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Parting Thought on Ancient Sculpture and Holy Sites

These pioneering prints from the French, English, and American schools of engraving all used the most modern technology (folio copper plates in the case of Cassas; state-of-the-art steel with the images of Allom, Bartlett, and Smillie) to bring to a modern audience vestiges of ancient cultures from the island of Cyprus and the environs of Jerusalem. The artistry of the artists and engravers who documented these ancient and sacred sites was also an expression of the mercantile reach of a colonial power—especially by the time Allom and Bartlett were sent to the Near East in the second quarter of the nineteenth century. The English publishers of Fisher’s Syria, the Holy Land, Asia Minor &c. Illustrated, in the “Advertisement” for its first volume in 1836, assured readers of having “secured the literary co-operation of a gentleman” who can do full justice to “the sanctity which is attached to every memorial of The Holy Land—to its ancient and most sacred revelations, and to the prophecied contrasts of its existing condition.” They then went on to address “the great advantages which this country is about to derive from the Manufacturing, Commercial, and Trading resources, scientific discoveries, and rapid intercourse of the East: the march of the intellect and the flight of steam are advancing hand in hand into the heart of Asia” (n.p.). 

In 1856-57, Melville experienced the “march” of that “advancement” on the series of steamships that propelled him from the harbor of New York to the shores of the Near East only months after the end of the Crimean War. In 1876, America’s centennial year, Melville’s pilgrims on the way to Mar Saba, after the departure of the Cypriote, question whether the ancient “faith transmitted down” can withstand the “march in league avowed / Of Mammon and Democracy?” (NN C 3.5.62, 153-54). Ungar will provide the answer, after they arrive in Bethlehem, by referring to those Anglo-Saxons “Who in the name of Christ and Trade / . . . Deflower the world’s last sylvan glade!” (NN C 4.9.123-25).