by Herman Melville

Next Chapter

Introduction To The Edition Of 1892



OF the trinity of American authors whose births made the year1819 a notable one in our literary history,--Lowell, Whitman, andMelville,--it is interesting to observe that the two latter wereboth descended, on the fathers' and mothers' sides respectively,from have families of British New England and Dutch New Yorkextraction. Whitman and Van Velsor, Melville and Gansevoort,were the several combinations which produced these men; and it iseasy to trace in the life and character of each author thequalities derived from his joint ancestry. Here, however, theresemblance ceases, for Whitman's forebears, while worthy countrypeople of good descent, were not prominent in public or privatelife. Melville, on the other hand, was of distinctly patricianbirth, his paternal and maternal grandfathers having been leadingcharacters in the Revolutionary War; their descendants stillmaintaining a dignified social position.

Allan Melville, great-grandfather of Herman Melville, removedfrom Scotland to America in 1748, and established himself as amerchant in Boston. His son, Major Thomas Melville, was a leaderin the famous 'Boston Tea Party' of 1773 and afterwards became anofficer in the Continental Army. He is reported to have been aConservative in all matters except his opposition to unjusttaxation, and he wore the old-fashioned cocked hat andknee-breeches until his death, in 1832, thus becoming theoriginal of Doctor Holmes's poem,'The Last Leaf'. MajorMelville's son Allan, the father of Herman, was an importingmerchant,--first in Boston, and later in New York. He was a manof much culture, and was an extensive traveller for his time. Hemarried Maria Gansevoort, daughter of General Peter Gansevoort,best known as 'the hero of Fort Stanwix.' This fort was situatedon the present site of Rome, N.Y.; and there Gansevoort, with asmall body of men, held in check reinforcements on their way tojoin Burgoyne, until the disastrous ending of the latter'scampaign 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, andreceived his early education in that city. There he imbibed hisfirst love of adventure, listening, as he says in 'Redburn,'while his father 'of winter evenings, by the well-rememberedsea-coal fire in old Greenwich Street, used to tell my brotherand me of the monstrous waves at sea, mountain high, of the mastsbending like twigs, and all about Havre and Liverpool.' Thedeath of his father in reduced circumstances necessitated theremoval of his mother and the family of eight brothers andsisters to the village of Lansingburg, on the Hudson River. There Herman remained until 1835, when he attended the AlbanyClassical School for some months. Dr. Charles E. West, thewell-known Brooklyn educator, was then in charge of the school,and remembers the lad's deftness in English composition, and hisstruggles with mathematics.

The following year was passed at Pittsfield, Mass., where heengaged in work on his uncle's farm, long known as the 'VanSchaack place.' This uncle was Thomas Melville, president of theBerkshire Agricultural Society, and a successful gentlemanfarmer.

Herman's roving disposition, and a desire to support himselfindependently of family assistance, soon led him to ship as cabinboy in a New York vessel bound for Liverpool. He made thevoyage, visited London, and returned in the same ship. 'Redburn:His First Voyage,' published in 1849, is partly founded on theexperiences of this trip, which was undertaken with the fullconsent of his relatives, and which seems to have satisfied hisnautical ambition for a time. As told in the book, Melville metwith more than the usual hardships of a sailor-boy's firstventure. It does not seem difficult in 'Redburn' to separate theauthor's actual experiences from those invented by him, thisbeing the case in some of his other writings.

A good part of the succeeding three years, from 1837 to 1840, wasoccupied with school-teaching. While so engaged at Greenbush,now East Albany, N.Y., he received the munificent salary of 'sixdollars a quarter and board.' He taught for one term atPittsfield, Mass., 'boarding around' with the families of hispupils, in true American fashion, and easily suppressing, on onememorable occasion, the efforts of his larger scholars toinaugurate a rebellion by physical force.

I fancy that it was the reading of Richard Henry Dana's 'TwoYears Before the Mast' which revived the spirit of adventure inMelville's breast. That book was published in 1840, and was atonce talked of everywhere. Melville must have read it at thetime, mindful of his own experience as a sailor. At any rate, heonce more signed a ship's articles, and on January 1, 1841,sailed from New Bedford harbour in the whaler Acushnet, bound forthe Pacific Ocean and the sperm fishery. He has left very littledirect 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. Inthe present volume he confines himself to a general account ofthe captain's bad treatment of the crew, and of hisnon-fulfilment of agreements. Under these considerations,Melville decided to abandon the vessel on reaching the MarquesasIslands; and the narrative of 'Typee' begins at this point.However, he always recognised the immense influence the voyagehad 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 highhushed world which I might not be unreasonably ambitious of; ifhereafter I shall do anything that on the whole a man mightrather have done than to have left undone . . . .then here Iprospectively 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, otherwisethe Acushnet, the sojourn of his companion Toby and himself inthe Typee Valley on the island of Nukuheva, Toby's mysteriousdisappearance, and Melville's own escape, is fully given in thesucceeding pages; and rash indeed would he be who would enterinto a descriptive contest with these inimitable pictures ofaboriginal life in the 'Happy Valley.' So great an interest hasalways centred in the character of Toby, whose actual existencehas been questioned, that I am glad to be able to declare him anauthentic personage, by name Richard T. Greene. He was enabledto discover himself again to Mr. Melville through the publicationof the present volume, and their acquaintance was renewed,lasting for quite a long period. I have seen his portrait,--arare old daguerrotype,--and some of his letters to our author. One of his children was named for the latter, but Mr. Melvillelost 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 inthe South Seas to the reader's own discovery, simply statingthat, after a sojourn at the Society Islands, Melville shippedfor Honolulu. There he remained for four months, employed as aclerk. He joined the crew of the American frigate United States,which reached Boston, stopping on the way at one of the Peruvianports, in October of 1844. Once more was a narrative of hisexperiences to be preserved in 'White Jacket; or, the World in aMan-of-War.' Thus, of Melville's four most important books,three, 'Typee,' 'Omoo,' and 'White-Jacket,' are directly autobiographical, and 'Moby Dick' is partially so; while the lessimportant 'Redburn' is between the two classes in this respect. Melville's other prose works, as will be shown, were, with someexceptions, unsuccessful efforts at creative romance.

Whether our author entered on his whaling adventures in the SouthSeas with a determination to make them available for literarypurposes, may never be certainly known. There was no suchelaborate announcement or advance preparation as in some latercases. I am inclined to believe that the literary prospect wasan after-thought, and that this insured a freshness andenthusiasm of style not otherwise to be attained. Returning tohis mother's home at Lansingburg, Melville soon began the writingof 'Typee,' which was completed by the autumn of 1845. Shortlyafter this his older brother, Gansevoort Melville, sailed forEngland as secretary of legation to Ambassador McLane, and themanuscript was intrusted to Gansevoort for submission to JohnMurray. Its immediate acceptance and publication followed in1846. 'Typee' was dedicated to Chief Justice Lemuel Shaw ofMassachusetts, an old friendship between the author's family andthat of Justice Shaw having been renewed about this time. Mr.Melville became engaged to Miss Elizabeth Shaw, the only daughterof the Chief Justice, and their marriage followed on August 4,1847, in Boston.

The wanderings of our nautical Othello were thus brought to aconclusion. Mr. and Mrs. Melville resided in New York City until1850, when they purchased a farmhouse at Pittsfield, their farmadjoining that formerly owned by Mr. Melville's uncle, which hadbeen inherited by the latter's son. The new place was named'Arrow Head,' from the numerous Indian antiquities found in theneighbourhood. The house was so situated as to command anuninterrupted view of Greylock Mountain and the adjacent hills.Here Melville remained for thirteen years, occupied with hiswriting, and managing his farm. An article in Putnam's Monthlyentitled 'I and My Chimney,' another called 'October Mountain,'and the introduction to the 'Piazza Tales,' present faithfulpictures of Arrow Head and its surroundings. In a letter toNathaniel 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 ofhouses (connected with the old one), and likewise some shantiesof chapters and essays. I have been ploughing and sowing andraising and printing and praying, and now begin to come out upona less bristling time, and to enjoy the calm prospect of thingsfrom a fair piazza at the north of the old farmhouse here. Notentirely yet, though, am I without something to be urgent with.The 'Whale' is only half through the press; for, wearied with thelong delays of the printers, and disgusted with the heat and dustof the Babylonish brick-kiln of New York, I came back to thecountry to feel the grass, and end the book reclining on it, if Imay.'

Mr. Hawthorne, who was then living in the red cottage at Lenox,had a week at Arrow Head with his daughter Una the previousspring. It is recorded that the friends 'spent most of the timein the barn, bathing in the early spring sunshine, which streamedthrough the open doors, and talking philosophy.' According toMr. J. E. A. Smith's volume on the Berkshire Hills, thesegentlemen, both reserved in nature, though near neighbours andoften in the same company, were inclined to be shy of each other,partly, perhaps, through the knowledge that Melville had writtena very appreciative review of 'Mosses from an Old Manse' for theNew York Literary World, edited by their mutual friends, theDuyckincks. 'But one day,' writes Mr. Smith, 'it chanced thatwhen they were out on a picnic excursion, the two were compelledby a thundershower to take shelter in a narrow recess of therocks of Monument Mountain. Two hours of this enforcedintercourse settled the matter. They learned so much of eachother's character, . . . that the most intimate friendship forthe future was inevitable.' A passage in Hawthorne's 'WonderBook' is noteworthy as describing the number of literaryneighbours in Berkshire:--

'For my part, I wish I had Pegasus here at this moment,' said thestudent. 'I would mount him forthwith, and gallop about thecountry within a circumference of a few miles, making literarycalls on my brother authors. Dr. Dewey would be within rayreach, at the foot of the Taconic. In Stockbridge, yonder, isMr. James [G. P. R. James], conspicuous to all the world on hismountain-pile of history and romance. Longfellow, I believe, isnot yet at the Oxbow, else the winged horse would neigh at him.But here in Lenox I should find our most truthful novelist [MissSedgwick], who has made the scenery and life of Berkshire all herown. On the hither side of Pittsfield sits Herman Melville,shaping out the gigantic conception of his 'White Whale,' whilethe gigantic shadow of Greylock looms upon him from his studywindow. Another bound of my flying steed would bring me to thedoor of Holmes, whom I mention last, because Pegasus wouldcertainly unseat me the next minute, and claim the poet as hisrider.'

While at Pittsfield, Mr. Melville was induced to enter thelecture field. From 1857 to 1860 he filled many engagements inthe lyceums, chiefly speaking of his adventures in the SouthSeas. He lectured in cities as widely apart as Montreal,Chicago, Baltimore, and San Francisco, sailing to the last-namedplace in 1860, by way of Cape Horn, on the Meteor, commanded, byhis younger brother, Captain Thomas Melville, afterward governorof the 'Sailor's Snug Harbor' at Staten Island, N.Y. Besides hisvoyage to San Francisco, he had, in 1849 and 1856, visitedEngland, the Continent, and the Holy Land, partly to superintendthe publication of English editions of his works, and partly forrecreation.

A pronounced feature of Melville's character was hisunwillingness to speak of himself, his adventures, or hiswritings in conversation. He was, however, able to overcome thisreluctance on the lecture platform. Our author's tendency tophilosophical discussion is strikingly set forth in a letter fromDr. Titus Munson Coan to the latter's mother, written while astudent at Williams College over thirty years ago, andfortunately preserved by her. Dr. Coan enjoyed the friendshipand confidence of Mr. Melville during most of his residence inNew York. The letter reads:--

'I have made my first literary pilgrimage, a call upon HermanMelville,the renowned author of 'Typee,' etc. He lives in aspacious farmhouse about two miles from Pittsfield, a weary walkthrough the dust. But it as well repaid. I introduced myself asa Hawaiian-American, and soon found myself in full tide of talk,or rather of monologue. But he would not repeat the experiencesof which I had been reading with rapture in his books. In vain Isought to hear of Typee and those paradise islands, but hepreferred to pour forth his philosophy and his theories of life.The shade of Aristotle arose like a cold mist between myself andFayaway. We have quite enough of deep philosophy at WilliamsCollege, and I confess I was disappointed in this trend of thetalk. But what a talk it was! Melville is transformed from aMarquesan to a gypsy student, the gypsy element still remainingstrong within him. And this contradiction gives him the air ofone who has suffered from opposition, both literary and social.With his liberal views, he is apparently considered by the goodpeople of Pittsfield as little better than a cannibal or a'beach-comber.' His attitude seemed to me something like that ofIshmael; but perhaps I judged hastily. I managed to draw him outvery freely on everything but the Marquesas Islands, and when Ileft him he was in full tide of discourse on all things sacredand profane. But he seems to put away the objective side of hislife, and to shut himself up in this cold north as a cloisteredthinker.'

I have been told by Dr. Coan that his father, the Rev. TitusCoan, of the Hawaiian Islands, personally visited the Marquesasgroup, found the Typee Valley, and verified in all respects thestatements made in 'Typee.' It is known that Mr. Melville fromearly manhood indulged deeply in philosophical studies, and hisfondness for discussing such matters is pointed out by Hawthornealso, in the 'English Note Books.' This habit increased as headvanced in years, if possible.

The chief event of the residence in Pittsfield was the completionand publication of 'Moby Dick; or, the Whale,' in 1851. How manyyoung men have been drawn to sea by this book is a question ofinterest. Meeting with Mr. Charles Henry Webb ('John Paul') theday after Mr. Melville's death, I asked him if he were notfamiliar with that author's writings. He replied that 'MobyDick' was responsible for his three years of life before the mastwhen a lad, and added that while 'gamming' on board anothervessel he had once fallen in with a member of the boat's crewwhich rescued Melville from his friendly imprisonment among theTypees.

While at Pittsfield, besides his own family, Mr. Melville'smother and sisters resided with him. As his four children grewup he found it necessary to obtain for them better facilities forstudy than the village school afforded; and so, several yearsafter, the household was broken up, and he removed with his wifeand children to the New York house that was afterwards his home.This house belonged to his brother Allan, and was exchanged forthe estate at Pittsfield. In December, 1866, he was appointed byMr. H. A. Smyth, a former travelling companion in Europe, adistrict officer in the New York Custom House. He held theposition until 1886, preferring it to in-door clerical work, andthen resigned, the duties becoming too arduous for his failingstrength.

In addition to his philosophical studies, Mr. Melville was muchinterested in all matters relating to the fine arts, and devotedmost of his leisure hours to the two subjects. A notablecollection of etchings and engravings from the old masters wasgradually made by him, those from Claude's paintings being aspecialty. After he retired from the Custom House, his tall,stalwart figure could be seen almost daily tramping through theFort George district or Central Park, his roving inclinationleading him to obtain as much out-door life as possible. Hisevenings were spent at home with his books, his pictures, and hisfamily, and usually with them alone; for, in spite of themelodramatic declarations of various English gentlemen,Melville's seclusion in his latter years, and in fact throughouthis life, was a matter of personal choice. More and more, as hegrew older, he avoided every action on his part, and on the partof his family, that might tend to keep his name and writingsbefore the public. A few friends felt at liberty to visit therecluse, and were kindly welcomed, but he himself sought no one.His favorite companions were his grandchildren, with whom hedelighted to pass his time, and his devoted wife, who was aconstant assistant and adviser in his literary work, chiefly doneat this period for his own amusement. To her he addressed hislast little poem, the touching 'Return of the Sire de Nesle.'Various efforts were made by the New York literary colony to drawhim from his retirement, but without success. It has beensuggested that he might have accepted a magazine editorship, butthis is doubtful, as he could not bear business details orroutine work of any sort. His brother Allan was a New Yorklawyer, and until his death, in 1872, managed Melville's affairswith ability, particularly the literary accounts.

During these later years he took great pleasure in a friendlycorrespondence with Mr. W. Clark Russell. Mr. Russell had takenmany occasions to mention Melville's sea-tales, his interest inthem, and his indebtedness to them. The latter felt impelled towrite 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 andsingular pleasure. Your delightful books carry the imaginationinto a maritime period so remote that, often as you have been inmy mind, I could never satisfy myself that you were still amongstthe living. I am glad, indeed, to learn from Mr. Toft that youare still hale and hearty, and I do most heartily wish you manyyears 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 areall I have been able to obtain. There have been many editions ofyour works in this country, particularly the lovely South Seasketches; but the editions are not equal to those of the Americanpublishers. Your reputation here is very great. It is hard tomeet a man whose opinion as a reader is worth leaving who doesnot speak of your works in such terms as he might hesitate toemploy, with all his patriotism, toward many renowned Englishwriters.

Dana is, indeed, great. There is nothing in literature moreremarkable than the impression produced by Dana's portraiture ofthe homely inner life of a little brig's forecastle.

I beg that you will accept my thanks for the kindly spirit inwhich you have read my books. I wish it were in my power tocross the Atlantic, for you assuredly would be the first whom itwould be my happiness to visit.

The condition of my right hand obliges me to dictate this to myson; but painful as it is to me to hold a pen, I cannot sufferthis letter to reach the hands of a man of so admirable genitisas Herman Melville without begging him to believe me to be, withmy own hand, his most respectful and hearty admirer,W. Clark Russell.

It should be noted here that Melville's increased reputation inEngland at the period of this letter was chiefly owing to aseries of articles on his work written by Mr. Russell. I amsorry to say that few English papers made more than a passingreference to Melville's death. The American press discussed hislife and work in numerous and lengthy reviews. At the same time,there always has been a steady sale of his books in England, andsome of them never have been out of print in that country sincethe publication of 'Typee.' One result of this friendshipbetween the two authors was the dedication of new volumes to eachother in highly complimentary terms--Mr. Melville's 'John Marrand Other Sailors,' of which twenty-five copies only wereprinted, on the one hand, and Mr. Russell's 'An Ocean Tragedy,'on the other, of which many thousand have been printed, not tomention unnumbered pirated copies.

Beside Hawthorne, Mr. Richard Henry Stoddard, of Americanwriters, specially knew and appreciated Herman Melville. Mr.Stoddard was connected with the New York dock department at thetime 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, muchthat appeared in print in America concerning Melville came fromthe pen of Mr. Stoddard. Nevertheless, the sailor author'spresence in New York was well known to the literary guild. Hewas invited to join in all new movements, but as often feltobliged to excuse himself from doing so. The present writerlived for some time within a short distance of his house, butfound no opportunity to meet him until it became necessary toobtain his portrait for an anthology in course of publication. The interview was brief, and the interviewer could not helpfeeling although treated with pleasant courtesy, that moreimportant matters were in hand than the perpetuation of aromancer's countenance to future generations; but a friendlyfamily acquaintance grew up from the incident, and will remain anabiding memory.

Mr. Melville died at his home in New York City early on themorning of September 28, 1891. His serious illness had lasted anumber of months, so that the end came as a release. True to hisruling passion, philosophy had claimed him to the last, a set ofSchopenhauer's works receiving his attention when able to study;but this was varied with readings in the 'Mermaid Series' of oldplays, in which he took much pleasure. His library, in additionto numerous works on philosophy and the fine arts, was composedof standard books of all classes, including, of course, aproportion of nautical literature. Especially interesting arefifteen or twenty first editions of Hawthorne's books inscribedto Mr. and Mrs. Melville by the author and his wife.

The immediate acceptance of 'Typee' by John Murray was followedby an arrangement with the London agent of an American publisher,for its simultaneous publication in the United States. Iunderstand that Murray did not then publish fiction. At anyrate, the book was accepted by him on the assurance of GansevoortMelville that it contained nothing not actually experienced byhis brother. Murray brought it out early in 1846, in hisColonial 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'sMarquesas Islands.' It was issued in America with the author'sown title, 'Typee,' and in the outward shape of a work offiction. Mr. Melville found himself famous at once. Manydiscussions were carried on as to the genuineness of the author'sname and the reality of the events portrayed, but English andAmerican critics alike recognised the book's importance as acontribution to literature.

Melville, in a letter to Hawthorne, speaks of himself as havingno development at all until his twenty-fifth year, the time ofhis return from the Pacific; but surely the process ofdevelopment must have been well advanced to permit of so virileand artistic a creation as 'Typee.' While the narrative does notalways run smoothly, yet the style for the most part is gracefuland alluring, so that we pass from one scene of Pacificenchantment to another quite oblivious of the vast amount ofdescriptive detail which is being poured out upon us. It is thevarying fortune of the hero which engrosses our attention. Wefollow his adventures with breathless interest, or luxuriate withhim in the leafy bowers of the 'Happy Valley,' surrounded byjoyous children of nature. When all is ended, we then for thefirst time realise that we know these people and their ways as ifwe too had dwelt among them.

I do not believe that 'Typee' will ever lose its position as aclassic of American Literature. The pioneer in South Searomance- -for the mechanical descriptions of earlier voyagers arenot worthy of comparison--this book has as yet met with nosuperior, even in French literature; nor has it met with a rivalin any other language than the French. The character of'Fayaway,' and, no less, William S. Mayo's 'Kaloolah,' theenchanting dreams of many a youthful heart, will retain theircharm; and this in spite of endless variations by modernexplorers in the same domain. A faint type of both charactersmay be found in the Surinam Yarico of Captain John GabrielStedman, whose 'Narrative of a Five Years' Expedition' appearedin 1796.

'Typee,' as written, contained passages reflecting withconsiderable severity on the methods pursued by missionaries inthe South Seas. The manuscript was printed in a complete form inEngland, and created much discussion on this account, Melvillebeing accused of bitterness; but he asserted his lack ofprejudice. The passages referred to were omitted in the firstand all subsequent American editions. They have been restored inthe present issue, which is complete save for a few paragraphsexcluded by written direction of the author. I have, with theconsent of his family, changed the long and cumbersome sub-titleof the book, calling it a 'Real-Romance of the South Seas,' asbest expressing its nature.

The success of his first volume encouraged Melville to proceed inhis work, and 'Omoo,' the sequel to 'Typee,' appeared in Englandand America in l847. Here we leave, for the most part, thedreamy pictures of island life, and find ourselves sharing theextremely realistic discomforts of a Sydney whaler in the earlyforties. The rebellious crew's experiences in the Society Islandsare quite as realistic as events on board ship and veryentertaining, while the whimsical character, Dr. Long Ghost, nextto Captain Ahab in 'Moby Dick,' is Melville's most strikingdelineation. The errors of the South Sea missions are pointedout with even more force than in 'Typee,' and it is a fact thatboth these books have ever since been of the greatest value tooutgoing missionaries on account of the exact informationcontained in them with respect to the islanders.

Melville's power in describing and investing with romance scenesand incidents witnessed and participated in by himself, and hisfrequent failure of success as an inventor of characters andsituations, were early pointed out by his critics. More recentlyMr. Henry S. Salt has drawn the same distinction very carefullyin an excellent article contributed to the Scottish Art Review.In a prefatory note to 'Mardi' (1849), Melville declares that, ashis former books have been received as romance instead ofreality, he will now try his hand at pure fiction. 'Mardi' maybe called a splendid failure. It must have been soon after thecompletion of 'Omoo' that Melville began to study the writings ofSir Thomas Browne. Heretofore our author's style was rough inplaces, but marvellously simple and direct. 'Mardi' is burdenedwith an over-rich diction, which Melville never entirely outgrew.The scene of this romance, which opens well, is laid in the SouthSeas, but everything soon becomes overdrawn and fantastical, andthe 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), Melvillealmost regained it. This book has no equal as a picture of lifeaboard a sailing man-of-war, the lights and shadows of navalexistence being well contrasted.

With 'Moby Dick; or, the Whale' (1851), Melville reached thetopmost notch of his fame. The book represents, to a certainextent, the conflict between the author's earlier and latermethods of composition, but the gigantic conception of the 'WhiteWhale,' as Hawthorne expressed it, permeates the whole work, andlifts it bodily into the highest domain of romance. 'Moby Dick'contains an immense amount of information concerning the habitsof the whale and the methods of its capture, but this ischaracteristically introduced in a way not to interfere with thenarrative. The chapter entitled 'Stubb Kills a Whale' ranks withthe choicest examples of descriptive literature.

'Moby Dick' appeared, and Melville enjoyed to the full theenhanced reputation it brought him. He did not, however, takewarning from 'Mardi,' but allowed himself to plunge more deeplyinto the sea of philosophy and fantasy.

'Pierre; or, the Ambiguities' (1852) was published, and thereensued a long series of hostile criticisms, ending with a severe,though impartial, article by Fitz-James O'Brien in Putnam'sMonthly. About the same time the whole stock of the author'sbooks was destroyed by fire, keeping them out of print at acritical moment; and public interest, which until then had beenon the increase, gradually began to diminish.

After this Mr. Melville contributed several short stories toPutnam's Monthly and Harper's Magazine. Those in the formerperiodical were collected in a volume as Piazza Tales (1856); andof these 'Benito Cereno' and 'The Bell Tower' are equal to hisbest previous efforts.

'Israel Potter: His Fifty Years of Exile' (1855), first printedas a serial in Putnam's, is an historical romance of the AmericanRevolution, based on the hero's own account of his adventures, asgiven in a little volume picked up by Mr. Melville at abook-stall. The story is well told, but the book is hardlyworthy of the author of 'Typee.' 'The Confidence Man' (1857),his last serious effort in prose fiction, does not seem torequire criticism.

Mr. Melville's pen had rested for nearly ten years, when it wasagain taken up to celebrate the events of the Civil War. 'BattlePieces and Aspects of the War' appeared in 1866. Most of thesepoems originated, according to the author, in an impulse impartedby the fall of Richmond; but they have as subjects all the chiefincidents of the struggle. The best of them are "The StoneFleet,' 'In the Prison Pen,' 'The College Colonel,' 'The March tothe Sea,' 'Running the Batteries,' and 'Sheridan at Cedar Creek.'Some of these had a wide circulation in the press, and werepreserved in various anthologies. 'Clarel, a Poem and Pilgrimagein the Holy Land' (1876), is a long mystical poem requiring, assome one has said, a dictionary, a cyclopaedia, and a copy of theBible for its elucidation. in the two privately printed volumes,the arrangement of which occupied Mr. Melville during his lastillness, there are several fine lyrics. The titles of thesebooks are, 'John Marr and Other Sailors' (1888), and 'Timoleon'(1891).

There is no question that Mr. Melville's absorption inphilosophical studies was quite as responsible as the failure ofhis later books for his cessation from literary productiveness.That he sometimes realised the situation will be seen by apassage in 'Moby Dick':--

'Didn't I tell you so?' said Flask. 'Yes, you'll soon see thisright whale's head hoisted up opposite that parmacetti's.'

'In good time Flask's saying proved true. As before, the Pequodsteeply leaned over towards the sperm whale's head, now, by thecounterpoise of both heads, she regained her own keel, thoughsorely strained, you may well believe. So, when on one side youhoist in Locke's head, you go over that way; but now, on theother side, hoist in Kant's and you come back again; but in verypoor plight. Thus, some minds forever keep trimming boat. Oh,ye foolish! throw all these thunderheads overboard, and then youwill float right and light.'

Mr. Melville would have been more than mortal if he had beenindifferent to his loss of popularity. Yet he seemed contentedto preserve an entirely independent attitude, and to trust to theverdict of the future. The smallest amount of activity wouldhave kept him before the public; but his reserve would not permitthis. That reinstatement of his reputation cannot be doubted.

In the editing of this reissue of 'Melville's Works,' I have beenmuch indebted to the scholarly aid of Dr. Titus Munson Coan,whose familiarity with the languages of the Pacific has enabledme to harmonise the spelling of foreign words in 'Typee' and'Omoo,' though without changing the phonetic method of printingadopted by Mr. Melville. Dr. Coan has also been most helpfulwith suggestions in other directions. Finally, the delicatefancy of La Fargehas supplemented the immortal pen-portrait ofthe Typee maiden with a speaking impersonation of her beauty.

New York, June, 1892.


Return to the Typee Summary Return to the Herman Melville Library

It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.