One hundred years ago Herman Melville made a trip to Europe and the Levant which took him through Scotland, Liverpool (where he renewed his acquantaince with Hawthorne), Gibraltar, Algiers, Malta, Greece, Turkey, Egypt, Syria, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Holland, and England again. The high point of this journey would seem to have been the eighteen days Melville spent in the Holy Land, mainly in and around Jerusalem (January 6-24, 1857).

His pilgrimage, for it was that, came at a turning point in Melville’s career. He was only thirty-seven then, but he had long been troubled by the fear that his inspiration was failing, and he had written to Hawthorne: “I feel that I am now come to the inmost leaf of the bulb, and that shortly the flower must fall to the mould.” His health had begun deteriorating also, and in 1853 he had driven himself to the verge of a nervous breakdown by overwork. His trip, begun in October 1856, was on the urgent advice of his doctor.

The journal Melville kept during these travels was not for publication; it consists of hurriedly jotted notes and phrases, cryptic reminders of his impressions and experiences. But these have many of the vivid qualities of his genius. The journal was first edited by Raymond Weaver, the rediscoverer of Melville in our century (Journal up the Straits, October 11, 1856-May 5, 1857, New York, 1935), and has recently been skillfully reedited by Howard C. Horsford (Journal of a Visit to Europe and the Levant, October 11, 1856-May 6, 1857, Princeton, 1955).

After his return to America Melville gave up any attempt to support his family by his pen, and what little writing he did in the remaining thirty-four years of his life was in verse form (with the chief exception of Billy Budd, written shortly before his death). The major work of these years was a long narrative poem in two volumes, Clarel (1876), obviously inspired by his journey to Jerusalem two decades earlier. In Clarel, Melville takes a group of pilgrims—American and English, representing a variety of religious attitudes—from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. Clarel—interestingly enough, since he is a projection of Melville himself—has fallen in love with a Jewess, Ruth; he leaves her to go on his pilgrimage during the period of mourning after her father’s death when he is forbidden to see her, and later learns that she too has died. Melville seems to have written this poem over a period of some ten years in the great anguish of soul foreshadowed in his Journal.

The following selections from the Journal (taken from the edition of the Princeton University Press, by their permission) sketch the chief events of Melville’s eighteen days in the Holy Land and sample as well some twenty-five pages of additional notes. All the headings are by Melville himself. In the interests of greater clarity, I have corrected most of Melville’s errors of fact or spelling.
—Sholom J. Kahn


January 4th 1857. Sailed from Alexandria for Jaffa. 2nd class passage. Many deck passangers Turks &c. . . .

Jan 6th. Early in the morning came in sight of Jaffa. A swell rolling, and saw the breakers before the town. Landed, not without some danger,—boatmen (Arabs) trying to play upon my supposed fears. Cunning dogs!—Employed a Jew dragoman to take me to Jerusalem.—Crossed the plain of Sharon in sight of mountains of Ephraim. Arrived at Ramla & put up at alleged (hotel). At supper over broken crockery & cold meat, pestered by mosquitoes & fleas, dragoman said, “Dese Arab no know how to keep hotel.” I fully assented. After horrible night, at 2 in the morning in saddle for Jerusalem. The three shadows stalking on the plain by moonlight. Moon set, all dark. At day break found ourselves just entering die mountains. Pale olive of morning. Withered & desert country. Breakfast by ruined mosque—Cave. Hot & wearisome ride over the arid hills.—Got to Jerusalem about 2 P.M. Put up at Mediterranean hotel. Kept by a German converted Jew, by name, Hauser. Hotel overlooks on one side Pool of Hezekiah (balconies) is near the Coptic Convent,1 is on the Street of the Patriarchs leading out of Street of David. From platform in front of my chamber, command view of battered dome of Church of Sepulchre & Mount Olivet.2 Opposite house is open space, ruin of old Latin Convent, destroyed by some enemy centuries ago & never since rebuilt. Landlord pointed out the damaged dome, as beginning of the war with Russia. Still in same state as then. Walked out to the North of the city, but my eyes so affected by the long day’s ride in the glare of the light of arid hills, bad to come back to hotel. . . .

Jan 10th. Thought I should have been the only stranger in Jerusalem, but this afternoon came over from Jaffa, a Mr. Frederick Cunningham of Boston, a very prepossessing young man who seemed rejoiced to meet a companion & countryman . . .

Jan 11th. Spent the remaining days till Jan. 18th in roaming about city & visiting Jordan & Dead Sea.

Jan 18th. Quitted Jerusalem with Mr. Cunningham & his dragoman—the Druze, Abdallah—Stayed at Greek convent at Ramlah. No sleep. Old monk like rat. Scurvy treatment. Letter from Greek Patriarch. Countess staying there. . . .

Jan 19th. Rode from Ramlah to Lydda. A robbery of a village near by, by party of Arabs, alarms the whole country. People travel in bands. We rode to Lydda in train of the Governor’s son. A mounted escort of some 30 men, all armed. Fine riding. Musket-shooting. Curvetting & caracoling of the horsemen. Outriders. Horsemen riding to one side, scorning the perils. Riding up to hedges of cactus, interrogating & firing their pistols into them. Entering Lydda, Governor’s son discharged all his barrels (revolver) into a puddle—& we went to see the ruined church of Lydda. Evidently of the time of the Crusaders. A delightful ride across Plain of Sharon to Jaffa. Quantities of red poppies. (Rose of Sharon?). . . .

Jan 20th. I am the only traveler sojourning in Joppa. I am emphatically alone, & begin to feel like Jonah. The wind is rising, the swell of the sea increasing, & dashing in breakers upon the reef of rocks within a biscuit’s toss of the sea-wall. . . .

Jan 21st. Could not sleep last night for the fleas. . . . Wrote in this diary (Jerusalem) to day. In the afternoon called upon Mr. & Mrs. Saunders, outside the wall, the American Missionary.—Dismal story of their experiments. Might as well attempt to convert bricks into bride-cake as the Orientals into Christians. It is against the will of God that the East should be Christianized. . . .

Jan 22nd. No sleep last night—only resource to cut tobacco, & watch the six windows of my room, which is like a lighthouse—& hear the surf & wind. The genuine Jonah feeling, in Joppa too, is worth experiencing in the same sense that, according to Byron, the murderer sensation were worth a trial. . . . I have such a feeling in this lonely old Joppa, with the prospect of a prolonged detention here, owing to the surf—that it is only by stern self-control & grim defiance that I contrive to keep cool & patient. . . .

Jan 24th. (Saturday)—Bravo!—This moment. . . . hear that the Austrian steamer is in sight, & going to the window, behold her.—Thus then will end nearly six days in Joppa. . . . Amused with the autographs & confessions of people who have stayed at this hotel. “I have existed at this hotel &c&c.” Something comical could be made out of all this. Let the confessions be of a religious, penitential, resigned & ambiguous turn, apparently flattering to the host, but really derogatory to the place.—Bright sun & sea. You seem to look through a vacuum at every thing. The sea is like a great daub of Prussian Blue.



From Jerusalem to Dead Sea &c

Over Olivet by St. Stephens Gate to Bethany—on a hill—wretched Arab village—fine view—Tomb of Lazarus, a mere cave or cell—On down into vallies & over hills—all barren—Brook Kerith—immense depth—black & funereal—Valley of Jehosophat, grows more diabolical as approaches Dead Sea—Plain of Jericho—looks green, (part of it) an orchard, but only trees of apple of Sodom . . . Where Kerith opens into Plain of Jericho looks like Gate of Hell.—Tower with sheiks smoking & huts on top—thick walls—village of Jericho—ruins on hillside—tent—fine dinner—jolly time—sitting at door of tent looking at mountains of Moab.—tent the charmed circle, keeping off the curse. . . . Arabs crossing the river—lance—old crusaders—pistols—menacing cries—tobacco.—Robbers—rob Jericho annually—&c—Ride over mouldy plain to Dead Sea—Mountains on both sides— . . . foam on beach & pebbles like slaver of mad dog—smarting bitter of the water,—carried the bitter in my mouth all day—bitterness of life—thought of all bitter things—Bitter is it to be poor & bitter, to be reviled, & Oh bitter are these waters of Death, thought I.—Old boughs tossed up by water—relics of pick-nick—nought to eat but bitumen & ashes with desert of Sodom apples washed down with water of Dead Sea. Must bring your own provisions, as well, too, for mind as body—for all is barren. Drank of brook, but brackish.—Ascended among the mountains again—barren.—

Rainbow over Dead Sea—heaven, after all, has no malice against it—[written vertically along margin of page].



Barrenness of Judea

Whitish mildew pervading whole tracts of landscape—bleached—leprosy—encrustation of curses—old cheese—bones of rocks,—crunched, gnawed, & mumbled—mere refuse & rubbish of creation—like that laying outside Jaffa Gate—all Judea seems to have been accumulations of this rubbish. . . . No moss as in other ruins—no grace of decay—no ivy—the unleavened nakedness of desolation—whitish (ashes)—lime kilns . . . St. Saba. . . . At dusk went down by many stone steps & through mysterious passages to cave & trap doors & hole in wall—ladder—ledge after ledge—winding—to bottom of Brook Kedron—sides of ravine all caves of recluses—Monastery a congregation of stone eyries, enclosed with wall—Good bed & night’s rest—Went into chapel &c—little hermitages in rock—balustrade of iron—lonely monks. Black birds—feeding with head—numerous terraces, balconies—solitary Date Palm mid-way in precipice—Good bye—Over lofty hills to Bethlehem . . . On way to Bethlehem saw Jerusalem from distance—unless knew it, could not have recognized it—looked exactly like arid rocks. . . .




Village of Lepers—houses facing the wall—Zion. Their park, a dung-heap.—They sit by the gates asking alms,—then whine—avoidance of them & horror. . . . Wandering among the tombs—till I begin to think myself one of the possessed with devils. . . .

Hill-side view of Zion—loose stones & gravel as if shot down from carts. The mind can not but be sadly & suggestively affected with the indifference of Nature & Man to all that makes the spot sacred to the Christian. Weeds grow upon Mount Zion; side by side in impartial equality appear the shadows of church & mosque, and on Olivet every morning the sun indifferently ascends over the Chapel of the Ascension. . . .

How it affects one to be cheated in Jerulem.

The old Connecticut man wandering about with tracts &c—knew not the language—hopelessness of it—his lonely bachelor rooms—he maintained that the expression “Oh Jerusalem!” was an argument proving that Jerusalem was a byeword &c.

Warder Crisson of Philadelphia—An American turned Jew—divorced from (former) wife—married a Jewess &c—Sad. . . .

In Jehosophat, Jew grave-stones lie as if indiscriminately flung abroad by a blast in a quarry. So thick, a warren of the dead—so old, the Hebrew inscriptions can hardly be distinguished from the wrinkles formed by Time. . . . Jehosophat, shows seams of natural rock—capitals of pilasters rubbed off by Time.—Large hole in front—full of stones inside, heap of stones (cart loads) before it—The maledictory contribution of the pilgrim, one of the melancholy amusements of Jerusalem. (See Bible for origin of (Absalom’s) Tomb.)3 To be stoned is his memorial.—The grave stones project out from the side-hill, as if already in act of resurrection. . . .

In pursuance of my object, the saturation of my mind with the atmosphere of Jerusalem, offering myself up a passive subject, and no unwilling one, to its weird impression, I always rose at dawn & walked without the walls. Nor so far as escaping the pent-up air within was concerned was I singular here. For daily I could not but be struck with the clusters of the townspeople reposing along the arches near the Jaffa Gate where it looks down into the vale of Gihon, and the groups always haunting the neighboring fountains, vales and hills They too seemed to feel the insalubriousness of so small a city pent in by lofty walls obstructing ventilation, postponing the morning & hasting the unwholesome (?) twilight. . . . I would stroll to Mount Zion, along the terraced walks, & survey the tomb-stones of the hostile Armenians, Latins, Greeks, all sleeping together.—I looked along the hill side of Gihon over against me, and watched the precipitation of the solemn shadows of the city towers flung far down to the haunted bottom of the hid pool of Gihon, and higher up the darkened valley my eye rested on the cliff-girt basin, haggard with riven old olives, where the angel of the Lord smote the army of Sennacherib.4 And smote by the morning, I saw the reddish soil of Aceldema, confessing its inexpiable guilt by deeper dyes. On the Hill of Evil Counsel,5 I saw the ruined villa of the High Priest where tradition says the death of Christ was plotted, and the field where when all was over the traitor Judas hung himself. . . .

Talk of the guides. “Here is the stone Christ leaned against, & here is the English Hotel.” Yonder is the arch where Christ was shown to the people, & just by that open window is sold the best coffee in Jerusalem. &c&c&c.

Had Jerusalem no peculiar historic associations, still would it, by its extraordinary physical aspect, evoke peculiar emotion in the traveller. As the sight of haunted Haddon Hall suggested to Mrs. Radcliffe her curdling romances, so I have little doubt, the diabolical landscapes (of the) great part of Judea must have suggested to the Jewish prophets, their ghastly theology.

. . . There are many olives on the plain north of the walls. The Cave of Jeremiah is in this part. In its lamentable recesses he composed his lamentable Lamentations . . .

Stones of Judea. We read a good deal about stones in Scriptures. . . . Monuments & memorials are set up of stones; men are stoned to death; the figurative seed falls in stony places; and no wonder that stones should so largely figure in the Bible. Judea is one accumulation of stones—Stony mountains & stony plains; stony torrents & stony roads; stony walls & stony fields, stony houses & stony tombs; stony eyes & stony hearts. Before you, & behind you are stones. Stones to right & stones to left. In many places laborious attempt has been made, to clear surface of these stones. You see heaps of stones here & there; and stone walls of immense thickness are thrown together, less for boundaries than to get them out of the way. But in vain; the removal of one stone only serves to reveal there stones still larger, below it. It is like mending an old barn; the more you uncover, the more it grows.—The toes of every one’s shoes are all stubbed to pieces with the stones. . . . To account for this abundance of stones, many theories have been stated; My theory is that long ago, some whimsical King of the country took it into his head to pave all Judea, and entered into contracts to that effect; but the contractor becoming bankrupt mid-way in his business, the stones were only dumped on the ground, & there they lie to this day.

The hills. Are stones in the concrete. Regular layers of rock; some amphitheatres disposed in seats, & terraces. The stone walls (loose) seem not the erections of art, but mere natural varieties of the stony landscape. In some of the fields, lie large grotesque rocks—all perforated & honey combed—like rotting bones of mastodons.—Everything looks old. Compared with these rocks, those in Europe and America look juvenile. . . .

Three Sundays a week in Jerusalem—Jew, Christian, Turk. And now comes the missionaries of the 7th Day Baptists, & add a fourth. How it must puzzle the converts!

The road from Jaffa to Jerusalem in parts very wide & full of separate divergent footpaths, worn by the multitude of pilgrims. . . .

No country will more quickly dissipate romantic expectations than Palestine—particularly Jerusalem. To some the disappointment is heart sickening, &c. Is the desolation of the land the result of the fatal embrace of the Deity? Hapless are the favorites of heaven.

In the emptiness of the lifeless antiquity of Jerusalem the emigrant Jews are like flies that have taken up their abode in a skull.

There is some prophecy about the highways being prepared for the coming of the Jews, and when the “Deputation from the Scotch Church” were in Judea,6 they suggested to Sir Moses Montefiore the expediency of employing the poorer sorts of Jews in this work—at the same time facilitating prophecy and clearing the stones out of the way.



Christian Missions &c in Palestine & Syria

A great deal of money has been spent by the English Mission in Jerusalem. Church on Mt. Zion estimated to have cost $75,000. It is a fine edifice. The present Bishop (Gobat, a Swiss by birth) seems a very sincere man, and doubtless does his best. . . . But the work over which he presides in Jerusalem is a failure—palpably. One of the missionaries under Gobat confessed to Mrs. Saunders that out of all the Jew converts, but one he believed to be a true Christian,—with much more. All kinds of variance of opinion and jealousies prevail. The same man mentioned above also said to Mrs. S. many things tending to the impression that the Mission was as full of intrigues as a ward-meeting or caucus at home.

I often passed the Protestant School &c on Mt. Zion, but nothing seemed going on. The only place of interest there was the Grave Yard. . . .

At Joppa, Mr. & Mrs. Saunders from Rhode-Island. Mr. Saunders a broken-down machinist & returned Californian out at elbows. Mrs. S. a superior woman in many respects. They were sent out to found an Agricultural School for the Jews. They tried it but miserably failed. The Jews would come, pretend to be touched & all that & then—vanish. . . . Mrs. S. learning Arabic from a Sheik, & turned doctress to the poor. She is waiting the Lord’s time, she says. For this she is well qualified, being of great patience. Their little girl looks sickly & pines for home—but the Lord’s work must be done.

Mrs. Minor of Philadelphia—came out some three or four (years) ago to start a kind of Agricultural Academy for Jews. She seems to have been the first person actively to engage in this business, and by her pen incited others. A woman of fanatic energy and spirit. After a short stay at Joppa, she returned to America for contributions; succeeded in the attempt & returned with implements, money &c. Bought a tract about mile & half from Joppa. Two young ladies came out with her from America. They had troubles. Not a single Jew was converted either to Christianity or Agriculture. The young ladies sickened & went home. A month afterwards, Mrs. Minor died,—I passed her place.

Deacon Dickson of Groton, Mass. This man caught the contagion from Mrs. Minor’s published letters. Sold his farm at home & came out with wife, son & three daughters, about two years ago.—Be it said, that all these movements combining Agriculture & Religion in reference to Palestine, are based upon the impression (Mrs. Minor’s & others) that the time for the prophetic return of the Jews to Judea is at hand, and therefore the way must be prepared for them by Christians, both in setting them right in their faith & their farming—in other words, preparing the soil literally & figuratively.—With Mrs. Saunders I walked out to see Mr. Dickson’s place. . . . After some introductory remarks the following talk ensued—

H.M. “Have you settled here permanently, Mr. Dickson?”

Mr. D. “Permanently settled on the soil of Zion, Sir.” with a kind of dogged emphasis. . . .

H.M. to Mr. D. “Have you any Jews working with you?”

Mr. D. “No, can’t afford to have them. Do my own work, with my son. Besides, the Jews are lazy & don’t like work.”

H.M. “And do you not think that a hindrance to making farmers of them?”

Mr. D. “That’s it. The Gentile Christians must teach them better. The fact is the fullness of Time has come. The Gentile Christians must prepare the way.”

Mrs. D. (to me) “Sir, is there in America a good deal of talk about Mr. D’s efforts here?”

Mr. D. “Yes, do they believe (basically) in the restoration of the Jew?”

H.M. “I can’t really answer that.”

Mrs. D. “I suppose most people believe the prophecies to that effect in a figurative sense—don’t they?”

H.M. “Not unlikely.” &c&c&c.

. . . The whole thing is half melancholy, half farcical—like all the rest of the world . . .

Sir Moses Montefiore. This Croesus visited Palestine last year, bought a large tract on the hill of Gihon & walled it in for hospital grounds.

A huge man of 75, he was carried to Jerusalem from Joppa, on a litter borne by mules. They fleeced him sadly, charging enormous prices for everything he bought. Sir M. seems to have the welfare of his poor countrymen near his heart, and it is said, purposes returning here for life.—

The idea of making farmers of the Jews is vain. In the first place, Judea is a desert with few exceptions. In the second place, the Jews hate farming. All who cultivate the soil in Palestine are Arabs. The Jews dare not live outside walled towns or villages for fear of the malicious persecution of the Arabs & Turks.—Besides, the number of Jews in Palestine is comparatively small. And how are the hosts of them scattered in other lands to be brought here? Only by a miracle. . . . Mr. Wood saw Mr. Dickson going about . . . with open Bible, looking for the opening asunder of Mount Olivet and the preparing of the highway for the Jews.


1 Near the main or Jaffa Gate, on the west side of Jerusalem.—ED.

2 The Mount of Olives.—ED.

3 II Samuel 18:18—ED.

4 The “Upper Pool” (II Kings 18:17, 19:35).—ED.

5 The modern quarter of “Abu Tor.”—ED.

6 In 1839.—ED.


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