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Capital letter L. Genesis 24:12

CAT 32 Capital letter L. Genesis 24.12 Taferelen.jpg

CAT 31. Capital letter L. Printed as the first letter of Tableau 22 (from Genesis 24:12) in Taferelen der voornaamste geschiedenissen van het Oude en Nieuwe Testament. The Hague: Pieter de Hondt, 1728, 1: 43. Melville Memorial Room, Berkshire Athenaeum.

Genesis 24: “[10] And the servant took ten camels of the camels of his master, and departed; for all the goods of his master were in his hand: and he arose, and went to Mesopotamia, unto the city of Nahor. [11] And he made his camels to kneel down without the city by a well of water at the time of the evening, even the time that women go out to draw water. [12] And he said, O Lord God of my master Abraham, I pray thee, send me good speed this day, and shew kindness unto my master Abraham. [13] Behold, I stand here by the well of water; and the daughters of the men of the city come out to draw water: [14] And let it come to pass, that the damsel to whom I shall say, Let down thy pitcher, I pray thee, that I may drink; and she shall say, Drink, and I will give thy camels drink also: let the same be she that thou hast appointed for thy servant Isaac; and thereby shall I know that thou hast shewed kindness unto my master.”   

This engraving very clearly shows the servant Eliezer in supplication before the well—and two of his camels, one of them kneeling, behind him on the right. Deep in the middle distance, on the other side of the letter L, having just passed beyond the city wall, is a demure female figure carrying a jar over her head. This is Rebecca, who in the subsequent verses of this chapter will indeed offer water to the stranger, water his camels, and prove herself to be the woman whom the Lord “hast appointed for thy servant Isaac.” Her name appears in the Dutch text on the verso of the engraving. Picart’s tailpiece to this tableau features Rebecca and Eliezer together at the well. Saurin writes these words about the exact moment depicted in the engraving: “The words had hardly left his lips, when the beautiful Rebecca, an untouched virgin, came out.” He frames the entire tableau by praising God for having “pronounced the blessing of growth and multiplication to humankind, and by this established desire and lust, to expand and immortalize themselves by means of offspring” (1:43).

Young Melville in his first “Fragment from a Writing Desk” (1839) was already articulating “that heroic and Grecian cast of countenance which the imagination unconsciously ascribes to the Jewess, Rebecca” (NN PTO 194). In Clarel, he visualizes “Abram’s steward . . . / Mild Eliezer, musing . . . by those same banks” of the “branching Eden brooks” (NN C 1.18.16-21).