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Capital letter L. 2 Samuel 11:2

CAT 45 Capital letter D.  2 Samuel 11.2.  Taferelen.  BA 56..jpg

CAT 44. Capital letter L. Printed as the first letter of Tableau 2 (from 2 Samuel 11:2) in Taferelen der voornaamste geschiedenissen van het Oude en Nieuwe Testament. The Hague: Pieter de Hondt, 1728, 2:227. Melville Memorial Room, Berkshire Athenaeum.

2 Samuel 11: “[2] And it came to pass in an eveningtide, that David arose from off his bed, and walked upon the roof of the king’s house: and from the roof he saw a woman washing herself; and the woman was very beautiful to look upon. [3] And David sent and enquired after the woman. And one said, Is not this Bath-sheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite? [4] And David sent messengers, and took her; and she came in unto him, and he lay with her; for she was purified from her uncleanness: and she returned unto her house. (5) And the woman conceived, and sent and told David, and said, I am with child.”

David from the rooftop looks down upon Bathsheba, framed for the viewer by the capital L, below which her left foot is seen in the water. This scene, like that of the grapes of Eshcol (CAT 38), adds a sensuous dimension to Melville’s biblical engravings. Even Father Saurin is not immune to the beauty of the bather: “The great beauty of that naked white well-rounded and graceful image of a woman stood out, like the moon amongst the lesser stars, and was powerful enough to draw the king’s eye to her, and to make the heart burn with impurity” (2:227).

Bathsheba enters Clarel soon after the celebration of the bursting grapes of Eshcol. The Prodigal refers to “that grave, deep Hebrew coquetry! / Thereby Bathsheba David won; / In bath a proposed bait! Have done!” (NN C 4.26.235-7). The editors of the NN edition correctly note that “the account of David’s seduction of Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 11 gives no hint that she was looking for the trouble she got” (NN C, p. 835). Melville’s engraving with the capital L does so hint. In Melville’s edition of The New Testament and the Book of Psalms, he marks several passages in Psalm 51, “The Psalm of David  . . . after he had gone in to Bathsheba.” These begin with the first verse: “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy loving-kindness; according to the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions” (Cowen 3: 418-21; MMO 65, 2.038,