Leonard Nimoy died yesterday, and so I’m re-posting this — one of my earliest Vancouver As it Was posts from almost a year ago — in honour of Nimoy. As I argue at the end of this post, I still think it improbable that the Vulcan verbal greeting has Jewish roots, but according to part of Nimoy’s submission to the Wexler Oral History Project, the hand gesture does.
March 10, 2014
I have been reading a well-written book by Robert A. Hood entitled By Shore and Trail in Stanley Park. This volume, published in 1929, is a charming and helpful collection of Hood’s poems and vignettes pertaining to the Park. (1)
In his description of the Park’s Harding Memorial, Hood points out that it was a tribute to Warren G. Harding, the first American President to visit Canada. The memorial was sponsored by the Kiwanis Clubs of Canada and the U.S. (of which Harding was a member) and was sculpted by Vancouver sculptor, Charles Marega. (2) President Harding decided to stop in Vancouver on July 26, 1923 (according to Hood, at the invitation of B.C.’s Lieutenant-Governor, W. C Nichol) during his trip home from a visit to Alaska and before making other brief stops in Western American cities. Harding crammed a lot of speaking engagments into his day here. He spoke at Stanley Park (at noon), spoke again at a lunch sponsored by Vancouver’s mayor and other civic leaders, fit in a round of golf (at the Shaughnessy Heights Golf Club; now Van Dusen Gardens) and finally spoke (yet again) at a dinner hosted by BC Premier John Oliver. (3)
Our focus, here, is on Harding’s Stanley Park speech, the conclusion of which Hood quotes:“Our very propinquity enjoins the most effective co-operation which comes only from clasping hands in true faith and good-fellowship. It is in that spirit that I have stopped on my way home from a visit to our pioneers in Alaska to make a passing call on my very good neighbours of the fascinating Iroquois name, Kanada, to whom, glorious in her youth and strength and beauty, on behalf of my own beloved country, I stretch forth my arms in fraternal greeting, with gratefulness for your splendid welcome in my heart, and from my lips the whispered prayer of our famed Rip Van Winkle, “May you all live long and prosper.” (4) (5)
Harding’s closing phrase, “live long and prosper”, to my early-21st century ears, seems, well… wrong. The speech was delivered in 1923 and is cited as a quotation of an author who wrote about 100 years before that! So this invocation was first used in published form, at least 140 years before Star Trek and its now-famous green-blooded, logic-driven, pointy-eared alien was a gleam in the eye of Trek creator, Gene Roddenberry.
I’ve noticed a couple things since encountering Harding’s “Live long and prosper” phrase in Hood’s book. First, the phrase was never said by Rip in Washington Irving’s original story of Rip Van Winkle (1819). Where the remarkably snoozy Rip does say this (not once, but several times) is in a play attributed to John Kerr (1826) in Rip Van Winkle or the Demons of the Catskill Mountains!!! and again in Charles Burke’s (1850s?) adaptation of Irving’s story, the play called Rip Van Winkle: A Legend of the Catskills (A Romantic Drama in Two Acts). Harding’s quotation appears to be taken from the final time Burke’s Rip utters his toast (complete with unusual spellings that are meant, I assume, to indicate how a simple man of Dutch ancestry who lived in the Catskills at that time would speak – at least in the author’s imagination): “Unt, ladies and gents, here is your goot health and your future families and may you all live long and prosper.” (6)
Second, it seems to be commonly accepted among Trekkies online that the Vulcan “live long” salutation has Jewish roots. This may or may not be true, I don’t know. But I have my doubts. The argument is that the phrase “echoes” the Hebrew ‘Shalom aleichem‘ and the Arabic ‘Salaam alaykum‘, which translate roughly as ‘peace be upon you’ or ‘peace be with you’. To me, “live long and prosper” doesn’t echo (even distantly) ‘Peace be with you’. Try putting the “live long” phrase into synonymous words, and see whether you agree with me. Here is my synonymous ‘translation’: “May God grant you a long life and lots of acquisitions to enjoy during that life.” That doesn’t sound to my ear much like the Jewish, “Peace.” Indeed, unbridled acquisition seems to me more like the kind of sentiment which might lead to war.
Harding died a week after visiting Vancouver, on August 2, 1923 at San Francisco, apparently from complications related to pneumonia. Two years later, at the unveiling of the Harding Memorial, Kiwanis International President John H. Moss seemed to ‘channel’ Harding’s speech-making pomposity with these words: “Behold, the Harding Memorial”. (7) Happily, neither toasts, nor ‘whispered prayers’, nor invocations of science-fictional/futuristic blessings were deemed appropriate on this occasion at Stanley Park which marked the relatively early death of a president shortly after visiting our city.
2) Hood describes the Harding Memorial: “It is based on a foundation of granite, and a series of steps leads from the south to a piazetta or floored space bounded by semi-circular seats of granite. Fronting this approach is an altar-like paralellopiped of granite, on the right and left of which stand simply draped female figures of heroic size, one representing Canada, the other the United States. Their right and left hands, respectively, meet at an olive wreath which lies on the intervening granite block, on the front of which is a fine profile in bold relief of the late President, and the simple inscription, “Harding”. The other hands of the figures hold shields with modelling of the American and Canadian flags, and the inscriptions tell of the event commemorated. At the rear of the monument, and at a lower level, is a colossal lion’s head, from the mouth of which a stream flows to a semi-circular basin beneath. There is also a semi-circular shallow pool in the piazetta.” Hood, 136-7.
3) https://archive.org/details/speechesaddresse00hard Lunch and dinner were both at the Hotel Vancouver. This source sets down the three speeches delivered by Harding in Vancouver and others presented during his Alaskan/Western tour.
4) American Senator William Gibbs McAdoo’s famous summation of Harding’s speeches seems to be on target: They were, he said, “an army of pompous phrases moving across the landscape in search of an idea.” http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/warrenharding
If you are curious to hear audio of Harding delivering one (or more) of his speeches, there are some samples here (not including any of those speeches delivered in Vancouver): http://millercenter.org/academic/americanpresident/harding/speechexhibit
5) Hood, 135-6. In fairness to Harding, it should be acknowledged that Hood begins this quotation mid-sentence, without so indicating. The sentence should begin: “Even though space itself were not in process of annihilation by airplane, submarine, wireless and broadcasting, our very propinquity enjoins….”