Thursday, March 31, 2011

BRODHEAD: The Rogue Elephant in Anthony T. Kronman's Book


This is a passionate, personal book which every parent of a college-bound youth ought to read. It consists of philosophical arguments, so it's not easy reading. Here are the subject headings: "1. Humanities--Study and teaching (Higher)--United States. 2. Life. 3. Meaning (Philosophy)--Study and teacher (Higher)--United States. 4. Humanities--Philosophy. " You may not find a stronger, more straightforward description of how Political Correctness gained control of American higher education than Anthony T. Kronman offers here, nor a more convincing philosophical argument for the malignancy of Political Correctness. Kronman's desire to save higher education burns through the book even though his philosophical arguments are bolstered by few specific illustrations.

Kronman was Dean of the Law School at Yale while Richard Brodhead was Dean of Yale College, and Kronman now teaches in Yale College. Brodhead's name is not in Kronman's index and I don't see it anywhere in the book. One has to assume that Kronman's critique of political correctness in the humanities is derived in large part from what he saw going on in Yale College. The publication date of EDUCATION'S END is 25 September 2007, long after Richard Brodhead as President of Duke University had become the poster boy for Political Correctness gone wholly amuck during the false rape charges against three lacrosse players.

Three weeks earlier, on 4 September 2007, Stuart Taylor, Jr., and KC Johnson published what will stand as the definitive first-generation book on the Duke case: UNTIL PROVEN INNOCENT: POLITICAL CORRECTNESS AND THE SHAMEFUL INJUSTICES OF THE DUKE LACROSSE RAPE CASE. Brodhead's "moral meltdown" and his capitulation to the ferocious embodiments of Political Correctness, the Gang of 88, described powerfully here, was not news to bloggers and other followers of events at Duke. On 10 September 2007 NEWSWEEK described "a rush to judgment" in which "Brodhead and [rogue prosecutor] Nifong had an almost willful disregard for the facts." Brodhead's rushing to the wrong judgment in the name of Political Correctness had been public knowledge for many months.

Therefore Kronman's silence about Brodhead as Dean of Yale College and President of Duke University looks strategic, a decision in which collegiality trumps specificity, especially when the publisher is to be Yale University Press. Kronman's fine arguments would have been far more persuasive if he had admitted that there was an Elephant loose in his book, a rogue Elephant he never acknowledges, Richard Brodhead.

The weakest chapter in EDUCATION'S END is "The Research Ideal," and I have to assume that Kronman derived his opinions of the research ideal from what he saw around him at Yale College. He could hardly have had a worse place to start from if he wanted to understand what scholarship in the humanities once was, still ought to be, and perhaps still can be. Instead, working (without citing examples) from what he sees around him, he denounces "the research ideal," seeing it as something that "devalues the communion with past writers and artists to which secular humanism attached such importance."

Kronman thinks that the fixation on research in American universities has wantonly destroyed a valuable "set of beliefs" that "secular humanism" had preserved from "the old classicist belief in the possibility of conveying to each generation the (timeless) knowledge" one needs to meet "the question of life's meanings." The "modern research ideal," Kronman says, drained this set of beliefs "of their plausibility and appeal" by "championing a new set of values that contradict the values of recurrence, connection, and closure on which secular humanism was founded." "Secular humanism" was based on "unoriginality," he says, in "a stable repertoire of values that form a recurrent framework of choice in each generation."

Kronman is sure that the "research ideal" wrongly "elevates originality to a position of supreme importance." He holds that the research ideal "sharply devalues the communion with past writers and artists to which secular humanism attached such importance." He exalts the "notion of a timeless conversation in which the great voices of the past still speak with undiminished authority, that never concludes and never changes." He opposes that notion to the terrible loss he thinks is suffered by those who live under the research ideal. He thinks this because he sees the research ideal as being based on "the ethic of supersession." Each scholar supersedes the last and is in turn superseded, according to Kronman.

This whole chapter must seem baffling to anyone who does not know the history of "research" at Yale University and other great schools in the last half century and a little more—but particularly the history of “research” at Yale.

I think Kronman does not understand what has happened to "the research ideal" and the practice of research in the humanities at his own Yale. He does not understand that what has been passed off as "research" since the early 1950s is not genuine research. He does not understand that conversations with the writers of the past may be enlivened whenever your research can liberate something about their form and meaning that had been suppressed and lost. He does not understand research as a grand cooperative in which most often you triumph by augmenting the work of others rather than superseding their work.

Yale was once the leader in Melville scholarship, in particular. Melville was "revived" in the 1920s. The first hardbound biography appeared in 1921, a careless one by Raymond Weaver, and a "critical biography" by Lewis Mumford (relying on Weaver) followed in 1929. In the 1930s a few people tried to clarify details about Melville's life, but Weaver pretty much went unchallenged, even though he all but ignored whole decades of Melville’s life. Then the Yale Professor Stanley T. Williams, having completed a two-volume biography of Washington Irving, made a momentous decision. Seeing that no one had done rigorous biographical research on Melville, he decided that he would put any good graduate student who came along onto episodes in Melville's life or other topics such as Melville's reading of classical literature or the Bible. You wanted to work on Emerson's sermons? Tough.

The War intervened, but over the decade of the 1940s and just into the 1950s a remarkable cadre of young men and women got their PhDs at Yale with Melville dissertations under Williams. Their only peers were Wilson Heflin, who got his PhD at Vanderbilt, and the ineffable, magnificent film scholar Jay Leyda. The great Yale students of Williams include Walter E. Bezanson, Merton M. Sealts, Jr., Harrison Hayford, Elizabeth Foster, William H. Gilman, Nathalia Wright, Merrell Davis--people who did basic archival research but also people who worked intelligently with philosophical and historical ideas. Bezanson read CLAREL all by himself, 18,000 lines, and understood it so that anyone else has only added and clarified and adjusted his emphases. Sealts showed what classical philosophy meant to Melville. Harrison Hayford, at the simplest level, listed Melville's known meetings with Hawthorne and described their relationship. Gilman worked on Melville's early life in relation to his REDBURN--worked with family letters in the New York Public Library and other collections, worked more rigorously than anyone else has done since then. I inherited the box of his dissertation notes, and long after his death found in them information he had not published about something as important as Melville's purchase not of a house in NYC but of "an indenture of lease" on a house. Davis worked on Melville's third book, MARDI, mustering sources and describing Melville's shifting intentions for it. Davis's dissertation was published by Yale UP. Davis and Gilman collected Melville's letters for an edition. Elizabeth Foster read that difficult prose book, THE CONFIDENCE-MAN. Nathalia Wright worked on Melville and the Bible.

These scholars were magnificent. They had to work independently to some extent, holding cards close to the waistcoat, since anything that became widely known could not go to make up their dissertation (Kronman is right about "originality" in this sense), but once they had their PhDs in hand they cooperated even more than they had done before. Then they put their work on hold for a decade, through the mid and late 50s, as they established academic careers and sometimes families, though Davis and Gilman pushed on until their LETTERS appeared (Yale UP) in 1960 and Hayford and Sealts pushed on with the manuscript of the unfinished BILLY BUDD, SAILOR until they published it in 1962 (University of Chicago).

In the late 1940s a revolutionary new approach to literature, the New Criticism, invaded English departments all over the country and by the early to mid 1950s had triumphed. Reacting to careless and sentimental use of biography to explain literature, the New Critics decreed that biographical evidence was irrelevant to interpretation. Teachers were to teach "the text itself" (whatever that was, I finally asked). One of the leaders of the New Criticism, Cleanth Brooks, was brought to Yale (where he lived to insist rightly (in letters to me and surely to others) that his own training had been scholarly and that he did not recognize himself in what he was later blamed for).

The retirement of Stanley T. Williams from Yale in 1953 and his succession by Charles F. Feidelson as the chief teacher of nineteenth-century American Literature is emblematic of what happened to scholarship in English departments everywhere. Thereafter, through the 1950s and afterwards, critics of Melville talked about the unity of PIERRE and the unity of THE CONFIDENCE-MAN and gave "Readings" of this or that story. They wrote books on Melville's short stories in which they did not think of trying to ascertain the order in which the stories were written as distinguished from the order in which they were published (or rejected). They did almost nothing that I would call "work."

Yet generations of New Critics and their resurrections under new names have fostered the idea that they were doing "research" (even though they had repudiated scholarship) and Kronman buys into their terminology, even when he is skeptical of the results.

[Kronman:] "In some fields, such as history, scholarly research has produced valuable results--an accumulation of discoveries that has deepened our understanding of events and personalities. But in other fields, like literary criticism, it is not at all clear that the sequence of interpretations championed by scholars of succeeding generations constitutes a similarly progressive body of knowledge," what "a skeptic might describe as the product of fashion or fad."

Yet Kronman talks about the practitioners of this literary criticism as "scholars" when he says that their work "fails to accumulate in the same incremental and progressive way" that research in the sciences can do, but instead merely moves "around in a circle." He does not acknowledge the difference between scholarship, which adds grains to the heap of knowledge, and criticism, which toys with information. What he thinks is scholarship is merely criticism. There has been too little scholarship in the Yale English Department in the last half century for him to recognize it or even to take note of its absence.

The repudiation of biographical information by the New Critics in the 1940s and 1950s and their successors through the New Historicists in the 1980s and 1990s, after half a century and more (when a New Critic teacher at Yale, say, might teach his own successor at Yale), led to a professoriate which far too often not only did not know how to conduct archival research responsibly but was skeptical that any new information could ever be gained from archival research. In the 1950's, critics considered biographical evidence irrelevant to interpretation; by the 1990s their heirs--direct heirs, their students or the students of their students--behaved as if no new discoveries could come from biographical research. Because of Yale's incestuous policy of hiring its own, students at Yale like Brodhead in ensuing decades were further and further from scholarship.

In 2002 Brodhead (by saying in the New York TIMES that only I surmised the existence of Melville's volume of poems in 1860) made it clear that he did not believe anything could be learned from archival research in the distant past (almost all the now known documents about the 1860 POEMS were printed in 1922) and certainly did not believe I could have learned anything new for the biography by transcribing old letters. Assistant, associate, and full professors wasted their time, and some even wasted brilliant minds, over decades, while defending airy but airless theoretical constructs. (After suffering painfully in silence for five years I published an account of Brodhead's trashing my reputation as a scholar; see Nineteenth-Century Literature, Vol. 62 [June 2007], 29-47.)

The Yale graduate Paul Lauter is the father of the HEATH ANTHOLOGY OF AMERICAN LITERATURE, the ultimate in diversity (taking priority over quality) and general Political Correctness. I sought him out in the early 1980s because he was talking about reading widely in American literature, about wanting to see what was there out by a great variety of writers rather than hunting up one more neglected novel by a "major" writer to teach. I was with him when boxes of his RECONSTRUCTING AMERICAN LITERATURE arrived in the dark bowels of the Americana, and I possess the first inscribed copy of it. We parted company--over the issue of respecting quality (I want to spend most of my time on great writers); over the issue of politicizing literature (making Melville, for example, just exactly as up-to-date on racial issues as the latest critic thinks he or she is); and over the Politically Correct insistence on celebrating victimization . As part Cherokee and part Choctaw I refuse to say that reading a weak poem by a part Cherokee raises my self-esteem; no one has suggested yet that I should feel better about myself after reading a conventional poem by someone who is part Choctaw.

But Lauter told me a great story which he later put into print. In 1953 Yale students showed up for the American Literature class with notes on history, biography, and bibliography from Williams's old courses and found the notes were useless. That day Charles Feidelson talked about cloud imagery in Emerson or some other New Critical fetish. From that date, American literary scholarship was dead at Yale. Feidelson's students, I assume among them Richard Brodhead, never learned the basic aims and methods of scholarship, as opposed to criticism. Brodhead did not learn those aims and methods from his teacher R. W. B. Lewis, who (defying the dominant literary approach) wrote a biography of Edith Wharton.

I took a course from Hayford at Northwestern University in 1961 and in 1962 decided to do a dissertation on the politics of Melville and his family. As it turned out, my archival work on Melville and politics, and then my archival work on Melville in later decades, made me a belated member of the whole Yale group scholars who in the 1940s had set out to discover what could be known factually about Herman Melville (made me academic nephew to Williams's Yale students, but also a younger colleague of Wilson Heflin and ultimately the literary heir of Jay Leyda). I was uniquely positioned to understand how Yale (and by extension the Ivy League and all the imitative schools) changed from the 1940s beginning in the early 1950s up to the present.

When I went to the archives, starting in 1962, I found, repeatedly, that no one had asked to see certain documents since the 1940s. I should have realized what was happening in 1962, when I met two candidates for the PhD at Columbia. They were amused that Northwestern University was offering doctorates. They were curious about what kind of dissertation I was writing that would involve going to New York City. When I told them I was going to the New York Public Library or the New-York Historical Society every day to read nineteenth-century newspapers and copy out nineteenth century letters about Melville and politics they were dumbstruck. They saw they had a great story to regale their fellow students and Richard Chase with at Columbia, this guy from the Midwest going to the libraries every day and looking at old newspapers and manuscripts! In 1962, a graduate student going to the archives as if the New Criticism had never triumphed! Coming all the way to New York to do it! They were too polite to laugh outright, but the way they kept looking at each other and rolling their eyes showed they thought this was the quaintest damned thing they had ever heard. It probably was. The research required by my dissertation topic pushed me out of step with my sprightly contemporaries. I just didn't know how far out of step I was. I was too happy working in the archives to worry about how unfashionable I was, but over the next decades I sat next to fewer and fewer academics at the microfilm readers and more and more bookies and genealogists.

Kronman had no example in hand of how scholarship really works when he insisted that any good scholar always supersedes earlier scholars (wholly supersedes, he seemed to think). What really happens in scholarship is described in the article in Nineteenth-Century Literature cited above. There I expose Brodhead's sly insinuation that I invented THE ISLE OF THE CROSS (1853) and his outright lie that only I "surmised" the existence of POEMS (1860). These slurs, as I say in the article, were repeated even more viciously by Andrew Delbanco and Elizabeth Schultz, two other critics who had never done archival work on Melville.

In fact, everyone had known about POEMS since 1922, when Meade Minnigerode published almost all the documents. I built, in the discussion of both THE ISLE OF THE CROSS and POEMS, on earlier scholarship. Hayford in 1946 had shown from old and newly discovered letters that Melville had started a book based on the Agatha Hatch story and that in April 1853 his mother had said he was far along with it. Hayford had no way of being sure Melville had finished it. In 1960 Davis and Gilman had Melville's letter to the Harpers in November 1853 which referred to the book he had been prevented from publishing earlier that year. Sealts in the 1980s worked with Leyda's documents to narrow the completion of the book to May and Melville's carrying it to New York from Pittsfield to June 1853. (All four of these scholars, I remind you, were Yale PhDs from the 1940s.)

In 1987 I found the title THE ISLE OF THE CROSS and the day of completion, May 22. Leyda was in his prolonged miserable dying when I found the title, but I telephoned Hayford, then Sealts. Can you imagine their joy at my discovery? And can you imagine my joy at their being alive and alert to hear what I had found? That's what scholarship is, the building upon the work of your predecessors. Did I supersede Hayford, Davis and Gilman, and Sealts, not to mention Minnigerode and Willard Thorp and Leyda and others? NO, no, no. I vindicated them. You could have asked Hayford and Sealts, back then. They did not declare themselves superseded. Instead, they felt triumphant. This is the real "research ideal" in action.

In real scholarship when you add a valuable piece to a structure, even when you add, in Melville's terms, the capstone to an edifice, you are collaborating with great scholars of the past, you are not superseding them. It's just that very few people now do real research. And all of the great Yale Melville scholars of the 1940s are dead now, even Bezanson, in 2011: the heroic exercise of reading CLAREL did him great good.

Kronman is misled by what passes for scholarship. What he sees around him at Yale is not scholarship, and of course he was in no position to know the weaknesses in the one book where Richard Brodhead purports to be doing something scholarly, the 1986 THE SCHOOL OF HAWTHORNE. This book begins with a strangely convoluted excuse for the obvious Political Incorrectness of limiting the students of Hawthorne to famous male writers. Brodhead never asked, "Who attended the School of Hawthorne?" If he had, he would have found interesting women to write about as well as other men he did not know were in the same class at the school of Hawthorne. Brodhead wrote the book without doing the basic research--without reading widely in American fiction of the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century. This is not a case where you need to start with working through boxes of holograph letters in archives: first you just need to read a lot of novels by a lot of people, not just writers designated now as the greatest. The books were right there in Sterling Memorial Library.

You can see why Kronman would have been confused at Yale by what passes for scholarship and "the research ideal." To my mind "The Research Ideal" (Chapter 3) weakens the book, but the rest is so good that I urge everyone to read the whole thing. Kronman makes a powerful contribution to the study of the origins and the malignity of Political Correctness. May the next person to write on Political Correctness learn from EDUCATION'S END, amplify it, correct it, and not supersede it.

Hershel Parker 1988

35 Years after Buying the Shakespeare

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The First Chapter from an Abortive Book, TO PLAY WITH THE WHITE KIDS

This was the first chapter of a book I started a few years ago, in 2006. It was going to be called either TO PLAY WITH THE WHITE KIDS (as in "all I ever wanted to do was to play with the white kids") or else KICKING AGAINST THE PRICKS, what Jesus said to Saul before he became Paul. I will not complete it because I want to do something else, not autobiographical. I want to write ORNERY PEOPLE about my American ancestors (Indians or pre-Revolutionary whites, all of them) whom I thought had left no written record but whose stories I have learned from the Internet. [I assume it's clear that the "white kids" I am talking about are not all Caucasian.]

An Okie Tries to Get an Education

If I twisted what Jesus says to Saul on the road to Damascus I could have called this book Kicking against the Pricks, aware that these pricks we will have with us always. This book celebrates Ornery People, mainly the Scottish-Americans Senator James Webb has also celebrated. (Best hundred dollars I ever spent? A donation to his campaign at the end of October 2006, as I was writing this chapter. Put him over the top, that donation did.) My "Ornery People" are not the academics. Professors tend to band together to suppress politically incorrect opinions rather than to fight for free exploration and expression of ideas, and to be malicious, not ornery.

One place to start is Berkeley, California, in November 1977, where I talked to the English Department at the University of California on the "Composition and Meaning of Pudd'nhead Wilson" and the next day on "Aesthetic Implications of Textual Evidence in American Fiction." I had been swimming every day for months and looked good, six three, newly under a hundred eighty. After airing, sunning, or freezing my wrists all my life, I wore Big Fellow shirts with 36 inch sleeves, and from the new Los Angeles Eagelson's I had a blue polyester blazer that, if you didn't glimpse the cerise lining, looked almost like the wool blazers worn by Yalies at Northwestern. I also had astonishing new information and new ideas about the creative process (it begins, it continues, it ends) and the process of reading (evidence about how we all make sense of nonsense or inadvertent meanings). The chairman Ralph Rader (who had put me onto the work of the cognitive psychologist James J. Gibson and his colleagues) and Frederick Crews (famous already for The Pooh Perplex but not yet infamous to diehard Freudians), were both intrigued. The others, young and old, were playing games I recognized from Northwestern, when the senior professors, telling themselves mournfully that in a few more years "all the really eminent men" would be gone, had savagely feasted on a series of young candidates. (What ever happened to that brilliant Mr. Greene? Did he disintegrate entirely on the way back to New Haven?)

No one besides Rader and Crews would talk about the new sort of information I had presented and how profound its implications might be for literary study. At the reception all they wanted to know, these people, second or third generation Americans, hardly visible on Google now, any of them, only a bony elbow poking up, was not about my ideas or even about my new Beverly Hills clothiers but about my accent. What was that accent? I admitted that I was Southern, having lived in Texas, Oklahoma, and Lousiana. I could not say forthrightly "I'm an Okie." I had been trying for too many years to get away from being an Okie.

Now I would answer that my accent is American, and I would give them a history lesson on what an Okie is, based on what I have learned about my Ulster-Scots ancestors, who make up most of the Ornery People of my title. My autobiographical impulse is loosed, and despite the juvenilization and blockbustering of the publishing industry, academic autobiographies do get published, and failing publication I now find, re-reading this in 2011, that you can blog. But why add another, especially when I convince myself that I am keeping all the darkest secrets and telling only stories which redound to my credit? One reason would be that my catch-as-catch-can education and my anomalous career allowed me high, Saturnian objectivity about some major fads and fetishes in English Departments since the 1940s, even some I participated in. I witnessed, up close, assistant, associate, and full professors waste their time, and some even waste brilliant minds, over decades, while defending airy but airless theoretical constructs. It happened that I was better positioned than anyone else to understand how the dominant textual theory of the 1960s reflected the dominant critical theory of the late 1940s. This is a fact: probably no other literature PhD was as well positioned to understand how Yale (and by extension the Ivy League and all the imitative schools) changed from the 1940s beginning in the early 1950s.

My teacher at Northwestern, Harrison Hayford, had been one of the great group of students at Yale whom Professor Stanley T. Williams, the biographer of Washington Irving, had set to learning all they could learn, factually, about Melville. From the late 1930s through the 1940s these students wrote dissertations on individual books by Melville, edited his letters, wrote on special topics such as Melville and philosophy, and, in Hayford's case, Melville's relationship with Hawthorne. As it turned out, my archival work on Melville and politics made me a belated member of the group scholars who in the 1940s had set out to discover what could be known factually about Herman Melville (mainly Williams's Yale students, but also Wilson Heflin from Vanderbilt and the ineffable, elusive Jay Leyda from Ohio, or Russia, or Red China). I found, repeatedly, that no one had asked to see certain documents since the 1940s. At the NYPL Merrell Davis had been allowed to look at some pages of Gansevoort Melville's London diary but not to hold it in his own hands. When I asked to see it I was told it was on hold, but it was handed over to me once I pointed out that the man it was held for had been dead for years. And yes, I could edit it and they would publish it at the NYPL. I was too happy working in the archives to worry about how unfashionable I was, but over the next decades I sat next to fewer and fewer academics at the microfilm readers and more and more bookies and genealogists.

The retirement of Williams in 1953 and his succession by Charles F. Feidelson was revolutionary. As Paul Lauter has described, students showed up for class with notes on history, biography, and bibliography from Williams's old classes and found the notes were useless. Feidelson was talking about cloud imagery in Emerson or some other New Critical fetish. From that date, American literary scholarship was dead at Yale, so that Feidelson's students, among them Richard Brodhead, never learned the basic aims and methods of scholarship, as opposed to criticism. Because of Yale's incestuous policy of hiring its own, students at Yale in ensuing decades were further and further from scholarship, until in 2002 Brodhead, in denying the existence of Melville's volume of poems in 1860, made it clear that he did not believe anything new could be learned from archival research. In the 1950's, critics considered biographical evidence irrelevant to interpretation; by the 1990s their heirs--direct heirs, their students or the students of their students--behaved as if no new discoveries could come from biographical research. Now it is clear that no other American literary scholar working on a major figure performed so much archival research as I did in the face of organized hostility to the possibility that anything new could be learned about the writer's life.

If you misspell my name with a "c" when you Google me you may get my lanky mustachioed doppelganger, the Arkansas country singer best known for "Mama." I would rather have been Waylon, but I could have settled for being that Herschel Parker. If you use the "c" you may also get mentions of me wherever accuracy seems not to be valued, as in textual and bibliographical studies and in blogs. (Last time I looked Northwestern had me on their departmental website, the only NU PhD so honored, but with the "c" in my name.) I had, you can tell from Google, a career. I was Assistant Professor at the University of Illinois 1963-1965 (back when you did not have to specify "at Urbana") and at Northwestern 1965-1968; Associate Professor at the University of Southern California 1968-1970 and Professor at USC 1970-1979; and finally H. Fletcher Brown Professor 1979-1998 at the University of Delaware, where I held an endowed chair. Beginning 1965 I was the Associate General Editor of the Northwestern-Newberry Edition of The Writings of Herman Melville (13 of 15 volumes published as of now). In 1971-1974 I was a member of the Advisory Committee of the Center for Editions of American Authors. In the 1970s and 1980s I was on three Modern Language Association committees--Bibliographical Evidence, American Literature of the 19th Century, Methods of Literary Research, and on the South Atlantic MLA Textual and Bibliographical Studies Committee. I was on the Norman Foerster Prize Committee and the MLA Hubbell Medal Committee. I was a member of the Discipline Screening Committee of the Council for International Exchange of Scholars (the Fulbright Foundation). I was on an NEH panel. I served on several editorial boards. I had a Guggenheim Fellowship in the 1970s, back when you could live for a year on one. I had 1981-1982 off with a Center for Advanced Study Research Fellowship from the University of Delaware.

During four and a half decades I gave more than a hundred talks all around the country and as far away as Austria and Japan. I published around two hundred articles, reviews, introductions, editions (including the 1969 and 2001 Norton Critical Edition of Moby-Dick), anthologies (notably the 1820-1865 section of the Norton Anthology of American Literature), several collections of historical documents or literary criticism (alone or in collaboration), and wrote some book-books, Flawed Texts and Verbal Icons (1984), Reading "Billy Budd" (1991), Herman Melville: A Biography, 1819-1851 (1996), and Herman Melville: A Biography, 1851-1891 (2002). I collaborated with Brian Higgins on Reading Melville's "Pierre" (2007). I was one of two Pulitzer Prize finalists for the first volume of the Melville biography the year Geneva Overholser gloated about how her attention-deficit crew joyously gave the prize to a much shorter work, Angelo Gets his Ashes Hauled, as I recall the title, a book frankly marketed in the UK and the rest of Ireland as fiction. The Association of American Publishers Professional and Scholarly Publishing Division gave the first Melville volume the top "Literature and Language" award in 1997 and in 2003 gave the second Melville volume the top award in the new, more appropriate category, "Biography and Autobiography." As I admitted anywhere except in Delaware from the late 1980s on, I was overpaid and underworked, at least by the university. But I worked. Maurice Sendak, himself a serious workman, immortalized me in a torn headline of a newspaper a street boy clutches in We Are All in the Dumps: "PARKER WORKS."

I did all right, humble, self-effacing Southerner as I was, even though from the first I was a very unlikely and later on an uneasy member of the profession. Once I became a whistle-blower against fraudulent scholarship sponsored by the federal government, I was threatened with lawsuits, blackballed from an editorial organization I should have served on, smeared promiscuously. Repeatedly attempts were made by different university presses to silence my exposes of fraud in government projects. Anyone following the development of my thought on textual issues would have been at a loss, for a crucial monograph-length article was kept out of print for two decades by threats of lawsuits. One university press suppressed an essay in which as part Choctaw and part Cherokee I expressed politically incorrect views on literature purportedly by "Native American" writers. Taking it for granted that my new research into Melville's life would be welcomed, I was blindsided when reviewers set out to destroy my credibility by claiming that I had invented episodes such as a volume of poems completed in 1860 (the facts of which had been common knowledge since 1922). As I write, three such reviews, by Richard Brodhead, Andrew Delbanco, and Elizabeth Schultz, are still on the Internet, false accusations glittering brightly every day. Only one of these reviewers has yet been visited by any variation of the divine punishment meted out to Ananias and Lee Atwater: Brodhead arrived at Duke just in time to reveal his character by throwing the lacrosse coach and the players to packs of wolves, the corrupt DA and Duke’s Politically Correct Gang of 88. What did I do to deserve all this hostility? All I wanted to do was to play with the white kids.

I'll begin again. I was born near Comanche, Oklahoma, at the end of November 1935 to a white mother and a part-Cherokee, part-Choctaw, part-white father. Times had been bad. At the worst time, during the Dust Bowl, my mother was so hungry that her milk almost dried up while she was nursing Everett, the blonde baby born in 1930, "Sweet Parker." (He grew to be six feet two and a half and muscular; in 1963 he interfered with my movie watching, for he was startlingly like Hud, if only Newman had been blond, half a foot taller, and better looking.) Orpha Lee, the three year old girl, had diarrhea from gorging on fallen mulberries. The two year old boy, Wilburn, was listless. That was the day mother told a lie. Never having driven a car, she got the three children into one and made her way to Spearman (or was it Perryton?) in the vast northern stretches of the Panhandle of Texas (across the border from where she was born, in Guymon, Oklahoma Territory) and told the grocer that her husband had a job. She brought home food on credit, and, after wearing out shoe soles twice that year, looking for work, my father got a job the next day. The grocer never knew she had lied to him. They survived the dust storms that hit hardest in the Panhandle of Texas. Mother's "Uncle Bode," Moses Amariah Costner, and some of his children were still at Guymon, the last she saw of them; one of the cousins was the father of Bill Costner who was the father of Kevin, who in the 1980s ruined my "mother's maiden name" bank password that had been as safe as "Rumpelstiltskin."

In 1934 on the Green place near Comanche, in south-central Oklahoma, my mother was so malnourished that her full term baby was stillborn. As they liked to say, if she had lived I would not have been born. That year my father slaved on the rented Green place, digging post holes, repairing fences, re-shingling part of the house. My birthday was always near or actually on Thanksgiving but that was never a problem: we could not celebrate Thanksgiving then. Early in 1936 Mr. Green told my father the place was so improved that he would have to charge twice the rent he had been charging. Twelve years later, just after I had learned from Hamlin Garland's Boy Life on the Prairie that fiction could be about real life, I read his "Under the Lion's Paw," which told a story just like the story of how we had to leave the Green place.

My father's younger brother Jim got him a job in an oil field near Escobas, Texas. My first memories are of the Rio Grande in flood when I sliced a foot on broken glass in the water and a friend of the older children drowned in it. We lived in an oil field in a clean little foreman's house that had a kitchen and a bathroom with a shower. You saw cactus and oil wells whichever way you looked. My father burned thorns off cactus with a homemade flame-thrower, so the cow could eat the blades. He kept chickens in pens three feet off the ground to protect them from predators; once the wind blew the pens apart and scattered the chickens. The three years at Escobas were good, after hard times earlier. They bought a tall radio that brought in the ravings of Adolph Hitler, which terrified me, and a set of the World Book encyclopedia in a case with slanted shelves, so you could read what was on the spines and see that the books were in the right order. It was a great place to learn the alphabet, which concluded with "Reading and Study Guide." A multicolored fabric covered the top and bright tassels fell down three or four inches all around. Spencer Bryden could form his aesthetic sensibility on black and white marble squares, but for me gaudy tassels on a table cover sufficed.

Then my father was collapsed with what was called rheumatoid arthritis, supposedly brought on when, awakened by a fire outside which he had thought was extinguished, he shoved his foot into a shoe into which a black widow spider had crawled. From San Antonio I remember two rooms. One was a medical office where the dark green wainscotting was twice as tall as I was, the room suffused with darkest agony the cause of which I learned four decades later. The other was a hospital room from the window of which cars and people were terrifying small. I've been afraid of green rooms and heights ever since. My father lost his job and we had to leave the neat little house.

Things were hard again from 1939 until defense plants opened early in 1942. At Hebbronville, Texas, we were all six in one room, no electricity, no running water, in the back half of a tiny Mexican ma and pa store. Once when we were chasing a rat it leapt into the open oven; I don't remember what happened next. When the cow went missing from the common we drove to the pound and backed the Model T this way and that so the headlights could shine on all the cows penned there. We were all panicked, for the milk from that cow was keeping us all alive. We would have risked breaking into the pound if we had to because we could not have paid a fine. The cow showed up, and from then on Wilburn, the eleven year old, walked her down the dirt streets to the common and walked her back to where we were living so she could be tied up for the night. Once Wilburn and the cow came into sight and rescued me as I was being beaten by a gang. A little white boy lived in the barrio, across the street, and he let me in the kitchen once. It was all white. His mother came in and hustled me back out the door. How filthy was I? In dreams I still glimpse a blindingly white kitchen.

After Pearl Harbor the new DuPont smokeless gunpowder plant near Pryor, Oklahoma, needed workers faster than anyone could provide worker housing. We spent early 1942 in a tent on a plywood floor, a pot bellied stove in the center, and a water pipe and faucet outside the tent, a few hundred feet from the entrance to the plant. I kicked and screamed as they tried to make me use a shit-smeared outhouse; I must have been allowed to use a chamber pot after that. I've awakened with snow on my face in a little annex, a fasten-on side tent to the big tent--not from camping in the Sierras. While we were in the tent my father found a doctor in town who would do a tonsillectomy on my sister without anesthesia. We took a bus to school in Pryor until the cyclone turned the sky a putrid green and blew the school open in the process of killing what Collier's later referred to as "seventy-odd Oklahomans." I was baffled and resentful when I read that in 1947 or so, not comprehending why everyone thought Okies were odd. At the University of Delaware I remembered the tent every time I signed myself as the "H. Fletcher Brown Professor," for my chair was endowed by the DuPont executive in charge of smokeless gunpowder.

After the cyclone in Pryor mother and the children waited in Wister, Oklahoma, to be summoned West. Through the late spring of 1942 my father's dark, impossibly tall great granduncle John Glenn, Choctaw, Cherokee, and Scottish, dressed in black and wearing the only tall black stovepipe hat I ever saw in actual use, brought fresh vegetables to the door of the tiny house. (His 6 foot 5 inch father served in the United States Volunteer Service in the Mexican War.) Later in 1942 we were among the tens of thousands of white hillbillies and Southern blacks hauled on special "Kaiser trains" to work in shipyards and live in Henry J. Kaiser's instant city, Vanport (because between Vancouver and Portland).

Vanport in weeks changed from empty flood plain to the second largest city in Oregon. In 1944 and 1945 we were in the new adjunct East Vanport, separated from the Columbia River by a dirt dike. A part of it caved in on three children I knew. The one they dug out in time was hollow-eyed and green afterwards. The state, I see on the Internet, had a history of fierce prejudice against blacks dating back to the Oregon Donation Land Act of 1850, which specified that free land was only for white settlers. My father had once lived where there was a sign on either side of town advising any black man not to let the sun go down on his head there. In the shipbuilding plant where all the facilities were shared he looked hard at a black man who was topping a toilet seat with strip after strip of toilet paper and got a rebukeful explanation: "You never know who's been sitting on these seats." This man's fastidiousness was a revelation to my father, who told the story on his prejudiced self for the rest of his life. I don't know whether he ever applied it to times when he had been discriminated against because he was so obviously part Indian. Like the shipyards, the schools in Vanport were integrated, a first for Oregon. I didn't know to pay attention to integration, and the only prejudice I saw in Vanport was against a child whom I and the other kids taunted for being an Oregonian, but I was afraid of George, a big black classmate, who could throw a rock over the tallest tree the bulldozers had left on the banks of the Columbia and could poke a finger right through your chest so it came out the other side.

Like everyone of mixed races, the older Parkers had been alert to shades of color. I was an old man before I learned why my Aunt Betty was always called Blanket: she came out so dark they might just as well have given her a blanket and left her off at the Reservation. Choctaw humor? Okie humor? It would never have occurred to me that there could be prejudices against Indians. I nOregon my best friend, Billy Shoemaker, was interesting not because he was Indian but because he was Kiowa, not a more familiar tribe. We used to put a rock on a protruding knot on a tree to indicate whether we had already passed there on the way to school. Around June 1945 I learned just how different Indians were: a cousin of a cousin arrived across the river in Washington, puffy, bloated, doughy, listless, rescued just weeks earlier from a concentration camp where German doctors had rejoiced at their luck in acquiring a genuine Red Indian to perform medical (I think chemical) experiments on.

In Vanport and East Vanport the older children all dropped out of school and got jobs. Orpha Lee worked in a shipyard. Everett was a waiter in a big Portland restaurant (where he served Alan Ladd once and brought home an autograph). Wilburn at 14 was assistant manager of a grocery store in Portland. My name was in the Portland Oregonian because in the third grade I came closest to guessing the number of pinto beans in a goldfish bowl. Trust an Okie, used to eyeing and prospectively dividing the available resources, to come up with a good rough estimate. I was on my own with a small radio, a growing collection of Wonder Woman comics, money for movies, absolutely unsupervised at least 90% of the time. I was secretively ambitious, for I wrote in pencil on the bottom of a chalk Superman "this has given me a story." Luckily my mother and my visiting sailor cousin, Ishmael (thin like Grandpa Costner and extremely tall) could not read the words when they turned Superman upside down. I kept my secret. Why did Ishmael have to say he had seen Mickey Rooney turn in a full circle in front of him and other sailors as he urinated on a floor? Stories that could not be true could disturb your imagination a long time.

At nine, a month or two after FDR's death, I was put to work, riding out on the back of a flatbed truck to pick strawberries and other crops. Older workers favored me with the vilest kind of confidential talk that I mostly did not understand. Some of the things I was told, I believe now, were physiologically impossible as well as morally repulsive. We got out of Oregon almost three years before the catastrophe this time, the flood that wiped out Kaiser's whole hastily thrown up metropolis. Somewhere in central Oregon my father discovered my cache of Wonder Woman comics under the back seat and threw all of them out the window. What would they be worth now? We were parked on the bank of the Snake River in Boise where someone had left a pocket knife with broken blades and some feet of fishing line when the older ones looked at a paper that had news about a bomb falling on Hiroshima.

The next years we were on a farm four miles outside Wister, Oklahoma (no electricity at first, no running water ever). The barn was well sited, but the well was downhill from it and the house was below that. You've seen pictures of this house hundreds of times with wheelbarrows out front and Okies and assorted barrels and maybe a washing machine on the porch. The view to the north, I realized in the 1970s, was not unlike the view north from Melville's Arrowhead, Cavanaugh Mountain making an adequate version of Saddleback. No one else paid much attention to natural beauty, although I climbed alone up the foothills regardless of rattlesnakes. I had seldom seen my father after 1941, so he asserted control after we got there. Two young barn cats came with the place, not merely self sufficient but productive. He handed me the 22 rifle and made me shoot them. This was to make a man of me, at not quite ten. The money saved in Oregon dwindled away in 1945, 1946, 1947 and thereafter. In Oregon a teacher had sent home a note about my needing glasses, so I was still wearing them when I got beaten up by Okies (foolishly holding one down while others kicked my head). I'll never know how bad the damage was. When my head outgrew the glasses it was assumed that I did not need them any more. My teeth were a mess. That happens when you are badly nourished and read Wuthering Heights a lot and gnash your teeth whenever Heathcliff and Cathy do. My father found a dentist in Poteau who would charge less by drilling without Novocain. That was also designed to make a man of me, at twelve or thirteen. He pulled over on the way home. I spit blood and stared him down.

Team sports after school? For town kids who did not have chores to do. The best thing about school was that I was kin to more people than anyone in the class because both my parents had folks there. My father's cousins were all dark. One first cousin of his was weeks younger than me, black haired and more Indian than my father because his mother, my grandmother's much younger sister, had married a man even more Indian than she was. (Fifty years later I was shocked to see that this cousin by then looked startlingly like my father.) I had two fourth cousins in the class from my mother's side. Second cousins Edgar Shippey (later called Doc Shippey) and Edgar Lugene Costner in northern Mississippi had delighted each other with their witty greeting of "Hello, Cousin Edgar." Witticisms were to be treasured. One of Doc Shippey's granddaughters, Lottie Cain, owned all the Tarzan books and many of Zane Grey's books, and loaned me all she had. In the eighth grade we wrote a western novel, my first collaboration. A student of Grey's prose could detect in our book some slight measurable debts to the master. A lot of people start novels. Lottie and I finished ours. In 2007 Jon Tuska quoted me in the preface to a new edition of Zane Grey's Shower of Gold. For a co-author of the 1948 Yonder the Whirlwind could there be greater professional happiness than having his name in any book by Zane Grey? Lottie came back into my life after half a century, and late in 2006 unearthed her anamuensis copy of Yonder the Whirlwind. What would the two of us have thought if we had been able to read Tuska's preface in 1948?

On the farm I had been the only reliable slave, not counting my mother. I rode a harrow, standing, at 10, then did everything after that, and by 1951 I was the only one left. A classmate, born prematurely and never quite right, made every English class a hellish contest between him and the hapless teacher. Plotting escape from farm and school, I accumulated gorgeous free brochures on thick paper from the state of New Mexico and longed to finish high school there. My mother intervened. I studied Morse code and after I finished the 11th grade, in 1952, I signed on as a telegraph apprentice on the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad at Red Rock, up near Kansas. I was sixteen. After hours I helped put up television antennas. 60 feet high got you Oklahoma City, and if you were lucky Coffeeville, Kansas. In late September we had a rush order for an antenna on an isolated farmhouse, a tall gaunt house occupied by darkly dressed people with tall gaunt dogs. When we finished, the owners invited us to stay, so among snarling dogs and rabid Republicans I got to sit silent and watch the slimiest politician of my generation damn himself, I was confident, by his transparently manipulative Checkers speech. Keeping silent was easier because I was sure the more or less straight-shooting Eisenhower would drop him from the slate.

After a few months I became a telegrapher on the Kansas City Southern Railroad in Louisiana and Texas. At Many, Louisiana (you say it "manny"), I and the clerk, a black man, Bob Sibley, who chain-smoked Fatimas, wetting them half their length, loaded the ledgers and the adding machine into the car trunk of the psychotic bully McCarthy-loving zealot of an agent every night where they stayed untouched until we carried them back into the depot the next morning so Bob could do all the work on the books. A part-white Okie could not have encountered a better man as the first grown up black he ever knew. Sibleys still live in nearby Florien. Is Bob remembered worshipfully by anyone but me? The white Trueblood family celebrated the birth of Jesus joyously downstairs that year oblivious of the seventeen-year-old upstairs in his rented room. A better person would have forgiven them before now. At the end of 1952 and the start of 1953, I was substitute depot agent in Noble, Louisiana, when time stopped. Only the cliché said it right: the South was "plunged into mourning" for Hank Williams. All you heard on the radio, all day long, was one haunting voice. You could have walked for days across any more or less inhabited stretch of the South and never gotten out of the sound of his voice.

In March 1953 I became agent-telegrapher at Singer, Louisiana, a crossroads with a sawmill in prolonged death throes that month and the next, and a post office in a corner of the general store. Singer was roughly equidistant from Marysville, near the Texas border, the Sabine River, and DeRidder to the north and DeQuincy to the south. For a few months after I got there the Long legacy (this was between the governorships of Earl K. Long) kept a bookmobile coming through every week. Living in the depot (no running water again) I took correspondence courses in English composition and in American history from the University of Oklahoma, typing my papers on the all-capitals railroad machine and getting the local Baptist preacher to monitor my exams. For the first history course I acquired Henry Steele Commager's Documents of American History, one of the greatest textbooks ever devised, even though I could not find the Wilmot Proviso in it. I could go to New Orleans for free if I spent most of the weekend riding trains, on the KCS to Shreveport and the L&A to New Orleans, and back. I was in the dining car drinking chicory coffee (not my usual Jefferson Dark Roast) just south of Baton Rouge when the papers brought aboard there announced the decision on Brown vs. Board of Education. All the whites in the car spoke decently, acceptingly, that morning.

Through all of 1953 and most of 1954 I sent all my money home from Louisiana then bought my father an old truck when they gave up and left for California. One of his sisters loaned him money to buy an $8,500 house on the wrong side of the hill in Point Richmond. He got a job building a bridge to San Rafael. When I began coughing blood the railroad sent me to a TB sanatorium west of Shreveport, by the Texas line. The place was called the Pines but only some short scrub oaks were near it. Old men shuffled into the room with their cigarettes, spitting mucous or blood into their Dixie cups and telling how many years they had watched the oak leaves fall. Elvis Presley, whom I had seen at the Louisiana Hayride, sang "Heartbreak Hotel" 8,543 times. After three months I realized that people went to the Pines only to die and gathered my coins and telephoned my mother to tell her I was sick. She ordered me to come home--to Richmond.

I drove out and gave the state of California the choice of letting me infect the family or spend a couple of months in a sanatorium in the East Bay where people went to get well. In California doctors knew about streptomycin. "Folsom Prison Blues" was playing on the radio late in 1955, before the official release date you see on the Internet. I identified with Cash because the same thing tortured me as tortured him, watching as other people move on--the doctors, in my case, who just kept on a moving, zipping into the ward, zipping out. Discharged at the end of 1955, just after I was 20, I settled into an 8 x 9 room on the front of the house. A half century later I verified the size of the room when the owner, a hospitable fellow, said the house had just been appraised at $965,000. The whole of Point Richmond was buffed then, as if spiffed up for a movie shoot and left gleaming still. In the 1990s I wrote a loving, poignant passage about the rooms which were sacred to Henry James because he had inhabited them with his Muse, writing. What I wrote was accurate about James but it was also suffused with my memory of the room in Point Richmond, sacred to me because I learned to read there.

Getting a fresh supply of reading matter was a problem, so on the first of January 1956 I propped up the one-volume Shakespeare I had bought in New Orleans in 1953, the Garden City Books edition illustrated by Rockwell Kent, with preface and little introductions to the plays by Christopher Morley. In high school I had memorized the purple passages from Shakespeare in Louis Untermeyer's A Treasury of Great Poems English and American, and had memorized much of Macbeth in a bowdlerized edition (no porter talking about alcohol and sexual function), and at Red Rock, Oklahoma, in 1952 under the meager shade of a locust tree in a cow pasture, cow patties all around, I had read King Lear for the first time, in a 1947 Pocket Book of five great tragedies, memorizing the bastardy speech. Now in 1956 for five months I read only Shakespeare, over and over, every day. The first time or two through the plays what I understood was hit or miss. Finally while reading Romeo and Juliet I realized that the passage about the natural and his bauble that had baffled me was obscene, and funny. I thought about that a while and decided that maybe everything made sense, or was meant to make sense. Starting then, I put the brakes on, and would not leave a passage until I thought I understood it, not just the famous cruxes but all the text. From that day the way I read was transformed. Later, critics would say I was an unwitting New Critic in my reading of texts. No: the New Criticism of the 1940s had made the natural universal assumption that texts are supposed to make sense, even while failing to realize that many texts did not make sense. I see from my neat notes that, just for examples, I read Henry 6 Part 1 six times; King John 7 times; Hamlet 10 times besides listening to LPs; King Lear 9 times; Measure for Measure, which I was crazy about, 17 times; Coriolanus 10 times; Cymbeline 9 times; The Tempest 16 times.

Still in bed, I took a course in philosophy from the University of California for which I read John Dewey's Human Nature and Conduct, which got me over being terrorized by Baptists. Then for a year, waddling the first days of every week from Monday pneumo-peritoneum (air pumped into the belly through a six-inch long horse needle, to force the diaphragm to restrict the lungs), I attended West Contra College Junior College. The best teacher in the world, an Austrian Jew named Charles Lovy, a refugee, taught French there; he also taught German, and a lifelong regret is that I did not sign up for it too. After a few months the Richmond Insurance Agents gave me an award of $100. In a health education class the instructor turned over bright overlays until one revealed the lungs. My notebook shows the trail of the fountain pen as I fainted and slid off the chair: I had been in denial about the seriousness of the disease. I rested when I could in the afternoons, exhausted from carrying the skin full of air around school, like being always a little pregnant. About that time, early in 1957, I spent eleven afternoons in bed reading Moby-Dick, savoring it, pausing to look at paragraphs as long as I needed to, writing little wonder-struck notes on it. Knowing Shakespeare then as few English professors ever do, I could hardly believe that a nineteenth-century American had read Shakespeare so profoundly.

A long bus ride away in San Francisco copies of the first edition of Howl were on sale at City Lights and people I knew were reading it. I read it, but knew enough Whitman to draw back from anything that seemed so derivative. Buying a season's ticket to the Richmond Community Theatre got me the privilege of sitting in the back during rehearsals. Hang around a theatre and they cast you in something. After a couple of other roles including the lead in Male Animal I got to play Michael Cassio in Othello, which I knew not just from reading but from what I was sure was the best Shakespearean recording ever made--the performance by Paul Robeson, Uta Hagen, and Alexander Scourby. By the Friday and Saturday performances most of the air had seeped out of my stomach, so I didn't waddle or wobble in a sword fight.

In the late summer of 1957 I was healthy enough to stop having air pumped into my stomach every week. By then I had enough seniority to take my chances on a night job on the Kansas City Southern at Port Arthur, Texas. Audrey had just destroyed Cameron, that magical, mysterious island of shrimp fishermen. My friends at Singer had joined the rescue teams and had stories of snakes and human bodies in trees. I rented a room from Ailene Lançon, a magnificent old Louisiana Cajun woman, a professional seamstress for the best men's store in Port Arthur, who had just acquired her fourth hip but soon was driving nightly to church bingo games. A superb cook, she operated under minimalist rules unknown in Oklahoma. She spoke her second language, English, with great force and originality: "It isn't worth it" will never sound as strong to me as "It don't worfs it." My shift, I knew when I left California, was peculiar, 8 at night till 4 in the morning.

If I didn't sleep, I would have days free to drive to Lamar State College of Technology in Beaumont. I signed up for a hesitant ten units the first semester, then full loads or overloads (22 units once). I bought a hundred and twenty-five pound eight-inch reel to reel tape recorder and put myself to sleep with my recording of Racine's Phaedra and other plays I wanted to learn, or Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny (taped to save wear on the records), the sound turned low. One neighbor heard, somehow, and complained to Mrs. Lançon about the dull moan, once and once only: by then Mrs. Lançon was a lioness about her lodger. I had time to read at night, up the unlighted stairs in the vast, empty, unlocked KCS Freight House, Paradise Lost and more of Milton for a class, but on my own Troilus and Criseyde, The Faerie Queene, The Anatomy of Melancholy, and the Ernest De Selincourt and Helen Darbishire Prelude with the 1805-6 text facing the 1850. I was still reading the slow way I had learned to do with Shakespeare. Lamar was perfect for me and to me, accepting not only my courses from West Contra College Junior College but also my correspondence courses from Oklahoma and California and later a correspondence course in medieval French poetry from the University of Texas.

In April 1958 in Waterloo, Iowa, a crane hit a highline while Wilburn was unloading metal pipes. He had grown to be perfectly proportioned, nearly six feet, dark haired, very much from the Indian side of the family. The other workers survived, but Wilburn, well schooled by his father, was inadequately dressed, wearing old shoes with nails poking through. The nails did it. He lived almost two weeks, his arms and feet burned so nearly off that some of them were amputated before he died. Even now that I have lost some sense of smell I can't stay long at the Cayucos town barbecue. You want to know what his death did to the family, read about Gansevoort Melville's death in the first volume of my biography. This was too hard. There was no backlog of work at the KCS, but I had an overload of courses to make up after a trip to Iowa and another to LeFlore County, Oklahoma, for the funeral. Recognizing that I needed big medicine if I was going to sleep and study, not to mention telegraphing and receiving "consists" of railroad cars, I read all of "Song of Myself" aloud to myself in the Freight House in the middle of the night, and saw to it that I was good for another year and a summer.

You know I'm old when I say that the only time Dan Rather read my name was on the radio. He did that from Houston, when I graduated from Lamar “with highest honors” in August 1959. I had the offer of a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, $1,800. Newly determined to be a risk taker (after all, I had TB and hadn't died of it yet), feeling pretty nearly invulnerable despite the raw lesson of Wilburn, I relinquished the sure thing of seven years’ seniority on the railroad and drove north. As it turned out, railroad telegrapher would have been a dead end job. My first dead end job, I decided late in the century.

I had that summer taken an intensive course in Yeats, and knew Richard Ellmann's Yeats work well (knew, in fact, that he had it wrong, once, about the poem about a picture by Edmund Dulac). Ellmann's biography of James Joyce was just being acclaimed, notably by Stephen Spender in the New York Times in late October. Somehow the interest of the subject and the deftness of Ellmann prose protected him from New Critical attacks on the very enterprise of writing biography. I was assigned to Ellmann for advisement but I was too shy to approach him. Decades later we chatted familiarly about textbook royalties. Being so shy, I did not learn that at Northwestern Wilson Fellows who kept their noses clean got automatic University Fellowships the next year, so I was looking for a teaching assistantship somewhere until they told us. I got the M.A. in the summer of 1960 then cleared the French and German exams out of the way before I forgot everything.

I found that graduate professors held to a near-uniform policy of not teaching in seminars. Professors who did teach in seminars and especially those who taught passionately soon found themselves bound for a more hospitable department--the one in Madison, or lured away as Ellmann increasingly was. The others assigned reports the first day of class and by the third week students were conducting the classes, however ill prepared they were. That was how Harrison Hayford ran a seminar, but he redeemed himself, I heard in Scott Hall, where I waited tables to pay for meals, by saying he did not want a term paper. Instead he required an article written for a particular learned journal, typed according to the journal's specifications, and handed to him in an envelope addressed to that journal with the proper amount of postage affixed. Virgil Heltzel had brusquely dashed my hopes of working in the Renaissance: I could not study with him because I knew neither Greek nor Latin and needed to know both. So when I heard about Hayford's requirements I signed up for his next course and clove to him until he died.

Hayford had written on Melville and Hawthorne before the full early power of the New Criticism, but in the 1950s when he collaborated with a fellow Yale student, Merton M. Sealts, Jr., on an edition of Billy Budd, he was consciously defying the new proscription against editorial work. I brought to my non-term-paper, "The Metaphysics of Indian-Hating," an understanding of Melville's Calvinist view of total depravity which Elizabeth S. Foster, the most respected authority on The Confidence-Man, one of Hayford's colleagues at Yale, had missed altogether by lumping Christianity among religions which take an optimistic view of mankind. It was plain to me that the 1940s Yale crowd had been too high church to understand Melville's religious absolutism. Southern Baptist doctrine, back then, was a perfect modern introduction to Melville's Dutch Church indoctrination. Hayford had me give the paper at the Melville Society meeting in Chicago in December 1960, and it was published in Nineteenth-Century Fiction, and reprinted at least three times, twice by me in Norton Critical Editions and once by the assembly-line collection-maker Harold Bloom.

Hayford's policy was brilliant, and the promise of publication was dazzling, but the pervasive tone of the graduate courses was so dismal that in late 1961, profoundly saddened, I audited a course in Goethe given in German by Meno Spann, famous to me from a textbook and notorious around campus for sunbathing his corpulent, near naked frame on the sand dunes by Lake Michigan surrounded by cancerous sun-reflectors, and enviously suspected of being successfully lecherous. He was magnificent in the little seminar, a sensual intellectual giant overflowing with love of Goethe and determined to make him live for us. Restored, as I had been by Whitman in 1958, I dropped quietly out of the class, sure I could endure whatever happened on the way to a Ph.D.

I planned to study for the qualifying exams in the fall of 1962 but in the spring Walker Gilmer importuned me to come out for the weekend to Libertyville to prep him for the April exams using his elaborate and laboriously devised flash cards. Saturday evening I called Hayford and asked if I could take the exams with Walker on Monday. He shrugged off the sign-up rules and agreed. Ernest Samuels fumed but did not put up a fight about letting me take the exam, although when I answered a little throwaway Melville question humorously he observed that this was no place for levity. They passed both of us. Good: I would not need to study for exams in the fall and could concentrate on courses as an Instructor at Northwestern for $5,500--a fortune.

So when Jean Hagstrum, the chairman, called me in and asked me to apply for a Woodrow Wilson Dissertation Fellowship I said I couldn't, I was going to teach at Northwestern and make real money. He very patiently explained that as chairman he could assure me that I was not required at Northwestern. Furthermore, the Ford Foundation people were in a bind. They had their hands on money for dissertation year grants restricted to Wilson Fellows who had passed their language exams, as I had done long before, and their qualifying exams, as I had fortuitously and fortunately done the previous week. If Wilson Fellows had been warned a year in advance, more of us would have taken the prelims, but as it was almost no one was eligible. I was going to apply, Hagstrum explained. I had been looking forward so eagerly to the $5,500 that I said, "Well, I have to have $4000." He said, "They won't give that." I was stubborn. He called them and they said, "No, we can't do that." They called back in a few minutes: "The best we can do is $3,990." Hagstrom may have taken out his wallet and offered me a ten spot. I capitulated. I can't explain this story now. I was not arrogant. I was a humble, self-abasing Southerner. I was deeply ignorant and I had been proud of being hired as an Instructor, something new for the English department at Northwestern. This part starting with the invitation to Adlai country I learned not to tell graduate students who were studying for the prelims. Too few of them responded graciously.

Early in 1962 I knew well enough that the dominant literary approach, the New Criticism, discouraged the reader from drawing on any evidence other than that of the words of a printed novel or poem. For one teacher at Lamar I had tried to supply what he requested, "searching" critiques of poems. When I subtitled a paper "A Searching Explication" he brushed off the irony and said the paper really was searching. I was drawn to working with historical documents and to treating treat novels and poems as historical documents. Commager's Documents had marked me. De Selincourt and Darbishire had marked me. The first quarter at Northwestern I wrote on Jonathan Swift's campaign against the Duke of Marlborough and on Wordsworth's early humanitarianism, using the first versions of "An Evening Walk" and "Descriptive Sketches." I did well at Northwestern because most of the professors had been trained in the 1930s, in historical research, in research into literary history, in biographical, textual, and bibliographical research. Already, students were arriving at graduate school with no such training. By the end of 1961 I wanted to write a dissertation with Hayford because publishing was the only test I knew for making real contributions. I went through three literary histories looking for mentions of books, primarily novels, that deserved more attention than they had received, and I wrote little two page reports on some 200 of them, looking for a dissertation topic. I concluded that I wanted to work on Melville, not some lesser writer, and that I wanted to write on something historical. I settled fast enough on the various political milieux he lived through, even if he did not participate in all of them.

In June 1962 I mailed my Melville books to General Delivery, New York City, and got a ride down to Port Arthur so I could see Mrs. Lançon. I had read Walden two months earlier, loathing Thoreau's self-righteous superiority. It was merest coincidence, sheer accident of chronology, that I changed my eating habits while reading Walden and lost the fifteen pounds I had gained in the first weeks of eating slices of pie at Frenchy's, down by the depot and Freight House in Port Arthur, after my return in 1957. In 1962 I was wearing my good Baskin glen plaid wash and wear suit. Sitting at her sewing machine, Mrs. Lançon pointed to the Baskin pants, crotch hanging above my knees, then reached out a long arm for them. I changed and relinquished them for remodeling. Mrs. Lançon was magnificent, still, but Port Arthur was a shock: the gas stations still had three restrooms, White Women, White Men, and Colored. With my satchel and a defiantly unSouthern umbrella (in the days before Totes collapsible), wearing my perfectly fitting wash and wear suit, I hitchhiked east, straight to the panhandle of Florida and the River Styx, up northward then. One night I spent in a cavernous old railroad dormitory in Waycross, Georgia.

At Gettysburg in the rain I gave up and took a bus on into Manhattan, arriving in the middle of the night. I checked my satchel and innocently walked across and up and down Central Park. After I had exhausted the accommodations suggested in my 1960 New York on Five Dollars a Day I telephoned Arthur Frommer (after all, he was in the phone book). He sent me to NYU housing, where I was directed to the Penington, an old mansion on East 15th Street handy to Union Square, a mind-expanding, vertically, horizontally, and diagonally integrated boardinghouse for pensioned or working teachers, superannuated Socialists, a would-be poet, a few motley students including a young man from Hull, a halfway house for recovering addicts, a place of refuge for hopeful Batistas, their bags always half packed for their return, and one former Baptist. Perfect. I could eat breakfast with the other lodgers and guests, work all day in the libraries, return for dinner, then sleep in a 12 feet long by 4 foot wide cubicle vacated by Lavinia, a teacher who was traveling through Europe. That was room enough for reading Clarel, which demanded to be taken in small doses. You did not need a lot of private space in New York City. Once I cut out of the library and joined a theatre full of blue-haired ladies at a matinee to see the great Desdemona, Uta Hagen, in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf. Afterwards the women and I blinked our way into sunlight, equally stunned. Two black schoolteachers at the Penington sized me up for a couple of weeks then took me to Gene Frankel's production of Genet's The Blacks a few blocks down from the Penington at St. Mark's, where the cast consisted of every great black actor in the world except Belafonte and Poitier. I did not tell the schoolteachers about the signs at the gas stations in Port Arthur. New York said, "Welcome, Okie."

Not all of New York. In the barrio in Hebbronville, Texas, I had longed “to play with the little white boy” across the dirt street. When I began my dissertation I hoped that a Ph.D. would let me do the equivalent of playing with the white kids, whatever the actual color of that enviable set might be. I met two candidates for the PhD at Columbia, white kids if kids ever were white (you wouldn't know their names if I told you), who were amused that Northwestern University was offering doctorates, not realizing that the Northwest Territory needed some excuse for a school. They were curious about what kind of dissertation I was writing that would involve going to New York City. When I told them I was going to the New York Public Library or the New-York Historical Society every day to read nineteenth-century newspapers and copy out nineteenth century letters about Melville and politics they were dumbstruck. They saw they had a great story to regale their fellow students and Richard Chase with at Columbia, this skinny guy from the Midwest in a wash and wear dark gray glen plaid Baskin suit and a subdued narrow rep tie going to the libraries every day and looking at old newspapers and manuscripts! In 1962, a graduate student going to the archives as if the New Criticism had never triumphed! Coming all the way to New York to do it! They were too polite to laugh outright, but the way they kept looking at each other showed they thought this was the quaintest damned thing they had ever heard. It probably was. The research required by my dissertation topic pushed me out of step with my sprightly contemporaries. I just didn't know how far out of step I was.

My Excellent Reasons (despite Tuttleton!) for not Correcting the Great Thicket of Old Mistakes Promiscuously Piled up by all Previous Biographers

Should a Biographer Signal when Correcting Earlier Biographers? NEVER NEVER NEVER.

Early in the 21st century, after many (but far from all) old gaps in basic knowledge have been filled and after many often-repeated errors have long been corrected, mysteries remain and misconceptions still persist, carelessly repeated from Raymond Weaver or from other obdurate sources of errors. Corrections have often gone unregarded for years or even decades. In my biography I resisted the impulse to flag an episode with "Watch me set Weaver Straight Again!" or "Heads Up Now--New Portion of Old Episode Starts Here!" or even "Be Alert Now--Previously Unknown Episode Coming Up!"

In the Preface" to the first volume I explained:

"The abundance of new documentation afford me the extraordinary--almost unique--luxury of telling my new story without reference to other biographers, after these prefatory pages. The alternative would have been to choke the pages with modifications, corrections, and rebuttals, some significant, some quite trivial. . . . I never correct any biographer in the body of this book, and I have resisted coming down emphatically when I am quoting a document that someone else had mistranscribed or misdated.

Who would have thought that anyone wanted extraneous gloating?

Yet a reviewer of the first volume of my biography, James W. Tuttleton, in the December 1996 New Criterion was deeply vexed at my "deliberate refusal to engage with previous biographers," never to "correct any biographer in the body of this book," or to point out that I was quoting a document that previously had been "mistranscribed or misdated":

Such an attitude, in my view, is really an impediment to Melville studies and an obstacle to learning itself, which is cumulative and aggregative and which proceeds, among other ways, by the careful documentation and elimination of error. Parker's method presupposes that his life is the really accurate one, that only his need be consulted, that it displaces all previous work, and in all this we have to take him at his word. Such a viewpoint discourages collation of information, the comparison of various biographical accounts, and the verification of fact. I have the greatest respect for Parker's work on Melville. And I am convinced that he knows more about Melville's life and books than anyone else in the world. This will be the standard biography for years to come. But he has tried to close the door to comparative analysis and it won't do.

The last thing I wanted was to be "an impediment to Melville studies and an obstacle to learning itself." Far from meaning my biography to close the door to investigation, I had hoped earnestly to encourage careful scrutiny of the evidence. The reader certainly did not need to take me on faith: I documented everything. If I quoted a letter, I dated it and named the archive where it was held. I was encouraging anyone to check my work. I expected that my biography would send dozens of young academics to the libraries wanting to see why I said what I did and find that still more needed to be explored and presented to the world. (It was not my fault that nothing like that raid on the archives took place!)

Yes, learning is "cumulative and aggregative," as Tuttleton said, and almost everything I had ever written on Melville had built upon the work of Jay Leyda, Wilson Heflin, Harrison Hayford, Merton M. Sealts, William H. Gilman, Merrell Davis, Elizabeth Foster, and other students of Stanley T. Williams and occasional later contributors such as Frederick J. and Joyce Deveau Kennedy. The glory, for me, in finding the title The Isle of the Cross was precisely the fact that I was building upon the work of Hayford and Sealts, both then still alive to rejoice at my telephone calls, and on the work of men who would have rejoiced with them if they had been alive, Gilman and Davis, and William Charvat. (I took Amtrak up to tell Jay Leyda in person in his bed at the Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine.)

But to stop the narrative in the biography in order to weigh what Hayford said or almost said in 1946 about what Melville was writing in the winter of 1852-1853, what he and Davis did in 1949 and what Davis and Gilman added in 1960 and what Charvat added in 1968 and then to triumphantly proclaim the title, The Isle of the Cross--that would have been to blur the news. I was not writing the history of scholarship but a biography.

I guarantee you, Harrison Hayford and Jay Leyda knew just how strongly I acknowledged--and celebrated--scholarship as "cumulative and aggregative." Anyone reading the chapter in my first volume on Melville and Hawthorne's last dinner in the Berkshires will see a demonstration of scholarship as cumulative and aggregative, and scholarship as lovingly respectful of those who went before. We add our grains of sand; a few times, if we are lucky, we pile on a handful of sand all at once. Imagine Hayford's joy when I called him to tell him that the Agatha story which he had written about in the mid-1940s had been finished in late May 1853 and that the title was The Isle of the Cross. Imagine our mutual delight when I told him about Melville and Hawthorne’s dinner in Lenox, Hayford being the man who had first tried to list all the NH-HM meetings.

Howard thought Melville had money in the bank in the first half of the 1850s. Once we began to learn how deeply in debt he was, there was no point talking about what Leon thought. I would have been a fool to engage biographical fantasies such as Edwin H. Miller's lurid claim in his critical biography (p. 247) that "Something occurred" in the relationship between Melville and Hawthorne in September 1850, "possibly during Sophia's three-week absence from Lenox." Previously, Hawthorne had "kept Melville at a distance a great deal of the time," but now Hawthorne wrote to Sophia of "our trouble" and said that "we shall never be comfortable in Lenox again." The [249] "younger man must have introduced the subject of male friendship, not once but many times," Miller asserted. Then Melville had "maniacally indulged himself in wild capers, like signing a letter 'his X mark,' visiting Hawthorne in a Spanish cavalier's costume, and cavorting in the company of the Duyckinck brothers during an August day that included a visit to a Shaker village."

Not knowing of the meetings in early and mid-November, Miller speculated that Hawthorne in his letter of 17 November "may have informed Melville for the first time of his departure." How many paragraphs would it take to explain to the reader's satisfaction that Melville did not, really did not, dress up in a Spanish cavalier's costume but merely called out something on the order of "Buenos días, Señor" or "Hola, señor"? Miller's vivid fantasizing would have taken dozens of pages to correct. (There’s enough to do to deal with the way professedly (professionally) gay critics have responded to my own description of Melville's homoerotic feelings.) The only responsible thing to do was to ignore Miller.

I shared Tuttleton's feelings much more than he could have realized, but I was haunted by the memory of a long evening in Los Angeles in the late 1970s when Carvel Collins, who had promised a Faulkner biography for many years, had fascinated and appalled me, Regina Fadiman, Michael Millgate, Meta Carpenter Wilde, and others with his stories of how he was correcting Joseph Blotner's biography of Faulkner one line at a time. Might he have finished his biography before he died if he had simply written it without correcting Joe? Michael, already an aspiring biographer, observed to me cautiously that Carvel was "an accumulator." I was not yet an aspiring biographer, and far from being a hoarder was still at the stage of hastening to share anything I found, usually by publishing it as fast as I could in the Melville Society newsletter. I had not yet gone down the pages of the biography by Leon Howard, whom I loved like an uncle, putting "No" "No" "No" in the margins, but even in the 1970s I understood the lesson about fixating on someone else's errors rather than telling your own story. Fredson Bowers had already cost me too many days identifying his errors and trying to sort out his convoluted truculencies, a period I remembered in the late 1970s as an expense of spirit in a waste of shame, particularly because Bowers kept out of print a very long detailed article I had done with Brian Higgins. In the early 1990s I was determined not to go Carvel's way. For me madness lay in approaching a biography by focusing on earlier biographers' errors. Besides, to have done what Tuttleton wanted would have meant doubling the length of the book, at least, while turning it into a relentless ongoing celebration of my superiority to previous benighted tellers. No, I had told myself, you will never get anywhere if you correct other people's errors.

Visualize this: many biographers write their books from earlier biographies. Laurie Robertson-Lorant, whatever her faults, really did not, for the most part; Andrew Delbanco did. I was writing a biography from documents, not from other biographies, so I would not profit from reading other biographers' outdated stories. After getting very far along with expanding the Log I did, I confess, make a fast turn-through of the biographies to be sure Leyda and I had not missed a document that someone else had seen. Once I began writing, I never read any chapter of an earlier biography (and later found nothing that was both accurate and new to me in Robertson-Lorant's 1996 volume).

My reason for leaving biographies aside was that in every period of Melville's life my new documents, when intermixed in sequence with the previously known documents, dictated a very different story than anyone had told. My biography was new to the point that not a single episode could be told as an earlier biography had told it. My massive labor of the late 1980s and early 1990s, especially, was to put all the old and all the new documents together in a sequence. Finally, I reached the point of having what seemed a sufficiency of documents incorporated but not as yet assimilated. About the same time I experienced keen psychological urgency to see what the documents meant so I could start writing. Enough of the gathering phase--at least for a time! The trick you have to master is to know when you have really done enough gathering. Carvel Collins had fixated at the state of accumulating documents and correcting Joe Blotner, and understandably so, for to go on and begin to write a biography is terrifying, or ought to be, if the writer is serious. Nevertheless, the imperative to stop accumulating and start writing ultimately becomes ever more more powerful as the accumulation goes on. Resolved to start, I cleared my mind of preconceptions and began to read a stretch of documents, new ones all intermixed with old ones (often old ones in a corrected order). I read on until I saw a chapter-length story emerge, and then tried to blaze ahead writing the story.

Like Tuttleton, I find the idea of tracing the history of scholarship enthralling, and trace that history repeatedly in MELVILLE AND BIOGRAPHY: AN INSIDE NARRATIVE, but he had no idea of the sheer number of places where I got on with my story only by ignoring small and large errors in previous biographies. The time to engage other biographers would have been if the evidence was inconclusive and there was real reason for uncertainty. That just did not happen.

Jay Leyda had taken the Virginian of the Mosses essay as speaking for Melville when he declared he had never met Hawthorne. When I worked through the 1850 Augusta Papers for 1850 for the 1988 Moby-Dick Historical Note I constructed, mainly from Maria Melville's letters, a day-by-day account of the first two weeks of August 1850. I had then far more evidence than anyone else had worked with and felt no joy at all in discovering that Jay Leyda had been wrong. I had a four-aspirin headache as I changed the LOG, and I called Hayford and Sealts before doing so. Would Tuttleton have wanted me to set straight Jay and everyone else who had ever argued that Melville read Mosses from an Old Manse before meeting Hawthorne? Now, my word! Brenda Wineapple in her 2003 Hawthorne biography announces that the question of whether Melville read the essay before or after meeting Hawthorne is undecided!!!!

You can’t make critics pay attention to your corrections of old mistakes. Even if I laid out a complicated new (or partially old) story with great clarity, I could not make critics pay attention to it. Literary critics and even many biographers continue to act according to our natures, which is to ignore facts.

A Groveling Apology to Donald Yannella, Who Knew his Way Around the Duyckinck Papers

At the 1991 centennial meeting in Pittsfield Donald Yannella alluded to Sarah Morewood's improper fascination with George L. Duyckinck. We all shouted him down, I crying, "She was a religious woman!"

Well, Yannella had read Sarah's letters in the Duyckinck Collection and none of the rest of us had.

I thought I knew her through the letters in the Augusta Papers and in the Log, but I knew only part of the story, and in fact had not known what to make of one fragment of a letter about a servant sent with a midnight message across the hill from Broadhall to Arrowhead. Later, Lion Gardiner Miles, a Berkshire researcher, went to Yale for me to look in the Gardiner papers (his family's papers) where he found a dumbfounding letter about Sarah's notorious pursuit of the young brother-in-law of President Tyler two summers before Melville's Idyl in the Berkshires.

I was still naive in 1991, slow to learn that minor members of my cast of characters might be much more complex than I was giving them credit for being. I thank Lion Miles and apologize here to Yannella for simplifying a very complicated woman and wrongly challenging him in public. I was right about Helen Melville when I challenged Yannella that day in 1991, but embarrassingly wrong about Sarah Morewood--much more wrong than even Yannella or anyone else knew at that time.

A few words in defense of Helen Maria Melville Griggs

In HERMAN MELVILLE’S MALCOLM LETTER Hennig Cohen and Donald Yannella are harsh toward Helen Maria Melville, Herman's older sister, describing her as "superficial and conventional." After quoting her preference for "solid reading, really enlarging and cultivating the mind" over a slight novel or even history romantically written, they ask: "How could the creative, imaginative, intellectually, and artistically gifted Herman have responded to such observations that so clearly flew in the face of his own theory of fiction? Our suspicion is that her remarks, which were not untypical of popular thinking, would have been yet another reason for his turning inward" (after Malcolm's death).

They scold her: "Such views from one's own sister carried greater weight by virtue of their very source: a family member, a sister, with whom he had shared their parents' roof and whom he had also helped provide a roof for when he was first married." When Yannella at the 17 May 1991 Berkshire Athenaeum Panel on biography described Helen as "the least capable, intellectual, of the brothers and sisters," I am recorded as crying, "Oh no . . . Oh no!"

Helen was brilliant, verbally inventive, the intellectual equal of Gansevoort and Herman, I would think, the first three children getting the most attention and thriving from it, despite later deprivations, or perhaps just innately superior. Herman loved writing to her more than any other family member because he knew she would understand his humor. Here is Helen on 20? June 1854, telling Augusta about her settling into a new house:

. . . it is more than three weeks since Herman's letter reached me . . .
You ask about the wardrobe--two able-bodied, but by no means Samsonic looking men, carried it up stairs, without much apparent effort; but I thought it my duty to restore their expended strength by a glass of wine after the feat was performed. Tell Herman (for Mama's edification) that they gulped it down at one swallow, and did not stop "to sip and taste the flavor as gentlemen do who are accustomed to drink wine daily,"--I quote from the maternal--perhaps they did wisely, considering the quality of the liquid, our vintner cheated us in that last pipe.
I am truly sorry that Demosthenes broke his back--his neck I mean--in trying to assist its descent--but never mind--you shall have a marble bust of Judge George Griggs on the same pedestal one of these days.

Here is Helen on 14 January 1855:
Herman's letter with the spirited etching as a vignette at the close, afforded us much amusement, George is well acquainted with the unfortunate individual left in the Cimmerian darkness of the depot, but until Herman's letter arrived, had no idea that his more happy brother, about to leave it for the opening realms of day, had condescended to bid adieu to the last sojourner in the confines of gloom. He fully reciprocates the love, or respects, whichever sentiment he intended for him, and looking upon him (Herman) as a glorious leader, has followed his illustrious footsteps even to the counter of the Ship-Bread-Baker, where he purchased a half-barrel of the self same flinty abomination; which three times a day, he essays to bite, break, soak, or otherwise subdue its innate hardness of nature, and crunches, and munches, the vile concentrated essence of bread-stuff, with so much apparent gusto, that my teeth stand on edge, and my throat feels dry and husky, in pure sympathy with what I imagine to be the state of his chewing & swallowing apparatus. In mercy to his elbows (the cloth ones, I mean) and his hands, please get from Herman a full, true, minute, and succinct account of the process of breaking these adamantine biscuits. George proposes that I shall say masticating instead of chewing--deglutinating instead of swallowing--take your choice . . . .

Herman's drawing has been lost, but the evidence of the loving badinage of brother and sister has emerged in the Augusta Papers.

Helen had been under a financial cloud all the time when she might otherwise have profited by being sheltered in the house of the Chief Justice Lemuel Shaw for so many months in the early 1840s. Her husband George Griggs was a gruff man even when younger, and was not a young man when he finally proposed to Helen. By then she was so far past her youth that the boy she carried almost to full term died in her womb. Yes, she could express herself conventionally on occasion, but she was much brighter than her other sisters, and treasured by Herman (if not, something I puzzle about, by her brother Gansevoort; the problem is that so little evidence survives, probably). She should have been the wife of a splendid man like John Hoadley, the engineer-poet, whom her anxious, precisionist younger sister Kate did not deserve. Every biographer who submerges himself or herself into the archives would have made better marital decisions than some of their characters did. My heart ached for Helen, and year after year I wished her better than she was experiencing. Here, a few words in her favor.

"Crises" in Criticism, the New Historicism, and Jay Martin on the "New Ignorance"

In the late 1980s one of the rising stars of "criticism," the author of one of the new books on a "crisis" in education, not quite a leader in theory but making a place for himself by linking "criticism" and the "profession," reviewed my Flawed Texts and Verbal Icons. What he said was fuzzy to the point of irrelevance, although I knew that a former student of mine had tried hard to give him basic tutoring in the relation of literary theory to textual and creativity theory, matters utterly alien to him. At a conference early in 1987 this critic came up to me, flustered, suppressing his outrage that in my talk I had mentioned that the writer of a new book on Melville ought to have consulted a mass of archival material highly relevant to his topic. Did I really think, he sputtered, that "there really could be unused information" that his friend might have found?

I jotted down those words as soon as I could, and that night in my diary I commented: "Breaks my heart--no sense of what it is to be a scholar." Making some fragmentary satirical notes about the "New Ignorants" who were getting mid-level and upper-level jobs in Ivy League schools, I hastily elaborated a theory of the economics of literary theory to account for yuppies of the arbitrage generation who did not themselves produce anything of value but who merely traded in pre-existent products. They were growing rich, comparatively, without producing a worthy product, I decided. From my point of view they were inhumane because they showed no awareness of the historical labor force, the genuine scholars who had toiled in the known archives in previous decades and who sometimes had discovered new caches of documents.

My appalled "New Ignorants" was a recollection of a review by Jay Martin's in the January 1981 American Literature. Today, groused Martin, "our scholars" (he should have said would-be critics) "go to Paris to deconstruct their American educations, and then to behave scandalously at home." As he thought about the situation he worked himself up to this denunciation:

In order to write about the nineteenth-century American imagination of authority and genealogy, would it be necessary or even desirable to become acquainted with the major American intellectual historians of the period, or to know accurately the character and condition of family life, or law, or social relations on the East coast, or to become acquainted with the sociologists of American community and the anthropological investigations of American mores? Ach du lieber! C'est une idée très nouvelle! ¶ What must be called nothing less than the new ignorance is fully displayed in Eric J. Sundquist's Home As Found: Authority and Genealogy in Nineteenth-Century American Literature. Anyone who reads this book seriously must be dazzled by the extraordinary display of intelligence and the dexterity of imaginative insight evident in it. . . . What a shame, then, to see him willingly giving over his capacity to fashion.

In his fashionable game Sundquist had claimed that "Melville centrally embodies 'the nightmare of self-generation . . . in a bizarre / parodic and patricidal / incest fantasy"--a claim Martin dismissed as a caricature dashed off "not only unhesitatingly but with completely unreflexive self-assurance," where the Frenchified critic was fusing "insight with blindness."

Martin himself might have said that along with the sociologists and the anthropologists the scholar-critic might have done better to start with knowing the history of the composition and publication of the Melville texts he cited and might even have gone far, far, beyond the published American authorities, into the Gansevoort-Lansing Collection in the New York Public Library or the Shaw Papers in the Massachusetts Historical Society or other repositories. Martin brilliantly identified what was wrong with what turned out to be an academic generation but he did not see that a turn to textual scholarship and biographical scholarship might have led to true breakthroughs for these critics who so wasted their brilliance and thrived while wasting it.

In the next years as I witnessed egregious examples of this New Ignorance in many of the latest publications on Melville I came to see the writers more and more as like the money-changers in the Temple, taking their cut as they transferred a transformed version of history into the New Historicism but contributed nothing new to the stock of knowledge. Later Richard B. Schwartz in his 1997 After the Death of Literature described these "crises" proclaimed by the critics as factitious battles "between straw men, carefully constructed by the combatants to sustain a pattern of polarization that could be exploited to provide continuing professional advancement."

By the late 1980s a few up and coming young academics saw that, after all, there was some strategic self-promotional value in acknowledging things historical and even things biographical. A very few of these younger academics began going to the archives, with dubious results as they attempted to read documents and even to transcribe them without having been taught such a forbidden skill, as is clear in my posts about Neal Tolchin, who at least deserves credit for trying, as so few of his peers did.