From the 1858 “Outrage at Jaffa” to the Lecture Platform: A Broadside Advertising “Dickson’s Palestine Museum”
…The Hebrew Seers announce in time
The return of Judah to her prime;
Some Christians deemed it then at hand
Here was an object: Up and On.
With seed and tillage help renew –
Help reinstate the Holy Land…
- Herman Melville, Clarel: A Poem and Pilgrimage in the Holy Land, 1876
Rape, murder, and robbery formed the basis of the “Outrage at Jaffa” – a vicious assault perpetrated in January 1858 by Arab bandits upon a family of American Christians who, steeped in the Bible, travel accounts and millennialist fantasies, had come to the Holy Land as part of the American Agricultural Mission. Six months after the attack – reported around the world – what was left of the traumatized Dickson family left for the United States, albeit son Henry stayed behind a bit, to wrangle with the American Consul in Constantinople over possible restitution. This broadside, advertising his lecture on the “Customs, Ways of Living, Houses, Dress, Language, of which he has perfect knowledge, Treatment of Women, Modes of Conveyances, annoyances, &c” of Arab life, suggests that Henry might have needed money on his return. Dressed as “an Arab,” smoking a hookah, and exhibiting such rarities as matzo and pomegranates, Dickson took to the stage – until at least, the outbreak of war, when he enlisted at the first call for troops.
Herman Melville, visiting the Holy Land in 1857, paid a call on the Dicksons, recording, among other things, that the good Deacon thought the Jews “lazy” and unwilling to work – yet was determined (“inoculated with this preposterous Jew Mania”) to restore them to the land, and thus hasten the Second Coming. Later, Melville would use the terrible experience of the Dicksons as the composite model for Nathan’s death in Clarel: A Poem and Pilgrimage in the Holy Land, his epic about spiritual seeking, and displacement, in Palestine.
Broadside, advertisement, 1 page, folio, no date [circa 1858], no place.