Monday, June 11, 2018

1888 letter from Cornelia Griswold Goodrich to Benson J Lossing

Here is another letter from Cornelia Griswold Goodrich to historian Benson J. Lossing with content related to the family legend that Henry Livingston, Jr. wrote "The Night Before Christmas." I am grateful to Nan Card, Curator of Manuscripts with the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Library and Museums for expert help with locating this item in the Benson Lossing Collection, Hayes Presidential Library & Museums, Fremont, Ohio.
Intervale N. H.
Oct. 18. / 88.

My dear Mr. Lossing

Pardon my delay in answering your very kind letter in the early summer. I was in hopes of sending you a sketch of the old manor house of my G. G. G. Grandpa Henry Livingston but no one seems to possess one, & as I only have a very poor water color of the back view all crumbling to pieces I cannot recall vividly enough the front view from memory & so it must remain un-immortalized by your historic hands!

I wrote to Miss Gertrude Thomas (whose mother Mrs. Jane Livingston, daughter of Henry by second wife) in regard to it.  She says,
"speaking of the old place, I am carried back in spirit to it, where Aunt Eliza (Mrs. Lansing & afterwards Mrs. Smith Thompson) and her brothers & sisters spent their young lives so happily together. "Locust Grove" never had any other name. Grandpa Livingston planted all the trees with his own hand, and named the place accordingly. And right here, in its proper place, let me say that "The Night before Christmas" was written in that same old stone house at Locust Grove. As to the time of its publication in the Poughkeepsie papers, I know nothing & I do not suppose it will be possible to make the discovery, unless one knew the exact date.I have lately visited Sandusky & have talked it over again with cousin Jeannie Hubbard (daughter of Charles Livingston) who showed me the secretary and the very drawer where her father used to keep the old paper containing this poem which his father wrote-- & which, many & many a time, she had seen him take out & read to guests with a good deal of filial pride as the production of his father. She says she has no more doubt of the authorship than she has of her own existence!" G. T.
I am so sorry, my dear Mr. Lossing, that I can give you nothing more definite. We are still in the White Mountains unable to get away on account of my dear Mother's very severe illness. She is better now, & we hope by the 1st of Nov. to be able to move on towards New York.
Remember us most kindly to Mrs. Lossing please, & with kind regards to yourself.
Very sincerely Yours
Cornelia G. Goodrich
 P. S. I have neglected to answer one or two of your questions;
I. The date of those letters enclosed were March 1879. Hudson.
II. place written - Eton College - Hudson N. Y.
III. Mrs. Eliza Thompson - wife of Judge Smith Thompson - daughter of Henry Livingston.
IV. The old stone house at Locust Grove, was built in 1735. & demolished about 15 years ago - [or ab. 1873]
V. -- He was of the Gilbert branch of Livingstons, the youngest-- & [undeciphered word or words] cousin to the Chancellor--
Very sincerely
C. G. G.
--Benson Lossing Collection, Hayes Presidential Library & Museums, Fremont, Ohio.
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Norway woodman

And now, loud above the roar of the sea, was suddenly heard a sharp, splintering sound, as of a Norway woodman felling a pine in the forest. It was brave Jarl, who foremost of all had snatched from its rack against the mainmast, the ax, always there kept.  --Mardi: And a Voyage Thither
In Mardi (1849) Melville's figurative Norway woodman cuts down a tree, successfully, whereas Shelley's Norway woodman stamps out a spark but fails to prevent the forest fire of revolt that it kindles in Lines Written among the Euganean Hills:

As the Norway woodman quells,
In the depth of piny dells,
One light flame among the brakes,
While the boundless forest shakes,
And its mighty trunks are torn
By the fire thus lowly born:
The spark beneath his feet is dead,
He starts to see the flames it fed
Howling through the darken'd sky
With myriad tongues victoriously,
And sinks down in fear: so thou,
O Tyranny, beholdest now
Light around thee, and thou hearest
The loud flames ascend, and fearest:
Grovel on the earth; ay, hide
In the dust thy purple pride!
Generally speaking, a Norway woodman has no very obvious business in the South Pacific or the hills south of Padua. In Mardi, however, Melville's simile is well adapted to Jarl, the narrator's Scandinavian companion, and Jarl's heroic action with the axe (in a gale, he chops at the rigging to bring down the mainmast of the Parki). Jarl as Norway woodman in Mardi inescapably evokes Shelley's Norway woodman--whom Melville might have first encountered the library of the Albany Young Men's Association, in Hazlitt's Select British Poets (London, 1824).

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Thursday, June 7, 2018

Hazlitt's Select British Poets in Albany

British Library
Listed as 
1116 Hazlett's Select British Poets
in the 1837 Catalogue of Books in the Library of the Young Men's Association of the City of Albany (under "H," page 14), this 1824 "Anthology of British Poets," as described online for 21st century readers by the British Library, "brings together past and contemporary poets" including Wordsworth, Coleridge, Southey, Byron, Keats, and Shelley.

"A Critical List of Authors" in the 1824 volume includes "Critical Remarks" (thus labeled on the title page) by William Hazlitt on Wordsworth:

Mr. WORDSWORTH'S characteristic is one, and may be expressed in one word;—a power of raising the smallest things in nature into sublimity by the force of sentiment. He attaches the deepest and loftiest feelings to the meanest and most superficial objects. His peculiarity is his combination of simplicity of subject with profundity and power of execution. He has no fancy, no wit, no humour, little descriptive power, no dramatic power, great occasional elegance, with continual rusticity and baldness of allusion; but he is sublime without the Muse's aid, pathetic in the contemplation of his own and man's nature; add to this, that his style is natural and severe, and his versification sonorous and expressive.  --Select British Poets
On Byron et al:


Lord BYRON'S distinguishing quality is intensity of conception and expression. He wills to be sublime or pathetic. He has great wildness of invention, brilliant and elegant fancy, caustic wit, but no humour. Gray's description of the poetical character—"Thoughts that glow, and words that burn,"—applies to him more than to any of his contemporaries.

THOMAS MOORE is the greatest wit now living. His light, ironical pieces are unrivalled for point and facility of execution. His fancy is delightful and brilliant, and his songs have gone to the heart of a nation.

LEIGH HUNT has shewn great wit in his Feast of the Poets, elegance in his occasional verses, and power of description and pathos in his Story of Rimini. The whole of the third canto of that poem is as chaste as it is classical.

The late Mr. SHELLEY (for he is dead since the commencement of this publication) was chiefly distinguished by a fervour of philosophic speculation, which he clad in the garb of fancy, and in words of Tyrian die. He had spirit and genius, but his eagerness to give effect and produce conviction often defeated his object, and bewildered himself and his readers.  --Hazlitt, Select British Poets
And Keats:


Mr. KEATS is also dead. He gave the greatest promise of genius of any poet of his day. He displayed extreme tenderness, beauty, originality and delicacy of fancy; all he wanted was manly strength and fortitude to reject the temptations of singularity in sentiment and expression. Some of his shorter and later pieces are, however, as free from faults as they are full of beauties. --Hazlitt, Select British Poets
Available in Albany by October 1826, Hazlitt's edition might have given Herman Melville his earliest exposure to works by major Romantic poets including Wordsworth, Shelley, and Keats. And thumbnail criticism thereof, in Hazlitt's "Critical Remarks." Melville lived in Albany, New York from October 1830 to May 1838. He joined the Young Men's Association in January 1835 and "managed to keep paying his membership dues for two and a half years," as discussed by Hershel Parker in Melville: The Making of the Poet (Northwestern University Press, 2008), page 39. In September 1827 (three years before Herman had to move there), Albany bookseller Oliver Steele advertised "Hazlitt's select British poets, with critical remarks" and other "LONDON BOOKS" for sale in his shop at 437 South Market Street.

Albany Argus - September 17, 1827
via Fulton History
Oliver Steele definitely had the 1824 edition with contemporary poets, as shown by the reference in his ad to Hazlitt's "critical remarks," a phrase borrowed from the title page. Oliver's father Daniel Steele had offered the same edition the year before, as the specifics of his ad in the Black Rock Gazette (October 5, 1826) more clearly reveal:
Select British Poets, or new elegant extracts, from Chaucer to the present time, with critical remarks, by Wm Hazlett, 1 vol. royal 8 vo.

Thu, Oct 5, 1826 – Page 3 · Black Rock Gazette (Black Rock, New York) · Newspapers.com

Daniel Steele "kept the largest and best assortment of books outside of New York City" according to George Rogers Howell in  the Bi-centennial History of Albany:
BOOKSELLERS.

Among the earliest booksellers in Albany are William Seymour; D. K. Van Vechten; Obadiah Penniman, who came to Albany under the great printer, Isaiah Thomas; C. R. & G. Webster; E. & E. Horsford, who kept a store at 100 State street, closed about 1828; E. F. Backus, who made a specialty of law books; Daniel Steele & Son, on Broadway, north of Hudson avenue, who kept the largest and best assortment of books outside of New York City. Daniel Steele died in 1828, and was succeeded by his son, Oliver.
In addition to "Hazlett's Select British Poets," the Catalogue of Books in the Library of the Young Men's Association (Albany, 1837) lists two different sets of "British Poets," numbered 1112 (12 vols.) and 1390 (11 vols.). Here is the Google-digitized volume of Hazlitt's 1824 anthology from NYPL, courtesy of HathiTrust Digital Library.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

J. C. Squire on Melville's verse

Sir John Collings Squire
Bassano Ltd via National Portrait Gallery
Melville's verse has always been neglected. The historians have commonly dismissed it in a few words; often enough, I daresay, they have been content to repeat each other's comments without reading the verse. --J. C. Squire, London Observer, April 1, 1923.
Sun, Apr 1, 1923 – 4 · The Observer (London, Greater London, England) · Newspapers.com

Books of the Day.

MELVILLE'S VERSE.

"John Marr and Other Poems." By Herman Melville, with an Introductory Note by Henry Chapin. (Princeton University Press.) 
(By J. C. Squire.)
There is a companion volume to this, a volume including prose pieces by Melville hitherto unprinted. This I may neglect, as not long ago I wrote in this place about Melville's prose. If more were to be said about that prose the desirable thing is that attention should be given, not yet to Melville's scattered writings, but to some of his major books. When his centenary occurred critics devoted themselves almost entirely to "Moby Dick." They had reason. "Moby Dick" has been, except spasmodically neglected; it is certainly Melville's finest book; it is the greatest prose work that has ever come out of America, and one of the greatest prose fictions ever written. Yet a concentration on the glories of that book tended to give the false impression that the rest of Melville's books might safely be neglected. It is not true of any of them, and emphatically, of the earlier ones. "White Jacket," "Omoo," and "Typee" might have given him a considerable reputation had he written nothing else. "Typee" especially is a book to be read over and over again. Long before the Gaugins and the Tusitalas, Melville got into that book all the beauty and romance and brutality of the South Seas. It still remains unequalled as a picture of the islands, a book exquisitely and yet racily written, admirably shaped, full of blue waters and waving trees, foaming waterfalls and graceful brown bodies, sharp fights and long languors. Let us, however, for the moment pass over his prose, on which his claim to fame is based, and regard his verse.
* * * 
Melville's verse has always been neglected. The historians have commonly dismissed it in a few words; often enough, I daresay, they have been content to repeat each other's comments without reading the verse. Nobody has greatly liked it: the American anthologists have thought only one or two pieces worth reprinting; for many years the editions of the poems have been out of print. The principal volume was a sizeable book "Battle Pieces," published by Putnams in 1866; the others were privately printed late in their author's life. Mr. Chapin has now made a selection from them all. He prefaces his selection with the statement that Melville's poetry "taken as a whole, is of an amateurish and uneven quality." He nevertheless thinks it worth while reprinting. He qualifies this statement by others. Melville's personality, he says, is everywhere in evidence. "It is clear that he did not set himself to master the poet's art, yet, through the mask of conventional verse which often falls into doggerel, the voice of a true poet is heard." I think myself that he might have put this far more strongly. Hardly one of Melville's poems is perfect. He refused to be the artist he might have been. There is an air of improvisation about it all. But there is a natural genius, a natural poetic genius, apparent behind all the roughness and awkwardness, and I find it impossible to avoid thinking that there was a great poet buried in the author of "Moby Dick," which is a great prose poem in itself. He did nothing in verse faultlessly. Yet his faulty rhymes not only show undeveloped poetic powers, but very varied poetic powers.
* * * 
Melville's completest achievement in verse is of this narrative kind. "Bridegroom Dick," a long poem, is doggerel, but the most magnificent doggerel ever written. A combination of Captain Marryat and Mr. Masefield may give the idea. An old sailor goes over his reminiscences. It opens with fine preparatory vigour:—
Sunning ourselves in October on a day
Balmy as spring, though the year was in decay,
I lading my pipe, she stirring the [her] tea,
My old woman she says to me,
"Feel ye, old man, how the season mellows?"
And why should I not, blessed heart alive,
Here mellowing myself, past sixty-five,
To think o' the May-time o' pennoned young fellows
This stripped old hulk here for years may survive.
He thinks of all his old comrades, with acutely vivid memories of each, vignettes of battles and carouses, dances and death beds. His catalogue of the dead must surely, rhythm and language, have been the inspiration of the fine end of Mr. Vachel Lindsay's "Bryan, Bryan":—
Where's Commander All-a-Tanto?
Where's Orlop Bob singing up from below?
Where's Rhyming Ned? has he spun his last canto?
Where's Jewsharp Jim? Where's Rigadoon Joe?
Ah, for the music over and done.
The band all dismissed save the droned trombone!
Where's Glenn o' the gun-room, who loved Hot-Scotch—
Glen, prompt and cool in a perilous watch. . .
There are other sea-pieces, more in the "Moby Dick" manner, marked by Melville's extraordinary grip both on physical reality and spiritual forces lying beneath appearance. His mood shifts constantly. He can turn from a contemplation of the infinite to a regret for the passage of the three-decker. This regret appears continually and, a generation before Sir Henry Newbolt, he found a symbol of the process in Turner's "Temeraire."
But Trafalgar is over now,
   The quarter-deck undone;
The carved and castled navies fire
   Their evening-gun.
O, Titan Temeraire,
   Your stern-lights fade away;
Your bulwarks to the years must yield,
   And heart-of-oak decay.
A pigmy steam-tug tows you,
   Gigantic, to the shore—
Dismantled of your guns and spars,
   And sweeping wings of war.
The rivets clinch the ironclads,
   Men learn a deadlier lore;
But Fame has nailed your battle-flags—
   Your ghost it sails before:
O, the navies old and oaken,
   O, the Temeraire no more!
The same lament over the transformation of war into an "operatives" occupation runs through the naval pieces written during the Civil War. But there is much more than that in those war-poems. America produced much civil war verse, but, except Whitman, no poet wrote a series on the war which for beauty and strength can compare with Herman Melville's, fragmentary and rough as they are. His compassion was as great as Whitman's; but the livelier moments appealed to him more than they did to Whitman. He could share in the intoxication of a charge and a cheer and a victory; yet no man was more afflicted by the tragedy of that mutual massacre, no Northerner more greatly admired the heroism of the South, no statesman spoke wiser or more sympathetic words when the period of "Reconstruction" came. "Sheridan at Cedar Creek" and "The College Colonel" are sometimes to be found in anthologies; but "Malvern Hill," "The Conflict of Convictions," and "A Meditation" should go with them. His steadfast judgment is reflected in the lines:—
"The South's the sinner!" Well, so let it be;
But shall the North sin worse, And stand the Pharisee?
* * * 
High spirits like Peacock's are shown in some of the poems from "Mardi," particularly "Pipe Song":—
Care is all stuff:—
       Puff! Puff!
To puff is enough:—
       Puff! Puff!
More musky than snuff
And warm is a puff:—
       Puff! Puff!
Here we sit mid our puffs,
Like old lords in their ruffs,
Snug as bears in their muffs:—
       Puff! Puff!
Then puff, puff, puff,
For care is all stuff,
Puffed off in a puff—
       Puff! Puff!
The more indolent and sensuous songs which might have been expected from the author of "Typee" are few. "Crossing the Tropics" is a beautiful thing; the poem which comes most nearly to the best Polynesian pages is "Marlena":—
Far off in the sea is Marlena,
A land of shades and streams. . . .
'Tis aye afternoon of the full, full moon,
And ever the season of fruit,
And ever the hour of flowers,
And never the time of rains and gales,
All in and about Marlena.
Soft sigh the boughs in the stilly air,
Soft lap the beach the billows there;
And in the woods or by the streams,
You needs must nod in the Land of Dreams.
Melville, unhappily, was never encouraged to write this or any other kind of verse.
* * * 
Mr. Chapin has made his selection well. There are just a few poems which he might have added; the omissions are especially to be regretted, as the American editions (there were no English editions) of Melville's poems are all extremely rare. An extract at least might have been included from "The Armies of the Wilderness," a powerful wide-sweeping poem with brooding commentary:—
The tribes swarm up to war
   As in ages long ago,
Ere the palm of promise leaved
   And the lily of Christ did blow.
There is something to be said for "Battle of Stone River, Tennessee":—
With Tewkesbury and Barnet Heath
   In days to come the field shall blend,
The story dim and date obscure;
   In legend all shall end.
Even now, involved in forest shade
   A Druid-dream the strife appears,
The fray of yesterday assumes
   The haziness of years.
Phrases, perhaps, do not redeem the "Battle for the Mississippi" and "The Fall of Richmond," but there are good phrases in them:—
A city in flags for a city in flames,
Richmond goes Babylon's way.
The first line is very compact; the second could only have been written by a man who saw all life poetically. The Epitaph on Sherman's Men who fell at Kennesaw certainly ought to have been here with the other inscriptions. Glory, romance, chivalry are dead, men say, but:—
Perils the mailed ones never knew
Are lightly braved by the ragged coats of blue,
And gentler hearts are bared to deadlier war.
The last line embodies the whole irony of modern history. Above all, I miss "A Canticle" in which Melville, witnessing the national exaltation at the close of the war compared the State to the fixed waterfall whose rushing waters perpetually change. It begins tumultuously:—
O the precipice Titanic
   Of the congregated Fall,
And the angle oceanic
   Where the deepening thunders call—
          And the Gorge so grim,
          And the Firmamental rim!
Multitudinously thronging,
   The waters all converge,
Then they sweep adown in sloping
   Solidity of surge.
The whole poem seems written in a frenzy; and patently, I think, with the majestic image of Niagara in mind. In the worst of Melville's war poems as in the best, and as in the fine prose supplement he added to them, there are evident both profound wisdom and noble generosity.
Mr. Chapin's edition is very well produced. The printing, which is charming, shows the influence of Mr. Bruce Rogers, one of the soundest printers alive.


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Sunday, May 20, 2018

Matthiessen on Melville's poetry


Edited by F. O. Matthiessen for "The Poets of the Year" series (Norfolk, Connecticut: New Directions, 1944), Herman Melville: Selected Poems is a slim but significant collection of Melville's poetry, one of the first after the 1924 Constable edition of Melville's Poems. (Before that there was the 1922 anthology from Princeton University Press titled John Marr and Other Poems.) Not counting the 1922 Princeton and 1924 Constable volumes, the only collection of Melville's poems before Matthiessen's is Selected Poems of Herman Melville (London: The Hogarth Press, 1943) edited by William Plomer. Today more critics know about Matthiessen's unwitting riff in American Renaissance on "soiled fish" (he didn't realize it was only a twentieth-century typo for "coiled fish") than this landmark volume of Melville's poetry. Here is the introductory essay by Francis Otto Matthiessen from his 1944 edition of Selected Poems, now accessible via the Internet Archive:

HERMAN MELVILLE

(1819-1891) 

Throughout the last half of his life, over a span of thirty-five years, Melville, who, in Moby Dick, had reached levels of imaginative writing unsurpassed by any other American, wrote little more prose. When he had finished The Confidence Man in 1856, he had produced ten books in less than a dozen years and had had his bellyful of trying unsuccessfully to gain a comprehending audience and to support himself by his pen. But he had not lost his interest in self-expression, and, turning to verse, he had, by the spring of 1860, a volume ready for publication. This was to find no publisher, and not until the year after the end of the Civil War did he at last make his appearance as a poet. The book then issued was Battle-Pieces, a series of seventy poems that form a running commentary on the course of the war, though most of them were inspired, retrospectively, by the fall of Richmond. The book had slight critical success, and from that time forward Melville, who had failed in various applications for a consular appointment, was employed for twenty years as a customs inspector in New York, and possessed only intermittent time for writing. But he managed to bring to completion Clarel, a narrative poem of several thousand lines, which grew out of the meditative pilgrimage he had made to the Holy Land during the year after the career as a writer of fiction had seemed to him finally unreal. Clarel, as Melville himself noted, was "immensely adapted for unpopularity," and could be printed in 1876 only as the result of a gift f[r]om a Gansevoort uncle. After his release from the customhouse at the end of 1885, Melville felt a resurgence of his creative energies, and made one major return to fiction in Billy Budd. But this story was still in manuscript at his death, and his final efforts to publish were two small volumes of verse, each privately printed in twenty-five copies, John Marr and Other Sailors, 1888, and Timoleon, 1891. One section of the latter, "Fruits of Travel Long Ago," would seem to be at least part of what he had designed as his first book of verse three decades before. Left among his papers at his death were more than seventy further poems, in addition to fragments of varying length. 
All the above poetry, with the exception of a few of the manuscripts, comprises three volumes of Melville's collected works. But since that edition appeared in England twenty years ago, was limited to 750 copies, and is long since out of print, the range of Melville's verse is virtually unavailable for the common reader. The selection here presented tries to take advantage of all the various interests attaching to any part of Melville's work. Some poems have been chosen because they embody the same recurrent symbols that give an absorbing unity to his prose. These symbols appear most often in his reminiscences of the sea: "To Ned" shows that he kept through life the image of Typee, of primitive existence unspoiled by civilization; "The Berg" presents a variant of the terrifying white death of Moby Dick; the "maldive shark" glides also through the lines "Commemorative of a Naval Victory." Other poems serve to light up facets of Melville's mind as it developed in the years after his great creative period: "Greek Architecture" indicates his understanding of a balanced form far different from any he had struggled to master: "Art"— whose lines are scratched out and rewritten with many changes in the manuscript— tells how painfully he understood the tensions of the struggle for the union of opposites. Few of his poems reveal anything like the mastery of organic rhythm to be found in his best prose. He had become an apprentice too late to a new craft. Although he tried his hand at a variety of metrical forms, he seldom progressed beyond an acquired skill. He was capable of such lyric patterns as "Shiloh" or "Monody," but he could often be stiff and clumsy. Yet what he had to convey is very impressive. I have included enough of Battle-Pieces to show the depth of his concern with the problems of war. Whole-hearted in his devotion to the Union's cause, what he urged at the close was forbearance and charity on the part of the North as the chief guide to reconstruction; and he prayed "that the terrible historic tragedy of our time may not have been enacted without instructing our whole beloved country through terror and pity. . . ." 
Clarel took his thought into some of the problems of his society's future and of our present. It falls into the tradition of those poetic debates of the mind which formed so much of the substance of Clough and Arnold and Tennyson. Since its characters voice a bewildering variety of creeds, and since Clarel, the disillusioned young divinity student is about the most shadowy in the group, it is impossible to determine from the poem exactly what Melville believed. The passages selected are among those where he persevered farthest from the beaten tracks of his day, where he doubted the value for the world of the dominance of Anglo-Saxon industrialists, where he foresaw class wars, and where, with the decay of Protestantism, he also foresaw a grim duel between "Rome and the Atheist." To put the gloom of some of these conjectures into its proper context, we should remember his reaction to Thomson's City of Dreadful Night: "As to the pessimism, although neither pessimist nor optimist myself, nevertheless I relish it in the verse, if for nothing else than as a counterpoise to the exorbitant hopefulness, juvenile and shallow, that makes such a bluster in these days." We should also remember that the "Epilogue" to Clarel dwells upon Christian hope, and that "The Lake," the most sustained poem left by Melville in manuscript, celebrates the theme of seasonal death and rebirth. And to counteract his forebodings of the possible degradation of democracy, we should recall his celebration of the heroic possibilities of the common man—one of the most recurrent themes of his fiction, from Jack Chase to Billy Budd. A  reward that awaits the reader who follows these selections on to Melville's collected works is the frequency with which his mediocre poems are illuminated by passages where the poet is in supreme control. That being the case I have not scrupled in three instances beyond Clarel ("Sheridan at Cedar Creek," "On the Slain Collegians," "Commemorative of a Naval Victory") to release such passages from their hampering surroundings. One further such passage, the concluding quatrain to " 'The Coming Storm'," an otherwise undistinguished reaction to a painting by Sandford Gifford, is perhaps the best poetry Melville wrote. Indeed, as I have said elsewhere, these lines constitute one of the most profound recognitions of the value of tragedy ever to have been made: 
No utter surprise can come to him
       Who reaches Shakespeare's core;
That which we seek and shun is there—
            Man's final lore. 
Such lines suggest Melville's master preoccupation, in verse no less than in prose. If it would not have risked confusion, I should have called this selection by the subtitle of Battle-Pieces: Aspects of the War. That would have suggested Melville's continuing concern with the unending struggle, with the tensions between good and evil: within the mind and in the state, political, social, and religious. 
F. O. Matthiessen