Friday, October 28, 2011

Help! How can I find wife-murderer Spence or Spencer/Spenser circa 1820 "Moore County" North Carolina

I have tried newspaper databases for NC and TN. There are very few.

Around 1820, maybe as late as 1823, a man named Spence or Spencer killed his wife in "Moore County" North Carolina and fled. He was recognized outside Knoxville some time later and arrested and sent back to North Carolina for execution in Moore County.

Can anyone find the date of this evil man's arrest or execution?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Cousin Thomas W. Bell's 1845 book

I discovered this today while searching Google screen after screen for:

"Robert Ewart" land "North Carolina"

This working on ORNERY PEOPLE is the best fun I have ever had.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Victor Earl Miles, Sr., and Gaines Edwin (Buddy) Miles--Mississippi Hunters

Picture from Bonnie McMullan.
Victor is a cousin of mine on the Bell side. Buddy is a cousin of mine on the Bell side but a closer cousin on the Costner side. Oh shoot! Buddy is also a cousin of mine on the Stewart side, of course.

John Edwards, the Turkey Hunter of the Delta

A picture from Bonnie McMullan.
The Turkey Hunter is a cousin of mine on the Stewart side. His younger half brothers and sisters are cousins of mine on the Stewart side (by a different Stewart) and on the Costner side.

Victor Earl Miles, Sr. & Doris Kate Edwards Miles

Double cousin Bonnie McMullan's photo of her parents. Victor Earl Miles is a cousin of mine on the Bell side and Doris Edwards Miles is a cousin of mine on the Costner-Stewart side.

Leon Howard

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Alfred Kazin--Still Unruly and Pompous and Aggressive--and Never a Real Scholar

TLS 7 October 2011

My diaries are indeed devoid of respect for Kazin, who pontificated about poetry being only a sideline of Melville's and something he was not very good at. I may transcribe the notes I made then, in 1997.

7 October 2011

In the next week's TLS Robert Alter takes issue with what Leader says about his role in a passage in Kazin's journals.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

One of the 2 Books Brodhead and Delbanco thought I made up: in the list of Top 10 Lost Books of All Time

Another note about the article in the SMITHSONIAN MAGAZINE for September 2011. Ever since LETTERS was published in 1960 we had known that Melville finished a book in the spring of 1853 and had offered it to the Harpers. He mentioned still having it when he wrote the Harpers in November 1853. In 1987 in transcribing family letters I learned that the title was THE ISLE OF THE CROSS. The editors of the 1960 LETTERS were both dead, but I got to telephone Harrison Hayford and Merton M. Sealts, Jr., and got to go up to talk to Jay Leyda about it in his hospital bed, months before he died. Just think about the joy Hayford felt, since in 1946 he had showed that Melville had NOT written MOBY-DICK or PIERRE (take your pick, according to the critic you chose) as his "last fling" and renounced writing. Nina Baym in 1979 had ignored all the documentary evidence and claimed that Melville had had a quarrel with fiction and stopped writing after PIERRE until he had to write short stories. Well, no, as we knew in 1979, but now in 1987 I had found the title, and AMERICAN LITERATURE (before Cathy Davidson got control of it) published my announcement of the discovery in 1990. How do you account for Brodhead's implying that I made the book up? I had all the evidence right on the pages he was reviewing for the NEW YORK TIMES in June 2002. Obviously he is incompetent as a scholar or even a reader. Look at what I posted recently about his three times getting "the OTHER way" backwards in his silly chapter on Melville in THE SCHOOL OF HAWTHORNE. But all the evidence about THE ISLE OF THE CROSS and about POEMS (1860) was right there on the pages of my biography. In my diary in 1991 I said "idiotic Brodhead." It's one of those tantalizing notations: you should always say WHAT HE DID that was so idiotic. Incompetent, certainly, but think of the possibility that he knew we were right about THE ISLE OF THE CROSS. (There was absolutely no question about POEMS--everyone had known all about the lost book since 1922--everyone who had read and understood any of a dozen or more basic scholarly books on Melville.) What a hapless Sad Sack New Critic to be exalted to a position of power in two universities. And now one of the books Brodhead implied that I had made up is listed by the Smithsonian Magazine as one of the Top 10 Lost Books of All Time! Brodhead must be one of the Top 10 Biggest Academic Failures of All Time! He has never apologized for trashing my reputation in the New York TIMES. Has he ever apologized to Michael Pressler or the Lacrosse players who were falsely indicted at Duke? To James Van de Velde?

Friday, October 7, 2011


Hershel Parker
What an interesting article in the Smithsonian--"The Top 10 Books Lost to Time." Other Melville scholars figured out that Melville had finished a book in 1853, but in 1987 in one of HM's cousin's letters I found the title, THE ISLE OF THE CROSS, and here it is listed as one of the top 10 books lost to time!

MELVILLE in "THE TOP 10 BOOKS LOST TO TIME" Smithsonian Magazine

Three terribly ignorant and arrogant people in 2002 said I merely made up Melville's THE ISLE OF THE CROSS, which the Harpers would not print in 1853 and which he subsequently destroyed (as far as we know). One of them published his own "biography" in 2005 and casually mentioned that Melville had written a book called THE ISLE OF THE CROSS. That's Delbanco. The other two were Brodhead and Schultz. Brodhead has had his rewarrd. None of the three has apologized for besmirching my reputation.

Well, here is the Smithsonian Magazine! THE TOP 10 BOOKS LOST TO TIME.

"Pennsylvania Dutch"


Some of my German Family Names, going
back 5 or 6 generations. My mother was
a Costner.


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Cambridge D. H. Lawrence scholars

In my reading of 40 or so books on biography, many of them collections based on speeches at conferences, I have gotten round to John Batchelor's 1995 THE ART OF LITERARY BIOGRAPHY. The best thing in it I think is John Worthen's "The Necessary Ignorance of a Biography." I found myself in such strong agreement with Worthen that I dug up THE D. H. LAWRENCE REVIEW 20.3 (Fall 1988), my copy received 15 Sept. 1989, and Read Irised it to post here. I also dug out the Charles L. Ross and Dennis Jackson, EDITING D. H. LAWRENCE: NEW VERSIONS OF A MODERN AUTHOR. I wish Worthen had read my FLAWED TEXTS AND VERBAL ICONS before writing his "Facts in Fiction" for this collection rather than focusing only on Tanselle as representative of the Northwestern-Newberry editorial thinking. If I had endless time, I would steep myself in these Cambridge Lawrence scholars as the nearest to my way of thinking about textual and biographical matters. I see a faded page from the 11 September 1992 TLS with David Trotter's review of two Cambridge editions of SONS AND LOVERS. I see that I circled the last 16 or so lines of the first column and wrote at the bottom: "Why can they say this & not be crucified," for I had done what they did and I was still bleeding. Then I read on and said, "Ah--he DOES crucify them." And I see despairing comments about the competence or incompetence of David Trotter. Well, I also see a note from Edward Nickerson about my review in the Fall 1988 D. H. LAWRENCE REVIEW: "Your review . . . was a delight. I am talking not so much about content (although I have no quarrel with that) as about style. It has been a long time since I red anything in academia that was fun. Thank you."

For the enjoyment of the Cambridge Lawrence crowd and anyone else:

Some people thought all scholarly textual editing would soon follow W. W. Greg as applied by Fredson Bowers, but not so. Anyone who has observed the campaign to foist upon the world a truncated, regularized text of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s "The Gentle Boy" and a titivated version of the 1896 expurgated text of Stephen Crane's MAGGIE, then has witnessed the subsequent crusade to rid the world of the reconstructed THE RED BADGE OF COURAGE by Stephen Crane's and the restoration of Theodore Dreiser 's SISTER CARRIE will be amazed at the editors of AARON’S ROD.

This Cambridge edition of AARON’S ROD Rod shows that the volume editor, Mara Kalnins, and the general editors (James T. Boulton and Warren Roberts) are going their way as if Greg, Bowers, the Center for Editions of American Authors, and the Center for Scholarly Editions had never existed. The "General Editors' Preface" succinctly sketches Lawrence as a great writer whose published texts were corrupt, a careful writer whose methods of composition led him to ignore minor changes introduced by typists and copyists, an unconventional writer who had to choose between being unpublished and allowing publishing houses to restyle and often expurgate his texts. The preface puts the editors on record as aiming "to provide texts which are as close as can now be determined" to those Lawrence "would have wished to see printed." The Cambridge texts therefore will "restore the words, sentences, even whole pages omitted or falsified by editors or compositors" and will free texts from publishers' house-styling. The editors cheerfully face up to the ramifications of their policy: "Paradoxical as it may seem, the outcome of this recension will be texts which differ, often radically and certainly frequently, from those seen by the author himself."

Bowerseans can only regard this Cambridge policy as heretical, and anyone persuaded by Jerome J. McGann's revival of James Thorpe's notion that the best text is the text that got into print (the authentic social-compact product of author, helpful friends, and a publisher embodying the spirit of the times) will also be aghast at the Cantabrigians, for the editors are not concerned with preserving evidences of the literary tastes and social antennae of Thomas Seltzer in New York and Martin Seeker in London. What revolution in textual thinking has turned these Lawrenceans away from fascination with the comma policy followed by typists and the delicacy of Seltzer's semicolons and the subtleties of Seeker's paragraphing? What has deflected them from the intricate moral and philosophical problem of what it meant for Lawrence to "delegate" his authority to a typist or to tacitly "accept" anything a publisher did, whether imposing a house-style or deleting long sections? What strange kink of the brain caused them to focus on the author and his intentions?

This heresy is not cloaked in high philosophical debate, for I see no reference to Greg, Bowers, or lesser authorities on textual theories and textual procedures. Rather than fighting their way through to a justification of their position, the editors proceed as if any reasonable person would be more concerned with what Lawrence wrote than with what got into print. Not once do they stop to wring their hands over the fact that the text they print is not precisely the text which first appeared and was reviewed and then passed into literary history. Not once do they stop to analyze the scruples they overcame in deciding to thrust upon the world a text which is not the text that Joseph Wood Krutch and Rebecca West read. They seem unperturbed by the fact that now anyone writing on Lawrence's reception and later reputation will have to puzzle out exactly what reviewers or critics were reading when they wrote about the work titled AARON’S ROD. One can only be thankful if it turns out that no reviewers or literary historians have seized AARON’S ROD as a crucial text in the rise of literary modernism, as many literary historians seized upon the 1895 RED BADGE and the 1900 CARRIE as major documents of literary naturalism: had that happened, a Lawrencean counterpart of Donald Pizer might soon be mobilizing to crush the new (original) text.

From the 1960s into the 1980s it seemed that British editors as well as Americans were ignoring or shunting aside the textual issues that interest these Lawrence scholars. Back then editors typically mired themselves in minutiae, fussing over perfectly acceptable spelling variants and standard old-fashioned punctuational practices, then regularizing spelling and punctuation in violation of their own claim to be printing unmodernized texts. And while textual editors and their reviewers alike seemed confused or flippant or merely ponderous when they touched on most of the textual-editorial issues, both of theory and procedure, they seemed almost unaware of the much more important area, that ambiguous terrain where textual and biographical evidence has aesthetic implications. They kept at bay cognitive psychology with its rich new discoveries about human memory (a factor that might possibly be relevant to the consideration of late revisions). They routinely kept biography away from editorial theory. They followed a rationale of copy-text that (although perfect in some very simple situations) was incompatible with what is known of the creative process, since, denying that the process is a process, it assumes that an author's aesthetic control over anything he writes lasts as long as he lives. They could hardly have done otherwise, since they rigorously kept creative theory and studies of the creative process away from editorial theory. Editors, in short, did not rethink Greg's theory and did not examine Bowers's practice.

Throughout the heyday of Greg-Bowers it seemed that scholarly generations might come and go before editors discussed their authors' creative processes with wonder and awe, or at least with respect. How astonishing to find the Lawrence editors going calmly about their author's business, determining what he wrote and putting it into print for new readers (including readers already familiar with a reduced text titled AARON’S ROD). It is as if all the ferocious pedantry, the editorial self-will run riot, had never taken place. It is as if we had all always been most concerned with what was unique about what the authors wrote, not what society countenanced as printable. Will these editors of Lawrence accept the blessings of a much-buffeted Melvillean who to his mild surprise and bemusement seems to have survived into a quiet, sane aftermath of the New Bibliography?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Working Contents and Draft of Preface for MELVILLE BIOGRAPHY: AN INSIDE NARRATIVE


§ I.--Biographer and Biography (with short headnote)
01 Melville and the Footsteps Theory of Biography
02 Textual Editor as Biographer in Training: The Norton Moby-Dick and the Northwestern-Newberry The Writings of Herman Melville
03 Entangled by Pierre: Doing Biography Away from the Archives
04 Creating The New Melville Log and Starting the Biography
05 Facts Which Do Not Speak for Themselves
06 Desiderata and Discoveries in Traditional Archives and Databases

§ II.—Critics vs. Biographical Scholarship (with short headnote)
07 Agenda-Driven Reviewers: Melville in the Insular New York Newspapers and Magazines vs. Global Loomings from “Ragtag Bloggers” and Litblogs
08 Little Jack Horners and Archivophobics
09 Biographical Scholars and Recidivist Critics
10 Presentism in Melville Biography
11 The Late 20th-Century Mini-Melville: New York Intellectuals without Information
12 The Early 21st-Century Mini-Melville: New York Intellectuals without Information

§ III.— Biographical Scholarship: Demonstrations and Challenges (with short headnote)
13 Melville as the “Modern Boccaccio”: The Fascinations of Fayaway
14 Melville’s Courtship of Elizabeth Shaw
15 Melville's Short Run of Good Luck (1845-1849): Fool’s Paradise without International Copyright
16 Melville without International Copyright (1850-1854): A Harper “Sacrifice” for the “Public Good”
17 Melville and Hawthorne’s Dinner at the Hotel in Lenox
18 Why Melville Took Hawthorne to the Holy Land: Biography Enhanced by Databases and an Amateur Blogger
19 Melville as a Titan of Literature among High-Minded English Admirers: The Kory-Kory and Queequeg Component
20 Damned by Dollars: Moby-Dick and the Price of Genius



Melville Biography: An Inside Narrative

My topic for rumination on a September 2007 run on the beach at Morro Bay was how to get out of writing a 500-page condensation of my two–volume Herman Melville: A Biography (Johns Hopkins, 1996 and 2002). I had told the life, in those two taut volumes--taut, I say, although each ran to more than nine hundred pages. The books were long because they were filled with old episodes freshly illuminated by new cross lights, old fragments of clues transformed into narratives by new documents, and a good many previously unheard stories which I had summoned forth from old newspapers and previously untranscribed letters. The first volume had earned a permanent slot on the Pulitzer Prize website as one of two finalists and each volume had won the highest award from the Association of American Publishers, the first in "Literature and Language" and the second in the renamed category, "Biography and Autobiography"--the only time, I gather, that both parts of a two-volume set had won. I had done my best, and no new biography was warranted by the handful of sparkling new items I and a few others had discovered or by the belated solution to a few vexing puzzles. Besides, if I condensed the already succinct narrative into a mere five hundred pages, who would ever again read the full rich story in the two volumes? To publish a condensed version when so much dazzling news was still not assimilated by Melville critics and general readers--why, that would be to immolate decades of heroic dedication, wouldn't it?

As always during runs along the Pacific, I surfed the recesses of my mind, this time for shapes and titles. Two years earlier after lurching queasily on the dunes I had made a quick check: no alcohol--must have been an earthquake. As I ran this time, bafflement gave way to instant exultation when a title came unsummoned in: "Melville: An Inside Narrative"--the subtitle a gift from Melville's Billy Budd, Sailor (An Inside Narrative). In my diary: "What a great liberating title for the one-volume biography." The book would be a different sort of biography, its nature yet unspecified. I was nowhere near ready to start writing it, but I could work on other projects contentedly because I had a title that would draw forth the proper contents when the time came. The director of Johns Hopkins University Press kindly gave me an amended contract for this hypothetical Melville: An Inside Narrative, then in May 2009 graciously released me from the contract because I wanted to place it at the same press as another book.

The actual book (as distinguished from the title) began in May 2009 as a detailed prospectus in the double-or-nothing package I offered to Northwestern University Press, this book and The Powell Papers (2011). I would salvage "Damned by Dollars," the final essay in the 2001 Norton Critical Edition of Moby-Dick, and I would speed the book along by including other heart’s darlings of mine such as my 1960 MLA talk, “The Metaphysics of Indian-hating” and "The Confidence Man's Masquerade,” both in the 2006 Norton Critical Edition of The Confidence-Man. What could be faster to put together than a collection of good old pieces? Why, it was half written already! The press offered contracts in early June, the week the Northwestern-Newberry Published Poems (with me as the new General Editor) was released. Intensely excited by outlining the new project, I behaved with uncharacteristic recklessness: I abandoned everything else I was working on and started writing the new book. It refused to become a collection: “Damned by Dollars” had to stay in, and another piece or two, in revisited form, but the old-favorites album would have to be delayed, or even published posthumously like the longtime NN General Editor Harrison Hayford’s Melville’s Prisoners (2003), for, it turned out, I had new things to say. The emerging contents dictated a new title.

Melville Biography: An Inside Narrative is divided into three main sections. §1 is autobiographical, the first four chapters dealing with my long preparation for writing a biography. Biographers like Carl Rollyson with multiple subjects (Rebecca West, Norman Mailer, Martha Gellhorn, Lillian Hellman, Marilyn Monroe, on to Amy Lowell and beyond) may gasp at my narrowness (more than half a century for a biography of only one writer!) while I marvel, in turn, that anyone can wrap up and bury a corpse one week and next week write the birth scene for a new subject. Melville research took me a long time. The last two chapters in this section describe some of the revelations and puzzlements I encountered in the actual writing and afterwards.

§2 deals in rigorous detail with the hard turn away from factual study of Melville that literary criticism and reviewing have taken in the last sixty-odd years, a hostility to documentary facts that is, in its most extreme form, unique to Melville biography. After working on my biography in something akin to solitary confinement until mid-way through the first volume, I was violently assaulted. Like no other biographer of an American writer, I was the victim of a devastating pre-emptive strike in American Literature, the formerly staid scholarly journal newly seized by the forces of Political Correctness. Although nothing from the great trove of Melville documents discovered in 1983 had yet been worked into any biography, this “New Melville” special issue of American Literature contained a “Cease-and-Desist” warning: “We already have full-scale biographies of Melville”! I persisted, only to find that no other biographer of an American writer had ever been subjected to such concerted denial of documentary evidence. In 2002 three reviewers, starting in the New York Times, painted me a being untrustworthy because I made two reckless surmises as if they were facts—first when I described Melville as completing a book in 1853 (something well known to Melville scholars since 1960), second when I showed him trying to publish in 1860 a book he called “Poems” (something known to everyone since 1922). The documentary evidence, of course, was visible on the pages of my biography these critics were reviewing. Melville has been and remains unique among great American writers in the quantity of recently discovered documentation and in the ferocity of the hostility to such information, even today, in newspapers, popular magazines, and academic journals (including American Literature, still).

In accounting for this hostility I focus on the influence of Charles N. Feidelson, Jr., the New Critic who at Yale for decades waged an unholy war against scholarship on Melville, starting with his contemptuous dismissal of Jay Leyda’s The Melville Log in 1951. The repudiation of scholarship at Yale and elsewhere impoverished the next generations of academics, so that in the 1980s (while Feidelson still, or again, held sway over new young theorists) well-meaning critics proclaimed themselves New Historicists without knowing how to do historical research and even, a few times, tried to draw evidence from manuscript documents without first learning how to transcribe nineteenth-century handwriting. In this section I trace the lamentable politicizing of the American academy. I also expose the decades of arrogant, ignorant partisanship in the mutual-admiration cliques of the major reviewing organs, the New York City newspapers and magazines. Relentless adherence to a life-denying literary theory, the New Criticism, I decided, has deleterious consequences not just on literary criticism and what passes as biography (as in one piece entitled “A Brief Biography” which ignores troves of new documents). Worse still, such a theory ultimately damages the character of its practitioners, because to blind yourself to Melville’s aspirations and agonies, to treat him as an abstract “author figure” or “literary personality” (Feidelson’s term) and not a real man, in the end leads critics to blind themselves to the aspirations and agonies of living people. Yet I am optimistic: I see the rapid systemic decline of whatever was good in reviewing in the mainstream media and academic journals as more than compensated for by the burgeoning of intelligent reviewing in personal blogs and litblogs, many of them ephemeral still, but constituting a phenomenon to be reckoned with in the evolving shapes of American publishing.

§3 consists of demonstrations in the use of evidence and challenges to further research. Using episodes not fully developed in my biography or else told only in chronological fragments rather than in coherent, wide-ranging essays, I put under the microscope what goes into meticulously assembling and conscientiously interpreting documentary evidence. Starting in 1962 my days added up to years spent transcribing manuscripts and reading newspapers in microfilm or crunched over flat tables (only the blessed New-York Historical Society let me stand at a spine-friendly slanted table). Here I supplement my old discoveries by documents from recently available newspaper databases and other electronic sources. In some of these chapters I demonstrate what can be learned from the Internet beyond what we thought we knew, as when I tell a grisly story, new to me, about how the Harpers exploited the International Copyright situation against Melville early in 1852. Especially in this section, I invite skeptical scrutiny from the reader and challenge young scholars to go beyond what I have done. “Young scholars,” throughout this book, does not necessarily refer to those in colleges. We have entered a period when very few academics do archival research and those who do (mainly students of Melville’s interest in art and in his books and the marginalia in them) are perhaps outnumbered by the small handful of imaginative and resource-full librarians and business-people whom I think of as divine amateurs. Melville research as never before is open to any benignly obsessive man or woman with a good computer, and the best of these researchers will find their way to the manuscripts, in time. Some of them may take up my challenge in the next-to-last chapter to harness the Internet in plotting the literary and personal interconnections among early British admirers of Moby-Dick, actually creating what I ignorantly wished for in the late 1980s, a database daisy-chain.

The endnotes constitute a significant fourth section of the book. Some of them do normal duty of identifying sources (with the help of the capacious “Works Cited”). Many of the longer endnotes constitute a section that might be called Melville and Biography rather than Melville Biography. Much of this book about Melville biography is autobiography, and Sidonie Smith in her Modern Language Association “Presidential Address” (2011) wants us to know that “autobiography studies, with its capacious reach, is now a site of prodigious theoretical activity.” Having circled back toward the realm of Flawed Texts and Verbal Icons (1984), that book of textual theory, literary theory, and creativity theory, in some endnotes I relate my present enterprise to what I and others have to say about the theory and practice of autobiography and biography. While in the first three sections I keep the focus on Melville biography, in endnotes I discuss problems in Melville biography that other biographers and theorists have confronted in their work. In such notes I expatiate enough that a reader can think critically about issues while being lured on to thoughtful works by writers such as Paula R. Backscheider, Robert D. Hume, Paul Murray Kendall, Ray Monk, Stephen B. Oates, and Barbara W. Tuchman, as well as being lured back into further reflection on my own expositions on Melville biography and historiography. Heretofore, only a handful of writers on biography (notably AndrĂ© Maurois, Virginia Woolf, Leon Edel, Richard Holmes, and more recently Hermione Lee) have had their dicta applied, tested, or challenged by later biographers. Melville Biography: An Inside Narrative puts forward ideas of many biographers and theorists of biography and all sorts of life-writing in order to test them against what I have learned in working on Melville and writing my biography as well as what I have learned about autobiography and biography in writing this book.

For all my conviction that unique forces have created the modern attitude toward Melville biography, I mean Melville Biography: An Inside Narrative to take a seat in the same great dining hall where honorable cousins such as Paul Murray Kendall’s The Art of Biography (1965) and Paula R. Backscheider's Reflections on Biography (2001) sit at the upper table. I mean Melville Biography to sit near the table occupied congenially by Richard Holmes's Adventures of a Romantic Biographer (1985) and collections such as Telling Lives (1979), The Craft of Literary Biography (1985), Biography as High Adventure (1986), Mapping Lives (2002), and Lives for Sale (2004). I see it as sitting across the room from theory-envying and theory-driven unruly, eccentric step-cousins once or twice removed like Ira Nadel’s Biography: Fiction, Fact, and Form (1984), William H. Epstein's Recognizing Biography (1987) and his collection, Contesting the Subject (1991), David Ellis's Literary Lives (2000), and Michael Benton's deceptively innocuous Literary Biography (2009). In real life the Internet has brought me into contact with previously-unknown stalwart double and triple Scottish cousins in the American South who look and act like me. Nothing so joyously fulfilling has befallen me in academic life except talking to James B. Meriwether one night in 1967, as I tell in the second chapter, but I take comfort from a number of biographers and critics of biography who have fought through to complexly challenging ideas akin to mine. With luck Melville Biography: An Inside Narrative can sit at a table alongside like-minded printed cousins such as William M. Murphy’s piece on John Butler Yeats and Mark Holloway’s piece on Norman Douglas in The Craft of Literary Biography, Robert D. Hume’s Reconstructing Contests: The Aims and Principles of Archaeo-Historicism, and Ray Monk’s “Life without Theory: Biography as an Exemplar of Philosophical Understanding” as well as imaginarily-seated electronic cousins such as Dan Green’s The Reading Experience 2.0. (Confession: being in the 4th quarter of my century, I print out pieces by the Internet blogger Green so I can mark them up.) I count on these allies to join this book in pushing one end of our table against the door so as to bar out marauders.

The fact is that despite its immense popularity literary biography is under attack from subversive interlopers, and not only theorists of biography and theorists disguised as biographers. Archival research proving arduous, would-be biographers have begun redefining archives, expanding any narrow conception of archives to include geographical location as archive and abandoning objectivist standards of truth. Instead of aiming to recover what someone wrote, one theorist now suggests transcribing manuscripts according to the critic’s rhetorical agenda. Even the use of historical records is now challenged. Many critics and would-be biographers seem determined to theorize the genre of biography out of existence.

These Malay pirates of literary biography, springing up, weapons drawn, from the bottom of the ship in the treacherous fashion Melville describes in Mardi, will not succeed. As long as libraries preserve archives such as the Gansevoort-Lansing Collection of the New York Public Library or the Melville and Morewood papers at the Berkshire Athenaeum or the Melvill-Melville papers at Houghton Library, or the Shaw papers at the Massachusetts Historical Society, pilgrim researchers will come, even if only a dedicated few. There will always be a few literary detectives who devote months or years to the pursuit of documents in the confidence that at last they will sit at midnight in a little bare motel room in Spartanburg, South Carolina, and turn through a big shoebox full of what looks like only bills of lading until they spy a blue folded paper, clearly a letter, a letter with the signature “Really Thine, H. Melville”--a letter reassuring Melville’s wife’s young step-cousin Sam Savage: “Concerning the foot-ball part of the business, why, we are all foot-balls, more or less--& it is lucky that we are, on some accounts. It is important, however, that our balls be covered with a leather, good & tough, that will stand banging & all ‘the slings & arrows of outrageous fortune.’” Literary detectives will sit in dark rooms peering at their computer screens, doing their ultimately-advanced searches. They will imaginatively misspell (Mellvill, Mellville, Hermann, and more) when accurate spellings turn up nothing. They will try their equivalent of “froward” and “godless” on Google every few weeks for most of a decade, as Scott Norsworthy did until he discovered a source for some of Melville’s once-baffling notes in the back of his Shakespeare. They will boggle at a passage in a Melville text and find riches, as I did when I Googled “Napoleon” and “outline” and “tree” and discovered that Melville in The Confidence-Man was referring to a then-famous example of hidden art. There will always be a few frequenters of known archives, a few imaginative trackers of missing archives, a few librarians who recognize gaps in their institution’s papers and reach out their hands for lost treasures, and a few “divine amateurs” who believe that the facts matter and that they can identify some of them from their computers or in raids on distant libraries. And for literary biography, there will always be readers who want to know about the living man or woman whose deepest being infuses the books they love.