Saturday, April 16, 2011
CONTEMPT FOR BIOGRAPHICAL FACTS SERIES--More of John Bryant's Embarrassing Errors in his notes on the 1991 Pittsfield Biography Panel
MELVILLE'S EVERMOVING DAWN was published late in 1997, six and a half years after the panel discussion Bryant provided the fns for, a year after the publication of the first volume of my biography of Melville.
I was humiliated by the errors associated with my comments on the panel and was irritated by Bryant's casual dismissal of my complaint!
To me it mattered that someone was a cousin or a step-cousin. It mattered that Melville said he had started TYPEE in NYC and not in Lansingburgh. Surely Bryant ought to have known about the label Melville affixed to the draft manuscript of TYPEE which he gave to Augusta, since he had published his "Little Henry" article as early as the September 1986 issue of EXTRACTS. The years of Malcolm's and Milie's birth mattered to me. Casually saying Uncle Peter was "invariably helpful in supporting his widowed sister and her family" was simply erroneous, as had been the earlier description by writers on Melville of Peter as Melville's favorite uncle. Peter's selfishness (or perceived selfishness) fills many of the early letters in the Augusta Papers. He could have educated Maria's children and Leonard's children. Timely expenditure of small sums could have altered the lives of those orphaned children. To call Catherine Lansing Elizabeth Shaw Melville's sister-in-law is very strange.
Accuracy mattered to me in 1997, and matters still. I simply don't understand the New Historical habit of treating biographical data as decorative--one Aunt Mary as good as another Aunt Mary, since what's aimed for is the historicist appearance of concern with context rather than the product of actual historical research into contexts.