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Review by Howard P. Vincent of the 1949 anthology Complete Stories of Herman Melville, edited by Jay Leyda; transcribed below from the Philadelphia Inquirer Book Review of May 29, 1949:
COMPLETE STORIES OF HERMAN MELVILLE.
Treasure of Melville Gems
Edited With an Introduction and Note[s], by Jay Leyda. Random House: New York. 472 pp. $4.
by Howard P. Vincent
THIS book brings together all of Herman Melville's short stories, so that his writings in this genre may be assessed.
There can be no doubt of the final judgment of the critics: Melville was a master of the short story. This is not to say that every story he wrote was a masterpiece, but it is certainly true that the author of Benito Cereno, The Encantadas, Bartleby the Scrivener, The Tartarus of Maids and I and My Chimney ranks with his friend, Hawthorne, among short-story writers.
It is interesting to observe that all of these stories were written between 1852 and 1855, and were Melville's attempts to reach a public which would not buy Moby Dick and Pierre.
Anyone who holds to the myth, too long current, that Melville's genius faded out after Moby Dick will be here confounded by the subtle artistry of these magnificent stories—stories which sound the depths of the human heart, and which explore the far reaches of evil, both social and personal.
JAY LEYDA deserves special praise for his editorial work. Not a professional scholar in the academic sense, Leyda has in recent years discovered a tremendous mass of new material concerning the life and writings of Melville, most of which is to be presented in his forthcoming A Melville Log.
Leyda has modestly incorporated some of this new information in his instruction and notes. I say modestly because where the professional scholar would have announced each "new" fact with a "we now know for the first time," or some such trumpeting phrase, Leyda presents the material with disarming casualness.
LEYDA'S skill in criticism is no less remarkable than his research. The introduction is excellent—the best I know to lead one into these stories.
His wealth of new facts does not interfere with the flow of intelligent interpretation. We move easily from the valuable discussion of Melville's undeveloped notes—"story tentatives" Leyda calls them—to shrewd insight.
Consider, for instance: "Though some duty of communication is present in his artistic work (else the work would not have been brought into existence), much of these stories' materiality seems a minutely pointed and deceptive screen erected across what is really taking place behind it—in Melville's mind. We are compelled to regard these stories as an artist's resolution of that constant contradiction—between the desperate need to communicate and the fear of revealing too much. In these stories the contradiction is expressed on various levels of tension—the fiercer the pull, the higher the accomplishment."
Leyda's notes are readable little sketches showing, insofar as is known, the genesis of each story.
There is one touch which many Melville students will appreciate: the dedication to Raymond Weaver, the first biographer of Melville.
Since his Herman Melville, Mariner and Mystic was the basis on which later scholars have built, the dedication is especially appropriate.
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