Melville was the author of a novel abut what we'd now consider an illegal
the commercial hunting of whales for oil and meat. In capturing the
whaling industry at its peak, showcasing the rebellious white whale, in
our view he was lobbying for the whales, the innocent victims in his
story. Following his death in New York City in 1891, he posthumously came to be regarded as one of the great American
writers, with which we agree absolutely.
PARADISE OF THE BATCHELORS AND THE TARTARUS OF MAIDS
"The Paradise of Bachelors and the Tartarus of Maids" is a short story written by American writer
Melville. It first appeared in the 1st April (fools day) 1855 edition of Harper's Magazine. A combination of two sketches, one set in the center of London's
legal industry and the other in a New England paper factory, this story can be read as an early comment on globalization.
is entirely possible that if Melville was observing the goings on of the
High Court, and lawyers in this particular vicinity, that he may have
been embroiled in litigation of some sort. On the other hand, he may
just have been wondering what all the fuss was about.
who has been a combatant in the High Court will better understand the
contrast, all the more so if one has also worked on a production line
In the first sketch, the London bachelors, all lawyers, scholars, or writers, enjoy a sumptuous meal in a cozy apartment near the Temple Bar. In the second sketch, the New England "maids" are young women working in a paper factory.
Melville was inspired to write "The Paradise of Bachelors" by a trip to the Inns of Court,
London, England, in December 1849. "The Tartarus of Maids" was inspired by his visit to Carson's Old Red Paper Mill in Dalton,
Massachusetts in January, 1851.
TEXT: THE PARADISE OF BACHELORS AND THE TARTARUS OF MAIDS
IT lies not far from Temple-Bar. Going to it, by the usual way, is like stealing from a heated plain into some cool, deep glen, shady among harboring hills. Sick with the din and soiled with the mud of Fleet Street -- where the Benedick tradesmen are hurrying by, with ledger-lines ruled along their brows, thinking upon rise of bread and fall of babies -- you adroitly turn a mystic corner -- not a street -- glide down a dim, monastic way flanked by dark, sedate, and solemn piles, and still wending on, give the whole care-worn world the slip, and, disentangled, stand beneath the quiet cloisters of the Paradise of Bachelors. Sweet are the oases in Sahara; charming the isle-groves of August prairies; delectable pure faith amidst a thousand perfidies: but sweeter, still more charming, most delectable, the dreamy Paradise of Bachelors, found in the stony heart of stunning London. In mild meditation pace the cloisters; take your pleasure, sip your leisure, in the garden waterward; go linger in the ancient library, go worship in the sculptured chapel: but little have you seen, just nothing do you know, not the sweet kernel have you tasted, till you dine among the banded Bachelors, and see their convivial eyes and glasses sparkle. Not dine in Column bbustling commons, during term-time, in the hall; but tranquilly, by private hint, at a private table; some fine Templar's hospitably invited guest. Templar? That's a romantic name. Let me see. Brian de Bois Gilbert was a Templar, I believe. Do we understand you to insinuate that those famous Templars still survive in modern London? May the ring of their armed heels be heard, and the rattle of their shields, as in mailed prayer the monk-knights kneel before the consecrated Host? Surely a monk-knight were a curious sight picking his way along the Strand, his gleaming corselet and snowy surcoat spattered by an omnibus. Long-bearded, too, according to his order's rule; his face fuzzy as a pard's; how would the grim ghost look among the crop-haired, close-shaven citizens? We know indeed -- sad history recounts it -- that a moral blight tainted at last this sacred Brotherhood. Though no sworded foe might out-skill them in the fence, yet the worm of luxury crawled beneath their guard, gnawing the core of knightly troth, nibbling the monastic vow, till at last the monk's austerity relaxed to wassailing, and the sworn knights-bachelors grew to be but hypocrites and rakes.
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But for all this, quite unprepared were we to learn that Knights-Templars (if at all in being) were so entirely secularized as to be reduced from carving out immortal fame in glorious battling for the Holy Land, to the carving of roast-mutton at a dinner-board. Like Anacreon, do these degenerate Templars now think it sweeter far to fall in banquet than in war? Or, indeed, how can there be any survival of that famous order? Templars in modern London! Templars in their red-cross mantles smoking cigars at the Divan! Templars crowded in a railway train, till, stacked with
steel helmet, spear, and shield, the whole train looks like one elongated loco-motive! No. The genuine Templar is long since de-parted. Go view the wondrous tombs in the Temple Church; see there the rigidly-haughty forms stretched out, with crossed arm upon their stilly hearts, in everlasting and undreaming rest. Like the years before the flood, the bold Knights-Templars are no more. Nevertheless, the name remains, and the nominal society, and the ancient grounds, and some of the ancient edifices. But the iron heel is changed to a boot of patent-leather; the long two-handed sword to a one-handed quill; the monk-giver of gratuitous ghostly counsel now counsels for a fee; the defender of the sarcophagus (if in good practice with his weapon) now has more than one case to defend; the vowed opener and clearer of all highways leading to the Holy Sepulchre, now has it in particular charge to check, to clog, to hinder, and embarrass all the courts and avenues of Law; the knight-combatant of the Saracen, breasting spear-points at Acre, now fights law-points in Westminster Hall. The helmet is a wig. Struck by Time's enchanter's Wand, the Templar is to-day a Lawyer. But, like many others tumbled from proud glory's height -- like the apple, hard on the bough but mellow on the ground -- the Templar's fall has but made him all the finer fellow. I dare say those old warrior-priests were but gruff and grouty at the best; cased in Birmingham hardware, how could their crimped arms give yours or mine a hearty shake? Their proud, ambitious, monkish souls clasped shut, like horn-book missals; their very faces clapped in bomb-shells; what sort of genial men were these? But best of comrades, most affable of hosts, capital diner is the modern Templar. His wit and wine are both of sparkling brands. The church and cloisters, courts and vaults, lanes and passages, banquet-halls, refectories, li-braries, terraces, gardens, broad walks, domicils, and dessert-rooms, covering a very large
space of ground, and all grouped in central neighbor-hood, and quite sequestered from the old city's surrounding din; and every thing about the place being kept in most bachelor-like particu-larity, no part of London offers to a quiet wight so agreeable a refuge.
The Temple is, indeed, a city by itself. A city with all the best appurtenances, as the above enumeration shows. A city with a park to it, and flower-beds, and a river-side -- the Thames flowing by as openly, in one part, as by Eden's primal garden flowed the mild Euphrates. In what is now the Temple Garden the old Cru-saders used to exercise their steeds and lances; the modern Templars now lounge on the benches beneath the trees, and, switching their patent-leather boots, in gay discourse exercise at re-partee. Long lines of stately portraits in the banquet-halls, show what great men of mark -- famous nobles, judges, and Lord Chancellors -- have in their time been Templars. But all Templars are not known to universal fame; though, if the having warm hearts and warmer welcomes, full minds and fuller cellars, and giving good advice and glorious dinners, spiced with rare divertisements of fun and fancy, merit immor-tal mention, set down, ye muses, the names of R. F. C. and his imperial brother. Though to be a Templar, in the one true sense, you must needs be a lawyer, or a student at the law, and be ceremoniously enrolled as member of the order, yet as many such, though Templars, do not reside within the Temple's precincts, though they may have their offices there, just so, on the other hand, there are many residents of the hoary old domicils who are not admitted Templars. If being, say, a lounging gentleman and bachelor, or a quiet, unmarried, literary man, charmed with the soft seclusion of the spot, you much desire to pitch your shady tent among the rest in this serene encampment, then you must make some special friend among the order, and procure him to rent, in his name but at your charge, whatever vacant chamber you may find to suit. Thus, I suppose, did Dr. Johnson, that nom-inal Benedick and widower but virtual bachelor, when for a space he resided here. So, too, did that undoubted bachelor and rare good soul, Charles Lamb. And hundreds more, of ster-ling spirits, Brethren of the Order of Celibacy, from time to time have dined, and slept, and tabernacled here. Indeed, the place is all a honeycomb of offices and domicils. Like any cheese, it is quite perforated through and through in all directions with the snug cells of bachelors. Dear, delightful spot! Ah! when I bethink me of the sweet hours there passed, enjoying such genial hospitalities beneath those time-honored roofs, my heart only finds due utterance through poetry; and, with a sigh, I softly sing, "Carry me back to old Virginny!" Such then, at large, is the Paradise of Bach-elors. And such I found it one pleasant after-noon in the smiling month of May, when, sally-ing from my hotel in Trafalgar Square, I went to keep my dinner-appointment with that fine Barrister, Bachelor, aud Bencher, R. F. C. (he is the first and second, and should be the third; I hereby nominate him), whose card I kept fast pinched between my gloved forefinger and thumb, and
every now and then snatched still another look at the pleasant address inscribed beneath the name, "No. -- , Elm Court, Tem-ple." At the core he was a right bluff, care-free, right comfortable, and most companionable En-glishman. If on a first acquaintance he seemed reserved, quite icy in his air -- patience; this Champagne will thaw. And if it never do, better frozen Champagne than liquid vinegar. There were nine gentlemen, all bachelors, at the dinner. One was from "No. -- , King's Bench Walk, Temple;" a second, third, and fourth, and fifth, from various courts or passages christened with some similarly rich resounding syllables. It was indeed a sort of Senate of the Bachelors, sent to this dinner from widely-scat-tered districts, to represent the general celibacy of the Temple. Nay it was, by representation, a Grand Parliament of the best Bachelors in universal London; several of those present be-ing from distant quarters of the town, noted immemorial seats of lawyers and unmarried men -- Lincoln's Inn, Furnival's Inn; and one gentleman, upon whom I looked with a sort of collateral awe, hailed from the spot where Lord Verulam once abode a bachelor -- Gray's Inn. The apartment was well up toward heaven. I know not how many strange old stairs I climb-ed to get to it. But a good dinner, with famous company, should be well earned. No doubt our host had his dining-room so high with a view to secure the prior exercise necessary to the due relishing and digesting of it. The furniture was wonderfully unpretending, old, and snug. No new shining mahogany, sticky with undried varnish; no uncomfortably luxurious ottomans, and sofas too fine to use, vexed you in this sedate apartment. It is a thing which every sensible American should learn from every sensible Englishman, that glare and glitter, gimcracks and gewgaws, are not in-dispensable to domestic solacement. The Amer-ican Benedick snatches, down-town, a tough chop in a gilded show-box; the English bach-elor leisurely dines at home on that incompar-able South Down of his, off a plain deal board. The ceiling of the room was low. Who wants to dine under the dome of St. Peter's? High ceilings! If that is your demand, and the higher the better, and you be so very tall, then go dine out with the topping giraffe in the open air. In good time the nine gentlemen sat down to nine covers, and soon were fairly under way. If I remember right, ox-tail soup inaugurated the affair. Of a rich russet hue, its agreeable flavor dissipated my first confounding of its main ingredient with teamster's
gads and the raw-hides of ushers. (By way of interlude, we here drank a little claret.) Neptune's was the next tribute rendered -- turbot coming second; snow-white, flaky, and just gelatinous enough, not too turtleish in its unctuousness. (At this point we refreshed ourselves with a glass of sherry.) After these light skirmishers had vanished, the heavy artillery of the feast marched in, led by that well-known English generalissimo, roast beef. For aids-de-camp we had a saddle of mutton, a fat turkey, a chicken-pie, and endless other savory things; while for avant-couriers came nine silver flagons of hum-ming ale. This heavy ordnance having departed on the track of the light skirmishers, a picked brigade of game-fowl encamped upon the board, their camp-fires lit by the ruddiest of decanters. Tarts and puddings followed, with innumer-able niceties; then cheese and crackers. (By way of ceremony, simply, only to keep up good old fashions, we here each drank a glass of good old port.) The cloth was now removed, and like Blu-cher's army coming in at the death on the field of Waterloo, in marched a fresh detachment of bottles, dusty with their hurried march. All these manoeuvrings of the forces were su-perintended by a surprising old field-marshal (I can not school myself to call him by the inglo-rious name of waiter), with snowy hair and nap-kin, and a head like Socrates. Amidst all the hilarity of the feast, intent on important busi-ness, he disdained to smile. Venerable man! I have above endeavored to give some slight schedule of the general plan of operations. But any one knows that a good, genial dinner is a sort of pell-mell, indiscriminate affair, quite baffling to detail in all particulars. Thus, I spoke of taking a glass of claret, and a glass of sherry, and a glass of port, and a mug of ale -- all at certain specific periods and times. But those were merely the state bumpers, so to speak. Innumerable impromptu glasses were drained between the periods of those grand im-posing ones. The nine bachelors seemed to have the most tender concern for each other's health. All the time, in flowing wine, they most earnestly ex-pressed their sincerest wishes for the entire well-being and lasting hygiene of the gentlemen on the right and on the left. I noticed that when one of these kind bachelors desired a little more wine (just for his stomach's sake, like Timothy), he would not help himself to it unless some other bachelor would join him. It seemed held something indelicate, selfish, and unfraternal, to be seen taking a lonely, unparticipated glass. Meantime, as the wine ran apace, the spirits of the company grew more and more to perfect genialness and unconstraint.
They related all sorts of pleasant stories. Choice experiences in their private lives were now brought out, like choice brands of Moselle or Rhenish, only kept for particular company. One told us how mel-lowly he lived when a student at Oxford; with various spicy anecdotes of most frank-hearted noble lords, his liberal companions. Another bachelor, a gray-headed man, with a sunny face, who, by his own account, embraced every op-portunity of leisure to cross over into the Low Countries, on sudden tours of inspection of the fine old Flemish architecture there -- this learn-ed, white-haired, sunny-faced old bachelor, ex-celledin his descriptions of the elaborate splen-dors of those old guild-halls, town-halls, and stadthold-houses, to be seen in the land of the ancient Flemings. A third was a great fre-quenter of the British Museum, and knew all about scores of wonderful antiquities, of Oriental manuscripts, and costly books without a dupli-cate. A fourth had lately returned from a trip to Old Granada, and, of course, was full of Sar-acenic scenery. A fifth had a funny case in law to tell. A sixth was erudite in wines. A sev-enth had a strange characteristic anecdote of the private life of the Iron Duke, never printed, and never before announced in any public or private company. An eighth had lately been amusing his evenings, now and then, with translating a comic poem of Pulci's. He quoted for us the more amusing passages. And so the evening slipped along, the hours told, not by a water-clock, like King Alfred's, but a wine-chronometer. Meantime the table seemed a sort of Epsom Heath; a regular ring, where the decanters galloped round. For fear one decanter should not with sufficient speed reach his destination, another was sent express after him to hurry him; and then a third to hurry the second; and so on with a fourth and fifth. And throughout all this nothing loud, nothing unmannerly, nothing turbulent. I am quite sure, from the scrupulous gravity and aus-terity of his air, that had Socrates, the field-marshal, perceived aught of indecorum in the the [sic] company he served, he would have forth-with departed without giving warning. I after-ward learned that, during the repast, an invalid bachelor in an adjoining chamber enjoyed his first sound refreshing slumber in three long, weary weeks. It was the very perfection of quiet absorption of good living, good drinking, good feeling, and good talk. We were a band of brothers. Com-fort -- fraternal, household comfort, was the grand trait of the affair. Also, you could plainly see that these easy-hearted men had no wives or children to give an anxious thought. Almost all of them were travelers, too; for bachelors alone can travel freely, and without any twinges of their consciences touching desertion of the fire-side. The thing called pain, the bugbear styled trouble -- those two legends seemed preposter-ous to their bachelor imaginations. How could men of liberal sense, ripe scholarship in the world, and capacious philosophical and con-vivial understandings --
how could they suffer themselves to be imposed upon by such monk-ishfables? Pain! Trouble! As well talk of Catholic miracles. No such thing. -- Pass the sherry, Sir. -- Pooh, pooh! Can't be! -- The port, Sir, if you please. Nonsense; don't tell me so. -- The decanter stops with you, Sir, I believe. And so it went. Not long after the cloth was drawn our host glanced significantly upon Socrates, who, sol-emnly stepping to the stand, returned with an immense convolved horn, a regular Jericho horn, mounted with polished silver, and other-wise chased and curiously enriched; not omit-ting two life-like goat's heads, with four more horns of solid silver, projecting from opposite sides of the mouth of the noble main horn. Not having heard that our host was a per-former on the bugle, I was surprised to see him lift this horn from the table, as if he were about to blow an inspiring blast. But I was relieved from this, and set quite right as touching the purposes of the horn, by his now inserting his thumb and forefinger into its mouth; where-upon a slight aroma was stirred up, and my nostrils were greeted with the smell of some choice Rappee. It was a mull of snuff. It went the rounds. Capital idea this, thought I, of taking snuff at about this juncture. This good-ly fashion must be introduced among my coun-trymen at home, further ruminated I. The remarkable decorum of the nine bach-elors -- a decorum not to be affected by any quantity of wine -- a decorum unassailable by any degree of mirthfulness -- this was again set in a forcible light to me, by now observing that, though they took snuff very freely, yet not a man so far violated the proprieties, or so far molested the invalid bachelor in the adjoining room as to indulge himself in a sneeze. The snuff was snuffed silently, as if it had been some fine innoxious powder brushed off the wings of butterflies. But fine though they be, bachelors' dinners, like bachelors' lives, can not endure forever. The time came for breaking up. One by one the bachelors took their hats, and two by two, and arm-in-arm they descended, still convers-ing, to the flagging of the court; some going to their neighboring chambers to turn over the Decameron ere retiring for the night; some to to smoke a cigar, promenading in the garden on the cool river-side; some to make for the street, call a hack, and be driven snugly to their dis-tant lodgings. I was the last lingerer.
"Well," said my smiling host, "what do you think of the Temple here, and the sort of life we bachelors make out to live in it?" "Sir," said I, with a burst of admiring can-dor -- "Sir, this is the very Paradise of Bach-elors!" II. THE TARTARUS OF MAIDS. It lies not far from Woedolor Mountain in New England. Turning to the east, right out from among bright farms and sunny meadows, nodding in early June with odorous grasses, you enter ascendingly among bleak hills. These gradually close in upon a dusky pass, which, from the violent Gulf Stream of air unceasing-ly driving between its cloven walls of haggard rock, as well as from the tradition of a crazy spinster's hut having long ago stood somewhere hereabouts, is called the Mad Maid's Bellows'- pipe. Winding along at the bottom of the gorge is a dangerously narrow wheel-road, occupying the bed of a former torrent. Following this road to its highest point, you stand as within a Dantean gateway. From the steepness of the walls here, their strangely ebon hue, and the sudden contraction of the gorge, this particular point is called the Black Notch. The ravine now expandingly descends into a great, purple, hopper-shaped hollow, far sunk among many Plutonian, shaggy-wooded mountains. By the country people this hollow is called the Devil's Dungeon. Sounds of torrents fall on all sides upon the ear. These rapid waters unite at last in one turbid brick-colored stream, boiling through a flume among enormous boulders. They call this strange-colored torrent Blood River. Gaining a dark precipice it wheels sud-denly to the west, and makes one maniac spring of sixty feet into the arms of a stunted wood of gray haired pines, between which it thence eddies on its further way down to the invisible low-lands. Conspicuously crowning a rocky bluff high to one side, at the cataract's verge, is the ruin of an old saw-mill, built in those primitive times when vast pines and hemlocks superabounded throughout the neighboring region. The black-mossed bulk of those immense, rough-hewn, and spike-knotted logs, here and there tumbled all together, in long abandonment and decay, or left in solitary, perilous projection over the cataract's gloomy brink, impart to this rude wooden ruin not only much of the aspect of one of rough-quarried stone, but also a sort of feudal, Rhineland, and Thurmberg look, derived from the pinnacled wildness of the neighboring scenery. Not far from the bottom of the Dungeon stands a large white-washed building, relieved, like some great whited sepulchre, against the sullen background of mountain-
side firs, and other hardy evergreens, inaccessibly rising in grim terraces for some two thousand feet. The building is a paper-mill. Having embarked on a large scale in the seeds-man's business (so extensively and broadcast, indeed, that at length my seeds were distributed through all the Eastern and Northern States and even fell into the far soil of Missouri and the Carolinas), the demand for paper at my place became so great, that the expenditure soon amounted to a most important item in the general account. It need hardly be hinted how paper comes into use with seedsmen, as en-velopes. These are mostly made of yellowish paper, folded square; and when filled, are all but flat, and being stamped, and superscribed with the nature of the seeds contained, assume not a little the appearance of business-letters ready for the mail. Of these small envelopes I used an incredible quantity -- several hundreds of thousands in a year. For a time I had purchased my paper from the wholesale dealers in a neighboring town. For economy's sake, and partly for the adventure of the trip, I now resolved to cross the mountains, some sixty miles, and order my future paper at the Devil's Dun-geon paper-mill. The sleighing being uncommonly fine toward the end of January, and promising to hold so for no small period, in spite of the bitter cold I started one gray Friday noon in my pung, well fitted with buffalo and wolf robes; and, spend- ingone night on the road, next noon came in sight of Woedolor Mountain. The far summit fairly smoked with frost; white vapors curled up from its white-wooded top, as from a chimney. The intense congela-tion made the whole country look like one petrifaction. The steel shoes of my pung craunched and gritted over the vitreous, chippy snow, as if it had been broken glass. The forests here and there skirting the route, feeling the same all-stiffening influence, their inmost fibres penetrated with the cold, strangely groaned -- not in the swaying branches merely, but like-wise in the vertical trunk -- as the fitful gusts re-morselessly swept through them. Brittle with excessive frost, many colossal tough-grained maples, snapped in twain like pipe-stems, cum-bered the unfeeling earth. Flaked all over with frozen sweat, white as a milky ram, his nostrils at each breath sending forth two horn-shaped shoots of heated respira-tion, Black, my good horse, but six years old, started at a sudden turn, where, right across the track -- not ten minutes fallen -- an old distorted hemlock lay, darkly undulatory as an anaconda. Gaining the Bellows'-pipe, the violent blast, dead from behind, all but shoved my high-back-ed pung up-hill. The gust shrieked through the shivered pass, as if laden with lost
myself all alone, silently and privily stealing through deep-cloven passages into this sequestered spot, and saw the long, high-gabled main factory edifice, with a rude tower -- for hoisting heavy boxes -- at one end, standing among its crowded outbuildings and boarding-houses, as the Temple Church amidst the surrounding offices and dormitories, and when the marvelous retirement of this mys-terious mountain nook fastened its whole spell upon me, then, what memory lacked, all trib-utary imagination furnished, and I said to my-self, "This is the very counterpart of the Paradise of Bachelors, but snowed upon, and frost-paint-ed to a sepulchre." Dismounting, and warily picking my way down the dangerous declivity -- horse and man both sliding now and then upon the icy ledges -- at length I drove, or the blast drove me, into the largest square, before one side of the main edifice. Piercingly and shrilly the shotted blast blew by the corner; and redly and demoniacally boiled Blood River at one side. A long wood-pile, of many scores of cords, all glittering in mail of crusted ice, stood crosswise in the square. A row of horse-posts, their north sides plastered with adhesive snow, flanked the fac-tory wall. The bleak frost packed and paved the square as with some ringing metal. The inverted similitude recurred -- "The sweet tranquil Temple garden, with the Thames bordering its green beds," strangely meditated I. But where are the gay bachelors? Then, as I and my horse stood shivering in the wind-spray, a girl ran from a neighboring dormitory door, and throwing her thin apron over her bare head, made for the opposite building. "One moment, my girl; is there no shed hereabouts which I may drive into?" Pausing, she turned upon me a face pale with work, and blue with cold; an eye supernatural with unrelated misery. ''Nay," faltered I, "I mistook you. Go on; I want nothing." Leading my horse close to the door from which she had come, I knocked. Another pale, blue girl appeared, shivering in the doorway as, to prevent the blast, she jealously held the door ajar. "Nay, I mistake again. In God's name shut the door. But hold, is there no man about?" That moment a dark-complexioned well-wrapped personage passed, making for the fac-tory door, and spying him coming, the girl rapid-ly closed the other one.
"Is there no horse-shed here, Sir?" "Yonder, to the wood-shed," he replied, and disappeared inside the factory. With much ado I managed to wedge in horse and pung between the scattered piles of wood all sawn and split. Then, blanketing my horse, and piling my buffalo on the blanket's top, and tucking in its edges well around the breast-band and breeching, so that the wind might not strip him bare, I tied him fast, and ran lamely for the factory door, stiff with frost, and cumbered with my driver's dread-naught. Immediately I found myself standing in a spacious, intolerably lighted by long rows of windows, focusing inward the snowy scene without. At rows of blank-looking counters sat rows of blank-looking girls, with blank, white folders in their blank hands, all blankly folding blank paper. In one corner stood some huge frame of ponderous iron, with a vertical thing like a pis-ton periodically rising and falling upon a heavy wooden block. Before it -- its tame minister -- stood a tall girl, feeding the iron animal with half-quires of rose-hued note paper, which, at every downward dab of the piston-like machine, received in the corner the impress of a wreath of roses. I looked from the rosy paper to the pallid cheek, but said nothing. Seated before a long apparatus, strung with long, slender strings like any harp, another girl was feeding it with foolscap sheets, which, so soon as they curiously traveled from her on the cords, were withdrawn at the opposite end of the machine by a second girl. They came to the first girl blank; they went to the second girl ruled. I looked upon the first girl's brow, and saw it was young and fair; I looked upon the second girl's brow, and saw it was ruled and wrinkled. Then, as I still looked, the two -- for some small variety to the monotony -- changed places; and where had stood the young, fair brow, now stood the ruled and wrinkled one. Perched high upon a narrow platform, and still higher upon a high stool crowning it, sat another figure serving some other iron animal; while below the platform sat her mate in some sort of reciprocal attendance. Not a syllable was breathed. Nothing was heard but the low, steady, overruling hum of the iron animals. The human voice was ban-ished from the spot. Machinery -- that vaunted slave of humanity -- here stood menially served by human beings, who served mutely and cring-ingly as the slave serves the Sultan. The girls did not so much seem accessory wheels to the general machinery as mere cogs to the wheels.
All this scene around me was instantaneously taken in at one sweeping glance -- even before I had proceeded to unwind the heavy fur tippet from around my neck. But as soon as this fell from me the dark-complexioned man, standing close by, raised a sudden cry, and seizing my arm, dragged me out into the open air, and without pausing for word instantly caught up some congealed snow and began rubbing both my cheeks. "Two white spots like the whites of your eyes," he said; "man, your cheeks are frozen." "That may well be," muttered I; "'tis some wonder the frost of the Devil's Dungeon strikes in no deeper. Rub away." Soon a horrible, tearing pain caught at my reviving cheeks. Two gaunt blood-hounds, one on each side, seemed mumbling them. I seemed Actæon. Presently, when all was over, I re-entered the factory, made known my business, con-cluded it satisfactorily, and then begged to be conducted throughout the place to view it. "Cupid is the boy for that," said the dark-complexioned man. "Cupid!" and by this odd fancy-name calling a dimpled, red-cheeked, spirited-looking, forward little fellow, who was rather impudently, I thought, gliding about among the passive-looking girls -- like a gold fish through hueless waves -- yet doing nothing in particular that I could see, the man bade him lead the stranger through the edifice. "Come first and see the water-wheel," said this lively lad, with the air of boyishly-brisk importance. Quitting the folding-room, we crossed some damp, cold boards, and stood beneath a area wet shed, incessantly showering with foam, like the green barnacled bow of some East India-man in a gale. Round and round here went the enormous revolutions of the dark colossal water-wheel, grim with its one immutable purpose. "This sets our whole machinery a-going, Sir in every part of all these buildings; where the girls work and all." I looked, and saw that the turbid waters of Blood River had not changed their hue by com-ing under the use of man. "You make only blank paper; no printing of any sort, I suppose? All blank paper, don't you?" "Certainly; what else should a paper-factory make?"
The lad here looked at me as if suspicious of my common-sense. "Oh, to be sure!" said I, confused and stam-mering; "it only struck me as so strange that red waters should turn out pale chee -- paper, I mean." He took me up a wet and rickety stair to a great light room, furnished with no visible thing but rude, manger-like receptacles running all round its sides; and up to these mangers, like so many mares haltered to the rack, stood rows of girls. Before each was vertically thrust up a long, glittering scythe, immovably fixed at bottom to the manger-edge. The curve of the scythe, and its having no snath to it, made it look exactly like a sword. To and fro, across the sharp edge, the girls forever dragged long strips of rags, washed white, picked from baskets at one side; thus ripping asunder every seam, and converting the tatters almost into lint. The air swam with the fine, poisonous particles, which from all sides darted, subtilely, as motes in sun-beams, into the lungs. "This is the rag-room," coughed the boy. "You find it rather stifling here," coughed I, in answer; " but the girls don't cough." "Oh, they are used to it." "Where do you get such hosts of rags?" pick-ing up a handful from a basket. "Some from the country round about; some from far over sea -- Leghorn and London." "'Tis not unlikely, then," murmured I, "that among these heaps of rags there may be some old shirts, gathered from the dormitories of the Paradise of Bachelors. But the buttons are all dropped off. Pray, my lad, do you ever find any bachelor's buttons hereabouts?" "None grow in this part of the country. The Devil's Dungeon is no place for flowers." "Oh! you mean the flowers so called -- the Bachelor's Buttons?" "And was not that what you asked about? Or did you mean the gold bosom-buttons of our boss, Old Bach, as our whispering girls all call him?" "The man, then, I saw below is a bachelor, is he?" "Oh, yes, he's a Bach." "The edges of those swords, they are turned outward from the girls, if I see right; but their rags and fingers fly so, I can not distinctly see."
"Turned outward." Yes, murmured I to myself; I see it now; turned outward, and each erected sword is so borne, edge-outward, before each girl. If my reading fails me not, just so, of old, con-demned state-prisoners went from the hall of judgment to their doom: an officer before, bear-ing a sword, its edge turned outward, in signif- icance of their fatal sentence. So, through con-sumptive pallors of this blank, raggy life, go these white girls to death. "Those scythes look very sharp," again turn-ing toward the boy. "Yes; they have to keep them so. Look!" That moment two of the girls, dropping their rags, plied each a whet-stone up and down the sword-blade. My unaccustomed blood curdled at the sharp shriek of the tormented steel. Their own executioners; themselves whetting the very swords that slay them; meditated I. "What makes those girls so sheet-white, my lad?" "Why" -- with a roguish twinkle, pure igno-rant drollery, not knowing heartlessness -- "I suppose the handling of such white bits of sheets all the time makes them so sheety." "Let us leave the rag-room now, my lad." More tragical and more inscrutably mysteri-ous than any mystic sight, human or machine, throughout the factory, was the strange inno-cence of cruel-heartedness in this usage-hard-ened boy. "And now," said he, cheerily, "I suppose you want to see our great machine, which cost us twelve thousand dollars only last autumn. That's the machine that makes the paper, too. This way, Sir." Following him, I crossed a large, bespattered place, with two great round vats in it, full of a white, wet, woolly-looking stuff, not unlike the albuminous part of an egg, soft-boiled. "There," said Cupid, tapping the vats care-lessly, "these are the first beginnings of the paper; this white pulp you see. Look how it swims bubbling round and round, moved by the paddle here. From hence it pours from both vats into that one common channel yonder; and so goes, mixed up and leisurely, to the great machine. And now for that."
He led me into a room, stifling with a strange, blood-like, abdominal heat, as if here, true enough, were being finally developed the germ-inous particles lately seen. Before me, rolled out like some long East-ern manuscript, lay stretched one continuous length of iron frame-work -- multitudinous and mystical, with all sorts of rollers, wheels, and cylinders, in slowly-measured and unceasing motion. "Here first comes the pulp now," said Cupid, pointing to the nighest end of the machine. "See; first it pours out and spreads itself upon this wide, sloping board; and then -- look -- slides, thin and quivering, beneath the first roller there. Follow on now, and see it as it slides from under that to the next cylinder. There; see how it has become just a very little less pulpy now. One step more, and it grows still more to some slight consistence. Still an-other cylinder, and it is so knitted -- though as yet mere dragon-fly wing -- that it forms an air-bridge here, like a suspended cobweb, between two more separated rollers; and flowing over the last one, and under again, and doubling about there out of sight for a minute among all those mixed cylinders you indistinctly see, it reappears here, looking now at last a little less like pulp and more like paper, but still quite delicate and defective yet awhile. But -- a lit-tle further onward, Sir, if you please -- here now, at this further point, it puts on something of a real look, as if it might turn out to be some-thing you might possibly handle in the end. But it's not yet done, Sir. Good way to travel yet, and plenty more of cylinders must roll it." "Bless my soul!" said I, amazed at the elon-gation, interminable convolutions, and deliber-ate slowness of the machine; "it must take a long time for the pulp to pass from end to end, and come out paper." "Oh! not so long," smiled the precocious lad, with a superior and patronizing air; "only nine minutes. But look; you may try it for yourself. Have you a bit of paper? Ah! here's a bit on the floor. Now mark that with any word you please, and let me dab it on here, and we'll see how long before it comes out at the other end." "Well, let me see," said I, taking out my pencil; "come, I'll mark it with your name." Bidding me take out my watch, Cupid adroit-ly dropped the inscribed slip on an exposed part of the incipient mass. Instantly my eye marked the second-hand on my dial-plate. Slowly I followed the slip, inch by inch; sometimes pausing for full half a minute as it disappeared beneath inscrutable groups of the lower cylinders, but only gradually to emerge again; and so, on, and on, and on -- inch by inch; now in open sight, sliding along like a freckle on the quivering sheet, and then again wholly vanished; and so, on,
and on, and on -- inch by inch; all the time the main sheet grow-ing more and more to final firmness -- when, sud-denly, I saw a sort of paper-fall, not wholly un-like a water-fall; a scissory sound smote my ear, as of some cord being snapped, and down dropped an unfolded sheet of perfect foolscap, with my "Cupid" half faded out of it, and still moist and warm. My travels were at an end, for here was the end of the machine. "Well, how long was it ?" said Cupid. "Nine minutes to a second," replied I, watch in hand. "I told you so." For a moment a curious emotion filled me, not wholly unlike that which one might experi-ence at the fulfillment of some mysterious proph-ecy. But how absurd, thought I again; the thing is a mere machine, the essence of which is unvarying punctuality and precision. Previously absorbed by the wheels and cylin-ders, my attention was now directed to a sad-looking woman standing by. "That is rather an elderly person so silently tending the machine-end here. She would not seem wholly used to it either." "Oh," knowingly whispered Cupid, through the din, "she only came last week. She was a nurse formerly. But the business is poor in these parts, and she's left it. But look at the paper she is piling there." "Ay, foolscap," handling the piles of moist, warm sheets, which continually were being de-livered into the woman's waiting hands. "Don't you turn out any thing but foolscap at this ma-chine?" "Oh, sometimes, but not often, we turn out finer work -- cream-laid and royal sheets, we call them. But foolscap being in chief demand, we turn out foolscap most." It was very curious. Looking at that blank paper continually dropping, dropping, dropping, my mind ran on in wonderings of those strange uses to which those thousand sheets eventually would be put. All sorts of writings would be writ on those now vacant things -- sermons, law-yers' briefs, physicians' prescriptions, love-let-ters, marriage certificates, bills of divorce, regis-ters of births, death-warrants, and so on, without end. Then, recurring back to them as they here lay all blank, I could not but bethink me of that celebrated comparison of John Locke, who, in demonstration of his theory that man
had no innate ideas, compared the human mind at birth to a sheet of blank paper; something destined to be scribbled on, but what sort of characters no soul might tell. Pacing slowly to and fro along the involved machine, still humming with its play, I was struck as well by the inevitability as the evolve-ment-power in all its motions. "Does that thin cobweb there," said I, point-ing to the sheet in its more imperfect stage, "does that never tear or break? It is marvel-ous fragile, and yet this machine it passes through is so mighty." "It never is known to tear a hair's point." "Does it never stop -- get clogged?" "No. It must go. The machinery makes it go just so; just that very way, and at that very pace you there plainly see it go. The pulp can't help going." Something of awe now stole over me, as I gazed upon this inflexible iron animal. Al-ways, more or less, machinery of this ponderous, elaborate sort strikes, in some moods, strange dread into the human heart, as some living, panting Behemoth might. But what made the thing I saw so specially terrible to me was the metallic necessity, the unbudging fatality which governed it. Though, here and there, I could not follow the thin, gauzy vail of pulp in the course of its more mysterious or entirely invis-ible advance, yet it was indubitable that, at those points where it eluded me, it still marched on in unvarying docility to the autocratic cun-ning of the machine. A fascination fastened on me. I stood spell-bound and wandering in my soul. Before my eyes -- there, passing in slow procession along the wheeling cylinders, I seemed to see, glued to the pallid incipience of the pulp, the yet more pallid faces of all the pallid girls I had eyed that heavy day. Slowly, mournfully, beseechingly, yet unresistingly, they gleamed along, their agony dimly outlined on the imperfect paper, like the print of the tor-mented face on the handkerchief of Saint Ve-ronica. "Halloa! the heat of the room is too much for you," cried Cupid, staring at me. "No -- I am rather chill, if any thing." "Come out, Sir &mdash out -- out," and, with the protecting air of a careful father, the precocious lad hurried me outside. In a few moments, feeling revived a little, I went into the folding-room -- the first room I had entered, and where the desk for transacting business stood, surrounded by the blank count-ers and blank girls engaged at them.
"Cupid here has led me a strange tour," said I to the dark-complexioned man before men-tioned, whom I had ere this discovered not only to be an old bachelor, but also the principal pro-prietor. "Yours is a most wonderful factory. Your great machine is a miracle of inscrutable intricacy." "Yes, all our visitors think it so. But we don't have many. We are in a very out-of-the-way corner here. Few inhabitants, too. Most of our girls come from far-off villages." "The girls," echoed I, glancing round at theirsilent forms. " Why is it, Sir, that in most factories, female operatives, of whatever age, are indiscriminately called girls, never women?" "Oh! as to that -- why, I suppose, the fact of their being generally unmarried -- that's the reason, I should think. But it never struck me before. For our factory here, we will not have married women; they are apt to be off-and-on too much. We want none but steady workers: twelve hours to the day, day after day, through the three hundred and sixty-five days, excepting Sundays, Thanksgiving, and Fast-days. That's our rule. And so, having no married women, what females we have are rightly enough called girls." "Then these are all maids," said I, while some pained homage to their pale virginity made me involuntarily bow. "All maids." Again the strange emotion filled me. "Your cheeks look whitish yet, Sir," said the man, gazing at me narrowly. "You must be careful going home. Do they pain you at all now? It's a bad sign, if they do." "No doubt, Sir," answered I, "when once I have got out of the Devil's Dungeon, I shall feel them mending." "Ah, yes; the winter air in valleys, or gorges, or any sunken place, is far colder and more bit-ter than elsewhere. You would hardly believe it now, but it is colder here than at the top of Woedolor Mountain." "I dare say it is, Sir. But time presses me; I must depart." With that, remuffling myself in dread-naught and tippet, thrusting my hands into my huge seal-skin mittens, I sallied out into the nipping air, and found poor Black, my horse, all cring-ing and doubled up with the cold. Soon, wrapped in furs and meditations, I as-cended from the Devil's Dungeon.
Page 20 of 20
At the Black Notch I paused, and once more bethought me of Temple-Bar. Then, shooting through the pass, all alone with inscrutable na-ture, I exclaimed -- Oh! Paradise of Bachelors! and oh! Tartarus of Maids!
Originally published in Harper’s in 1855, it is one of Melville’s lesser-known works, not included in his 1856 collection The Piazza Tales, though today you can find it in the Norton Anthology of American Literature, where I read it. An intricate juxtaposition of two extremes—the wealth and leisure of unmarried men (paradise), the poverty and labor of unmarried women (tartarus, or hell)—the story seems to be an attack on social inequality in its economic and sexual manifestations. A careful reading, however, suggests that the story’s thesis is more and less radical than that.
In the first sketch, we are treated to an elaborate description of a cloistral neighborhood in the heart of the City of London (near the Temple Bar and the Inns of Court) mainly inhabited by lawyers and other gentlemen of elite profession (literary men, scholars). These men are unmarried, in contrast to the harried journalists of nearby Fleet Street, called “Benedicks”—i.e., henpecked husbands—by the narrator. The bachelors, the narrator explains in a tone of ironic exuberance, are the modern-day equivalent of the Knights Templar:
Like the years before the flood, the bold Knights-Templars are no more. Nevertheless, the name remains, and the nominal society, and the ancient grounds, and some of the ancient edifices. But the iron heel is changed to a boot of patent-leather; the long two-handed sword to a one-handed quill; the monk-giver of gratuitous ghostly counsel now counsels for a fee; the defender of the sarcophagus (if in good practice with his weapon) now has more than one case to defend; the vowed opener and clearer of all highways leading to the Holy Sepulchre, now has it in particular charge to check, to clog, to hinder, and embarrass all the courts and avenues of Law; the knight-combatant of the Saracen, breasting spear- points at Acre, now fights law-points in Westminster Hall. The helmet is a wig. Struck by Time’s enchanter’s Wand, the Templar is to-day a Lawyer.
Melville’s prose works in a persistent idiom of double entendre: the transition from iron to patent-leather footwear and from sword to quill implies a softening of the phallus.
The narrator arrives at a paper mill where pale women are worked incessantly by a frightful male overseer. Granted a tour of the premises by a boy named Cupid, he watches the process by which the paper is made—a process described (it takes exactly nine minutes), not least in having the avatar of erotic love as its conveyance, so as to resemble pregnancy and childbirth. As he watches the women at the machines, the narrator is horrified by the way humanity’s seeming inventions have enslaved us:
"But what made the thing I saw so specially terrible to me was the metallic necessity, the unbudging fatality which governed it. Though, here and there, I could not follow the thin, gauzy vail of pulp in the course of its more mysterious or entirely invisible advance, yet it was indubitable that, at those points where it eluded me, it still marched on in unvarying docility to the autocratic cunning of the machine."
We learn at the second sketch’s beginning that the narrator is a “seeds-man” who has come to the paper factory to purchase envelopes in which to mail his seeds. With its genital landscape and allusions to Dante, the story invites an allegorical interpretation: we should not hesitate to identify this odd occupation with that more common one of the writer, who uses paper to disseminate not his genetic but his memetic seed. The bachelor life of London—to which he is only a visitor—as well as the meanest necessities of his literary work depend on the exploitation he witnesses in the factory.
The factory and its machinery are also a metaphor for biological fatality, the reproduction of bodies by bodies, the burden of which also falls upon women and which is contrasted to the reproduction of ideas indulged in by men of leisure, especially those unencumbered by wives and children. The artificial machinery is modeled on the natural machinery; where does humanity’s inhumanity come from if not from (mother) nature or (father) God? In which case, to whom can we appeal but to those deities?
Melville is not attacking a particular state of socio-political affairs; rather, like Captain Ahab, he arraigns the entire cosmos out of which our socio-political affairs emanate. This cosmos will have to be reformed if life is ever to be more equitable, if bachelors and literary men are not to feed on the coerced labor of pallid maids.
Extract of a review in December 2016 by John Pistelli
Herman Melville published “The Paradise of Bachelors/The Tartarus of Maids” in 1855 as a set of related stories. For now, we focus on the bachelors, and our next number will cover the unfortunate maids. Six years earlier (December, 1849), Melville was in London enjoying the most lavish decadence available outside the royal palace. While touring the city, he had seen the worst poverty of his lifetime, an endless series of “squalid lanes” teeming with suffering humanity. Wealthy Englishmen, like many of their American counterparts, still looked on the poor with a mixture of contempt, pity, and fear, and so Melville’s hosts quickly whisked him away to the Temple Bar–the central emporium for all the luxuries a London attorney could imagine. The “Temple Bar” or Inns of Court School of Law dates back to the late medieval period (14th c.) and functioned similar to the American Bar Association–a formal organization to gather together and license practicing lawyers. Unofficially, it was the great pleasure house for a new generation of aristocrats and social elites. While people suffered untold horrors in the streets, Melville and his most opulent hosts gorged themselves on lush meals of rich and greasy meats, expensive wines and liquors, exotic fruits, complex deserts, and–for all Melville’s intents and purposes–anything else you care to imagine. The scene could have featured in any episode of A Game of Thrones. For a brief while, the old sailor and struggling author Herman Melville gained a glimpse into the very “Paradise of Bachelors,” and it was disturbing. In our current story, he translates his own experience into an anonymous narrator’s voice–at once bedazzled and stifled with sickening richness.
If the narrator is our main character, the lawyer‐bachelors (as a class) are another decent option. Fancying themselves the modern representatives of the Knights Templar, they are aristocrats in name only. In swiftly and increasingly modernizing London, the Templars existed completely stripped of any genuine romance. They did not win their honors in battle, genuinely and heroically risking their own lives for a greater cause. They no longer served humanity in any sense of the word; they no longer actually upheld their end of the social contract. The feudal world, with its infinitely complex webs of multidirectional social obligations–it simply did not exist anymore. The Knights Templar’s world lay literally beneath the London Melville knew, buried by the passage of time and the growth of a new sort of civilization. Pen, paper, and ink replaced sword, shield, and bloodshed over the centuries, but still the aristocracy remained. Now, they contributed nothing, did nothing but sponge the lifeforce from working people. After a day’s “work” of signing papers and maybe reading a few documents or holding meetings, our bachelors retire to their secluded club night after night, taking comfort in the fact that pain and displeasure are unknown to them. Despite their blissful unawareness of anything wrong with the world, Melville ends the first half of this story on an ominous note: “But fine though they be, bachelors’ dinners, like bachelors’ lives, can not endure forever. The time came for breaking up.” Melville joined many other Young Americans in the conviction that a useless and indulgent aristocracy is not likely to last forever.
By Anthony Comegna PHD
DICK - IS STILL OUR FAVOURITE
Dick, is the story of a great white sperm whale that fought back at
whalers who tried to kill him. The idea came to Herman Melville after
he spent time on a commercial whaler, where stories abounded of the
sinking of the Essex in 1821 and Mocha
Dick, a giant sperm whale that sank around 20 ships, before being
harpooned in 1838.
Bartleby, the Scrivener
Lightning Rod Man
The Paradise of Bachelors and the Tartarus of Maids
Moby Dick (1851)
Israel Potter (1855)
The Confidence-Man (1857)
Billy Budd (1924)
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