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Of course one should always be wary of confirmation bias. What's worse, you can make yourself crazy (as I have good reason to know). After a while everything sounds like Moby-Dick.
To get ourselves properly grounded, let's consider some verifiable facts. Herman Melville certainly did review books anonymously for the Literary World. We know of five reviews that Melville definitely wrote in 1847-1850 (four unsigned, and the one on Hawthorne under a pseudonym):
- Review of J. Ross Browne's Etchings of a Whaling Cruise --March 6, 1847
- Mr. Parkman's Tour (review of The Oregon Trail) --March 31, 1849
- Cooper's New Novel (review of The Sea Lions) --April 28, 1849
- A Thought on Book-Binding (review of The Red Rover) --March 16, 1850
- Hawthorne and His Mosses --August 17 and 24, 1850
"There is more published work by M[elville] than has been identified." --The Melville Log, Volume 2 Long before Leyda, Meade Minnigerode had pointed out in parentheses:
(Note. Besides the reviews already mentioned, there are undoubtedly others by Melville in the Literary World, but as they were unsigned they can not now be identified with certainty.) --Some Personal Letters of Herman MelvilleAfter Redburn, which Melville once called his "little nursery tale," I wonder if the Duyckincks might also have considered Melville their specialist in Children's Lit? Here is another unsigned review that might or might not be Herman Melville's work, titled "A New Version of Æsop's Fables."
|The Literary World, August 10, 1850 - 111|
|The Literary World, August 10, 1850 - 112|
NEW VERSION OF ÆSOP'S FABLES.Æsop's Fables: a new version, chiefly from original sources. By the Rev. Thomas James, M.A. With more than fifty illustrations by John Tenniel. Robt B. Collins.
We hope some of our readers remember the old edition of Æsop's Fables, that in vogue some quarter of a century ago. We hope so, because we should like to know that others besides ourselves are sharers in the pleasant recollections which the title of the work calls up; that others remember those small oval woodcuts with the beasts therein depicted, much after the style in which they are sculptured for a child's Noah's ark. Bad as they were, they were favorable specimens of the wood illustration of the day, and bore in their smirched faces unmistakable evidence of being in demand for frequent impressions by the public.
Let the reader, with the old fresh in his memory, turn to the new. He will find that the old friend of our childhood, perennial Æsop, has doffed cocked hat and small-clothes for a dress of the latest cut and newest gloss. All the appliances of modern book-art are brought to bear: wily Reynard looks up from the foot of the page to the grapes gracefully pendent from a trellis at the head, the design framing a few lines of the text. The lazy maids, whom the old woman is toiling up stairs at the side of the page to chastise, are rubbing their eyes and stretching themselves in the most graceful of attitudes; and the tailpiece of the volume brings up its artistic claims triumphantly by a representation of the sad fate of the accommodating individual who, to please the public, tied his ass's legs to a pole and, with his son's aid, carried him, or essayed to do so, over the bridge, in the sight of the assembled public. The poor animal is tumbling into the water; and the astonished public, gazing at him from the whole length of the Bridge, are admirably rendered in all the varieties of stupid amazement. Lesson fresh as if old Æsop's stylus of Greece were Gold Pen of nowaday New York, and the ink not yet dry upon it.
These illustrations are from English designs by John Tenniel. The animals are spirited, and we do not know any one who could have done them better, except that Æsop of painters, Edwin Landseer. We hope that some Maecenas of the Book Trade may some day or other immortalize himself by combining these two Æsops as author and artist in a volume.
Æsop has always been an illustrated book, and always will be. Look into any library of old books, and ten to one you will find a ponderous folio, with most " savagerous" of beasts ranging over its folio pages. Old Æsop, to be sure, is, nowadays, come down from a folio to be a book for children, but he has lost none of his wisdom by so doing. We are not sure but that ability to interest children by original books (we do not now refer to compilations of "history made easy," and such like) is the test of a great author; at any rate, were we disposed to argue it, we could bring many an influential witness into court on our side—to wit, besides our venerable friend now under discussion, Defoe, Scott, Southey, Goldsmith, Fielding, Miss Edgeworth, Hawthorne, et al.For an excellent conversation starter (or stopper, as the case may be), here's some textual evidence for Melville's authorship of the 1850 review transcribed above.
The Juvenile readers of Æsop will be inclined to favor the present edition when we tell them that the new translator has cut down those prosy old morals, which even in the smaller type in which they were printed, well nigh preponderated over the text of the original fable, and might be likened to pills after sweetmeats (a reversal of all nursery rules— all allopathic ones at least)—that these "lengthy " morals are cut down to a line or two apiece.
- "Maecenas of the Book Trade." The reviewer wants an editor or publisher to back a new edition of Æsop illustrated by Landseer. This champion of Æsop and Landseer would ideally be a generous and large-minded patron of the arts like the Roman statesman Maecenas, the wealthy patron of Virgil and Horace. In White-Jacket (1850) Melville similarly honored Maecenas, comparing Jack Chase's patronage of the navy poet Lemsford to "Maecenas listening to Virgil."
- "may some day or other immortalize himself...." Melville in Mardi and elsewhere refers to immortalizing oneself and others through published writing, just as the reviewer conceives that his editorial Maecenas would "immortalize himself" by publishing a new illustrated edition of Æsop with pictures by Landseer. Melville's Redburn desires to "immortalize" the "curious and remarkable" guidebook titled The Picture of Liverpool.
- "ten to one" occurs at least 14 times in Melville's known writings, most famously of all in the first chapter of Moby-Dick: "Take almost any path you please, and ten to one it carries you down in a dale, and leaves you there by a pool in the stream."
- "prosy old morals" verbally recalls the Prosy Old Guidebook in Melville's Redburn (1849). As in Redburn the reviewer associates a "prosy old" book with reading by children, here "Juvenile readers." Moreover, the "prosy old guidebook" that Melville's young hero Wellingborough Redburn describes at length, expressly belonged to his father. The anonymous 1850 reviewer uses the term "prosy old morals" with reference to old editions with small type and long morals. Melville's father Allan Melvill in fact owned an 1787 edition of Æsop's Fables which survives in the New York Public Library. Here is the 1787 book (same edition, but not the actual volume owned by Allan Melvill) at the Internet Archive:
Allan Melville's copy of the Fabulæ Æsopi Selectæ, or, Select Fables of Æsop is Sealts No. 6, as shown in the catalog at Melville's Marginalia Online. Even the longest morals do not really dominate the fables themselves, however. (If the reviewer has this edition in mind, perhaps he exaggerates or mis-remembers the graphic reach of the morals.)
5. The conceit of a hypothetical legal argument with "influential witnesses" on the writer's side of the case anticipates Melville's lawyerly posture in Moby-Dick, for example throughout "The Advocate" chapter of Moby-Dick, and again in "The Hyena":
More generally, the reviewer's obvious and sustained interest in the illustrations, paying close attention to details of several different pictures, seems consistent with Melville's known devotion to the visual arts. The "cut" and "gloss" of the reviewer's clothing metaphor will reappear in Melville's Pierre (1852), in the letter from tailor-publishers Wonder & Wen to Pierre the juvenile author. Also associated with Pierre as writer: "ink not yet entirely dry," echoing the conceit of "ink not yet dry" in Æsop's timeless stories according to the 1850 reviewer. In Mardi, Melville mentions Landseer as an exemplary painter of animals. Near the end of his life, he gave his granddaughter a volume of Landseer's Dogs. In The Confidence-Man, Æsop is said by the cosmopolitan Frank Goodman to malign animals unfairly."Here then, from three impartial witnesses, I had a deliberate statement of the entire case." --The Hyena
No manuscript or other external evidence for the authorship of this unsigned 1850 review of Æsop's Fables has yet been found, so far as I know. First place to look would be the Duyckinck family papers in the Manuscripts and Archives Division of The New York Public Library. Box 57 contains "Miscellaneous poems, articles, reviews written for the Literary World." And who knows what's in Box 59 ("Miscellaneous papers")?