Mars and Minerva: World War I and the Uses of Higher Learning in America (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State Univ. Press, 1975), 187-206.  See also David Caute, The Great Fear: The Anti-Communist Purge Under Truman and Eisenhower (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1978), and Ellen Schrecker, No Ivory Tower (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1986).

                [ii]      35. Wilson quoted in Ronald Steel, Walter Lippmann and the American Century (Boston: Little Brown, 1980), 112. Tsar Nicholas II had abdicated March 15. The overthrow of his reactionary regime removed one important obstacle to the entrance of America on the side of the Triple Entente. Germany had further antagonized American opinion by sinking three U.S. unarmed merchantment late in March. The interception of “the Zimmerman telegram” followed. Germany promised Mexico much of the Southwestern U.S. if it would join them. A selective service bill cleared Congress in May, drafting men from 18 to 45 (116).

                [iii]      36. Walter Metzger, Academic Freedom in the Age of the University (New York: Columbia University Press, 1955), 255.

                [iv]      37. A letter from Alumni Secretary Levering Tyson to John Saxe, 29 Nov. 1929, states that the warning was directed against Dana. My description of Butler’s targets is a synthesis of my research and Carol Gruber, Mars and Minerva, 1975. Gruber is hostile to Cattell. Unpublished materials cited here are from “Miscellaneous correspondence relating to the dismissal of Cattell and Dana” in the Cattell Papers, Manuscripts Division, Butler Library, Columbia University. As the preliminary report from the Committee of Nine reminded E.R.A. Seligman, Dana and Cattell had argued against the Conscription Act before it was passed into law; however Dana and Cattell were highly visible. Harry Dana paid the bond to release Owen Cattell and two other Columbia students from jail after their arrest June 1, 1917. The New York newspapers featured the controversy on their front pages.

                [v] 38. A clipping from the Evening Telegram, 19 May 1913, in the Cattell file reported that Cattell could be in trouble because he had attacked the Century Association for its refusal to admit the Jewish Jacques Loeb, biologist at the Rockefeller Institute. Cattell, leading a movement for faculty control, may have been saved from dismissal at that time (1913) because his “early retirement” would have given credibility to his claim that professors were muzzled. See letter from the zoologist Edmund B. Wilson to Butler, 20 May 1913. Cattell was a consistent radical throughout the interwar period, but no American Rosa Luxemburg or Wobbly; still he did not view “socialism” as a “nightmare.” See his “Academic Slavery,” School and Society, 13 Oct. 1917, 421-426: “I myself accept the social ideal: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs; and I think that, thanks to the applications of science, the resources of society are sufficient to provide adequately for all.” His animus against college administrators was connected to a rejection of the “autocratic and bureaucratic” rationalizing businessmen who ran American universities (unlike Oxford and Cambridge where dons are administrators). See Cattell, University Control (New York: Science Press, 1913), 9, 13-15, 44, 49. As a young man writing to his parents in 1888, he declared his intellectual preferences and affinities for many of the English romantic anticapitalists (Tory-Radicals): “I can suggest no other wedding-present than books and pictures. We should like to have editions of Carlyle, Ruskin, Scott, Rossetti, Morris, and Darwin.” In An Education in Psychology: James McKeen Cattell’s Journals and Letters From Germany and England, 1880-1888), ed. Michael M. Sokal (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1981), 303.  

                [vi]  39. See Columbia Spectator, 4 Oct. 1917, 2. Amazingly, Cattell was serving on a committee of the American Psychological Association organized to assist the U.S. military in the current conflict; see R.M. Yerkes,”Psychology and National Service,” Science, 3 Aug. 1917, 101-103.

                [vii] 40. Quoted Gruber, Mars and Minerva, 195.

                [viii] 41. Evening Post, 9 Oct. 1917. Dewey’s protests had been quoted also Oct. 4 and in the New York Tribune, Oct.4 and Oct. 9, New York Times, Oct. 9.

                [ix] 42.  World, 9 Oct. 1917. The newspaper clippings quoted here were mostly found in the Cattell file.

                [x] 43. Herald, 10 Oct.; American, 10 Oct. quoted Robinson.

                [xi]  44. Evening Post, 9 Oct. 1917.

                [xii]  45. New York Times, 9 Oct. 1917.

                [xiii]  46. Spectator, 12 Oct. 1917, 4. Also see letter Cattell to John Coulter of the AAUP Committee on Academic Freedom in Wartime, 30 Mar. 1918, still insisting that the underlying motive for his dismissal was his cause of “university reform.”

                [xiv]  47. See Metzger, Academic Freedom, 224-225.

                [xv]  48. Unsigned 12 page ms. in file, probably the report of the Committee of Nine, summarized in Spectator, 13 Oct. 1917. Even if the last sentence contained a typo, it must have been proofread.

                [xvi]  49. One of the signers was John Erskine, Butler’s friend and with Carl Van Doren, W.P. Trent and Stuart Pratt Sherman, an editor of The Cambridge History of American Literature (1917).

                [xvii]   50. Spectator, quoted 12 Oct. 1917, 1. “Sane, dignified and gentlemanly” views versus “cheap pacifism” was the contrast offered by C.P. Ivins, Vice President of the Senior Class, Columbia, ‘17. It was reported on 10/11 that Matthew Josephson, Kenneth Burke and Percival Winner were supporting academic freedom as long as it was exercised in a legal manner. A statement in support of Cattell and Dana was circulated denouncing the public meeting, signed by L.M. Hacker and Josephson (10/16).  On Oct. 16, 17, and 18, the Spectator ran anti-Semitic stories on Leon Samson’s activities: he was linked to outside agitators Henry Factor (NYU), Isidore Schneider (CCNY), and Israel Common (Columbia ‘17), and mocked by “The Delilah Club.” Meanwhile, also according to the Spectator, Samson had been expelled, and could not get into another university nor obtain a certificate to study law. On 10/25, the Alumni Association was quoted: they supported the action of the Trustees; “unbridled license” was not part of free speech; the university was neither forum nor market place but a site for the training of scholars, not soap-box orators. Spectator coverage ended Oct. 27, with a mention that Morris Hillquit denounced Dana’s firing. Letters in the Cattell papers from Henry Mussey (who resigned and later became editor of The Nation) and Thomas Reed Powell are moving examples of the moral conflicts generated by the dispute.

                [xviii] 51. Quoted in Gruber, Mars and Minerva, 206. Cf. David Hume, sardonically commenting on the transparent ruse of the house of peers and Charles I in amending the petition of right sent up by the house of commons, 1628. The peers had proposed this clause: “We humbly present this petition to your majesty, not only with a care of preserving our own liberties, but with due regard to leave entire that sovereign power, with which your majesty is intrusted for the protection, safety, and happiness of your people.” Hume sneered, “Less penetration than was possessed by the leaders of the house of commons, could easily discover how captious this clause was, and how much it was calculated to elude the whole force of the petition.” See History of England, Vol.6, 188-189. 

[xix] 52. This point has been missing from published  commentaries on the Columbia incident of 1917. See for instance Russell J. Reising, The Unusable Past: Theory and the Study of American Literature (London: Methuen, 1986), 43. Commenting on Gruber’s standard account, Reising states “Gruber is careful to avoid crude assertions of conscious complicity or hypocrisy, and one of the major strengths of her book is its cautious, though bold, delineation of an academy won to interests antithetical to its declared and sincerely held values.” Throughout, Reising sees American Studies as a propagandistic discipline devoted to American exceptionalism and imperialism (39-40), a view with which I sharply disagree; I am arguing that the field is an outpost of humanism, tory and antibourgeois to the core.

                [xx] 53. Abner Woodruff, “A Letter to the Professor,”One Big Union Monthly, 19 Aug. 1919. Also, Steven J. Ross, “Struggles For the Screen: Workers, Radicals, and the Political Uses of Silent Film,” American History Review 96 (Apr. 1991): 333-367, also Working-Class Hollywood: Silent Film and the Shaping of Class in America (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998). Ross argues that early working-class film challenged the dominant images of the labor movement that had characterized the rank and file as mobbish, its leaders demagogic, and its efforts doomed to failure.

Cf. Senate Document No. 217, 74th Congress, p.33, citing the 1933 Baccalaureate speech of Mordecai Johnson, President of Howard University, in its investigation of “Alleged Communistic Activities at Howard University, May 12, 1936.” Johnson (a Baptist) wrote: “…We must not allow the words “communism” and “socialism” to blind our eyes to the realization that on Russian soil today–it makes no difference what mistakes are being made or crimes are being committed–there is a movement for the first time in the history of the world to make available the natural resources for the life of the common man. I am in hearty sympathy with those want to preserve our American system, but the preservation of our system is not the primary urgency. The primary urgency of life is to work out some way to use the scientific and technical resources of life for the emancipation of the people (33).” Johnson did not separate the Head and Heart; see “Communism A New Religion Says H.U. Prexy,” The Afro-American, June 10, 1933. It was reported that intellectuals should use their powers of observation and ability to think systematically, spotting blind alleys and enthusiasms that mislead the people; their plans and visions sprang from the pure, inspired, knowledgeable Christian heart.

[xxi] 54. N.Y. State Legislature. Joint Committee Investigating Seditious Activities, Revolutionary radicalism: its history, purpose and tactics with an exposition and discussion of the steps being taken and required to curb it, being the report of the joint legislative committee investigating seditious activities filed April 24, 1920 in the Senate of the State of New York (Albany: J.B. Lyon, 1920), 3306-3307.

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]

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