Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Footsteps Theory of Biography

The Footsteps Theory of Biography
This is the draft of a chapter for MELVILLE BIOGRAPHY: AN INSIDE NARRATIVE, to be published by Northwestern University Press. I post this piece with the approval of Henry L. Carrigan of NU Press in the hope that it will elicit helpful commentary from other biographers, particularly those associated with THE BIOGRAPHER'S CRAFT. I am re-posting it in February so it will be easy to find.

The Footsteps Theory of Biography

Paul Murray Kendall in The Art of Biography (1965) emphasizes that the modern biographer needs to be "acutely conscious of the importance of locale." Kendall is sure that the "physical ambiences" of "the subject's habitat" can "enable the life-writer to tighten his grip on character, even to solve enigmas of behavior, mysterious responses to experience." The biographer steeped in the subject's locales tells a better life but also develops "the life-relationship"--the unique if "indefinable" relationship between the biographer and the subject:
The biographer opens himself to all that places and things will tell him, in his struggle to visualize, and to sense, his man in being. ¶Deepest of all, the particular kind of biographer of whom I am speaking, cherishes, I believe, a conviction--call it a romantic quirk, if you will--that where the subject has trod he must tread, what the subject has seen he must see, because he thus achieves an indefinable but unmistakable kinship with his man. The winning of this kinship, more than anything else he can do, helps to annihilate the centuries, the spaces, the deceptions of change, the opacity of death.
Calling Kendall's book his "favorite work about biography," Frank E. Vandiver [1982, 1983 see in copyright page of Biog as High Adventure] endorses Kendall's insistence on going where the subject went, even to Louis XI's battlefield at Montlhéry, however much the terrain had changed in half a millennium. This notion of the "life-relationship" is enormously appealing because it exalts the biographer toward the level of the subject. What biographer would not want "to annihilate the centuries, the spaces, the deceptions of change, the opacity of death" and stand face to face with his subject, perhaps lending an elbow or a shoulder now and then?

Richard Holmes in the 1986 Footsteps: Adventures of a Romantic Biographer is a soul-brother to Kendall. Writing on Romantic and romantic literary figures, Holmes is himself a romantic fellow, not a hard-nosed postmodern biographer but a lover of writers, what they wrote, and where they wrote. The youthful Holmes with his grown man's pipe and his willingness to try any drink was endearing to the French, for there is nothing like sharing little pleasurable vices to foster intimacy. Of course he encountered folks who knew just whose ancestor stabled Robert Louis Stevenson's donkey! Holmes is so adept at teasing out the significances of places for him and for his nominal subjects such as Stevenson that one yearns to believe him when he describes his great early revelation:
Have I explained myself at all? It is the simplicity of the idea, the realisation, that I am after. It was important for me, because it was probably the first time that I caught an inkling of what a process (indeed an entire vocation) called "biography" really means. I had never thought about it before. "Biography" meant a book about someone's life. Only, for me, it was to become a kind of pursuit, a tracking of the physical trail of someone's path through the past, a following of footsteps. You would never catch them; no, you would never quite catch them. But maybe, if you were lucky, you might write about the pursuit of that fleeing figure in such a way as to bring it alive in the present.
This man is a Whitmanesque charmer: "Have I explained myself at all?" We surrender ourselves to his complex storytelling, becoming as interested in Holmes, for the moment, as in Stevenson. And we glorify ourselves as trackers of more than physical trails.

Even more staid biographers like me will admit that Richard Holmes's sort of direct involvement pays off. If he had worked on Melville the ineffable Holmes would have found a way to sail on the Charles W. Morgan for a week or two guided by the globe-navigating Melville scholar Mary Kay Bercaw, whom he, with his luck, would have found harbored, like the whaleship, at Mystic Seaport. He would have discovered a hectare in Tahiti absolutely untouched by Westerners since 1842, would have taken in all the smells of Peru, would have gnawed duff in the bowels of the Constitution and slept there in a hammock by special permission of the U. S. Navy and the National Park Service. And we would have loved him more for the sensual, tactile impressions he brought to us.

Holmes would never have suffered my discomfiture in 1988 when I wanted to see what Melville saw in Dupuytren's Museum in the School of Medicine in Paris. Even that year, as a man of middle age, and even if he had not spoken French, Holmes would not have been subjected to a thirty minute preliminary negotiation with Mme Thérèse. Non, this "Herman Melville" could not have seen nothing in 1849 because the museum was founded in 1936, hein! Melville, whoever he was, could not have seen the museum because it had not existed pas! I might if I were so minded--it was up to me--return to my hotel for Melville's journal, even printed in English, and return, and then it might be decided that I could enter into the museum, but if I did not return in fifty minutes--she used an unfamiliar expression which was not tant pis but some more brutal French vernacular word for "Tough!" And besides the journal I would have to have with me a guide who spoke English because I would not understand nothing merely by looking, and none was visible. To the hotel, on the right bank, seizing merely photocopies of the journal, all I had, not the tome itself, and back. Would the tome be demanded? Mme Thérèse nowhere visible. Isabelle, the speaker of anglais! Sweet Isabelle! Two-headed French Babies. French Babies joined at chest. French Babies joined at belly. French Cancers. Vats. French Tumors. Many big French Tumors. Vats. Heart of a French miser with a big franc stuck in aorta. Genitals & parts of genitals--nonfunctional parts of French genitals. Vats of formaldehyde. Away, flushed with victory, fifty francs well spent, in time to behold a modern marvel--French athletes in the Luxembourg Gardens smoking their Gauloises vigorously while moderately engaged in du jogging.

What good had it done me to see the two-headed French babies? In Mardi, written before his trips abroad in 1849 and 1856-57, Melville had described Hooloomooloo, the Isle of Cripples, and in White-Jacket (Ch. 61) had described the Parisian cast of the head of an elderly woman with "a hideous, crumpled horn, like that of a ram, downward growing out of the forehead." Melville knew, already, of the departments of Morbid Anatomy and the Anatomical Museums of Europe, and knew he wanted to see them, for his friend Duyckinck had been to Dupuytren's Museum of monstrosities. Melville was a man who would pay to look at the grotesque. So, I persisted until I saw the miser's heart, plugged up by a franc, just as I had persisted in the always closed Natural History Museum in Florence, where my wife with her UCLA Italian proclaimed the stature of her husband the professor and got us into the great room with large wax figures of pregnant women and men with bisected penises designed for students of anatomy to study and copy, and she chatted up the attendant while I peered at the dioramas of Naples in the time of the plague. Again, I asked, what good had it done me, since I knew already that Melville was interested in monstrosities? So much for the romance of scholarship? But against such skepticism is the late-century vignette Scott Norsworthy found about New York City during the cholera epidemic of July 1849--an "Old Fogy" who recollected venturing out and encountering Melville in company with Evert Duyckinck and Cornelius Mathews. For long Manhattan moments those four men were the only New Yorkers visible in the deserted streets. Also, Melville remembered being left in Albany in the time of the plague, 1832, when all the rest of the family fled to the safety of Pittsfield. He knew what it was to be in cities in the time of the plague.

No such romantic pilgrim as Holmes, I nevertheless did my best to follow Melville, visiting and revisiting places where his feet had trod and his horses' hooves had trod in the United States and even some his feet had trod in Europe. Almost always, I was reflecting, with lurking skepticism and a tinge of guilt, on just how valuable it really was to see what he saw, other than as a tax write-off. I went to Albany, Amsterdam, Chester, Coblenz, Cologne, Como, Edinburgh, Florence, Gansevoort, Glasgow, Glens Falls, Lansingburgh, Lenox, Liverpool, London, Nantucket, New Bedford, Paris, Pittsfield, Rome, San Francisco, Staten Island, Troy, and even Venice, where it's hard to follow footsteps. What I saw, sometimes, was pretty much what Melville saw, such as the cathedral he and Hawthorne went to in Chester. One room, the Tribuno at the Uffizi, seemed almost fixed in time, so many of the same paintings and sculptures were still there. In Florence, also, there were clear remnants of the old architecture so we could see that in Melville's time the now squared-off Donay would have looked exotic, a bit like a masonry caravanserie. Sometimes little or nothing was left. Liverpool in the 1980s was rough, left to decay with only the folly of a new "cathedral" to mock the impoverished scene. At least I got a sense of how high above the squalid dock area the once-elegant Adelphi stood, where Evert Duyckinck and then Lemuel Shaw Jr stayed, and saw how decrepit it had become. Not one historical postcard of Liverpool was for sale, but at least the Nelson statue was where Melville had seen it. After the Blitz the narrow London streets Melville had wandered through were gone. I had to reconstitute the village of Gansevoort in my mind from the directories and the family letters.

I went through Arrowhead many times, and slept one night there. I got no frisson from prowling spirits of the Melvilles but I got what any tourist could get--a realizing sense of the power of the sight, on a good hour, of Greylock to the north from Melville's study window. Still, in Mark Bostridge's collection Lives for Sale I knew just what Antonia Fraser meant: "I would never have understood the pattern of events following the murder of Riccio at Holyrood, had I not been able to go and investigate the layout of the palace myself." Very much in her spirit, I climbed into the attic of the Lansingburgh house because I was pretty sure some of the boys slept up there, low headroom or not. I climbed into the attic of Broadhall because I wanted to see how the house had been altered from the time that Melville described the spot where he was working on his whaling book in August 1850. I got into the Mount Vernon Street house by accosting the owner with a copy of the advance proofs of my first volume. I walked round and round the Gansevoort, New York, house and made a detailed floor plan of it on the basis of dozens of references in family letters, although I did not get inside. The ineffable Holmes would have hailed a child to summon a caretaker, have been admited, and been offered at least a cold collation and tea. I worried about the careless way one downstairs room was identified in a letter: "state" room or "slate" room? Finally, exercising one of the few powers of a biographer, I decreed that it would be the "slate" room; if a captain could "make it noon," I could "make it slate." (Only after this chapter was drafted did John Gretchko present me with a detailed floor plan of the Gansevoort house.) I also made a floor chart of the 26th Street house, based on a great range of evidence including Melville's granddaughter Frances's corrections in her copy of Mumford's biography then in the possession of Priscilla Ambrose. I identified with Melville's love of strong old elegant furniture and shared his distaste for new geegaws. It is no coincidence that my humbler but memento-filled study in Pennsylvania was photographed for the New York Times Magazine.

But how did all my charts of preserved or lost houses, including the Manor House of the Van Rensselaers (disassembled stone by stone) and Uncle Peter Gansevoort's house and the Governor's House at Sailors' Snug Harbor, help me? In an obvious way, I could contrast better the substantial unostentatious house where Elizabeth Shaw Melville grew up with what she experienced as a visitor at the Lansingburgh house while Melville was in the Pacific and at Arrowhead. Knowing that Melville had paid for the small, rundown Arrowhead exactly what the Morewoods paid for the mouldering grandeur of the Melvill estate (with much greater acreage) told me something about Melville's business sense. I knew that on a smaller scale than Broadhall Uncle Herman's Gansevoort house where Melville's mother spent her last years was furnished with fine strong colonial pieces as well as some imported furniture and that she reigned there in near-feudal splendor. I understood Melville daughter Frances's anger the better for knowing Melville as a collector and preserver of beautiful objects, however destructive he had been, at times, of his own writings and of letters that now would be worth good money to lucky descendants or other owners, such as the letter from Hawthorne in praise of Moby-Dick, or the manuscript of The Isle of the Cross. (Someone who reads this may know just where some treasures are stored.) Knowing the houses inside and out let me understand the human relationships better, guess responsibly at suppressed feelings, understand human weaknesses better. Truly, there was value in knowing where and how the family lived, even if I never in a mystical moment caught the scent of Melville's "segar" or heard the swish of colonial gowns when they were brought down from the attic at Gansevoort for airing and possible use in ceremonies in 1876.

Melville sought out high places for superb views and reminders of satanic temptation. I knew what it felt like to live beneath mountains. During the War, when Southerners were transported west to build ships, Mount Hood had dominated the terrain to the West on clear days. Photographs of Cavanough Mountain from my parents' eastern Oklahoma farm are hard to distinguish, sometimes, from photographs of the much higher Greylock. Some things I guessed at, as when I declared that Melville experienced the sense of Vermont shouldering up behind him while he was at Lansingburgh. I was going by what I would have felt, and what I knew of Gansevoort's fur-buying expeditions into Massachusetts and Vermont. Melville would have lifted up his eyes unto the hills, from whence his help just might come. This I absolutely knew because of a religious indoctrination similar to his.

Myself a lover of the Romantics, I seized the chance to wend my way down from the Baths of Caracalla to the Protestant Cemetery-- by a natural progression, Melville recorded. The comment might be elliptical to moderns since he did not mention Shelley, but it would have been obvious to any educated person in his time, who would have known that at the baths Melville, like any tourist, would thought of Shelley's composing parts of Prometheus Unbound there, would perhaps have remembered an engraving of the scene, and then naturally have made his way down outside the walls of Rome to stand beside the grave that purported to contain some ashes, at least, from Shelley's body. Did my trek help me? Well, as I worked my way down the torturous working-class streets from the baths of Caracalla to the Protestant Cemetery, following Melville following Shelley, I had time to reflect on Shelley's significance. The unexpected benefit was the perception that Melville, musing on Shelley, might have been blindsided by the proximity of the tomb of Keats's, little known in the United States in Melville's early life and still not as famous as Shelley. Perhaps much of the value in following the footsteps of writers lies in leaving yourself open to the indirect and unanticipated.

On the whole, I decided, it was much more important to follow Melville around the paintings and sculptures in the Tribuno in Florence than to look at Saint Mark's in Venice. Having coffee at Florian's was pleasant, but did it bring me closer to Melville? Only ironically, for a card on each of the outside tables listed notables who had sat there, Melville among them--Melville who had been an inconspicuous, almost broken man when he was there. The grander the monument the less of it Melville could have taken in, I suspected, but I never regretting peering a painting he had seen, or a piece of sculpture. Melville himself drew the connection between Italian paintings and English literature, noting in his Milton that the devils in Paradise Lost were influenced by the paintings the poet saw in Italy. I thought it was valuable to have touched the green drapery marble of the Jesuit Church in Venice that Melville had so admired and that the snobbish noncombatant Howells would soon scorn. Melville's appreciation of the marble showed me something I liked about his sense of aesthetics--something for which most of the evidence lay in his marginalia.

Was I able to fake what I did not see? Would readers of my biography hoot at how obvious it was that I never got to the Marquesas or Mar Saba? Did I describe Honolulu successfully on the basis of newspapers and histories and ships' logs, or has Hawaii so changed that a person born after it became a state would not know how close or how remote I was from an accurate description of what it felt like to have been there in 1843? Did I give a sense of the now lost Greek splendor of the buildings of the Sailors' Snug Harbor as you saw them from across the Bay in Manhattan? Did I convey the sense of what you would have encountered in the 1870s as you walked along the Hudson around the Battery and up the East River? What I learned in my researches was a revelation to me--sawmills on the Hudson; north of Coenties Slip bowsprits run in over street traffic so you could touch the figureheads; the ship-chandlery shops north of Market Street (halfway between the Battery and Corlears Hook). These last details I took thankfully from Charles H. Farnham's "A Day on the Docks" in the May 1879 Scribner's Magazine.

Perhaps following Melville was not as valuable as knowing what it was to live a nineteenth-century life. I survived one northern Oklahoma winter in a tent and lived for years without electricity and running water and some years with electricity but without running water. Therefore I knew what it meant when I belatedly discovered from an 1850 advertisement that the Fourth Avenue house Melville left in 1850 had water closets and hot water to the third floor, and I knew what it meant for Elizabeth Shaw Melville to go to Arrowhead, which had a kitchen pump and no water closet or hot water. I knew how to picture the scene Melville’s brother-in-law John Hoadley sketched in his 28 March 1854 letter to Augusta in which he envisions the "Arrowheads" in the evening (bereft of Maria and Fanny, who are with him in Lawrence):
I can see you now, your face, shaded by your hand,--glowing in the ruddy light, and full of changeful expression, as the flickering fire burns brighter or subsides;--changeful, yet continuous, like the notes of an Irish melody; while Lizzie looks up at intervals from her sewing or her book, to recall by a tone and look of love, the musing wanderer from his enchanted Isles."
I knew about reading by firelight and the light from a coal oil lamp, though not a whale-oil lamp.

I knew about modes of transportation. I had traveled in a wagon drawn by a team of horses I had harnessed up myself, and I had ridden horses I had saddled. I knew how to plough and build fences and milk cows. I had walked for hours at night on railroad tracks and dirt roads, so I knew what it meant for Melville to walk fifteen or twenty miles home to Lansingburgh from where he was teaching. I could imagine what it meant to Melville to have, in different decades, crossed the whole of Massachusetts in a stagecoach and then to have crossed the same parts of Massachusetts on a train. From talk about the early 1930s and from what I witnessed once in Hebronville, Texas, I knew what it meant to go out on foot looking for work, although I never did it myself. I had traveled thousands of miles in a Model T and thousands of miles on a troop train in 1942 and many thousands of miles on trains when I was deadheading as a railroad telegrapher in the early 1950s. I had a realizing sense of the weeks of travel Uncle Thomas and his family experienced in 1837, going from Pittsfield to Galena, Illinois. Better than most people I understood just what the change meant to Cousin Priscilla, a decade and a half later, when she boarded a train in Manhattan and went all the way to Chicago and beyond to Galena in a few days. Perhaps no other American biographer working in the 1990s had as instinctive a sense as I did of changes in modes of transportation in the 19th century.

The Melvillean Warner Berthoff, whom I never met, wrote me on 29 January 1997 that he was "a sucker for various topographical details." He had been amused, he said, "by a remark about the tedious journey from Pittsfield to Albany--tedious, of course, in the 1830s before the railroad came in, but also tedious, I can imagine, to a late 20th century researcher who had to travel it oftener than he liked." That was the response I wanted. I had, in fact, hitchhiked from Albany to Pittsfield on a hot August day in 1962 and remembered the repeated undulations of the topography and could imagine the difference between an early stagecoach ride across that stretch and, after Melville's return from the Pacific, the speed of transit on the railway cars. With Berthoff, at least, I succeeded in making use of my attempts to follow Melville's footsteps.

I was no good at ocean voyaging, but I paid attention to Melville and water within the continents. He knew waterfalls from his youth, Poesten Kill in Troy, a few miles south of the house his mother rented in Lansingburgh, and Cohoes Falls where the Mohawk enters the Hudson. He would have known Glens Falls early. We assume he knew the falls at Kaaterskill Clove, the scene of Asher B. Durand's painting of Cole and Bryant. He saw Niagara, and probably went to see the falls of Saint Anthony when he was in Galena. In Melville's first book in the descent into the interior of the island, his companion Toby is deterred neither by "Typees or Niagaras." Melville made repeated trips to Bash-Bish to see the divided waterfalls. In 1840 he may have seen the confluence of the Missouri and the Mississippi and the confluence of the Ohio and the Mississippi; later they were certainly vivid in his mind's eye. In 1849 he went to the confluence of the Moselle and the Rhine at Coblenz, the name of which, he knew, meant confluence. In 1856 he saw the confluence of the Clyde and the Leven below Dumbarton Castle. Why would he not seek out confluences of rivers, since from childhood he had walked on the Battery, seeing where the East River and the Hudson (or "North River") merged after they poured separately into the Bay.

To declare that Melville was interested in bodies of water, lakes, ponds, flowing water, waterfalls, and confluences of rivers, and oceans is to announce the obvious. But there was more. Melville was fascinated by, perhaps haunted by, feelings of being subterranean, in the orlop-deck, in vaults, in passages such as Belzoni wormed his way through, in depths below depths as in the Hotel de Cluny. He was particularly intrigued by waters that went subterranean and emerged far away. From Tuckerman, apparently, Melville learned the story of the Arethusa fountain which he told in Ch. 41 of Moby-Dick:
So that here, in the real living experience of living men, the prodigies related in old times of the inland Strella mountain in Portugal (near whose top there was said to be a lake in which the wrecks of ships floated up to the surface); and that still more wonderful story of the Arethusa fountain near Syracuse (whose waters were believed to have come from the Holy Land by an underground passage); these fabulous narrations are almost fully equalled by the realities of the whaleman.
The "pouring in of contributory streams (Pierre 283) fascinated Melville because he associated flowing water, on the surface or subterranean, with processes of the mind and particularly with the way literary influences work on a man engaged, as he was, in a lifelong course of self-education. Whole ships could float, intact, up to the surface of a lake? So could memories surge up, terrifyingly intact. Images from distant sources could suddenly, shockingly invade the conscious mind from the subconscious. In Pierre (107) Melville pledged: "I shall follow the endless, winding way,--the flowing river in the cave of man; careless whither I be led, reckless where I land." Rivers, particularly subterranean rivers, flowed like the streams of thought in the depths of the human mind. After a while, when I looked at waterfalls and confluences he had seen I began to see them as I thought he had seen them.

What's important for a biographer, I decided, is not visiting Niagara but understanding that Melville, born near where both the East River and the Hudson poured into the Bay, raised on a great river near spectacular confluences and waterfalls, thought of diverse literary influences as waves at work on him simultaneously: "Homer's old organ rolls its vast volumes under the light frothy wave-crests of Anacreon and Hafiz; and high over my ocean, sweet Shakespeare soars, like all the larks of the spring" (Mardi Ch. 119). There Melville concludes: "And as the great Mississippi musters his watery nations: Ohio, with all his leagued streams; Missouri, bringing down in torrents the clans from the highlands; Arkansas, his Tartar rivers from the plain;--so with all the past and present pouring in me, I roll down my billow from afar." Had Melville in 1849, weeks or months after his rapt encounter with Shakespeare, felt that Milton was flowing in over the currents of Shakespeare which were still flowing in his memory? Did Spenser, first read as soft pornography that stimulated him in early adolescence, flow in upon the current of Wordsworth about the time Melville finished Moby-Dick? In the spring of 1862, if he read Ruskin's Modern Painters then, did he think of Ruskin's words as flowing over sometimes identical words in the preface Arnold had written to his Poems?

Melville was particularly moved by complex literary influences such as I described (183) in Melville: The Making of the Poet, his meditation on Arnold's tribute to Wordsworth in Wordsworth's tribute to Collins' tribute to Thomson. He knew the two earlier poems in 1862 when he was caught by the first line of Arnold's "The Youth of Nature":
Rais'd are the dripping oars--
Silent the boat: the lake,
Lovely and soft as a dream,
Swims in the sheen of the moon.
The mountains stand at its head
Clear as the pure June night,
But the valleys are flooded with haze.
Rydal and Fairfield are there;
In the shadow Wordsworth lies dead.
So it is, so it will be for aye.
Nature is fresh as of old,
Is lovely: a mortal is dead.
Melville noted "And oft suspend the dashing oar / To bid his gentle spirit rest," and identified the words as coming from the poem by Collins on Thomson ("Ode on the Death of Thompson. The Scene on the Thames near Richmond"). Then Melville wrote "Then let us, as we float along / For him suspend the dashing oar." Here Melville identified these words as Wordsworth's on Collins ("Remembrance of Collins. Composed upon the Thames near Richmond"). Melville commented: "How beautifully appropriate therefor this reminiscent prelude of Arnold concerning Wordsworth." This vividly shows Melville's sensitivity to literary echoes which for him represent a literary continuity to be treasured. As it happens, I copied the lines from Arnold from my copy of the 1856 Ticknor and Fields Poems which John Greenleaf Whittier had owned and which Samuel T. Pickard had annotated: "Many pages uncut. I fear thee did not read thy book through, Friend John." Now, there's a slight frisson, in concluding this paragraph, one Kendall and Holmes might have enjoyed, and an added frisson in knowing, as we do now, that Whittier and Melville were cousins, through Melville's paternal grandmother, although probably neither man knew of the relationship.

I did what I could, but about biography as "a tracking of the physical trail of someone's path through the past" I am skeptical--indeed, almost an unbeliever. I was, in the 1990s, following emotional trails through family letters and Melville's prose and poetry, and most of them were harrowing and required bravery. When I was luckiest in absolutely capturing an episode, the episode usually was too painful to live with, it seemed. How many other biographers discovered one painful new episode after another in decades of their subjects' lives, with very little alleviation from new scenes of joy? Those discoveries awakened my sympathies for Melville the man. What I would have given, months on end, to have been following only physical trails, and cheerful physical trails at that, no matter how many blackflies swarmed on the slopes of Monument Mountain! Yet by looking at contributory streams, gazing at great confluences, I may have learned better to understand both Melville's sense of depth psychology and his sense of the gigantic power of literary influences, literal inflowings.

Kendall's "what the subject has seen" must be reinterpreted to include sculpture, paintings, and especially books and words in books. You see what "the subject has seen" very clearly in Melville's marginalia, where you see his direct response to what he has just read on the page. In the long run, I think my convalescent five-months 1956 sederunt with Shakespeare before reading Moby-Dick, then my having had a seminar on Milton in 1957, and having the next year read Spenser and then Wordsworth on my own, as he did, before beginning to write on Melville, is what annihilated the "deceptions of change" and the "opacity of death" in the matter of Melville and me. I have known some brave men. Paul Watson, the heroic captain, valiantly ate my sourdough blueberry pancakes here by the Pacific. My own fantasy of high adventure (sailing as a superannuated factotum with Watson against Japanese whale ships) pales against the real dangers I had confronted in following Melville's mental processes, discovering his greatest joys, sharing his high literary ambitions, discovering his greatest sorrows, understanding his financial misery, seeing him as a human being who always, always, ignored my sagest warnings that the footpaths he was taking were disastrous.

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