Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Charles Leonard Moore on Melville

The Philadelphia poet and leading Chicago Dial critic Charles Leonard Moore (1854-1925) was into Melville before it was cool:
"Herman Melville’s Moby Dick is the story of a supernatural whale, a veritable demon of the deep, which eludes, fights, and finally destroys its maddened hunter and his ship." 
--The Supernatural in Literature, from The Dial Volume 39 (November 1, 1905); reprinted in Incense and Iconoclasm (1915).
Has America produced any such inheritors of the purple line? I think it has. I think the world has instinctively selected two or three of our men for its real regard, while it has only yielded a cold admiration to the New England contingent....
At the right and left hand of Cooper, I should place Brockden Brown and Herman Melville. Brown, a miracle of nature, a Quaker novelist, fascinated Shelley and was evidently deeply studied by Poe. In force of imagination, vividness of weird incident, intensity of picture, unshrinking realism, he is at least the equal of Hawthorne. But human nature is still further withdrawn from the normal in him than in the New England romance writer. If Hawthorne's world is a moonlight one, his is only lit by jagged flashes of lightning. Herman Melville has given us at least two immortal books. Moby Dick is in some sense the greatest sea narrative ever written; but it is so Byronic, so strained and singular in its passion and theme, that only a recurrence of morbid conditions of human nature could bring it into fashion. Typee, however, is sunny and graceful and beautiful and irresponsible, and must always charm. --The Dial Volume 42; reprinted in Incense and Iconoclasm (1915).
Image via Flying Fish
Until recently, in America, sex problems have hardly entered into our literature. The one great exception is “The Scarlet Letter,” in which Hawthorne proved himself a mighty tragedian. Puritan as he was, he had an abiding interest in strongly sensuous scenes and characters—as witness Zenobia in “The Blithedale Romance.” Poe, his rival and opposite, though a Cavalier by temperament and a Greek by instinct, was an absolute Puritan in his literary creations…. Herman Melville’s “Typee” is a sunny, irresponsible picture of sex attraction.” --The Passionate Victorians - Dial Vol 60

Moore's 1883 volume Poems Antique and Modern at the Internet Archive:

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