Thursday, February 3, 2011

Rough Draft of the Introduction to The New Melville Log

3-23 July 2010

Jay Leyda's two-volume The Melville Log: A Documentary Life of Herman Melville, 1819-1891 (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1951) was one of the great scholarly works of the mid 20th Century, the magnificent achievement of a film-maker and film-historian, an amateur Melvillean who at the outset simply wanted to make an accurate chronology of the writer's life for his teacher, Sergei Eisenstein. As he compiled his documents in the late 1940s Leyda was baffled by a few Melvilleans, notably Henry A. Murray, who hoarded their discoveries (sometimes for decades, while reveling in secret knowledge and hinting at eventual publication). He was befriended by Harrison Hayford, one of the group of Yale students who did dissertations on Melville under Stanley T. Williams in the 1940s. Hayford and some others of these young scholars, notably William H. Gilman, shared their finds as early as they could without great risk of jeopardizing their degrees (which depended upon incorporating unpublished evidence) and jobs. Leyda was challenged by impatient publishers who imposed their notions upon him, as in forbidding him to identify the location of a document right along with the quotation from it. Some correspondence about Leyda's often thwarted progress on the Log is quoted in Clare L. Spark's Hunting Captain Ahab: Psychological Warfare and the Melville Revival (Kent: Kent State University Press, 2001). In this Introduction I look at how the Log was received and used or not used. From documents I found in 1962 and afterwards, I supplied about half of the "Supplement" to the reissue of the Log (New York: Gordian Press, 1969) and saw it through the press for Leyda, who was working in the East German Filmarchiv. In Melville Biography: An Inside Narrative (Northwestern University Press, 2012) I devote a chapter to what happened after Leyda entrusted me to expand the Log again two years before his death in 1988. The full saga of Leyda's pursuit of documents and his attempts to enlist other searchers for Melville documents remains untold.

At the outset of his 1951 Introduction Leyda declared: "In the making of this book I have tried to hold to one main aim: to give each reader the opportunity to be his own biographer of Herman Melville, by providing him with the largest possible quantity of materials to build his own approach to this complex figure." Leyda was confident that he had allowed Leon Howard to become his own biographer of Melville by presenting him with the working Log and joining with Hayford in "browbeating" Howard into writing a narrative from the documents he had been handed, Herman Melville: A Biography (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1951). After a few months in 1988 spent transcribing documents into the enlarged The New Melville Log in my computer I became skeptical of what I began calling the "silver platter theory" of biography, in which one person gathers documents and expects another to transform them into a narrative. By the early 1990s I knew for sure that Leyda and Hayford had been wrong--even Howard, shrewd as he was, had failed to capture the essential Melville, as anyone would do, I decided, who had not, year after year, soiled his or her own hands in devoted labor in the archives.
Others believed as passionately in the silver platter theory as Leyda had. More than one critic eager to try his or her hand at biography badgered me to turn over my ongoing expansion of the Log. At the worst, a critic who had counted on my giving him my work stiffed his publisher for an enviably outsized advance after I refused. I had always rushed new documents into print, so I acknowledged to myself that I was self-serving in holding on to my transcriptions in the burgeoning The New Melville Log both for my own narrative biography and for ultimate printing in the Log, but I was more realistic than self-serving. I had learned that all that would be new and most valuable in my biography was emerging from my years of studying the original manuscripts during which I dated (or redated) documents, identified and then became familiar with people in those documents, and recovered episodes that had been only partially known and even wholly unknown.

Leyda's approach "forbade an emphasis on any part" of Melville's life "to the exclusion of any other part, and forbade the neglect of material that seemed, in itself, of small importance." Nevertheless, rather than being undiscriminating the 1951 edition was shaped by Leyda's special point of view. Few of the longer documents were reprinted in full, and Leyda made the cuts not only to shorten but also to play up some his particular interests, not to say preferences. Not being as fond of Melville's mother or his brother Gansevoort or his wife as I am, he could make three ellipsis dots satirical, and once or twice he saw what he expected to see in a letter rather than the actual word on the page. The Log in fact had to be highly selective not only because of the limits of space but simply because Leyda typically did the excerpting in uncomfortable, constraining circumstances. Living below the edge of poverty, staying in YMCAs or cadging rooms from acquaintances or their friends, he worked on the fly, unable to stay long enough in New York City to exhaust the archives in the New York Public Library, for instance. Similarly, Leyda was dependent on the courtesy of Melville's grandniece Agnes Morewood in Pittsfield as he took notes on the papers she laid out for him on a table. Unable to take time to copy out in longhand every paragraph of any long review of one of Melville's books, Leyda made on-the-spot decisions about what to copy. If he had had before him full texts of all the known reviews he would have excerpted differently, so as to acknowledge influences more sharply or to brand plagiarism or to highlight different themes as the most salient. If he had held photocopies of all sides of a correspondence represented by letters at Harvard, say, and others at the New York Public Library, he would surely have made different excerpts. As it was, his uncanny ability to seize on significant passages in a document and his phenomenal memory infused the pages with heartwrenching significance and seeming coherence.

The Melville Log was accepted as impressively monumental and useful for scholars but not of any obvious significance for literary critics. William Braswell in the May 1952 American Literature called the Log a notable achievement, but his wording was tepid: "The Melville that one becomes acquainted with in these pages will probably be rather different from the man he had in mind. Here, minus the legends, is the man as he acted, as he appeared, and, so far as the nonfictional documents reveal, as he thought. For one who likes his facts neat the book makes fascinating reading from beginning to end." More imaginative critics, of course, would not like their facts neat but embroidered, and would not find the Log fascinating. In American Quarterly 5 (Spring 1953) Carlos Baker was far from enthusiastic: "Being, perforce, a patchwork of snippets from family letters, ships' records, and other similar data, as well as autobiographical reminiscences culled from Melville's own writings, The Melville Log makes disappointing reading." So went other reviews, for The Melville Log was published just as the New Criticism (which saw biographical research as irrelevant to interpretation) was triumphing in one American university after another as the post-War generation of professors assumed power.

Over the long term, the most virulent and influential enemy of the Log was Charles Feidelson, ironically the man promoted by Yale to "replace" Stanley T. Williams, the director of that extraordinary series of factually-based Melville dissertations in the 1940s by Walter E. Bezanson, Merton M. Sealts, Harrison Hayford, William H. Gilman, Merrell R. Davis and others, studies which prepared Leyda's way. Paul Lauter has recorded the shock to students in 1953 when previous bibliographical, biographical, and historical class notes from Stanley T. Williams proved to be useless in the new order at Yale embodied by the new authority at the podium, Feidelson. An early convert to the New Criticism and a lifelong proselytizer for it, Feidelson dismissed the Log in the December 1951 Yale Review as wayward, a "mere accumulation of data," much of it "rather dreary stuff," and as a "welter of disconnected and often trivial data" irrelevant to literary criticism. Feidelson depicted Leyda, Leon Howard, and Gilman (author of the 1951 Melville's Early Life and REDBURN) as representing the "earth-bound" historical school of Melvilleans in contrast to "intuitional, or high-flying, school of Melville studies." Leyda was earth-bound when he included "even such items as the fact that on July 21, 1836, Melville's sisters received awards at the Albany Female Academy." This was the only "sort of truth" the Log offered. Unless "our interests are merely anecdotal," the welter of trivial data "would seem to demand an even greater exercise of imagination than any for which earlier biographers can be reproached." Feidelson knew for sure that in the new Yale and the new American university system any "exercise of imagination" upon such dreary data would be misplaced: "While earlier biographers made the error of treating their images as objective facts of Melville's life, the new school" (of Leyda and Howard, and of course of the pedestrian students of his predecessor at Yale) was "in danger of reducing Melville to the simplistic terms of an external chronicle." The hapless Leyda and Howard had tried to resolve "the Melville problem" by "an appeal to fact when what is needed is enriched speculative interpretation." How often during the more than third of a century until 1988 did Feidelson inveigh or rant against that compendium of dreary facts, The Melville Log? Year after year, when he came to Melville in his courses? It seemed so, to judge from the publications of his more notable students who continue to reveal their disdain for mere facts even into the new century.

Adequate praise came at last in a reconsideration in the Winter 1955 Hudson Review when George Barbarow dismissed an unnamed reviewer's contempt for the "'tag-ends and jots and tittles'" in the Log. [Does anyone know who this reviewer was?] For Barbarow, the "minutiae tend to reinforce the illusion of authenticity, upon which the book leans heavily for its effect, and to provide a continuing measure of contrast between Melville's imaginative flights and his routine business of living." Barbarow perceived that the Log proceeded "by contrasts, strikingly appropriate to its subject." He insisted: "The significance of any one piece of evidence is found in its difference from those before and those after; no detail is absolutely trivial, as the angry reviewer [the 'tag-ends' carper] implied, it is only more or less trivial than its fellows, or, to speak in a more favorable tone, more or less tremendous." Barbarow understood that Leyda had gone beyond what he promised in the Introduction:
Leyda's method imposes a task upon the reader: the valuation of particular pieces of evidence, taken in conjunction with others. It goes further than his announced intention (". . . to give each reader the opportunity to be his own biographer") and requires that reader to be a critic, not only of the Log, but also of the materials that go to make it up. Leyda does not summarize the evidence, he presents it, making changes mostly by elision. The primary rules of the method are, 1)--to reproduce the evidence by copying it, and 2)--to exclude any comment of his own. Given these rules, the only legitimate quarrel the reader might have would come from disagreement about the quantity and quality of the material that has been left out or cut out.
According to Barbarow's analysis, the Log worked by forcing the reader to attempt "to reconcile blanks and differences in the sources, so that what he finds, or thinks he finds, contributes mightily to the illusion of discovery, surely one of the most powerful factors in any kind of entertainment." Barbarow elaborated this theory of "blanks":
So far as the Log is concerned, blanks are important because there are so many blanks about Melville. Leyda does not attempt to fill the holes; in point of fact he increases them by cutting almost every document, substituting the conventional three dots for the parts left out. This deliberate cutting has at least one very important function besides keeping the size of the work within bounds: it holds the reader in a state of constant realization that not everything is here, that there are holes, gaps, and blanks, as there are in the original mass of material itself. The cutting tends to increase awareness of the extent of the material that has been lost, and it emphasizes what most biography blandly skips or smoothes over: the difficulty of being certain about a famous man who lived in another age.
As a brilliantly formulated response to the Log this ranks with that of Maurice Sendak, who confided to me that he had edited it all with an old-time moviola in his own mind. Sendak's experience suggests forcefully that Leyda's "cutting" needs to be seen in relation to his experiences in film editing. When Eisenstein entrusted him with the only complete copy of The Battleship Potemkin, Leyda of course preserved it intact, but, entrusted with the Log, I have not scrupled to recut many documents from the originals Leyda had worked with. I had to choose which parts to add from documents Leyda did not know about (and a few which he excluded), and therefore I had to recut the documents in the 1951 Log differently because many more connections and different sorts of connections are now visible.

Minutiae reinforce authenticity, as Barbarow said, but they do more, I found, when I worked with old documents freshly and worked with new Melville material, notably the trove discovered in 1983, a surviving remnant of the comprehensive archive of Melville's sister Augusta (known as "the Augusta Papers"). Merely by dating Stanton Garner's discovery of the firing of a clerk from a store in Galena, I made a dramatic story of Melville's arrival in the West where he expected to rise with the help of his uncle, Major Melvill. Merely by dating a grocery shopping list by "Cousin John," I discovered that Melville's mother had exuberantly thrown a great party to welcome him and his bride home from Canada. Merely by redating Melville's brother Tom's start at a diary on the Navigator, I discovered what precipitated Melville's decision to write Redburn and why writing that slight book propelled the unprepared Melville into exploration of psychological depths. I agreed with Leyda on the doctrine of inclusiveness because I learned that you never know what detail may prove to be of dazzling relevance. The devil was always in the details, but, Barbarow knew, so were the angels. Responsible high-flying imagination, responsible literary criticism, I found, always had to be built from data that included tag-ends and jots and tittles.

Though Leyda thought of the Log as an end in itself, the tool by which anyone could write his own biography of Melville, he also thought of it as a hunting tool. He was confident that the Log would send researchers back to the archives, but that did not happen in the 1950s. In 1962 I mailed my Melville books from Evanston, Illinois, to New York City, General Delivery, then, after paying a visit in Port Arthur, Texas, hitchhiked from there to Florida along the Gulf then north to Manhattan. Once there, I retrieved my books and carried my new set of The Melville Log to libraries, starting with the New York Public Library. There I began annotating it with passages Leyda had omitted, making small corrections, and copying into it full or partial texts of new documents Leyda had not seen or had not used. In trying to piece together a story about Melville and politics from letters and newspapers I exulted in finding that no one had touched the archives since the great Yale students and Leyda (and sometimes Wilson Heflin) had plowed through the files in the 1940's. Sometimes when I asked a librarian for something it was promptly handed to me although it had been withheld in whole or in part from Leyda and the Yale scholars. When I asked to see Gansevoort Melville's 1846 London journal at the New York Public Library I was told it was on hold. For whom was it held? The great librarian Victor Paltsits. He had been dead since 1952. Merrell R. Davis, who had been granted glimpses of the diary, and who with William H. Gilman had co-edited Melville's Letters in 1960, was himself already dead, in 1961. No one had come asking for Gansevoort's journal during the whole decade, 1952-1962. Yes, I could edit it for three issues of the Bulletin of the New York Public Library and yes, later on, it could be published and sold as a "separate," a little pamphlet.

I found easy access to materials everywhere. At the New-York Historical Society there were scathing comments on Melville's brother Gansevoort in Philip Hone's diaries, just as I had hoped. Hitchhiking to Pittsfield later in the summer, I became the first scholar to study the documents deposited in the Berkshire Athenaeum in the 1950s in the new Melville Collection, papers that Melville's brother Allan's granddaughters had preserved. Among them were letters and other items that Agnes Morewood had not shown to Leyda in the 1940s, as I found when I sent copies to him in the mid-1960s. All the documents were handed over to me, and many of them went into the 1969 Supplement to the Log. As it turned out, there was another twist: Leyda had seen items that were not deposited later and had simply disappeared. Some of them emerged in 1999, when Paul Metcalf found a cardboard liquor box containing parts of this archive, documents loaned by Agnes Morewood before 1952 to her second cousin, Eleanor Metcalf, Melville's granddaughter and Paul's mother. But where, for instance, was Gansevoort's 1834 diary? Dumped out with the trash in Santa Barbara decades ago, when someone disposed of Margaret Morewood's effects after she died? (Here, knowing the subsidiary characters and locations better, I have made a few conjectural corrections to Leyda's partial transcription of the 1834 journal while ruing the loss of the original.)

In that summer of 1962 in New York I met two candidates for the PhD at Columbia who were fascinated that Northwestern granted PhDs and that I could be writing a dissertation that required going to New York City. They were dumbstruck when I told them I went to the New York Public Library or the New-York Historical Society every day to copy out nineteenth-century letters and diary entries about Melville and politics, or else read nineteenth-century newspapers looking for Melville's brother Gansevoort's speeches and reviews of Melville's works and other articles about Melville and his family. They had a great story to regale their fellow students and Professor Richard Chase with at Columbia, their meeting this skinny guy with a skinny tie who was going to 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 looking at each other showed they thought this was the quaintest damned thing they had ever heard. It probably was. They made it plain enough that the research required by my dissertation topic had pushed me out of step with my sprightly New Critical contemporaries. In the summer of 1962 I was happier than I had ever been in my life, aware that the New Criticism was triumphant but never conceiving that it could damage a career as a textual scholar and theorist and as a Melville biographer.

Later in the 1960s I worked mainly on Melville's texts for the Northwestern-Newberry The Writings of Herman Melville, although I began a systematic gathering of known and unknown reviews of Melville's books and, while Leyda was still abroad, saw the 1969 edition of the Log into print for him. We put some valuable documents in the Supplement, but nothing to rival the discoveries of the 1940s. Home at last, Leyda, the man who had never gone to college was hired as the Pinewood Professor at New York University. In a 1973 essay in The Chief Glory of Every People: Essays on Classic American Writers (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press) Leyda expressed his profound disappointment at finding how little and how unimaginatively The Melville Log had been used. In a mere quarter century under the New Criticism, the "art of Herman Melville" had been reduced "from discovery to a reading assignment." Professors had taken over the great writer, so that what "we once read for joy has been transformed into a 'subject,' or rather, an object for criticism and interpretation." In what was being published there was "not much room any more for either man or works," Leyda lamented. Perhaps these new academics were to be forgiven for not knowing what they did: "We cannot expect second-rate scholars to acknowledge or consider the harm they are doing, to writer and reader, both." Leyda's fiercest frustration arose from his knowing that opportunities were being missed and some opportunities were being lost forever: "With so much left to be known, how can we allow the present state of our knowledge to freeze and become permanently acceptable? Perhaps we have become too content with the biographical material already at our disposal. And this contentment leads away from simple logic and toward such habitual self-deceit! It's so easy to leap to the conclusion that there can be nothing more."

In 1973 Leyda was appalled at "second-rate scholars" (by which he meant "critics") who pushed aside Melville and his works in order to pursue, for one example, "a close, a very close hunt for the sexual puns in Israel Potter." In the next years I let Leyda know of yet more outrages, such as the studies of Melville's short stories in which it never occurred to the critics that they might try to establish the order of the composition of the stories from the somewhat different order of publication. We went from sexual puns in Israel Potter to solemn spoil-sport pontificating about the masturbatory imagery in the fire-starting scene in Typee at which Melvilleans had long smiled and kept silent. Yet in the mid 1970s and the 1980s old hands Henry A. Murray, Wilson Heflin, and Merton M. Sealts, Jr., and a few new researchers began making Melville discoveries (or revealing old information)--not big caches of documents but single documents or little caches often of significance quite disproportionate to their size. Among the new researchers were Patricia Barber, Hans Bergmann, Stanton Garner, David Jaffe, very notably Joyce Deveau Kennedy and Frederick J. Kennedy, Alice P. Kenney, Kathleen E. Kier, Walter D. Kring and Jonathan S. Carey, George Monteiro, Amy Puett, John P. Runden, David K. Titus. I separate the name of one, a slightly later researcher, because Leyda laid on me the responsibility of giving Francis E. Plumeau (who died in January 1985) full credit as the true discoverer of the Augusta Melville papers which the New York Public Library acquired in 1983 (or acquired almost all of, to be precise). Beginning later in the 1980s, Robert K. Wallace searched out the identity of works of art which Melville owned and the significances of the artifacts he saw. Later, beginning in the 1990s, Richard E. Winslow III made many discoveries among hard copies of old newspapers, and Rita Gollin, Warren Broderick, Geoffrey Sanborn, Heddy-Ann Richter, Patricia Cline Cohen, Chris Coughlin, Ruth Degenhardt, Scott Norsworthy, and Dennis Marnon made important discoveries in the archives and on the Internet, as George Monteiro continued to do. Almost alone except for Broderick and Marnon, John Gretchko has been mining public records, particularly in New York City. Lion Gardiner Miles, an amateur historian of the Berkshires, amplified Patricia Barber's 1970s discoveries about the forced sale of part of Melville's farm, Arrowhead, and the convoluted legal aftermath, and about a scandal just before Melville moved to Pittsfield, Sarah Morewood's attentions to a kinsman of Miles's, the brother-in-law of President Tyler. The Berkshire County resident Mandy Victor makes discoveries both by alertness to serendipity and shrewd knowledge of collectors who have treasure-troves of photographs and manuscripts. Since the 1940s there have been only a handful of new archival investigations on Melville. My test is whether or not a dissertation has sent me to the archives to verify a report: Amy Puett passed, with her study of Melville's wife; Mary K. Bercaw with her study of Melville's documentable sources, Steven Olsen-Smith with his study of Melville as a bookman, and Robert Sandberg, the coder and layout design coordinator for The New Melville Log, with his dissertation on two early long poems and the Burgundy Club material Melville was working on in his last years. [Have I left out any names here? It's easy to let an important name slip out of mind.]

What Leyda saw in 1973 is truer than ever in the new century, despite discoveries by a few traditional scholars and Internet searchers. No more than then are Melville critics reading the 1951 Log straight through, and almost never does a critic show that he or she has made an effort to imagine the items in the 1969 Supplement into their rightful places in the 1951 sequence. Of those critics who cite the Log more of them still cite the 1951 edition than the 1969 edition with the Supplement. Deploring the way critics were ignoring scholarship, Leyda was spared the painful realization of the way critics later commandeered the appurtenances of scholarship in the pursuit of purely critical enterprises. In the early 1980s, while Leyda was planning a third edition of the Log, there burst forth a collective urge among critics to "do" literary history without the muss and fuss of research into literary history. Hardly was this urge satisfied by rival compendiums when in the mid 1980s the urge manifested itself among them and their slightly younger colleagues to "do" historicism, but without the bother of historical research. At the end of the 1980s and in the 1990s a few "Little Jack Horners" (students of students of students of the original New Critics) yielded to the urge to "do" biography without learning basic tools, such as how to read nineteenth-century handwriting, a lack of preparation papered over in the early 2000s with the celebration of transcribing according to the critic's "rhetorical agenda" rather than the absolute (if unattainable) goal of recovering exactly what the writer wrote.

Now even prominent critics shamelessly display their ignorance of documents printed in the Log and other standard works, including the Letters (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1960), the 1989 Northwestern-Newberry Journals, the 1993 Northwestern-Newberry Correspondence, Brian Higgins's and my Herman Melville: The Contemporary Reviews (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), and my two-volume Herman Melville: A Biography, 1819-1851 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996) and Herman Melville: A Biography, 1851-1891 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002). A series of writers including John Updike, Elizabeth Hardwick, and Andrew Delbanco, have all but ignored Melville's exposure to architecture, sculpture, and paintings in Europe in 1849 and again in 1856-1857, particularly minimizing Melville's gallery-going in 1849 in London and Paris. These writers also minimized the emerging evidence about Melville's long progressive quest for an aesthetic credo. How, you ask, could these writers have ignored Melville's rapturous study of art and later, his intense pondering of writings on aesthetics? Why, because they revered Newton Arvin, the author of a "critical biography" of Melville but, more important, as a once-idealistic 1930s Communist and later as a persecuted homosexual. Arvin, a self-described "bad traveler," had been so miserable during his few weeks in London and Paris in 1929 that two decades later in writing his Herman Melville (Toronto: William Sloane, 1950) he assured his readers that Melville (exactly like Arvin himself) had been too old to profit from Europe: "The trip had no very profound effect on Melville's development: it was too late in the day for that." Updike, Hardwick, and Delbanco were writing biography from other books, not primary documents. Sheep in experiments in animal behavior leap over non-existent obstacles because a sheep earlier in the line had leapt over an object that had later been removed; why should literary critics not skip friskily over even the most dramatic scenes if their sourcebook left them out?

Despite the evidence Hayford, Davis and Gilman, and Sealts had gathered about the book Melville completed in May 1853, and despite my discovery of the title, The Isle of the Cross, in 1987, three reviewers of my biography in 2002, Richard Brodhead (the quintessential product of Feidelson's Yale--undergraduate, graduate, lengthy stay as assistant professor before promotion and tenure, then deanship), Andrew Delbanco (announced already as the author-to-be of a Melville biography), and Elizabeth Schultz, all treated the 1853 book as a mere surmise of mine. Despite the lavish evidence published by Meade Minnigerode in 1922 about the book Melville left for publication in 1860 when he sailed on the Meteor with his brother Thomas (evidence reprinted in many books over the decades, including The Melville Log, the Letters, the Correspondence, and the second volume of my biography), the same three reviewers all denied the actuality of Melville's Poems. Following such critics, other critics, including Robert Milder in "A Brief Biography" in the misnamed A Historical Guide to Herman Melville (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), likewise refused even to attempt to imagine the full trajectory of Melville's career, which included the completion of The Isle of the Cross between Pierre and his first stories and the completion of Poems between The Confidence-Man and Battle-Pieces.

The dismaying truth is that the anti-biographical tenets of the New Criticism have been perpetuated in all subsequent academic fads, some still recurrently in vogue, including phenomenology, structuralism, reader response criticism, deconstruction (which cannot perform its dismantling unless it starts with a perfect verbal icon), and the New Historicism (which is not a movement which does historical research). Most middle-aged college professors now wittingly or unwittingly display a New Critical mind-set learned from students of the original New Critics or their students, so rapid is the generational replication in American universities despite the longevity of individual professors. What all this meant for Melville studies was clear in a special 1994 issue on the "New Melville" in the venerable scholarly journal American Literature, where academic hostility to new research was baldly and triumphantly emblazoned: "We already have full-scale biographies of Melville." That was the mid-1990s. In a weird twist, powerful groups in twenty-first-century biography are expanding the concept of archives in ways that tend, and perhaps were designed, to define traditional archives out of existence.

Defiantly, with the first of three planned volumes The New Melville Log launches itself into hostile academic waters and also launches itself, more realistically than Coriolanus, into "a world elsewhere," a world still peopled by lovers of literature and lovers of research into the lives of great authors. In this first volume new documentary evidence found by Wilson Heflin and Rita Gollin enriches the story of Melville's stays in Tahiti and Eimeo, but most of the new archival material comes from the "Augusta Papers." Those papers included the letters from Julia Maria Melvill to her cousin Augusta which allowed me to straighten out the tangled evidence about Melville's stays at the Melvill farm in the 1830s. A letter from a Gansevoort cousin in Bath, New York, enabled me to speculate about his schoolteaching near Lansingburgh, a speculation later confirmed from a letter in Paul Metcalf's liquor box. Melville's courtship of Elizabeth Shaw, his composition of Typee, his beginning Mardi, his marriage and settling in New York City, and his beginning Redburn are all newly illuminated by documents in the Augusta Papers, with cross-lights shed from many other sources, notably my discovery of Oakey Hall's letters to the New Orleans Commercial Bulletin (whose gossip included the news that Melville had written White-Jacket in "a score of sittings"). Patricia Cohen's discovery of letters from Thomas Low Nichols to a Charleston newspaper confirms this man's story of acting as godfather to Typee in 1845. Melville's set of Modern British Essayists (long known but not looked at) revealed to me his early (then lifelong) grapplings not just with literary criticism but with aesthetic theories. Identifications of some of Melville's source books by Geoffrey Sanborn and Scott Norsworthy, in particular sources for his famous notes in the final volume of his Shakespeare set, reveal more signs of creative grapplings with English and Continental models. A short letter to Richard Bentley in the Reese Collection (not in Correspondence) confirms the argument in my biography of Melville that in October 1849 Melville expected to be away many months on a Grand Tour of Europe. Such new evidence, along with many newly recovered reviews, enlivens the documents that were printed or excerpted in the 1951 and 1969 editions; in turn, the long-known documents provide illuminating contexts for the new evidence. From Melville's birth in 1819 until he left Portsmouth for home at the end of December 1849, this is a very different documentary life of Herman Melville's first three decades.

A few words on form. As Leyda had wanted to do, I identify the source of items where they are quoted, not in a section of "Sources" in the back. Grouping reviews in monthly magazines at the end of the month was a mistake imposed upon Leyda, resulting in the printing of items discussing a particular review before the review itself was printed. July magazines, say, normally came out several days before the end of June, for example, so I have placed magazine items at the start of the month unless I have reason to know that they were particularly early or particularly late (as could happen with magazines shipped from Charleston or New Orleans). When items from different sites have the same dates, I have gone by longitude, London before Boston, Boston before New York, and with newspapers of the same date, I have quoted morning papers before evening papers, and within morning papers, say, I have gone alphabetically. I have in most cases made my own fresh transcriptions of family letters and have used Northwestern-Newberry for Melville's journals and for his correspondence except for letters that have been surfaced quite recently. Quotations from reviews are from the fresh transcriptions for the Higgins-Parker Melville: The Contemporary Reviews (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995).

In his 1973 essay Leyda cited me as one of those who had reduced his "sins of omissions": "Completely unforeseen things turned up: it was Hershel Parker who saw the 1860/1867 whale's tooth on the shelves of the New York Historical Society--and now we should be looking for Captain Worth and E. S. Doolittle." As an inducement to research, Leyda had printed in the 1969 Supplement a full-page photograph of the tooth as inscribed to Melville by Captain Worth and by Melville to Doolittle. On 4 July 2006, after Google and other Internet tools were available, Scott Norsworthy (a non-academic, despite his PhD in literature) informed me that the recipient was the Albany artist Edwin Stafford Doolittle (1843-1879), who in 1867 had a studio in New York City. He was one of who knows how many artists Melville knew personally. Then in February 2010 while I was looking for something else in the free database I found a 1 June 1887 article by S. S. Stafford, Doolittle's heir (a nephew?), written for the Albany Journal, headed: "A SPERM WHALE'S CAPTURE / THE LIVES OF THREE MEN AND SIX HOURS' WORK REQUIRED." Stafford began: "Lying on my desk and used as a paper weight is the tooth of a "Cachelot" or sperm whale," a "mass of solid ivory, nine inches long by three wide and weighing 33 ounces." Then he told a thrilling story which Captain Worth, a son-in-law of Owen Chase, must have told Melville in person. It's hard to know whether to be more pleased at having Doolittle and Worth identified or more chagrined at our taking so long to identify them. And when did Worth meet Melville? During the months he was home from December 1861 to October 1862, during which Melville was for some months at one or another rented lodging in Manhattan? Such question will not be answered by contributors to academic journals like American Literature, those critics still satisfied, even now, that all they need to know about Melville is in the vaunted pre-1994 "full-scale biographies." Such critics are not driven by love of Melville.

Grant and Sherman did their casual best to wipe out Southern history by burning newspaper offices, and in the 1950s heyday of the New Criticism many libraries made room for paperback reprints of novels by tossing out old newspaper files from all parts of the country, but surviving files are now once again being cherished, and every year more documents are being digitized and put into databases which any Melville lover can search, more and more often for free (or for a nominal sum, as at the New England Historic Genealogical Society). The Massachusetts Historical Society has long offered the papers of Melville's father-in-law, Lemuel Shaw, on microfilm. Although some of the Melville family manuscripts in the Berkshire Athenaeum are on microfilm, the papers in the New York Public Library and Houghton Library are not, and none of these libraries has put manuscripts on the Internet. Dedicated, technically adept scholars working on Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson have digitized many manuscripts and posted them in archival databases. Their examples will be followed, sooner or later, but in the meantime we can hope that some of the brilliant amateurs will be joined by a motley group of contrarians, historically minded professors and graduate students, academics who, having resisted the allure of the New Criticism and subsequent ahistorical academic fads, will find their way into the surviving traditional, non-digitized "hard paper" archives pursuing what they have seen in books like The New Melville Log and in newspaper databases. Just as I found many new documents in Oakey Hall's letters to the New Orleans Commercial Bulletin, others, I predict, will find revealing references to Melville in the surviving letters from other newspapers' special correspondents, for the files of the letters of special correspondents constitute, I aver, the greatest nineteenth-century historical resource which remains all but untapped by researchers. This is all the more likely to happen now that various digital tools, especially the resources of the Internet, are available to zealous researches who have time or will make time for their laudable obsessions. Above my computer I have kept a photograph I took of Jay Leyda in the basement of the Troy Public Library as he read on a blue-and-white oilcloth covered table a review of Moby-Dick I had just discovered in a badly foxed volume of the Troy Budget. He declared himself happier there, that moment, than he could have been in the Pierpont Morgan Library. Remembering that excursion, Leyda's last research trip, I place my faith in the joy of the enthusiast and in the addictive nature of research, whether it starts in a moldy basement or an airless attic of a public library or in cyberspace.

Long ago I found in the London News of the World (2 November 1851) one of the earliest definitions of the Melville lover: "There are people who delight in mulligatawny. They love curry at its warmest point. Ginger cannot be too hot in the mouth for them. Such people, we should think, constitute the admirers of Herman Melville." In 1899 Melville's most prescient and most dedicated early admirer, Archibald MacMechan, dared to hope that Moby-Dick could become a classic open to every lover of literature but was certain that it would always appeal to one core constituency, "the class of gentleman-adventurer, to those who love both books and free life under the wide and open sky." MacMechan did not know that women had been among Melville's fervent early admirers, and that by the time he published his essay Melville's reputation was quietly burgeoning in England, where a lover of Melville might hand three volumes of The Whale (the earlier title of Moby-Dick) to an acquaintance along with other books and await the result. If the borrower returned raving about the majesty of The Whale, the acquaintance became a treasured friend. In Melville's century, his reputation never rested on the opinions of literary historians but on the opinions of enthusiasts such as a band of admirers in Leicester. Frank Jewett Mather, Jr., testified to the way a lover of Moby-Dick might arrange hail a friend to his lodgings to read aloud from the book without interruption, sure that he would create a new enthusiast for Melville. Melville, then, was still a cult obsession. Beyond any doubt, Melville lovers can count on amateurs like Lion G. Miles and Scott Norsworthy more than on college professors and their students to follow all the hints Leyda gave in his 1851 Log and his 1973 essay or to follow up hundreds of suggestions in my two-volume biography.

My great hope is that scholarly research will be pursued outside the academy. For many years already, the most responsible historical use of the Internet has been made by genealogists, professional and amateur, and respect for evidence is high in family forums, higher, often, than even in famous genealogical sites where information may not be carefully sifted before being incorporated. The searching out of ancestors' wills and land deeds is now a commonplace in genealogical research, and researchers pride themselves in transcribing documents accurately and in employing the latest technologies. These obsessive amateurs may yet turn to Melville, as amateurs did in the nineteenth century. Internet bloggers, I recognize, can be as witless, opinionated, and lazy as any professors, but their potential for yielding to the itch of obsessive research is higher, so I list them among genealogists, armchair historians, out-in-the-field local historians, movie-makers, unprofessional Melville-lovers of all callings. These divine amateurs, alone or in teams, may soon constitute the most visible of Melville researchers and the best augmenters of The New Melville Log.

When Leyda used the odd phrasing, "It was Hershel Parker who saw the 1860/1867 whale's tooth," he meant that new Melville documents were lying waiting to be discovered by anyone who kept his or her eyes open. For decades I told my graduate students, "Put out your hands," knowing that if they reached out for information their hands would never come away empty: they would find something valuable, even it not what they hoped for. In this spirit I buy copies of Raymond Weaver's 1921 biography when I can. After all, he never returned Melville's drawing of Arrowhead to his grand-daughter Eleanor Metcalf, so the nearest thing to it is the reproduction in Herman Melville: Mariner and Mystic, and the original drawing just might be tucked into a copy of the book. Some time ago I bought a copy on eBay that Weaver had inscribed soon after publication 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. 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.
In tribute to Jay Leyda I offer a challenge to readers of The New Melville Log: "Using the Internet, using the archives, verify this account of the passing of the torch, Oh divine amateurs." For, as Leyda said, the study of Melville is endless.


  1. Gretchko has found a cache of documents which will change Melville biography as much as the cache of letters did in 1982. John G

  2. John, are you going to drop this bomb and run for cover or are you going to elaborate? What decade? all decades? what family members? what locations? Nathaniel Parker Willis's archive? Henry T. Tuckerman's?

  3. I wonder what this could be then?

    This is a very illuminating and inspiring piece of writing, Hershel. Thank you for this!

  4. John Gretchko has shared on a Melville chat site an ante-nuptial document for Sophia Thurston just before her marriage to Allan Melville. In turn I shared some descriptions of the Fourth Avenue house which I have been saving for MELVILLE BIOGRAPHY: AN INSIDE NARRATIVE. Hot water to the third floor! Water closets! and then the potties and the kitchen pump at Arrowhead!
    Gretchko has not described his cache further, but this is an important document. I still have no notion which brother made payments on the 4th Avenue house, though I worked out for the biography that it was very slow in selling and did not bring anything near what HM thought it would bring when he bought Arrowhead.

  5. I'll take you up on that challenge.



  6. Dear Professor Parker,

    As a follow up to the above laconic reply, let me first congratulate you on a wonderful blog, and then offer this curious episode for your interest:

    As you can see from this online data base entry, the New York Historical Society is listing the whale tooth that H.M. gave to Edwin Doolittle as "a twentieth-century fake, probably made with the intent to deceive." I don't know when the boldface below, "Due to ongoing research, information about this object is subject to change," was added, but I do know that earlier today in a phone message I registered my surprise that anyone would doubt the item's authenticity, and a couple of hours later received an email with the link for the first time from the NYHS.

    I based my doubt about this description on two considerations:

    1) The excellent research you cite in this blog about Scott Norsworthy's intrepid research identifying Edwin Doolittle and your contextualization of that;

    2) My own detailed knowledge of the range of variation of Melville's handwriting, including his block print hand as it appears (definitely) in his 2 September 1860 letter to Bessie (see Horth, 351-53), and (plausibly) several other documents I am researching that match in certain particulars either the 1860 letter, the inscription of the Whaletooth (which shows some variation from the 1860 letter that is probably attributable primarily to the fact that the letter was written on board a ship), or both.

    I have cited from your blog above and provided a link to the NYHS librarian with whom I am corresponding, and requested further specification of the claim that the item is a "fake." I left open the possibility that the item in the collection is a *reproduction* -- as much as I think this is unlikely it is, logically, a possibility -- and look forward to resolving the matter with them. Whatever the outcome of further inquiry, will be writing about this entire matter in a book that I am in the preliminary phases of developing. It should make an interesting episode in the ongoing struggle between real historical research in Melville studies and pseudo-skepticism.

    I just wanted to keep you apprised of this development. Best wishes for the new Leyda Log and all your other projects.

  7. psi is absolutely right. The NYHS tooth is the real thing. I have 19th-century newspaper documentation now of how it got back to Albany from HM.
    How strange that the NYHS would be so suspicious of an artifact coming from one of the Gilder family.

  8. If you have further contact with NYHS please tell them to contact me for evidence as to the authenticity of their tooth!

  9. I'd be happy to do so. I am currently waiting for them to tell me how the item got that on the face of it rather preposterous label in the first place. I mean, for all I know its a copy -- the only thing I'm absolutely sure about is that it was not created "with an intent to deceive." Something makes me think that story might go untold. Sigh. :)

    Signed, Yours Truly

    The Ghost of Lewis Gaylord Clark.