Sunday, June 28, 2015
Unitarianism--Talking Points for Norton Representatives in 2006
UNITARIANISM in the 2nd (2006) Norton Critical Edition of THE CONFIDENCE-MAN.
This was prepared as talking points for Norton representatives.
BACKGROUNDS, SOURCES, AND CRITICISM
UTOPIAS, SECTS, CULTS, AND CURE-ALLS
Hershel Parker, “Delusions of a ‘Terrestrial Paradise’”: This is a free-wheeling historical piece, a survey of sects, cults, and other reform movements that Melville had close knowledge of and oddly had some influence on, at times, and a reminder of how wide-ranging Melville’s comments on the contemporary United States are in The Confidence-Man. The juxtaposition of Shakers, Mormons, and other groups should prove bracing, eye-opening, and the piece by Professor Patricia Cline Cohen, below, will serve to validate this piece and extend it. What’s at issue in all the reform movements of Melville’s time is whether modern thinkers must reject Genesis, and Calvinistic explications of Genesis. If mankind is fallen, cursed for the sin of Adam and Eve, is it sacrilegious to attempt to create an earthly paradise?
Herman Melville, from Typee: [Who is Happier? Polynesian Savage or Self-Complacent European?]: This is one of the passages written by Melville which entered into the thinking of reformers of the 1840s and later. That is, American reformers looked to Melville (in this presumably first person autobiographical narrative) for evidence of how “savage” peoples lived and how modern “civilized” people might profit from adapting some of their practices.
Herman Melville, from Typee: [Must Christianizing the Heathen Destroy the Heathen?]: As demonstrated in the 2001 NCE of Moby-Dick, the long section on the “International Controversy” over Melville before Moby-Dick, Melville as a spokesman of cultural relativism was savagely attacked by Calvinist sects in the United States. Ironically, Melville’s own sympathies were Calvinistic.
Herman Melville, from Mardi: “They Discourse of Alma”: In this passage Melville traces the consequences of trying to live in absolute obedience to Jesus. “Religious intolerance” here and elsewhere, including the “dedication” of The Confidence-Man, is serious business, resulting in the suppression and even the death of heretics by torture, ending in being burned alive. Melville saw himself, after the reviews of Typee and Omoo, as the victim of religious persecution, and by 1850 was identifying with those actually murdered for their beliefs. This sounds extreme, but he knew he was in danger of being silenced long before he actually stopped trying to make a living as a prose writer.
Dr. John Wakefield Francis, [The Boston Heresy Invades Manhattan]: This is a brief recollection of how the “heresy” of Unitarianism came to New York City. Modern readers will need the shock of this essay—Unitarianism as threat to Christianity.
Abraham Tucker, “Benevolence”: Abraham Tucker was the British philosopher who strongly influenced Unitarian thought. His ideas underlie the Pamphlet in Pierre, Parker argues in Vol. 2 of Herman Melville: A Biography, 1851-1891. By very happy coincidence, Susan M. Ryan independently takes up the theme of “Benevolence” in the article listed below.
Herman Melville, from Pierre: “Chronometricals and Horologicals”: Melville’s classic statement, replete with multiple ironies, on whether or not absolute obedience to Jesus is possible in this world.
Orville Dewey, [The Minister’s Burden: Being Expected to Sympathize with the Afflicted]: This passage shows how the famous Unitarian minister, the man who baptized three of Melville’s children, confessed to extreme uneasiness at some of his ministerial duties. Melville seems to have used this well-known characteristic of Dewey in the following passage in “Bartleby.” At issue is the contrast of the timid, aloof behavior of a modern minister and the teachings and example of Jesus.
Herman Melville, from “Bartleby, the Scrivener”: [Why Sensitive People Should Not Let Themselves Feel Pity]: Placed after the Dewey section, this shows just how much the narrator of “Bartleby” was conceived of as a critique of Dewey, a famous preacher and writer. He not only baptized three of Melville’s children, he preached the funeral sermon for Melville’s father-in-law. His importance to Melville’s life was first pointed out in Volume 2 of Parker’s biography and has not yet entered into ordinary scholarship, so this little juxtaposition of Dewey and the narrator in “Bartleby” will help.
Orville Dewey, [Poverty Not a Common Lot]: In this and other pieces here, contemporary American Unitarians, whom Melville knew, express their confidence that no one needs to be poor in America. Those who have taught the excerpts from Fanny Fern in NAAL will be well equipped to respond to this!
Orville Dewey, [What Distresses the Poor: Artificial Wants]
Herman Melville, [Why the Poor in the United States Suffer More than the Poor Elsewhere]: This is Melville’s retort to Dewey and other Unitarianians: poverty in America is real, and more painful to Americans than others because of the ideal of self-reliance instilled into them..
Orville Dewey, [Joseph Curtis vs. Horace Greeley]: Horace Greeley as editor of the New York Tribune repeatedly focused on the social sources of poverty.
Orville Dewey, [Robert Minturn’s Scheme to Thwart Dishonest Beggars]
Scott Norsworthy, “The New York Tribune on Begging and Charity”: This is a short, fresh historical survey of Greeley’s treatment of poverty in New York City in the face of Unitarian insistence that no one needs to be poor and that beggars should be kept off the streets. Like Hoy, Scott Norsworthy is an independent scholar—a PhD working outside academia, as so many young PhDs are now doing.
Herman Melville, “New-Fangled Notions of the Social State”: This is Melville himself reflecting on social issues and particularly reflecting on his own unintended influence on some of them. Melville’s account of being called upon by a young Fourierite may be imaginary, but his influence on reformers was real.
Patricia Cline Cohen, “A Confident Tide of Reformers”: Here Professor Cohen, chairman of the History Department at the University of California, Santa Barbara, takes up the theme of Parker’s article on “The Delusion of a ‘Terrestrial Paradise’” and brings her special knowledge to bear on the inter-relations of reforms and the tendency of reformers to move from one cause to another. This should be of special interest to teachers old enough to remember how often leading reformers of the 1960s re-emerged in the 1970s and later as proponents of other reform movements—and it should be stimulating to younger teachers as well. Used along with “Delusion of a ‘Terrestrial Paradise,’” this piece should be very provocative and make for exciting teaching. It was especially written for this section of the NCE by someone steeped in the period. Professor Cohen pointed out to Parker that many classes in women’s literature now use (as a textbook) her The Murder of Helen Jewett: The Life and Death of a Prostitute in Nineteenth-Century New York (New York: Knopf, 1998). We are very lucky to have her participation in this NCE.
Susan M. Ryan, “Misgivings: Melville, Race, and the Ambiguities of Benevolence”: This is another piece we are especially happy to have, for Professor Ryan independently takes up the theme of “Benevolence” that Parker had been working into Volume Two of his Herman Melville: A Biography, 1851-1891. This is a new theme in Melville studies, so it is very good for us to have a young scholar like Ryan going at it independently, with her own special interests. Parker traces Melville’s treatment of Benevolence to Unitarians and their predecessors, especially Abraham Tucker (see the piece by Tucker on “Benevolence” above), and Ryan rigorously examines “Benevolence” in the mid-nineteenth-century United States. We use Ryan’s article because its focus suits our purposes better than does her broader-focused revision in her book, The Grammar of Good Intentions: Race and the Antebellum Culture of Benevolence (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2003). Norton representatives will recommend the book heartily, of course, for anyone wanting to pursue the subject. Professor Ryan, now at the University of Louisville, is especially good to have in this volume because she looks with a different eye at the issues of poverty and begging (central to The Confidence-Man) which we also highlight by the passages from Orville Dewey and other contemporaries of Melville as well as by the quotation on “Benevolence” by Abraham Tucker, the 18th century British philosopher who is so important to Melville’s Pierre and other of Melville’s writings in the 1850s. We are delighted to find Ryan doing detailed historical scholarship on a theme we think so very important to Melville from Pierre through The Confidence-Man, and think that students will like her slant on Benevolence in relation to several other pieces here on poverty and begging. Hovering over all of these pieces, of course, are Jesus’s words on your having the poor with ye always, so there is a rich irony in all the denials that people need to be poor and all the suspicions of motives of those who claim to be in need. A representative might want to stress that this new interest in the theme has emerged at the same time in the work of an older Melvillean, Parker, and this young professor just beginning her career.