Thursday, December 8, 2016

Melville in the Richmond Examiner and Boston Chronotype

Poe scholar Burton R. Pollin found an intriguing review-essay on Melville's work through Redburn in the Richmond Examiner (November 23, 1849), possibly by editor John Moncure Daniel (1825-1865). The Examiner review is transcribed in Burton R. Pollin, "Melville in Richmond, Figaro! and Elsewhere," Melville Society Extracts 89 - June 1992.

Evaluating Typee and Omoo as reality-based "fables," the Richmond journalist alludes to similar experiences of his own sailor brother and applauds Melville's skill at romancing fact.
A brother of the writer was once a sailor in this very portion of the Pacific, like Melville was ill treated and left his ship for the savages. He wandered for a time on one of the identical isles mentioned in these works. From his lips we have heard "yarns" very like Melville's. The author of Typee has interwoven a good deal of truth with much more fiction. He has embellished his adventures till they are probably as much like the tame realities as a marble statue is like its model in clay.
Attributing the unsigned review to Daniel, Professor Pollin thought this sailor brother must be Frederick S. Daniel. But Frederick was born in 1837 which does not allow much time for sailing, wandering, and returning to tell about it. JMD had five brothers. Oldest was Travers, born in 1827. Did Travers or any of Daniel's younger brothers ever sail the South Seas, really?

More famously, Edgar Allan Poe had an older and influential brother named William Henry Leonard Poe who maybe sailed to the West Indies, South America, the Mediterranean and Russia. According to Oscar Penn Fitzgerald, Poe wrote occasionally for the Richmond Examiner under Daniel and was supposed to become literary editor. To the same effect, Frederick S. Daniel recalled of Poe that "at the time of his death he was under an engagement to furnish literary articles to its editor." The long quote from Locksley Hall in the Examiner article on Melville perhaps indicates at least the influence of Poe, who in his Richmond lecture had extolled Tennyson as "the noblest poet that ever lived." But Poe never made it back to Richmond after leaving in late September. He died in Baltimore on October 7, 1849, about seven weeks before the notice of Redburn appeared in the Examiner.

Collaborators with Daniel on the Examiner when the Melville article was published in November 1849 included Patrick Henry Aylett (1825-1870) and Robert William Hughes (1821-1901). Did either of them have a sailor brother?

Also in the June 1992 issue of Extracts, Kent P. Ljungquist presents a remarkable review of Mardi in the Boston Daily Chronotype for May 10, 1849, "one of the longest and most appreciative discussions of Mardi published during Melville's lifetime." This exceptionally positive review was reprinted in the Weekly Chronotype on May 19, 1849. Robert K. Wallace makes good use of the Chronotype review in Douglass and Melville: Anchored Together in Neighborly Style. However, for the most part the Richmond Examiner and Boston Chronotype reviews remain tucked away in the (unsearchable?) archives of Extracts, out of the critical and scholarly mix.

Melville scholars need a central, searchable online database of Melville reviews and notices. The finest model I know of is The Walt Whitman Archive, edited by Ed Folsom and Kenneth M. Price. Print resources obviously have many virtues including permanence, or the illusion thereof. But print fossilizes error. Digital resources are better able to adapt, expand, and correct. Making a strength of changeability, The Whitman Archive uses a Change Log on Blogger to communicate additions and corrections to the Archive. They're on Facebook and Twitter, too.

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