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Capital letter D. Joshua 10:12-13

CAT 44 Capital letter D.  [Joshua 10.12-13]. Taferelen.  BA 48.jpg

CAT 43. Capital letter D. Printed as the first letter of Tableau 5 (from Joshua 10:12-13) in Taferelen der voornaamste geschiedenissen van het Oude en Nieuwe Testament. The Hague: Pieter de Hondt, 1728, 2:157. Melville Memorial Room, Berkshire Athenaeum.

Because this engraving does not cite a biblical passage, Melville may have taken its image of the sun at the center of the solar system to depict the creation of the firmament in Genesis 1: 16-18 (it was so used in the Premier Discours of Saurin’s Discours historiques in 1728). This image, however, like the letter D in CAT 25, is a “wild card” used to illustrate several different tableaux throughout the Taferelen. This version of the image in Melville’s collection is from the Tableau devoted to the miracle of the sun standing still in Joshua 10: “[12] Then spake Joshua to the Lord in the day when the Lord delivered up the Amorites before the children of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel, Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon; and thou, Moon, in the vale of Ajalon. [13] And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies.” One of the Dutch words visible on the verso of Melville’s image is “stilstaan” (stand still). 

The lines radiating out from the sun inside the letter D suggest the radiance of the Creator as well as of the sun. Saurin in his commentary on this Tableau concedes that there is much dispute “about this standing still” of the sun; he argues that it “should be taken proverbially and not scientifically. The day of that victory stands out unequalled, like the queen of all days of the centuries; not just because of her stretched duration, but rather because the Lord, the Immortal, who lives in eternity, nailed the diamond axis of the moving law of nature, to the chain of his power, on the prayer of a mortal being” (2:158).  

In Melville’s “Cock-A-Doodle-Doo!” the trumpet-like crow of the cock reminds the narrator of “some overpowering angel of the Apocalypse . . . crowing over the triumph of righteous Joshua in the vale of Ajalon” (NN PTO 285). A more somber allusion appears in “Ungar and Rolfe” in Clarel, when Ungar imagines the materialists of a prosperous America saying to God, “Go-- / Depart from us; we do erase / Thy sinecure: behold, the sun / Stands still no more in Ajalon: / Depart from us” (NN C 4.21.33-37).

As we were editing this page, Clementine Farrell, our Computer Science major and Honors minor webmaster, gave me a scientific tutorial on the depiction of the solar system within which is embedded the capital letter D of the first word in Father Saurin’s elevated Christian interpretation of the day on which the sun stood still in Ajalon. Clementine immediately recognized the symbols within the planets orbiting outside the letter D as identifying Jupiter (on the upper curve) and Saturn (below the lower curve) in the system of planetary symbols based on Greco-Roman astronomy that had consolidated in 16th-century European astronomy as well as astrology. She also noted the careful deployment of moons around those planets and the circular representation of the gravitational fields in which each set of moons move. Symbols inside the curve of the letter D denote the planets Venus and Mercury orbiting nearest the sun, with Mars in motion to the left of the stem. The earth occupies is own expansive gravitational field inside the lower arc of the curve, accompanied by its moon, each of which shows a bright face toward the light of the sun while casting shadows far beyond their dark sides.

Melville was creating his own intellectual cosmology when he wrote in “Hawthorne and His Mosses” that in spite of “the Indian-summer sunlight on the hither side of Hawthorne soul, the other side—like the dark half of the physical sphere—is shrouded in as blackness ten times black.” This “great power of blackness” Melville then compares to “that Calvinistic sense of Innate Depravity from whose visitations, in some shape or another, no deeply thinking mind is always and wholly free” (NN PTO 243). Such Calvinistic visitations pervade the deeply thinking mind of Father Saurin, whose celestial celebrations of the saving power of God’s grace throughout the Taferelen are always shrouded in his own sense of mankind’s innate depravity. One pictorial analogy for the sunlight of Hawthorne’s soul “shrouded” in blackness “like the dark half of the physical sphere” is seen in the depiction of the earth within the capital letter D of CAT 43, the sunlit side of its “physical sphere” shadowed by the “blackness ten times black” that streams out beyond its “dark half.”