Monday, December 11, 2017

Book reviews in manuscript at NYPL, digitized and online

Melville's review (published as Mr. Parkmans' Tour) of The California and Oregon Trail - manuscript page 6
The New York Public Library Digital Collections
Newly available in the New York Public Library Digital Collections are five of Herman Melville's published book reviews in manuscript, filed in the Duyckinck family papers with Literary Correspondence of Evert A. and George L. Duyckinck under the subheading "Literary Manuscripts." Four of these are manuscript copies for the printer in Melville's handwriting; one ("Hawthorne and His Mosses") is a fair copy made by his wife Elizabeth with numerous, in places extensive revisions in Melville's hand.
  1. Review of Browne's Etchings of a Whaling Cruise
  2. Review of The California and Oregon Trail
  3. Review of Cooper's The Sea Lions
    1849 - Note from Melville to Duyckinck attached, 1 page. 
  4. A Thought on Book Binding
    1850 - review of the revised edition of The Red Rover by James Fenimore Cooper. 
  5. Hawthorne and His Mosses
    1850 - review of Mosses from an Old Manse by Nathaniel Hawthorne. 
Wonderful! It's one thing to know, as the dependable Northwestern-Newberry edition of The Piazza Tales and Other Prose Pieces told us thirty years ago, that Melville wrote the fair copy of "Mr. Parkman's Tour" on the back of legal forms "intended for use in cases involving debts," but now (if you're so inclined) you can see the other side for yourself.

Review of Parkman's Oregon Trail - manuscript page 1, verso
The New York Public Library Digital Collections

More substantively, you could look into manuscript page 2 of Melville's review-essay "Hawthorne and His Mosses" (in his wife's handwriting with Herman's revisions) and catch Melville exchanging the solemnity and alliterative punch of "the God in his glance" for the blander "heaven in his glance." Either way Melville verges on comparing Hawthorne to Jesus Christ, but the revision somehow makes the implied likeness sound less provocative. Well, that bit also made a graphic appearance in the editorial notes for the Northwestern-Newberry edition (see page 663), which offered generous helpings of reproductions and excerpts from the manuscript of "Hawthorne and his Mosses."

Without corresponding images to consult, descriptive lists of "Manuscript Alterations" can be discouraging and, depending on how long they are, even scary. Different things will stand out and invite further study now that readers can examine the digitized images online. For instance, a couple of corrections that Elizabeth herself made to the "Mosses" essay on manuscript leaf 6 strike me now as remarkable and perhaps worth a closer look, being suggestive of an unexpected word choice by her husband.

"Hawthorne and his Mosses" - manuscript page 6
The New York Public Library Digital Collections
Copying the passage about  Hawthorne's "Old Apple-Dealer," Elizabeth evidently had trouble reading Herman's word touches, twice:
But he has still other apples, not quite so ruddy, though full as ripe;—apples, that have been left to wither on the tree, after the pleasant autumn gathering is past. The sketch of "The Old Apple-Dealer" is conceived in the subtlest spirit of sadness; he whose "subdued and nerveless boyhood prefigured his abortive prime, which, likewise, contained within itself the prophecy and image of his lean and torpid age." Such touches as are in this piece cannot proceed from any common heart. They argue such a depth of tenderness, such a boundless sympathy with all forms of being, such an omnipresent love, that we must needs say that this Hawthorne is here almost alone in his generation,—at least, in the artistic manifestation of these things. Still more. Such touches as these,—and many, very many similar ones, all through his chapters—furnish clues whereby we enter a little way into the intricate, profound heart where they originated. --The Literary World-August 17, 1850
Apparently, Herman Melville's two "touches" were unexpected and hard to decipher in his copyist's crabbed exemplar. She made them "tones" in the first case, then "words" in the second. Very good guesses, both wrong. Later, she corrected her misreadings:
 "Such tones touches as are in this piece cannot proceed from any common heart."
"Such words touches as these...."
In the context of the "Mosses" essay and elsewhere, Melville's word touches evokes the visual arts of drawing, painting, engraving (and tattooing), and sculpture. By "touches" Melville in part means or implies the strokes of a brush, pen, pencil, chisel, or implements of etching. Parallels may be found in Typee (A Professor of the Fine Arts) and Moby-Dick (Of the Monstrous Pictures of Whales):
In the vignettes and other embellishments of some ancient books you will at times meet with very curious touches at the whale, where all manner of spouts, jets d’eau, hot springs and cold, Saratoga and Baden-Baden, come bubbling up from his unexhausted brain. --Moby-Dick in Pictures
Examples occur also in Melville's magazine fictions Benito Cereno (Babo's "impromptu touches" as barber reveal, on multiple levels, "the hand of a master.") and "The Bell-Tower":

 "But the figures, they are not yet without their faults. They need some touches yet."
"... it was surmised that the mechanician must then have hurried to the bell, to give his final touches to its sculpture." --Putnam's Magazine 6 - August 1855; collected in The Piazza Tales (New York: Dix & Edwards, 1856).
More intriguingly, both usages in the "Mosses" essay occur in close proximity with the word heart. Touches by a gifted writer or visual artist be said to impart beauty to a "sketch," and also to reveal something of the of the artist's interior makeup and feelings--whatever qualities of spirit or soul may be conveyed by the complicated "heart." Decades later in Clarel (1876) Melville poetically speaks of aqua-fortis "touches" in engravings by Giovanni Battista Piranesi. There Melville reads Piranesi's Imaginary Prisons figuratively, as emblems of "labyrinths" in the human "heart."

This canto "Prelusive" on Piranisi feels crucial to Melville's art, and naturally elicits extended discussions in Melville criticism. Samuel Otter calls it
 The "Heart" of Clarel. --How Clarel Works in A Companion to Herman Melville, ed. Wyn Kelley (Wiley-Blackwell, 2015), page 476.
In The Mystery of Iniquity (University Press of Kentucky, 1972), William H. Shurr similarly concentrated on the passage about "touches bitten in the steel / By aqua-fortis," quoting Melville's reference to the process of "biting in," of etching with acid:
The reader must focus his attention upon these etchings and their import. One has the sense of being at one of the centers of the poem, forced by the author not to miss the point:
Dwell on those etchings in the night,
Those touches bitten in the steel
By aqua-fortis, till ye feel
The Pauline text in gray of light;
Turn hither then and read aright. [Clarel Part 2, Canto 35]
So then, sympathetic readers find "touches" at the heart of Herman Melville's Clarel, and here we graphically see them at the heart of "Hawthorne and His Mosses," too--courtesy of Elizabeth Shaw Melville and The New York Public Library Digital Collections.

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