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Monday, January 8, 2018

Pantagruelising and Plato in a letter to Hawthorne

A remarkable letter from Herman Melville to Nathaniel Hawthorne appears in the current Critic. It would fill two columns of the Speaker. Here is the most characteristic paragraph—quoted rather because it is addressed to Hawthorne than because it was written by Melville :—
"If ever, my dear Hawthorne, in the eternal times that are to come, you and I shall sit down in Paradise, in some little shady corner by ourselves, and if we shall by any means be able to smuggle a basket of champagne there (I won't believe in a temperance Heaven), and if we shall then cross our celestial legs in the celestial grass that is for ever tropical, and strike our glasses and our heads together till both musically ring in concert, then, O my dear fellow-mortal, how shall we pleasantly discourse of all the things manifold which now so distress us—when all the earth shall be but a reminiscence—yea, in its final dissolution in antiquity. Thus shall songs be composed as when wars are over—humorous, comic songs: 'Oh, when I lived in that queer little hole called the world'; or, 'Oh, when I toiled and sweated below'; or, 'Oh, when I knocked, and was knocked in the fight'—yea, let us look forward to such things."
This is Pantagruelising in a high key. The Paradise is that of the religious world of Plato's day, taken less seriously than it was by either his contemporaries or himself.
Published in London, The Speaker was a weekly Review of Politics, Letters, Science, and the Arts, edited by T. Wemyss Reid. "Panatgruelising" means, besides reading Rabelais,
"drinking stiffly to your own Heart's desire"  --The Life of Gargantua and of Pantagruel.
Raymond Weaver's article on The Centennial of Herman Melville in The Nation (August 2, 1919) opens with the same now famous image of Melville's "shady corner" in Paradise with Hawthorne.
The Speaker got it from Mr. Stoddard on Herman Melville in The Critic for November 14, 1891; which The Critic got from Richard Henry Stoddard's signed memorial tribute in the New York Mail and Express (October 8, 1891). Following Stoddard, The Critic gave the whole letter as first printed in Julian Hawthorne's biography, Nathaniel Hawthorne and His Wife (1884).

Melville's letter appears of course in the scholarly Northwestern-Newberry edition of Melville's Correspondence (there dated June 1? 1851). Re-dated by Hershel Parker to "Early May 1851," the complete letter is conveniently available with excerpts from other Melville letters in the back of the 3rd Norton Critical Edition of Moby-Dick.

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