Men in Coats - Nixon

elegant boots coat and gloves story 111 12 successive

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Unformatted text preview: cialsin Europe"(238). It is likely, then, that what Delano recognizes in Cereno is not the features of the southerngentleman but the aristocratic gentility that institutionslike Harvard rided p themselves in instilling in the sons of the northern elite through an "overall regimen of refinement" (Story 115). Apartfrom the grandtour undertaken to breed greater sophistication-or, as Melville observes in Pierre, to create"anempty mask of ostentation"(223)-Harvard was perhapsthe institution most responsible for, in Ronald Story's terms, "theforging of an aristocracy"n the North.And in i antebellumAmerica Harvard articipatednot only p in the creationof quasi or actualdandiesbut also in the promulgation f the idea thatthe study of impeo rial Spain was a badge of ultimatecivilization. From about the 1820s onward, a series of Harvardpresidentsinstitutedan aggressivelyprogrammatic quest for refinement. The "typical Harvard Nicola Nixon man"took rhetoricand elocution to eliminate "rustic idioms," learned the conscientious removal of facial hair, mastered polished manners, perfected his dining on imported china, and spent well over $150 a year on "elevated" ttire,sporting"a top hat a and cane [...] elegant boots, coat, and gloves" (Story 111-12). Successive presidents, fearing an extremity of refinement that might re-create the admiredexclusivism of the Regency aristocrats, ni stitutedgentlemanly sports as "antidote[s]to lassitude and indulgence"-as prophylacticsagainstthe students' becoming "gloved and lisping dandies," possessed of "perfumed curls," "slender waists," and the "tiny legs" of Benjamin Disraeli and the Young Englanders,or becoming "whey-faced and feeble, effeminate and fearful" (Story 114-15). It is scarcely surprising that Emerson, the great advocate of physical work as manly self-actuation, would obliquely charge the 1837 Phi Beta Kappa class with being, essentially, dandies. He accused them of being womanishly "indolent [and] complaisant," of speaking a "mincing and diluted speech" ("AmericanScholar"69), and of cultivating a "cowardly"inaction (59). While the retiring HarvardpresidentJosiah Quincy praised the class of 1845 as "'the best dressed' he had ever seen" (Story 112), such a distinction had connotations that Emerson deplored and that, to judge from Pierre, Melville too found questionable. When Pierrearrivesat Glen Stanly'sNew Yorkhouse, for example, he observes that Stanly is "remarkably splendid-looking," carelesslylounging"and mon" ocled, a figure who is "dressed with surprising plainness, almost demureness," in "fine, and admirably fitted," fabrics but whose languor and sartorialsplendorcast doubts on his "genuinemettle" (238). Although Glen Stanly is, rather like the ideal Harvardman, both refined and robust, his affected cultivation comes from his imbibing of European culture on the grand tour. Presumably to provide such culturewithout the dangerousenticements to decadence of European travel, Harvard counted on the Abiel Smith professorship in French and Spanish languages, held by George Ticknor from 1817 to 1835-a professorship characterizedprimarily by scholarship on Spain (Williams 54). Capitalizing perhaps on the appeal of Washing- 367 ton Irving's History and Life of Christopher Columbus(1828), Chronicle of the Conquestof Granada (1829), and Legendsof the Conquestof Spain (1835), Ticknorwrote his classic History of Spanish Literature (1849). Another Harvard-educated historian, William Hickling Prescott, published The Historyof the Reign of Ferdinandand Isabella the Catholic in 1837 and The History of the Conquest of Peru in 1847, the formerof which became, as StanleyWilliamsobserves,the "universal hristC mas present of the year, for the cultivated!" (51). Not only were Harvardscholars perceived as paying a necessary homage to Spain for the discovery of their country,but their works were treatedas the fruits of a cultivationderivedentirelyfrom Europe. An anonymousEnglish reviewerof Ticknor'sHisc tory of SpanishLiterature ommentsapprovingly: Onbeingappointed rofessor f Modem iteraturet P o L a Harvard ollege,he [Ticknor] rossedthe Atlantic c C [...]; for to everyAmericanof bettercaste and aspira- tions a pilgrimage o England usteverbe, whata t m visitto Greece asforthevirbonusof ancient ome, w R the crowningmercyand seal to the educationof a gentleman [...]. On his return to America, having come into the possessionof amplefortune,he rebut signedthelong-held rofessorship, notthepursuit p of literature; is affluence as employed n forming h w i the best Spanishlibraryin the New World,andhis b its T leisure-precious oon-in mastering contents. o o l everyauthor f his highaims,thebestresourceies in his ownlibrary. (Ford 89-90) 2 Ticknorembodies the gentlemanscholar"of better caste"...
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