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THE NATIVITY AND OTHER MUSIC [manuscript title] - [Dana, James D.; James C. Pal - 1842. [1196264]
[Various places, including Antarctica, the Northwest Coast, and shipboard, 1842. 54pp. including four original color sketches. Oblong quarto. Contemporary black morocco, ornate gilt cover, stamped with the initials of James D. Dana and James C. Palmer, neatly rebacked with most of the original spine preserved. Corners slightly worn. Internally bright and clean. Later presentation inscription on front free endpaper. Overall in fine condition. A superlative album of music, lyrics, and artwork composed by officers of the United States Exploring Expedition (1838-42), originally composed during their landmark voyage. Included are several of the earliest views of Antarctica, as well as a superb watercolor of Oregon. The work is the collaboration of expedition scientist James D. Dana and expedition Acting Surgeon James C. Palmer, shipmates aboard the U.S.S. Peacock and evidently close friends. Dana, a young officer of twenty- five, was the only scientist of the expedition with previous naval experience. His work was shaped by his mentor, Prof. Benjamin Silliman of Yale, who became his father-in-law upon his return. Palmer served as a well respected medical officer. Together the two, with artistic contributions from colleagues, recorded the events of the expedition in this album in remarkable fashion. The musical scores were Dana's forte, while the lyrics fell to Palmer. The album consists of eight selections of music, four of which are adorned by original artwork, delineated as follows: 1) "The Nativity, A Dramatic Canticle." The first and longest piece in the album, likely written and performed in the interest of buoying morale. Stage directions and music were later printed in broadside format, located in only one copy, at the John Hay Library of Brown University. 2) "Veni Parvule." Dedicated to Palmer's wife, Juliet, occasioned by the death of his son during the expedition. An unattributed color portrait of the little boy precedes the music. 3) "The Stars May Aye Their Vigils Keep. Pacific Ocean - 1841." A melancholy tune, lamenting a father's absence upon the death of his newborn child, no doubt related to the previous title. 4) "A Breeze from the Unpopular Opera of The Iceberg!!" Below the ornate manuscript title of this piece appears a detailed watercolor of the Peacock locked in Antarctic ice, labeled in large block letters: "The Icebergs!" A small party of men in the foreground are engaged in what is likely repair of the damaged vessel. The sketch is captioned: "Accurately drawn by Dr. Guillou [a quarrelsome medical officer and Palmer's subordinate], January 24, 1840. Computed area, 32 miles." At the time the Wilkes expedition had travelled closer towards the pole than any previous American venture, making this image among the earliest evidence of the United States' "farthest south." This song was later published in Palmer's ANTARCTIC MARINER'S SONG... (New York: D. Van Nostrand, 1868), pp.75-76. Historian David B. Tyler cites Passed Midshipman Henry Eld's journal description of the Peacock at this moment as a "happy" ship, continuing that the crew could be heard "stamping about the decks the whole day in the most merry mood - dancing and singing most of the time." This merriment was likely the product of Dana and Palmer's song-writing efforts, though the mood changed dramatically in a moment. Tyler writes: "On the morning of the twenty-fourth this merry mood suddenly changed into one verging on panic. It was a clear day with light winds and smooth water as the ship worked her way into a bay searching, as always, for a means of reaching land. Space for maneuvering was limited...the first crash threw those having breakfast out of their seats, making them think the whole bow must be stove in, but actually the most serious damage was at the stern where the starboard wheelrope was carried and the neck of the rudder wrenched so that it became inoperable." The next twenty-four hours saw the condition of the Peacock deteriorate substantially, and it was only through the competent labors of the ship's carpenters that catastrophic disaster was avoided. The resulting "Breeze," also titled "The Old Peacock," was written in Honolulu, to entice shipmates to re-enlist by reminding them in song of the hardships that had brought the crew so close together. A selection referring to the loss of the ship's rudder reads: "Our pluck did not fail, till we lost our tail / And then 't was high time to belay; / But we stuck here clean through, and it came out anew, / And if any man says this yarn is not true, / Let him go there himself, some day." 5) "One Gentle Word...Oregon - 1841." A romantic love song addressed to an unnamed lover, likely Palmer's wife. 6) "My Tent Beside the Oregon." A light ditty, with an introduction based on the Chinook language. Above the title of this piece is a detailed watercolor of the expedition's camp beside the Columbia River drawn by Joseph Drayton, the primary artist of the expedition. The sketch is among the first views of Army exploration in the Pacific Northwest. It shows two tents surrounded by evergreens, with an American flag mounted on a makeshift pole to the right. An officer is shown seated upon a captain's chair outside the nearest tent. A pencil note, evidently added later, reads: "Sketched with camera lucida. The flag is the one referred to by Dr. Kane, vol. I, p.298." In that narrative, Elisha Kane's ARCTIC EXPLORATIONS... (Philadelphia: Childs & Peterson, 1856), the author writes that the flag was later flown high into the Arctic near Cape Constitution. The camp, affectionately dubbed "Peacockville," was built along the Columbia following the wreck of the Peacock at the river's mouth. The ship had struck the bar upon approaching what was thought to be the channel to the Columbia River. Over the next forty-eight hours the ship was wrecked entirely as a rising sea repeatedly smashed the vessel against the shore. Through the heroics of Capt. William Hudson no lives were lost, and enough supplies were salvaged to allow for the construction of the camp a short distance from Astoria where, for a time, Palmer was assigned command of a shore party. The accompanying music and lyrics, later published in the aforementioned ANTARCTIC MARINER'S SONG (pp.44-45), describe the loss: "My tent beside the Oregon o'er looks the sullen wave, Whose turbid waters darkly frown, Above the Peacock's grave; Where surges weave the shifting sands Around her for a pall; And like a spectral sentry, The toppling over. Mourn not her fate that, round the world, Thrice circled with the sea. And thrice to every land unfurled, The banner of the Free: She came to plant her standard fast, Where it had drooped before; Content to lay her bones at last, Beside it on the shore...." Despite their unlucky landing, the time spent at Peacockville was singularly productive. Under Wilkes' immediate direction the entire Columbia River region was systematically surveyed for the first time, thus elevating the Northwest's commercial potential. 7) "Young Shepards' Canzonet. China Sea. 1842." An introduction to "The Nativity," composed at a later date. 8) "Antarctic Mariner's Song. From 'Thulia' unpublished poem. Sooloo Sea - 1842." At the head of this score appears the last watercolor, of a schooner tacking hard amidst a sea of small icebergs and floes. Like "The Iceberg!!" before it, this sketch also ranks among the earliest views of America's southward progress and records the highest southern latitude of any exploring expedition vessel. The short ink caption reads: "Wm. May, USN. (on the spot)." William May served as a Passed Midshipman on the expedition and was later tried for insubordination. The polar ambitions of the Wilkes expedition are summed in a simple phrase repeated throughout the short tune: "Ease the sheet and keep away; Glory guides us South today." At the time of writing, this song was unpublished as stated, though it later appeared as THULIA. A TALE OF THE ANTARCTIC... (New York: Samuel Coleman, 1843), pp.27,42-46, and again as part of ANTARCTIC MARINER'S SONG (pp.65-72). Given its lavish binding, stamped with the authors' initials, and superlatively neat interior, it is most likely the present album was assembled immediately after the expedition's return, though the songs and watercolors were undoubtedly composed en route. The illustrations are probably fine copies of rougher sketches done "on the spot" by the original artists. That Dana, Palmer, Guillou, May, and Drayton would have collaborated on the album is not unlikely; all were simultaneously engaged in the production of the official expedition report and remained in close contact. The penciled captions were added later, as the 1856 Kane reference attests. While the extant narrative journals of the Wilkes expedition are invaluable research sources, the present album offers a unique sentimental view of morale and good spirits under repeated extreme duress. Dana and Palmer have provided in song a description of the mood of the endeavor in a way that would be impossible in a traditional narrative account. Further, the artwork supplied by Guillou, May, and Drayton offers wholly original and early views of two of the expedition's most important stops: the Northwest Coast and Antarctica. The juxtaposition of scenes from these diverse locations is testament to the broad range and scope of the expedition. Palmer himself writes in his introduction to THULIA that his journals and notes were lost with the wreck of the Peacock, making this volume, reconstructed from memory, the best record of his experiences. That this voyage was the defining event in the careers of both Dana and Palmer is certain, and it is evident both took great pride in their participation. Dana's scientific contributions, especially his work with crustaceans, elevated him to the forefront of American scientists. Palmer, for his part, was later offered the direction of naval hospitals in Washington and Brooklyn. Though Wilkes' expedition was riddled with strife and discord, the efforts and character of these two men, appropriately displayed here, offers an early hint to their future successes. In all, a tremendous and singular memoir of the expedition that vaulted the scientific efforts of the United States to new and unparalleled heights. David B. Tyler, THE WILKES EXPEDITION... (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1968), passim. DAB XIV, p.185; V, pp.55-56.
      [Bookseller: William Reese Company - Americana]
Last Found On: 2016-09-16           Check availability:      Biblio    

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