Sunday, January 23, 2011

Talk at Morris Library 1994

As you gather from the title of this blog, I am putting here mainly some pieces that never made their way into print. Some of the passages in most of them did reach print in somewhat different contexts. I have resisted the impulse to rewrite but I have inserted some new comments in square brackets. In moving these documents formatting goes to the winds, but not, I hope, to the detriment of sense.

22 April 1994
Hershel Parker
The best source for facts of Melville's life has been Jay Leyda's 1951 The Melville Log: A Documentary Life of Herman Melville, 1819-1891 (reprinted with a Supplement in 1969, about a third of which was from my dissertation research). There was another one in 1975, but the best narrative biography has been Leon Howard's 1951 Herman Melville, based upon the Log. In the early 1980s, after Leyda began work on a new edition of the Log while I began work on a narrative biography, we kept each other supplied with our discoveries. We were caught off guard by one enormous new hoard of documents, a portion of Melville's sister Augusta's papers found in a barn in upstate New York, most of which the New York Public Library acquired in 1983.

After Parkinson's disease struck Leyda, I took up The New Melville Log (by Jay Leyda and Hershel Parker). By mid 1988, the original Log and the Supplement were in my computer, the 1969 items worked into the original sequence. I spent two full summers and many weeks in other years merely transcribing documents, with the aid of a lighted magnifying glass, and very often dating them with the aid of a perpetual calendar and my computer's blessed SEARCH capacity. For the years around Moby-Dick, Augusta's correspondence book survived--a list of letters written and received, with dates and places. A treasure! I still spend many days inputting into the Log. Now I have hundreds of new documents mixed in, all in chronological order, and in the fullest form I can obtain. My unselective inputting of family letters allows me to identify many minor characters (I might come across a name three or four years after I first encounter it, and have no memory of it), and allows me to perform small miracles of dating. Often wholly unknown episodes emerge from the yoeman's work of dating letters and identifying correspondents or people alluded to (like which summer in the 1830s Melville spent at Pittsfield--something Melville's widow and every scholar had wondered about), and new information is now pushing me to redate dozens of documents from their places in the 1951 and 1969 Log. It's easy now to track which reviewers are plagiarizing earlier ones or to see who is accusing Melville of irreverence or to describe Melville's responses to the reviews and how they sometimes affected his next writings. The platonic and pragmatic Log now is whatever I have today in the computer, about three or four times its old length. Someday I may issue it in full in CD-ROM as well as in a condensed three or four volume printed version.

Here is why transcribing several hundred documents took me so many months. [Some members of the English department will recognize some of these transparences, but they won't have heard the stories I tell.] This is 7 July 1863:
July 7 M meets Hoadley and his sister Kate at the depot in a village gone wild at the news from Gettysburg and Vicksburg:
Mr. & Mrs. Hitchin [?] were on the train going to Springfield.--We reached Pittsfield at 8h 10 ms P.M.--and found Herman & Malcolm at the dépôt, and Lizzie and the girls & Stannie, at the gate.--The village was all ablaze with bonfires, rockets were whizzing, streaming [?], flashing, exploding, and expiring in the air; roman candles popping, flashing and dying away in vanity;--Bengal lights lending the usual effect of their spectral light to trees and houses and the moving [Stan has "to the surging"] throng; bells were peeling from every steeple, groups of people on balconies were singing the Star Spangled banner,--and through all these outbursts of joy for deliverance and victory, we drove to the house--After tea, Kate went to bed, and Herman, Lizzie & I, accompanied by Fanny, with Mackie attendant, as skirmishers, sallied out to the Common, to see the spectacle, which was kept up with great spirit to a late hour--(Hoadley to Augusta, keeping his house in New Bedford, from Rochester, July 10)

In October of last year I finished the first draft of my narrative biography of Herman Melville--1400 book-sized pages. . . . Not a single episode remains told as Leon Howard had told it in 1951. New documents from every decade of Melville's life require that every episode be told anew, and differently--and require that many episodes be told for the first time, this late in our work on Melville. Now that I have redone Leon Howard's task and written a biography, or at least a draft of one, I can't imagine writing it if I had not acting as my own Leyda, gathering and transcribing documents, and I can't imagine doing it without a word processor. I'll say this here, in case some of you have to get back to work before I finish: even if you are a gifted, intuitive, resourceful researcher, you may not be able to write a graceful, powerful narrative; but if you do not do the research yourself you are simply not going to have a story worth telling.
As a graduate student in 1962 my heart's desire, already, was to be chic and trendy, but when I had to choose between a New Critical reading and archival research in New York, Albany, Pittsfield, and Boston, I chose research. The New Criticism was triumphant, but I loved doing what I was doing, loved trying to tell a story from letters and newspapers, loved finding that no one had touched the papers since the great Melvilleans of the 1940's. Sometimes when I asked for something it was promptly handed to me although it had been withheld from earlier scholars: the librarian (Victor Paltsits) who had restricted the London journal of Melville's brother Gansevoort had died years before, and no one had come asking during the last decade. I edited it for the NYPL. New documents had been deposited in the Berkshire Athenaeum in the 1950s, and were handed over to me, the first who asked to see them.

Through the 1960s and early 1970s, I made many trips to the NYPL Annex, where the newspapers were stored, and to the NYHS, finding and copying Melville reviews, among other things. Then in the 1970s while I was at USC I all but stopped doing archival research. I worked with Xeroxes or published facsimiles of manuscripts of important texts, doing a great deal of scholarly research without going to archives, except to the Bancroft Library for work on Mark Twain. I was pulling rabbits out of hats, and I knew that kind of sleight of hand had to end. I loved Los Angeles, but Jay Leyda was wanting my help on the Log, and I needed to be near the eastern libraries, so in 1979 when I had a chance to work with my UCLA colleague Leo Lemay, I came to Delaware.

Most of my working hours for years has been taken up not by writing but by transcribing documents. That's dog's work, although intermittently exhilarating. Another sort of work has been sheer drudgery, unmitigated self-sacrifice: I mean following Melville's footsteps in Albany, Troy, Lansingburgh, Glens Falls, Schenectady, London, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Liverpool, Chester, Paris, Cologne, Coblenz, Rome, Florence, Como, and even Venice, where it's hard to follow footsteps. Liverpool was the roughest, but I guess I've said the same about them all. At least I have not gone to libraries all over the world the way Brian Boyd had to do for his biography of Nabokov: except for a few items in the Mitchell Library in Sydney, the Melville family papers are in a limited number of archives in England and the United States, mainly the New York Public Library, the Berkshire Athenaeum, the Massachusetts Historical Society, and the Houghton Library at Harvard. Only a few family papers are scattered. (Some letters from Cousin Guert Gansevoort to Samuel Francis Du Pont are as close as Hagley.) (Before the Log is done I'll go to Colindale. [As I did in January 1997.])
Now, I have also gone to see little old ladies and big old ladies--and they have brought out treasures. When I already had in my computer the 1872 Tiffany's bill for four gold memorial lockets, it was nice to hold one of the lockets, still containing the carte de visite portrait and the lock of hair of the deceased. Melville shows Pierre at puberty reading his father's copy The Faerie Queene and becoming excited in a way that confuses the aesthetic and the sexual, so it's nice to have someone bring down from the attic Melville's father's eight in four set of Spenser, heavily annotated by Melville, which no Melville scholar had ever seen. I'm shy, and mainly I go to libraries.

I have gone annually to the Berkshire Athenaeum in Pittsfield, Mass., and have worked repeatedly at the Mass Historical Society, the Boston Public Library, the Houghton, NYPL, NYHS, the Nantucket Athenaeum and the Nantucket Historical Association, Philadelphia libraries, and the Library of Congress, as well as Morris. Several years ago I made a serious donation to the Berkshire Athenaeum to pay for microfilming its Melville papers. I still don't have a copy of the microfilm, but preparing documents for filming made the staff more familiar with what they had, and made unknown documents available. For five years, up to last year, I carried a sixteen pound laptop computer and transcribed directly into it. Because I am frailer now, the department is saving to get me a three pound model before I make my next serious trip. Often I travel with specific lists--two dozen manuscript readings to check at the NYPL or the Houghton, thirty specific dates of newspapers to check at the Boston Public Library. Or I go to Pittsfield to find what June in the 1830s a minister named Ballard got married, so I can date a letter. I have spent weeks in Delaware reading microfilm of the Shaw Papers from the Mass Historical Society--listing points I have to check from the original. Almost every week I do a great deal of promiscuous newspaper reading on the microfilm machine, most of it from Inter Library Loan. This year my research assistant has begun making Inter Library Loan orders from OCLC, without filling out forms in the ILL office itself--a great convenience. My life would be easier if Morris had eight daily newspapers from Boston for the nineteenth century instead of none and eight or ten from New York City instead of three or four. Linda Stein with a mere $250,000 could make me blissfully happy downstairs, if we could keep the machines in repair. At the Public Library in Liverpool things were worse: there were six microfilm readers and only one crank, and a bully had it and was brooding over ancient horseracing results, so I had to turn through the 1839 Mercury using a finger. Morris is already particularly good on European exploration of the Pacific, some of you know very well; many people saw the recent exhibit. This year I could use help finding clear detailed historical maps, decade by decade, of American cities, especially Boston and New York.

I spend a lot of time searching for papers that are not supposed to exist at all.Some day I hope to find more of the New York Daily News in the mid 1850s than any library now reports. One of the people writing for it was Thomas Powell, an English con-man, an acquaintance of Melville, a thief, a perjurer, a literary critic, who created a scandal by attacking both Irving and Dickens in 1849, after he came to New York. He knew Dickens and Browning in England, and there's unknown Browning stuff in the issues I have seen, as well as unknown Melville stuff. [THE POWELL PAPERS is in proof from Northwestern early in 2011.]
Here is one story I learned from a paper that was supposed not to exist. In 1987 in the Boston Public Library, in a Lowell, Mass. paper which I was searching for a review of Moby-Dick, I came across a description of the Hawthorne cottage at Stockbridge Bowl, written from Lenox in December 1851 by a special correspondent to a Vermont paper, from which the Lowell paper had reprinted it. I longed for the Vermont paper, for when you have one letter you may have two more or twenty more, or even hundreds. I want to do a book someday on these pre wire-service special correspondents--for I believe their writings may constitute the single most important still almost unexplored source for information about American history and culture. The Library of Congress told me the Vermont paper did not exist, but over the next years I got several people to look for it, and in 1992 I received from a Richard Winslow, a librarian in New Hampshire, a Xerox of the description of the cottage, from the Vermont paper, along with Xeroxes of several other letters from the same correspondent.

One letter was dated from Lenox 10 January 1852 and published in the Vermont paper on 16 January 1852. After recording the complaints that people in Pittsfield were making about Melville's exclusiveness and the complaints of Lenox people about Hawthorne's reclusiveness, the writer informed his readers back home that the two celebrities had recently gotten acquainted in a most peculiar way:
Not very long ago, the author of the "Scarlet Letter" and the author of "Typee," having, in some unaccountable way, gotten a mutual desire to see one another, as if neither had a home to which he could invite the other, made arrangements in a very formal manner to dine together at a hotel in this village. What a solemn time they must have had, those mighty conjurors in the domain of the imagination, all alone in the dining-room of the hotel! In the small talk of the flippant beaux and light-headed belles of Berkshire, the solemn attempt of two of the greatest characters of which the county could boast, towards an acquaintance, was made a subject of infinite merriment.

Now, there's a great deal to say about this, more than I can say now. I have to explain that men did not, in Lenox, do lunch: you ate at the hotel if you were staying at the hotel. The celebrity hounds who peeked into the dining room did not know that Melville and Hawthorne knew each other, and assumed that they were witnessing a grotesque occasion--the day in which two of the most idiosyncratic and private men in the area made a public, solemn, and awkward attempt at establishing an acquaintance. Beyond that, what was hilarious was that Melville, the first American literary sex symbol (because of all the nudity and sexual suggestiveness of Typee) had his legs under the same table as the author of the romance about Puritan sin and punishment: what a strange pair!

This meeting happened before 21 November, when the Hawthornes quietly left Lenox. American literature
scholars have known for many years about the meeting of Hawthorne and Melville in August 1850, the year before, and their friendship. From the new papers in the NYPL we know of a new meeting at the Sedgwicks' house in Lenox at a party in the first week of November. The obvious topics for them to talk about were the fact that the Hawthornes were about to move and that Moby-Dick was still not quite out. In July Hawthorne had written a compliment into his Wonder Book for Boys and Girls: "On the hither side of Pittsfield sits Herman Melville, shaping out the gigantic conception of his white whale, while the gigantic shape of Greylock looms upon him from his study window." Hawthorne received copies of the Wonder Book the week of the party, and on 7 November sent a copy to young Malcolm Melville, two years old. Hawthorne, not just Melville, was waiting for Moby-Dick to come out. At the party Melville must have expressed his concern about the timing--that Hawthorne might leave Lenox before he could give him a copy of Moby-Dick.

Moby-Dick was reviewed in Albany on 12 November, so Melville must have had at least one copy by the official publication date, November 14, a Friday. My guess is that around Friday November 14 Melville showed up at the cottage above Stockbridge Bowl and took Hawthorne off to the hotel, a little late, where he paid for his own publication party, to which he invited a solitary guest.
At the hotel there were onlookers aplenty, but no eavesdroppers to record their conversation. So I'll tell you what happened. At some well chosen moment Melville handed Hawthorne the bundle (wrapped up against the xxxxx [weather to come]) containing his autographed copy of Moby-Dick, the first presentation copy, and waited for Hawthorne to read the dedication: "IN TOKEN OF MY ADMIRATION FOR HIS GENIUS, THIS BOOK IS INSCRIBED TO NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE." Here, in the dining room, Hawthorne for the first time saw that extraordinary dedication--the first time a book had ever been dedicated to him. Never demonstrative, he must have been profoundly moved. The flippant beaux and the light-headed belles were witnessing a sacred occasion in American literary life as the men lingered at the table, drinking, soothed into ineffable socialities, obscured at times from view by their tobacco smoke. Take it all in all, it may have been the happiest day of Melville's life.

Now, we know Hawthorne had the book a couple ofdays before November 16, because he had read it and had written Melville about it by then, and it was probably November 16 that Melville was "handed" the letter from Hawthorne to which he replied on November 17. What shames me is that I never asked--no Melvillean ever asked--how Hawthorne got a copy of the book so soon.

Here is something that had been lying around for a hundred and twenty years. Through my pursuit of that English crook Thomas Powell, I picked up the modern scholarly edition of Irving's Life of Goldsmith and in a quotation from Pierre M. Irving's The Life and Letters of Washington Irving, (1864)) I recognized a phrase from Melville's anonymous 1850 essay on "Hawthorne and His Mosses." Morris has it, of course. There, ever since 1864, had been the evidence that Melville's reference to Irving had hurt the old man, so badly that years later Pierre was still putting the best face on things in his bland account in the biography. We don't use our imaginations: we bleed when someone prints something nasty about us, but Irving would have been superior to that sort of pain. People are people.

SUNNYSIDE Late August Back at Sunnyside from a week at Oyster Bay, Washington Irving has an "attack" (letter of 22 August) which he attempts to stave off with quinine; in his weakened state his nephew comes upon the Virginian's calculated dispraise of him as a "self-acknowledged imitator" of Goldsmith.
(It was some months after this [the attacks by Thomas Powell] that I mentioned to him an article I had been reading in a weekly periodical, in which the writer, evidently alluding to his [Irving's] preface in his biography of Goldsmith, styles him, in an invidious spirit, "a self-acknowledged imitator of that author." At the close of that preface, the reader may remember he addresses Goldsmith in the language of Dante's apostrophe to Virgil . . . He smiled; said he meant only to express his affectionate admiration of Goldsmith, but it would never do for an author to acknowledge anything. Was never conscious of an attempt to write after any model. No man of genius ever did. From his earliest attempts, everything fell naturally from him. His style, he believed, was as much his own as though Goldsmith had never written--as much his own as his voice.
This was not the language of self-eulogy, but of quiet self-vindication. He had never meant to warrant such perversion of his quotation, any more than Dante meant to confess himself an imitator of Virgil. There were undoubtedly qualities of style as well as mental and moral characteristics in which he resembled both Goldsmith and Addison, the two with whom he is most frequently compared, while in others it would be impossible to confound them.--

I know just how much Irving was hurt because I went to the surviving outline of Pierre Irving's biography, preserved in the Berg Collection at the NYPL, and found not only a comment on Melville's essay but a furious later marginal notation, "Using his words against him"--that was what hurt the most. There is more to the story, which has never been told: Irving was the godfather to the American edition of Typee then never spoke or wrote Herman Melville's name again, as far as I can tell, because of slurs he had heard against Melville's brother Gansevoort. The background to this is partly done by our own great John Munroe, in his biography of Louis McLane. And there's more: a story of Melville's need, while writing Moby-Dick, to repudiate the one older American writer who had profoundly influenced him (for some reason he had no anxiety of influence about Cooper).

Sometimes documents tell so much that we don't have to exercise much imagination to know the kind of previously unknown event that took place. You hear about laundry lists. Here is a shopping list, in a letter in the Augusta Melville papers, dated Troy, August 30, Monday, and addressed to Melville's mother, Maria G. Melville, in Lansingburgh, and signed "Cousin John."
TROY August 30 Heading his letter "Commercial," "Cousin John reports to Melville's mother, Maria Gansevoort Melville, in Lansingburgh, on the results of his scouting:
Pine apples are out of season; not one in market.
Smoked Salmon--none to be found to-day. One dealer, however, who receives a box once a week, will be able to afford a supply to-morrow morning at 15 @! the pound. Will await your further orders, before purchasing. Cocoa nut cakes, sugar plums & almonds, the "pair" selected on Saturday as a present, and 2 pounds Lemon powder, accompany this, which with the two exceptions, "above referred to," completes your order thus far; and hoping you will receive them safely and in season, I remain, Very truly, Cousin John . . .
P.S. Will you be kind enough to say to Helen that those invitations were duly delivered, and the General promises to smile upon you to-morrow evening. He will be accompanied by a smaller planet. (That's me)
The NYPL did not know who Cousin John was or what to do with the letter. The perpetual calendar gives two years while Melville's mother was in Lansingburgh when August 30 was on a Monday. 1841 is just impossible: there was no money for a party.

1847 is the year. Herman Melville had married Elizabeth Shaw in Boston on August 4. The couple had gone to Canada for their honeymoon and arrived in Lansingburgh on August 27, a Friday, and Mamma had begun planning her party in their honor--the first party she had given since 1827--twenty years earlier. None of us ever had the basic human imagination to think of the Melville family as celebrating--as behaving the way families behave.

Long ago, looking for reviews of Pierre, I found an item in the September 7, 1852 New York Day Book:
A critical friend, who read Melville's last book, "Ambiguities," between two steamboat accidents, told us that it appeared to be composed of the ravings and reveries of a madman. We were somewhat startled at the remark; but still more at learning, a few days after, that Melville was really supposed to be deranged, and that his friends were taking measures to place him under treatment. We hope one of the earliest precautions will be to keep him stringently secluded from pen and ink. Well, Melville had not been locked up, but by his writings he now was bringing shame on his family, not honor.

Sometimes a very few new documents are enough to refute or confirm previous speculation. Leon Howard said that the story Melville had thought of writing about Agatha Hatch, who married a sailor she rescued
from a shipwreck, then endured lonely years after he abandoned her, was just too uncongenial for Melville to finish it, even if he started it late in 1852 or early in 1853. But Merton M. Sealts Jr was right in thinking that Melville may well have finished the story and even have offered it to the Harpers. Two letters from Cousin Priscilla to Augusta, in the Augusta Papers, mention the book by title and refer to the completion date as being on or very near the day Melville's daughter Bessie was born, 22 May 1853.

PITTSFIELD May 22? M completes The Isle of the Cross. (--the "Isle of the Cross" is almost a twin sister of the little one . . . --the advent of the two are singularly near together . . .--Priscilla Melvill to Augusta Melville, June 12, 1853)
CANANDAIGUA May 23 Awaiting the publication of a new work by M (his version of the Agatha Hatch story), Priscilla Melvill writes to her cousin Augusta Melville:
When will the "Isle of the Cross" make its appearance? I am constantly looking in the journals & magazines that come in my way, for notices of it.

Melville offered The Isle of the Cross to the Harpers in June, but was "prevented" (whatever that means) from publishing it, and still had it on hand in November 1853. But did Melville ever publish all or part of it? When did Melville destroy it, if he did? I don't know.

There's a new story for a biographer to tell of the winter and spring, but there is also a new challenge. Knowing that Melville actually completed The Isle of the Cross should alter the way anyone teaches "Bartleby," it seems to me, for, guided by the clues in his letters to Hawthorne in 1852, while he was trying to persuade his friend to write the story, we have to account for his improved technical skills by imagining what he learned in writing the lost novel.

The Isle of the Cross is a lost prose work, a work we never knew was lost. There is also a lost book of poetry that we have known about for a long time but that we have never treated as if it were real: Poems, 1860. Melville's voyage around Cape Horn on his brother Tom's ship in 1860 has been treated as undramatic, aimless--as a period of time, not an episode. In my biography, it's a story. Before he left, Melville enlisted his old friend Evert Duyckinck to arrange for a publisher of his volume of poems and
wrote out for his brother Allan a detailed set of Memoranda about the publication of the poems. Melville and his wife had kept his poetry writing a profound secret between the two of them for a long time, and now she was so familiar with every detail of the book that she could answer any questions Allan or Duyckinck might have. When Melville sailed he had every reason to think that Poems, by Herman Melville, which we know was a collection of short poems, although we don't know what they were, would be published in New York City a few weeks after he left. I realized only last year that the timing was such that he expected a copy to be waiting for him when he reached San Francisco, sent by Panama.

We know some of the books Melville read in the Pacific on the voyage north toward San Francisco, because he marked them "C.H.2"--second voyage around the cape, into the Pacific--and often marked them with latitude and longitude. Several of the books had been known for a long time, and most are at the NYPL or the Houghton. Several important ones were not known until the last decade or so, and there is no guarantee that they will go to a library. Every time a new book from Melville's library is advertised for auction, I get aboard a train to New York and take notes: It's look when you can, or lose out, much of the time. If I have time, I acquire a copy of the right edition before going up. Among the books Melville carried to the Pacific in 1860 were Chapman's Homer, his Wordsworth (identified in the library at Georgetown in the late 70s), his Milton (found in the early 80s and locked up for years before being reauctioned, when I got the full notes, and acquired by Princeton), Dante (in the hands of a collector--one who sends me manuscripts and such books UPS), and one I just found, Melville's father's set of Spenser (which the owner had in an attic and which I got the owner to put in a safe deposit box and tell the children about it). Melville had used a fairly rigorous selection policy--bringing with him on shipboard many long poems in the English language or translation. At first I did not know what to make of an annotation in the Milton about "J. Q. A." and epic poetry, but the NUC gave the information. Melville had read, with some contempt, the former President's Dermot MacMorrogh, or, The Conquest of Ireland: an historical tale of the 12th century: in four cantos (Boston: Carter & Hendee, 1832)--not a book in Sealts's Melville's Reading, but a book I was grateful to find at Morris. Melville was reading or had been reading heroic poems by Americans, and thinking about rivalling them.

The marginalia shows that Melville's imagination became fired up the nearer he got to San Francisco, as in his marking passages in the introduction to the Homer having to do with the capacity of the English language, "the subtile influence of poetry upon the rising spirits of the age." Far from remaining in his state of alienation from the contemporary world after the failure of The Confidence-Man in 1857, Melville by now was thinking of how, through poetry, he might arouse "a finer order of human beings," at least among the English-reading world. The time to work on an American epic was after he had published his Minor Poems. In San Francisco he would pick up his copy of Poems by Herman Melville, and sail across the Pacific to Calcutta, all the while working on a heroic long poem of his own.

But when they reached San Francisco there was no copy of Poems waiting for him--only news that the volume had been rejected by at least two publishers. The newspapers suggested that someone invite the author to lecture. If Poems had been waiting for him, elegantly printed by Scribner's, would he willingly have talked about monumental poems in the English language and their power to energize a sluggish populace? Melville gave no lectures in San Francisco, but went back home on the next steamer, by Panama, crushed by another failure to publish a book. By 1860 he may have destroyed The Isle of the Cross, and he may have destroyed Poems when he got home, though some of them may survive. If you write poems that no one will publish you are a poetaster, not a poet. It was as a shamed poetaster that Melville reached New York in November 1860, not as a man engaged on an American epic that might arouse a finer order of human beings, and not until the Civil War had occurred, and probably not until 1870, did he respond again to the epic impulse. But he had been prepared, before he reached San Francisco, to move beyond his minor poems to an epic poem.

In the 1980s there came on the market Melville's five-volume set of Vasari's Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, which he purchased in 1862. In the first volume of the set of Vasari Melville made notes on greatness:
Attain the highest result.--
A quality of Grasp.--
The habitual choice of noble subjects.--
The Expression.--Get in as much as you can.--
Finish is completeness, fulness, not polish.--
Greatness is a matter of scale,--
Clearness & firmness.--
The greatest number of the greatest ideas.--

The Sotheby's catalog described these notes as a prose poem, which may have enhanced the value of the Vasari by several thousand dollars.

When I was drafting the 1862 section of the biography I laid out the books Melville had bought and read early in 1862 while he was living for a few months in New York City, before moving back there. Some of the 1862 marginalia was in books like the Vasari, discovered only recently, but much of it had been known for years. Walker Cowen had transcribed much of it, at the Houghton and the NYPL and other libraries, in Melville's Marginalia, and Walter E. Bezanson had printed Melville's marginalia in Arnold's Poems and had eloquently described Melville's intellectual argument with the Englishman. Melville cooperated: he would buy a book and read it, then buy another and read it. I discovered that Melville had been reading eminent authorities to find out something--to find out what they said about how to attain greatness in literature. For some reason (maybe the fact that he was not at home and did not have his usual supply of paper) he used the Vasari as note paper, for writing out an aesthetic credo derived from passages in several of the books he had been reading. Arnold was more important than even Bezanson knew, for it was reading Arnold which crystallized Melville's research and freed him to put together his credo. "Attain the highest result" is pure Arnold, and I can tie several of the other lines to other books Melville bought and read that spring. [Yet, as Scott Norsworthy subsequently found, the words that sound like purest Arnold are in fact John Ruskin’s, from Modern Painters.] The story is grimly ironic, for Melville was putting himself humbly to school to the British authorities, eleven years after he had published Moby-Dick.

Here are a couple more examples of what you can learn from newspapers. In 1988 I went to New Orleans as a spouse, just intending to check something at the Howard-Tilton Memorial Library at Tulane. Perry Miller in The Raven and the Whale had quoted a mention of Melville in an unnamed New Orleans paper in  1850, showing Melville as a frequent visitor to the famous Dr. J. W. Francis, on intimate terms with such men as Henry Tuckerman, the art historian. I was hoping to make a sweep of New Orleans papers, starting with the Picayune. The librarian told me the Picayune was available on microfilm (it is--almost wholly unreadable) and that the paper copy was too precious for anyone from the North to see. I could have identified myself as a longtime resident of Calcasieu Parish, but I'm docile as well as shy. I just went to the card catalogue and saw an exciting title--the New Orleans Commercial Bulletin. I get excited easily, maybe--but I knew the New York Commercial Advertiser had a terrific literary column. They hauled out the Commercial Bulletin in hard copy, all Scotch-taped up. I found right away that the Commercial Bulletin had a weekly letter from New York, nothing surprising, except that this one was written by someone--God bless us!--who knew Melville's friends Evert Duyckinck and Cornelius Mathews, someone who--turn a few more crackling pages--was a wild partisan of Melville's, and--turn some more pages--someone who knew Melville personally and casually purveyed private information about him. Two foot long strips of Scotch tape fell around my feet and rustled like rattlesnakes for the next three days, unswept. (I was swept out early, one afternoon, when booze was wheeled in on a wooden book cart so rare book and manuscript librarians could party there.)

I later identified the writer as Oakey Hall, a young lawyer, who became very famous as District Attorney then Mayor of New York City. He was brought down during the Tweed Ring scandals, but he may have been innocent. He was a remarkable man, even as a youth, and he had inside dope. In 1850, he casually mentioned that Melville wrote White-Jacket in "a score of sittings." We know that Melville wrote the book within two months, July and August 1849, and if you think about it, he might have taken his dozen major source books and lined them up one day, then the second day decided which ones he would plunder, and how, and then on the third day might have written like hell. If he repeated that process every three days, he may indeed have written the book in nineteen or twenty or twenty-one sittings, spaced over two months. If that had not been the word in Melville's circle, Hall would not have mentioned it. If I had been from Duke instead of Delaware, I might have been given the Picayune, and might never have known about these several years' worth of weekly letters, the source of dozens of tiny but illuminating revelations--crosslights, as Melville says.

Now, this turns into a shaggy dog story, or a one-damn-thing-leads-to-another story--which is pretty much what happens in archival research: everything good comes as a lopsided hunk of yarn with not two loose ends but many loose ends sticking out at odd places. Last year I reread Perry Miller carefully enough to see that he had probably just stolen the quotation from an 1850s or an 1860s book, and I found the book in microfilm, here in Morris, with the quotation and a lot more of it, although with the New Orleans source still unidentified. The one who used the quotation was Henry Tuckerman himself, which meant that he had saved a clipping about his early intimacy with Melville for a decade and a half before using it. Once I focused on what that meant, I was able to redate some of their meetings in the Log and show Tuckerman as someone who went out of his way to stay in touch with Melville during some of his loneliest years. If Bill Homer will just show me Tuckerman's diaries I can go forward with confidence. And the new evidence about Melville's early New York friendships led to my redating and re-emphasizing my treatment of some of his unpublished poetry dealing with artists who converse and drink together at the Burgundy Club. In his loneliness, he invented imaginary playmates to replace his early convivial friends: we had never made that connection. What else will I find in the process of tracking down this New Orleans quotation? Ah! In a biography of Oakey Hall I found that he was simultaneously sending weekly letters, different letters, to a Savannah paper. I hired someone to look in a library in Savannah, and I have read some Savannah papers through ILL microfilm, but Sherman, burned his way from Atlanta to the sea, specializing in newspapers, may he burn in Hell. [Later I went to Savannah but found nothing.] I may never read Hall's other letters. I'm sure, of course, that the reason the Commercial Bulletin is silent about Melville's meeting with Hawthorne in the Berkshires (though Hall's friends Duyckinck and Mathews were there) is that Hall wrote it up for Savannah and forgot to send it to New Orleans.

And more. The NYPL keeps auction catalogs, including the one for the sale of Oakey Hall's library on 17 January 1881. In those days when you were disgraced you did not always profit from it. I made a trip to see the catalog. Hall had owned wonderful things. Even then, the cataloguer knew how rare some things were: "Here are the original volumes of Greeley's first newspaper, 'The New Yorker'--germ of the 'Tribune'; the first volume of the 'Herald,' an early volume of the 'Sun,' and volumes of spasmodic journalism not readily to be duplicated. The 'Arcturus' Magazine, Duyckinck's 'Literary World' in full, . . . 'Yankee Doodle,' the 'Figaro' that preceded 'Punch.'" This New York Figaro! I would give my soul for. It contained, I know, articles on Melville and others of the Duyckinck circle by that English forger, Thomas Powell. It's lost, except for the 1850 issues (where the essay on Melville survives)--in the Library of Congress, Harvard, the Newberry, and the NYPL; there are a few early 1851 issues in the NYPL, in Duyckinck's own copy, and a few more stray 1851 issues in the NYHS. I've gone to each library, out of hope that they had more than the catalog said. It's so frustrating: an article on Duyckinck is announced in the issue before the 1851 Duyckinck file at NYPL ceases. Anyhow, the Hall auction catalog lists two Melvilles, Moby-Dick in the original binding, and Pierre, which Hall almost alone adored when it came out, and which he had had rebound in half calf, the way he had rebound Charlotte Bronte's Shirley. What a man!

On Herman Melville's return from the Pacific in 1844 I have much new hard evidence and some guesses. This is in three parts, and if I am short on time I can do one or none. Melville arrived at the Charlestown Navy Yard on 3 October 1844, but he was not discharged from the frigate United States until 14 October. The day before, on Sunday 13 October, Herman finally wrote a letter--not to his mother in Lansingburgh, New York, but to his brother Allan in New York, and he wrote to Allan rather than Gansevoort because (this is fact) he knew from the papers that Gansevoort was still on a great stumping speaking tour for the Democrats, in the West. Even then Herman did not mail the letter promptly, but waited till the 16th. Allan's four-page response, written on the 17th, a wonderful welcome-home letter, has been known only since 1990. Allan assumed Herman would need to be rigged out in shore clothing, and offered to help with the transformation, in Manhattan. Herman had made it clear that he had not written to anyone at Lansingburgh: he wanted to surprise Mamma. And he counted on going to New York City before going home.
The question is why a young man possessed by a demon of restlessness, his mother said, who had been away from his family for almost four years, did not leave for New York the moment he was free. There are
three days or so in Boston unaccounted for. If you look at the earlier biographies, Melville arrives in Boston and is discharged and goes to Lansingburgh, not New York, and the name of Elizabeth Shaw does not occur in any discussion of Melville in Boston in October 1844. In the earlier biographies we have a dedication of Typee, Melville's first book, to Lemuel Shaw in 1846 without a justification, other than Shaw's old friendship for the family (before Herman's birth he had been engaged to one of Melville's aunts, who died young, and till his death he carried two letters from her in his wallet). The earlier biographers have Melville's marriage to Elizabeth Shaw in 1847--without a courtship and without an engagement. The Augusta Papers include some letters about the engagement.

My guess is that on 14 October 1844, at the very latest (earlier if he had shore leave), Herman found his way to his aunts, whom he had not seen for fifteen years. He had ways of finding them, though one was not in the directory and one had a married name he may not have known and one was in Dorchester. They had not corresponded with his mother during that time, but they had seen his sister Helen during her prolonged visits to Boston in his absence--for--this may have surprised the sailor--she had wintered twice with the Shaws, for months in 1841-1842, and again in 1843-1844. (Helen thought one of the aunts was supremely selfish, that another could not help being uncongenial, and that the nicest one had lost her social standing.) The natural thing would have been for the aunts to direct him tartly to inquire of his family at the home of the Chief Justice, Lemuel Shaw, since Elizabeth Shaw had been spending (they would have thought) half her time in Lansingburgh (two visits in 1842, one visit in 1843, at least, probably one in 1844) and was keeping up a regular correspondence with Helen (and probably Augusta as well), and besides, the Shaws heard regularly from Gansevoort, who in Herman's absence had become a favorite of the Shaws. This much is true: the one person in Boston who knew everything about Herman's mother and the rest of his family was Elizabeth Shaw.

Did he do the natural thing, and make his way to Mt Vernon Street. Like most of the Melvilles, he was handsome, and he was young--twenty-five. Just now darkly tanned, was he by all odds the most athletic young man she had ever seen in her house? He was probably rigged out as a sailor, still, and young Dana recalled how conscious sailors were that their rolling gait was erotic; Dana admitted that he affected it, at

times, after he got his shore legs. Did Herman make a sensational impression on Elizabeth Shaw? Had she come to share the fantasies of Helen and the whole Lansingburgh family about his adventures and what his return might be like?

Now, Elizabeth was so placed as to make an impression: she had the news he wanted to hear. No one else in all Boston knew what she knew about his family. Did she tell him about the minutiae of daily life in Lansingburgh and about his beloved Helen's visits to Boston? Did she tell him charming anecdotes--how she and Helen had met the young English sensation, Charles Dickens? or some deeply poignant stories--how even after the Somers tragedy of 1842, which Herman had heard about in the Pacific, Cousin Guert Gansevoort with a semblance of his old gaiety and gallantry had dispatched a longboat to carry her and Helen and the Judge to the Ohio? If you think about what she had to tell, and how it would have felt to have this exotic Herman listening with more avidity than any one had ever listened to her (never in her life had she possessed so much intimate information that another person so eagerly wanted to hear), then you can imagine that she responded powerfully to the evidences of her new power to compel an audience. By his attentiveness, did he made her feel, for the first time in her life, bewitching (a word she later used of herself in relation to him)?

In exchange, did Herman tell her some of his wondrous adventures, such as a version of his captivity among the cannibals on a Marquesan island? There is judicious testimony that he was a remarkable talker, once his lips were opened. Young Dana called him incomparable at dramatic storytelling. Was this like Desdemona and Othello: "She loved him for the dangers he had passed, And he loved her that she did pity them"?
Now, I guessed at this, except the fact of Lizzie’s special knowledge and the fact of his strange delay in Boston. But it accounts for their engagement in 1846 and (in some parts I cut out here) for Melville's dedicating Typee to Shaw. It gives a foreground to otherwise inexplicable events. Should I get Fabio to rewrite it for me? [I have rewritten it myself as a chapter in MELVILLE BIOGRAPHY: AN INSIDE NARRATIVE, where the massively detailed mustering of evidence removes my last doubt that Melville made his way to 49 Mount Vernon Street in October 1844.]

Herman and Allan were reunited late Saturday the 19th or early Sunday the 20th. Herman's return was overshadowed in two ways. The Millerites just thenwere camped out on hilltops waiting for someone else to return--Jesus--to Pennsylvania or New York, most likely, and the Melville family was waiting for the return of Gansevoort Melville, whom the Democratic papers were calling things like the "orator of the human race." (He would speak for 3 hours and men would shout, "Speak on, speak forever,"--just like in our seminars.)
I know from newspapers, family letters, and public letters (the 1844 James K. Polk correspondence was just published, and Morris has it) that Gansevoort had seen the family in Lansingburgh before speaking across the river at Waterford on the 19th, Saturday evening, and probably had spent part of Sunday with them before going to Albany on the 21st. Herman took the cheap nightboat up on Monday 21 October, reaching Albany Tuesday morning. Early on 22 October Gansevoort and Herman just missed each other--indeed, their ships may have passed, for Gansevoort probably took a boat down part way, getting off to see former President Van Buren at Lindenwald.

Here is a note from Allan to his mother on a Monday evening, 21 October: "Herman has arrived & you may expect him every hour after tomorrow. In great haste . . . ." There survives another note, in very similar handwriting, saying "Herman has arrived & you may expect him every moment." Jay Leyda thought Cousin Guert Gansevoort might have written this one from the Navy Yard at Charlestown, but it is not in Guert's handwriting. We did not have much basis for comparison until 1983, when the NYPL acquired several pages of the Typee holograph manuscript, written in 1845, part of Augusta's papers. To make this sheet I Xeroxed several different MS pages and cut off strips and taped them together and re-Xeroxed. Do you see why I think that Herman himself wrote the unsigned note? In Lansingburgh Herman managed to slip Allan's note to Tom or one or more of the girls, then, after Maria had calmed down a bit, one of the siblings, by prearrangement, handed her Herman's own note. Herman was boyish still--mature enough to want to have his mother forewarned about an emotional situation so she would not suffer too great a shock, but boyish enough to want to jump sideways into the doorframe and say something like, "Mamma, I'm home" (a great chance to use the two words he later claimed to have taught Fayaway). Wasn't that just like Herman, away four years and still a great tease, as Gansevoort had complained in 1824.

In Lansingburgh Herman heard again the history of the last four years. Having seen everyone, and talked to everyone, he would have become restless fast. He had a great excuse for leaving his mother and going back to New York City: he had not yet seen Gansevoort. That I have established. After his wanderings in the Pacific, did he want, this once, to be in the center of the action, almost a part of history? Gansevoort had shown Maria and the girls a wonderful silk banner the Democratic ladies of Nashville has sewn for him, but he had taken it to Manhattan. (I know he had it there, from an article in the Herald on 30 October.) On Friday 1 November, Bryant's Evening Post published a call for a mass meeting signed by Gansevoort Melville and A. Melville--a grand "Torchlight Procession" for that night, a torchlight procession of twenty thousand men, who, said a friend of theirs, poured "like a vast river of flame through the streets of a great city--broad streets which stretch away for miles in straight lines--with abundant music and the shouts of an excited multitude, enthusiastic, yet orderly in its enthusiasm, is a grand spectacle." The papers describe dozens of banners, though not Gansevoort's, which on one side was emblazoned an eagle with a scroll, on which is inscribed--"The Home of the Hickories--to the Empire State: to Gansevoort Melville--from the Ladies of Tennessee." On the reverse were the "Stars and Stripes" and the "Lone Star" of Texas.
Last month I decided there was no way Gansevoort could have stopped making speeches after he got home from his speaking tour, so I went downstairs, and from our three papers at Morris I found, in the Herald, a full account of a speech Gansevoort gave in Newark the night after the torchlight procession, November 2, the Saturday before the great Tuesday election. There Gansevoort praised the manly virtues of the West, where he had seen barefooted men sitting at a table at Polk's house and at Jackson's house, valued for their character and not disparaged for their dress. Gansevoort testified to the courage of the failing warrior, Andrew Jackson--for Gansevoort had slept at the Hermitage--an astonishing honor. Gansevoort exalted his audience with a patriotic vision of the manner in which the old Hero would die, when the time came:
When Andrew Jackson dies, he will not drivel his path to the grave like a slobbering dotard, as the whig press falsely call him; but when HE dies--when the great soul within shall have utterly consumed its outer tenement of clay--why, then, a MAN will die! And our children, and children's children, will go up to that corner of the little garden at the Hermitage, where his wife now lies--and by whose side he will sleep in death--and that will forever be to us and our descendants, next to Mount Vernon, the holiest and most sacred spot on American soil.
This created a sensation: "(Great manifestation of feeling amongst the audience").
Imagine how the sailor would have responded to such a torchlight procession in New York and such a wild political rally in Newark.

Six years and some months later, did Herman recall Gansevoort and that magnificent night in Newark when he wrote his first "Knights and Squires" chapter for Moby-Dick? This chapter is meant to justify Melville in advance if he were later to "ascribe high qualities" to "meanest mariners, and renegades and castaways"--that is, to ennoble American whalemen to the stature of tragic heroes. If he were to do that, "all mortal critics" might denounce him (as in fact a reviewer had denounced him for just that kind of democratic idealism in White-Jacket), so his aesthetic justification could come only from the "Spirit of Equality":
Bear me out in it, thou great democratic God! who didst not refuse to the swart convict, Bunyan, the pale, poetic pearl; Thou who didst clothe with doubly hammered leaves of finest gold, the stumped and paupered arm of old Cervantes; Thou who didst pick up Andrew Jackson from the pebbles; who didst hurl him upon a warhorse; who didst thunder him higher than throne! Thou who, in all Thy mighty earthly marchings, ever cullest Thy selectest champions from the kingly commons; bear me out in it, O God!
This exalted passage is infused with disparate provocations--anger at one particular anti-democratic reviewer; inspiration from theorists who had called for an American Shakespeare; ecstasy at his own knowledge of the grandeur of his achievement in his manuscript. But far behind it may be the "mighty earthly marchings" in Manhattan on 1 November 1844, the torchlight parade. Behind it may be the example of Gansevoort's forging a high rhetorical style with mass appeal (one in which he could celebrate the barefoot men in linsey-woolsey garments at Polk's table and at Jackson's table, and all but deify the man of the Hermitage as the American  of all Americans most capable of reluming "the fires of democratic impulses" in others). Behind it and infusing this magnificent passage in Moby-Dick may have been the bewildering, uplifting, almost supernaturally exciting nights before the election of 1844. All I need is one newspaper that says, "The great orator was accompanied by his young brother Allan, a rising lawyer, and another brother just back from the Pacific."

Most of my research is deliberate and purposeful. I find something because I know to put out my hand for it, like the Herald account of Gansevoort's speech. But I don't get to the libraries enough, and whenever I do go, part of what I find is unexpected. "HERMAN MELVILLE CRAZY" was astounding, but I would not have had time to look at the Day Book if they had brought me the Dispatch promptly, my 1968 notes show. Four years ago I was in the NYPL going through the Duyckinck Papers to correct and to fill out the letters Leyda had quoted in the 1951 Log. Sometimes I just know by the sense that something is wrong, as when the 1951 Log says Melville in the late 50s was "as robust as Evert"--a frail little guy: it's "as robust as Ever," but you have to verify it. A box contained several folders that I wanted, but it also contained a folder labelled: "Undated letters from unknown correspondents." Time is always money in New York City, but "Undated letters from unknown correspondents" was like saying "Ben & Jerry's Heath Bar Crunch!" The third or fourth item in this folder was a letter from RM, it looked like, or KM. It was HM, returning a book or books which he recommended: "It is the last leaf out of the Omnium Gatherum of miscellaneous opinion touching the indeterminate Ethics of our time. With which Johnsonian sentence, I conclude." There is no substitute for going to the archives and sitting in the chairs in the reading rooms, day after day. Then of course you still have to know, by experience, almost by instinct, when to put out your hand, and in what direction. But never once have I put out my hand in a library without finding some valuable document--not the one I thought I wanted, maybe, but ultimately just what I would have wanted, if I had only known.

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