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Capital letter A [Genesis 2:18-20]

CAT 25 Capital letter A. [Genesis 2.18-20.] Taferelen. BA 57.jpg

CAT 24. Capital letter A. Printed as the first letter of the First Tableau (from the Book of Genesis) in Taferelen der voornaamste geschiedenissen van het Oude en Nieuwe Testament. The Hague: Pieter de Hondt, 1728, 1:1. Melville Memorial Room, Berkshire Athenaeum.

This Capital letter A serves as the first letter of the First Tableau, from the Book of Genesis, in the 1728 Taferelen. Although the chapter and verse are not included in this engraving, the image relates most directly to God creating, and Adam naming, the animals in Genesis 2:18-20: “[18] And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him. [19] And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof. [20] And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him.” [The text of this and subsequent Biblical passages in this section are from Melville’s personal copy of the King James Bible in the 1846 Philadelphia edition, with its italicizations preserved in my text.]

The Dutch commentary for this tableau identifies the male figure not as Adam but as God Himself (whose gesture here recalls that of Michelangelo’s God in the creation scene in the Sistine Chapel). The pairing of the rabbits, camels, and elephants in this image anticipates God’s command to Noah to “bring two of every sort” into the ark in Genesis 6:14. DAER, the most prominent word on the verso of Melville’s image, is the first word of the sentence DAER ZIJ LICHT (Let there be Light) from Genesis 1:1-3. Father Saurin invites his reader to “Ask the beasts, and each and every one of them will teach us . . . that all things, visible and visible, that are in the heavens and on the earth, exist and are created by God’s will.” [Here as in subsequent entries, all translations from, and interpretations of, the Dutch text are from Lynn de Graaf.]

Melville’s closest prose counterpart to the spirit and image of this First Tableau appears in chapter 3 of Mardi (“A King for a Comrade”): “King Noah! God bless him! fathered us all.  Then hold up your heads, oh ye Helots, blood potential flows through your veins. All of us have monarchs and sages for kinsmen; nay, angels and archangels for cousins; since in the antediluvian days, the sons of God did verily wed with our mothers, the irresistible daughters of Eve. Thus all generations are blended: and heaven and earth of one kin: the hierarchies of seraphs in the uttermost skies; the thrones and principalities in the zodiac; the shades that roam throughout space; the nations and families, flocks and folds of the earth; one and all, brothers in essence—oh, be we then brothers indeed! All things form but one whole; the universe a Judea, and God Jehovah its head” (NN M 12). This “God Jehovah” in Mardi is the prose equivalent of the male figure bisected by the letter A in the initial capital letter from the Taferelen.