BY ARTHUR STEDMAN.
OF the trinity of American authors whose births made the year 1819 a notable one in our literary history,—Lowell, Whitman, and Melville,—it is interesting to observe that the two latter were both descended, on the fathers' and mothers' sides respectively, from families of British New England and Dutch New York extraction. Whitman and Van Velsor, Melville and Gansevoort, were the several combinations which produced these men; and it is easy to trace in the life and character of each author the qualities derived from his joint ancestry. Here, however, the resemblance ceases, for Whitman's forebears, while worthy country people of good descent, were not prominent in public or private life. Melville, on the other hand, was of distinctly patrician birth, his paternal and maternal grandfathers having been leading characters in the Revolutionary War; their descendants still maintaining a dignified social position.
Allan Melville, great-grandfather of Herman Melville, removed from Scotland to America in 1748, and established himself as a merchant in Boston. His son, Major Thomas Melville, was a leader in the famous 'Boston Tea Party' of 1773 and afterwards became an officer in the Continental Army. He is reported to have been a Conservative in all matters except his opposition to unjust taxation, and he wore the old-fashioned cocked hat and knee-breeches until his death, in 1832, thus becoming the original of Doctor Holmes's poem, 'The Last Leaf'. Major Melville's son Allan, the father of Herman, was an importing merchant,—first in Boston, and later in New York. He was a man of much culture, and was an extensive traveller for his time. He married Maria Gansevoort, daughter of General Peter Gansevoort, best known as 'the hero of Fort Stanwix.' This fort was situated on the present site of Rome, N.Y.; and there Gansevoort, with a small body of men, held in check reinforcements on their way to join Burgoyne, until the disastrous ending of the latter's campaign of 1777 was insured. The Gansevoorts, it should be said, were at that time and subsequently residents of Albany, N.Y.
Herman Melville was born in New York on August 1,1819, and received his early education in that city. There he imbibed his first love of adventure, listening, as be says in 'Redburn,' while his father 'of winter evenings, by the well-remembered sea-coal fire in old Greenwich Street, used to tell my brother and me of the monstrous waves at sea, mountain high, of the masts bending like twigs, and all about Havre and Liverpool.' The death of his father in reduced circumstances necessitated the removal of his mother and the family of eight brothers and sisters to the village of Lansingburg, on the Hudson River. There Herman remained until 1835, when he attended the Albany Classical School for some months. Dr. Charles E. West, the well-known Brooklyn educator, was then in charge of the school, and remembers the lad's deftness in English composition, and his struggles with mathematics.
The following year was passed at Pittsfield, Mass., where he engaged in work on his uncle's farm, long known as the 'Van Schaack place.' This uncle was Thomas Melville, president of the Berkshire Agricultural Society, and a successful gentleman farmer.
Herman's roving disposition, and a desire to support himself independently of family assistance, soon led him to ship as cabin boy in a New York vessel bound for Liverpool. He made the voyage, visited London, and returned in the same ship. 'Redburn: His First Voyage,' published in 1849, is partly founded on the experiences of this trip, which was undertaken with the full consent of his relatives, and which seems to have satisfied his nautical ambition for a time. As told in the book, Melville met with more than the usual hardships of a sailor-boy's first venture. It does not seem difficult in Redburn to separate the author's actual experiences from those invented by him, this being the case in some of his other writings.
A good part of the succeeding three years, from 1837 to 1840, was occupied with school-teaching. While so engaged at Greenbush, now East Albany, N.Y., he received the munificent salary of 'six dollars a quarter and board.' He taught for one term at Pittsfield, Mass., 'boarding around' with the families of his pupils, in true American fashion, and easily suppressing, on one memorable occasion, the efforts of his larger scholars to inaugurate a rebellion by physical force.
I fancy that it was the reading of Richard Henry Dana's Two Years Before the Mast which revived the spirit of adventure in Melville's breast. That book was published in 1840, and was at once talked of everywhere. Melville must have read it at the time, mindful of his own experience as a sailor. At any rate, he once more signed a ship's articles, and on January 1, 1841, sailed from New Bedford harbour in the whaler Acushnet, bound for the Pacific Ocean and the sperm fishery. He has left very little direct information as to the events of this eighteen months' cruise, although his whaling romance, Moby Dick; or, the Whale, probably gives many pictures of life on board the Acushnet. In the present volume he confines himself to a general account of the captain's bad treatment of the crew, and of his non-fulfilment of agreements. Under these considerations, Melville decided to abandon the vessel on reaching the Marquesas Islands; and the narrative of Typee begins at this point. However, he always recognised the immense influence the voyage had had upon his career, and in regard to its results has said in Moby Dick,—
If I shall ever deserve any real repute in that small but high hushed world which I might not be unreasonably ambitious of; if hereafter I shall do anything that on the whole a man might rather have done than to have left undone … then here I prospectively ascribe all the honour and the glory to whaling; for a whale-ship was my Yale College and my Harvard.
The record, then, of Melville's escape from the Dolly, otherwise the Acushnet, the sojourn of his companion Toby and himself in the Typee Valley on the island of Nukuheva, Toby's mysterious disappearance, and Melville's own escape, is fully given in the succeeding pages; and rash indeed would he be who would enter into a descriptive contest with these inimitable pictures of aboriginal life in the 'Happy Valley.' So great an interest has always centred in the character of Toby, whose actual existence has been questioned, that I am glad to be able to declare him an authentic personage, by name Richard T. Greene. He was enabled to discover himself again to Mr. Melville through the publication of the present volume, and their acquaintance was renewed, lasting for quite a long period. I have seen his portrait,—a rare old daguerrotype,—and some of his letters to our author. One of his children was named for the latter, but Mr. Melville lost trace of him in recent years.
With the author's rescue from what Dr. T. M. Coan has styled his 'anxious paradise,' Typee ends, and its sequel, Omoo, begins. Here, again, it seems wisest to leave the remaining adventures in the South Seas to the reader's own discovery, simply stating that, after a sojourn at the Society Islands, Melville shipped for Honolulu. There he remained for four months, employed as a clerk. He joined the crew of the American frigate United States, which reached Boston, stopping on the way at one of the Peruvian ports, in October of 1844. Once more was a narrative of his experiences to be preserved in White Jacket; or, the World in a Man-of-War. Thus, of Melville's four most important books, three, Typee, Omoo, and White-Jacket, are directly auto biographical, and Moby Dick is partially so; while the less important Redburn is between the two classes in this respect. Melville's other prose works, as will be shown, were, with some exceptions, unsuccessful efforts at creative romance.
Whether our author entered on his whaling adventures in the South Seas with a determination to make them available for literary purposes, may never be certainly known. There was no such elaborate announcement or advance preparation as in some later cases. I am inclined to believe that the literary prospect was an after-thought, and that this insured a freshness and enthusiasm of style not otherwise to be attained. Returning to his mother's home at Lansingburg, Melville soon began the writing of Typee, which was completed by the autumn of 1845. Shortly after this his older brother, Gansevoort Melville, sailed for England as secretary of legation to Ambassador McLane, and the manuscript was intrusted to Gansevoort for submission to John Murray. Its immediate acceptance and publication followed in 1846. Typee was dedicated to Chief Justice Lemuel Shaw of Massachusetts, an old friendship between the author's family and that of Justice Shaw having been renewed about this time. Mr. Melville became engaged to Miss Elizabeth Shaw, the only daughter of the Chief Justice, and their marriage followed on August 4, 1847, in Boston.
The wanderings of our nautical Othello were thus brought to a conclusion. Mr. and Mrs. Melville resided in New York City until 1850, when they purchased a farmhouse at Pittsfield, their farm adjoining that formerly owned by Mr. Melville's uncle, which had been inherited by the latter's son. The new place was named 'Arrow Head,' from the numerous Indian antiquities found in the neighbourhood. The house was so situated as to command an uninterrupted view of Greylock Mountain and the adjacent hills. Here Melville remained for thirteen years, occupied with his writing, and managing his farm. An article in Putnam's Monthly entitled I and My Chimney' another called October Mountain, and the introduction to the Piazza Tales, present faithful pictures of Arrow Head and its surroundings. In a letter to Nathaniel Hawthorne, given in 'Nathaniel Hawthorne and His Wife,' his daily life is set forth. The letter is dated June 1, 1851.
Since you have been here I have been building some shanties of houses (connected with the old one), and likewise some shanties of chapters and essays. I have been ploughing and sowing and raising and printing and praying, and now begin to come out upon a less bristling time, and to enjoy the calm prospect of things from a fair piazza at the north of the old farmhouse here. Not entirely yet, though, am I without something to be urgent with. The 'Whale' is only half through the press; for, wearied with the long delays of the printers, and disgusted with the heat and dust of the Babylonish brick-kiln of New York, I came back to the country to feel the grass, and end the book reclining on it, if I may.
Mr. Hawthorne, who was then living in the red cottage at Lenox, had a week at Arrow Head with his daughter Una the previous spring. It is recorded that the friends 'spent most of the time in the barn, bathing in the early spring sunshine, which streamed through the open doors, and talking philosophy.' According to Mr. J. E. A. Smith's volume on the Berkshire Hills, these gentlemen, both reserved in nature, though near neighbours and often in the same company, were inclined to be shy of each other, partly, perhaps, through the knowledge that Melville had written a very appreciative review of 'Mosses from an Old Manse' for the New York Literary World, edited by their mutual friends, the Duyckincks. 'But one day,' writes Mr. Smith, 'it chanced that when they were out on a picnic excursion, the two were compelled by a thundershower to take shelter in a narrow recess of the rocks of Monument Mountain. Two hours of this enforced intercourse settled the matter. They learned so much of each other's character, … that the most intimate friendship for the future was inevitable.' A passage in Hawthorne's Wonder Book is noteworthy as describing the number of literary neighbours in Berkshire:—
'For my part, I wish I had Pegasus here at this moment,' said the student. 'I would mount him forthwith, and gallop about the country within a circumference of a few miles, making literary calls on my brother authors. Dr. Dewey would be within ray reach, at the foot of the Taconic. In Stockbridge, yonder, is Mr. James [G. P. R. James], conspicuous to all the world on his mountain-pile of history and romance. Longfellow, I believe, is not yet at the Oxbow, else the winged horse would neigh at him. But here in Lenox I should find our most truthful novelist [Miss Sedgwick], who has made the scenery and life of Berkshire all her own. On the hither side of Pittsfield sits Herman Melville, shaping out the gigantic conception of his White Whale, while the gigantic shadow of Greylock looms upon him from his study window. Another bound of my flying steed would bring me to the door of Holmes, whom I mention last, because Pegasus would certainly unseat me the next minute, and claim the poet as his rider.'
While at Pittsfield, Mr. Melville was induced to enter the lecture field. From 1857 to 1860 he filled many engagements in the lyceums, chiefly speaking of his adventures in the South Seas. He lectured in cities as widely apart as Montreal, Chicago, Baltimore, and San Francisco, sailing to the last-named place in 1860, by way of Cape Horn, on the Meteor, commanded, by his younger brother, Captain Thomas Melville, afterward governor of the 'Sailor's Snug Harbor' at Staten Island, N.Y. Besides his voyage to San Francisco, he had, in 1849 and 1856, visited England, the Continent, and the Holy Land, partly to superintend the publication of English editions of his works, and partly for recreation.
A pronounced feature of Melville's character was his unwillingness to speak of himself, his adventures, or his writings in conversation. He was, however, able to overcome this reluctance on the lecture platform. Our author's tendency to philosophical discussion is strikingly set forth in a letter from Dr. Titus Munson Coan to the latter's mother, written while a student at Williams College over thirty years ago, and fortunately preserved by her. Dr. Coan enjoyed the friendship and confidence of Mr. Melville during most of his residence in New York. The letter reads:—
I have made my first literary pilgrimage, a call upon Herman Melville, the renowned author of Typee, etc. He lives in a spacious farmhouse about two miles from Pittsfield, a weary walk through the dust. But it as well repaid. I introduced myself as a Hawaiian-American, and soon found myself in full tide of talk, or rather of monologue. But he would not repeat the experiences of which I had been reading with rapture in his books. In vain I sought to hear of Typee and those paradise islands, but he preferred to pour forth his philosophy and his theories of life. The shade of Aristotle arose like a cold mist between myself and Fayaway. We have quite enough of deep philosophy at Williams College, and I confess I was disappointed in this trend of the talk. But what a talk it was! Melville is transformed from a Marquesan to a gypsy student, the gypsy element still remaining strong within him. And this contradiction gives him the air of one who has suffered from opposition, both literary and social. With his liberal views, he is apparently considered by the good people of Pittsfield as little better than a cannibal or a 'beach-comber.' His attitude seemed to me something like that of Ishmael; but perhaps I judged hastily. I managed to draw him out very freely on everything but the Marquesas Islands, and when I left him he was in full tide of discourse on all things sacred and profane. But he seems to put away the objective side of his life, and to shut himself up in this cold north as a cloistered thinker.
I have been told by Dr. Coan that his father, the Rev. Titus Coan, of the Hawaiian Islands, personally visited the Marquesas group, found the Typee Valley, and verified in all respects the statements made in Typee. It is known that Mr. Melville from early manhood indulged deeply in philosophical studies, and his fondness for discussing such matters is pointed out by Hawthorne also, in the English Note Books. This habit increased as he advanced in years, if possible.
The chief event of the residence in Pittsfield was the completion and publication of Moby Dick; or, the Whale, in 1851. How many young men have been drawn to sea by this book is a question of interest. Meeting with Mr. Charles Henry Webb ('John Paul') the day after Mr. Melville's death, I asked him if he were not familiar with that author's writings. He replied that 'Moby Dick' was responsible for his three years of life before the mast when a lad, and added that while 'gamming' on board another vessel he had once fallen in with a member of the boat's crew which rescued Melville from his friendly imprisonment among the Typees.
While at Pittsfield, besides his own family, Mr. Melville's mother and sisters resided with him. As his four children grew up he found it necessary to obtain for them better facilities for study than the village school afforded; and so, several years after, the household was broken up, and he removed with his wife and children to the New York house that was afterwards his home. This house belonged to his brother Allan, and was exchanged for the estate at Pittsfield. In December, 1866, he was appointed by Mr. H. A. Smyth, a former travelling companion in Europe, a district officer in the New York Custom House. He held the position until 1886, preferring it to in-door clerical work, and then resigned, the duties becoming too arduous for his failing strength.
In addition to his philosophical studies, Mr. Melville was much interested in all matters relating to the fine arts, and devoted most of his leisure hours to the two subjects. A notable collection of etchings and engravings from the old masters was gradually made by him, those from Claude's paintings being a specialty. After he retired from the Custom House, his tall, stalwart figure could be seen almost daily tramping through the Fort George district or Central Park, his roving inclination leading him to obtain as much out-door life as possible. His evenings were spent at home with his books, his pictures, and his family, and usually with them alone; for, in spite of the melodramatic declarations of various English gentlemen, Melville's seclusion in his latter years, and in fact throughout his life, was a matter of personal choice. More and more, as he grew older, he avoided every action on his part, and on the part of his family, that might tend to keep his name and writings before the public. A few friends felt at liberty to visit the recluse, and were kindly welcomed, but he himself sought no one. His favorite companions were his grandchildren, with whom he delighted to pass his time, and his devoted wife, who was a constant assistant and adviser in his literary work, chiefly done at this period for his own amusement. To her he addressed his last little poem, the touching Return of the Sire de Nesle. Various efforts were made by the New York literary colony to draw him from his retirement, but without success. It has been suggested that he might have accepted a magazine editorship, but this is doubtful, as he could not bear business details or routine work of any sort. His brother Allan was a New York lawyer, and until his death, in 1872, managed Melville's affairs with ability, particularly the literary accounts.
During these later years he took great pleasure in a friendly correspondence with Mr. W. Clark Russell. Mr. Russell had taken many occasions to mention Melville's sea-tales, his interest in them, and his indebtedness to them. The latter felt impelled to write Mr. Russell in regard to one of his newly published novels, and received in answer the following letter:
July 21, 1886.
MY DEAR Mr. MELVILLE, Your letter has given me a very great and singular pleasure. Your delightful books carry the imagination into a maritime period so remote that, often as you have been in my mind, I could never satisfy myself that you were still amongst the living. I am glad, indeed, to learn from Mr. Toft that you are still hale and hearty, and I do most heartily wish you many years yet of health and vigour.
Your books I have in the American edition. I have Typee, Omoo, Redburn, and that noble piece Moby Dick. These are all I have been able to obtain. There have been many editions of your works in this country, particularly the lovely South Sea sketches; but the editions are not equal to those of the American publishers. Your reputation here is very great. It is hard to meet a man whose opinion as a reader is worth leaving who does not speak of your works in such terms as he might hesitate to employ, with all his patriotism, toward many renowned English writers.
Dana is, indeed, great. There is nothing in literature more remarkable than the impression produced by Dana's portraiture of the homely inner life of a little brig's forecastle.
I beg that you will accept my thanks for the kindly spirit in which you have read my books. I wish it were in my power to cross the Atlantic, for you assuredly would be the first whom it would be my happiness to visit.
The condition of my right hand obliges me to dictate this to my son; but painful as it is to me to hold a pen, I cannot suffer this letter to reach the hands of a man of so admirable genitis as Herman Melville without begging him to believe me to be, with my own hand, his most respectful and hearty admirer,
W. Clark Russell.
It should be noted here that Melville's increased reputation in England at the period of this letter was chiefly owing to a series of articles on his work written by Mr. Russell. I am sorry to say that few English papers made more than a passing reference to Melville's death. The American press discussed his life and work in numerous and lengthy reviews. At the same time, there always has been a steady sale of his books in England, and some of them never have been out of print in that country since the publication of Typee. One result of this friendship between the two authors was the dedication of new volumes to each other in highly complimentary terms—Mr. Melville's John Marr and Other Sailors, of which twenty-five copies only were printed, on the one hand, and Mr. Russell's An Ocean Tragedy, on the other, of which many thousand have been printed, not to mention unnumbered pirated copies.
Beside Hawthorne, Mr. Richard Henry Stoddard, of American writers, specially knew and appreciated Herman Melville. Mr. Stoddard was connected with the New York dock department at the time of Mr. Melville's appointment to a custom-house position, and they at once became acquainted. For a good many years, during the period in which our author remained in seclusion, much that appeared in print in America concerning Melville came from the pen of Mr. Stoddard. Nevertheless, the sailor author's presence in New York was well known to the literary guild. He was invited to join in all new movements, but as often felt obliged to excuse himself from doing so. The present writer lived for some time within a short distance of his house, but found no opportunity to meet him until it became necessary to obtain his portrait for an anthology in course of publication. The interview was brief, and the interviewer could not help feeling although treated with pleasant courtesy, that more important matters were in hand than the perpetuation of a romancer's countenance to future generations; but a friendly family acquaintance grew up from the incident, and will remain an abiding memory.
Mr. Melville died at his home in New York City early on the morning of September 28, 1891. His serious illness had lasted a number of months, so that the end came as a release. True to his ruling passion, philosophy had claimed him to the last, a set of Schopenhauer's works receiving his attention when able to study; but this was varied with readings in the 'Mermaid Series' of old plays, in which he took much pleasure. His library, in addition to numerous works on philosophy and the fine arts, was composed of standard books of all classes, including, of course, a proportion of nautical literature. Especially interesting are fifteen or twenty first editions of Hawthorne's books inscribed to Mr. and Mrs. Melville by the author and his wife.
The immediate acceptance of Typee by John Murray was followed by an arrangement with the London agent of an American publisher, for its simultaneous publication in the United States. I understand that Murray did not then publish fiction. At any rate, the book was accepted by him on the assurance of Gansevoort Melville that it contained nothing not actually experienced by his brother. Murray brought it out early in 1846, in his Colonial and Home Library, as A Narrative of a Four Months' Residence among the Natives of a Valley of the Marquesas Islands; or, a Peep at Polynesian Life, or, more briefly, Melville's Marquesas Islands. It was issued in America with the author's own title, Typee, and in the outward shape of a work of fiction. Mr. Melville found himself famous at once. Many discussions were carried on as to the genuineness of the author's name and the reality of the events portrayed, but English and American critics alike recognised the book's importance as a contribution to literature.
Melville, in a letter to Hawthorne, speaks of himself as having no development at all until his twenty-fifth year, the time of his return from the Pacific; but surely the process of development must have been well advanced to permit of so virile and artistic a creation as Typee. While the narrative does not always run smoothly, yet the style for the most part is graceful and alluring, so that we pass from one scene of Pacific enchantment to another quite oblivious of the vast amount of descriptive detail which is being poured out upon us. It is the varying fortune of the hero which engrosses our attention. We follow his adventures with breathless interest, or luxuriate with him in the leafy bowers of the 'Happy Valley,' surrounded by joyous children of nature. When all is ended, we then for the first time realise that we know these people and their ways as if we too had dwelt among them.
I do not believe that Typee will ever lose its position as a classic of American Literature. The pioneer in South Sea romance—for the mechanical descriptions of earlier voyagers are not worthy of comparison—this book has as yet met with no superior, even in French literature; nor has it met with a rival in any other language than the French. The character of Fayaway, and, no less, William S. Mayo's Kaloolah, the enchanting dreams of many a youthful heart, will retain their charm; and this in spite of endless variations by modern explorers in the same domain. A faint type of both characters may be found in the Surinam Yarico of Captain John Gabriel Stedman, whose Narrative of a Five Years' Expedition appeared in 1796.
Typee, as written, contained passages reflecting with considerable severity on the methods pursued by missionaries in the South Seas. The manuscript was printed in a complete form in England, and created much discussion on this account, Melville being accused of bitterness; but he asserted his lack of prejudice. The passages referred to were omitted in the first and all subsequent American editions. They have been restored in the present issue, which is complete save for a few paragraphs excluded by written direction of the author. I have, with the consent of his family, changed the long and cumbersome sub-title of the book, calling it a 'Real-Romance of the South Seas,' as best expressing its nature.
The success of his first volume encouraged Melville to proceed in his work, and Omoo, the sequel to Typee, appeared in England and America in 1847. Here we leave, for the most part, the dreamy pictures of island life, and find ourselves sharing the extremely realistic discomforts of a Sydney whaler in the early forties. The rebellious crew's experiences in the Society Islands are quite as realistic as events on board ship and very entertaining, while the whimsical character, Dr. Long Ghost, next to Captain Ahab in Moby Dick, is Melville's most striking delineation. The errors of the South Sea missions are pointed out with even more force than in Typee, and it is a fact that both these books have ever since been of the greatest value to outgoing missionaries on account of the exact information contained in them with respect to the islanders.
Melville's power in describing and investing with romance scenes and incidents witnessed and participated in by himself, and his frequent failure of success as an inventor of characters and situations, were early pointed out by his critics. More recently Mr. Henry S. Salt has drawn the same distinction very carefully in an excellent article contributed to the Scottish Art Review. In a prefatory note to Mardi (1849), Melville declares that, as his former books have been received as romance instead of reality, he will now try his hand at pure fiction. Mardi may be called a splendid failure. It must have been soon after the completion of Omoo that Melville began to study the writings of Sir Thomas Browne. Heretofore our author's style was rough in places, but marvellously simple and direct. Mardi is burdened with an over-rich diction, which Melville never entirely outgrew. The scene of this romance, which opens well, is laid in the South Seas, but everything soon becomes overdrawn and fantastical, and the thread of the story loses itself in a mystical allegory.
Redburn, already mentioned, succeeded Mardi in the same year, and was a partial return to the author's earlier style. In White-Jacket; or, the World in a Man-of-War (1850), Melville almost regained it. This book has no equal as a picture of life aboard a sailing man-of-war, the lights and shadows of naval existence being well contrasted.
With Moby Dick; or, the Whale (1851), Melville reached the topmost notch of his fame. The book represents, to a certain extent, the conflict between the author's earlier and later methods of composition, but the gigantic conception of the 'White Whale,' as Hawthorne expressed it, permeates the whole work, and lifts it bodily into the highest domain of romance. Moby Dick contains an immense amount of information concerning the habits of the whale and the methods of its capture, but this is characteristically introduced in a way not to interfere with the narrative. The chapter entitled Stubb Kills a Whale ranks with the choicest examples of descriptive literature.
Moby Dick appeared, and Melville enjoyed to the full the enhanced reputation it brought him. He did not, however, take warning from Mardi, but allowed himself to plunge more deeply into the sea of philosophy and fantasy.
Pierre; or, the Ambiguities (1852) was published, and there ensued a long series of hostile criticisms, ending with a severe, though impartial, article by Fitz-James O'Brien in Putnam's Monthly. About the same time the whole stock of the author's books was destroyed by fire, keeping them out of print at a critical moment; and public interest, which until then had been on the increase, gradually began to diminish.
After this Mr. Melville contributed several short stories to Putnam's Monthly and Harper's Magazine. Those in the former periodical were collected in a volume as Piazza Tales (1856); and of these Benito Cereno and The Bell Tower are equal to his best previous efforts.
Israel Potter: His Fifty Years of Exile (1855), first printed as a serial in Putnam's, is an historical romance of the American Revolution, based on the hero's own account of his adventures, as given in a little volume picked up by Mr. Melville at a book-stall. The story is well told, but the book is hardly worthy of the author of Typee. The Confidence Man (1857), his last serious effort in prose fiction, does not seem to require criticism.
Mr. Melville's pen had rested for nearly ten years, when it was again taken up to celebrate the events of the Civil War. Battle Pieces and Aspects of the War appeared in 1866. Most of these poems originated, according to the author, in an impulse imparted by the fall of Richmond; but they have as subjects all the chief incidents of the struggle. The best of them are The Stone Fleet, In the Prison Pen, The College Colonel, The March to the Sea, Running the Batteries, and Sheridan at Cedar Creek. Some of these had a wide circulation in the press, and were preserved in various anthologies. Clarel, a Poem and Pilgrimage in the Holy Land (1876), is a long mystical poem requiring, as some one has said, a dictionary, a cyclopaedia, and a copy of the Bible for its elucidation. In the two privately printed volumes, the arrangement of which occupied Mr. Melville during his last illness, there are several fine lyrics. The titles of these books are, John Marr and Other Sailors (1888), and Timoleon (1891).
There is no question that Mr. Melville's absorption in philosophical studies was quite as responsible as the failure of his later books for his cessation from literary productiveness. That he sometimes realised the situation will be seen by a passage in Moby Dick:—
'Didn't I tell you so?' said Flask. 'Yes, you'll soon see this right whale's head hoisted up opposite that parmacetti's.'
'In good time Flask's saying proved true. As before, the Pequod steeply leaned over towards the sperm whale's head, now, by the counterpoise of both heads, she regained her own keel, though sorely strained, you may well believe. So, when on one side you hoist in Locke's head, you go over that way; but now, on the other side, hoist in Kant's and you come back again; but in very poor plight. Thus, some minds forever keep trimming boat. Oh, ye foolish! throw all these thunderheads overboard, and then you will float right and light.'
Mr. Melville would have been more than mortal if he had been indifferent to his loss of popularity. Yet he seemed contented to preserve an entirely independent attitude, and to trust to the verdict of the future. The smallest amount of activity would have kept him before the public; but his reserve would not permit this. That reinstatement of his reputation cannot be doubted.
In the editing of this reissue of Melville's Works, I have been much indebted to the scholarly aid of Dr. Titus Munson Coan, whose familiarity with the languages of the Pacific has enabled me to harmonise the spelling of foreign words in Typee and Omoo, though without changing the phonetic method of printing adopted by Mr. Melville. Dr. Coan has also been most helpful with suggestions in other directions. Finally, the delicate fancy of La Fargehas supplemented the immortal pen-portrait of the Typee maiden with a speaking impersonation of her beauty.
New York, June, 1892.