Sunday, April 29, 2012

Diary 29 / 30 April 1992

29 April 1992:
Shock of not guilty verdicts in Rodney King trial

30 April 1992:
Up early for news. LA burning.

Taught [Thoreau's] "A Plea for Captain John Brown" in relation to idealism--frustration--fanaticism--Could not have had a better occasion [and could not have] used a tragic occasion better.

Friday, April 27, 2012


Northwestern University Press will soon publish Hershel Parker's Melville Biography: An Inside Narrative wherein Parker reflects on the writing of his two-volume Melville biography and the theoretical and practical importance of doing original archival research, whether using the film and paper resources of established brick-and-mortar institutions, or the growing number of digitized resources offered by these same institutions in their online databases.

As for the book's cover designed by Marianne Jankowski: this is one of the most visually appealing and effective cover designs I have ever come across in my decades of following Melville scholarship. Its suggestive design bespeaks the multiplicity of biographical details, interpersonal dynamics, historical events, and literary influences that a biographer has to incorporate into a faithful account of the life, times, and writings of Herman Melville. The breadth and depth of Parker's two-volume Herman Melville: A Biography (Johns Hopkins University Press) have earned it a monumental reputation and might well be considered the chef d'oevre of Parker's long career.

I believe the case could be made that Hershel Parker has accomplished in his biographical and critical writings on Melville what Richard Ellmann accomplished in his biographical studies of the lives, works, and times of James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, William Butler Yeats, and Samuel Beckett. Not only all future Melville biographers, but all present and future readers, scholars, and critics of Melville's life and writings owe a debt of gratitude to Parker for his decades of research and writing.

As to the significance and value of Parker's forthcoming book: imagine if we had a volume by Ellmann in which he had taken the opportunity to expatiate on the theory, art, and craft of writing biography (fortunately we do have Ellmann's lecture, "Literary Biography," delivered at the University of Oxford on 4 May 1971). With Parker's forthcoming Melville Biography: An Inside Narrative, we have such a book; I can't wait to get my copy.

I asked about McKisick land and got this response

It looks as if GGGG Grandpa Robert Knox bought some McKisick land when Daniel McKisick sold out and moved to Tennessee in 1807. There are errors of transcription--the widow at the start of the piece is Jane, not James. Who says the Internet does not bring answers to old questions?

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Tribute to Walter E. Bezanson

In 2010, the year before Walter E. Bezanson died at almost 99, his third wife, Gail Coffler, commissioned Mary O’Brien Tyrrell to conduct a series of interviews with him which were transcribed and supplemented with many photographs for Journeying through the Twentieth Century: A Memoir of Walter E. Bezanson (Saint Paul: Memoirs, Inc., 2011). Journeying offers remarkable glimpses into the life and mind of a man who had, I thought, guarded his privacy throughout many decades. Here you have him as boy scout, student at Dartmouth, lover (first of “Bett” Briggs), Melvillean (one of Yale Professor Stanley T. Williams’s first Melville students), as father of two sons (Mark preWar, Jim postWar), as Lieutenant in the Pacific. Then follows his teaching at Harvard and his choice to go to Rutgers on a joint appointment in History and English, where he could create an American Studies program and where he moved through the ranks to distinguished professor. One of the founders of the Melville Society, three times its President, Bezanson attended Melville meetings in many cities at home and abroad. He traveled much, not only for Melville. Remarkably successful in his professional life and happy in his personal life, he nevertheless suffered the astonishing loss of a wife, not once but twice. After 35 years Bett died of breast cancer, and after fifteen years his second wife, Jeannie, died of a tumor in her brain. My single memory of Bett is vivid and at odds with the photographs in Journeying, for I see her standing, quite ready to leave a conference, an elegant aloof 40s vamp with a dark slash of lipstick and a haughty lift to the shoulders. Jeannie was easy to talk to but before you knew it she was gone, and once again Walt had nursed his wife through long months of dying. Then came the prolonged autumnal idyll (22 years) with Gail Coffler, a romance which began at the 1988 New Orleans MLA. On 12 January 1989, Walt sent me a postcard announcing that his life had begun “to open up again.” The vertical marginal comment: “N. Orleans provided some voodoo.” He was in love again, and Gail was spared what he had twice endured, for Walt was reading Moby-Dick aloud with her (from the 2001 Norton Critical Edition) only weeks before he died. All that and much more you can read in Journeying.

Bezanson led a remarkable life. Melville gave him a career filled with intellectual and aesthetic delight, but what good did he do for Melville? Well, he was a betting man. Given the option of writing a biography of James Fenimore Cooper, he bet he could read Clarel. He won that bet, but think about the lonely years it took. The dissertation was accepted at Yale in 1943. He dated the preface to the Hendricks House edition September 1959, and the book is dated 1960. It seemed still hot off the press when I bought my copy on February 17, 1962. I started reading in May, mailed the book to NYC General Delivery in June so I could read it when the NYPL and N-YHS were closed, and after Book II gave up and went back and started over: I needed to capture momentum before pushing forward. I finished the poem on 12 October 1962 in Evanston, so overwrought that I called it (on the last page) “a finer achievement than Moby-Dick.” How was I able to read Clarel? Why, Walt Bezanson taught me. This is the only one of Melville’s books that one person set out to make sense of at a time when no one else alive could understand the whole thing. It’s the only one of Melville’s books that everyone who has now read it was able to read it only because of one person, Bezanson. Younger people forget. I’ve seen someone patting Walt on the head and saying that his critical index of characters is still of “general” interest. No! that index, like all the rest of his work on Clarel, is of specific relevance to understanding the poem and will remain so. I would modify what Walt says about Vine, but everything I have written about the poem shows my debt. I prefaced the 1986 “The Character of Vine in Melville’s Clarel” (my 1976 Pittsfield Centennial talk) this way: “Through his Hendricks House edition (1960), Walter E. Bezanson taught Clarel to me, as he taught it to almost all living Melvilleans. This essay is for Walt, if he will take it.” No one else, not even Elizabeth S. Foster, who came fairly close, no one else taught us all to read one of Melville’s books. That’s a unique legacy to leave as a Melville scholar and critic. The continued availability of Bezanson’s work is assured by its being included (the “Introduction” intact, with my “Historical Supplement” to take note of new scholarly discoveries) in the 1991 Northwestern-Newberry edition.

And this is not all Bezanson’s legacy. More people have been influenced by Bezanson’s “Moby-Dick: Work of Art” than by his work on Clarel. He gave the long Moby-Dick piece as a lecture at Oberlin to celebrate the centennial of the American publication of Moby-Dick. It was printed in “Moby-Dick” Centennial Essays, edited by Tyrus Hillway and Luther S. Mansfield (1953). In the Literary World Evert Duyckinck had briefly offered the possibility that irreverent parts of Moby-Dick could be read as reflecting the mind of Ishmael, and William Ellery Sedgwick in Herman Melville: The Tragedy of Mind (1945) had devoted several pages to distinguishing Ishmael from Ahab, but Walt was the first to treat Ishmael as “the enfolding sensibility of the novel, the hand that writes the tale, the imagination through which all matters of the book pass,” the first to celebrate “the magic voice.” When Bezanson says, “Enough of evocation,” you realize you have been under his spell as well as that of Melville and Ishmael. But the essay was not truly available for reading and teaching for many years. By the mid-1960s some English departments had Xerox machines on which an article like this one could be copied for a teacher to mark up, although no one could afford to copy it for students to read and discuss. Hayford and I changed all that when we put the essay in the 1967 Norton Critical Edition of Moby-Dick. For more than a third of a century, year after year, several thousand new copies of that essay were put into the hands of several thousand students, most of them new readers. From 1967 on, anyone could read it when few pages of Walt’s other publications were readily available outside of his edition of Clarel, and I suspect that not many dozens of people bought the Hendricks House edition year by year. The essay on Moby-Dick was not in the 1970 Doubloon because that book was a companion volume to the still-recent NCE, but I included Walt in it by his trenchant review of Edward Dahlberg. In 1992, Brian Higgins and I put “Moby-Dick: Work of Art” in Critical Essays on Herman Melville’s “Moby-Dick,” which had nowhere near the circulation of the NCE but nevertheless introduced the essay to some new readers in a challenging new context. By 1998 Nick Selby could describe the essay as “essential in setting out the formalist and humanist terms which dominated readings of Moby-Dick over the following three decades.

Bezanson’s insistence upon seeing Ishmael as the book’s most important character marks . . . a crucial shift in Moby-Dick criticism.” Fittingly,“Moby-Dick: Work of Art” was the only modern academic essay I carried forward from 1967 into the revised sesquicentennial Norton Critical Edition (2001). There, with the fabulous cobalt and gold image of Tupai Cupa on the cover, the 1951 Oberlin talk, still fresh, holds its own with Hayford’s previously hard-of-access but now-classic “Loomings” and his provocative “Unnecessary Duplicates.” I realize something remarkable as I write this paragraph: because of its presence in both the 1967 and the 2001 NCEs, “Moby-Dick: Work of Art” must be in print in more copies around the world than any other academic essay on Moby-Dick. I wonder if that ever occurred to Walt during the many days toward the end when he held the 2001 NCE in his hands.

After the Oberlin talk Walt’s next important work (besides his ongoing work on Clarel) was his 1954 PMLA article on Melville’s markings in his copies of Matthew Arnold, never reprinted and not well enough known. Online access has changed everything. Here in Morro Bay if I did not have a smeary old photocopy of the piece I could in about ninety seconds be printing it, thanks to access to databases through the University of Delaware. (I could also be intrigued by the news in PMLA that Walter E. Bezanson was an Instructor at the University of Maryland.) Walt had a way of blazing trails, as in this venture into Melville’s marginalia where he prefaced his news about Melville by a theory of marginalia. 1954 was, you realize now, almost a decade before Walker Cowen began his Harvard dissertation on the subject, and more than half a century before Steven Olsen-Smith began his online Melville’s Marginalia and Dennis Marnon facilitated the digitizing of Melville books containing some of his most significant marginalia, including the Shakespeare. Again, Walt was a pioneer.

Bezanson’s next big Melville job after the Hendricks House Clarel was the “Historical Note” in the 1982 Northwestern-Newberry Edition of Israel Potter, 173-235. Now that only I survive to tell you, I can say that we had trouble getting Melville critics to write straightforward “Historical Notes,” simply defined as reliable accounts of composition, publication, reception, and later critical history. I took on the Redburn note as a workaday model. Walt’s is the best “Historical Note” in the NN Edition. Listen to a few of the passages I find marked in my working copy: “Although Israel Potter would not become as much an English or London book as Melville probably anticipated in 1849, he was experiencing at first hand the backgrounds he might need. Thus Israel Potter will be in marked contrast to the section of Redburn in which the reader is whirled in and out of the city . . . without ever being shown London. . . . It is interesting that he even contemplated, as early as 1849, composing a work whose major narrative line would be from another book, a writing method which would have anticipated his procedure with ‘Benito Cereno’ . . . . This was Melville country even if somewhat flattened out, and the advantage of pseudo-anonymity—everyone played the unmasking game—was that Melville could have it both ways at a time when his reputation could use some disguise. . . . With this stroke Melville postpones indefinitely Israel’s descent into beggarly anonymity. The very heart of the Life, the grimly ironic London aftermath to heroism which seems to have invoked Melville’s interest in the first place, is thrust aside for a whole new mid-section of naval adventures . . . . Presto, Israel gets the job. . . . The same kind of balloon method—free flight, but a strong cord back to the source—marks the St. Mary’s Isle episode . . . . From here on Melville filled his magazine installments with pages of comedy, melodrama, meditation, and adventure of his own devising mixed half-and-half with pages of his own hurry-up brand of history. Melville, after all, was no scrivener.” This “Historical Note” on Israel Potter cost Walt a year and a half. There’s no way we could have gotten something like this, in time, for the first or second notes, on Typee and Omoo, to serve as models, and our ambitions did not extend as far as requesting “Historical Notes” written by prose stylists. We already knew, but the “Historical Note” in Israel Potter testifies that Bezanson was no scrivener, either.

In any large library one can find John Bryant’s collection, A Companion to Melville Studies (1986), with Walt’s “Moby-Dick: Document, Drama, Dream.” My annotation on p. 185: “so much we have assimilated over the last decades from Walt & others-- 18 Dec 86 enroute LA to Fresno.” Underlined on that page: “It is the narrator who settles in to probe for understanding, summoning evidences from world culture in an effort to break through into meaning. . . . For Ishmael’s struggle with how to tell his tale is under constant discussion, is itself one of the major themes of the book. A modern reader’s fascination with Moby-Dick might well begin with attention to Ishmael’s search for forms—a sermon, a dream, a comic set-piece, a midnight ballet, a meditation, and emblematic reading. It is as if finding a temporary form would in itself constitute one of those ‘meanings’ which Ishmael is always so portentously in search of. Also it is as if Ishmael would stop at nothing in his efforts to entertain, to show off, to perform. ” Walt’s “Melville: Uncommon Common Sailor” in John Bryant and Robert Milder’s 1997 Melville’s Evermoving Dawn: Centennial Essays is the best thing ever written about hyena laughter, Melville’s comedy in Moby-Dick: “Melville’s comic flair no doubt began with temperament, nourished by youth and good health. But the nub of its style came right out of the fisheries, especially the sort of hangman’s humor not unlike the black comedy bred by modern wars. . . . Given a temperamental bent toward humor (merely struggling for existence in the pre-Pacific writings), Melville found right here in the whaleboat the perfect incubator for his hyena laugh. It erupts in the sea books; it declines, or perhaps ascends, into subtler ironies in the later years.” Checking just now, I find that for anywhere between $44 and $67 you can have a copy of the 1997 collection and something between $90 and $210 will get you the older Companion. Availability of Walt’s words is a recurrent theme in this little tribute. Who has the copyright? Someone with Read Iris could take an hour or two to put these in pdfs and then put them online, for free.

The publications are majestic, but not all of his finest thought has been publicly associated with his name. In “Melville’s Chimney, Reexamined” Merton M. Sealts, Jr., gave a close-to-the-vest account of his writing “I and My Chimney,” his first Melville publication: “An intelligent and sensitive individual knowing little of Melville had been powerfully affected, I was told, by something in the story—what was that something?” Walt, intelligent and sensitive even in 1939 or 1940, had told other students of Stanley T. Williams that the story had given him the “heebie-jeebies.” After settling down, he analyzed with Mert how the story had affected him. Even then, Walt had a golden aesthetic and psychological divining rod: he got what was essential in Melville. And he continued to be alert to the ways Melvilleans influence each other. On p. 169 in A Companion to Melville Studies I see the slanted handwriting: “For Hershel, who helped Walter to write this, even if he didn’t know that. . . . Walter E. Bezanson.” I still don’t know that, still have no idea how I might have helped him. I ate at a table with him more than once but I never had a private conversation with him—and was too much in awe of him to initiate one. Others who knew Walt better have written and will write personal reminiscences. From Dennis Marnon I learn of Walt’s prowess as a lecturer in his great age, when he taught Moby-Dick in the Boston Adult Education Center with not only Marnon but also with one of Melville’s great great grandsons in the classroom. I focus here on Walt’s publications and their availability, but how many hundreds of students, some of them now of long past their first youth, remember his voice as he taught Melville and remember something inspiring from what he said? A legacy like Bezanson’s takes many forms. And gratitude circles round on itself so that I say again: “This essay is for Walt, if he will take it.”

Revised: Directors of Southern Presses, Ahoy! Book Proposal!

Normally I have a contract with a university press or a trade publisher before I start writing a book, but there is a book I want to write which I want to place with a Southern press. I want, to tell the truth, to place it with an Oklahoma press, but I am afraid that the word "Okie" in the subtitle may make it unacceptable in my home state. The book will be ORNERY PEOPLE: WHAT IS A DEPRESSION OKIE?

Dear Director: I want to approach you about a peculiarly Oklahoman project, one that needs the enthusiastic support of the director. I am planning a book that answers the question, “What is a Depression Okie?” Its title is ORNERY PEOPLE. My ancestry must be representative of that of many hundreds or thousands of Oklahomans. Statistically I find that I am kin not merely to many thousands of Americans but the low millions, for all of my white ancestors came in the 17th and 18th centuries (the last in 1750, the Costners) and had enormous families and those children had enormous families on down into the early 20th century. One of my Mississippi double cousins (found on the Internet this year, a Costner and a Bell) says that all Southerners are connected, even if they are not kin. I find that to be true as I see so many familiar and family names recurring in genealogies. I am truly a representative Oklahoman, and a surviving Depression Okie. I would not be so vainglorious as to call ORNERY PEOPLE a prequel to GRAPES OF WRATH (although I cannot take that book seriously as a portrait of eastern Oklahoma). Still, without too much hyperbole ORNERY PEOPLE could be marketed as the story which shows how American Southerners got to the point where Steinbeck took up the fictional Joads. Please let me try to interest you.

On paper I look like a regular sort of academic. I am H. Fletcher Brown Professor at the University of Delaware, Professor Emeritus since my retirement in 1998. I am a Pulitzer finalist for the first volume of my biography of Herman Melville (1997) and the winner of the highest award in biography from the Association of American Publishers for each of the two volumes of my biography of Melville, in 1997 and 2003. I’ve held a Guggenheim Fellowship and have published books with Johns Hopkins, LSU, Cambridge, G. K. Hall, Michigan, and other presses, but most commonly with Northwestern University Press. I taught at Illinois, Northwestern, the University of Southern California, and Delaware. My work has been in textual scholarship, aesthetics, and biography. I have in fact gone against the grain of the dominant New Criticism and later the New Historicism, not out of pure orneriness, I trust, but simply from an inclination to work with manuscript evidence and other original documents whenever possible. You could check me (Hershel Parker, no “c” in my first name) in Wikipedia or Bookfinder or Google Books or Amazon.

I was born near Comanche, Oklahoma, in 1935, son of a woman born in Guymon, Oklahoma Territory, and a father born in Wister, Choctaw Nation, Indian Territory. My first years were in an oil field near the Rio Grande until my father lost his job and had bad trouble finding another. The first winter of the war we lived in a tent (outdoor toilet, spigot for water outside the tent), in sight of the new DuPont Powder Plant near Pryor, Oklahoma, until the well-remembered cyclone destroyed the school. (Ironically my chair at Delaware [1979-1998] was endowed by a DuPont in-law.) My parents worked in ship yards in Portland, Oregon, then moved to a farm in LeFlore County, Oklahoma, outside Wister. In 1952 I left high school after the 11th grade so I could help support the family, at first working as an apprentice telegrapher at Red Rock, Oklahoma, where hooks still held tickets on which towns were identified not as in Oklahoma but as in IT or OT. I had seven years seniority as a railroad telegrapher on the Kansas City Southern when I quit in 1959 to go to Northwestern on a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship. During that time I was sick for two years with tuberculosis but accumulated college credits by correspondence from the Universities of Oklahoma, California, and Texas, and finished at Lamar State College of Technology in Beaumont (“with highest honors”) after two years of working 8 at night till 4 in the morning on the KCS Railway in Port Arthur and going to school in the day. After getting my BA from Lamar in 1959 I took the MA in 1960 and PhD in 1963, both from Northwestern.

Late in 2002, three years after my mother, Martha Costner Parker, died at 92, I realized that I knew only two bits about any of any of my great grandparents. Mother’s grandfather Bell had enjoyed saying, in northern Mississippi, “I’m Scotch-Irish and Damn Yankee!” He was a Scot whose ancestors were from Ireland, all right, but not a Yankee. One of his brothers was in the Confederacy, and survived a Yankee prison. My Great Grandfather Bell must have been ornery indeed, for that to be his favorite phrase. The other story I knew was that my father’s Parker grandfather had been so poor that as a child of six or seven he ran deadfalls in the winter snow in northern Mississippi barefoot, carrying a heated rock in a tow sack. He would drop the sack and warm his feet while he reset the trap, then run on to the next until the rock was cold. I understood this only when I learned his birth year, 1860, and learned that his father had disappeared before the 1870 census, and that half the men and boys in Fulton Township were dead or had disappeared by the end of the war. I knew nothing else, not one other anecdote, and assumed that there would be no written record of people so impoverished for so long.

Late in 2002 I decided to stop working on Melville for two months to see what I could find on the Internet about my family. I was astonished at how many written documents I found, right away, about many of my American ancestors. Merely by searching on the Internet, accumulating books, and corresponding with Internet cousins, I have over the last several years amassed such a great deal of evidence that I am at the brink of the writing stage rather than the accumulation stage. I call the book ORNERY PEOPLE because I am recalling and celebrating such a tough bunch. A few years ago I wrote what could be the first chapter, my experiences as an Okie up to the point I decided to find out what a Depression Okie really was. I think that’s in readable shape now. Some of the ancestors, I discovered, were wealthy landowners in Maryland: one of them seems to have passed on much of Silver Springs in his will. Recently I learned that from some of those Maryland ancestors I am 6th cousin to the wife of my chairman at USC all through the 1970s and that we are, to our chagrin, akin to the Warfields, even Wallis Warfield Simpson. We never knew we were related! There are other startling well-documented connections to English families (who would not want Jane Austen for a cousin?), but my focus is all American. Within one or two generations such people as the prosperous Marylanders and Virginians were frontiersmen and women, often illiterate.

One GGGGG Grandfather was a North Carolina Regulator in the months before the Battle of Alamance. About a dozen of my ancestors, mainly Scots and Germans, were in the Revolution, including a son of the Regulator. How proud I would have been in youth and all my life, had I known! Another GGGGG Grandfather (well, they were Scots, so doubly a GGGGG Grandfather), who had daringly been on a North Carolina Committee of Safety, led his clan at King’s Mountain, that “turning point of the war in the South” Three anecdotes survive online of this GGGGG Grandfather’s sister’s riding 12 miles on an unruly stallion through Tory territory the next day, a Sunday, afraid that her husband and son were dead, only to find all her Presbyterian menfolk playing cards and passing a jug around. She stayed to nurse other men who were wounded.

Many of my ancestors are listed as the first whites in an area (even to the point of being “intruders” more than once). One family is well documented as the “Sims [or Simms] Intruders” who took flatboats down the Elk River into Alabama before it was opened to whites, only to be burned out twice by soldiers from Fort Hampton, Tennessee, despite, the second time, their letter (in the National Archives) begging President “Maddison” not to send the soldiers again. After their cabins were burned and their crops chopped down, they went over the Tennessee line and survived the winter in shelters made from bark of old growth trees, so that the place was called Barksville. A centennial history writer remembered seeing the shelters, and gave a sense of what living inside them was like.

The Coker family is extensively documented online by the Silas C. Turnbo papers in the Springfield-Greene County Library, Springfield, Missouri. My GGGGG Grandfather William (Buck) Coker arrived there (they learned months later) on the day of the Battle of New Orleans, so his arrival date passed down in the family. Sons had been there earlier, as was usual, preparing the way. Turnbo records stories of panthers, bears (Aunt Kate and children under the puncheon floor as the bear pawed at it), snakes, and very rough people. I had known Henry Rowe Schoolcraft’s book on his travels as a source for Longfellow, but had not known to make anything of the fact that one of his hosts is “Mr. Coker,” who has bear skins strung on rods all around his house, inside and out, and who has not a single vegetable in his diet. I knew from dark great aunts of their grievance at being left of the Choctaw rolls. One of them lived in three centuries, but not very long in two of them, dying in 2001. Their white father recited the Lord’s Prayer in Choctaw before every meal. I remember this man, who was born in 1861. Until I began looking on the Internet I had no idea that the Glenn-Tucker case was notorious, the Jarndyce vs. Jarndyce of the Indian Territory. A history published just after statehood jibes at it. I have printed out the long, intricate decision on “GLENN-TUCKER, et al., v. CLAYTON, Judge. / Court of Appeals of Indian Territory, Sept. 25, 1902” from the Southwestern Reporter, Volume 70--an example of what riches is available for free on the Internet. The story of how the Glenn-Tucker family was cheated of their Indian rights (in this case, Cherokee rights) is a true story of Ornery People. They stopped along the way to give birth, harvest a crop, and, worst, did not know that the Arkansas line had been moved west. Their history is documented not only with legal records but also by affidavits my cousins gave in the 1880s before the Dawes Commission about events in the 1830s and earlier. There is even a WPA oral interview with a Glenn-Tucker cousin! And it is documented in even my memory, for in 1990 at an aunt’s 90th birthday another aunt lamented her exclusion from the rolls.

I am a Glenn two ways and a Tucker one way. One Coker girl (part Glenn and Tucker), having escaped with another child from a bushwacking in northern Arkansas, made her way to a much older Mexican War veteran cousin in Dade Co., Missouri, John B. E. Glenn, newly a widower, who said she could stay if she married him. He had proved his orneriness by volunteering for a year in the Union army even though Abraham Lincoln had received only a handful of votes in Dade County. In 1942 and after the Second World War in Wister I knew a son of this Mexican War soldier. The soldier was described on his discharge paper as 6 ft 5 inches, Scot and Cherokee. (I have followed his service through newspaper archives I have access to through Delaware.) Uncle Johnny (my great granduncle) must also have been that tall, and topped himself with a black stovepipe hat as he brought early spring vegetables to help feed us after the Pryor cyclone, my father having gone ahead to Oregon. Uncle Johnny was very dark indeed, with Choctaw blood as well as Cherokee blood from the northern Arkansas Cokers who took up with Cherokees. There’s a good story about Cherokees chasing Uncle Joe because he had one too many wives, the story of how Poor Joe Hill got its name. My Parker grandmother was very dark, although she was more than half white. One of her daughters was always called Blanket. I was middle-aged before I learned that she came out so dark that they decided they should wrap her in a blanket and drop her off at a Reservation. Okie humor.

One group of 150 Richardsons and in-laws left Moore Co., North Carolina, in ox-drawn wagons, carrying everything including livestock—over the mountains, and by Knoxville, where the patriarch died and was buried on the roadside. Their arrival in Lauderdale Co. Alabama, around 1820 is recorded in a long letter written in the 1870s. One healthy lad who gloried in the excitement of the months-long trip died in an Alton prison in the Civil War because he would not take a loyalty oath while his sons were in the CSA. Aunt Kate Stutts Richardson rode a horse all the way from Moore County, and in her great age (the family swears) she killed a Yankee with a stick of firewood when he leaned into her apple barrel. In 2007 I saw in several of the family cemeteries tombs of grandsons of the 1820 troop slain in the war. The brevity of time between the Revolution and the Civil War is never so clear as when you see so many graves of grandchildren of Revolutionary patriots slain in another war. And now, of course, there are stark new graves with the Iraq dead, some with the family names.

Many of my mother’s people were German, Pennsylvania Dutch, including the Costners, the last-comers, most of whom went down the Great Wagon Road to North Carolina very soon. Two brothers, sons of a Confederate private who survived Gettysburg (others did not), went out to Guymon, OT, my grandfather and Mother’s Uncle Mode (Moses Amariah), great grandfather of the actor, Kevin Costner. In 2007 when we knocked on a door in Dallas, North Carolina, to ask directions to a Costner cemetery the man who opened the door was Clyde Costner, on land that had been in the family more than two centuries. Most of us moved west fast. Thomas W. Bell, a grandson of two of the King’s Mountain men, got to the Republic of Texas in time to be “captured in the cause of Texas” and to write a book (1845), A NARRATIVE OF THE CAPTURE AND SUBSEQUENT SUFFERINGS OF THE MIER PRISONERS IN MEXICO. An author in the family, my first cousin four times removed!

I am using Revolutionary pension records to reconstruct significant bits of military history from the ground up, comparing my long-lived ancestors’ stories with those of others who had served in the same companies. (One of my GGGG grandfathers applied for his pension when he was over 90, and received it.) The book will trace migration patterns; treatment of slaves (there’s a horrific pre-Revolution “William Zan[t]zinger” record of a Pottenger uncle’s killing a young male slave and being questioned but not punished); the reasons for shifts in religious affiliations (some Boyd cousins were famous South Carolina Methodist preachers, a Hill ancestor was a circuit rider in Alabama and Mississippi); the immediate and long-term effects of the Civil War; the descent into poverty that ran from the Civil War on through the Dust Bowl (my parents were in Spearman, Texas, during the worst of it) and the Depression, which I remember. (I remember the horrors of joblessness in 1939.)

I will write about using Internet resources wisely, as in the strategies by which I learned that my grand aunt had been wrong in 1990 when she said her father was “a full-blooded Irishman who didn’t talk plain.” I assumed she meant he was fresh off the boat, there, inexplicably, in Indian Territory. In fact, he was Scottish, Scotch-Irish, born in Arkansas of parents born in Tennessee, just as you would expect if you did not believe everything an aunt said. How I tracked his family back will make a good paragraph or two. He was illiterate, and may not have talked as plain as my eastern Oklahoma aunt, but he was not a full-blooded Irishman.

I will take issue with points in some standard histories of periods and movements, for I find that American history is still written mainly by Northerners for Northerners, who know there was a Boston Massacre but know nothing of Battle of Alamance and hangings that followed. ORNERY PEOPLE will recount the dispersal of families and, oddly, it will celebrate the reconnecting of families through the Internet. This year I saw for the first time a photograph of my Henderson great grandparents: that’s an example of the Internet reuniting families. Another example: on email with an Internet Cockerham cousin I was identifying a mutual ancestor when he asked my other names and when I listed some he instantly said, “Well, we are certainly both Schlemps!” And it turns out that I envy one of the Schlemps, for while he was in Coolidge’s cabinet he got to meet John Buchan, one of my favorite writers.)

In ORNERY PEOPLE I will celebrate the serious historical work of many amateur genealogists whose respect for the rules of evidence puts many academics to shame. All my academic life I worked in the archives, transcribing manuscripts myself; now I perforce rely on others for much of the research, but the odd thing is that more and more manuscript material is showing up online, such as letters from men in my Great Grandfather Costner’s Mississippi regiment. I write fast, as a professional. I wrote the 400-page MELVILLE BIOGRAPHY: AN INSIDE NARRATIVE (now in press at Northwestern) between May 2009 and May 2010, had to let it rest to push on other projects, then finished it between May 2011 and the end of September 2011. I expect to write ORNERY PEOPLE in a year or so once I start, perhaps two, allowing for interruptions on other projects. As I said, I am recognizing the tension which means “Enough accumulating: time to look hard and start writing.” Normally I blaze away writing what I want to write, but I would like to write ORNERY PEOPLE with a press in mind so as to adapt it to best fit the needs of the press. I can publish it outside Oklahoma, even in these hard times. Northwestern published one of my books, THE POWELL PAPERS, in July 2011, and the still more ambitious MELVILLE BIOGRAPHY: AN INSIDE NARRATIVE is set for 2012 and can now be preordered on Amazon.

I have other commercial projects in the works, as you can see from the appended list of what I have published after retiring in 1998. I have no scruples, now, about self-publishing or publishing on Kindle: everything has changed, you know better than I do, and in many ways for the good, I believe. Nevertheless, I want Oklahoma presses to have first refusal of ORNERY PEOPLE because it is quintessentially an Oklahoma book. It would mean a great deal to me to have it published and promoted in Oklahoma.

Sincerely, Hershel Parker 2900 Juniper Avenue Morro Bay, CA 93442

This will not be a grim book. There will be many anecdotes such as this one: Cousin L. M. Hoffman tells this story about Cousin Cephas Bell, a Confederate soldier in the 28th North Carolina Regiment, a grandson of the King’s Mountain hero Thomas Costner: “His comrades say of him that he was not unusually bright but that he was unusually brave. On one occasion his command was ordered to charge the enemy entrenched on a hill. The Federals scattered in confusion and Bell leading in the rush did not notice that his command had halted in the enemy’s abandoned position but went on after an officer in the rear of the rout. He overtook his man and ordered him to surrender. The officer said he couldn’t surrender except to an officer. Bell swore at him and said he’d blow out his d----d brains if he didn’t surrender quick . . . . He took his prisoner back and meeting some officers as he approached headquarters they told him they’d take the prisoner. He said, ‘No you won’t; if you want to go get you one, there’s plenty of them over there [pointing in the direction the enemy had gone]. You shall not have mine.’”

Since my retirement in 1998 I have continued to publish:
The Norton Anthology of American Literature, 5th Edition (1998). This is the most thoroughly revised edition yet. For it I wrote new author headnotes and selection headnotes and footnotes for Catharine Maria Sedgwick, Caroline Stansbury Kirkland, Fanny Fern, Louisa May Alcott, and Harriet Prescott Spofford. I wrote new footnotes for additional selections by Margaret Fuller, Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman, Herman Melville, and other authors already represented in earlier editions of NAAL. I also updated the bibliographies for the period and made many other changes.

"Herman Melville," in American National Biography, Vol. 15 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999 [check date), pp. 277-283. "Ahab's Wife Doesn't Belong on Same Shelf as Moby-Dick," San Francisco Chronicle (24 October 1999), 10.

The Norton Critical Edition of MOBY¬DICK, Second Edition, eds. Hershel Parker and Harrison Hayford (New York: W. W. Norton, 2001), pp. xvii and 726. "Melville's Reading and Moby-Dick: An Overview and a Bibliography," in The Norton Critical Edition of MOBY¬DICK, Second Edition (2001), 431-437. "Before Moby-Dick: International Controversy over Melville," in The Norton Critical Edition of MOBY-DICK, Second Edition (2001), 465-470.

"Damned by Dollars: Moby-Dick and the Price of Genius," in The Norton Critical Edition of MOBY-DICK, Second Edition (2001), 713-726. Revised and reprinted in Living with a Writer, ed. Dale Salwak (London and New York: Palgrave/Macmillan and St. Martin's Press, 2004), 202-222.

"Foreword," in the Sesquicentennial paperback issue of the Northwestern-Newberry Moby-Dick (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 2001), pp. xiii-xvi.

"Melville and Hawthorne in the Berkshires," in Aspects of Melville, ed. David Scribner (Pittsfield: Berkshire County Historical Society at Arrowhead, 2001), 21-27.

"The Masterpiece That Ended a Career: Melville's Moby-Dick," Sea Letter 61 (Winter 2001), 10-13.

Herman Melville: A Biography, 1851-1891 (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002). Xvii and 997. Winner in "Biography and Autobiography," Association of American Publishers' Professional/Scholarly Publishing Division Annual Award; listed as an "Outstanding Academic Title" in the January 2004 issue of Choice Magazine.

Norton Anthology of American Literature, 6th Edition (2002). Contains only a few new authors with new headnotes but a greatly rewritten general introduction.

Robin Grey and Douglas Robillard in consultation with Hershel Parker, "Melville's Milton: The Marginalia in The Poetical Works of John Milton: A Transcription of Melville's Annotation in His Copy of Milton," Leviathan, 4 (March and October 2002), 117-204. Reprinted in Melville and Milton: An Edition and Analysis of Melville's Annotations on Milton, ed. Robin Grey (Pittsburgh: DuQuesne University Press, 2004), 115-203.

Editor and contributor, “Harrison Hayford (1916-2001): His Students Recollect,” Leviathan 5.11 (March 2003), 71-85.

"Foreword," in Harrison Hayford, Melville's Prisoners (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 2003), vii-xi.

"What Hawthorne Meant to Melville," Harrison Hayford, introduced by Hershel Parker, Hawthorne Revisited: Honoring the Bicentennial of the Author's Birth, eds. Gordon Hyatt and David Scribner (Lenox: Lenox Library Association, 2004), 75-82.

"Chronologie," in the Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, No. 433, Herman Melville, Oeuvres, 2 ("Redburn" and "Vareuse-Blanche"), ed. Philippe Jaworski, with Michel Imbert, Hershel Parker, and Joseph Urbas (Paris: Gallimard, 2004), xiii-xviii. (A new chronology for 1849-1850, the period of this volume.)

“Damned by Dollars,” revised, in Living with a Writer, Dale Salwak, ed. (Houndsmill, Basingstoke, Hampshire, 2004), 202-222.

With Mark Niemeyer, the Second Norton Critical Edition of The Confidence-Man (New York: W. W. Norton, 2006). This contains reprinted essays and (besides the Preface) three substantial new essays by Parker: "The Confidence Man's Masquerade," "Delusions of a 'Terrestrial Paradise,'" and "The Politics of Allegorizing Indian Hating."

"Chronologie," in the Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, No. 433, Herman Melville, Oeuvres, 3 ("Moby-Dick; Pierre ou les Ambiguités"]), ed. Philippe Jaworski, with Michel Imbert, Hershel Parker, and Joseph Urbas (Paris: Gallimard, 2006), xxxiii-xl. (A new chronology for 1850-1853, the period of this volume.)

Reading Melville's "Pierre; or, The Ambiguities", by Brian Higgins and Hershel Parker (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2006.

"The Isle of the Cross and Poems: Lost Melville Books and the Indefinite Afterlife of Error," Nineteenth-Century Literature 62 (June 2007), 29-47.

Melville: The Making of the Poet (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 2008); available late November 2007 but dated 2008.

"James B. Meriwether: An Encounter," Mississippi Quarterly, 59:3-4 (Summer-Fall 2006), 391-393. [Written before Meriwether's death on 18 March 2007.] "Foreword," in Herman Melville's Clarel (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 2008), xiii-xxvii.

Published Poems, Vol. 11 in The Writings of Herman Melville, ed. Hershel Parker, G. Thomas Tanselle, and Alma MacDougall Reising (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 2009.

"Chronologie," in the Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, Herman Melville, Oeuvres, 4 ("Bartleby le scribe; Billy Budd, marin; et autres romans), ed. Philippe Jaworski, with David Lapoujade and Hershel Parker (Paris: Gallimard, 2010), xxi-xlii. (A new chronology for 1852-1891, the period of this volume.)

"The 'New Scholarship': Textual Evidence and Its Implications for Criticism, Literary Theory, and Aesthetics," Studies in American Fiction, 9 (Autumn 1981), pp. 18l¬97. Reprinted in Ecdotica 6 (University of Bologna, 2009), in Anglo-American Scholarly Editing, 1980-2005 (Bulogna: University of Bulogna, 2010), 30-46.

Billy Budd: Lesen & Verstehen (Düsselforf: Düsseldorf University Press, 2010), translated by Ernst A. Chantelau. This is a German edition of my Reading “Billy Budd” (1990).

“The Talented Ripley Hitchcock,” American Literary Realism, 43 (Winter 2011), pp. 175-182. [Largely about Hitchcock’s censorship of Zane Grey.] The Powell Papers: A Confidence Man Amok Among the Anglo-American Literati (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 2011), xiv, 345.

“Chronologie,” pp. 603-618, a condensed 1810-1891 version, in the Folio Classique edition of Melville’s Mardi, ed. Dominique Marçais, Mark Niemeyer, Joseph Urbas, préface nouvelle de Philippe Jaworski, Chronologie de Hershel Parker, traduction de Rose Celli, revue par Philippe Jaworski (Paris: Gallimard, 2011)

“The Unemployable Herman Melville: ‘Nothing Else To Do’ But Sign on a Whaleship,” Historic Nantucket 62.2 (Spring 2012), 4-10.

“Walter E. Bezanson: A Memorial,” Leviathan 37 (Spring 2012), 37-42.

Forthcoming: Forthcoming: Melville Biography: An Inside Narrative now in press (copy-edited, index in preparation) at Northwestern University Press for 2012 publication.

In progress: The three-volume third edition of The New Melville Log, Hershel Parker and Jay Leyda (New York: Gordian Press) and perhaps an electronic version of the entire 9,000 page archive. This functions as my private archive of archives. We are at work on a 3-volume print edition. On 24 June 2010 Robert Sandberg agreed to do the coding and layout; in April 2011 I passed onto him all the first volume, August 1819 to June 1849.

Next project, "Things Incomplete and Purposes Betrayed" (working title, from Wordsworth)—my part of the Historical Note for BILLY BUDD, SAILOR and Other Uncompleted Writings, the final Northwestern-Newberry volume. I am General Editor.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Wikipedia on Hampton Dellinger of North Carolina

Hampton Dellinger is a North Carolina lawyer in the Triangle office of Robinson, Bradshaw & Hinson who was a candidate for the 2008 Democratic nomination for Lieutenant Governor of North Carolina. In his first run for elective office, he lost the Democratic primary on May 6, 2008 to Walter H. Dalton. Before running for lieutenant governor, Dellinger held state government posts under Mike Easley when the latter served as North Carolina Attorney General and later as Governor. Dellinger is the son of law professor and former Acting Solicitor General of the United States Walter Dellinger. In 2009, Sen. Kay Hagan recommended Dellinger and two other lawyers to President Barack Obama for consideration as U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina. Obama eventually nominated attorney Thomas G. Walker instead.

Now on Chris Matthews's show there's a handsome young North Carolina lawyer named Dellinger. Is he a carpetbagger from Rhode Island or is he a descendant of the brave Dellingers who signed the Tryon Resolves in 1775, my cousins George and John Dellinger? One of the cousins still runs the last working grist mill in North Carolina, so they are still around.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Marianne Jankowski's Great Cover for MELVILLE BIOGRAPHY: AN INSIDE NARRATIVE

HOW LUCKY CAN A DEPRESSION OKIE BE? Maurice Sendak drew 2 cover pictures for me, one for each volume of my biography of Melville. And now look what Marianne Jankowski has done for MELVILLE BIOGRAPHY: AN INSIDE NARRATIVE!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Wilburn's son Darrell with 22 Pound Turkey

The earliest of Darrell's white ancestors arrived in North Central Arkansas in 1814 and his GGGGGG Grandfather Coker arrived on 8 January 1815, a day they remembered after receiving the news months later about what had happened in New Orleans on that day.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012


Late in 2010 the Johns Hopkins University Press issued these “publisher’s comments” on William V. Spanos’s THE EXCEPTIONALIST STATE AND THE STATE OF EXCEPTION: HERMAN MELVILLE’S “BILLY BUDD, SAILOR: “Critics predominantly view Herman Melville’s Billy Budd, Sailor as a ‘testament of acceptance,’ the work of a man who had become politically conservative in his last years. William V. Spanos disagrees, arguing that the novella was not only a politically radical critique of American exceptionalism but also an eerie preview of the state of exception employed, most recently, by the George W. Bush administration in the post-9/11 War on Terror. . . . Spanos demonstrates . . . that Melville’s uncanny attunement to the dark side of the American exceptionalism myth enabled him to foresee its threat to the very core of democracy in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. This view, Spanos believes, anticipates the state of exception theory that has emerged in the recent work of Giorgio Agamben, Alain Badiou, Judith Butler, and Jacques Ranciere, among other critical theorists.” Claiming that Melville was a seer (long bearded, swathed in his silken arabeseque gown?), writing his vision of 21st century America into his last long prose manuscript, was indeed eerie, I thought. I had become familiar with “Presentism” from the writings of Laurie Robertson-Lorant and Andrew Delbanco but this sounded a little creepier. The book as published early in 2011 is indeed overtly presentist but disturbingly personal. It contains (I almost want to say “consists of”) a multi-part rabid screed against Harrison Hayford and Merton M. Sealts, Jr., and against me in particular as a supporter of Hayford and Sealts in Reading “Billy Budd” (1990). In that book, as some of you know, I focused on the implications for criticism of the fact (demonstrated by Hayford and Sealts) that Melville left the manuscript uncompleted, with two plot lines going off in divergent directions. I was concerned with the waste of human life in writing criticism which the textual analysis of Hayford and Sealts showed was untenable. Spanos knows me better than I knew myself and better than I know myself. I thought I had suffered irremediable harm when W. J. T. Mitchell in the Introduction to AGAINST THEORY: LITERARY STUDIES AND THE NEW PRAGMATISM, called me a “textual objectivist.” Those were FIGHTING WORDS, I thought. I timidly I knuckled down and made no defense of myself. Spanos claims that my “real criticism is directed against critical perspectives, emerging in the context of the protest movement during the Vietnam War—and theoretically emanating from Europe (the “Old World”)—that was politicizing Melville’s text, indeed, reading it (and his earlier fiction) as a radical political critique of a conservative society” (60) . My stance, he trumpeted, “like Hayford’s and Sealts’s, is everywhere, in fact, informed by a conservative ideology” (61). I shuddered at Andrew Delbanco’s ascribing prurient thoughts to me during the 1990s and early 2000s, and I am not pleased by Spanos’s triumphant assertions that I hold political views which are alien to me. Already in the 1960s and still more so in 1988 when I wrote the book on Billy Budd I was informed by “a conservative ideology” only in regard to shoddy literary criticism and incompetent scholarship. In reading masses of literary criticism and what passes for scholarship while writing Melville Biography: An Inside Narrative I have not encountered much in the way of great criticism based on accurate textual, historical, and biographical scholarship. Instead, I see missed opportunities—in the 1970s, for instance, a myriad of opportunities to write fresh literary criticism based on new textual scholarship, in the 1980s a myriad of opportunities to write fresh literary history based on new historical and biographical research, and in the early twenty-first century a myriad of opportunities to explore episodes in Melville’s life using my two-volume biography and other tools as signals toward insufficiently explored archival material on Melville and on hundreds of people who came in contact with him—people such as those who attended Dr. John Wakefield Francis’s Sunday evenings with Melville. As far as presentism goes, my approach is opposite to Robertson-Lorant’s, Delbanco’s, and Spanos’s. My focus was so firmly on understanding Melville in relation to his own circumstances that I think I made not one comparison of anything in the narrative to anything in the twentieth century. Stephen B. Oates in “Biography as High Adventure,” reprinted from 1985 Timeline in Oates’s Biography as High Adventure (1986), identifies a position I share when he says the biographer “must keep his own voice out of the story so that the subject and his times can live again” (125). I may not have kept my voice out, but I think I managed to keep my politics out by writing straight-faced about things debatable, even sex. One left wing ideologue was horrified by my way of dealing with all the speculation about Melville’s having had premarital sex in the South Seas: of course, I think I observed, he could not have had premarital sex in the United States. A sweet lovely woman in the Atlantic Monthly understood my “sly, deadpan humor,” and intuited quite rightly that I was really, truly not a conservative ideologue. Phoebe-Lou Adams, bless her heart. If I remember right, she said one thing wrong with ideologues like William V. Spanos is that they have absolutely NO SENSE OF HUMOR or else (did she say, with eerie prescience?) they would never title a book THE EXCEPTIONALIST STATE AND THE STATE OF EXCEPTION: HERMAN MELVILLE’S “BILLY BUDD, SAILOR especially if you had earlier titled another book AMERICAN EXCEPTIONALISM IN THE AGE OF GLOBALIZATION: THE SPECTER OF VIETNAM. Why do these people fantasize about me and call me dirty names? Why don’t they just say, “Oh, Parker, that humorist, the Depression Okie”?

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Quest for Page Numbers for Quotations in MELVILLE BIOGRAPHY: AN INSIDE NARRATIVE

What I am doing all day instead of blogging: checking quotations and page numbers for MELVILLE BIOGRAPHY: AN INSIDE NARRATIVE. See the piles of Xeroxes of articles on biography!