a do-it-yourself MiSTing
ALONZO AND MELISSA.
In the time of the late revo—
Hugh: —the late American revolution.
Lucy: As opposed to all those other revolutions you might have thought he was talking about.
Meredith: Wasn’t there some business in France?
Lucy: Oh, right. But by 1811 that was all water under the bridge.
American revolution, two young gentlemen of Connecticut, who had formed an indissoluble friendship, graduated at Yale College in New Haven: their names were Edgar and Alonzo. Edgar was the son of a respectable farmer. Alonzo’s father was an eminent merchant. Edgar was designed for the desk,
David: He was chair-shaped?
Alonzo for the bar;
Meredith: He can’t have been. We just got through the “no indecorous stimulants”.
but as they were allowed some vacant time after their graduation before they entered upon their professional studies,
David: Now that they’ve had their fun at Yale, it’s time to hit the books.
they improved this interim in mutual, friendly visits, mingling with select parties in the amusements of the day, and in travelling through some parts of the United States.
Meredith: Uh, what United States? Does he mean the colonies?
David: He means Connecticut. This book is completely obsessed with Connecticut.
Linda: It’s like those English novels where someone asks if it’s your first visit to this part of the world, and they mean this district of England.
Edgar had a sister who, for some time, had resided with her cousin at New London.
Lucy: Time-honored solution to a time-honored problem. She was getting fatter in the middle and her waistband was riding higher, so she was packed off to stay with relatives until she got miraculously thin again.
She was now about to return,
Lucy: —due to return, nudge nudge wink wink.
and it was designed that Edgar should go and attend her home. Previous to the day on which he was to set out, he was unfortunately thrown from his horse, which so much injured him as to prevent his prosecuting his intended journey: he therefore invited Alonzo to supply his place;
David: Good practice for Alonzo, if he’s going to be a litigator.
Others: [Flat silence.]
which invitation he readily accepted, and on the day appointed set out for New London,
Lucy [finds map of Connecticut and spreads it out on table]: There’s New London, way over at the far edge of the st— colony. About 45 miles east of New Haven as the crow flies. You can do it in a day if there’s a road.
Meredith: I thought they’d been seeing the world.
David: Connecticut is the world.
where he arrived, delivered his introductory letters to Edgar’s cousin, and was received with the most friendly politeness.
Melissa, the sister of Edgar,
Hugh [under his breath]: Cross out “the“, cross out “of”, change to “Edgar’s sister”.
was about sixteen years of age. She was not what is esteemed a striking beauty, but her appearance was pleasingly interesting. Her figure was elegant;
David: Now that they’ve taken care of the waistline problem.
her aspect was attempered—
Linda [reading from 1870 edition]: Or possibly “tempered”. We’re not sure what the word means, so let the readers take their pick.
with a pensive mildness, which in her cheerful moments would light up into sprightliness and vivacity. Though on first impression, her countenance was marked by a sweet and thoughtful serenity, yet she eminently possessed the power to
“Call round her laughing eyes, in playful turns,
The glance that lightens, and the smile that burns.”
Meredith: Ouch. Overdid it on the teeth-whitening.
Lucy [consulting reference work]: Erasmus Darwin, 1731–1802. “The Temple of Nature, or, The Origin of Society”.
David: Any relation to Charles?
Lucy: His grandfather. From the origin of society to the origin of species is but a small step.
Linda: From Alonzo and Melissa to literature, on the other hand, is a giant leap.
Her mind was adorned with those delicate graces which are the first ornaments of female excellence. Her manners were graceful without affectation, and her taste had been properly directed by a suitable education.
Meredith [as Melissa]: I don’t know anything about art, but my teacher said this is a good painting so I’ll go into raptures over it.
Alonzo was about twenty-one years old; he had been esteemed an excellent student.
Lucy: Until the day Housekeeping cleaned up his college rooms and found all those papers in other students’ handwriting.
His appearance was manly, open and free. His eye indicated a nobleness of soul; although his aspect was tinged with melancholy, yet he was naturally cheerful. His disposition was of the romantic cast;
“For far beyond the pride and pomp of power,
Linda [1870 text]: I’ve got “pride or pomp”.
Meredith: The Constitutional Convention will spend weeks arguing points like that.
He lov’d the realms of nature to explore;
With lingering gaze Edinian spring survey’d;
Morn’s fairy splendours; night’s gay curtain’d shade,
The high hoar cliff, the grove’s benighting gloom,
The wild rose, widow’d o’er the mouldering tomb;
The heaven embosom’d sun; the rainbow’s die,
Where lucid forms disport to fancy’s eye;
The vernal flower, mild autumn’s purpling glow,
The summer’s thunder and the winter’s snow.”
Lucy [after business with reference works]: This is the single longest quotation in the whole book—and it’s by a president of Yale. Timothy Dwight, 1752–1817, “The Conquest of Canaan”. Probably thought it meant New Canaan, Connecticut. The Cambridge History of Literature—sorry, English and American Literature—says it was “written by the time he was twenty-two, but published when he was thirty-three and should have known better.”
Meredith: Is that what you call damning with faint praise?
David: Sounds like damning with unambiguous damns to me.
It was evening when Alonzo arrived at the house of Edgar’s cousin. Melissa was at a ball which had been given on a matrimonial occasion in the town.
Lucy [glancing at Hugh]: Or, as we say in the vernacular, a wedding.
Her cousin waited on Alonzo to the ball, and introduced him to Melissa, who received him with politeness. She was dressed in white, embroidered and spangled with rich silver lace; a silk girdle, enwrought and tasseled with gold, surrounded her waist; her hair was unadorned—
Meredith: No powder? Eeeuw.
except by a wreath of artificial flowers, studded by a single diamond.
After the ball closed, they returned to the house of Edgar’s cousin. Melissa’s partner at the ball was the son of a gentleman of independent fortune in New London. He was a gay young man,
Linda: —making him a perfectly safe escort for anyone’s daughter.
aged about twenty-five. His address was easy, his manners rather voluptuous than refined; confident, but not ungraceful. He led the ton in fashionable circles;
Lucy: In unfashionable circles, the ton couldn’t be bothered.
Meredith: Ton of what?
Lucy: The ton, you ignorant lout. It means the, uh, the people who were so high-class, they had to describe themselves in French.
gave taste its zest, and was quite a favourite with the ladies generally. His name was Beauman.
Edmund [passing through]: As Beauman is plainly destined to be the rival of Alonzo of Yale, we might have suspected him to be a Harvard graduate. Nothing is said about this, however, and the reference to Beauman’s voluptuous manners makes it practically certain that he was a Princeton man.
David: Who the heck was that?
Lucy: Edmund Pearson, writing in The Bookman. Article reprinted in his 1928 collection Queer Books.
Linda: I’m biting my tongue.
Edgar’s cousin proposed to detain Alonzo and Melissa a few days, during which time they passed in visiting—
Linda [1870 text]:
a few days, which time they passed in was visiting—
David: Wouldn’t you think that with five editions to choose from, at least one of them would have something that wasn’t perfect gibberish?
select friends and social parties. Beauman was an assiduous attendant upon Melissa. He came one afternoon to invite her to ride out;—she was indisposed and excused herself.
Meredith [as Melissa]: Not today, dear. I have a headache.
Linda: Cramps. That little, ahem, problem is safely in the past, and her physiology is back to normal.
At evening she proposed walking out with her cousin and his lady; but they were prevented from attending her by unexpected company. Alonzo offered to accompany her. It was one of those beautiful evenings in the month of June, when nature in those parts of America—
David: For “America,” read “Connecticut”.
Linda: For “Connecticut,” read “the known universe”.
is arrayed in her richest dress. They left the town and walked through fields adjoining the harbour.—The moon shone in full lustre, her white beams trembling upon the glassy main, where skiffs and sails of various descriptions were passing and repassing.
Hugh: Quick! Grab that sail! It’s just the kind I need for my schooner.
The shores of Long-Island and the other islands in the harbour,
David: Long Island, Fire Island, Staten Island . . . If you’ve seen one island, you’ve seen ’em all.
appeared dimly to float among the waves. The air was adorned with the fragrance of surrounding flowers; the sound of instrumental music—
Hugh: Of various instrumental music. We are at a high level of culture.
wafted from the town, rendered sweeter by distance,
Linda: Ouch! Did he just read that B flat as a B natural?
Meredith: Can’t tell from this distance.
while the whippoorwill’s sprightly song echoed along the adjacent groves.
Edmund [stuffily]: It is to the credit of the author that he employed native birds, rather than follow the custom of some of our early writers, who ruthlessly imported English skylarks and Italian nightingales, in defiance of all probability.
Far in the eastern horizon hung a pile of brazen clouds,
Meredith: The brazen audacity of those clouds! I’ve never seen such shameless behavior in a collection of water vapor.
which had passed from the north, over which, the crinkling red lightning momentarily darted, and at times, long peals of thunder were faintly heard. They walked to a point of the beach, where stood a large rock whose base was washed by every tide.
David [yawning]: OK, skip the next few pages. They’re going to get stranded.
Meredith: In the middle of a thunderstorm, surrounded by salt water. Good one, Alonzo.
On this rock they seated themselves, and enjoyed a while the splendours of the scene—the drapery of nature.
David: In Connecticut, Nature’s sole function is to act as theatrical backdrop to the conversation.
“To this place,” said Melissa, “have I taken many a solitary walk, on such an evening as this, and seated on this rock, have I experienced more pleasing sensations than I ever received in the most splendid ball-room.” The idea impressed the mind of Alonzo;
Edmund: —so profoundly that it rendered him absolutely speechless.
it was congenial with the feeling of his soul.
Hugh [under his breath]: Cross out “the”, cross out “of”, rewrite sentence as a single clause.
They returned at a late hour,
David [leafing back, puzzled]: Where’s the rest of the scene?
Edmund: It was clear to Melissa that she had said something so good that all further conversation was totally unnecessary, and that she had better be content with the amazing success of her first remark.
Meredith [in a lightning movement, whips around and grabs sheaf of typescript out of Edmund’s hand]: I knew it! He’s not making it up on the spur of the moment, he’s quoting himself.
and the next day set out for home. Beauman handed Melissa into the carriage, and he, with Edgar’s cousin and his lady, attended them on their first day’s journey.
David: Where’s Alonzo?
Lucy: Riding alongside the carriage to guard against banditti, desperadoes, highwaymen and other perils known to lurk in that part of Conn— of the world.
Linda [studying map]: He’s keeping a sharp eye out for ticks. They just passed Lyme.
They put up at night at the house of an acquaintance in Branford.
David [snatching map away from Linda]: Almost all the way back to New Haven.
Meredith: If cousin and Mrs. Cousin and Beauman all traveled with Melissa, what did Alonzo have to go out there for? He could have stopped halfway and met them in New Haven.
Linda: But then we’d have missed out on all that business with Melissa on the rock. And you wouldn’t expect a Princeton man to ride next to the carriage would you?
The next morning they parted; Melissa’s cousin, his lady and Beauman, returned to New London; Alonzo and Melissa pursued their journey, and at evening arrived at her father’s house, which was in the westerly part of the state.
Meredith [under her breath]: Colony.
Hugh [1804 newspaper text]:
TO BE CONTINUED
Meredith: But—but we can’t stop now! I won’t be able to sleep until I find out how Melissa escapes from—from—
David: From her father’s house.
Linda [biting nails in dread]: In western Connecticut.
Melissa was received
with joyful tenderness . . .