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Pierre or the Ambiguities (selected quotes)

Reading Melville on the heels of A Very Short Introduction to North American Indians and Changes in the Land feels peculiar. Overlapping sovereignties play out in the literary in grafted lineage of immigrants and absent heritages of indigenous peoples.

 

This is just an assortment of quotes as they came up in the novel.

In Chapter III in which Melville discusses American pedigrees:

“those grafted families successively live and die on the eternal soil of a name. In England this day, twenty-five hundred peerages are extinct; but the names survive. So that the empty air of a name is more endurable than a man” (chapter 3, PG)

“not to speak of the old and oriental-like English planter families of Virginia and the South; the Randolphs for example, one of whose ancestors, in King James’ time, married Pocahontas the Indian Princess, and in whose blood therefore an underived aboriginal royalty was flowing over two hundred years ago;”

“But whatever one may think of the existence of such mighty lordships in the heart of a republic, and however we may wonder at their thus surviving, like Indian mounds, the Revolutionary flood;”

IV

“Nevertheless, those deeds, as before hinted, did indeed date back to three kings—Indian kings—only so much the finer for that.”

 

 

BOOK II

“Now, since we began by talking of a certain young lady that went out riding with a certain youth; and yet find ourselves, after leading such a merry dance, fast by a stage-house window;—this may seem rather irregular sort of writing”

1794 phaeton

Riding with Lucy

“Let us hie homeward, Pierre. Some nameless sadness, faintness, strangely comes to me. Foretaste I feel of endless dreariness.”

Book II, Chapter VI

“Now, crossing the magic silence of the empty chamber, he caught the snow-white bed reflected in the toilet-glass. This rooted him. For one swift instant, he seemed to see in that one glance the two separate beds—the real one and the reflected one—and an unbidden, most miserable presentiment thereupon stole into him. But in one breath it came and went.”

VII

“Here one primeval pine-tree had been luckily left standing by the otherwise unsparing woodmen”

“Thou’lt not so often woo me to thy airy tent, to ponder on the gloomy rooted stakes that bind it. Hence now I go; and peace be with thee, pine! That blessed sereneness which lurks ever at the heart of sadness—mere sadness—and remains when all the rest has gone;—that sweet feeling is now mine, and cheaply mine. I am not sorry I was sad, I feel so blessed now.”

III.II

“Thus, intermittingly, ever and anon during those sad two days of deepest sufferance, Pierre would stand reasoning and expostulating with himself; and by such meditative treatment, reassure his own spontaneous impulses. Doubtless, it was wise and right that so he did; doubtless: but in a world so full of all dubieties as this, one can never be entirely certain whether another person, however carefully and cautiously conscientious, has acted in all respects conceivable for the very best.”

III.III

“THIS history goes forward and goes backward, as occasion calls. Nimble center, circumference elastic you must have. Now we return to Pierre, wending homeward from his reveries beneath the pine-tree.”

IV.III

Even to Pierre these two paintings had always seemed strangely dissimilar. And as the larger one had been painted many years after the other, and therefore brought the original pretty nearly within his own childish recollections; therefore, he himself could not but deem it by far the more truthful and life-like presentation of his father. So that the mere preference of his mother, however strong, was not at all surprising to him, but rather coincided with his own conceit. Yet not for this, must the other portrait be so decidedly rejected. Because, in the first place, there was a difference in time, and some difference of costume to be considered, and the wide difference of the styles of the respective artiste, and the wide difference of those respective, semi-reflected, ideal faces, which, even in the presence of the original, a spiritual artist will rather choose to draw from than from the fleshy face, however brilliant and fine. Moreover, while the larger portrait was that of a middle-aged, married man, and seemed to possess all the nameless and slightly portly tranquillities, incident to that condition when a felicitous one; the smaller portrait painted a brisk, unentangled, young bachelor, gayly ranging up and down in the world; light-hearted, and a very little bladish perhaps; and charged to the lips with the first uncloying morning fullness and freshness of life. Here, certainly, large allowance was to be made in any careful, candid estimation of these portraits. To Pierre this conclusion had become well-nigh irresistible, when he placed side by side two portraits of himself; one taken in his early childhood, a frocked and belted boy of four years old; and the other, a grown youth of sixteen. Except an indestructible, all-surviving something in the eyes and on the temples, Pierre could hardly recognize the loud-laughing boy in the tall, and pensively smiling youth. If a few years, then, can have in me made all this difference, why not in my father? thought Pierre.

IV.V

IF, when the mind roams up and down in the ever-elastic regions of evanescent invention, any definite form or feature can be assigned to the multitudinous shapes it creates out of the incessant dissolvings of its own prior creations; then might we here attempt to hold and define the least shadowy of those reasons, which about the period of adolescence we now treat of, more frequently occurred to Pierre, whenever he essayed to account for his mother’s remarkable distaste for the portrait. Yet will we venture one sketch.

From Dante Canto XXV, 8th Circle, Thieves

“Ah! how dost thou change,
Agnello! See! thou art not double now,
Nor only one!”

Book V.II

Falsgrave:

Besides all this, and many more minutenesses of the kind, he was conscious that Mrs. Glendinning entertained a particular partiality for him (though not enough to marry him, as he ten times knew by very bitter experience), and that Pierre was not behindhand in his esteem.

Book VIII.IV

For over all these things, and interfusing itself with the sparkling electricity in which she seemed to swim, was an ever-creeping and condensing haze of ambiguities.

.V

“Do not put such impetuous questions to me, Pierre; else thou mayst recall the old—may be, it is the evil spell upon me. I can not precisely and knowingly answer thee. I could surmise; but what are surmises worth? Oh, Pierre, better, a million times, and far sweeter are mysteries than surmises: though the mystery be unfathomable, it is still the unfathomableness of fullness; but the surmise, that is but shallow and unmeaning emptiness.”