Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Moby-Dick in Syracuse NY

This highly favorable review of Moby-Dick has been transcribed and reprinted before now, in Melville Reviews and Notices, Continued, Leviathan, Volume 13, Issue 1, March 2011, pages 88-115 at pages 100-101. As noted there, I found it in files of the Syracuse Daily Standard on An excerpt appears in the 2015 Melvilliana post, Rare appreciation of Moby-Dick, early and late. Believing that the Syracuse review deserves any chance to circulate and become better known, I present it here again, this time in full. (Eagle-eyed readers will catch the comma after "individuality" in the second paragraph, omitted in the 2011 article.)

Transcribed below from the Syracuse NY Daily Standard of November 24, 1851 which is still accessible on, the great online collection of newspaper archives created and managed by Tom Tryniski.

Syracuse Daily Standard (Syracuse, New York) - November 24, 1851 via

Syracuse Daily Standard (Syracuse, New York) - November 24, 1851 via
Moby Dick; or the Whale; By HERMAN MELVILLE, Author of "Typee," "Omoo," "Redburn," "Mardi," "White Jacket." New York. Harper & Brother, 1851.

"Remarkable," is the adjective which, by general consent, is applied to all of Herman Melville's books. They deserve the epithet, and others less vague and satisfactory. Melville is a true genius, and impresses himself upon all that he writes. We do not know that he indulges himself in verse, but he is a poet and a dramatist, as well as a novelist and historiographer; and somehow in everything that he gives to the public, he illustrates his wonderful versatility,-- so that the reader hardly knows whether to admire him most as poet, dramatist, novelist or philosopher. This is the state of dubiousness with which we rise from the perusal of "Moby Dick." But it is a dubiousness that consists with keen delight, for seldom have we read a more fascinating book, or one that exhibits a wider scope of power, ranging from the most abstruse speculations of the philosopher, to the wildest imaginations of the poet. The story is one of intense interest, but we hardly know whether to regard Captain Ahab, or that great Sea-Satan, Moby Dick, the hero; and it matters little which, for power and daring and unconquerable energy are alike illustrated in both--the King of Leviathans hunted in his olden seas, and the hardy whaleman urged on to the chase by a monomania that makes himself at once terrible and sublime.

There are other characters that will arrest the reader's attention, for their vivid individuality, and as illustrations of Melville's powers of delineation. Among them we may mention the Parsee, Starbuck, Stubbs, and poor Pip, the crazed witling, all of whom stand out distinct and life-like, under the graphic power of a master's pen. In richness and boldness of coloring, whether he is portraying scenery or men, describing a chase for a whale, the revel in the forecastle, or the self-communion of a strong spirit marked and wrenched by fate or circumstance, the author of "Moby Dick" has scarcely an equal and no superior. We venture to predict, that among the prolific issues of the American press, this year, none will take hold of a wider and more speedy popularity, or more successfully maintain its place in the affections of the reading public, than this last production of Herman Melville.

(For sale by L. W. Hall.)
The unsigned review of Moby-Dick in the Syracuse Daily Standard appears on page 2 of the November 24, 1851 issue, along with "Literary Notices" of Florence, the Parish Orphan by Eliza Buckminster Lee and the 1852 Ticknor, Reed and Fields edition of Sir Roger De Coverly. The front page features a mocking treatment of The Second National Woman's Rights Convention in October, reprinted from the Sunday Times and Noah's Weekly Messenger, titled "The Merry Wives of Worcester." According to the masthead, the Syracuse Daily Standard was then published by "Agan and Summers," meaning founder and political editor Patrick H. Agan in partnership with journeyman printer and abolitionist Moses Summers.

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