Monday, November 29, 2010

Prime Passage: The Night Inspector by Frederick Busch

Of the secondary character called "M," who is Herman Melville:
"For so many of his young years, he had written what he could to make his way and make his wage; then, apparently, he had manufactured what he must, and he'd made neither. That is the way of the world, the ebb and flow of dollars, but knowing this could not have been of consolation; and in the pressure in the house -- an atmosphere, like storm, as the barometric pressure dropped, and the very air pressed hard, in silence, at the inner doors of the rooms, the windows looking onto East Twenty-sixth Street -- he drank his drinks and then escaped to walk to work, swallowing his own saliva as it welled like poison in his throat and mouth, and heard, from this remaining friend or that, how many of the other, former, friends were certain he had died." p.186

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Prime Passage: Herman Melville on Emerson; "His brains descend down into his neck"

Melville's letter of March 3, 1849 to Evert Duyckinck, friend and editor of The Literary World.

"Nay, I do not oscillate in Emerson's rainbow, but prefer rather to hang myself in mine own halter than swing in any other man's swing. Yet I think Emerson is more than a brilliant fellow. Be his stuff begged, borrowed, or stolen, or of his own domestic manufacture, he is an uncommon man.

"Swear he is a humbug -- then he is no uncommon humbug. Lay it down that had not Sir Thomas Browne lived, Emerson would not have mystified -- I will answer that had not old Zach's father begot him, Old Zach would never have been the hero of Palo Alto. The truth is that we are all sons, grandsons, or nephews or great-nephews of those who go before us. No one is his own sire.

"I was very agreeably disappointed in Mr. Emerson. I had heard of him as full of transcendentalism, myths and oracular gibberish ... to my surprise, I found him quite intelligible, tho' to say truth, they told me that that night he was unusually plain. 

"Now, there is a something about every man elevated above mediocrity, which is for the most part instantly perceptible. This I see in Mr. Emerson. And, frankly, for the sake of the argument, let us call him a fool -- then had I rather be a fool than a wise man.

"I love all men who dive. Any fish can swim near the surface, but it takes a great whale to go down the stairs five miles or more; and if he don't attain the bottom, why, all the lead in Galena can't fashion the plummit that will. I'm not talking about Mr. Emerson now, but of the whole corps of thought-divers that have been diving and coming up again with blood-shot eyes since the world began.

"I could readily see in Emerson, notwithstanding his merit, a gaping flaw. It was the insinuation that had he lived in those days when the world was made, he might have offered some valuable suggestions. These men are all cracked right across the brow. And never will the pullers-down be able to cope with builders-up ... But enough of this Plato who talks thro' his nose. 

"You complain that Emerson tho' a denizen of the land of gingerbread, is above munching a plain cake in company of jolly fellows, and swigging (?) off his ale like you and me. Ah, my dear Sir, that's his misfortune, not his fault. His belly, Sir, is in his chest, and his brains descend down into his neck, and offer an obstacle to a draughtful of ale or a mouthful of cake... Goodbye. H.M."