Democratic Dignity

Herman Melville

Local currencies are designed to encourage trade at locally owned businesses.   At the same time their very design can reflect and honor the history and culture or an area. This is true of BerkShares.  On the 20 BerkShare note, for example,  you find Herman Melville, novelist, essayist, poet, and mariner.  Melville is best known as the author of one of the greatest of all American novels, “Moby Dick” (1851). Written at his Arrowhead farmhouse in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, it places Melville amongst a prestigious host of literary figures to emerge from the Berkshire area.

An excerpt from “Moby Dick” follows, capturing its universal appeal.

In the passage below Melville, as the narrator, has just praised the character of Starbuck, the first mate.   But Melville anticipates that Captain Ahab’s madness will ultimately dominate even Starbuck’s best self and this man of valor will lose courage to stand for what is right in face of the stronger personality.  Melville is reluctant to show this weakness in Starbuck.  He debates this in the passage.

 . . . it is a thing most sorrowful, nay shocking, to expose the fall of valor in the soul.  Men may seem detestable as joint stock-companies and nations; knaves, fools, and murderers there may be; men may have mean and meager faces; but man, in the ideal, is so noble and so sparkling, such a grand and glowing creature, that over any ignominious blemish in him all his fellows should run to throw their costliest robes.  That immaculate manliness we feel within ourselves, so far within us, that it remains intact though all the outer character seem gone; bleeds with keenest anguish at the undraped spectacle of a valor-ruined man.  Nor can piety itself, at such a shameful sight, completely stifle her upbraidings against the permitting  stars.  But this august dignity I treat of, is not the dignity of kings and robes, but that abounding dignity which has no robed investiture.  Thou shalt see it shining in the arm that wields a pick or drives a spike; that democratic dignity which, on all hands, radiates without end from God; Himself! The great God absolute! The centre and circumference of all democracy!  His omnipresence, our divine equality!