Saturday, May 5, 2018
Andrew Delbanco, #3 in the series with the McGehee family motto, WHAT THE DEVIL ARE YOU TRYING TO DO TO ME?
In 1876 my Cousin Meriwether McGehee poked his head out of the glass top on his coffin and demanded of his grieving family, What the devil are you trying to do to me. He did not want to be buried alive. It has been my fate to have people try to bury me too soon. In this 3rd example in the serial, the subject is Andrew Delbanco.
Andrew Delbanco in the New Republic (September 2002) warned that my Herman Melville: A Biography: Volume 2, 1851-1891, like the first, “must be used with caution”:
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 He is sure that immediately after completing Pierre, Melville wrote an unpublished novel (Parker implies that after failing to find a publisher, Melville burned it) inspired by a story he had heard about a sailor who disappears for thirty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.
Delbanco refrained even from naming the 1853 The Isle of the Cross, as if the title gave it too much actuality. In his accusations Delbanco did not mention the existence of any documentary evidence that earlier scholars and Parker had brought forward concerning these two lost books. He ignored a full half century of accumulating evidence about a book Melville completed in 1853. (We had all known since 1960 that it had existed but the title The Isle of the Cross has been known only after I found it in 1987.) Delbanco ignored extensive evidence about Poems, most of which had been available for eight decades, since 1922. He ignored even Melville's 12-point memo to his brother Allan on the publication of Poems. Strangely, in his Herman Melville: His World and Work (2005) Delbanco mentioned the existence of both The Isle of the Cross and Poems but made no reference at all to his claim that I had made them up and therefore could not be trusted anywhere in either volume.