Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Literature on the Ohio

Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library. "“Hawthorne and his mosses”"
The New York Public Library Digital Collections
. 1850.
As reviewed in our last, Herman Melville either initiated or acquiesced to the un-naming of Mr. Cutlets, just a friend in the 1856 book version of Bartleby. Such changes are treated as dubious and occasionally dispensable "instances of toning down" in the 1987 Northwestern-Newberry edition of The Piazza Tales. More examples occur in the extant manuscript of "Hawthorne and His Mosses (copied by Melville's wife Elizabeth). Here is the unfiltered version of Melville's patriotic take-down of bardolatry as fundamentally un-American:
You must believe in Shakespeare or quit the country. But what sort of a belief is this for an American, a man who is bound to carry republican progressiveness into Literature, as well as into Life? Believe me, my friends, that Shakespeares are this day being born on the banks of the Ohio. And the day will come, when you shall say who reads a book by an Englishman?
The Northwestern-Newberry text keeps one instance of toning down in Melville's added qualifier, "that is a modern." Specifying "modern" makes the assertion more reasonable (since well-educated world-citizens must always read Chaucer and Milton, for example) but softens the parody of Sydney Smith's query, "who reads an American book?" The rawest version of the passage would omit three qualifying clauses--all added in revision, all printed in the Literary World on August 17, 1850.
  • "Shakespeare's inapproachability" instead of Shakespeare
  • "men not very much inferior to Shakesepare" instead of Shakespeare
  • "that is a modern" qualifying "Englishman"

Hawthorne and His Mosses
Literary World - August 17, 1850

... men, not very much inferior to Shakespeare, are this day being born on the banks of the Ohio.
Shakespeares are this day being born on the banks of the Ohio.
Cincinnati in 1841 via NYPL Digital Collections
The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Print Collection, The New York Public Library. "Cincinnati in 1841." The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1841. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47d9-7c6d-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

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