Academic journal article Christianity and Literature

Christian Typology and Social Critique in Melville's "The Two Temples"

Academic journal article Christianity and Literature

Christian Typology and Social Critique in Melville's "The Two Temples"

Article excerpt

"The Two Temples," like Melville's other short fiction of the 1850s, is notable for its multi-layered symbolism, allusive density, and subversive thematics. As one of the three so-called "diptychs" from this period featuring paired sketches of American and English subjects, "The Two Temples" relates the experience of the unnamed narrator in pursuit of both spiritual communion and social community, first at a fashionable New York church and then at a London theater. Whereas at the church the narrator is a self-conscious outsider whose illicit attendance at a Sunday service leads to spiritual alienation and arrest for illegal entry into the church's bell tower, his unexpected access to a London theater leads to an experience of secular communion with the unassuming upper-tier audience during a performance of Bulwer-Lytton's historical drama Richelieu; or, The Conspiracy. The story thus contrasts the insincere act of worship found in the American "temple," with its histrionic minister, to the displaced Christian charity found in the English theatrical "temple" during a performance by the celebrated English actor William Macready in the title role of the drama.

Criticism of "The Two Temples" has highlighted some of the story's religious symbolism, together with certain aspects of its biographical, social, and historical backgrounds, notably Melville's use of the new Episcopalian Grace Church on Broadway and Tenth Street as a model for the exclusive fashionable church represented in the first sketch, supplemented by interior details from the Trinity Church bell tower in lower Manhattan that Melville had visited with his brother Allan and brother-in-law Lemuel Shaw, Jr., in early 1848. Melville's ironic fictional treatment of Grace Church and its notorious enforcer of social exclusion, the sexton Isaac H. Brown (1812-1880), was in fact responsible for the reluctant rejection of "The Two Temples" by the editor of Putnam's Monthly Magazine in the spring of 1854, the story not being published in Melville's lifetime. This article will explore the manner in which the paired sketches unite religious and historical themes through a strategic synthesis of Christian typology and social critique in order to convey paradoxical, potentially unwelcome truths about American and English cultures in the mid-nineteenth century. (1)

As a key hermeneutical technique in both the composition and later interpretation of scripture, Christian typology was premised on the assumption that the New Testament was the fulfillment of the Old, and thus a number of representative individuals, objects, and events in the Old Testament, designated "types," were duplicated and superseded by corresponding "antitypes" in the life and ministry of Christ. A historical variation on this tradition interpreted Old Testament types as models for Christian history, as in the figurative identification of colonial New England as the New World Israel, or its Puritan leaders as biblical patriarchs. Typological symbolism was pervasive in Puritan religious writing, history, and poetry, and it continued to influence nineteenth-century American authors grounded in Puritan theology and its traditions of biblical interpretation. Several of Melville's short stories of the 1850s, especially his last published story, "The Apple-Tree Table," show pervasive evidence of typological symbolism, a development that may be partly associated with Melville's reading of a new edition of Cotton Mather's history of the Puritan theocracy, Magnalia Christi Americana, at this time. (2)

"The Two Temples" offers a clear indication of its use of biblical typology within its title, for the two temples here can be aligned with an implicit contrast between the antithetical faiths of the Old and New Testament. Whereas in the Old Testament the idea of two distinct temples refers to the original Solomonic temple (tenth century B.C.E.) and the newer postexilic Jewish temple (late sixth century B.C.E.), the title of Melville's sketch patently alludes to the alternative physical and spiritual "temples" associated with Judaism and Christianity, as repeatedly set forth by New Testament doctrine. In the gospels, Christ referred to the "temple" of his body, which he promised to raise up in three days if he was killed, while his Jewish audience thought he was referring to the Jewish temple (Matt. 26:61; John 2:19-22). According to St. Paul, Christ's redemptive sacrifice extended the sanctity of the Jewish temple to the body of the believer: "Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the spirit of God dwelleth in you?" (1 Cor. 3:16). (3) Believers themselves were now both temple and priesthood, infused with the power of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19; Eph. 2:21-22; 1 Pet. 2:9). A more explicit typological statement of this same belief was found in the Epistle to the Hebrews, which sought to demonstrate Christ's fulfillment of Hebrew covenant, ritual, and tabernacle. Worship at the Jerusalem Temple involved a hereditary priesthood, animal sacrifices, and cleansing rituals that allegedly were no longer necessary in the new Christian dispensation, in which Christ's blood sacrifice rendered all animal sacrifice obsolete (Heb. 9:11-15). The substance of New Testament teaching was that the body of the Christian believer--or collective "body" of Christian believers, who simultaneously represented the body of Christ--was the new "temple," not the building in Jerusalem which served as the mere physical center of Jewish faith. According to later elaborations of Christian typology, the Old Testament synagoga--the exclusive preserve of the chosen people under Mosaic law--had been superseded by the general "body" of Christian believers representing the true church or ecclesia, distinguished by a new covenant of grace. (4)

Melville's "The Two Temples" extensively draws on this traditional typological symbolism. (5) The first half of the story, "Temple First," thus offers a sardonic assessment of the un-Christian exclusiveness of a wealthy congregation and discloses the hypocrisy to be found in an overly worldly American house of worship largely modeled, as previously noted, on New York's Grace Church. The neo-Gothic structure, designed by James Renwick, Jr., and located a few blocks from Melville's Manhattan residence in 1847-1850, was already well known for its social exclusiveness when Melville wrote "Two Temples"; and Melville left no doubt in his story that the initial agent of the narrator's exclusion from the church, described as "a fat-paunched, beadle-faced man," was a personal caricature of the well-known sexton of Grace Church, Isaac H. Brown, who lived a few doors from Melville on Fourth Avenue and was already the subject of a humorous poem ("The Sexton and the Thermometer") by Melville's literary acqaintance William Allen Butler. (6)

Serving as a realm of display for the aristocracy of wealth that was emerging in New York at the time, the newly constructed Grace Church was attacked by a number of social commentators, notably Walt Whitman, Margaret Fuller, and the diarist Philip Hone, all of whom observed the obvious discrepancy between the egalitarian tenets of the religion it was serving and the privileged nature of the congregation it supported. In a diary entry from February 5, 1846, for example, a month before Grace Church was officially consecrated on March 7, Philip Hone wryly noted the new church's high pew rents and forecast its future career as an enclave of class privilege:

   The new church at the head of Broadway is nearly finished and ready
   for consecration. The pews were sold last week and brought
   extravagant prices, some $1200 to $1400, with a pew rent on the
   estimated value of eight per cent; so that the word of God, as it
   came down to us from fishermen and mechanics, will cost the quality
   who worship in this splendid temple about three dollars every
   Sunday. This may have a good effect; for many of them, though rich,
   know how to calculate, and if they do not go regularly to church
   they will not get the worth of their money.

      This is to be the fashionable church, and already its aisles are
   filled (especially on Sundays after the morning services in other
   churches) with gay parties of ladies in feathers and
   mousseline-de-laine dresses, and dandies with mustaches and
   high-heeled boots; the lofty arches resound with astute criticisms
   upon Gothic architecture from fair ladies who have had the
   advantages of foreign travel, and scientific remarks upon acoustics
   from elderly millionaires who do not hear quite so well as
   formerly. (Nevins 754)

In a March 9 editorial on "Splendid Churches" in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Walt Whitman opined: "we do not look with a favorable eye on these splendid churches--on a Christianity which chooses for the method of its development a style that Christ invariably condemned, and the spirit which he must have meant when he told an inquirer 'that he could not enter into the kingdom of heaven'" (qtd. in Duban 139). And in a March 11 article on the "Consecration of Grace Church" in the New York Tribune, Margaret Fuller offered a similarly pointed contrast between the wealthy congregation of the new church and the basic tenets of Christianity: "This grace our Churches want, the grace which belongs to all religions, but is peculiarly and solemnly enforced upon the followers of Jesus. The poor to whom he came to preach can have no share in the grace of Grace Church" (Bean and Myerson 373).

The Old Testament-like exclusiveness implied by the representation of the New York "temple" in Melville's sketch is very much in keeping with sociological developments among the city's new aristocracy of wealth, and their increasing exclusiveness. By 1845 the top one percent of New York City residents owned almost half of the city's overall wealth, while the same decade saw the emergence of the first official "millionaires," a new term at this time, beginning with the fur and real estate mogul John Jacob Astor. The newly prominent wealthy families--Astor, Aspinwall, Brevoort, Dodge, Fish, Goelet, Grinnell, Howland, Lorillard, Jones, King, Lenox, Minturn, Rhinelander, Roosevelt, Schermerhorn, Stevens, Stuart, Stewart, Vanderbilt, Van Rensselaer, Ward, and Whitney (among others)--were also frequently intermarrying and creating new networks of social and cultural institutions. Most of the new rich were Episcopalians by birth or choice, and their two principal places of worship, Grace and Trinity churches, were both becoming increasingly exclusive domains with high pew rents where the poor and middle classes had no place. James Parton, a nineteenth-century biographer of notable Americans, observed that fashionable New York churches catering to the wealthy were intended

   to produce a richly furnished, quietly adorned, dimly illuminated,
   ecclesiastical parlor, in which a few hundred ladies and gentlemen,
   attired in kindred taste, may sit perfectly at their ease, and see
   no object not in harmony with the scene around them.... Everything
   in and around the church seems to proclaim it a kind of exclusive
   ecclesiastical club, designed for the accommodation of persons of
   ten thousand a year, and upward. (Spann 213) (7)

By combining aspects of both Grace and Trinity church in "Temple First" Melville is drawing attention to the two most prominent fashionable churches of the era and their role in isolating the wealthy in socially exclusive and aesthetically pleasing ecclesiastical "clubs." It is thus appropriate that Melville's narrator begins his story by noting that more fashionable attire and a tip to the sexton would have gained him access to the glamorous new church:

   But I'll wager something that had my new coat been done last night,
   as the false tailor promised, and had I, arrayed therein this
   bright morning, tickled the fat-paunched, beadle-faced man's palm
   with a bank-note, then, gallery or no gallery, I would have had a
   fine seat in this marble-buttressed, stained-glass, spic-and-span
   new temple. (Piazza Tales 303)

So, too, the narrator's observation of the liveried servants ("See the gold hat-bands too, and other gorgeous trimmings, on those glossy groups of low-voiced gossipers near by" [Piazza Tales 304]) suggests the increasing array of retainers working for the new metropolitan aristocracy, some of whom had reintroduced the undemocratic practice of putting them in livery. The narrator's contact with such signs of aristocratic pretension and class privilege arouses his mettle, leading to his desire not to be taken for another lackey "idly standing outside a fine temple, cooling your heels, during service," and then to his spontaneous assertion of his innate right to join the other worshippers by sneaking into the side door of the bell tower, enabling him to "command a glorious bird's-eye view of the entire field of operations below" (Piazza Tales 304). Although still fearful of discovery by the beadle-faced man, the narrator nevertheless climbs the stairs up the tower, convinced that he has inalienable rights as an American: "Though an insider in one respect, yet am I but an outsider in another. But for all that, I will not be defrauded of my natural rights" (Piazza Tales 305). It is appropriate that the narrator unobtrusively quotes here the refrain of Robert Burns's well-known poem on the rights of man, "A Man's a Man for a' That," for he is indeed asserting his inherent democratic right of social and spiritual equality with his wealthier contemporaries.

The first sketch of "The Two Temples" offers a number of implicit and explicit typological references that present the church as a spiritually bankrupt, unchristian synagoga, suggestive of the class divisions that first developed in New York City in the 1840s as a result of the unprecedented economic growth and ensuing concentration of wealth in the nation's most populous city. We will begin by noticing the pattern of religious allusions in the first sketch that demonstrates this first temple's symbolic identity as a modern-day synagoga, for as the imagery of his ascent implies, the narrator can be identified as a spiritual pilgrim exhibiting key features of the Old Testament types of Jacob and Moses. (8)

The first biblical type whom the narrator resembles is the patriarch Jacob, whose dream vision of a celestial ladder at Luz (renamed Bethel thereafter) is parodied in the narrator's initial experience of climbing up the inside of the church tower. Thus, after he has mounted "some fifty stone steps along a very narrow curving stairway," the narrator finds himself "on a blank platform forming the second story of the huge square tower" (Piazza Tales 304) where he briefly pauses to look out a small opening onto the street below. "But another Jacob's ladder of lofty steps,--wooden ones, this time--allured me to another and still higher flight,--in sole hopes of gaining that one secret window where I might, at a distance, take part in the proceedings" (Piazza Tales 305). The narrator is interrupted in his ascent by the organ playing the first hymn, "Venite, exultemus Domine" ("Come Lord, let us exult"), at which time he "stood erect, midway up the tall Jacob's ladder, as if standing among the congregation" (Piazza Tales 305). The hymn completed, the narrator again continued his "upward path; and after crossing sundry minor platforms and irregular landings, all the while on a general ascent," he stops in front of a "small round window in the otherwise dead-wall side of the tower" where he can observe the service in the church while standing on "a rude narrow gallery, used as a bridge to cross from the lower stairs on one side to the upper stairs on the opposite" (Piazza Tales 305).

As previously mentioned, the narrator's laborious ascent inside the tower to observe the service in the church is an ironic enactment of Jacob's dream at Luz of "a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it" (Gen. 28:12). On the way to find a wife among the daughters of Laban, Jacob had a dream in which he was the recipient of God's blessing, and the Abrahamic covenant was thus renewed: "the land whereupon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed"; moreover, "in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed" (Gen. 28:13, 14). If the "rude narrow gallery, used as a bridge" between lower and upper stairs in the tower is a possible parody of the "ladder" in Jacob's dream, the image of ascending angels from the patriarch's dream is hinted in the words of the two uplifting hymns ("Venite, exultemus Domine"; "Govern them and lift them up forever!") that frame the narrator's ascent of the stairs and ladder in the initial sketch. (9) Yet unlike the biblical Jacob, the narrator of "Temple First" is cursed, not blessed, by the end of the sketch; indeed, he can more appropriately be seen as Ishmaelian outcast than Jacobean inheritor of God's covenant. Moreover, the satisfaction he expresses in his elevated position is ironically setting him up for a fall: "Height, somehow, hath devotion in it. The archangelic anthems are raised in a lofty place. All the good shall go to such an one. Yes, Heaven is high" (Piazza Tales 306). (10)

The narrator in "Temple First" is also a parodic Moses figure when he gains his elevated observation post in the church, suggesting parallels to Moses's experience on Sinai. The narrator's final elevated post is attained when he reaches the "small round window" that serves as a ventilation opening for the church proper and is covered with a "sheet of fine-woven, gauzy wire-work" (Piazza Tales 305), through which a hot blast of air comes from below, as from a "furnace":

   When, all eagerness, and open book in hand, I first advanced to
   stand before the window, I involuntarily shrank, as from before the
   mouth of a furnace, upon suddenly feeling a forceful puff of
   strange, heated air, blown, as by a blacksmith's bellows, full into
   my face and lungs. Yes, thought I, this window is doubtless for
   ventilation. (Piazza Tales 305)

The furnace-like heat coming from the congregation below recalls the "iron furnace" of Egyptian affliction from which the Israelites, led by Moses, miraculously escaped (Deut. 4:20; 1 Kings 8:51; Jer. 11: 4). The wire mesh screen, in turn, suggests a "veil" on the narrator's vision and thus evokes two well-known Mosaic motifs: first, the veil that Moses wore when coming down from Sinai (Exod. 34:29-35); and second, the old testament "veil" of death and distortion that St. Paul claimed was inherent in the Mosaic law, as opposed to the New Testament gift of eternal life granted by Christ (2 Cor. 3:3-18).

The narrator is almost certainly alluding to the latter symbolism when he notes, while looking down from his aerial perch: "That wire-woven screen had the effect of casting crape upon all I saw. Only by making allowances for the crape, could I gain a right idea of the scene disclosed" (Piazza Tales 306). Commentators have noted a possible allusion here to Hawthorne's Reverend Hooper, who wears his veil as a gratuitously donned token of original sin. What has not been noticed is that just as the Reverend Hooper's veil is a Mosaic sign indicating the minister's obsession with sin and the "law," so, too, the crepe-like veil that the narrator encounters in Melville's story is another Mosaic motif, namely, an indication that the "temple" the narrator visits is symbolically allied with a superseded Old Testament faith. (11) Besides the wire-mesh "veil" he looks through, the narrator is also a Moses-like personality in that his elevated situation in the church tower evokes the image of Moses on Sinai. With his "book" in hand, comparable to the tables of the law, the narrator receives a blast of hot air in his face and lungs, a possible parody of the invisible Jehovah who, as divine afflatus, spoke to Moses on Sinai while appearing like a cloud or fire to the Israelites below (Exod. 24:15-18). In this respect, the worldly congregation in Melville's sketch, with their "gilded" (Piazza Tales 307) appearance, is the modern equivalent to the faithless Israelites who worshipped a golden calf while Moses was on Sinai receiving the law (Exod. 32:1-6). Finally, after the service has ended and he is left in the solitude of the empty church, the narrator directly identifies himself with the Moses who was given a vision of Canaan from the top of Mount Pisgah but was ultimately not allowed to enter the Promised Land before he died (Deut. 3:27, 34:1-4): "I seemed gazing from Pisgah into the forests of Old Canaan" (Piazza Tales 308).

As a typological house of worship, then, we can say that the fashionable "temple" in Melville's sketch represents a neo-Gothic synagoga in the guise of a Christian church, while the narrator symbolically poses as the parodic embodiment of two prominent Old Testament types, Jacob and Moses. The setting of "Temple First" is thus a displaced representation of the allegedly superseded traditions of Hebrew worship. Whereas the Mosaic law was the "shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things" (Heb. 10:1), the religion of Christ allegedly provided a new substance and reality to faith, "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (Heb. 11:1). The contrast between shadow and substance is evident in the narrator's experience of the church in "Temple First" when, amidst his vicarious devotions from his elevated observatory, he is struck by the theatrical unreality of the service. Already on his way up the stairs of the bell tower, the narrator noted that he seemed

   inside some magic-lantern. On three sides, three gigantic Gothic
   windows of richly dyed glass, filled the otherwise meagre place
   with all sorts of sun-rises and sun-sets, lunar and solar rainbows,
   falling stars, and other flaming fire-works and pyrotechnics. But
   after all, it was but a gorgeous dungeon; for I couldn't look out,
   any more than if I had been an occupant of a basement cell in "the
   Tombs." (Piazza Tales 304)

If the bell tower appears as a kind of cosmic "magic lantern," the narrator's observation of the service within the stain-glassed interior of the church gives rise to "theatric wonder;' inadvertently suggesting an act of magic that subverts the narrator's devout demeanor: "Book in hand, responses on my tongue, standing in the very posture of devotion, I could not rid my soul of the intrusive thought, that, through some necromancer's glass, I looked down upon some sly enchanter's show" (Piazza Tales 306). The impression of theatrical manipulation is also evident in the ensuing actions of the "white-robed priest, a noble-looking man, with a form like the incomparable Talma's," referring to the most celebrated French actor of the early nineteenth century, Francois-Joseph Talma (1763-1826).

The priestly rituals and lavish decor that the narrator experiences in the first "temple" suggest an Episcopalian service, and indeed this was the denomination of Grace and Trinity churches and of the wealthiest congregants in New York City. The closest Protestant denomination to Catholicism and the most ritualistic in its mode of worship, the Episcopalian church--the American descendant of the Anglican church of England--was also most affected by the neo-Catholic reforms of the Tractarian or Oxford Movement (Puseyism) of the 1830s and 1840s. Thus it is not surprising that for the narrator of "The Two Temples," the church service he observes evokes an impression of aesthetic sophistication and theatrical illusion that undermine the authenticity of the religious performance on display. Commenting on the stained glass windows, the narrator refers to a "Puseyitish painting of a Madonna and child, adorning a lower window" (Piazza Tales 308), a feature confirming the elaborate, neo-Catholic decor of this fashionable high-church synagoga. The ironic contrast between worldly congregation and spiritually uplifting ritual continues when the priest changes costume in the middle of the service and subsequently delivers a sermon to his "opulent auditory" (Piazza Tales 307) on the text, "Ye are the salt of the earth." The famous phrase from the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:13), equating Jesus's audience to a valued commodity in the ancient world (i.e., its chief seasoning and preserver of meat), may be appropriate for the congregation's income bracket, but not for their underlying spiritual condition. The dramatic irony of the scene continues when the service ends with the benediction, and the congregation are all "hushed" as though "buried," followed "like the general rising at the Resurrection" (Rev. 20:12-13) by their getting up from their seats and exiting, "all gay sprightly nods and becks--the gilded brooks poured down the gilded aisles" (Piazza Tales 307). No New Testament text or doctrine, no matter how uplifting, can raise up this gilded congregation from its attachment to worldly things. They are clearly devotees of the "law" of social exclusiveness, here associated with an Old Testament symbolic milieu typified by the sumptuous "temple" in which they worship. (12)

After the congregation exits, the narrator has no reason to stay on, but much to his chagrin the door by which he entered the tower has been locked. Re-ascending to this original perch, he is struck by the "hushed desertness" of the empty church and compares himself to Moses looking at the Promised Land that was forbidden to him, as we have noted. The madonna and child in the stained glass window now appear like "the sole tenants of this painted wilderness--the true Hagar and her Ishmael," an ironic reversal of St. Paul's well-known argument that Hagar and her child were types of the superseded Old Testament law (Gal. 4:19-31). (13) As these images imply, the church in Melville's sketch is now an empty shell associated with Old Testament types of oppression (Egypt, the Wilderness) more truly indicative of its spiritual status than the previous Christian service implied. Yet the more obvious fact confirming the church's affiliation with the forces of "law" is the narrator's ultimate fate after the end of the service. For the narrator soon realizes that the only way he can escape his captivity is to ring the church bell and face the consequences of his illegal entry. After being harshly reprimanded by the "beadle-faced man" who unlocks the door, the narrator is subsequently taken to the Halls of Justice as "a lawless violator, and a remorseless disturber of the Sunday peace" (Piazza Tales 309) and forced to pay a fine for his act of trespassing. Receiving another reprimand, he is finally released and, as he ironically puts it, so "pardoned for having humbly indulged myself in the luxury of public worship" (Piazza Tales 309). This absurd legal penalty for trespassing within the church is a final demonstration of its un-Christian identity. A false synagoga instead of a true eccleasia, this modern "temple" offers elegant appearances and empty rituals in which Christianity's egalitarian spirit and forgiveness of sins are conspicuous by their absence.

It is important to note that the dichotomy of Mosaic law and Christian grace in "The Two Temples" explains not only the major thematic opposition of the two sketches but also provides a structural motif in each sketch considered by itself. As we have seen, the narrator in "Temple First" is in some respects a parodic Moses figure whose experience in the tower is a mock visit to the top of Sinai. The New Testament typological counterpart to Moses receiving the law on Sinai was Christ's Sermon on the Mount. It is thus no coincidence that "Temple First" is threaded with several implicit and explicit allusions to this key New Testament text. Near the beginning of the first sketch, for example, when barred entry to the church, the narrator decides to enter "a very low and very narrow vaulted door. None seem to go that way. Ten to one, that identical door leads up into the tower" (Piazza Tales 304). The narrator's observations recall Christ's assertion that "strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it" (Matt. 7:14). Again, from his aerial observatory, the narrator remarks that his invisibility is an asset to his worship, in contrast to those who prefer to be seen at their devotions: "Little dream the good congregation away down there, that they have a faithful clerk away up here. Here too is a fitter place for sincere devotions, where, though I see, I remain unseen. Depend upon it, no Pharisee would have my pew" (Piazza Tales 306). In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus criticized those "hypocrites" who were too public in their worship and advocated inconspicuous private prayer (Matt. 6:5-6). In "Temple First," the narrator follows the service through the lessons, chants, and hymns, but has trouble hearing the priest when he's delivering his sermon on a famous text from Matthew, "Ye are the salt of the earth" (as previously noted). Finally, after the congregation leaves and the narrator discovers he's imprisoned in the bell tower, he is rudely apprehended by the "beadle-faced man" who earlier refused him entry ("You! Is it you? The man I turned away this very morning, skulking here? You dare to touch that bell? Scoundrel!" [Piazza Tales 309]), spends the night in jail, and is fined for having illegally entered the church to worship--all of which ironically make him an exemplary Christian, comparable to those praised in the Beatitudes: "Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake" (Matt. 5:10-11). (14)

If "Temple First" offers a sardonic assessment of the un-Christian exclusiveness of a wealthy congregation and a disclosure of the hypocrisy to be found in an overly worldly American house of worship (or synagoga), the narrator in "Temple Second" discovers in a London theater the genuine communion of souls (or ecclesia) that was lacking in his attempt at worship in the American church. Moreover, if in the New York church he saw the performance of Christian ritual as a transparent illusion, in the London theater he paradoxically found the acting of a popular drama about a famous Catholic prelate the occasion for authentic religious feeling.

Having gone to England as the physician-companion to an ailing Philadelphia lady and her aunt, the narrator has subsequently been dismissed when the lady's travel plans have changed, and he is now a stranger in the English metropolis. The narrator's subsequent experience of being "adrift" in London without money evokes Old Testament allusions to punitive captivity, as well as related Dantean and Miltonic allusions to infernal damnation. Such preliminary comparisons act as transitional links between the opposed typological motifs of the two sketches while providing a dramatic frame for the action of the second sketch in which the narrator unexpectedly discovers a symbolic realm of New Testament community amidst Old Testament desolation. The narrator is thus at first caught like Jonah in the body of an urban monster as he "drifted amid those indescribable crowds which every seventh night pour and roar through each main artery and block the bye-veins of great London, the Leviathan" (Piazza Tales 310). He is in fact so demoralized by his lonely plight that he even speculates that it might be better to "perish mid myriad sharks in mid Atlantic, than die a penniless stranger in Babylonian London" (Piazza Tales 310). In addition to Leviathan and Babylon, London is also comparable to the image of hell presented in Dante's Inferno, first, in the way "the unscrupulous human whirlpools" pass by the narrator, evoking the souls in limbo near the top of hell ("What dire suckings into oblivion must such swirling billows know"); and second, in the way the gas-lights illuminate the scene, suggestive of the more forbidding sixth circle of hell: "Forlorn, outcast, without a friend, I staggered on through three millions of my own human kind. The fiendish gas-lights shooting their Tartarean rays across the muddy sticky streets, lit up the pitiless and pitiable scene" (Piazza Tales 310). The implied allusion here is to Dante's entry into the City of Dis where, after crossing the muddy Styx, he observes lights burning on the summit of the towers and sees where the arch heretics are tortured in their tombs (Canto IX 118-23). (15) Finally, the narrator's initially hellish impression of London also has a Miltonic dimension when the narrator describes himself disentangling "from those skeins of Pandemonian lanes which snarl one part of the metropolis between Fleet street and Holburn" (Piazza Tales 311).

As the sketch proceeds, the narrator's experience of London is almost miraculously transformed when he finds an oasis of warmth and humanity in a theater to which he is unexpectedly given a ticket. This experience of spontaneous charity, leading to good "cheer" and a Eucharistic refreshment, reconfigures his London visit by offering him a secularized version of Christian charity during his attendance at the theater, a second "temple" symbolizing the body of believers making up Christ's "temple" of the faithful. Wandering through the city between Fleet Street and Holburn, the narrator finds himself on a quiet street "terminating at its junction with a cross-wise avenue. The comparative quietude of the place was inexpressively soothing. It was like emerging upon the green enclosure surrounding some Cathedral church, where sanctity makes all things still" (Piazza Tales 311). Hastening toward two bright lights, he discovers that what he thought might be "some moral or religious meeting" was really a theater where the well-known actor William Charles Macready (1793-1873) was playing the part of Cardinal Richelieu. Although without the funds to buy a ticket, the narrator would like to enter the theater in order to overcome his feelings of isolation and alienation, joining a community that has its most perfect embodiment in a religious congregation: "Besides, what I wanted was not merely rest, but cheer; the making one of many pleased and pleasing human faces; the getting into a genial humane assembly of my kind; such as, at its best and highest, is to be found in the unified multitude of a devout congregation" (Piazza Tales 311). The same impulse that drove the narrator to enter the fashionable church in New York is now driving him to find a comparable community in a London theater.

It is thus unmistakably clear that this unnamed London theater is represented as a secularized house of worship. The association continues when the narrator is unexpectedly given a free ticket by a "working-man" who is leaving the theater in the middle of the performance--an obvious antithesis to the narrator's experience at the elite church in the previous sketch. The "plain red ticket" that the narrator receives is a potential token of Christ's redemptive blood, allowing the narrator to join the crowd inside the theater. The narrator is at first doubtful whether he should accept the ticket:

   Blankly, and mechanically, I had suffered the ticket to be thrust
   into my hand, and now stood quite astonished, bewildered, and for
   the time, ashamed. The plain fact was, I had received charity; and
   for the first time in my life. Often in the course of my strange
   wanderings I had needed charity, but never had asked it, and
   certainly never, ere this blessed night, had been offered it.
  (Piazza Tales 312)

As an American, the narrator has apparently been instilled with the belief that to accept charity is a demeaning sign of personal failure. He accordingly pauses to debate, in a mock catechism, the merits of accepting such an unearned gift from a stranger, at the end of which he has so ironically reduced the traditional Christian ideal of charity into an act of omission rather than commission that it is seemingly impossible to refuse the gift:

   All your life, nought but charity sustains you, and all others in
   the world. Maternal charity nursed you as a babe; paternal charity
   fed you as a child; friendly charity got you your profession; and
   to the charity of every man you meet this night in London, are you
   indebted for your unattempted life.... You, and all mortals, live
   but by sufferance of your charitable kind; charitable by omission,
   not performance." (Piazza Tales 312)

The narrator thereupon enters the theater, and climbing up to the gallery, he passes a St. Peter-like figure as he "gained a lofty platform, and saw a fixed human countenance facing me from a mysterious window of a sort of sentry-box or closet" (Piazza Tales 313), an image suggesting Milton's depiction of "Saint Peter at Heav'n's Wicket" (III.484) in the Limbo of Vanity in Paradise Lost. Showing his ticket or "diploma" (i.e., his symbolic pass to heaven), the narrator is allowed into the upper gallery of the theater, when he is suddenly reminded of a similar ascent in the bell tower of the New York church some months before:

   Next moment, the wire-woven gauzy screen of the ventilating window
   in that same tower, seemed enchantedly reproduced before me. The
   same hot blast of stifling air once more rushed into my lungs. From
   the same dizzy altitude, through the same fine-spun, vapory crapey
   air; far, far down upon just such a packed mass of silent human
   beings; listening to just such grand harmonies; I stood within the
   topmost gallery of the temple. But hardly alone and silently as
   before. This time I had company. (Piazza Tales 313)

The sense of deja vu here acts as a bridge between the two antithetical "temples" the narrator is describing, comparable to the basic resemblance between type and antitype in the system of biblical typology. The narrator's initial impression of the gallery confirms the association of imagery between these two "temples" except, of course, that the hot air of the London theater is a welcoming sign of human warmth mixed with sociable tobacco smoke, whereas the air in the New York church was an oppressive, furnace-like heat signaling the narrator's exclusion from the comfortable congregation. Unlike his isolation in the bell tower overlooking the congregation in the New York church, moreover, the narrator is now surrounded by a good-humored, unpretentious crowd of working-class families, including a group of red-faced angelic-looking children: "Quiet, well-pleased working men, and their glad wives and sisters, with here and there an aproned urchin, with all-absorbed, bright face, vermillioned by the excitement and the heated air, hovering like a painted cherub over the vast human firmament below" (Piazza Tales 313). If the New York church was the site of an artificial, quasi-theatrical performance of high-church (Episcopalian) rites, the London theater is the setting for an authentic aesthetic response to a bona fide historical drama about a famous seventeenth-century Catholic prelate and political leader, Cardinal Richelieu. Finally, if the narrator's elevated position within the first "temple" put him in a hellish realm of Old Testament-like oppression (Egypt, the Wilderness), his position in the second "temple" is a heavenly realm of communal enjoyment--a warmly inclusive ecclesia instead of a forbiddingly exclusive synagoga. (16)

It only remains for the narrator to engage in an act of communion with the other spectators for the symbolic equation between theater and true Christian "temple" of worship, or ecclesia, to be completed. This takes place when a young boy appears with a supply of ale that the impecunious narrator can't purchase but that the boy offers him for free, in honor of his "dad" who has emigrated to America:

"Well dad's gone to Yankee-land, a seekin' of his fortin'; so take a penny mug of ale, do Yankee, for poor dad's sake."

Out from the tilted coffee-pot-looking can, came a coffee-colored stream, and a small mug of humming ale was in my hand.

"I dont want it, boy. The fact is, my boy, I have no penny by me. I happened to leave my purse at my lodgings."

"Never do you mind, Yankee; drink to honest dad."

"With all my heart, you generous boy; here's immortal life to him!" (Piazza Tales 314)

The loaded language here makes the boy a juvenile version of Christ at the Last Supper and the narrator the recipient of the alcoholic "blood" of the Eucharist, which Christ promised his disciples they would only drink again together in his Father's kingdom (Matt. 26:27-29). As the unexpected beneficiary of the boy's Eucharistic "cheer"--an exemplary instance of the basic Christian principle of "charity"--the narrator goes on to note that the "unpurchased penny-worth of ale revived my drooping spirits strangely. Stuff was in that barley-malt; a most sweet bitterness in those blessed hops" (Piazza Tales 314). The narrator is implicitly evoking the process of transubstantiation, or the mystic transformation of the communion wine into Christ's blood, as he wonders over the mysterious "stuff" in the barley-malt that revives his "drooping spirits." And just as Christ's atonement was a freely given act, so the ale here was "unpurchased" while the "sweet bitterness in those blessed hops" suggests the bitterness of Christ's sacrifice and atonement that led to Christian salvation and hope, punningly suggested by the mention of "hops" here. In the version of the Eucharist in the Gospel of John, Christ told his disciples: "A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another" (John 13:34). It is thus no coincidence that the narrator in "Temple Second" feels "perfect love" for the surrounding theater audience after his refreshing drink of ale: "With an unhurt eye of perfect love, I sat serenely in the gallery, gazing upon the pleasing scene, around me and below" (Piazza Tales 314). The narrator's redemptive experience in the upper gallery of the London theater, then, is a secular enactment of Christian communion, with his improved spirits enacting a parody of the Christian believer's redemptive experience at communion.

Finding himself thus a spectator at a historical-religious drama, the narrator cannot help but compare his current experience at a London theatrical "temple" with his alienating experience at the New York church. The narrator is in fact visibly struck by how much the character of Richelieu resembles the priest in the New York church, even after a change of costume; it is thus ironic that the "mimic priest" seems to be capable of a more compelling performance. At the completion of the play, the audience accordingly roars its approval: "In earnestness of response, this second temple stands unmatched. And hath mere mimicry done this? What is it then to act a part?" (Piazza Tales 315). The provocative and paradoxical message here is that the simulacrum of religion presented by the London play--and a play about the machinations of a worldly French cardinal at that--is more authentic and hence emotionally and spiritually redemptive than a genuine Christian service at a New York church. The ostensible function of the Christian church, the bringing together of parishioners in an act of spiritual communion, was thus better served by a democratically mixed London theater audience than a snobbish New York congregation. The narrator's final remarks drive home the message: "I went home to my lonely lodging, and slept not much that night, for thinking of the First Temple and the Second Temple; and how that, a stranger in a strange land, I found sterling charity in the one; and at home, in my own land, was thrust out from the other" (Piazza Tales 315). The narrator's remarks on being a "stranger in a strange land" echo the words of Moses while in bondage in Egypt (Exod. 2:22), while his bitterly ironic conclusions also more generally evoke Christ's well-known injunctions on extending charity to strangers (e.g., Matt. 25:34-46). The paradox in the narrator's final moral summation stems from a reversal of typological expectation since his "own land" has spiritually exiled him, while the "strange land" of England--"Egypt" in Puritan historical typology--provides him with "sterling" charity. The subversive message here is clear. In class-ridden England, the narrator has found social inclusion and democratic communion, while in allegedly democratic America he has found class-based social exclusion and oppression.

If the socio-historical backdrop to "Temple First" can be found in the rise of an exclusive aristocracy of wealth in New York in the 1840s, what comparable social backdrop should we seek in "Temple Second"? Melville had visited London for the first time in November 1849, and a number of his experiences there, as recorded in the journal of his visit, later contributed to the narrator's dramatic situation in "Temple Second." In addition to sightseeing, Melville regularly mixed with publishers and authors during his visit but occasionally felt homesick and dispirited amidst the alien crowds of the English metropolis. A companion from Melville's trip across the Atlantic, Dr. Franklin Taylor, left London after a week when he was unable to secure employment as a ladies' companion, a situation echoed in the narrator's predicament in "Temple Second." (17) Melville's consciousness of being an outsider in a foreign culture, together with his experiences in London churches and theaters, also contributed to the genesis of the later sketch. On a Sunday in mid-November, for example, Melville recorded his experience of attending an evening service in a church off Fleet Street: "Walked off alone down Fleet Street & went to St: Bride's Church. Woman showed me to a big pew--almost unasked--[I] blushed a good deal, what with Stout, jam, heat, & modesty. Excited vast deal of gazing somehow, good sermon--a charity one. gave sixpence. Home & to bed" (Journals 21). The next night after this experience of kindly welcome at a metropolitan London Sunday service (which included a sermon on charity, just as the narrator in "Temple Second" considers the subject of charity after being offered the theater ticket), Melville went to see Macready act at the Haymarket theater, another event that eventually contributed to his London sketch.

Melville in fact attended several theatrical performances that November in London, at Drury Lane (on Catherine Street near Drury Lane), the Royal Lyceum (just off the Strand), the Princess (Oxford Street), the New Strand, Sadler's Wells (Islington), and the Haymarket (Haymarket Street). Most relevant to the scene depicted in "Temple Second" are Melville's remarks on his visit to the Royal Lyceum and the Haymarket. After seeing three comedies at the former theater on November 7, Melville wrote: "Went into the Gallery (one shilling)[.] Quite decent people there--fellow going round with a coffee pot & mugs--crying 'Porter, gents, porter!'" (Journals 14). Melville's experience here parallels the narrator's experience in "Temple Second" of sitting in the elevated gallery of an unnamed theater amidst a crowd of "most acceptable, right welcome, cheery company" (Piazza Tales 313), including the boy who offers him a free mug of ale. Also relevant from Melville's London visit is his viewing of William Macready in Othello at the Haymarket on November 19. Unlike the narrator's positive comments on "the stately Macready in the part of Cardinal Richelieu" (Piazza Tales 311) in "Temple Second," however, Melville's comment on Macready's performance as Othello elicited a negative reaction, together with reasons for the actor's flawed performance that night: "Mcready [sic] painted hideously. Did'nt like him very much upon the whole--bad voice, it seemed. James Wallack, Iago. very good. Miss Reynolds Desdemona--very pretty. Horrible Roderigo" (Journals 22). (18)

Melville's experience of Macready's performance in November 1849 occurred near the end of the actor's long career and was an atypical assessment of his talents; hence Melville is apparently relying on Macready's public reputation, not his own experience, for his portrait of the actor in "The Two Temples" There is no record of Melville's other exposure to Macready at this or any other time, although he might have seen the English actor in New York City in October 1848 near the start of Macready's last American tour; and as we will note momentarily, Melville was well aware of Macready's disastrous attempt to play Macbeth in New York in May 1849. The narrator of "The Two Temples" is, of course, seeing Macready playing the notoriously worldly Cardinal Richelieu (1585-1642), chief minister to Louis XIII and defender of the Catholic faith against the Protestant Reformation. In Bulwer-Lytton's play, the cardinal intrigues against his political enemies and, on the brink of giving up his powers of state, unexpectedly triumphs over them by demonstrating their treason. Although the prelate here embodies a worldly Christianity in its most politically expedient form, he is represented as a statesman unswervingly devoted to the interests of the nation.

It is both thematically and dramatically appropriate that the narrator is watching Macready in the title role of Richelieu, given the fact that the English actor had created this role and had helped his friend Bulwer revise and recast the play, thereby assuring its successful debut at Covent Garden in March 1839. The playwright Westland Marston, a contemporary witness to the opening night, later reported the overwhelming response to Macready's virtuosic performance: "it was an audience dazzled, almost bewildered by the brilliancy of the achievement, that, on the instant fall of the curtain, burst into a roar of admiration that, wild, craving, unappeasable, pursued, like a sea, the retreating actor, and swept him back to the front" (qtd. in Downer 183). The narrator in "Temple Second" records a similarly enthusiastic response: "The curtain falls. Starting to their feet, the enraptured thousands sound their responses, deafeningly; unmistakably sincere. Right from the undoubted heart. I have no duplicate in my memory of this" (Piazza Tales 315).

In his warm response to Macready's playing the lead role in Bulwer-Lytton's Richelieu--the grounds for his feeling of communion with the audience--the narrator was echoing the common critical and popular estimate of the actor's remarkable talents, which revolutionized and reformed the English theater from the 1820s through the 1840s, raising professional standards, improving scripts (especially restoring the text of many of Shakespeare's plays from eighteenth-century adaptations), and promoting a more naturalistic style of acting. The London Times, for example, saluted the actor known as the "Eminent Tragedian" in an editorial of February 1, 1842, commemorating the reforms he had undertaken while manager of the Drury Lane theater. The paper went on record to express

   the opinion which we (in common, we believe, with the public
   generally) entertain of the exertions of that gentleman for the
   restoration of genuine English drama, and for the purification of
   our national theatres from every just cause of offense to a virtuous
   or religious mind.... The man who has done more than any other
   individual to make SHAKESPEARE popular deserves the thanks of every
   one who wishes to educate the people, and raise the national
   character. The man who has driven Jack Shepards and Jim Crows, and
   exhibitions fit only for Roman amphitheatres, from the stage, has a
   right to the good word of all who would not see the popular mind
   brutalized and demoralized. The man who has enabled us to tell the
   Puritans that there is a theatre in which every effort is made to
   exclude vice, and in which no modest person is likely to meet with
   contamination or insult, is entitled to the co-operation of every
   lover of the fine arts, and (what is more) of all who delight in
   rational and innocent enjoyments. (quoted in Downer 210)

The narrator in "Temple Second" is obviously familiar with Macready's high public esteem as both a man and actor:

   Neither did it abate from my satisfaction, to remember, that Mr
   Macready, the chief actor of the night, was an amiable gentleman,
   combining the finest qualities of social and Christian
   respectability, with the highest excellence in his particular
   profession; for which last he had conscientiously done much, in
   many ways, to refine, elevate, and chasten. (Piazza Tales 314)

Born into a theatrical family, Macready obtained a classical education at Rugby before entering the profession that he labored unstintingly to raise to a higher intellectual, moral, and aesthetic level, in the process earning the friendship of many Victorian worthies such as Dickens, Bulwer-Lytton, Browning, and Carlyle. Both actor and sometime manager of the two "patent" theaters, Covent Garden and Drury Lane, Macready also acted at a variety of London theaters, repeatedly toured the English provinces, and visited America three times. Beginning in 1846, moreover, Macready began to perform dramatic readings and lectures on Shakespeare at some of the hundreds of new Mechanics and Workingmen's Institutes, continuing to do so after his official retirement from the stage in 1851. (19)

Melville would have also known of Macready's famous rivalry in the later 1840s with the American actor Edwin Forrest, whose reputation for rant and bluster in his signature tragic roles was the antithesis of Macready's carefully articulated dramatic style. During Macready's 1848-1849 tour of America, the rivalry between the two actors reached a head in the Astor Place riots of May 1849, at which time a mob of lower-class Forrest partisans in New York City stormed the Astor Place Opera House where Macready was performing one of his greatest Shakespearean roles in Macbeth. Macready stood accused of damaging Forrest's professional prospects while touring in England and for allegedly exemplifying a disdainful English class prejudice, a gross distortion of Macready's own republican sentiments and generous behavior toward his rival. Melville was one of a score of signatories to a letter to Macready urging him to continue his New York engagement after his first night's performance was interrupted by mob action. The second night led to even more violent disturbances, the storming of the theater, and the deaths of twenty-two individuals when the New York State militia fired into the mob. Macready himself secretly left New York City early the next morning before armed thugs sought him out at his hotel and elsewhere in the city. (20)

When Melville arrived in London six months after the Astor Place riots and made the rounds of the leading metropolitan theaters, he doubtless appreciated the broad range of theatrical entertainment available in the English capital, as well as its freedom from the kind of mob violence that had recently disgraced the New York theater and threatened the life of England's leading tragedian. The narrator's unexpectedly positive experience watching Macready in the role of Richelieu in "Temple Second" is thus predicated on a culture that offered an artistically richer tradition of drama than America, and that appropriately honored its best dramatic artists. By the same token, recent improvements in the lot of English working-class "mechanics" made for the kind of civilized lower-class theater audience that the narrator finds in his upper-tier gallery--a far cry from the rabidly xenophobic mob that had besieged the Astor Place Opera House on behalf of the boorish Forrest and his chief propagandist for the riot, the dime novelist Ned Buntline (E. Z. C. Judson). (21)

"The Two Temples," then, performs a typological reversal of traditional ideas of church and theater, Old and New World, and--to use the key terms we have been drawing on here--synagoga and ecclesia. The paired sketches challenge conventional American religious typology by revealing the disparity between Christian precept and practice in an exemplary New York congregation, while showing that the spiritual function of the church was better served by a London theater, an institution often associated in America with dramatic sensationalism and prostitution. Ironically, it is the New World church, or synagoga, that exemplifies the killing spirit of the "law," as the narrator discovers when he is reprimanded for his attempt to participate in a Sunday service and fined for trespassing on church property; whereas it is the Old World theater, or ecclesia, that exemplifies the living spirit of "grace," as demonstrated by the charitable donor of the ticket of admission, the generous boy dispensing ale, the enthusiastic and well-behaved crowd, and the professional and personal merits of the actor Macready. Unlike the mimic priest depicted in "Temple First," with his theatrical costume changes and empty rituals, the actor Macready as depicted in "Temple Second" is motivated by genuine Christian ideals of charity in his private life, while in his acting of the role of Cardinal Richelieu he gives an authentic image of the worldliness of the Christian church as a political institution. (Instead of forgiving his political enemies in a Christ-like manner, Richelieu sends them to their death.) The fact that the first sketch, "Temple First," was implicitly based on the newly constructed "Grace" Church on Broadway makes the reversal of typological expectation illustrated by the paired sketches even more telling. The final irony in connection with Melville's fictionalized portrait of this church is that "The Two Temples" was rejected by the editors of Putnam's magazine because of its too easily recognized critique of the socially exclusive congregation and its well-known sexton. Thus, just as the narrator was kept from participating in the service at the first "temple," Melville was kept from sharing his sharply etched diptych with his contemporary audience when they would have benefited from it most.

Lord Fairfax Community College / Notre Dame Academy


Asals, Frederick. "Satire and Skepticism in 'The Two Temples,'" Books at Brown 24 (1971): 7-18.

Bean, Judith Mattson, and Joel Myerson, eds. Margaret Fuller, Critic: Writings from the New-York Tribune 1844-1846. New York: Columbia UP, 2000.

Berkovitch, Sacvan, ed. Typology and Early American Literature. Amherst: U of Massachusetts P, 1972.

Berthold, Dennis. "Class Acts: The Astor Place Riots and Melville's 'The Two Temples.'" American Literature 71 (1999): 429-61.

Bickley, Robert Bruce. The Method of Melville's Short Fiction. Duke UP, 1975.

Browne, Ray B. Melville's Drive to Humanism. West Lafayette, IN: Purdue UP, 1971.

Brumm, Ursula. American Thought and Religious Typology. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1970.

Bulwer-Lytton, Edward. The Dramatic Works of Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton, Bart. M.P. London: Routledge, Warne, & Routledge, 1863.

Cook, Jonathan A. "The Typological Design of Melville's 'The Apple-Tree Table."' Texas Studies in Literature and Language 40 (1998): 121-41.

Dillingham, William B. Melville's Short Fiction: 1853-1856. Athens: U of Georgia P, 1977.

Downer, Alan S. Eminent Tragedian, William Charles Macready. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1966.

Duban, James. "Satiric Precedent for Melville's 'The Two Temples.'" American Transcendental Quarterly 42 (1979): 137-45.

Fisher, Marvin. Going Under: Melville's Short Fiction and the American 1850s. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1977.

Fogle, Richard Harter. Melville's Shorter Tales. Norman: U of Oklahoma R 1960.

Franchot, Jenny. Roads to Rome: The Antebellum Protestant Encounter with Catholicism. Berkeley: U of California P, 1994.

Goppelt, Leonard. Typos: The Typological Interpretation of the Old Testament in the New. Trans. D. H. Madvig. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1982.

Hiltner, Judith R. "Distortion from the Heights: Melville's Revision of 'The Two Temples' Manuscript." Studies in Short Fiction 27 (1990): 73-79.

--. "From Pisgah to Egypt: Narrative Continuities in Melville's Israel Potter and 'The Two Temples.'" Journal of Narrative Technique 19 (1989): 300-11.

Homberger, Eric. Mrs. Astor's New York: Money and Social Power in a Gilded Age. New Haven: Yale UP, 2002.

Horner, Charles R. "Isaac Brown: Melville's 'Beadle-Faced Man.'" Melville Society Extracts 26 (1976): 11-13.

Jeffrey, David Lyle, ed. A Dictionary of Biblical Tradition in English Literature. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1992.

Meeks, Leslie Howard. Sheridan Knowles and the Theatre of his Time. Bloomington: Principia, 1933.

Melville, Herman. Journals. Eds. Howard C. Horsford and Lynn Horth. Evanston and Chicago: Northwestern UP and the Newberry Library, 1989.

--. The Piazza Tales and Other Prose Pieces 1839-1860. Eds. Harrison Hayford, Alma A. MacDougall, and G. Thomas Tanselle. Evanston and Chicago: Northwestern UP and the Newberry Library, 1987.

Nevins, Allan, ed. The Diary of Philip Hone 1828-1851. New York: Dodd, Mead. 1927.

Newman, Lea Bertani Vozar. A Reader's Guide to the Short Stories of Herman Melville. Boston: G.K. Hall, 1986.

Pessen, Edward. Riches, Class and Power Before the Civil War. Lexington, MA: Heath, 1973.

Rowland, Beryl. "Grace Church and Melville's Story of 'The Two Temples.'" Nineteenth-Century Fiction 28 (1973): 339-46.

--. "Melville Answers the Theologians: The Ladder of Charity in 'The Two Temples.'" Mosaic 7 (1974): 1-13.

Spann, Edward K. The New Metropolis: New York City, 1840-1857. New York: Columbia UP, 1981.

Stewart, William Rhinelander. Grace Church and Old New York. E.P. Dutton, 1924.


(1) For an indispensable guide to criticism on "The Two Temples" through the mid-1980s, see Newman Ch. 16. Useful analyses of the story include Fogle Ch. 4; Browne 200-208; Asals; Rowland ("Grace Church" and "Melville Answers"); Bickley 77-94; Dillingham Ch. 4; Fisher 51-61; Hiltner ("From Pisgah" and "Distortion"); Franchot 185-88; and Berthold.

(2) For a useful introduction to biblical typology, see Goppelt. On adaptations of biblical typology to American literature and culture, see Berkovitch and Brumm. For an analysis of Melville's extensive use of typology in "The Apple-Tree Table," see Cook. Cotton Mather's Magnalia Christi Americana, first published in London in 1702, appeared again in an 1852 annotated edition which Melville read, as evidenced by both "The Lightning Rod Man" and "The Apple-Tree Table." See Melville's Piazza Tales 598-99, 721.

(3) All biblical quotations in this article are from the King James Version.

(4) Both synagoga and ecclesia, meaning "gathering" or "assembly," are used in the Septuagint (the Greek Old Testament) to describe congregations of the people of Israel. Although both terms are also used to describe the nascent Christian church in the New Testament, ecclesia gradually became the more standard designation, beginning with Christ's punning pronouncement to St. Peter: "upon this rock [petra] I will build my church [ecclesia]" (Matt. 16:18). Ecclesia is accordingly used for Christian assemblies in Acts (5:11, 13:1, 18:22), the Pauline epistles (1 Cor. 10:32, 12:28), and Revelation (1:4, 2:1, 22:16). A typological relation between synagoga and ecclesia as symbols of the Old and New Testament, respectively, was developed by the Church Fathers and appears extensively in the literature, art, and theology of the Middle Ages. For an informative overview of the typological background to the synagoga-ecclesia paradigm, see "Ecclesia, Synagoga," in Jeffrey 222-23. Also from Jeffrey, see "Old and New" (563-73), "Temple" (750-52), and "Typology" (792).

(5) Both Asals and Rowland note the presence of typological symbolism in "The Two Temples," but the approaches and conclusions of both authors are different from my own. Asals has interpreted Melville's sketch as containing a mixture of "satire" ("Temple First") and "skepticism" ("Temple Second"); the narrator's "internal journey" is "from an unquestioning Christian faith to an implied skepticism of the possibility of penetrating beyond the illusions of the temples" (12). Drawing on contextual details of current religious controversies and theatrical history, Rowland concludes that "The Two Temples" demonstrates the absence of Christian charity in both sketches: "Charity, Melville asserts, does fail, and in the modern world, a travesty of Christian myth can seem more credible and, therefore, more moving than the story of God's love" ("Melville Answers" 13). Hiltner also briefly notes the basic typological structure of "The Temples," in which "typological prophecies, explicitly associated with redeeming New-World possibilities, are subverted, undermining the promise, and trapping the naive American believer into 'Old World bondage' on his own shores" ("From Pisgah" 304).

(6) The official history of Grace Church is recorded in Stewart. On Grace Church as a bastion of social privilege, see Homberger 111-19. On the features of both Grace Church and Trinity Church that Melville combined in his story, see Rowland, "Grace Church" 341-46; for more on Isaac Brown, see also 340-41, and Horner. The historian of Grace Church, who knew him personally, described Brown as follows:

   Nearly six feet tall, stout, and of a ruddy complexion, he was
   always smooth shaven, and had a considerable paunch of which he
   seemed to be proud. When on duty in Grace Church, he always wore a
   swallowtail coat and a low-cut waistcoat showing an expanse of shirt
   front and a black bow-tie, and moved like a younger and lighter
   man.... Because of his marked personality and his frequent public
   appearances he was as generally known, at least by sight, as any one
   in town. In the performance of his various duties, he was thorough
   master of the situation, acquiring a certain dignity and much
   assurance and exacting prompt obedience from his subordinates.
   (Stewart 177)

In contrast to Brown, the rector of the church, Thomas House Taylor, D.D. (1799-1867) was not as nearly well known to the general public and is apparently not personally caricatured in the priest depicted in "Temple First." For information on Taylor's rectorate at Grace Church, see Stewart 148-69.

(7) The quote from Parton first appeared in Famous Americans of Recent Times (1897), 350. The description occurs at the beginning of an 1867 sketch on "Henry Ward Beecher and his Church," but it accurately characterizes the world of upper-class New York churches of the previous two decades. On the development of an exclusive aristocracy of wealth in antebellum New York, see Pessen; Spann Ch. 9; and Homberger. In addition to Grace Church, Trinity Church was also faced with a rising tide of criticism in the later 1840s stemming from its failure to sustain its charitable mission and from its controversial holdings in Manhattan real estate. Because of ambitious construction efforts on its new cathedral at Broadway and Wall streets, as well as Trinity Chapel at 25th Street, Trinity cut back on its charitable giving, leading to the demise of the City Missionary Society in 1847 and the closing of three churches that served the poor. Trinity Church's long-term leases and low rents on its substantial real estate holdings, many of them controlled by a few wealthy lessees (notably John Jacob Astor), also aroused criticism. See Spann 228-33.

(8) For additional background on theological and literary uses of the types and figures of Jacob, Jacob's Ladder, and Moses, see Jeffrey 385-90, 517-20. In John 1:51, for example, Christ identified himself as a vehicle of salvation with Jacob's ladder. In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters 5-7), Christ assumed the role of Moses as law-giver for the New Covenant. Other typological parallels with Moses can be found in Jesus' Temptation (Matt. 4:1-1) and Transfiguration (Matt. 17:1-8). For further discussion of these typological parallels, see Goppelt 186-87 for Jacob, and 63, 66-68, 76, 99, 121-22, 143, 171-73, 188 for Moses.

(9) The first Latin hymn quoted here, based on Psalm 95, erroneously indicates "Lord" in the vocative case, Domine ("Come Lord, let us exult") rather than in the dative case, Domino ("Come, let us exult in the Lord"). The resulting shift in meaning hardly alters the larger contextual significance of the hymn, however. The English excerpt from the second hymn ("Govern them and lift them up forever!") comes from the Te Deum, an ancient Latin psalm of praise and thanksgiving sung at Matins in the Roman Catholic Church and at Morning Prayer in the Anglican and Episcopal churches. Both hymns are thus appropriate for the Episcopal service depicted in Melville's sketch, since this denomination continued much of the Latin-based ritualism of the Catholic service and Mass.

(l0) Hiltner ("Distortion" 76) notes that the narrator's last sentence echoes Eve's remarks in Book IX of Paradise Lost: "Heav'n is high, / High and remote to see from thence distinct / Each thing on Earth" (ll. 811-13). Spoken just after she has been tempted by Satan to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, Eve's speech represents an attempt to give herself the false security of thinking that God is too far away to discover her transgression. It is perhaps no coincidence that immediately after his repetition of the guilty remarks of Milton's Eve, the narrator of Melville's sketch is tempted to think of the interior of the church ("glorified with all imaginable rich and russet hues" [Piazza Tales 306]) as the product of optical illusion, as though a devilish magician or "sly enchanter" were at work.

(11) As Asals points out (without reference to Old Testament types), "Through the screen darkly the church becomes the mausoleum of a dead faith, given only a specious animation, a theatrical illusion of life through the splendor of its internal trappings" (13). Dillingham (110n) and Fisher (54-55) compare the narrator's crepe-like screen to the Reverend Hooper's black veil; for Fisher, the screen signifies "organized society and institutionalized religion that have blasted the hopes of democratic community and distorted the meaning and intent of Christian communion" (55). Both Dillingham (112) and Hiltner ("From Pisgah" 307) suggest that the hot air coming up from the congregation is a sign that the church is a symbolic hell.

(12) For more on the Episcopalian Church's flirtation with Tractarianism in the 1840s as it relates to the sketch, see Rowland, "Melville Answers" 3-7. Franchot (185-89) postulates an anti-Catholic bias latent within the narrator's depiction of the church's gaudy ritualism and showmanship. Rowland ("Melville Answers" 9) notes that the image of the congregation's "sprightly nods and becks" is borrowed from lines 25-30 of Milton's L'Allegro in which the poet invokes the spirit of mirth, Euphrosyne, who is one of the Three Graces.

(13) On St. Paul's typology of Ishmael and Hagar as exemplars of the Old Covenant, see Goppelt 138-40.

(14) The ironic contrast between the fashionable-looking congregation and their true spiritual condition suggests that another famous phrase from the Sermon on the Mount would also be appropriate here: "Ye cannot serve God and mammon" (Matt. 6:24). Additional confirmation from the Gospels of the un-Christian nature of the "temple" in Melville's sketch occurs when the narrator, looking out through a stained-glass window while ascending the steps of the tower, sees the beadle-faced man chasing away three children from church, thus contradicting Christ's injunction: "Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of heaven" (Mark 10:14; see also Matt. 19:14; Luke 18:16). The latter allusion is noted in Fisher 54.

(15) Such allusions to metropolitan London as resembling Dante's hell evoke Melville's own reaction to London for the first time in November 1849, when the city's famous coal-smoke fog and gloomy appearance, viewed from one of the bridges across the Thames, led Melville to note: "a city of Dis (Dante's) clouds of smoke--the damned &c--coal barges--coaly waters" (Journals 14).

(16) Rowland ("Melville Answers" 11-13) argues that knowing the plot of Bulwer-Lytton's Richelieu is integral to the meaning of "The Two Temples." In Act Three of the play, which the narrator of Melville's sketch observes, the cynical French prelate stages a highly contrived "resurrection" after almost being assassinated by a political enemy. Rowland assumes that the content of Richelieu casts doubt on the capacity for spiritual regeneration shown by the theater audience in Melville's story.

(17) Melville first met Franklin Taylor, a cousin of the travel writer Bayard Taylor, in October 1849 on the ship taking them to England and spent time with him in London until Taylor's departure in mid-November. Melville recorded in his London journal on November 14: "Taylor on his last legs; some one loaned him a sovereign. But he said--'Never say die.' His designs upon the two ladies (awkward expression, but perfectly harmless) have failed completely" (Journals 17).

(18) For more information on the actors described here, see Journals 307-08. It should be noted that the narrator's description in "Temple Second" of his discovery of a London theater on a street leading up from the Strand implies a location that could potentially apply to several well-known London theaters including the Royal Lyceum, Covent Garden, Drury Lane, and the Olympic. See the map in Journals 272-73.

(19) On Macready as a theatrical reformer, see Downer 2, 61,224; on his character, see 44, 55, 57, 71, 88, 103-04, 254, 268, 342; on his reading for Mechanics and Workingmen's Institutes, see 281, 344-45.

(20) On Macready's rivalry with Forrest, eventually leading to the Astor Place Riots, see Downer Ch. 7. Berthold argues that the second sketch of the "Two Temples" was largely shaped by Melville's reaction to the Astor Place Riots. In his view, the second sketch enacts a displaced reconciliation of the bitter class antagonisms that led to the riots: "Elevating Macready to the position of high priest of art and politics positions English culture as a model of class harmony in contrast to an America that sustains class oppression in the temples of Christ" (452).

(21) It should be noted that although William Macready is the focus of the narrator's redemptive experience of the English theater in "Temple Second," "The Two Temples" was actually dedicated to the Irish-born playwright and actor James Sheridan Knowles (1784-1862), several of whose plays Macready helped revise for the stage and also acted in, notably the classical melodrama Virginius (1820). In the mid- 1840s, Knowles had exchanged the theater for the pulpit as a Baptist minister, in which role he was known for his attacks on Tractarianism, Catholicism, and the Church of England, while also being noted for his defense of the theater and his use of theatrical techniques in the pulpit. Melville's dedication of "The Two Temples" to Knowles was obviously appropriate for a man who had combined the roles of actor and preacher, spanning the institutional worlds of the two sketches; the dedication may also have been an attempt by the author to compensate for the anti-Christian satire inherent in the paired sketches by honoring a former actor who brought an authentic moral fervor to his preaching through the use of his theatrical training. In any case, the fact that Knowles was English contributes to the anti-American bias of the sketch. On Macready's relationship with Knowles, see Downer passim. For more information on Knowles's career as a preacher and anti-Catholic polemicist, see Rowland, "Melville Answers" 4-6. On his career in the theater, see Meeks.

Author Advanced search


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.