whose blood has been debased

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enkidu68

Senior Member
turkish
Hi folks, this is cited from Redburn by Hermann Melville (1849)*
Question: Does Melville insult Jews with this phrase (whose blood has been debased)?
I am aware of he is favor of internationality but does this sentence belittle or derogate them?


Be he Englishman, Frenchman, German, Dane, or Scot; the European who scoffs at an American, calls his own brother Raca, and stands in danger of the judgment. We are not a narrow tribe of men, with a bigoted Hebrew nationality--whose blood has been debased in the attempt to ennoble it, by maintaining an exclusive succession among ourselves.
 
  • lingobingo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I think he’s citing the stereotype, rather than promoting it.

    From a Wikipedia article on this subject:

    Perhaps the only major work of 19th-century American literature that does not depict Jews according to the stereotypes of the day is Herman Melville’s epic poem Clarel, which depicts the hardships faced by Jews living in Palestine as well as their customs. Departing from the usual treatment employed by other American writers of that era, Melville presents a range of Jewish characters that provide the reader a sense of Jews as human individuals rather than as cardboard cutouts.
     

    se16teddy

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I don't think the word "debased" is very complimentary to Jews. We Americans are not a narrow tribe of men whose blood has been debased in the attempt to ennoble it - like the Jews are.

    I think the implication is that Jews tend to marry among their own race, and this is a bad thing. (I suppose that the fact that the Jews survived 1900 years of exile as a separate ethnic identity must show that in that period they tended to marry each other - maintained an exclusive succession among themselves!)
     
    Last edited:

    Chasint

    Senior Member
    English - England
    {...} We are not a narrow tribe of men, with a bigoted Hebrew nationality--whose blood has been debased in the attempt to ennoble it, by maintaining an exclusive succession among ourselves.
    The speaker says, "We are not a narrow, bigoted, debased tribe." Clearly this was a common perception at the time of writing and the speaker feels the need to refute that perception.

    Narrow, bigoted and debased are all of course negative epithets. The speaker is denying that they apply to the Jews.
     

    se16teddy

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Ah, I was wondering what he meant by debasement of their blood. Inbreeding.
    To give Melville the benefit of the doubt, you could say that he meant that, unlike Americans, the Jews lack "diversity" in something close to the 21st century sense. Isn't Melville writing before Darwin and ideas of eugenics?
    Is the speaker American, Jewish or both?
    I am assuming that the writer is Melville - American and not (knowingly) Jewish.
     

    Roxxxannne

    Senior Member
    English (northeastern US)
    I read this as
    The speaker says, "We are not a narrow, bigoted, debased tribe." Clearly this was a common perception at the time of writing and the speaker feels the need to refute that perception.

    Narrow, bigoted and debased are all of course negative epithets. The speaker is denying that they apply to the Jews.
    I disagree with the idea that Melville is denying that 'narrow, bigoted, debased race' applies to the Jews. The speaker has been describing the different ships that he sees in Liverpool, with crews of different nationalities, which puts him in mind of the diversity of the American population as a whole. 'We' are not like bigoted, narrow Jews 'who have debased their blood.'
    This sounds like an insult to me.
    But, to be fair to Melville, it was written before he went to Palestine, after which, as lingo said in #2, he portrayed Jews (at least the ones in Palestine) more sympathetically.
     

    Chasint

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I read this as

    I disagree with the idea that Melville is denying that 'narrow, bigoted, debased race' applies to the Jews. The speaker has been describing the different ships that he sees in Liverpool, with crews of different nationalities, which puts him in mind of the diversity of the American population as a whole. 'We' are not like bigoted, narrow Jews 'who have debased their blood.'
    This sounds like an insult to me.
    But, to be fair to Melville, it was written before he went to Palestine, after which, as lingo said in #2, he portrayed Jews (at least the ones in Palestine) more sympathetically.
    I see your point. It all depends on who is speaking and whether that speaker is Jewish.
     

    GreenWhiteBlue

    Senior Member
    USA - English
    I don't think that Melville is speaking of Jews at all, other than very indirectly. He is instead describing Europeans. Melville is saying that Americans are not like Europeans, because Americans accept as Americans anyone who comes to the country. The English, the French, the Germans, and other Europeans, on the other hand, are a "narrow tribe of men", whose approach to nationality is like that of the ancient Hebrews as described in the Bible: that is, it is strictly a matter of blood relationship, with anyone not of your origin considered an "alien" or "gentile." It is Europeans (and particularly the European aristocracy) whose blood has been debased by their refusal to accept or marry anyone whom they regard as "inferior" because they are unlike themselves.
     

    Roxxxannne

    Senior Member
    English (northeastern US)
    I don't think that Melville is speaking of Jews at all, other than very indirectly. He is instead describing Europeans. Melville is saying that Americans are not like Europeans, because Americans accept as Americans anyone who comes to the country. The English, the French, the Germans, and other Europeans, on the other hand, are a "narrow tribe of men", whose approach to nationality is like that of the ancient Hebrews as described in the Bible: that is, it is strictly a matter of blood relationship, with anyone not of your origin considered an "alien" or "gentile." It is Europeans (and particularly the European aristocracy) whose blood has been debased by their refusal to accept or marry anyone whom they regard as "inferior" because they are unlike themselves.
    That makes complete sense! But he's still describing the Hebrew nationality as bigoted.
     

    GreenWhiteBlue

    Senior Member
    USA - English
    That makes complete sense! But he's still describing the Hebrew nationality as bigoted.
    Yes, in the sense of being strongly attached to one's own kind and contemptuous and dismissive of others, expressed particularly in a reluctance to marry anyone outside one's own group -- and such an attitude will easily be found in the Old Testament. The opening verses of the 7th chapter of Deuteronomy will give a good example of the type of attitude Melville is noting.
     

    much_rice

    Senior Member
    English - American
    I don't think that Melville is speaking of Jews at all, other than very indirectly. He is instead describing Europeans. Melville is saying that Americans are not like Europeans, because Americans accept as Americans anyone who comes to the country. The English, the French, the Germans, and other Europeans, on the other hand, are a "narrow tribe of men", whose approach to nationality is like that of the ancient Hebrews as described in the Bible: that is, it is strictly a matter of blood relationship, with anyone not of your origin considered an "alien" or "gentile." It is Europeans (and particularly the European aristocracy) whose blood has been debased by their refusal to accept or marry anyone whom they regard as "inferior" because they are unlike themselves.
    :thumbsup: :thumbsup: :thumbsup: This is it.

    I would add that Melville is practically saying that Europeans adopt a "Hebrew-style" nationality-consciousness: they want to keep everything "within the tribe," which is the exact opposite of the American ideal. In American thought, and you see this in Whitman as well as in Melville, the strength of the country comes from "miscegenation"—a mixing of different bloodlines.

    Melville is not particularly insulting to the Jews, but rather using this aspect of traditional Jewish culture as a touchstone for how Europeans act. They think they are ennobling themselves by following this typically Hebraic form of intramarriage, when actually they are debasing themselves. He could have as easily cited the Hapsburgs as the Jews, but Melville and his readership were well steeped in Biblical allegory, and so this was a good point of reference.

    In today's view of the world, it would certainly be considered offensive because it describes something in reference to a "stereotype" about another people. In his time, I would guess, people wouldn't see it as anti-Semitic.

    This is very similar to how Friedrich Nietzsche uses the word "Chinese." He describes any philosophy that's overly complicated or accessible only to learned mandarins as "Chinese," even if the philosophy and the mandarins are fellow Europeans. It essentially means "Chinese-style."

    Edit: And today we use the word "byzantine" to describe anything as labyrinthine, confusing, and closed to outsiders as Byzantine Greek writing was.
     
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