St. Herbert-A Tale (1796)

Fall 2013 – Just Teach One, no. 3
Prepared by Duncan Faherty (Queens College & The CUNY Graduate Center) and Ed White (University of Florida)

Text and Introduction (PDF) | Text (XML File using TEI encoding)

frontispiece from the NY Weekly Magazine, 1796


St. Herbert—A Tale first appeared in The New-York Weekly Magazine in twenty-one serial installments from February 3 to June 22, 1796. The periodical, published by John Bull, existed two years, from July of 1795 to June of 1797, during which time it published a tremendous range of literary works, as suggested by its full title: The New-York Weekly Magazine; or, Miscellaneous Repository: Forming an Interesting Collection of Original and Select Literary Productions in Prose and Verse: Calculated for Instruction and Rational Entertainment—the Promotion of Moral and Useful Knowledge—and to Enlarge and Correct the Understandings of Youth. Many of its works of fiction were reprinted translations from Europe, including a 15¬installment serialization of Friedrich von Schiller’s The Apparationist, the 22-installment History of Donna Elvira de Zuares by the French Orientalist novelist Madeleine-Angélique Poisson de Gomez, a 72-installment serialization of Cajetan Tschink’s The Victim of Magical Delusion (continued in the magazine’s short-lived successor, The Sentimental and Literary Magazine), not to mention works by the French authors Jean-Baptiste Louvet de Couvrai and Madame de Genlis. The magazine published shorter “original” works by local authors, St. Herbert being the longest of these, and signed by “Anna.” In fact it may have been the first US novel of its length to appear first in this serial format, making it an innovative publication.1 The serialization was repeated over a decade later, from April to July, 1811, in The Weekly Visitor and its successor The Lady’s Miscellany: or, Weekly Visitor, and Entertaining Companion for the Use and Amusement of Both Sexes, also New York periodicals. The subtitle “Or the Victims of Prejudice” was added, though the novel was still attributed to “Anna.” In 1813, the novel was published by Thomas Pomroy of Windsor, Vermont, this time with the attribution “By an American Lady.” While there has been some speculation about the identity of “Anna,” a convincing case for authorship has not, we think, been made. We know that an author using the name “Anna” also published a short poem entitled “Albudor” in the New-York Magazine almost a year earlier, in April of 1795, and that while St. Herbert was appearing in the New-York Weekly Magazine one “Anna” submitted an account of the notorious 1781 James Yates family murder (also occurring in New York state) for the May 17 issue. Were these the same Anna? We do not know.

The novel’s serialization may account in part for its complicated episodic structure. It features at least five subplots strung together: the framing story of Albudor and Caroline, the story of George St. Herbert and Louisa Howard, the story of Maurisson (Louisa’s uncle), the story of St. Herbert’s daughter Louisa and Julius Cuthbert, and the story of the Native American Ludono, not to mention the compressed story of St. Herbert’s sister Julia Dugazon. Many of these stories concern parent-child conflicts over companionate marriage, though the more common thread seems to be death and the pain of loss. St. Herbert’s predominant characteristic seems to be melancholy, his constant problem whether or not he has “[given him]self up to the most obstinate melancholy” while having “resolved to cherish sorrow.” Characters are constantly wasting away from melancholy or embracing it, diagnosing melancholy or trying to escape it. One might even say that many of the subplots allow St. Herbert to experience loss from different vantage points—most immediately as the lover losing his spouse; then, with Maurisson’s tale of a previous generation, considering earlier loss as begetting his own; then, with his daughter’s death from melancholy and her lover’s suicide, watching a next generation’s loss; and finally, with Albudor, serving as a cautionary tale to set yet another generation on a different path. These different conjugations of a basic story of loss give the novel an unusual layering.

The Cayuga Indian Ludono enters the narrative as something of a corrective to St. Herbert’s self-destructive behavior, pointing out its absurdity and then offering the moral counter-example of his own experience. Ludono may be loosely based on a well-known Cayugan named Logan, whose speech about his family’s massacre and the violence of white settler culture was well known at the time. Thomas Jefferson famously included Logan’s speech in his Notes on the State of Virginia (1785), though similar variants circulated widely in newspapers and magazines of the time. In fact, the following “beautiful, simple, energetic, and affecting SPEECH” appeared in the September 7, 1796 issue of the New-York Weekly Magazine itself:

I NOW ask of every white man whether he hath ever entered the cottage of Logan, when pressed with hunger, and been refused food; or, whether coming naked and shivering with cold, Logan hath not given him something to cover himself with? During the course of the late war, so long and so bloody, Logan hath remained quiet upon his mat, wishing to be the advocate of peace. Yes, such is my attachment for white men, that even those of my nation, when they passed by me, pointed at me, saying, Logan is a friend to white men. I had even thoughts of living amongst you; but that was before the injury received from one of you. Last summer Colonel Cressap massacred in cold blood, and without any provocation, all the relations of Logan, without sparing either his wife or his children. There is not now one drop of my blood in the veins of any human creature existing. This is what has excited my revenge. I have sought it; I have killed several of your people, and my hatred is appeased. I rejoice to see the prospect of peace brighten upon my country. But do not imagine my joy is instigated by fear. Logan knows not what fear is. He will never turn his back in order to save his life. But, alas! no one remains to mourn for Logan when he shall be no more.

Ludono may be a distant echo of Logan, though in a way that completely erases the criticism of white settler colonialism— Ludono is morally to blame for his losses, and he appears in the story to ease the settler’s pain, another in a long series of non¬white cultural guides for white protagonists.

There is an additional notable detail in the novel’s consideration of Roman Catholicism. St. Herbert insists he feels the “strongest prejudices against that sect,” consistent with the widespread anti-Catholicism in the United States and certainly in New York. Nonetheless, positive images of Roman Catholics are scattered throughout the text. St. Herbert’s daughter is kindly hosted by a Roman Catholic, almost secretly adopts Catholic prayer rituals with a crucifix, and embraces death presumably comforted by her new faith. St. Herbert’s sister had likewise long ago embraced Roman Catholicism in her move to Montreal and even retirement to a monastery after she is widowed. Readers of Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People might have read the novel differently as well, if they recalled the story of the holy hermit St. Herbert of Derwentwater (Book 4, chapter 29), whose history is linked to the longer tale of St. Cuthbert. St. Herbert may quietly be more of a Catholic text than it at first seems.

1. We are grateful to Jared Gardner for this observation in a communication with the editors.

Suggestions for further reading

Perhaps the first scholar to make note of St. Herbert is Warren Hunting Smith, who briefly examines the “extraordinary American castle” at the heart of the novel as an instance of what he presumptively judges as the obligation “many early American authors felt” to “describe architecture simply because their English contemporaries were doing it”; see Smith, Architecture in British Fiction (Yale University Press, 1934), 195, 191. In his landmark work on American magazines, Frank Luther Mott describes the first serialized version of St. Herbert as “a pioneer in that kind,” within a larger discussion of how short fiction became a “chief reliance” of “weekly miscellanies and the women’s magazines” in the early Republic; see Mott, A History of American Magazines (Harvard University Press, 1958), vol. 1, 174. Henri Petter describes St. Herbert as containing multiple considerations of the obstacles facing companionate marriages, and underscores that while the plot of Albudor and Caroline treats the theme “in a spirit of pleasantry” the earlier account of the trials of St. Herbert and Louisa is related “with somber didactic connotations”; see, Petter, The Early American Novel (Ohio State University Press, 1971), 188¬189. Klaus Lubbers figures St. Herbert as containing an emblematic instance of the trope of “the good Indian,” a figure who served as “the white hero’s solacer and mentor, who advised him to cultivate such virtues as fortitude, patriotism, and, strange to believe from the mouth of a non-Anglo-American, usefulness”; see Lubbers, Born for the Shade: Stereotypes of the Native American in United States Literature and the Visual Arts, 1776-1894 (Editions Rodopi, 1994), 292. Cathy Davidson suggests that within St. Herbert “there is a conjunctive relationship between the human world and the preternatural, which is now not symbolized by some incongruous castle but by a fully believable old manse surrounded by a dark forest”; see, Davidson, Revolution and the Word (Oxford University Press, 1986/2004), 329. A companion site to a Library Company exhibit entitled “Philadelphia Gothic: Murder, Mysteries, Monsters, and Mayhem Inspire American Fiction 1798-1854” (curated by Neil K. Fitzgerald), identifies Ann Eliza Bleecker as the author of St. Herbert adding that if this identification is accurate, the text would be “not only the earliest American gothic, but the earliest US novel, period”; see, Our own research has left us skeptical about this attribution, and we remain uncertain as to the identity of St. Herbert’s author. In his on-line guide to Post-Revolutionary American Magazines, Peter Hutchinson asserts that St. Herbert was likely the “the first American serial novel,” given its 1796 publication date; lution.pdf.

Cultural fascination with representations of Logan were widespread in the early Republic. Edward D. Seeber catalogs the myriad eighteenth and nineteenth century depictions of (and debates about) Logan in his seminal essay, “Critical Views on Logan’s Speech,” The Journal of American Folklore 60.236 (1947), 130-146. While his essay is steeped in Derridean theories of archival knowledge, and primarily focuses on Jefferson’s representation of Logan in Notes, Jonathan Elmer deftly suggests how readers of Logan’s speech understood him as providing a kind of “image of a sublime solitude that manages, through repression, an alignment of affect and event, pathos and history, that can be lived with,” mirroring, perhaps, the ways in which St. Herbert learns from the example of Ludono; see Elmer, “The Archive, the Native American, and Jefferson’s Convulsions,” diacritics 28.4 (1998), 5-24. Dana Nelson provocatively argues that “the abstracting identity of white/national manhood found one means of stabilizing its internal divisions and individual anxieties via imagined projections into, onto, against Indian territories, Indian bodies, Indian identities,” an analysis which resonates with how Ludono’s self-presentation offers a corrective to St. Herbert’s melancholy; see Nelson, National Manhood: Capitalist Citizenship and the Imagined Fraternity of White Men (Duke University Press, 1998), 67. More recently, Gordon Sayre has examined the ways in which fictionalized portraits of Logan tended to cast him as a gothic type. Sayre primarily focuses on nineteenth century narrative patterns, but stresses that “the Logan legend” was often framed in order to stress its gothic violations of “the closely guarded boundaries between such categories” as “reason and unreason, sanity and insanity, life and death, waking and sleeping, day and night.” Given the ways in which Ludono’s narrative presents an extreme version of St. Herbert’s own experiences, one more willing to violate normative boundaries, Sayre’s argument about these later renditions of Logan has some import for thinking about this earlier depoliticized portrait; see Sayre, The Indian Chief as Tragic Hero: Native Resistance and the Literatures of America, from Moctezuma to Tecumseh (The University of North Carolina Press, 2005), 192.

The pro-Catholic undertones of St. Herbert are very much an aberration for the period, and this is especially true for a publication originating in New York. In the aftermath of the Revolutionary War, “only” New York, as Jason K. Duncan notes, “pointedly excluded Catholics, and Catholics alone, from state office” (82). This anti-Catholic sentiment increased in the 1790s as Irish immigrants migrated to New York in increasing numbers, and as many Americans became unnerved by the radical overtones of the French Revolution; for more information on regional anti-Catholicism in the 1790s see Duncan, Citizens or Papists? : The Politics of Anti-Catholicism in New York, 1685¬1821 (Fordham University Press, 2005), 81-108.
Frank Luther Mott’s path-breaking work (cited above) remains the most authoritative and comprehensive guide to early American magazines. Edward W.R. Pitcher’s Fiction in American Magazines Before 1800 (Union College Press, 1993) likewise remains an important index of the voluminous wealth of fiction which first appeared in serialized form in the early Republic. Though not concerned with St. Herbert, Robb Haberman has insightfully examined how late eighteenth century magazines, including the New-York Weekly Magazine, “served as crucial venues for cultivating authorial personae, as they helped both known and less established writers tap into networks of presentation”; see Haberman, American Periodicals: A Journal of History, Criticism, and Bibliography 18.2 (2008), 162. Finally, Jared Gardner has recently challenged scholars of early U.S. literature to move beyond myths about the prominence of the novel in the early Republic and to take more seriously the importance of serial publication. Gardner asserts that that the field needs to “recognize that there was something in the magazine form that attracted these men and women, something we need to comprehend to recover properly the literary culture of late-eighteenth-century America”; see Gardner, The Rise and Fall of Early American Magazine Culture (University of Illinois Press, 2012), 28.

Teaching Reflections

The following are responses written by participants who have included this text in their teachings.

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