Thursday, April 25, 2013

The CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION, Critics like Brodhead and Delbanco, and Boston Marathon Massacre Deniers

How many of the new American deniers that there was a Boston Marathon Massacre recently (those who declare that it was just a staged play, filmed as if it were real) were trained in American colleges by teachers who had grown up taught by New Critics who drummed into them that there is no such thing as real world fact? I look at Richard Brodhead and Andrew Delbanco who can deny the reality of Melville's completed, now lost, POEMS (1860) despite his 12-point memo to his brother Allan on the publication of his verses. If you call anyone crazy who denies that 9/11 happened or the new Boston Massacre happened, what do you call Brodhead and Delbanco?
The CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION in February chose to protect the deniers of POEMS. Where will it stand on the reality of the Boston Marathan Massacre, after a while? A staged event involving differing "editorial principles"?
The Academy has a lot to answer for in the corruption of thinking with evidence throughout all levels of our society.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The American Academy: "against creativity and any form of daring"

"If I were to generalize," Mr. [David] Graeber[, the anthropologist,] says, "I would say that what we see is a university system which mitigates against creativity and any form of daring. It's incredibly conformist and it represents itself as the opposite, and I think this kind of conformism is a result of the bureaucratization of the university."
He and his allies also suspect that false information emanating from his public fight with Yale, garnered secondhand, has hurt him.

19 April 2013 The Chronicle of Higher Education

Leon Howard is a major character in my MELVILLE BIOGRAPHY. This is Richard Lehan's memorial piece, recently sent to me.

Leon Howard, English: Los Angeles


Professor Emeritus
Leon Howard was born on November 8, 1903 in Talladega, Alabama and died of complications resulting from emphysema on December 21, 1982. His wife, Henrietta, preceded him in death, dying in 1977. He is survived by their three children: Mr. Charles Howard of Los Gatos, Mrs. Kathleen Piper of Chico, and Mrs. Mary Cresswell of Wellington, New Zealand.
Leon received his A.B. degree from Birmingham-Southern College in 1923, his M.A. from the University of Chicago in 1926, and his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University in 1929. He taught at Pomona College (1930-37) and Northwestern University (1938-50), before joining the faculty at UCLA where he taught from 1950 to his retirement in 1971. He then taught one course a semester at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque until his death.
Leon was a preeminent professor of American literature, establishing an international reputation with books such as The Connecticut Wits (1941), Herman Melville A Biography (1951, reprinted 1958, 1967), Victorian Knight-Errant: A Study of the Early Career of James Russell Lowell (1952), Literature and the Tradition (1960), and “The Mind” of Jonathan Edwards: Reconstructed Text (1963). Leon did more than probably any other American scholar in helping to carry American culture abroad. His many pamphlets and essays were widely distributed in both Europe and Asia, and he held Fulbright and other appointments at Tokyo and Kyoto Universities (1951, 1954); the University of London (1956-57); Nice (1957); Copenhagen, Lund, Stockholm, and Upsala (1960); he also gave a series of Fulbright-sponsored public lectures in Europe (1961), Australia (1963), and Switzerland and Germany (1964). His achievement was recognized by honorary degrees from the University of Chicago (1961) and Abo Akademi, Finland (1968). Leon was a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1963), a Guggenheim Fellow (1944-45), and the recipient of the UCLA Alumni Award for Distinguished Teaching (1964).

― 133 ―
A somewhat shaggy, rumpled sociable man with an infectious laugh, Leon had a shrewd sense of how the academic profession worked and what were its strengths and weaknesses. Fiercely loyal to his students, his many Ph.D.s were as well trained in the working of the academy as they were in their field of study. A man of formidable energy, Leon is remembered by his students as walking into his classes without a note and lecturing brilliantly for an hour or longer on Emerson, Melville, or Whitman, often chain-smoking as he talked, emptying the ashes into a lidded ashtray that he always carried in his pocket. In his 21 years at UCLA, he directed more than 30 dissertations, some written by the now leading scholars in the field. At the annual meeting of the Modern Language Association, Leon would literally “hold court” in his hotel room to which ex-students, old colleagues and friends, and some of the most eminent scholars from around the world would come for a friendly drink, good talk, and the exchange of professional information and academic news. These meetings characterized Leon at his very best--warm, friendly, open, totally committed to what was going on in his field, and interested in how the profession was responding to that activity. As one of his junior colleagues once put it, “I learned more about literature and the profession from Leon's `tea parties' than I ever did from a book. Leon had a way of making scholarship and scholarly activity fun.” It was this gregariousness that made him equally at home in the cabin he and some of his colleagues leased at Lone Pine, which became a kind of extension of UCLA, and indeed came into its own press and published a number of his less serious essays and poems under the imprint of the University of California Press at Lone Pine.
Leon's accolades are many. Harrison Hayford has summarized his scholarship, teaching, and service on national and international committees as “amounting to academic statesmanship”; Norman Holmes Pearson referred to him as “the leading scholar in the field of American literature”; and Dean Robert E. Streeter wrote: “when George Beadle was inaugurated as President of the University of Chicago in 1961, the faculty was asked to designate eight scholars to receive honorary degrees on that occasion. Of the eight, two were humanistic scholars. Professor Howard was one of these.” Leon Howard was a giant in his field. As one scholar recently put it, “he embodied a way of studying and talking about American literature that led to major critical advances and which has seemed to have passed with him.”
Richard Lehan

Friday, April 19, 2013

How Professional Queer Studies Betrays Gay Teenagers--a reposting

Friday, January 13, 2012

Another gay teen suicide. Alan Helms, Take Note

This is my comment on the story, one of many comments. Anyone reading this and wanting to know more can go to my name and "Live Oak, with Moss" on Google. A great disappointment of my career is that professional gay teachers of criticism and theory did not embrace the joyous, liberating poetic sequence as Whitman wrote it.

Hershel Parker
Posted on Friday, January 13, 2012

This is heartbreaking. Let me tell you my story. In the 1990s I had a kind of “institutional power” as an editor of THE NORTON ANTHOLOGY OF AMERICAN LITERATURE. I could put texts into classrooms. I realized that Walt Whitman’s “Live Oak, with Moss” was an unknown sequence for which a complete manuscript survived. It told a story of homosexual love, fulfillment of that love, then loss of that love and a final regrouping and going on. It was almost a gay manifesto, and almost unknown, never before anthologized. I learned in the next years of young gay students who felt comforted and encouraged by the poem. It became a standard anthology piece. Now, what is the problem? I was attacked not by rabid homophobes who did not want Whitman to be outed as gay but by professional queer theory people who would not read what Whitman wrote. Instead, they derived a text the poems as they appeared in CALAMUS, where he had deliberately separated the sequence and put them, slightly altered, in places where you could not see the open love story. And because one little revision for CALAMUS mentioned the disapproval of the world these critics and theorists used their fabricated version of the sequence to drum into readers the idea that the sequence was about homosexual repression. Why would gays want students to see something negative instead of what Whitman wrote, which was joyous and life affirming, even after the loss of the first lover? You can look on Google for texts and discussions. My point here is that every gay person has an obligation to seize on whatever great literature is legitimately life-affirming and let young people cherish it and be nourished by it. Don’t let the professional controllers deny what is simple and brave and life-affirming.

Transforming Herman Melville into Newton Arvin: what Updike, Hardwick, and Delbanco Achieved

Transforming Herman Melville into Newton Arvin: what John Updike, Elizabeth Hardwick, and Andrew Delbanco Achieved

Initial notes:

This is what happened--they took Arvin's 1950 book as gospel--took his condemnation of the America of the 19th century as absolutely valid--and transformed Melville into a homosexual wimp who had all his life a truly unhealthy relation with his bitter goddess-demon of a mother and his truculent god-devil of a father and with the memory of them, who hated travel and did not profit from it, who had no relation to speak of with great literature, who had no interest in art and aesthetics, and who produced only a limited quantity of severely flawed works.

More to follow.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Modest Proposal for Saving Endangered Species Poached for Aphrodisiacs

Today from a boating accident off the Philippines coast we learn that the Chinese are poaching a protected species of anteater, the pangolin, According to the Los Angeles Times, the scales of the animal are consumed in southern China as treatment for asthma and cancer and to induce lactation in new mothers. The Times does not suggest that the pangolin is being used as an aphrodisiac, but the headline suggested a topic for meditation on my early morning run on the beach at Morro Bay.

How can we save the last of the tigers, bears, rhinos, and other beasts being killed for supposed aphrodisiac properties in parts of their carcasses?                                                                                                                     

SOLUTION: We get together the major makers of pills designed to avoid erectile disfunction--Pfizer the maker of Viagra, Cialis (Lilly's product, which Google says is about to outsell Viagra), Bayer's Levitra, and others, and ask THEM TO DESIGN NEW SHAPES FOR THEIR PILLS--those to be sold abroad.

The Little Blue Pill is famous, even if you have never seen one, but nothing says it has to be distributed in its present shape. Same with Cialis and Levitra and the others.

Let the makers produce the present amount of one-dose of their product in the form of miniature tiger penises or perhaps miniature tigers. Let them produce the drug in the shape of bear testicles or the shape of whole bears. Let them produce the drug in the shape of miniature rhinos, if people won't recognize rhino horns.

Let Pfizer, Bayer, Lilly, and the other companies produce a million or so doses in the shapes of these animals and distribute them free in the areas of China, Japan, South Korea, India, Malaysia, Yemen--wherever aphrodisiacs are bought in quantity.

Advertise like crazy, to make sure that ads go viral: 1% of the cost of the poached dose, 100 times the effectiveness.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

Wait a few weeks. Distribute a second million doses.

Wait a few more weeks. Then start charging. It's a win-win situation.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Asking: Can a blog, Facebook, and Twitter force the mighty elitist CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION to explain its falsifications?

Can you successfully use blogs, Facebook, and Twitter to force the mighty CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION to explain its falsifications?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013


This is a topic worth pursuing until the CHRONICLE apologizes for what it did on February 11, 2013 in “A Leviathan Task of Biography.”
It looks to me as if the CHRONICLE will go to great lengths to protect eminent Ivy League professors from the consequences of their own actions—outright lying about the state of scholarship in order to discredit a scholar.
Let’s review. I am talking about actual lies, not comments about my weak prose or flimsy logic in my biography of Melville, and not gaffs by the reviewers, not simple misconstruings of my presentation of events.  There are such things as outright lies in reviews, and lies can have devastating consequences on the reputation of the one lied about. I did not sleep peacefully one night between the reviews of Richard Brodhead in the New York TIMES and Andrew Delbanco in the NEW REPUBLIC in 2002 and the time I began speaking out in 2007. The lies did horrible damage to my health. By the time Elizabeth Schultz copy-catted the big boys much of the damage had been done, although she drove new twisted nails into what closed upon me as if it were the coffin of my reputation.
Let’s look at the lies, remembering that evidence was laid out right there on the pages of the biography for any casual reader to see. If a casual reader can see something, paid reviewers have an obligation to see it and to avoid wrongly defaming the author of the book they are reviewing,
Let me review the situation. In 2002 three prominent Melville critics, Richard Brodhead, Andrew Delbanco, and Elizabeth Schultz, warned that my biography was unreliable by citing my treatment of THE ISLE OF THE CROSS (1853) and POEMS (1860). The second of these reviewers, Delbanco, did not cite the earliest, Brodhead, as his authority, and Schultz cited neither Brodhead nor Delbanco.
Brodhead in the New York Times for 23 June 2002 disparaged “Parker's surmises about works Melville never published that did not survive,” the first “a novel based on materials he shared with Hawthorne about a sailor who deserted his wife. . . .  Parker is also convinced that Melville prepared a volume of poems in 1860 that failed to be published. If this is so, a stretch that had seemed empty of literary strivings was instead a time of new effort and new failure--a black hole Parker alone has the instruments to detect.” The prose book was not surmised: we had known since 1960, for sure, that Melville completed a book in mid 1853. To say that I alone in my “black hole” had detected POEMS was an outright lie. As was clear in my biography, every scholar and critic had known about POEMS since 1922. If I was in a black hole, I was far from alone there! Willard Thorp, move over—make room for Jay Leyda and Leon Howard and all the rest!
Similarly, Andrew Delbanco in the NEW REPUBLIC (September 2002) warned that my second volume, like the first, “must be used with caution.” [Here I do not note his errors in describing what I said.] Delbanco: “For one thing, Parker is amazingly certain of his own conclusions. . . . He is sure that immediately after completing ‘Pierre,’ Melville wrote an unpublished novel (Parker implies that after failing to find a publisher, Melville burned it) inspired by a story he had heard about a sailor who disappears for thirty years, then returns to the wife for whom he has become a distant memory. He is sure that when Melville traveled by slow boat to San Francisco in 1860, he expected to find waiting for him a finished copy of a book of poems that he had entrusted in manuscript to his brother for transmission to his publishers before leaving the East. (Such a book was never published--and it is a surmise that Melville ever wrote it.) . . . . In short, Parker trusts his own intuition completely, and, presenting inferences as facts, he expects his readers to trust it, too.”  My talking about the completion of POEMS was not a surmise, the word used by Brodhead and Delbanco: we not only know he completed it, we even know of two publishers who looked at POEMS and rejected it.
Brodhead and Delbanco refrained even from naming THE ISLE OF THE CROSS, as if the title gave it too much actuality. Elizabeth Schultz in THE COMMON REVIEW (Winter 2002) mentioned the title skeptically in her complaint: “Parker also reads betrayal and despair into the disappearance of two manuscripts, which he contends Melville completed--a novel, putatively titled The Isle of the Cross, and his first collection of poems. Throughout his biography, Parker bemoans the loss of The Isle of the Cross's ghostly manuscript, imagining Melville's regret at never having found a publisher for it. Although there is only tentative evidence for the manuscript's existence and submission to a publisher, its ostensible rejection leads Parker to view his heroic author as victimized: ‘masterful as he could be, [Melville] had a way now, after the failure of Moby-Dick and Pierre, of seeing himself as passive victim to whom things were done.’" Tentative evidence? Did Schultz assume that the editors of the LETTERS lied about an 1853 book years before I lied about one entitled THE ISLE OF THE CROSS? “Throughout” my biography? Where, after the initial discussion? What does she mean by “putative”? Hers seems to be an ignorant, disdainful elaboration on what she picked up from Brodhead and Delbanco.
In their accusations none of these three reviewers mentioned the existence of any documentary evidence that earlier scholars and I had brought forward concerning these two lost books. All three critics ignored a full half century of accumulating evidence about a book Melville completed in 1853. The publication of LETTERS (1960) proved the existence of the novel finished in 1853, although it was 1987 before I discovered the title, THE ISLE OF THE CROSS, and 1990 before I published the evidence in AMERICAN LITERATURE. All three ignored extensive evidence about POEMS, most of which had been available for eight decades. In my biography, of course, I quoted Melville’s well-known 12-point memo to his brother Allan on the publication of his POEMS! The evidence for both lost books was laid out right there on the pages of the biography.
Some lies don’t matter. If a reviewer says I mistook a letter by Helen Melvill for one by Helen Melville, that would not matter much, even if I had been right. The reader of the review would just say, hey, Parker’s not so careful after all. (I confess to being so in thrall to Emily Bronte that I looked at “Linwoods” in a manuscript and miscopied it as “Lintons”!) But false accusations can be deeply damaging.
Paula Backscheider says this in the Introduction to her REFLECTIONS ON BIOGRAPHY: “For an academic to be accused of ‘making things up’ or ‘conflating’ quotations and evidence is the most serious charge that can be levelled against him or her and may discredit that person forever.”
In the March 30, 2013 WALL STREET JOURNAL Carl Rollyson confirmed Backscheider: to suggest that I “invented details” to suit my ‘all-consuming quest’ to tell Melville’s story was “a nearly mortal blow to a biographer who has spent his entire career documenting every aspect of his subject’s life.”
I felt from June 2002 to March 30, 2013 that I might indeed have been discredited forever by Brodhead and Delbanco’s lies, which flourish still on the Internet, brazen as ever. Liberation came when Rollyson discussed some of my charges against one slandering reviewer, Delbanco. Say it bluntly: Rollyson was the first reviewer in an NYC paper who ever dealt honestly with a book of mine, without overt or hidden personal-political agenda. The only bias I can see in his review is against ignorant, flippant, or malicious reviewing of worthy biographies, for he has not only written many biographies but has written books on the genre of biography.
As it happens, Rollyson in the WALL STREET JOURNAL did not specifically look at the lies Brodhead and Delbanco told about my inventing lost books of Melville’s.
Earlier in 2013, I had hoped that the CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION might be the paper which first set out my grievances against Brodhead and Delbanco. That did not happen. Indeed, the CHRONICLE set me up for scorn instead of vindicating me.
Here is the sequence as I reconstruct it. The NEW YORKER blog for January 2013 listed MELVILLE BIOGRAPHY: AN INSIDE NARRATIVE among the “Books to Watch Out For” that month. Reading that “Parker writes with a rare combination of humor and passion,” someone at the CHRONICLE decided that reviewing the book would be a good idea. Northwestern University Press promptly provided a review copy and on January 18 a reporter emailed Northwestern wanting to have some kind of interview with me because the book “would be a great fit” for their “Books & Arts” section and they wanted to hurry because they wanted to print the article as close as they could to the official publication date, January 15.
In the next days the reporter and I settled on January 28 for a telephone interview. We talked for over an hour. I told the reporter how damaged I had been about the accusations that I had merely “surmised” or actually made up THE ISLE OF THE CROSS and POEMS and went into some detail about the psychology of being slandered. I told him how the victim internalizes shame and does not sound convincing when trying to defend himself. In fact, there was in 2002 a new director of the Johns Hopkins University Press and I never felt I had convincingly conveyed to her that I had been horribly abused. When you complain about reviews in the New York TIMES and the NEW REPUBLIC—reviews written by chaired professors at Yale and Columbia—you inevitably sound as if you are being overly sensitive and defensive about what must have been justified criticisms.  Reader, try it the next time someone says some horrific lie about you—try explaining that you really don’t often beat your husband with a harpoon handle. Anyhow, I went into some detail with the reporter about the lies about my inventing POEMS, in particular, and the damage that had done to my reputation and my health. I mentioned that Delbanco’s slanders had been picked up by others and elaborated. Alan Helms was guilty of this in Nineteenth-Century Literature—using Delbanco’s words to slander me all over again as a “slippery fish” with evidence--after all, Delbanco had said so, although not in those words.
So, I had said my say to the reporter from the CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION, and put my grievances on record, I thought. On February 1 Rose Engelland emailed from the CHRONICLE to ask permission to put a photograph of me in the CHRONICLE—the picture she had taken from my 2008 MELVILLE: THE MAKING OF THE POET. I said yes, at once, without comment on the fact that the beard in that picture had been shaved off and without offering one of the trial photos we had taken in the fall of 2012 for MELVILLE BIOGRAPHY: AN INSIDE NARRATIVE. Don’t rock the boat was my motto. Harold Bloom wants to reprint my 1963 article, I don’t ask to make any changes. Don’t rock the boat.
Then on Friday February 8 the reporter thanked me for working with the art department on the photo and asked me to confirm a few details about my age, residence, and so on. Fine.
On Sunday 10 February the CHRONICLE posted a teaser: “More than a decade after the publication of his career-defining Melville volumes, Hershel Parker strikes back at his critics in a genre-bending new work.” I loved “genre-bending,” for the book in fact was in part autobiography of me as biographer, in part a history of Melville biography, in part a history of criticism of Melville biography, in part a set of demonstrations of a biographer at work, and finally extensive endnotes which (while starting with problems I recognized in Melville) constituted a seminar of British and some American biographers on biography as a genre, not just on Melville.
What happened between Friday and Monday? It looks to me as if someone intervened. The complimentary-sounding title remained—“A Leviathan Task of Biography.” My photo was dropped and a picture of Melville was run in—my face being no great loss in itself but a strong indication that someone had made from up high an executive decision: Parker was not to be honored by this impulsively commissioned article. The second paragraph is shamelessly falsified and to my textual scholar’s eye it looks like nothing so much as an editorial intrusion:
Instead of moving from the first paragraph (“to Parker’s mind, unwarranted condemnation from many within the academy”), the CHRONICLE report proceeded to this second paragraph:
Critical reviews appeared in newspapers, magazines, and journals, and Parker, a professor emeritus of English at the University of Delaware, found himself at odds with such Melville scholars as Richard Brodhead (who raised questions about Parker's "editorial principles" in The New York Times) and Andrew Delbanco (who, while criticizing Parker's misreading of sex and sin, did declare, in The New York Review of Books, that "Parker's biography is written with love and devotion"). Critics' skepticism centered on two issues: the name of a lost Melville story ("The Isle of the Cross") and the importance of an 1860 manuscript called "Poems." A falling-out followed, and Parker, who felt he had been victimized, drifted away from groups like the Melville Society.
What happened? This is a totally fabricated paragraph.
I can’t find “editorial principles” in Brodhead’s review and can’t find it in MELVILLE BIOGRAPHY: AN INSIDE NARRATIVE. Of course, my quarrel with Brodhead had nothing to do with editorial principles but only with his saying I merely surmised the existence of two lost books, and in particular that only I in my “black hole” had identified POEMS. Why did the CHRONICLE reach back to a review by Delbanco in the NYRofB in 1997 to find a complimentary phrase instead of looking at his accusation in 2002 that I had made up two books which I claimed Melville wrote but which are now lost? And of course the “name” of THE ISLE OF THE CROSS is not in dispute but the existence of the book, and of course it’s not “the importance of an 1860 manuscript called ‘Poems’” but the existence of that book. The last paragraph says a “falling-out” followed—a falling out with Brodhead over “editorial principles”? and a “falling-out” with Delbanco over what—his criticizing my “misreading of sex and sin”? Anyhow, who was misreading? Feeling victimized, after 2002 I “drifted away” from the Melville Society. No, after the new-leftist takeover in 1990 I stopped going to Melville Society meetings, except when I got to climb pyramids in Central America one year. My standards are flexible!
Now, the damage does not stop with the one phony paragraph. Any good critic, and not just a New Critic, will read every following paragraph with this fabricated second paragraph in mind. What made the New Criticism so easy to apply that much of it is based on how real people read all the time. You put that second paragraph in, the one about “editorial principles” and “misreading of sex and sin,” and every harsh thing you quote me as saying after that is transformed into the rantings of an old codger who believes without warrant that he has been criticized too much by reviewers, who really had merely disagreed on editorial principles (principles, after all) and who really recognized that he had written with “love and devotion.”  You would have to be loony to complain about such reviewers. So with this setup, was it any surprise that the first comment in the CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION starts “Hershel Parker Crazy”?
By the strategic fabrication of the content and by the strategic placement of the 2nd paragraph, the CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION defended the President of Duke University and a chaired professor at Columbia while injuring me all over again. Rather than laying out the genuine grievance, the CHRONICLE damaged me all over again. 

If Tesla can shame the New York TIMES into an apology over its review of Tesla's Model S sedan, can I shame the CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION into printing an honest paragraph in place of the fabricated 2nd paragraph?

Sunday, April 14, 2013

"BECAUSE NEWTON ARVIN HAD A BAD TRIP IN 1929" . . . . Newton Arvin took a Bad Trip then Hauled Herman Melville on Bad Trips and then Blinded John Updike to Melville's Aesthetic Experiences and Reflections

Hasty notes on the power of Newton Arvin’s domination of the literary clique of that truly insular place, New York City. How Newton Arvin’s own bad trip in 1929 led him to project bad trips upon Melville in 1849 and 1856-1857, and how Arvin’s bad trip blinded John Updike to the remarkable aesthetic value of Melville’s trips.

When I bought and read Newton Arvin’s “critical biography” Herman Melville early in 1962 I was not impressed with the biographical part of the book. “[p]132 London not important,” says one of my skeptical notes on a flyleaf. Arvin had been dogmatic about Melville’s 1849 weeks in England and the excursion to the Continent: “The trip had no very profound effect on Melville’s development: it was too late in the day for that.” All but ignoring Melville’s attention to painting and sculpture, Arvin stressed Melville’s homesickness and his chauvinism: “The ruins on the Drachenfels seemed to him glorious—‘but,’ he added to himself defiantly, ‘the river Rhine is not the Hudson.’” According to Arvin, Melville was not affected by the paintings and sculptures he saw in London and Paris. He named not one painting and not one piece of sculpture that Melville saw.

Arvin’s ignoring Melville’s exposure to collections of European art was a mystery to me. I might have gone to my grave mystified had I not in 2009 bought Barry Werth’s The Scarlet Professor: Newton Arvin: A Literary Life Shattered by Scandal (2001). Arvin himself had made a trip to London and Paris in 1929. In London he had found himself, as he wrote a friend, “a bad traveler,” tempted to “take a boat home” right away. Then after “suffocating in the heat” during “twenty-five days in Paris,” he fled home. Because he himself had been miserable in London and Paris in 1929, Arvin was sure that Melville could not have been exhilarated by his experiences in 1849 and sure that he wanted only to return home, as soon as he reasonably could. The 1929 trip had had no very profound effect on Arvin’s development: it was too late in the day for that. Therefore the 1849 “trip had no very profound effect on Melville’s development: it was too late in the day for that.” Mystery solved!

How many biographers have read episodes and personages in the light of events in their own lives and in the light of people whom they knew?

Arvin’s focus for two of the three pages he gave to Melville’s 1856-1857 trip was on “Palestine, in particular.” He mentioned Melville’s sailing among the Greek islands, said he had been fascinated in Constantinople by the site, the mosques, and the squalor, acknowledged his interest in the throngs at Syra, records his seeing the Parthenon, Posilipo, and Venice, but the focus was on Palestine: “What beguiled him now,” Arvin summed up, “was not freshness, greenness, and gaiety, but emblems of ruin and decay.” Of art and sculpture is this: “The pictures and sculptures in the galleries, in Naples, in Rome, in Florence, allured him almost endlessly,” even though the “ground-tone of his mood” was weariness and a hope for the cessation of pain.

Christopher Sten in his 1991 “Melville and the Visual Arts: An Overview” offers a corrective contrast to Arvin, although he also apparently thought Melville should have offered extensive commentary in his journal: “Melville saw more paintings than anything else on this European sojourn, but it is worth noting that many of them inspired only a phrase or two, at most, in his journal.” Sten continues: “most of the works he viewed in Paris and Cologne, on the second and third legs of his journey, merited hardly a mention; in many cases, not even the names of the artists have been recorded. . . . By contrast, in London, on the initial leg of his trip, Melville typically recorded at least some basic details, and sometimes something of his own impressions, of the paintings he saw there.” Wanting to give a fair account of Melville’s “engagement with the arts,” Sten itemizes some of the “range of paintings Melville commented on” in his journal.

Sten’s minimizing had a different basis than Arvin’s. Sten was minimizing all previous experiences in order to magnify one: “The fates, however, saved the best for last”—Melville’s view of the “Superb paintings” at the home of Samuel Rogers, paintings by many of the Italian and Dutch “old masters” as well as several works by J. M. W. Turner. Drawing on Robert Wallace, Sten concludes: “No other pictorial artist, it now seems certain, can be said to have had so profound an effect on Melville’s Moby-Dick as Turner; the impact of this visual artist ranks with the impact of literary artists Like Shakespeare, Hawthorne, or the authors of the Bible in the shaping of Melville’s book.” One could disagree with Sten on the impact of Turner specifically on Moby-Dick and could substitute another name for “Hawthorne” (Milton, for instance). But neither Sten nor any other critic of Melville now would agree with Arvin that “The trip had no very profound effect on Melville’s development: it was too late in the day for that.”

Melville’s own lecture on statues in Rome (1857-1858) is a good guide to a limited part of his aesthetic researches on his 1856-1857 trip and his subsequent reflections, but Horsford’s edition of Melville’s Journals is still the best guide to Melville’s tour of natural wonders, architectural wonders, and paintings and sculptures in Great Britain, the Mediterranean, and (toward the end of his tour) Holland. Horsford records Melville’s determined visiting of art galleries and studios of painters and sculptors, particularly in Italy, and in his notes identifies artists and works of art Melville learned about. For the rest of Melville’s life he reflected on aesthetic issues he formulated on this long Grand Tour or in subsequent reflections. Because of his exposure to architecture and art on this trip he undertook, in the years after his return, what was no less than a course in art history and aesthetics.

In the first paragraph of his 10 May 1852 NEW YORKER essay on “Melville’s Withdrawal” John Updike acknowledged his debt to Newton Arvin’s blaming Melville’s loss of his literary career on some malign force in “the American mind.” Ignoring recent documentary work on Melville, Updike mentioned “a four-month excursion to England whose ostensible purpose was to settle the details of the British publication of his fifth book, “’White-Jacket.’” Updike treated the 1856-57 trip (“a restorative voyage to the Holy Land”) as if all Melville really did on it was visit Hawthorne in Liverpool. I’m flipping back and forth through my marked-up copy of the New Yorker article and I can’t see any place where Updike ever shows Melville as looking at a painting or a piece of sculpture or gawked at an architectural marvel or monstrosity.

Guided by Newton Arvin (195), John Updike throughout his 1982 smug, arrogant dismissal of Melville as victim of a hostile America paid no attention at all to Melville as a lover of art and as a man who despite his lack of early training became fascinated by problems in aesthetics. Because Newton Arvin had a bad trip to London and Paris in 1929 Updike denied Melville all aesthetic experiences abroad in 1848 and in 1856-1857.