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Grandville’s Illustrations in Melville’s copy of the Fables of La Fontaine

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MBB 3.6. J. J. Grandville, tailpiece to “The Wolf and the Shepherds” in Melville’s copy of the Fables of La Fontaine. Tr. Elizur Wright, Jr.  New York: J. Miller, c. 1879 (Sealts no. 314a). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

J. J. Grandville (1803-1847) was a caricaturist in Paris who became a book illustrator after caricature came under new censorship laws in 1835. Three years after his illustrated edition of La Fontaine’s Fables was printed in Paris, his designs appeared in the 1841 American edition of the Fables translated by Elizur Wright, Jr. (1804-1885). In 1849 Wright’s Boston Chronotype reviewed Melville’s Mardi. In 1851 Wright was arrested and tried as one of the abolitionists who had successfully conspired to abduct the fugitive slave Shadrach Minkins from the courtroom of Melville’s father-in-law Lemuel Shaw. Melville made many markings in the Wright/Grandville edition of the Fables that was reissued in 1879 (see Cowen, 7: 133-69). In the fable of “The Hog, the Goat, and the Sheep,” he entered a correction of Wright’s translation, substituting “happier” for “wisest” (Cowen 7: 137).

Here is how Grandville’s wolf appears as the tailpiece to Wright’s translation of “The Wolf and the Shepherds” (fig. 1)

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Fig. 1. Grandville’s tailpiece to Wright’s translation of “The Wolf and the Shepherds.”

The above image appears as the tailpiece to several other fables. So does this related image of the wolf that appears as the tailpiece to the first fable in the volume, “The Animals Sick of the Plague” (fig. 2).  Melville in his own copy marked the last two lines of this fable: “The human courts acquit the strong, / And doom the weak, as therefore wrong” (Cowen, 7: 136).

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Fig. 2.  Grandville’s tailpiece to Wright’s translation of “The Animals Sick of the Plague.”

A very different view of the wolf appears in the frontispiece to the volume itself (fig. 3):

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Fig. 3. Grandville‘s “The Wolf and the Stork,” frontispiece to Wright’s translation of the Fables of La Fontaine.

Grandville’s wolf is only one in a menagerie of animals who populate Melville’s copy of Wright’s translation of La Fontaine’s Fables. Among the others are the lion, the fox, the stag, the dog, the cat, the hare, the eagle, the stork, the owl, the duck, the pheasant, the monkey, the ass, the cock, the tortoise, the frog, the mouse, the rat, and the spider, many of these appearing in the company of humans or dressed as humans.

In addition to appearing as tailpieces, a number Grandville’s illustrations appear on pages that announce a new “book” within this volume of Fables. On the page facing Grandville’s tailpiece to “The Wolf and the Shepherds” is the page announcing Book 6. This charming  image of the shell of the tortoise (fig. 4) is certain to have been of interest to Melville as the author of “Two Sides to a Tortoise,” chapter 2 of The Encantadas (NN PTO 130-33)

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Fig 4. Grandville’s illustration of the tortoise introducing Book 6.

For the other side of the tortoise, Melville had Grandville’s image of the helpless creature on its back in “The Tortoise and Two Ducks” (fig. 5).

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Fig. 5. Grandville’s illustration of “The Tortoise and the Two Ducks” in Wright’s translation of the Fables of La Fontaine.

One of the most striking images in the volume is bird who introduces Book 2 (fig. 6). The closest match in Melville’s writing is the description of Paölo Veronese in “At the Hostelry,” the poem about Old Master painters left unpublished at his death. Melville’s Veronese is “a gorgeous fellow, / Whose raiment matched his artist-mood: / . . . In feather high, in fortune free, / Like to a Gorgeous Pheasant, he” (NN BBO 159-160):

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Fig. 6. Grandville’s peacock/pheasant introducing Book 2 of the Fables of La Fontaine.

Another proud creature who introduces a new book of the Fables is the stag featured in Book 5. After playing a subsidiary role in two of Melville’s prints after Claude Lorrain (see CAT 128 and 129), this creature is evidently happy to be the center of attention.

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Fig. 7. Grandville’s stag introducing Book 5 of the Fables of La Fontaine.

The smallest creature who introduces a book of La Fontaine’s Fables is the spider at the center of the image for Book 3 (fig. 8). Melville was not one to overlook the work of such a tiny creature, as he made clear in the “Fast-Fish and Loose-Fish” chapter of Moby-Dick: “a fish is technically fast, when it is connected with an occupied ship or boat, by any medium at all controllable by the occupant or occupants,--a mast, an oar, a nine-inch cable, a telegraph wire, or a strand of cobweb, it is all the same” (NN MD 396).

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Fig. 8. Grandville’s spider introducing Book 3 of the Fables of La Fontaine.

(MBB 3.6) Grandville’s Illustrations in Melville’s copy of the Fables of La Fontaine