Monday, December 16, 2019

American Presbyterian, notice of Battle-Pieces

Transcribed below, this notice of Melville's Battle-Pieces appeared in the American Presbyterian and Genesee Evangelist on August 30, 1866 under the heading "Editor's Table." The editor and publisher of the Philadelphia, PA American Presbyterian then was John William Mears (1825-1881), clergyman and "all-purpose crusader" according to Michael Doyle in the Prologue to his recent book, The Ministers' War (Syracuse University Press, 2018).
MELVILLE. Battle Pieces and Aspects of the War. By Herman Melville. New York: Harper & Brothers. 12mo., pp. 272.

Much like Milton's image of sin, this book, by the author of certain voluptuous and corrupting novels, begins with many fair and well-constructed patriotic verses, but ends in a prose supplement which might have served for the Address of the late Convention of sham Unionists, which met two weeks ago in our city. Mr. Melville has come out as the poet-advocate of the new party, and is putting into verse the lessons of such eminent patriots and pure-minded men as Thurlow Weed, H. J. Raymond, and Andrew Johnson. He probably expects a Consulship on some of the South Sea Islands not yet reached by missionary influence, as a reward.

Mr. Melville's poetry is readable, often elegant, sometimes almost Browning-like in ingenuity, though never hopelessly intricate in thought; it is an addition to our lyrics of the war. But there is an affectation of neutrality about the book as a whole, a want of moral earnestness and conviction, that detracts from its value. It is neither good poetry nor good politics. It is an attempt to combine pure art with very impure political designs, and it must fairly be written down a failure. The people will never give it a place by the firm trumpet tones of Boker, although the poetry in and of itself may, in many respects, be just as meritorious.
Not in Herman Melville: The Contemporary Reviews, ed. Brian Higgins and Hershel Parker (Cambridge University Press, 1995; paperback 2009). Found on in pages "Recently Added." Date added: October 19, 2019.

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