Sunday, June 11, 2017

Moby-Dick in the Buffalo Commercial Advertiser

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Much but not all of the Buffalo review is borrowed from the review of Moby-Dick in the New York Commercial Advertiser on November 28, 1851. The earlier review in the New York Commercial Advertiser is reprinted on page 388 in Herman Melville: The Contemporary Reviews, ed. Brian Higgins and Hershel Parker (Cambridge University Press, 1995).

From the Buffalo Commercial Advertiser, December 3, 1851:

New Publications.


This is an extraordinary book, neither good, nor wholly badas was said of Rob Roy, it is "o'er bad for blessing, and o'er good for banning." We have never partaken of the intense admiration excited in many quarters by the productions of MELVILLE. At the same time we cheerfully accord to him unusual merits of a certain kind. He has fine descriptive powers, when applied to natural scenery and stirring events; but in the delineation of character, he utterly fails. There is not a being of this earth in the book before us. If any such creatures exist, they are to be found on some other planet. But in the course of his wild, incoherent, and impossible story, we presume he has let us into all the realities of the whale-fishery, more minutely and with greater fidelity than has ever before been done by any author, living or dead. We think the moral effect of all his writings is decidedly pernicious. There is a vein of sneering sarcasm, directed against all things which we are taught to reverence, running through his work like the rogue's yarn through the rigging of the British navy. In Moby Dick, he makes his hero, "a good Christianborn and bred in the bosom of the infallible Presbyterian Church," unite with a Polynesian in worshipping and offering incense to an idol, and in this connection virtually questions the authenticity of the first commandment. The book is a strange jumble of "fact, fiction and philosophy, composed in a style which combines the peculiarities of CARLYLE, MARRYATT and LAMB. Moby Dick is an old white whale, of extraordinary magnitude and malignity, and he escapes with impunity from so many attacks, that the superstitious whalemen believe him to be a sort of supernatural creature. Capt. AHAB, in one of these attacks, is struck by the monster's tail, and loses a leg. Thus maimed, he devotes his life to revenge, and pursues Moby Dick through divers seas, making frequent assaults upon him, but always without success. In the last encounter, the infuriated whale rushes headlong against the Pequod, the ship in which Capt. AHAB sails, and all the crew perish, except one ISHMAEL, who survives to tell the story."

Sold by GEO. H. DERBY & CO.

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