Monday, January 24, 2011
Herman Melville: Not One Word More
Herman Melville: Not One Word More
Early in 2011 the University of Iowa Press is announcing AfterWord: Conjuring the Literary Dead, edited by Dale Salwak, in which biographers conduct interviews with their dead subjects so as to elicit more words, if not last words, from the grave. What a terrifying and attractive notion! But I know just how many words Herman Melville would say to me.
Any biographer wants all he or she can get. If I were looking at newly discovered marginalia of Melville’s in an auction house and the clerk said I could copy half of a 24 line note, I would conscientiously copy twelve lines. I'm docile and deferential. Then I would copy the other 12. How am I supposed to know which words will turn out to be the most revealing? I need all the words much more than any collector who will buy a book Melville marked up so he can take it apart and sell it a leaf at a time, framed, with a window on the back if there’s marking on both sides. I'm saying "need" and not "needed" because I still have a biography to write, not a 500-page condensation of the terse 2000 page two-volume Johns Hopkins study but a wholly different shorter book for Northwestern called Melville Biography: An Inside Narrative (with an ambiguous nod to the subtitle of Billy Budd, Sailor). (It’s about biography as theorized and practiced in the last 3 decades as well as problems in Melville biography.) Anything I could learn directly from Melville would go into that book. I have the questions ready but no confidence at all that I could conjure new words from him, although I have, now that I think about it, discovered more than a few of his words recorded by others or written down by the man himself.
The fact is that I have been talking to Melville for over half a century, under my breath or, very often, out loud. Mainly I've asked him questions. Far too often I've moaned, "Ah, why did you do that? Didn't you know what the consequences would be?" I asked myself why he did not protest in the newspapers once he realized that Americans were learning from the London Athenaeum that he had not accounted for Ishmael's survival--from the Athenaeum as quoted twice, at devastating length, in his wife's home town. He could have asked editors to print a formal "card" if not just a news item. He could have asked Richard Bentley to print the "Epilogue" in his magazine and publicize it in the London newspapers. The loss of the "Epilogue" to The Whale could have been a publicity bonanza, like the discovery of Toby was for Typee. If the Literary World review of Moby-Dick had not been so sanctimonious, would he have asked Evert Duyckinck to put an article about the lost "Epilogue" in the Literary World?
Not expecting to conjure up answers, I've challenged myself with simple questions. I would ask, "What did you have on or about your person when you arrived in New York City in October 1844?" I talked things out at (if not with) Melville for years, as in bringing him up to date by saying, “Well, one thing you had was Allan's long letter to you which you received in Boston, a letter we did not know about until after the covetous and secretive psychiatrist Henry Murray died.” (Murray had the interest, the money, and the access in the 1920s so I was convinced that he had bought some of the letters to Hawthorne from that former jailbird, his son Julian. Before Nina sold the Francis Street house in Cambridge I diplomatically suggested that she might look for a wall safe in the study behind the boards that Murray had torn off the barn at Arrowhead, but she thought I was a mad Jamesean biographer and refused to mess up a perfectly good wall. If I had twenty minutes with a metal detector . . . .)
"What were you thinking about on that ferry or that ship or that train?" I would ask. “When you had just seen Toby in Rochester (really Rochester, as Thurlow Weed said, you could tell me, and not Buffalo?) I knew that you were thinking about how to get control of his story so you could add it as an appendix to your book. He was running off with your Typee! Whatever mix of emotions you were reflecting on after seeing your old shipmate, you had work to do on the way home, now that his own vivid narrative was being reprinted all over the country.” I asked hundreds of such simple questions before I was finished, and got surprising answers, a few times, from documents but not from Melville. Sometimes I was just curious and had to remain so: “Did you really break off your first stint of work on the whaling book to make an excursion to West Point?” He could tell me now that other writing are speaking “AfterWords” to their biographers.
Let me try the address you directly in public, in a blog, which is sort of like what the Home Journal was to Nathaniel Parker Willis. “If other dead writers are talking to biographers, why not you, Melville?” Still silent? I know that side of you--"the most silent man" Maunsell Field ever knew, before you and Dr. Holmes gave him the best talk he ever heard. Am I going to get to hear you in full tide of racy talk as in the early years, or in full rant in the last years about "Damn fools" of politicians? No? I'll never hear your voice? Never know if you really did talk, all your life, with something of your father's Bostonian-Scottish accent? I'm still on my own?
Just because I squatted over your bones to take a rubbing of your tombstone on rice paper on a sticky July day in 1962, you think I've been crowding you for half a century? Now you are irritated enough not to talk but curious enough to give me a tour of likely sites for an interview? It’s my version of the Iowa group’s fantasy but instead of chatting you are offering and rejecting one site after another?
Is this Westport? One harbor looks like another to me.
I've played along. At every new scene I'm telling you where we are or else I've made my best guess. You're the world traveler, after all. Next are you going to sit cross-legged in Paradise waiting for Hawthorne, and expect me to follow? Don't even suggest a cozy chat on a ferry boat, you who will change your seat eight times before we steam along past with the new Statue of Liberty! Julian Hawthorne told the truth for once about your fiddling with the long stick with a hook as you adjusted the high transom window. I thought I was the fidgety old man. Please, stop a few minutes at the next Scene of High Significance in the Life of Herman Melville. I'm much older than you ever lived to be, and you are giving me vertigo.
Thanks for pausing. Oh, it's a crow's nest, and it's rocking, and I don't like heights. I'll close my eyes--that concentrates the snugness and lets me feel my own identity aright, you say. Maybe it will combat the vertigo. Now, your not talking is nothing new. We do have some things in common. Philip Weiss, the writer of the stealth attack on your reputation in the New York Times Magazine in December 1996, had his Eureka moment when he was quizzing me: "Oh, you're an autodidact, like Melville!" Yes, you could say that. I had to quit school at sixteen to become a railroad telegrapher and had seven years' seniority when I quit that job—the first of what turned out to be dead end jobs. But I sputtered when I saw that Weiss had referred to you as my "hero." Another autodidact, yes, but never my hero. Maybe my hero from your time was Andrew Jackson, who as a boy fought at Cowpens, very near King's Mountain, where my Scots and German grandparents and uncles and cousins fought alongside the Over-mountain Men.
I'm glad to be with you now, although these ropes are slimy. You were not my hero, but I never thought of us as friends or allies. I never thought much about whether or not you would like me at all, you with your knowledge of poverty always infused with a profound sense of entitlement, although I did derive some wry amusement at wishing you knew someone with Choctaw and Cherokee blood was writing about the metaphysics of Indian-hating. Always when I fantasized imaginary conversations for you it was never between you and me. I fantasized about your being deep in talk with people I knew you would have relished, wishing that you could have sat down with the great guerrilla John Mosby in cozy confabulation about Sir Walter Scott and that arrogant young murderer of Mosby's men, George Armstrong Custer.
Now that I think of it, I wish I could have overheard you telling stories to a group of men at sea, trying out tall tales about Fayaway on the Charles and Henry and on the United States, before you had come up with the spelling of that name—maybe a greater stroke of genius than adapting “Mocha Dick” for your whale. Before you got home were you already telling about your naked son--the story that turned on the tailor's practice of dressing the male genitals to the left or right pants leg? You hinted, you teased, you bragged, but you undercut the sexual boasting, turning the stories comically against yourself, to judge from the story that the boy Ferris Gleenslet heard in 1886 in the barbershop in Glen's Falls. When I started working on you I was young and a prude. Now I'd like to hear what your contemporaries said was "racy."
Just before he died, as you knew, your brother Gansevoort met Nathaniel Parker Willis in London ("We had a long, friendly & I may almost say intimate conversation"), and acted as Willis's brother-in-law's groomsman. Willis had been something of a Lothario, at least before and between marriages, as he asserted in the Tribune on 18 October 1849 in a curious denial that he was a profligate: "That, in my first residence abroad, and when a single man, I saw freely every manner of life which, by general usage, a gentleman may see, I will not deny." The fragments of your letter to Willis that survive, your letter from London, are among the glories of your still youthful exuberance. What if we had a dozen such letters, and his to you, instead of comments on you by Evert A. Duyckinck? We have some of his reviews of your books, but that's not the same thing. I still don't know you as a man among men.
Where are we off to? Oh, I see. Ho, ho, it's a joke worthy of your brother Allan. From the crow's nest, a natural progression (as you said about going from the baths of Caracalla to the Protestant Cemetery) . . . .
Scene: Owl's Nest, Claymont, Delaware. I recognize Felix Darley's house. I've been inside this place when the plaster was down and some of the lath torn off and there were holes in the floor you could drop an easel through, if you folded it up. I thought about buying it, to save it, but it was cynically overpriced. The whole area was run down, what you'd expect from the south edge of Chester, Pennsylvania, that industrial dump where Wilmingtonians went to shoot up, in my time. You could not see the Delaware River at all for the trees. Dickens came to Owl's Nest, but you never visited here, did you? Yet, as I found in the 1980s, Darley made his arduous way to Arrowhead, asking directions (stuttering nervously as he did?), finally directed through bog and through bush by locals who thought they were Puckish. You keep your secrets: did you meet through Henry Tuckerman? Or at Dr. John Francis's? You aren't going to tell me, I know. You must have seen his illustrations of Irving after your ungrateful declaration of independence in the essay on Hawthorne. Did they affect your repentant homage to the old man in the "Paradise" and "Tartarus" stories? Darley must have talked to you about his friend Poe. He was good to be around, genuinely sweet, quietly humorous, almost as gorgeous as Hawthorne had been, and the age of your younger brother Allan.
And how many other painters did you know very well? You gave the painter E. S. Doolittle the whale's tooth Captain Worth had given you. Long ago I saw it at the New-York Historical Society I told Jay Leyda about it, stewing all the time about “Doolittle” until Scott Norsworthy identified him recently. Then on fultonhistory.com while looking for something else I found an astonishing 1880s newspaper article about it, after someone else had inherited it. Doolittle is not famous now, but you knew Bierstadt, Church, and many others, didn't you? Or did you avoid every invitation to meet them? This is tantalizing. Your Uncle Peter owned Bierstadts. He and his circle of Albany friends seemed to own half the best Hudson River paintings in existence, buying them as they were painted. You collected prints because you saw superb American oil paintings you could not afford and saw Richard Lather's very expensive mediocre European oil paintings you certainly could not afford. But what about Darley? He cared about you, yet he never illustrated anything of yours, just for fun? No luscious drawings of scenes from your South Sea stories? How I wish I had a dozen letters from him to you and you to him! Not a word in any Darley papers left in libraries or attics in Delaware, either, not that I could find. You know what I mean when I say I wish I "had" these letters: I wish I could see them in a library.
Scene: Broadway and Eighth Street in empty Manhattan, a ghost town, you with Evert Duyckinck and Cornelius Mathews, and nobody else in sight until you encounter a solitary man, someone you all recognize.
Are you challenging and reproaching me, since this is not in my biography? I know about it because Scott Norsworthy found it recently. (Harrison Hayford said it: "What Hershel needs is a Hershel.") On a July Sunday in 1849 this man met the three of you, and all four then strolled down a Broadway that was a "scene of utter desolation." The man remembered long afterwards: "We looked up toward Union Square--we were standing near Eighth Street--not a living being was visible. We looked down toward the Battery. The same solitude prevailed. As we advanced a few blocks, a solitary pedestrian emerged out of Howard Street and crossed Broadway. The spell was broken. Humanity once more came on the scene."
The cholera was raging, and sensible people were indoors. Did you remember this vacant Manhattan when you wrote in "Bartleby" that Wall Street on Sunday is as deserted as Petra? And now that you bring me here I realize that in 1857 in Florence when you saw the wax carvings depicting "Naples in the Time of the Plague" you must have remembered Albany and Manhattan in plague years. You aren't going to tell me this man's name, I know, but he gave some clues. In 1855 he was "actively engaged in mercantile business" with both store and office on Broad Street. He lived near Union Square and took the Broadway stage to and from his office. He was a personal friend of General William Worth, who died that year. Perhaps, like Worth, he was a Mason and an Episcopalian (but went to hear Methodist ministers). He was familiar with many journalists (including Thomas Powell) and theatrical people (including Allan's friend James Hackett), especially opera singers and their managers. He was a Columbia graduate. Stephen Hoy thinks he was a Schermerhorn, probably John. You could just tell me his name, you know. It might not do me any good, but I want to know. No, it would do me good--all my experience says that it would lead to more connections and maybe even some new stories. He probably left a diary.
Scene: The Battery, as it was in 1866.
You want to show me the homeless Southern veterans hovering there. You identified with these ghostlike men, somehow, having survived your life as a famous writer. These quiet men haunted the Battery for you the rest of your life. You jerked your head when I reminded you how much alike you and your obsessed cousin Kate Gansevoort Lansing were in moving among ghosts in a haunted world. But we all do that, as we age, don't we? If you want to know, some of my captured kinsmen died from mistreatment by the Yankees and some who survived the prisons walked all the way back south from places like Alton, Illinois, into black poverty for as long as they lived.
Scene: The William Worth monument, since 1857 a traffic island at the junction of Broadway, Fifth Avenue, and 24th and 25th Streets.
You liked to sit on this monument late in life. Did you ever see Worth in Albany or Manhattan? Did you read, in your last years, what Grant said about him in his Personal Memoirs--that he was nervous or even frenetic and wore his men out with needlessly long marches when they were just heading for an encampment, not a battle? When you sat and smoked here did you change your spot every few minutes? I know it meant something special to you, probably associated with the outbreak of the war with Mexico and Gansevoort's death, the time you witnessed all that violent war paroxysm in Albany. Anyone can see the monument on the Internet now, or the great book called New York 1880, but nobody could imagine how bad the automobile and truck pollution is. Only a smoker like you could stand it here. Can we go somewhere else?
Scene: 49 Mount Vernon Street, Boston. Charles Bulfinch, but enlarged! The great house on the greatest street in America! Your great-grandson Mel could have bought it back into the family, in the late Truman or early Eisenhower years. The owner let me in when I held out a copy of the bound advance proof of the first volume. The lower floor was off limits, rented, except the foyer, but I could see that there down the hallway was a succession of two arched doorways. And of course I had the photographs made about the time Sam Shaw died and the house was sold.
You know critics think you were never engaged to Elizabeth Shaw. You just suddenly married! I worked out that you spent time in Boston in October 1844 before you went to New York City. You would not have been welcomed by your aunts, who had cut your mother off, but if you did call on one of them or if you had found your cousin Guert in the Navy Yard you would have been told that someone in Boston had up-to-date news from Lansingburgh: Lizzie, who had spent weeks there with your mother and sisters and Tom (when he was home), and was in regular correspondence with Helen. In October 1844 Lizzie had known the contents of every letter the family had received from you and she knew the contents of letters from Helen and the others that probably never reached you. You had been a romantic figure even before you told your stories to Lemuel Shaw, who had a cousin in the Hawaiian Islands you might have met, and who knew all about what his friend Captain Percival had done with the missionary-school girls there. Your plan to surprise your mother was easy to effect: your aunts never wrote her, and Guert and Lizzie could be told not to write. And you swore the New Yorker Allan to secrecy when you wrote him that you were coming there next.
You dedicated Typee to Judge Shaw for a reason, and I dated the courtship better by finding a letter in which your mother specified the month you became engaged. I knew how many times you had seen Lizzie before then. Critics gave me a hard time for thinking you had an actual courtship, but I knew Othello; I did enact Michael Cassio in a Bay Area theatre in, after all. "She loved me for the dangers I had passed, and I loved her that she did pity them." Your fate was sealed before you left here for the last time in October, 1844, and when you walked out into the Common on your wedding day in 1847 you were the true grandson of the Hero of the Tea Party, the immensely wealthy old man, the "Last Leaf," who took you for your first walks there. After Shaw died you were never welcome here, so it's bittersweet now. I know what this house meant to you.
And that's not even talking about this as the place where you read Shakespeare. After Malcolm was born you had nothing to do for days but sit on a sofa and read Shakespeare. You had known some of the plays, but you had never read most of them. Shakespeare is the main reason I wrote your biography, you know? You don't know? While I was a telegraph operator I contracted tuberculosis. During one five month period of my confinement, in 1956, I was in a tiny room with one book, a one-volume Shakespeare I had bought in New Orleans in 1953. I had pencils and a pocket knife to sharpen them with and for those months I read the plays every day, over and over, some more than 20 times. The next year I read Moby-Dick in eleven afternoons (still flattened by that barbaric treatment, pneumo-peritoneum), savoring it, hardly believing that a young American had absorbed Shakespeare as you had done. I gained access to that room in 2005. It was as small as I remembered, but sacred to me, as sacred as a room in the Mount Vernon house was to you--the room where you read Shakespeare.
Scene: No. 1 Bond Street, the great house on what Maria Melville in the 1820s envied as a street of marble-faced dwellings.
I saw the outside as we came, and I see Benjamin Franklin's china, so I know it's Dr. Francis's mansion, near the Thurston house of Allan's in-laws, but you are frustrating and reproaching me again. Here in his salon are thirty men, forty men, the most famous New Yorkers of their time, and a couple of European lions. You are a fixture here, dropping in even when you are living in Pittsfield and only in town on business--and yet the only record we have is the account I suspect Henry Tuckerman wrote, naming you and him and Duyckinck and Rufus Griswold as regulars. Scott Norsworthy (again) finally nailed down the date of the newspaper article Perry Miller said was from 1850: 1854, reprinted in 1855. I spent months all told, looking for it, and in early July 1988 I found a treasure when Tulane would not let me see the Picayune, where I thought the article might be. The treasure was several years’ worth of Oakey Hall's weekly letters in the New Orleans Commercial Bulletin, written from inside the Duyckinck circle.
Have you forgotten how many days you took to write White-Jacket? Oakey told all of New Orleans you wrote it in "a score of sittings"! I would have said about 60, July and August, but if you lined up your next source one day, took a sharp scrutiny of it the next day, and wrote like hell the third day, there you were! By uncanny coincidence, a month earlier, 28 June 1988, on the back of a 9 x 12 envelope on a train from Strasbourg to Luxembourg I had outlined Reading "Billy Budd," concluding: "I want to do it at a stretch. I want to do it in 21 days. That's six pages a day average. There's your goal." I wanted to know how it felt for you to write a book that fast (then in the next two months write a longer one), and the only way to have any idea of it was to do it myself--to write one that fast (but spare myself from following it with another written that fast)!
Back in this country, we went at once to New Orleans. When I discovered what Oakey Hall said about White-Jacket, then I altered my goal. Home in Wilmington, I decided my book would be "written in 'a score of sittings'" between 13 July 1988 and 31 August 1988. In fact, I wrote it between 13 July and 24 August in a third floor room where the temperature was in the 90s nineteen days in a row, so muggy that that the keyboard of the computer often gummed up. I printed and mailed it on 24 August. The publisher said it would be fine if I cut it by a quarter. Then my wife read it and said don't touch it--it's too good for that series anyhow. So I sent it to Northwestern. If at Tulane I had lain on the floor and kicked my heels and protested that I was almost a Cajun or a Redbone, having been a depot agent and telegrapher on the Kansas City Southern in Calcasieu Parish and a telegrapher up and down the Sabine towns, the librarian might have let me see the Picayune, and then I would never have discovered the Commercial Bulletin. I might have written the Billy Budd book fast, but Hall’s "a score of sittings" gave me an extra impetus. The benefits of docility! What did I find out? That now I remember almost nothing about the composition except that the first weekend Mark Niemeyer hovered around as I tried to pile up what we were calling "gross byteage." Did you have any memory, years later, of writing White-Jacket?
When I was in the East I should have assembled a list of known guests who frequented Dr. Francis's and should have read dozens of New York City papers (and of course there were dozens) and two or three dozen out-of-town papers that printed regular letters from their New York City correspondents, looking for mentions of the men who came here. I could have maximized my efforts by starting when a foreign celebrity was in town, and then I should have looked at their letters and diaries. I didn't do. There have to be records still--diaries or letters of men who attended and described how you talked, once you were warmed up with the wine. A biographer should be omnivorous, omnipresent, immortal, and strong as a horse. I couldn't do everything. I'm apologizing. Now, do you want to point me toward where records survive? How about that for the next scene, a pile of letters and diaries?
Scene: Monument Mountain by the Devil's Pulpit, summer, black flies swarming.
Ah, this time you are grateful to me, as you should be! Twentieth-century Melville criticism harped on how excited you were about meeting Hawthorne, who ignored you and looked "mildly" about for the Great Carbuncle of his story. Finally, after my first volume was out, I went to the manuscript and saw that Duyckinck's letter had been mistranscribed in the 1930s. All agitated, Hawthorne was hamming it up, looking wildly about for his Great Carbuncle. We should have known he was enthralled by you: how many men did he meet and immediately invite for a sleepover? Hawthorne was as excited about encountering you as you were about encountering him. So I vindicated you belatedly in the “Documentation” of Vol. 2! Maybe after another century criticism will catch up with "wildly," but meanwhile I've put it on record that you aren't any longer to be seen as the young man who fell into unrequited love with a once-gorgeous old storywriter. The powerful attraction was mutual. If you were talking you'd say "Thank you." Well, you're welcome. Finding "wildly" was my pleasure, really.
Scene: The Manhattan Church of the Ascension, high Episcopalian, an infant baptism.
The Thurstons' church, and therefore your brother Allan's, June of 1849, the christening of little Maria Gansevoort Melville, named for your mother. The woman in motion is one of your Van Rensselaer cousins, Dutch Church like your mother, fleeing, aghast at the minister's making the sign of the cross. Jesuits are prowling the country and here in broad daylight a putatively Protestant minister makes a pagan gesture!
While at Northwestern I spent the 1959 Christmas holiday in California reading Pierre, then the Fall of 1960 I took a Melville course from Harrison Hayford because other students said he would not accept a term paper. He wanted an article styled for a particular journal, presented to him in an envelope addressed to that journal, the proper number of stamps affixed. Then if it was good he could put it in the mail. Mine was "The Metaphysics of Indian-hating," an explication of the allegory in The Confidence-Man in which you portray diluted Indian-haters as nominal Christians. Nineteenth-Century Fiction took it. Harold Bloom reprinted it, and I still reprint it as often as I can. Hayford and his Yale colleagues, even Elizabeth Foster, had been too high toned to understand total depravity and Original Sin the way a person exposed to your mother's Dutch Church or mid-twentieth century Southern Baptist doctrine could, back when Baptists believed not only in sin but in separation of church and state. Foster was a Texan, but Episcopalian. They were great scholars and good diluted Indian-haters, the Yale Melville students. William Shakespeare and John Calvin--they let me become a Melvillean. Now you know.
Scene: The edge of the fountain of the Nelson memorial in Liverpool, Victory crowning the hero as Death stabs him.
I came here before there was an Internet and I wanted pictures. Liverpool didn't have a single postcard of the memorial for sale, and my hotel room was so dark that I lost my roll of film in it. The library had signs up: "If you leave it, it will be pinched." Someone had "pinched" the handle for the microfilm reader. Look: I wore the first joint of my right index finger down to a nub reading the Mercury. The Adelphi up on the ridge where Duyckinck stayed was shabby. The whole town had turned into Launcelott's-Hey. The only tourists were two Japanese teenage girls searching for Strawberry Fields. You broke my heart when you came back here after seventeen years and stood thinking how your life had changed triumphantly, and changed again miserably. Take me somewhere else. Take me to tacky Southport, even, where I walked on the same grains of sand you did and then decided I had located what was left of the pub you and Hawthorne went to, the Fox & Geese, now a fast-food take-out place called "The Steamboat."
Scene: Lenox: a corner of the old dining room at Wilson’s Hotel, formerly the Little Red Inn.
You owe me big for this one. This is where you spent the happiest hours of your life, that dark afternoon in mid November 1851 when you and Hawthorne sat here, with the local belles and beaux peeking in and giggling because they thought that you two reclusive authors had chosen such a peculiar way of getting acquainted. Local men did not dine in a hotel! You sat there showing Hawthorne the dedication to Moby-Dick and letting him hold the book as you talked. Critics who ignore documents are hopeless, but even scholars are stupid because we become dependent on documents. We can't imagine any human action that isn't documented. All babies are mysteries to us unless we have a notebook record of successful impregnation. We never once asked how Hawthorne got a copy of the book so fast, as if you wouldn't have walked barefoot to Lenox in the snow to get it to him before he left for the east.
You know how this episode was discovered? In Boston while reading Lawrence, Massachusetts, papers (to find out what I could about your brother-in-law Hoadley) I found an unknown letter signed "Maherbal," a description of the Hawthorne cottage near Lenox about the time the Hawthornes left, in November 1851, written from Lenox and reprinted from the Windsor (Vermont) Journal. Where there is one letter to a hometown newspaper, there may be more, so for five years I hunted for the Journal and even sent a graduate student up to ransack New Hampshire libraries. Back then, there were limits on how many pages anyone could get into a computer file, and I kept subdividing 1851, always transferring to the top of the new file the note "FIND WINDSOR VERMONT JOURNAL."
At last, five years later, Richard E. Winslow found a file of the Journal for me, and in it of course were more letters, one describing your meeting with Hawthorne alone together in the dining room in a hotel in Lenox, surely the Little Red Inn that in 1851 was known as Wilson’s and a few years later became Curtis's Hotel, where your father-in-law Judge Shaw stayed every September, when he held court. Moral: you determine to invest one precious hour of a research trip trying to find out how grand, really, was John and Kate Hoadley's house, where your mother visited, and in that hour you stumble over something that leads you, in good time, to a buried treasure, if you live long enough and keep on the alert. This meeting in the hotel was a great discovery for me as biographer, a bonus bestowed by the Goddess of the Archives. Just in terms of practicality it was a godsend because it provided a seemingly inevitable conclusion for the first volume. Why, I didn't need a newspaper document. I was allowing for this scene all along, even though I would have set it in the chaotic Little Red Cottage, where Sophia was doing all the packing for the move to Newton by herself. Sure I was. No, I’ll confess: scholars are document dependent, when we don't ignore documents altogether. You know what happened later.
Scene: Same dining room, 1869, before the hotel (by now Curtis’s) became the Victorian Behemoth, you and a most elite gathering where you are outranked in wealth but not in ancestry or achievement.
That was fast. I was about to say that this document in the Windsor (Vermont) Journal set off an explosion far away, once I paid attention again to an item in the 20 September 1869 Springfield Republican which Jay Leyda had quoted in the 1969 "Supplement" to The Melville Log: "Among the notabilities who have been summering at Curtis's hotel in Lenox . . . Herman Melville of New York." Overshadowed by post-war plutocrats, your own old fame recalled only as an adjunct to Hawthorne's fame (no longer the "man who lived among the cannibals" but beginning to be almost famous as the "man who had known Hawthorne in the Berkshires"), you sat again in the dining room which had witnessed the highest triumph in your life, when Moby-Dick was published and your friend read the dedication. Could anyone doubt that you remembered that afternoon in November 1851?
No--not when I could show that you tended to experience a peculiar mental state when disparate times, places, and people collided. Typically, an image of one object, place, or person superimposes itself upon another, the images dissolving back and forth, exactly what we could call "morphing." This psychological tendency may have been abnormally strong in you, judging from the way you described it in your books, in Omoo, or Pierre, or others. Did you use it in the lost The Isle of the Cross? Did the heroine perceive the husband blurringly as youth and as mature man, morphing back and forth? Did the bigamous husband confuse which female head was wrapped in one of those expensive shawls? You remember you used it in Israel Potter, and let it suffuse "The Paradise of Bachelors and the Tartarus of Maids." Having learned of the memorable meeting in the hotel in 1851 and your return visit in 1869, and knowing your habit of playing off one time against another, I had to allow for the power of your memory.
Evidence came from such disparate places! The New York Public Library dated a fragmentary diary of your youngest brother Tom as "[1860?]." From my perpetual calendar, from knowledge of Tom's various promotions, and finally (after I had zeroed in) from NYC shipping notices, I dated it to late May 1849. Bill Gilman, who had done the work on your early life and Redburn, was dead, long dead, but how I wanted to tell him! Don't feel too sorry for me: I had a few dozen moments like that over the years, times when some document I was reading lit up months of your life. Harrison Hayford and Merton Sealts were alive when I discovered the title of the Agatha story and the date of completion: The Isle of the Cross, on or around 22 May 1853. I had the thrill of telephoning them. Telling you which one I called first would be like admitting which child I staggered toward and lay on top of during the Sylmar earthquake! Think about it: only a biographer has these ecstatic insights--or sometimes heart-rending realizations. No critic has any idea of this kind of intellectual and emotional adventure.
So I knew you began the wholly unplanned Redburn just after an emotional, and perhaps all but hallucinatory, re-enactment of a momentous life-event on the docks of Manhattan. You saw off Tom (who looked just like you) on a voyage to China--ten years after your elder brother Gansevoort, dead now more than three years, had seen you off to Liverpool. You were reckless: you thought you could write a fast and easy book, and you did, pretty much, but you were so naive you didn't think about what reliving your youth would do to you. You realized later that you never know what monsters you may catch when you drop your fishing hook into the well of childhood. Writing the "beggarly" Redburn made you able to write Moby-Dick.
Whether or not you "saw" Hawthorne in the dining room at the Curtis Hotel in 1869, his grand aging head morphing, for instance, into the head of Uncle Peter's friend General Dix, to whom you had inscribed a copy of Battle-Pieces, or Colonel Crosby (from same family as the Van Rensselaer in-law of that name?), or whoever sat where Hawthorne had sat, you remembered. You know I'm right. For years, probably, you had been planning to put your experiences in the Holy Land into a modern poetic pilgrimage where man-made structures and demonic terrain would be the backdrops to hours and hours of some of the best talk anyone had ever heard on all the great topics of the century. Steven Olsen-Smith has found that you ensconced yourself in the "Eastern Travels" alcove of the Astor Library on 1 February 1869--a fair indication that you were thinking about the big project that was to follow Battle-Pieces. An "alcove" was just right for absorbing and reflecting: you always loved snug places, even those where you kept your eyes open.
You had a project, inchoate, maybe, sketched out in some detail, maybe. But after your vacation, you were haunted by something not connected to Jerusalem and the desert. You brooded through September, October, November, and December 1869 over how you could come to terms with the utter failure of your own career while Hawthorne, dead five years, was exalted to the highest American literary empyrean. Jay Leyda had plundered the late-published Hawthorne notebooks and memoirs for their information about you in 1850 and the next few years. He had not taken account of the way they affected you as they came out, beginning a few years after Hawthorne's death. I looked at them in context and saw the exquisite agony you suffered at being remembered only because Hawthorne's family used your letters to document his stay in the Berkshires. The only one to understand the poignancy of my recovering your fate as "the man who had known" Hawthorne was Tony Kushner, who talked to Frederic Tuten about this "terrifyingly sad moment" in the biography. I could show you on the Internet. (Having Kushner understand the poignancy of that part of the biography is as close as I come to your having Hawthorne understand Moby-Dick.)
At some point in the Fall of 1869, it all made sense: you could work your new obsession into your old plans if you took Hawthorne along with you on the pilgrimage. In January 1870, sure that you could work out your self-analysis at a bearable pace, whatever new was published about Hawthorne (and your minor role in his life), you started buying source books for Clarel. The idea of taking Hawthorne with you was the catalyst that allowed you to start writing Clarel, just as the power of the memory of Gansevoort's seeing you aboard your first ship propelled you into the composition of Redburn. The difference is the amount of thought you might already have given to a poem about travelers in the Holy Land; with Redburn, you just started writing, without planning.
Scene: Flyover, below us an "exceeding high mountain" from the top of which all the kingdoms of the world are visible.
You must have seen all the kingdoms of the world on many different mornings in the Fourth Avenue house and at Arrowhead and in Allan's attic in his new house. When you finished drafting "The Town-Ho's Story" or "The Grand Armada" you must have been whirled up to an exceeding high mountain, higher than Greylock, and trembled to see Dante and Shakespeare beside you and Milton huffing and puffing a little below, Spenser hoisting him by the arm. You were exalted, but how were you tempted? To go even deeper into debt? secretly borrowing $2050 so you could finish The Whale (as you were still calling it) and make it as good as you could? Tempted to be exalted as a great artist and a lousy provider? To follow Jesus, according to Mark 10:29-30, you would have to leave house, brethren, sisters, mother, wife, child, land for his sake and the gospel's. To be a great artist would you have to gamble everything, including the house and land, on the success of your whaling book? You were never a Dr. Faustus, despite reading all about him in Thomas Roscoe's The German Novelists, as Scott Norsworthy has found. But after the reviews of Moby-Dick and The Whale came were you ever a loving father to Malcolm again? Did you ever "fairly devour him" with kisses after January of 1851?
Scene: The Gansevoort house in Gansevoort.
This one I know from the outside, but from Cousin Kate's letters and other evidence I made a detailed floor plan showing almost every room and including Augusta's earth closet. Then just recently John Gretchko came up with Cousin Augustus Peebles’ inventory of the contents, room by room!
It's hard to feel calm here when you remember that the grownups said Aunt Catherine had refused to let you visit when you were a boy. And you were wrong, just hopelessly blind to the consequences, when you sent Stanwix to stay there with Augusta and your mother before Uncle Herman died. Fanny was all right, but Augusta had a Dutch Reform duty to fill Stanwix's little head with total depravity and Original Sin. You thought, some days, that you had partly escaped, but you put Stanwix right into that soul-killing theology. How could Lizzie have allowed that? Do you really think impressionable little Stanwix ever recovered from that theological indoctrination? Poor little boy: you never played with him the way you had played with Malcolm the first two and a half years. No one ever was afraid you would devour him with kisses after being separated. You decided that fathers who fail as providers don't deserve to love their children.
The outside has not changed much. I imagined the hammock and croquet, and the trees as they were. My wife and I walked out along Snook Kill to get a sense of the terrain, and counted goldfinches. Jay Leyda didn't get here in the 1940s. If he had, he would have climbed into the attic and found all of your sister Augusta's papers, every year's batch neatly tied up in ribbons, and the complete first draft of Typee! Everything went to the dump in the 1950s! Risking wrath, Virginia Barden reached into the truck and pulled out one volume labeled "Novels" on the thin leather binding (done at the local tanner's), but including poetry as well as novels--Gansevoort's farewell gift to Fanny of Longfellow's Voices of the Night. The isolated year 1863, complete in the Augusta Papers acquired by the NYPL in 1983, is massive and detailed, detailed enough (joined to the old Gansevoort-Lansing Collection and other documents) to let someone, someday, do a superb social history of a tiny American village. The documents were a revelation: a family haven in the north to balance the family haven at Staten Island, the Governor's House. The fresh fruit and vegetables were incomparable, and for endless years, it began to seem, your mother at last had a household she could proudly dominate and enough money to allow her to feel unthreatened. It was good while it lasted, wasn't it?
Scene: The Ruins of the Baths of Caracalla.
I wanted to know what it felt like to make my own torturous way down from the Baths of Caracalla to the Protestant Cemetery. Shelley and Keats!--not, as far as I could tell, poets of your Albany and Lansingburgh adolescence but important to you in 1857. I walked the Rows at Chester. I ran my fingers over the green marble drapery of the Church of the Jesuits in Venice--the carving that we admired and that young William Dean Howells sneered at. I climbed up Dumbarton. How many other confluences did my wife and I see because of you? We went to Cairo, Illinois, whether you ever did or not. Coblenz, of course. How many "superb" views did we see from the world's Ehrenbreitsteins because of you, even if we missed so much that you saw? However much I wanted to start with the physical, I could not have cramped myself into even a spiffed up, tourist-ready whaler forecastle.
I could pursue you as far as Italy and San Francisco, but I knew I could never follow your more intricate thought processes, though I did figure out how you were likely to respond to certain situations. I did not set out to experience the worst things that you had experienced. I did not want to follow you into misery. I knew more about poverty as a Depression Okie than you did. But in order to get a quiet place to work on your life I ended up paying two mortgages, having imitated you in being foolish or desperate enough to buy a new house before selling the old one. That part about early 1851 in the first volume may have been more suffused with emotion than most people could understand. Autobiography intrudes into the most disciplined, disinterested studies.
Scene: A Reading Room in Lower Manhattan, tables stacked with files of newspapers, three-legged stools available, and brass spittoons.
The Congregationalists and Presbyterians and Methodists crucified you for Typee and Omoo because you were traducing the missionaries. Worse, you were mocking Christianity and insidiously luring people into thinking lascivious thoughts. What did you really think would happen when you let Ishmael kneel down and worship Yojo with Queequeg? It's joyous to read now but you were suicidal to write it, knowing your friend Duyckinck.
While I was writing I couldn't worry much about how the biography would be reviewed, but I assumed I would see "we are grateful to Parker," "there is much here to be grateful for," "we extend our thanks to Parker." Almost never, and mainly from people in the hinterlands--Columbia, South Carolina, and Atlanta, Georgia, and even Sydney, in the Antipodes. I had violated all the rules when I behaved like the 1940s Yale scholars and acted as if there were still facts about you to be learned. When the reviewers savaged me I identified with you much more than I ever wanted to. Why did they crucify me? I could give you a three-hour lecture on the New Criticism as it morphed into Reader-Response Criticism, Deconstructionism, the New Historicism, and (have I ever lied to you?) Neuron-firing (I'll show you Raymond Tallis in the 11 April 2008 TLS).
As I was starting research on my dissertation in 1962 I met two candidates for the PhD at Columbia who were amused that Northwestern was offering doctorates, so I explained that the Northwest Territory needed some sort of regional school. They were curious about what kind of dissertation I was writing that would involve going to New York City. When I told them I was going to the New York Public Library or the New-York Historical Society every day to read nineteenth-century newspapers and copy out nineteenth century letters about you and politics they were dumbstruck. They saw they had a great story to regale their fellow students and their teacher Richard Chase with at Columbia, this skinny guy from the Midwest in a wash-and-wear dark gray glen plaid Baskin suit and a subdued narrow rep tie going to the libraries every day and looking at old newspapers and manuscripts! In 1962, a graduate student going to the archives as if the New Criticism had never triumphed! Coming all the way to New York to do it! They were too polite to laugh outright, but the way they kept rolling their eyes at each other showed they thought this was the quaintest damned thing they had ever heard. It probably was. No, you've never heard of them.
Despite this episode, for many years I did not admit how far out of step I was as a researcher. For many years, I would find that the last person to have called for some box of papers was one of Hayford's colleagues in the 1940s. That shows you how out of step I was. Most of the time I did not care. My sin was to put out my hand for many years, searching newspaper files in the 1960s and 1970s and later for reviews of your books and stories and articles about you and your acquaintances. You think it was all fun? Think of my bursting into tears around degenerating genealogists and ragged bookies (or whoever those people were who were reading about horse-race results in the 1940s papers), hiding my head in the microfilm reader to weep after I saw "HERMAN MELVILLE CRAZY." My sin was going to the old archives and turning through box after box of family papers that had been in the Shaw papers at the Massachusetts Historical Society for many decades and the Gansevoort-Lansing papers that had been in the New York Public Library for three quarters of a century and the Melville-Morewood papers that had been in the Berkshire Athenaeum for half a century and any other papers I could find along the Atlantic seaboard and the Hudson River. My sin was to transcribe the so-called Augusta Papers, the remnant of the files of your sister which were found in a barn in upstate New York in 1983 and (mainly) acquired by the NYPL. I dated them and identified the correspondents and people mentioned in them. I compounded that sin by laying out old and new evidence in chronological order as I transcribed them into a computer file of the 1951 The Melville Log. First I had entered the items in the 90-page 1969 supplement (half of which I had supplied), then hundreds and hundreds of other documents, including the Augusta Papers. I replaced excerpts in the Log with full transcriptions of documents, all in sequence. Looking at entire documents meant seeing a different story, discovering dozens of new episodes in your life. Some of them were heartbreaking. Some of them were comical: a grocery shopping list led me to understand that your long-impoverished mother had thrown a lavish party for you and your bride on your arrival in Lansingburgh from Canada.
After the reviewer in the New York Times slaughtered volume one (he knew nothing about Melville but ferociously wanted to be another Lionel Trilling or Edmund Wilson) I ought to have known what to expect. The only way I could work was to go into deep denial as I finished the second volume. Of course, the second volume was savaged much more cruelly than the first. Richard Brodhead in the New York Times let it be known that I had invented The Isle of the Cross (1853) and Poems (1860) out of thin air, the insane products of me as "demon-researcher." In the New Republic a look-ma-no-hands would-be "biographer" Andrew Delbanco, who later bragged about fleeing the Houghton lest he intrude on your privacy by handling your mail, said I couldn't be trusted at all on anything because I had merely surmised the existence of those lost books. And Elizabeth Schultz echoed those two critics about the merely "putative" existence of those book. We've talked about the book you finished in May 1853, and how my discovery of the title merely confirmed what Merrell R. Davis and William H. Gilman had said in Letters and Mert Sealts had said in the Northwestern-Newberry Piazza Tales volume. Well, in 1921 Raymond Weaver had not known about Poems. Were reviewers in 2002 expected to read documents that Meade Minnigerode published the next year,1922, documents that later had been reprinted many times, in the Log, in Letters (1960), in the NN Correspondence (1993), in my volume two? Apparently not. Of course I identified with you as the victim of monstrously undeserved attacks. And it nearly broke me, after the second volume was reviewed. I was exhausted, I was having long-postponed surgeries, and I wanted to be thanked.
Scene: I get to choose this one, since I've never been to Ireland, although many of my Scots ancestors lived there from Shakespeare's heyday for another century and a quarter: "the dingy little dining room of the hotel in Galway town on the west coast of Ireland."
I buy copies of Raymond Weaver's biography when I can. After all, he never returned your drawing of Arrowhead to your grand-daughter Eleanor, so the nearest thing to it is the reproduction in Herman Melville: Mariner and Mystic. I bought a copy on eBay around 2002, one Weaver had inscribed to Thomas Monro, who stashed clippings in it. One was a newspaper article entitled "Passing on the Torch," a partial reprint from the "Gossip Shop" in The Bookman of February 1922, presumably by John Farrar. I traced your underground reputation in England for years, and Joyce and Fred Kennedy discovered more links, but if true, this is big news, so I want it in this book which has many British contributors. Some contributor or reader of the collection may want to verify it. It's news to you? I'll read it slowly and let it fall as a benediction on you. Here is the full text:
The history of "Moby Dick", Melville's titanic dramatization of human fortitude and implacable resolve, has been the history of a book's laudation by literary artists who recognized in Melville an artist who transcended all that they themselves could do in words. The most interesting genealogy of "book recommending," the passing on of a torch from one hand to another, was supplied one day recently by James Stephens, the wizard who wrote "The Crock of Gold," "Mary, Mary," and "The Demi-Gods." Reveling over "Moby-Dick" with Samuel McCoy, who has just returned from Ireland, Stephens said:
"Did I ever tell you how I first heard of the book? George Meredith, who was about twenty years old when 'Moby Dick' was first published, read it, recognized a master in Melville, and passed the book on to Watts-Dunton. Watts-Dunton, equally enthralled, urged Dante Gabriel Rossetti to read it. Rossetti ran with it to Swinburne, crying out that Swinburne must read it. Swinburne, finding in it the roar of the sea described as he himself could not, with all his music, silently passed it on to Oscar Wilde, then the most glittering star among the literary lights of London. Wilde, a Dubliner, handed the book on to another Irishman, young William Butler Yeats, making, as he did so, an epigram on Melville's greatness that would be worth repeating--if I could remember it. Yeats, coming back from London to Dublin, brought a copy of the book with him and presented it to George Russell, 'A.E.,' essayist, poet, painter, and seer, commanding him by all the ancient gods of Eire to read it at once. And 'A.E.,' chanting solemn rhapsodies through his beard, handed it on to us, his disciples. I pass it on to all I know, as the greatest prose work in the English tongue.
"Melville," added Stephens thoughtfully, "was the last of the bards. He was wider than Shakespeare."
Pronounced on the afternoon of August 7, 1921, in the dingy little dining room of the hotel in Galway town on the west coast of Ireland, where bearded sailors from all the ports of the world once drank Spanish wine in the Galway inns.
Scene: My narrow study in Morro Bay, but with views of the Pacific 12 miles up to Estero Point and 12 miles down to Point Buchon. You lifting an eyebrow as you point to something Ishmael says in Chapter 91 of "Moby-Dick": "It may well be conceived, what an unsavory odor such a mass must exhale; worse than an Assyrian city in the plague, when the living are incompetent to bury the departed"? And later you point to Stubb's decision: "It's worth trying. Yes, I'm in for it."
You mean was it worth it, climbing onto a blasted whale with my bare hands? Yes, of course the unsavory odor is from what critics have written about you for 160 years now, and the scholarship is the ambergris, almost all of it, even when it was obviously incomplete.
The older people who were still alive, the people who had done dissertations at Yale in the 1940s with Stanley T. Williams, cheered me on, as Leon Howard did and the greatest of all the researchers, Jay Leyda. After a while they all saw that I was the main one carrying on their work year after year, although several other people my age or younger made wonderful spot discoveries. I worked the way I did because my phrenological organ of filial piety is abnormally large. Jay Leyda was going to expand the Log and needed me to shepherd him around as his Parkinson's advanced. I ended up having to do the Log as well. Now, you know, my Log is not the 1951 edition with 900 pages or the 1969 reprint with a new 90-page supplement. It's 9,000 pages, unpublishable, but I am now working on the first of three volumes for print, having condensed 3,000 pages to 600. One of Hayford’s last students, Robert Sandberg, is doing the layout and coding, work beyond my capacities.
No one assembles that many documents while living a sociable life. A scholar works alone, works every day, gets up in the middle of the night and works, for years. I worked absolutely alone for year after year just transcribing the "Augusta Papers" (that fragment of her archive) and plundering the eastern libraries. Day after day I worked, and often 1 to 4 in the night, lighted magnifier to the right of me, transcribing items into my burgeoning The New Melville Log, dating them as I went so I could place them right, but not reading them in full context. The day and night line, as your lawyer says in "Bartleby," proved too much, and my body collapsed, everything going at once. After a week in the hospital I resigned from five editorial boards on one day and cut out everything extraneous and forged on.
I didn't make discoveries and rush into print, usually. I had been the supplier of documents to the critics, rushing new discoveries into print. I reached the point that I could not put out bulletins for fear of losing my focus and momentum. After a while I knew all about living indefinitely with stories no one else knew, except those I told to Jay, until he died, and to Hayford and Sealts, until they died. It affects anyone's mental state, when he puts things together that no one had ever known, especially sad things, and lives with the new stories untold. I came to exist in a prolonged wrought-up state from different causes, since I worked all over your life, jumping from decade to decade depending on the evidence I was copying. Years might go by before I read all the items in the electronic file for 1847, for instance, and longer before I read 1847-1848. Sometimes I discovered the significance of documents only when I started to write the biography--that is, when I started reading long stretches of documents, seeing documents in context as I looked for a "natural" chapter break. Obviously since I was writing about you I had to have the biblical number of chapters, 40, but where they broke was always a surprise to me, and the only way to find the break was to read a period of months or a year or two, listening.
Was it worth it? On 1 October 2000 I copied Gutzun Borglum's ungraceful but powerful declaration into the back end pages of the first volume of my biography: "The reason for building any work of art can only be for the purpose of fixing in some durable form a great emotion, or a great idea, of the individual, or the people." I wasn't thinking about you, although it could have applied to you in the composition of Moby-Dick or Clarel. I was thinking of myself, isolated from professional Melville critics and defamed by New York literary critics of volume one while I struggled to achieve a state of grace and remain in that state for as many months as it took to finish the second volume of the biography. I understood then what you experienced when Moby-Dick was trashed--too many too powerful commentators had trashed my first volume without reading it. You fought to stay in a state of grace, and succeeded, almost all the way through your work on Pierre. But then you were caught off guard by the contract the Harpers offered you, 20 cents on the dollar instead of 50, and you exploded in what you inserted into the completed Pierre! If I had not stayed in that state of grace, that "zone" they talk about now, I could not have finished the second volume.
Was it heroic? Well, writing the biography was the great adventure of my life, outdoing my five months of doing nothing but reading Shakespeare. Put it this way: at my lowest moments, when I felt that no one could carry on Jay Leyda's work while writing his own narrative biography, I played a tape of the group Forebitter in my Bronco II, the "Harbo and Samuelson" song about the hearty young Norwegian oystermen who set out to row across the Atlantic, west to east. "They were not only brave, but by God they could row!" I blubbered in the Bronco then went back to work. And of course if I had not been my own Leyda I could not have written a biography filled with new episodes and new understanding of my vastly larger cast of characters. At the simplest level, I found episodes when I dated documents. How many of my cherished stories started with transcribing and dating?
After it was over, I came close to dying in 2002 when the reviewers in the New York Times and the New Republic and the Common Reader all said that I had made up The Isle of the Cross and Poems. I had always blamed you for not going public about the "Epilogue," even if only to say you couldn't quite make sense of what the American papers were reporting about what the Brits were saying. Well, I had postponed some surgeries until the book was finished, and I didn't have the strength to fight back. Besides, I was sure the next review in another paper after Brodhead's in the Times would correct him, since everyone had known all about Poems since 1922 and had known since 1960 that Melville had finished a book in 1853! I have already told you what happened. As it was, I didn't sleep well again until mid-2007, when I began setting the record straight. In the June 2007 Nineteenth-Century Literature I published "The Isle of the Cross and Poems: Lost Melville Books and the Indefinite Afterlife of Error." Later in the Introduction to Melville: The Making of the Poet (Northwestern, 2008) I commented on how Brodhead, Delbanco, and Schultz and other critics had distorted the trajectory of your career. (You haven't even heard of that book?) And I have become a "blog hooligan" and occasional Internet columnist, flogging myself into the new century.
I'm older than you ever lived to be, as I admonished you at the start. The surviving members of the old editorial team (with the help of some newcomers) got out the next-to-last Northwestern-Newberry volume, Published Poems, in 2009, and are working on the last, Billy Budd, Sailor, and Other Uncompleted Writings. Very few academics are doing research, but I'm not alone, now. The librarian Dennis Marnon is a font (a polite word for what Jay Leyda called me in a note I found: "Hershel is a faucet"). Marnon found an account of your secret guardian angel at the Custom House, an admirer of Moby-Dick, being the Collector of the Port, Chester Allen Arthur. Scott Norsworthy, who works with disabled people in a nursing home, had found an earlier account of Arthur’s watching out for you, and is finding books we never knew you read, as I told you. John Gretchko sells ice cream, I think. Richard Winslow is a semi-retired librarian and canoe-voyager. My former student Steven Olsen-Smith, a professor, took to heart my research command ("First, put out your hand") and is finding more about your reading than we ever knew. He's the one who found that you secluded yourself a while in the "Eastern Travel" alcove of the Astor Library early in 1869. It's still high times for a handful of us!
You'll like my 2011, The Powell Papers, about the English crook who fooled you, apparently. After that I'm doing Melville Biography: An Inside Narrative, whether you say a word to me or not. I did not really have much hope that you would talk to me like the other famous writers did to the Iowa biographers in AfterWord, and I would never dare to put my words into your mouth. So I’ll turn back soon to Melville Biography: An Inside Narrative. It’s “complete”—left resting since May 2010 when I started working on the first volume of The New Melville Log. After I do MB:AIN I am determined to live to write a book called Ornery People, stories from the astonishingly thick paper trail left by the humblest people you could imagine, my American ancestors. Like you in the last years, I am getting books out while I can. I don’t want to leave gigabytes behind in a matchbox full of flash drives.