Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Review of Redburn in the Elgin Courier

At the Mouth of the Mersey - Samuel Walters
Frontispiece to Melville's Early Life and Redburn by William H. Gilman
A previous melvilliana post on British notices of Melville's Israel Potter gave the review of the  pirated Routledge edition of Israel Potter (1855) from a Scottish newspaper, the Elgin and Morayshire Courier. Further searching in the online British Newspaper Archive yields another Melville review in the same newspaper. The Courier reviewed Melville's Redburn on 16 November 1849:
REDBURN; HIS FIRST VOYAGE. Being a Sailor Boy’s Confessions, and Reminiscences of the Son of a Gentleman in the Merchant Service. By Herman Melville. London: R. Bentley. Elgin: Geo. Wilson.
THE present work, by Mr Melville, to the majority of his readers who were so fascinated by Typee and Omoo, may not greatly serve to raise the author in their estimation. Typee took the world by surprise; everything in it was so fresh and vigorous—the features of the happy valley, almost a paradise—the remarkable customs of the people—the natural productions of the island—all imparted to the book a tone of adventure and variety, so rich and life-looking, that even critics knew not what to think of it. Redburn is void of all these attractions; yet, as a whole, and with the exception of a few prosy chapters devoted to somewhat wire-drawn descriptions, the book is readable, and deserves to become a favourite. The limits embraced by the story extend only to a voyage from New York to Liverpool and back. The descriptions of the officers and crew, are racy in a high degree, evidencing the acute observation of the writer, and a happy command over his pen in setting forth his characters to best advantage. The picture afforded of sea life is happy, and, we doubt not, quite true. The tyranny of the captain, and other officers; with the sufferings and privations of the crew—the fraudulent tricks practiced upon green hands in the merchant vessels are well brought out, and we fear without any exaggeration. When opportunities offered, the vessel carried passengers as well as goods, and we have some striking but melancholy examples of the cruel usage to which many poor emigrants are subjected, when they are once fairly in the clutches of these petty tyrants of the ocean. The story is well conceived. Redburn is the son of a gentleman; but, his father being dead, and the family in rather reduced circumstances, he was tempted through the glowing descriptions of marine life, to court fortune before the mast. With the enthusiasm, and perhaps excusable ignorance, of youth, he started for New York, with a letter of introduction to a friend, and a fowling-piece gifted him by his brother. This friend gave Redburn a night’s lodgings, and procured a vessel for him next day. Being destitute of friends or clothing, or any thing calculated to make him comfortable in his new sphere, he went aboard after pawning his gun to enrich his kit—and soon found, in a variety of ways, that there are bitter realities upon the sea as well as elsewhere. The adventures are not many nor striking, but they are set forth in that sort of quiet, humorous manner, which never fails to carry fascination with it. The idea of a poor, ignorant youth being thrown friendless upon the sea, and there taken advantage of and trampled upon by a parcel of men who acknowledge no law except the rope’s end, has already been made familiar in “Peter Simple”; but in this book the circumstances connected with the hero’s fortune and position as a sailor are very different from those of Marryat’s favourite; and the incidents, nautical and otherwise, with the characters of the crew are so uncommon in novels, that in almost every particular the book may be considered original. In Redburn there is no straining at adventure, no working up of wonders for the sake of effect or excitement: The story is told with all the apparent ease and calmness of truth; and it is in this excellent feature where its great charm lies.
--Elgin and Morayshire Courier - Friday, 16 November 1849; found at The British Newspaper Archive
The following week, on 23 November 1849, the Elgin Courier published an extract from chapter 44 of Redburn headed "A Case of Spontaneous Combustion." The close of the extract credited "Herman Melville's Redburn."

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