a do-it-yourself MiSTing
By Louise Hope
and other people too numerous to mention
based on the novel by
Daniel Jackson, Jr.
original text written 1804 / pirated 1811 / MiSTed 2008–09 with later additions
[Fade in. Readers Hugh, Meredith, David, Lucy and Linda are sitting around a table. Hugh is holding a sheaf of crumbling, yellowed newspapers: the Political Barometer of Poughkeepsie, New York, dated 1804. The others are holding books from 1811 and assorted later dates, all with the title Alonzo and Melissa.
[The real-life Hugh would like it made very clear that he considers Alonzo and Melissa to be one of the high points in the history of American literature, and would never dream of poking fun at it.]
ALONZO AND MELISSA,
The Unfeeling Father.
An American Tale.
In every varied—
Hugh [Crocodile Dundee voice]: You call that a title? This is a title:
A Short Account of
Alonzo & Melissa:
Setting Forth Their
Hardships and Difficulties,
Caused by the Barbarity
of an Unfeeling Father.
In every varied posture, place, and hour,
How widowed every thought of every joy!
David: That’s a warning, isn’t it?
By DANIEL JACKSON, Jr.
Meredith: Oh, all right. Written by Isaac Mitchell in 1804 and published in the newspaper he edited. Pirated in 1811 by Daniel Jackson.
Linda: His father must have been very, very proud of him.
Lucy: Not half as proud as Amelia Stratton Comfield’s father. Thirty years later she swiped it all over again, renamed the main characters—and donated the proceeds to charity.
David [Devil’s advocate]: How do we know it wasn’t written by Jackson in the first place and stolen by Mitchell to fill up column space?
Linda: Well, among other things, Jackson would have been only thirteen years old at the time.
Whether the story of Alonzo and Melissa will generally please, the writer knows not; if, however, he is not mistaken, it is not unfriendly to religion and to virtue.—One thing was aimed to be shown, that—
Hugh [as editor of the Political Barometer]: Everyone stop what you’re doing. I want the author of this travesty to step forward, own up like a man, and put your money in the Violations Jar. You will then have half an— fifteen— no, ten minutes to rewrite it in the active voice, using strong, descriptive words, cutting the verbiage by at least half, and—
David [in “Please, sir, I want some more” tones]: Sir . . . Excuse me, sir . . . It was . . . Well . . . You wrote it, sir.
Hugh: You’re fired.
a firm reliance on Providence, however the affections might be at war with its dispensations, is the only source of consolation in the gloomy hours of affliction; and that generally such dependence, though crossed by difficulties and perplexities, will be crowned with victory at last.
Linda: If the characters took matters into their own hands, the whole story would be wrapped up in twenty pages.
It is also believed—
Hugh [as editor]: WHAT did I just get through— Oh. Right.
that the story contains no indecorous stimulants;
Lucy: It’s really true. I looked ahead. There’s one place where Alonzo orders ale but doesn’t drink it, and when you see wine it’s only as part of the background decoration.
Meredith: What about laudanum?
Lucy: No sign of it. If you need pain killers you’ll have to provide your own.
nor is it filled with unmeaning and inexplicated incidents sounding upon the senses, but imperceptible to the understanding.
Readers [stare at each other in disbelief].
When anxieties have been excited by involved and doubtful events, they are afterwards elucidated by the consequences.
Linda: What fun is that?
The writer believes that generally he has copied nature. In the ardent prospects raised in youthful bosoms, the almost consummation of their wishes, their sudden and unexpected disappointment, the sorrows of separation, the joyous and unlooked for meeting—in the poignant feelings of Alonzo, when,
Linda: Spoiler alert! Fingers in ears, everyone!
at the grave of Melissa, he poured the feelings of his anguished soul over her miniature by the “moon’s pale ray;”—when Melissa, sinking on her knees before her father, was received to his bosom as a beloved daughter risen from the dead.
Meredith: I guess that means I don’t have to read the book after all.
Hugh: You’ve already read it. The Preface started out as a Note printed at the end of the final installment.
If these scenes are not imperfectly drawn, they will not fail to interest the refined sensibilities of the reader.
Lucy: I can never get the hang of double negatives. [Reaches for eraser.]
If these scenes are perfectly drawn, they will interest the refined sensibilities of the reader.
David: And if they aren’t, they won’t.
The book version of Alonzo and Melissa was not divided into chapters. The breaks are from the newspaper serial. In this list of opening lines I’ve tried to avoid obvious spoilers.
- [ 1] In the time of the late [American] revolution . . .
- [ 2] Melissa was received with joyful tenderness . . .
- [ 3] It was some time before Alonzo renewed his visit.
- [ 4] Alonzo’s hours now winged heavily away.
- [ 5] The declaration of Melissa’s father . . .
- [ 6] The spring opened with the din of preparation . . .
- [ 7] Alonzo entered the room; Melissa was sitting by a window . . .
- [ 8] Alonzo arrived at the residence of Vincent . . .
- [ 9] The night was exceedingly dark . . .
-  John came frequently to the house . . .
-  That night Melissa let down the bridge . . .
-  Alonzo and Melissa were equally surprised . . .
-  Alonzo had understood from Melissa, that John’s hut . . .
-  The incidents of our story will here produce a pause.
-  A new scene was now opened to Alonzo . . .
-  Alonzo passed along the street . . .
-  Edgar and Alonzo retired to a separate room.
-  Alonzo having thus poured out . . .
-  Again will the incidents of our history produce a pause.
-  “To undeceive you, Alonzo,”
-  Alonzo’s father was soon . . .
-  It was then agreed that the man should . . .
- [PS] Afterword
The text of Alonzo and Melissa used here is a composite of five—which is to say four and a half—editions: 1804 (original newspaper serial, read by “Hugh”); 1811 (first pirated book publication, read by “Meredith”); 1851 (read by “David”); 1864 (read by “Lucy”); 1870 (read by “Linda”). The 1864 edition is a letter-for-letter reprint of 1851 . . . except for the last page. The 1870 edition is probably a reprint of 1836.
Spelling and punctuation—especially quotation marks—have been slightly regularized. Readers who, for reasons of their own, want to get the story “straight” can find it at Project Gutenberg.