Friday, March 13, 2015

Melville's "Hogarthian" Confidence-Man

The Cockpit / William Hogarth
Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections, Northwestern University
From the New York Evening Express, Thursday, April 9, 1857:
THE CONFIDENCE MAN: His Masquerade. By Herman Melville.
12mo. pp. 394. New York: Dix, Edwards & Co. 1857.
Mr. Melville is what may be called a subjective writer; he paints from idealized images in the world of his own fancy; with delicate yet effective touches, each conveying a whole picture to those able to follow him appreciatively, but obscure to the careless view, by reason of the indefinite outlines. His books are most enjoyable, when the reader’s mind can be subdued to the dreamy quietude and mellowed tone of feeling with which the artist invests his quaint, rich, vivid sketches. His style has freedom, grace, and the finish that denotes highly cultivated intellect and a thorough acquaintance with the subject treated. That of the present volume is one of general interest—the exposure of the various impositions on society, most of which are submitted to by common consent, or because investigation is more trouble than the thing seems to be worth. The scene is laid on a Mississippi steamer bound from St. Louis to New Orleans—a fair field for the operations of “the confidence man,” who of course is in his element. The representations of cunning and credulity are hardly exaggerated, Hogarthian as they are. On the whole, the book is not so much to our taste as the “Piazza Tales,” though it will, no doubt, find a larger number of readers.
--found at Fulton History
New York Evening Express - April 9, 1857

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