Friday, September 19, 2014

Herman Melville's Review of The Red Rover


A THOUGHT ON BOOK-BINDING

The Red Rover. By J. Fenimore Cooper. Revised edition. Putnam.

THE sight of the far-famed Red Rover, sailing under the sober-hued muslin wherewith Mr. Putnam equips his lighter sort of craft, begets in us a fastidious feeling touching the propriety of such a binding for such a book. Not that we ostentatiously pretend to any elevated degree of artistic taste in this matter—our remarks are but limited to our egotistical fancies. Egotistically, then, we would have preferred for the "Red Rover" a flaming suit of flame-colored morocco, as evanescently thin and gauze-like as possible, so that the binding might happily correspond with the sanguinary, fugitive title of the book. Still better, perhaps, were it bound in jet black, with a red streak round the borders (pirate fashion); or, upon third thoughts, omit the streak, and substitute a square of blood-colored bunting on the back, imprinted with the title, so that the flag of the "Red Rover" might be congenially flung to the popular breeze, after the buccaneer fashion of Morgan, Black Beard, and other free and easy, daredevil, accomplished gentlemen of the sea.

While, throwing out these cursory suggestions, we gladly acknowledge that the tasteful publisher has attached to the volume a very felicitous touch of the sea superstitions of pirates, in the mysterious cyphers in bookbinders' relievo stamped upon the covers, we joyfully recognise a poetical signification and pictorial shadowing forth of the horse-shoe, which, in all honest and God-fearing piratical vessels, is invariably found nailed to the mast. By force of contrast this clever device reminds us of the sad lack of invention in most of our bookbinders. Books, gentlemen, are a species of men, and introduced to them you circulate in the "very best society" that this world can furnish, without the intolerable infliction of "dressing" to go into it. In your shabbiest coat and easiest slippers you may socially chat, even with the fastidious Earl of Chesterfield; and lounging under a tree, enjoy the divinest intimacy with my late Lord of Verulam. Men, then, that they are—living without vulgarly breathing—never speaking unless spoken to—books should be appropriately apparelled. Their bindings should indicate and distinguish their various characters. A crowd of illustrations press upon us, but we must dismiss them at present, with the simple expression of the hope that our suggestion may not entirely be thrown away.

That we have said thus much concerning the mere outside of the book whose title prefaces this notice, is sufficient evidence of the fact, that at the present day we deem any elaborate criticism of Cooper's Red Rover quite unnecessary, and uncalled for. Long ago, and far inland, we read it in our uncritical days, and enjoyed it as much as thousands of the rising generation will, when supplied with such an entertaining volume in such agreeable type.
--The Literary World 6 (March 16, 1850): 276-7

For more online texts of book reviews by Herman Melville, see
Critical texts of the five known book reviews by Herman Melville are presented in the Northwestern-Newberry edition of Melville's Piazza Tales and Other Prose Pieces, 1839-1860.

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