Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Picture of Liverpool: Redburn's "Prosy Old Guide-Book"

From Redburn: His First Voyage (1849):
And lastly, and to the purpose, there was a volume called “ THE PICTURE OF LIVERPOOL.”
It was a curious and remarkable book; and from the many fond associations connected with it, I should like to immortalize it, if I could.

But let me get it down from its shrine, and paint it, if I may, from the life.

As I now linger over the volume, to and fro turning the pages so dear to my boyhood,—the very pages which, years and years ago, my father turned over amid the very scenes that are here described; what a soft, pleasing sadness steals over me, and how I melt into the past and forgotten !

Dear book! I will sell my Shakspeare, and even sacrifice my old quarto Hogarth, before I will part with you. Yes, I will go to the hammer myself, ere I send you to be knocked down in the auctioneer’s shambles. I will, my beloved,—old family relic that you are;—till you drop leaf from leaf, and letter from letter, you shall have a snug shelf somewhere, though I have no bench for myself.

In size, it is what the booksellers call an 18mo; it is bound in green morocco, which from my earliest recollection has been spotted and tarnished with time; the corners are marked with triangular patches of red, like little cocked hats; and some unknown Goth has inflicted an incurable wound upon the back. There is no lettering outside; so that he who lounges past my humble shelves, seldom dreams of opening the anonymous little book in green. There it stands; day after day, week after week, year after year; and no one but myself regards it. But I make up for all neglects, with my own abounding love for it.

But let us open the volume....

The Library of Congress volume is also available in the HathiTrust Digital Library.

Thirteen images from the 1808 edition of The Picture of Liverpool are accessible online via Wikimedia Commons.

The Picture of Liverpool is No. 547 in Mary K. Bercaw's checklist of Melville’s Sources. A quirk of scholarly rigor now excludes The Picture of Liverpool from the "Online Catalog of Books and Documents Owned, Borrowed and Consulted by Herman Melville" since:
"This resource lists only books and titles that can be linked to Herman Melville and his immediate family by documentary evidence, such as Melville’s autograph in extant copies, references to book purchases in his letters and journals, and library charge records." --Melville's Marginalia Online
Nevertheless, Melville consulted it--and how!

I guess it's the old problem: "If we make an exception for you, we have to do it for everybody." Hmm. Perhaps the page in Redburn where Melville copied out (and slightly modified) the title page of The Picture of Liverpool should be treated as graphic documentary evidence, as well as textual evidence, of Melville's certain engagement with the "Prosy Old Guide-Book."

Anyone contemplating a conference or other academic sort of paper on Melville's use of The Picture of Liverpool will want to consult Willard Thorp's 1938 article in PMLA and Hershel Parker's Historical Note in the Northwestern-Newberry edition of Redburn. Below, for a start, are links to Thorp and some other helpful scholarship:
Related melvilliana post:

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