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Of Sharks and Pilot-Fish: Melvillek Prophetic Art and the Dream of (French) America A Reprise and Reappraisal JEAN-FRANCOIS LEROUX University of Ottawa Having consideredthe proceedings of a painter that servesme, I had a mind to imitate his way He chooses the fairest place and middle of any wall . . . wherein to draw a picture, which he finisheswith his utmost care and art, and the vacuity about it he fillswith grotesques . . . . monstrous bodies, made of various parts, without any certain figure . . . order, coherence, or proportion. Desinit in piscem rnulier formosa superne. Michel de Montaigne, “Of Friendship” From time immemorial many fine things have been said and sung of the sea. And the days have been, when sailors were considered veritable mermen; and the ocean itself, as the peculiar theatre of the romantic and wonderful. Herman Melville,Review of Etchings ofa Whaling Cruise n a letter of 21 August 1847 to her new stepmother, Elizabeth Shaw Melville tallied her impressions of Quebec city, where she had “strolled Iabout on the ramparts” the preceding day. “[Clold and forbidding and comfortless,” she writes of the “hugecitadel bristling with cannon.”’ That the visit also left an indelible imprint on the mind of her companion at the time is suggested by a passage in Moby-Dick (1851): whaleman-preacher Father Mapple, having ascended to the lone captaincy of his pulpit, draws in the “ship’s”ladder, “leavinghim impregnable in his little Quebec.”? Jay Leyda, The Melville Log, 2 vols. (New York Harcourt, Brace, 1951, 19691, 257. Hereafter cited as Log. Herman Melville, Moby-Dick, ed. Harrison Hayford, Hershel Parker, and G. Thomas Tanselle (Evanston and Chicago: Northwestern University Press and Newberry Librav, 19881, 39. Hereafter cited as NN Moby-Dick. L E V I A T H A N A J O U R N A L O F M E L V I L L E S T U D I E S 3 9 J E A N - F R A N C O I S L E R O U X Not surprisingly, Melville’s readers in Quebec have been struck by the suggestiveness of his allusion. Most notably, Robert Major’srevisionary history The American Dream in Nineteenth-Century Quebec (1996) is framed by the relation of two such cross-border journeys mapping, in his view, antithetical and mutually exclusive apprehensions of his topos.3 Major begins by sighting the above record in Muby-Dick of the Melvilles’ honeymoon trip to Lower Canada. Quebec as foil to America, resisting the tides of its modernism and materialism: so Major glosses Melville’stext; -it is, in his view, an allegory of the religious and social conservatism of the Old Order. This first “reading” of American / Quebec relations in the nineteenth century is subsequently revised by Major so as to fit the more expansive worldview professed by Ralph Waldo Emerson to a receptive Montreal audience between 19 and 24 April 1852: at a dinner held by the Saint George’sSociety, for example, Emerson pictured England as “a ship anchored in the sea, at the side of Europe, Q right in the heart of the modern world,” and the English those “sailors & factors of the globe” - as masters in “the game of annexation .”4 Understandably, though, given its context and direction, it is not this lecture, but rather the one Emerson read before Londoners at Exeter Hall, in 1848, which receives Major’scareful treatment. Delivered in the enemy’s cultural stronghold, capital to the “merchants of the world,” the Sage of Concords whimsical portrayal of a French general as antitype to the modern captain of industry, levelling the Alps and transforming “old,iron-bound, feudal France . . . into a young Ohio or New York,”sis a tactical coup worthy of the general himself, according to The Americun Dream in Nineteenth-Century Quebec. Nor does the author of The American Dream hesitate to bring the example home. If Emerson’sNapoleon speaks the lingua franca common to “Paris and London and New York,”that of “commerce . . . money and material power,” it is a language equally familiar to Major’s subject, Antoine Gerin-Lajoie, and particularly to his stepfather Etienne Parent, the influential lecturer of Montreal’s elite Institut cunadien...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1750-1849
Print ISSN
1525-6995
Pages
pp. 39-61
Launched on MUSE
2013-05-29
Open Access
No
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