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Pool of Siloam

CAT 23  James D. Smillie.  Pool of Siloam.  EBC 2 [slide MM].jpg

CAT 22. James D. Smillie. Pool of Siloam. In The Bible. New York: A. S. Barnes Company, 1856. E. Barton Chapin Jr. Family Collection.

Melville’s print of the Pool of Siloam, signed by James D. Smillie, depicts the “Fountain” of the “Tomb and Fountain” canto in Clarel, just as the print of the Sepulchre of the Kings by Cassas depicts its “Tomb.” Just as the unnamed Vine is first espied examining the Hellenic frieze of the sepulcher at the beginning of the canto, so is he beside the Pool of Siloam at the end of the canto. As Clarel and Nehemiah approach this storied site, the steep rocks of the sunken pool, and the sharp angle of the “noon-day shadow,” correspond closely to Smillie’s engraving:

                         Aslant they come
Where, hid in shadow of the rocks,
Stone steps descend unto Siloam.
Proof to the fervid noon-day tide
Reflected from the glen's steep side,
Moist ledge with ledge here interlocks,
Valuting a sunken grotto deep. (NN C 1.28.95-10)

Although Melville’s print is signed by James D. Smillie, the image clearly derives from Bartlett’s Pool of Siloam as published in the early London editions of Walks. Smillie turned Bartlett’s rectangular horizontal composition into a vertical vignette by cropping its corners and superimposing the decorative oval frame next to which he placed his own name.

James D. Smillie (1833-1909) was a son of James Smillie (1807-1885), the leading engraver for the American Art-Union in 1849-51. He engraved this variation on Bartlett’s Pool of Siloam for a Bible published in New York in 1856 (Wright 256). In 1849, only sixteen years old, he had published and signed another image that he borrowed directly from Bartlett’s Walks, The Mount of Olives (from the Walls of Jerusalem), one of three engravings he contributed to Robert B. McGregor’s The Byron Gallery of Highly Finished Engravings (Bartlett, facing p. 94; McGregor, facing p. 85; Witthoft, pp. 2, 37). When Melville had visited the pool of Siloam in 1857, he made minimal notes: “Siloam—pool, hill, village” (NN J 85). When he revisited the site mentally in the process of composing “Tomb and Fountain,” he would have had direct access to Bartlett’s engraving in the copy of Walks he acquired in 1870, whether or not he had by then acquired Smillie’s 1856 adaptation of that image. The topographical declivity and the noon-day shadows of the descent to the pool in canto 28 correspond to those elements in Bartlett’s image, whether seen in the engraved book or print.

Although Smillie’s oval engraving replicates Bartlett’s rectangular image in its depiction of the pool, the shadows, and the figures near the pool, it differs entirely in adding the small rectangular inset scene beneath the oval frame. [1] The inset depicts Christ curing the blind man with the waters of Siloam in the New Testament miracle related by John. Melville’s Nehemiah is inspired by that story as he prepares to “lave” his “dim” eyes in the healing waters of Siloam at the end of canto 28: “I’ll wash them in these waters cool, / As did the blind the Master sent, / And who came seeing from this pool” (NN C 1.28.126-32). Melville’s poem and Smillie’s print both differ from Bartlett’s engraving in calling explicit attention to the miracle by which Christ cured the blind man. Melville, in the spirit of Rolfe, drew a line in his copy of the New Testament next to the passage in which the disciples ask Christ, “who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?” His annotation at the bottom of the page notes that “This leading question seems evaded in the following verses” (Sealts no. 65; Cowen 3: 343; MMO 65, p. 171).

[1] Yet another variation on Bartlett’s The Pool of Siloam, a vertical vignette engraved by J. C. Bentley, appeared Bartlett’s Scriptural Sites and Scenes (London: Hall, Virtue, & Co., 1850), facing p. 145.