Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Paying adequate tribute to the Melvillean Robert Allen Sandberg

This is a post on Greg Lennes's Melville site:

The Library of America edition of Herman Melville's COMPLETE POEMS arrived on my porch yesterday. Its texts are those of the three related Northwestern-Newberry Edition volumes. As a co-editor of the final Northwestern-Newberry volume, BILLY BUDD, SAILOR AND OTHER UNCOMPLETED WRITINGS, it was an honor to be invited by Hershel Parker and Thomas Tanselle to write the "Note on the Texts," a bibliographical essay included in each Library of America volume that describes the editorial procedures used to establish accurate texts. The volume editor, Hershel Parker, wrote expansive explanatory notes for each of the poems, as well as a detailed up-to-date chronology based on his research for his two-volume biography of Herman Melville. This LOA volume is one that will very likely be bought, read, and consulted for many years to come. It is a happy coincidence that this LOA volume is being published in the month and year of Melville's 200th birthday, August 1, 1819.


Hershel Parker Bob Sandberg did not have a great academic career as one might have had in the 60s or 70s. My first realization of the depth of his powers came in the TEXAS STUDIES IN LITERATURE AND LANGUAGE article in 1989. In the last years he has made himself into one of the greatest Melville scholars, and done it modestly, in NN volumes which, face it, are not read for the scholarship very often. Andrew Delbanco wrote an article on new scholarship on Melville in the 1980s and did not mention Sandberg's article or the wealth of new information in the NN MOBY-DICK, for goodness' sake! Yet Bob was willing to submerge himself in rarely appreciated work in order to do what needed to be done, part of which was to help complete Hayford's legacy. Now, it seems that his Library of America Note on the Texts may do more than the NN volumes to call attention to his high stature. That piece is more approachable, more directly a teaching document, and is certainly readable--user-friendly although treating very complex matters. On p. 17 of the latest LEVIATHAN (June 2019) you see that I place Sandberg, with Howard Horsford (whose work also was to some extent unappreciated) and with Harrison Hayford (whose achievement as a reader of Melville's hand was brought forth and clarified by Sandberg in his working with HH's transcriptions of the uncollected poetry). Sandberg has surpassed Sealts as authority on the prose sketches about Grandvin and Gentian, I may as well point out. He is in a higher class of great Melvillean. I said in LEVIATHAN of Horsford, Hayford, and Sandberg, "They are in a heroic class by themselves, as I think Tanselle would agree." Maybe, just maybe, the Note on the Texts in the Library of America volume will cap, for now, Sandberg's academic career as a great one, done in hard times and done his way.

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