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3 - Herman Melville

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 December 2012

Timothy Parrish
Affiliation:
Florida State University
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Summary

Though I wrote the Gospels in this century, I should die in the gutter.

Melville to Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1851

In 1849, as he was arranging for the publication of his third novel, Mardi, Herman Melville (1819–91) wrote to his friend Evert Duyckinck, editor of the Literary World. The topic of discussion was Melville’s reaction to hearing Emerson lecture at the Freeman Place Chapel in Boston. “Emerson is more than a brilliant fellow,” the young author explained. “To my surprise I found him quite intelligible.” Emerson might be a fool, “full of transcendentalisms, myths & oracular gibberish,” but he was at least a fool who “dives”: “I love all men who dive. Any fish can swim near the surface, but it takes a great whale to go down stairs five miles or more; & if he dont [sic] attain the bottom, why, all the lead in Galena can’t fashion the plummet that will.” “Thought-divers” – this was the term Melville reserved for the writers who impressed him as unrestrained in their pursuit of difficult truths. Shakespeare stood at the head of the class as “the profoundest of thinkers,” capable of “those occasional flashings-forth of the intuitive Truth in him; those short, quick probings at the very axis of reality.” But even Shakespeare could feel the pressures of political or cultural restraint. If only he had been an American:

I would to God Shakspeare [sic] had lived later, & promenaded in Broadway. Not that I might have had the pleasure of leaving my card for him at the Astor, or made merry with him over a bowl of the fine Duyckinck punch; but that the muzzle which all men wore on their souls in the Elizebethan [sic] day, might not have intercepted Shakspere’s [sic] full articulations. For I hold it a verity, that even Shakspeare, was not a frank man to the uttermost. And, indeed, who in this intolerant Universe is, or can be? But the Declaration of Independence makes a difference.

(C, 122)
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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2012

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References

Brodhead, Richard, Hawthorne, Melville, and the Novel, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1977.Google Scholar
Bryant, John, and Milder, Robert (eds.), Melville’s Evermoving Dawn: Centennial Essays, Kent, Ohio, Kent State University Press, 1997.
Davis, Clark, After the Whale: Melville in the Wake of Moby-Dick, Tuscaloosa, University of Alabama Press, 1995.Google Scholar
Delbanco, Andrew, Melville: His World and Work, New York, Knopf, 2005.Google Scholar
Dillingham, William B., Melville’s Later Novels, Athens, University of Georgia Press, 1986.Google Scholar
Dryden, Edgar A., Monumental Melville: The Formation of a Literary Career, Palo Alto, Calif., Stanford University Press, 2004.Google Scholar
Hayford, Harrison, Melville’s Prisoners, Evanston, Ill., Northwestern University Press, 2003.Google Scholar
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Leyda, Jay, The Melville Log: A Documentary Life of Herman Melville 1819–1891, New York, Harcourt, 1951.Google Scholar
Milder, Robert, Exiled Royalties: Melville and the Life We Imagine, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2006.Google Scholar
Melville, Herman, Correspondence, ed. Lynn Horth (Evanston, Ill., Northwestern University Press and the Newberry Library, 1993)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Melville, , “Hawthorne and His Mosses,” in The Piazza Tales and Other Prose Pieces, 1839–1860, ed. Harrison Hayford, Alma A. MacDougall, and G. Thomas Tanselle (Evanston, Ill., Northwestern University Press and the Newberry Library, 1987), p. 244Google Scholar
Melville, , Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life, ed. Harrison Hayford, Hershel Parker, and G. Thomas Tanselle (Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press and the Newberry Library, 1968)Google Scholar
Hawthorne, Nathaniel, The Blithedale Romance, ed. William Charvat, Roy Harvey Pearce, and Claude M. Simpson (Columbus, Ohio State University Press, 1965)Google Scholar
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  • Herman Melville
  • Edited by Timothy Parrish, Florida State University
  • Book: The Cambridge Companion to American Novelists
  • Online publication: 05 December 2012
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CCO9781139003780.004
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  • Herman Melville
  • Edited by Timothy Parrish, Florida State University
  • Book: The Cambridge Companion to American Novelists
  • Online publication: 05 December 2012
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CCO9781139003780.004
Available formats
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Save book to Google Drive

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  • Herman Melville
  • Edited by Timothy Parrish, Florida State University
  • Book: The Cambridge Companion to American Novelists
  • Online publication: 05 December 2012
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CCO9781139003780.004
Available formats
×