Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Moby-Dick widely praised in 1851-2

via The New York Public Library Digital Collections
In the June 1940 Journal of the Rutgers University Library, David Potter aimed to counter "the popular misconception that Moby-Dick was not well-received when it was first published" with a survey of mostly positive magazine Reviews of Moby-Dick in 1851 and early 1852. Eighty years on, the legend persists that Moby-Dick was slammed by the majority of early critics. Gillian Osborne draws on the old claim in reviewing the Library of America edition of Melville's Complete Poems for the Boston Review
"As a fiction writer, his career tanked after certain demonstrations of originality: in 1851 with the publication of Moby Dick—widely panned upon publication—and even more so the following year, when he published Pierre...."
Widely panned is a 21st century twist, better describing the disappointment of critics with Mardi or Pierre, but with the virtue of being at least geographically defensible when repurposed for Moby-Dick (panned from Charleston to Boston, and on both sides of the Atlantic). Otherwise, the idea "that the reviewers demolished Moby-Dick" was already considered a "legend" in 1938 when Willard Thorp fact-checked it in the introduction to Herman Melville: Representative Selections. The legend continues in spite of scholarly interventions--attempted by John C. McCloskey in "Moby-Dick and the Reviewers," Philological Quarterly 25 (October 1946) pages 20-31; and, more persuasively, by Hugh W. Hetherington in “Early Reviews of Moby-Dick,” Moby-Dick Centennial Essays, ed. Tyrus Hillway and Luther S. Mansfield (Southern Methodist University Press, 1953), pages 89–122. In 1982, Steven Mailloux again surveyed the transatlantic reception of The Whale/Moby-Dick, explaining that
"Such a survey is needed to counteract past claims about a predominately negative reaction from contemporary reviewers." --Interpretive Conventions: The Reader in the Study of American Fiction (Cornell University Press, 1982) page 171.
Recent variations on the theme of Moby-Dick as critical failure in the 19th century:
  • At first, Moby Dick was a total flop --Chris Gaylord, Christian Science Monitor, October 18, 2012. <https://www.csmonitor.com/Technology/Tech-Culture/2012/1018/Herman-Melville-books-At-first-Moby-Dick-was-a-total-flop>
  • Zack Bivins, The eNotes Blog. 5 Reasons to Reread Moby-Dick. "Moby-Dick was widely panned in both England and the United States—Melville’s experimental style flew over the heads of most critics." <https://blog.enotes.com/2018/10/17/5-reasons-to-reread-moby-dick/>
  • Philip Hoare in The Guardian, July 30, 2019. Subversive, queer and terrifyingly relevant. "The first version of the book was published in Britain in 1851, entitled The Whale. It came out in the US later that year as Moby-Dick – and failed, miserably." <https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/jul/30/subversive-queer-and-terrifyingly-relevant-six-reasons-why-moby-dick-is-the-novel-for-our-times>
Internet revival of the old rejection-legend has motivated me to conduct a new poll. The mission: count and sort known contemporary reviews and notices of Moby-Dick into the broad categories of
  1. Favorable or positive
  2. Unfavorable or negative
  3. Mixed
Necessarily, this effort of mere counting will disregard Hershel Parker's 1975 advice not to copy Hetherington's method (in Melville's Reviewers, British and American, 1846-1891) of "keeping box scores" of favorable or unfavorable reviews. For context see Parker on Being Professional in Working on Moby-DickCollege Literature Volume 2 Number 3, Moby-Dick (Fall, 1975) pages 192-7 at 195. That's just what I want now, a simple box score. Here I won't be too concerned about literary merit or depth of analysis or the reviewer's aesthetic sensibility. For that matter, I don't even care if the reviewer read Moby-Dick or not. Nor will I evaluate the influence that any particular review may have had on Herman Melville. Or explore the way that haters, especially conservative and religious types, understood what Melville wrote better than sympathizers. For those really interesting and important considerations, get the 1988 Northwestern-Newberry Edition of Moby-Dick, or The Whale and read Parker on the British reception of The Whale, and American reception of Moby-Dick, in the Historical Note, section VII, pages 689-732. Parker's essential work there is wonderfully reprised in the opening chapter of Herman Melville: A Biography Volume 2, 1851-1891 (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002) on pages 17-30.

It's true that Moby-Dick received severe criticism when first published in 1851, some of it in influential periodicals like the London Athenaeum ("so much trash") and Boston Post ("not worth the money asked"). To Herman Melville, personally, the most hurtful review of all had to have been the pious and condescending hit piece delivered by his close friends Evert and George Duyckinck in the "Second Notice" of Melville's Moby-Dick; or, The Whale, published on November 22, 1851 in the New York Literary World.
https://books.google.com/books?id=ADwZAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA403&dq#v=onepage&q&f=false
That attack on Moby-Dick as tedious and irreligious came as a sucker punch after the mildly approving First Notice published the week before ("no everyday writing, and in Herman Melville's best manner"). Hawthorne complained in a letter to Evert A. Duyckinck, but the Duyckincks had already consolidated both notices into one long review, reprinted from the Literary World in the December 1851 issue of Holden's Dollar Magazine.
https://books.google.com/books?id=11jaUnGl52cC&pg=PA267&dq#v=onepage&q&f=false
So clearly a handful of negative reviews can matter more than a boatload of positive ones. Parker keys on the bad ones in his examination of influential "Make-or-Break-Reviews" for Herman Melville in Context, ed. Kevin J. Hayes (Cambridge University Press, 2018). Melville (perhaps being "supersensitive," as Hetherington suggests in Melville's Reviewers) evidently took the worst reviews of Moby-Dick to heart. In Pierre (1852), as Parker first discovered in Why "Pierre" Went Wrong, Studies in the Novel Volume 8, Number 1 (Spring 1976) pages 7-23 at 14, Melville "was reacting specifically to the reviews of his latest book, Moby-Dick." This crucial insight is further developed by Brian Higgins and Hershel Parker in Reading Melville's Pierre; or, The Ambiguities (Louisiana State University Press, 2006) on pages 150-153.

Nevertheless, this is the year for the 2020 Census, not to mention another Grand Contested Election for the Presidency of the United States. High time then for new and improved tallies. Not only of favorable and unfavorable opinions, since the most thoughtful ones may be mixed. An unbiased scorecard will keep mixed reviews in the "mixed" category, even when jammed with positive ingredients. For example, as Hetherington perceives, the London Atlas review "mingled great disparagement with great adulation":
The big day for The Whale in London was November 8. Of the four reviews which came out that day, two elaborate ones, in the Atlas and Britannia, are almost impossible to categorize as favorable or unfavorable, for they both mingled great disparagement with great adulation. Also both commenced in much harsher mood than they ended, suggesting that in each case, the reviewer, as he approached the last pages, came gradually, even against his will, to submit to Melville's wizardry.  
--Melville's Reviewers: British and American, 1846-1891 (University of North Carolina Press, 1961) pages 193-4. 
On the other hand, the excerpt from the London Atlas in Harper's Magazine for January 1852 reproduces only the most positive content with a positive spin, and therefore counts as a favorable notice. The positive spin in Harper's New Monthly Magazine is what enables Jennifer Phegley to take the London Atlas review as one of "two favorable British reviews" of Moby-Dick. Citation:
Phegley, Jennifer. “Literary Piracy, Nationalism, and Women Readers in ‘Harper's New Monthly Magazine’, 1850-1855.” American Periodicals, vol. 14, no. 1, 2004, pp. 63–90. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/20770918. Accessed on Mardi Gras Day 2020.
Strictly according to the numbers, as shown below, the majority view of Moby-Dick was favorable. The favorable reception of Moby-Dick stands in contrast to generally hostile reviews of Melville's next novel. Even the anonymous critic who slammed Pierre in the New York Herald wished Melville had found another whale to write about:
"Is there not a solitary whale left, whose cetaceous biography might have added another stone to the monumental fame of the author of Moby-Dick?" --New York Herald review of Melville's Pierre, September 18, 1852.
Fifty-nine notices of The Whale and Moby-Dick; or, The Whale are collected in Herman Melville: The Contemporary Reviews, edited by Brian Higgins and Hershel Parker (Cambridge University Press, 1995; paperback 2009); and transcribed there on pages 353-415. Of the 59 transcribed reviews, I'm counting 35 as favorable 😍 ; 14 negative 😠 ; and 10 mixed πŸ‘πŸ‘Ž . Good reviews outnumber the bad ones, 35 to 14 or 2.5:1. Even if you wanted to count all the reviews that I deem "mixed" as negative, the positive ones would still win, 35 to 24.
  1. 😍 "for vigour, originality, and interest, has never been surpassed." London Morning Herald, October 20, 1851.
  2. 😍 "unusual power of enchaining the interest, and rising to the verge of the sublime" London Morning Advertiser, October 24, 1851. Excerpted in London Globe, "THE WHALE," October 24, 1851.
  3. 😠 "so much trash." London Athenaeum, October 25, 1851.
  4. 😍 "extraordinary" London John Bull, October 25, 1851.
  5. 😠 "rhapsody run mad" London Spectator, October 25, 1851.
  6. πŸ‘πŸ‘Ž London Atlas, First Notice. November 1, 1851.
  7.  πŸ˜ "Herman Melville's last and best and most wildly imaginative story, 'The Whale.'" Illustrated London News by Angus Bethune Reach, November 1, 1851. 
  8. πŸ‘πŸ‘Ž "If you love heroics and horrors he is your man." London News of the World, November 2, 1851. Same text as the review in Bell's New Weekly Messenger - Sunday, November 2, 1851.
  9. πŸ‘πŸ‘Ž London Atlas, Second Notice. November 8, 1851.
  10. πŸ‘πŸ‘Ž evincing "rare versatility of talent." London Britannia. November 8, 1851.
  11. 😠 "...our enjoyment is small even of what we must admit to be undeniably and remarkably clever in it." London Examiner, November 8, 1851.
  12. 😍 "... no criticism will thwart its fascination." London Leader. November 8, 1851.
  13. 😍 "despite its occasional extravagancies, it is a book of extraordinary merit." London Morning Post. November 14, 1851.
  14. 😍 "the production of a man of genius" that "abounds in bright, witty and attractive things." Albany NY Argus. November 14, 1851.
  15. 😍 "The author writes with the gusto of true genius, and it must be a torpid spirit indeed that is not enlivened with the raciness of his humor and the redolence of his imagination."  Morning Courier and New-York Enquirer, November 14, 1851.
  16. 😍 "bold and stirring"; "written in the author's happiest vein." Troy NY Budget, November 14, 1851.
  17. πŸ‘πŸ‘Ž Melville "indulges frequently in profaneness, and occasionally in indelicacies, which materially detract from the merits of the book, which exhibits much tact, talent and genius." Boston Evening Traveller, November 15, 1851.
  18. Sat, Nov 15, 1851 – 2 · Hartford Courant (Hartford, Connecticut) · Newspapers.com
  19. 😍  "Melville's stories are decidedly interesting and graphic, and, as he writes, he improves in the minor details of incident, management, and style....well worth reading as a book of amusement, and well worth a place on the book shelf from the beautiful style of its publication." Hartford Courant, November 15, 1851.
  20. 😍 "no everyday writing, and in Herman Melville's best manner." First notice, The Literary World, November 15, 1851.
  21. 😍 "possesses all the interest of the most exciting fiction, while, at the same time, it conveys much valuable information in regard to things pertaining to natural history, commerce, life on ship board, &c." New Haven Palladium, November 17, 1851.
  22. 😍 "What writer is more welcome?"  New York Morning Express, November 17, 1851. Based on New York Courier review, #15 above. 
  23. 😍 "Mr. Melville has woven around this cumbrous bulk of romance, a large and interesting web of narrative, information, and sketches of character and scenery, in a quaint though interesting style, and with an easy, rollicking freedom of language and structure, characteristic of himself." Springfield MA Republican, November 17, 1851.
  24. 😍 "characters and subjects which figure in it are set off with artistic effect, and with irresistible attraction to the reader." New Bedford Mercury, November 18, 1851.
  25. 😠 "not worth the money asked." Boston Post, November 20, 1851; this notice opens quoting the negative review in the London Athenaeum
  26. 😍 "we know of none who can excel him in his delineations of the sea, and the wonders that pass before the eyes of those who traffic thereon."  New York Christian Intelligencer, November 20, 1851.
  27. πŸ‘πŸ‘Ž "Mr. Melville grows wilder and more untameable with every adventure."; The delineation of character, too, is exquisitely humorous, sharp, individual and never-to-be-forgotten." New York Evangelist, November 20, 1851.
  28. 😠 "Judgment day will hold him liable." New York Independent. November 20, 1851.
  29. πŸ‘πŸ‘Ž "vivid sketches done in the author's best style." Characterization of Ahab "ruined, by a vile overdaubing with a coat of book-learning and mysticism." Still, "not lacking much of being a great work." New York Albion, November 22, 1851.
  30. πŸ‘πŸ‘Ž "vivid dashing style of narrative and characterization, that takes one along by force." On the other hand: "We could wish a little less rambling in the story, and a little more reverence in the spirit of the book." New York Christian Inquirer, November 22, 1851.
  31. 😍 "constructed in Herman Melville's best manner." "..wildly imaginative and truly thrilling story." "We think it the best production which has yet come from that seething brain, and in spite of its lawless flights, which put all regular criticism at defiance, it gives us a higher opinion of the author's originality and power than even the favorite and fragrant first-fruits of his genius, the never-to-be-forgotten Typee." New York Tribune, November 22, 1851.
  32. 😠 Mixed but mean, coming from a friend: "... we begin to have some faint idea of the association of whaling and lamentation, and why blubber is so popularly synonymous with tears....We do not like to see what, under any view, must be to the world the most sacred associations of life violated and defaced." Second notice by Evert and George Duyckinck in the New York Literary World. November 22, 1851.
  33. 😠 "even his power of expression, and elegance of style, will not redeem a book from being prosy after the natural interest of its subject has been exhausted. More than five acts of the best tragedy would be too much for mere mortals to bear." Parker's Journal. November 22, 1851.
  34. 😍 "decidedly the richest book out." Philadelphia American Saturday Courier, November 22, 1851.
  35. 😍 "We nowhere find a more perfect delineation of character; he has a keen perception of the humorous and grotesque, excels in the description of natural scenery; his pencil is rich in coloring and his mind fertile in invention." Baltimore American and Commercial Advertiser, November 25, 1851.
  36. 😍 "well sustains his reputation as a tale writer and sketcher, while it enhances in a high degree his fame as an original thinker and illustrator of every day sailor men, and every day sailor scenes." Hans Yorkel (Abraham Oakey Hall), New Orleans Commercial Bulletin, November 27, 1851.
  37. 😠 "There are few readers who will not be at first repulsed by its eccentricity." ... "We regret to see that Mr. Melville is guilty of sneering at the truths of revealed religion." NY Commercial Advertiser, November 28, 1851.
  38. 😍 "a wild, weird book, full of strange power and irresistible fascination for those who love to read of the wonders of the deep...among the freshest and most vigorous that the present publishing season has produced." London Weekly News and Chronicle, November 29, 1851.
  39. 😍  "a very racy, spirited, curious and entertaining book." N. P. Willis, New York Home Journal, November 29, 1851.
  40. 😍 "The high reputation attained by Mr. Melville as the author of those admirable works, Typee, Omoo, Redburn, Mardi, and White Jacket, is fully sustained in the volume which is the subject of this notice. It purports to give the veritable history of a whaling voyage performed by one Ishmael. Whether this work be viewed in reference to the numerous exciting incidents with which it abounds, to the variety and completeness of the information it conveys as respects the natural history and habits of this leviathan of the deep, or to those bold, vigorous, and life-like delineations of character with which the narrative is relieved, certain it is that Ishmael has presented a most readable work and an intensely interesting history...." Washington Union, November 30, 1851.
  41. 😍 "surpasses any of the former productions of this highly successful author." Harper's New Monthly Magazine, December 1851.
  42. 😍 "Fresh and buoyant as ever, our old friend dashes out in another realm of sea-life...." Newark NJ Daily Advertiser, December 5, 1851.
  43. 😠 "wantonly eccentric, outrageously bombastic." London Literary Gazette, December 6, 1851.
  44. 😠 "pitiable to see so much talent perverted to sneers at revealed religion and the burlesquing of sacred passages of Holy Writ."  New York Churchman, December 6, 1851.
  45. 😍"a work of exceeding power, beauty, and genius."  New York Spirit of the Times, December 6, 1851.
  46. 😍 "full of wild adventures and glowing descriptions... just think of chasing the whale, the monster king of the great deep, through the mighty waste of waters!" Savannah Republican, December 6, 1851.
  47. 😍 "a fair sample of the 'Romance of real life,' and while its tendency is useful and instructive, it is free from those pernicious and deceptive ingredients, with which many of the tales of the present age are impregnated." St. John, New Brunswick News, December 10, 1851.
  48. 😍 "a prose Epic on Whaling," clearly "the production of a man of genius." ...ingenious romance, which for variety of incident and vigor of style can scarcely be exceeded." Washington National Intelligencer, December 16, 1851.
  49. πŸ‘πŸ‘Ž "Here, however--in "The Whale"-- comes Herman Melville, in all his pristine powers--in all his abounding vigour--in the full swing of his mental energy, with his imagination invoking as strange and wild and original themes as ever, with his fancy arraying them in the old bright and vivid hues,...and alas! too, with the old extravagance, running a perfect muck throughout the three volumes, raving and rhapsodising in chapter after chapter." Overall, a "strange and unaccountable book."  London Morning Chronicle, December 20, 1851. Partially reprinted in the London Shipping and Mercantile Gazette on January 2, 1852. 
  50. 😠 "sundry digressions concerning the nature, attributes, and physical properties of whales, interspersed with wild rhapsodies from the crack-brained captain, and dissertations upon a variety of topics." London New Quarterly Review 1, First Quarter 1851.
  51. 😍 "There are descriptions in this book of almost unrivalled force, coloured and warmed as they are, by the light and heat of a most poetical imagination, and many passages might be cited of vigorous thought, of earnest and tender sentiment, and of glowing fancy, which would at once suffice to show—contest or dispute about the matter being out of the question—that Herman Melville is a man of the truest and most original genius." Bentley's Miscellany, Volume 31, January 1852.
  52. 😍 "That Melville has genius, wit, mirth, a vigorous, imaginative style, great command of language, and uncommon power of description, is unquestionable." Church Review and Ecclesiastical Register 4, January 1852.
  53. 😠 "The truth is, Mr. Melville has survived his reputation." ..."bad rhetoric, involved syntax, stilted sentiment and incoherent English."  United States Magazine and Democratic Review Volume 30, January 1852. 
  54. 😍 "His ocean-pictures are exceedingly graphic. Indeed, his descriptions of taking the whale are a succession of moving pictures; the detail bringing out every point of light and shadow with wonderful effect." The Knickerbocker Volume 39, January 1852.
  55. 😠 "Moby-Dick; or the Whale" (New-York: Harper & Brothers, 1851; 12mo., pp. 634,) is the latest effusion of Herman Melville's versatile genius. It is a wonderful mixture of fact and fancy—of information about the whale and its habits, and of the wildest whimsies of a seething brain. The book displays the same power of dashing description, of vivid picture-painting, which characterizes all the other works of this writer. We are bound to say, however, that the book contains a number of flings at religion, and even of vulgar immoralities that render it unfit for general circulation. We regret that Mr. Melville should allow himself to sink so low.
    --Methodist Quarterly Review 34, January 1852.
  56. 😍 "not an indifferent work, but a very superior one, after all." Peterson's Magazine Volume 21, January 1852.
  57. 😠 "... the book is sad stuff, dull and dreary, or ridiculous....the ravings of some of the tributary characters, and the ravings of Mr. Melville himself, meant for eloquent declamation, are such as would justify a writ de lunatico against all the parties." Charleston, SC Southern Quarterly Review for January 1852.
  58. 😍 "enough fine and valuable passages in it to amply repay its perusal." Today, a Boston Literary Journal, January 10, 1852.
  59. πŸ‘πŸ‘Ž  "badinage apart, this book, strange as it is, contains some scenes of stirring interest...." Dublin University Magazine Volume 39, February 1852.
  60. 😍 "This volume sparkles with the raciest qualities of the author's voluble and brilliant mind...." Graham's Magazine Volume 40, February 1852.
* * *
Eighteen additional notices of Moby-Dick are listed in Herman Melville: The Contemporary Reviews but not transcribed. Three of these I don't count, being reprints from chapter 61, "Stubb Kills a Whale." Nevertheless, such excerpts complement the generally positive reception of Moby-Dick in American newspapers. More 19th century excerpts from Moby-Dick are inventoried in Kevin Hayes and Hershel Parker, Checklist of Melville Reviews (Northwestern University Press, 1991); and other Melvilliana posts:
I have not looked at the brief notice of November 29, 1851 in the Toronto Globe and Mail. Hershel Parker in the Historical Note, Section VII for the 1988 Northwestern-Newberry Edition of Moby-Dick (page 714) classes the Toronto reviewer with "Others who bluffed through a few lines of commentary without having read much or any of the book." Of the remaining fourteen items listed in the Checklist of Additional Reviews on page 416, eleven are positive. Only one of the fourteen could reasonably be regarded as unfavorable, that being the reprint of the mostly negative London Spectator review in the International Monthly Magazine for December 1851. Two Boston notices are avowedly mixed, in the Boston Atlas on November 20, 1851; and Zion's Herald and Wesleyan Journal on November 26, 1851.

Adding fourteen of the checklist items in Contemporary Reviews brings our running total to 59 + 14 = 73 reviews. 35 + 11 = 46 positive 😍 ; 14 + 1 = 15 negative 😠; and 10 + 2 = 12 mixed πŸ‘πŸ‘Ž. So now, with the addition of shorter and more superficial responses, the positive reviews outnumber the negative ones by more than 3:1.
  • 😍 Boston Evening Transcript, November 12, 1851.

    Boston Evening Transcript - November 12, 1851
    "We very cordially welcome Mr. Melville back to the field, where he has won so many laurels. He will be at home among the whalers, and his book will be eagerly sought for by those, who remember the first two nautical romances from his pen. This volume is inscribed to Nathaniel Hawthorne, in token of "admiration for his genius."
  • 😍 Troy Daily Whig, November 13, 1851.
    The author of "Typee" and "Omoo" is an indefatigable as well as popular writer. The reading public (and that in this country comprises almost every body) had hardly ceased its expressions of admiration for "White Jackett" and its predecessors, when it is presented by the same author with a thick octavo volume of some 650 pages characterized by all that clearness and depth of observation, quaintness, and originality, which have served to give his previous productions such wide popularity. From a hasty glance at its pages, we predict that "Moby Dick" will be universally regarded as "Melville's best."
Philadelphia Dollar Newspaper - November 19, 1851
via GenealogyBank
  • 😍 Philadelphia Dollar Newspaper, November 19, 1851. "This is a handsome volume of over six hundred pages, and contains one hundred and thirty-five distinct sketches, presented in that easy and yet racy style so characteristic of the author. Those who have read the author's several other works, especially his 'White Jacket' and his 'Redburn,' will require no special recommendations of this volume. The following sketch of the whale's brain will be found alike interesting and instructive, while it will afford a good idea of the style and character of the volume [reprints first three paragraphs of chapter 80, The Nut]." Found and transcribed by Burton R. Pollin in Additional Unrecorded Reviews of Melville's BooksJournal of American Studies Vol. 9, No. 1 (April 1975) pages 55-68 at page 58. Pollin and Contemporary Reviews give the date of this notice as November 15, 1851, but the Dollar Newspaper was a "weekly family paper," then published in Philadelphia every Wednesday morning. November 15th in 1851 was a Saturday.
  • 😍 Utica Daily Gazette, November 19, 1851.
  • πŸ‘πŸ‘Ž Boston Daily Atlas, November 20, 1851. "written in the author's well-known style and spirit. We cannot claim to be admirers of Mr. Melville's productions, but to those who are--and their name is Legion--we can commend this volume, as fully equal in interest to any of its predecessors."
  • [New Bedford Mercury November 20, 1851. Excerpt, Stubb Kills a Whale.]
  • 😍 New York Sun, November 20, 1851. "A charming volume" that "abounds with thrilling narratives of danger and hair breath' escapes, so common to the enterprising whalemen. Written in a singularly attractive and agreeable style, the reader cannot fail to be delighted, deriving likewise, much interesting knowledge relative to the 'Monster of the deep,' and the modus operandi of his capture and dissection."
New York Sun - November 20, 1851
  • [New Haven Journal and Courier, November 22, 1851. Excerpt, Stubb Kills a Whale.]
  • πŸ‘πŸ‘Ž Boston Zion's Herald and Wesleyan Journal. November 26, 1851.
    MESSRS. HARPERS have issued another work from the pen of Herman Melville, entitled Moby-Dick, or The Whale; it relates to marine life as connected with whaling, and abounds in the well known qualities of the author. The London Athenaeum says that it cannot recall another sketcher who has given the poetry of the ship, her voyages and her crew in a manner at all resembling his. He is not only thoroughly original, but combines a great variety of rare excellences. We take exception to some of his moral views, but acknowledge his attractive talents. Few books are more readable than his.—Mussey & Co., Boston. 
    "Faulty as the book may be, it bears the marks of such unquestionable genius, and displays graphic powers of so rare an order, that it cannot fail to add to the popular author's reputation."
  • 😠 International Monthly Magazine - December 1851. Reprints the mixed London Spectator review. Nautical tale marred by "soliloquies and dialogues of Ahab" and "speculative views of things in general."
  • 😍 Savannah Daily Morning News, December 2, 1851.
    "The reading public will greet with pleasure another work from Mr. Melville, in that field of romance where he has won so many laurels. He is at home in this book among the whales and whalers, harpoons and habergeons. The tradition of the Nantucket whaleman has furnished him a fine subject for the display of his peculiar talent for the delineation of nautical character and life."
  • 😍 Boston Christian Freeman and Family Visiter
    "takes a wide and diversified scope of descriptive, sketching, anecdote, &c., directly and indirectly connected with the whaling and other seafaring locations and business"
  • 😍 Hunt's Merchant's Magazine and Commercial Review - January 1852

    "Those who expect to find an agreeable and entertaining volume in this will not be disappointed. In some parts it may be rather diffuse, but as a whole it will be read with gratification. The Whale forms the subject of it; in connection with it is introduced character and scenes of that peculiar kind which impart so much life and spirit to this author's works." 
 " a compact volume of upwards of six hundred pages, all about 'the whale,' whalers, and whaling, being itself a perfect literary whale, and worthy of the pen of Herman Melville, whose reputation as an original writer has been established the world over."
* * *
Here below are 42 more notices of Moby-Dick, not transcribed or listed in Contemporary Reviews. Five negative, four mixed, the rest positive. The Boston Saturday Evening Gazette is negative but Melville's critic (most likely editor William Warden Clapp, Jr., who published stories by Louisa May Alcott a few years later) acknowledges the positive one in the Boston Morning Journal for November 18, 1851.

Tue, Oct 28, 1851 – 1 · The Morning Post (London, Greater London, England) · Newspapers.com
  • 😍 London Globe and Traveller - October 20, 1851. Melville's "new work 'The Whale,' is perhaps the raciest thing of the kind that was ever produced. Melville does not merely skim the surface, he dives into the deep unfathomed main. We smell and taste the brine in every page. His ink must be the black liquor of the cuttle-fish, and his pen drawn from the wing of the albatross. 'The Whale' is a very great performance."
  • 😍 London Morning Post - October 20, 1851. Early notice, before #13 above. "Melville is a star, and of no ordinary magnitude in the literary firmament."
    <https://melvilliana.blogspot.com/2016/04/melville-is-star-notice-of-whale-in.html>

    "THE WHALE," by Herman Melville, just published, is perhaps the most extraordinary work that has appeared in England for a very great many years. The novelty of the materials that constitute the interest—the novelty of the manner of dealing with them—the poetical, combined with the practical nature of the author—the rare power with which he knits us to every character in succession—the wild impetuous grandeur of his scenes—the impulsive force and vigour of his language—these, together, make up one of the most fascinating books that was ever read. Captain Ahab is a character which few men could have conceived, and how few could have drawn with such marvellous earnestness and strength; and his pertinacious pursuit of the great white whale Moby Dick, is executed in the true spirit, and with the full force of great original genius. Melville is a star, and of no ordinary magnitude in the literary firmament. 
  • 😍 London Globe - October 24, 1851. "THE WHALE." Excerpt from review in the London Advertiser, #2 above. "... High philosophy, liberal feeling, absrtruce metaphysics popularly phrased, soaring speculation, a style as many-coloured as the theme, yet always good and often admirable; fertile fancy, ingenious construction, playful learning, and an unusual power of enchaining the interest, and rising to the verge of the sublime--all these are possessed by Herman Melville, and exemplified in his new work....."
"Sprightly in composition, amusing in anecdote, and sparkling for its wit, are epithets which every one must apply to these volumes after giving them a careful perusal."
  • 😍 Albany Evening Journal, November 12, 1851. "... we look forward with pleasure to the hours of leisure that will allow us to look through 'Moby-Dick.' We are sure there is amusement in it; for it opens promisingly." 
  • 😍 Albany Evening Journal, Thursday, November 13, 1851. "Foreign Items.... Herman Melville's new book, 'the Whale,' just issued by the Harper's, is well received in England." Reprinted from the New York Evening Post, November 12, 1851. This item appeared also in the Troy Daily Budget (November 13, 1851); Buffalo Commercial Advertiser (November 14, 1851); Buffalo Courier (November 15, 1851); Milwaukee Weekly Wisconsin (November 26, 1851) and Weekly Racine Advocate (November 26, 1951).
  • 😍 Philadelphia Inquirer - November 15, 1851. "... abounds with thrilling incidents, hair-breadth escapes, and remarkable adventures. It is especially suited for the lovers of the wild and wonderful."
  • 😍 Boston Morning Journal - November 18, 1851. "The work is a singular mixture of fact and fiction.— The supernatural is interwoven with the matter-of-fact delineations of life on board a whale ship. The descriptions of the various operations of the whalemen are remarkably life like. The chapters upon the whale, for minute description of the characteristics of the different varieties of the leviathan, would do credit to the researches of the most enthusiastic naturalist." "... the reader will sometimes be puzzled to separate fiction from probability, so skilfully has the author blended the common incidents of a whaleman's life, with the creations of his own fancy. In many respects Moby-Dick is the best of the works of the author, as it certainly is the most instructive. We predict for it, with confidence, an extended popularity."
  • 😍 Pittsburgh Daily Morning Post - November 18, 1851. "Persons who have read the author's former works should read Moby Dick, as it is equal to any of them." 
  • 😍 Worcester, MA Palladium. November 19, 1851.

    Worcester Palladium - November 19, 1851
    via GenealogyBank
  • "There is life, elasticity, and freedom from restraint, in Mr Melville's manner as a writer; and originality and freshness in his matter. He has no mannerism which holds him down as an imitator of other men; but with tarpulin and roundjacket he plunges into the wide world of adventure, and jots down whatever there comes within the scope of his vision. 'Moby-Dick' is full of spirit and energy, and will match his previous works in the race for popularity."
  • 😍 Rochester NY Daily Democrat - November 20, 1851. "This book of Mr. Melville's gives us a good insight into the habits of the monster himself, as well as of the modes of pursuit and capture. It is given in a style partaking much of that in which romances are presented, perhaps partaking somewhat of the author's imaginative characteristics. As an agreeable fire-side book, which may not be read unprofitably, we commend it." Another notice of Moby-Dick appeared in the Daily Democrat on January 21, 1852.
  • 😍 Washington National Era, November 20, 1851. “MOBEY DICK” introduces us to the hard eventful life of a whaleman, and, so far as we have read, is a volume of great interest. 
  • πŸ‘πŸ‘Ž Albany Evening Atlas, November 21, 1851. "After exhausting the treasures of romance which are to be found on the Islands of the sea, and in the ships which float upon its billows, the inimitable Melville has, in this work, penetrated beneath its surface, and brought to light one of the great wonders of the deep, the Leviathan whom God hath made to play therein--the Whale, its history, its habits, the seas it frequents, the exciting scenes connected with its capture, and its value as an article of commerce, are some of the items which go to make up this rather bulky volume. And with all there is mingled much of that daring, dashing kind of adventure, for the delineation of which our author is so justly famed. We cannot say that we admire this volume as much as some of its predecessors. The style has not been used as much as it should have been, and it bears evident marks of carelessness and haste. But, nevertheless, whatever Melville writes will be read, for he is one of those few who have made their mark upon the literature of the age." 
  • 😍 Detroit Free Press - November 21, 1851. "peculiarly piquant narrative"; "Its stirring scenes and adventures on the bosom of the broad Pacific, will be the life of the forecastle, on many a stormy night...."
  • 😍 Boston Olive Branch, November 22, 1851. BOOK NOTICES, &c.
    "MOBY DICK" -- A wild and exciting description of a whaler's life, by Herman Melville. The author is said to be fully equal to Maryatt himself, in his works upon ship and sea. The book before us purports to be intensely interesting, and as it comes from Harper's, it ought to be unexceptionably moral. We do not feel competent to give an extended notice, not being familiar enough with ocean phrase and ocean life. But we have no doubt it will be a popular book. For sale at Hotchkiss & Co's., 13 Court street. “‘Moby Dick.’” Olive Branch (Boston, MA), vol. 16, no. 47, Nov. 1851, p. 3. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=sdd&AN=74050667&site=ehost-live. 
  • 😠 Boston Statesman, November 22, 1851. Same content as #24 above, Boston Post
  • 😍 Buffalo NY Daily Courier - November 22, 1851. "a joyous book, full of fine witticisms, and delicate and rapid touches of humor and interest....The invention of the author never seems to flag and his descriptions of scenery are unsurpassed....a singular vein of graphic originality in his style both of words and thoughts...." 
  • 😍 Gazette of the Union, Golden Rule & Odd-Fellows Family Companion, Volume 15 (November 22, 1851) page 335. <https://melvilliana.blogspot.com/2019/06/melvilles-comic-nautical-sinbadic-style.html> "We think Mr. Melville has almost surpassed himself in this last fish story of his. Certainly a better yarn was never spun; nor one the reader is so anxious to find the end of: when found his next regret is that it comes so soon. Melville has the romance of Defoe, the "tarriness" of Marryatt, the vigor of Bulwer, and in one word produces the pleasantest fictions of the day in his style, which may be termed the comic-Nautical-Sinbadic-style. Long may he write, for he will never lack readers, while imagination and humor are appreciated."
  • πŸ‘πŸ‘Ž Saturday Evening Post, November 22, 1851. "Peeping into it, here an there, we see much that looks as if it leads where one would like to follow; but swim on, 'Moby-Dick,' for the present, untouched by critical lance or harpoon." 
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. 
  • 😍 Batavia, NY Republican Advocate, November 25, 1851. Copied from the Albany Daily State Register (November 17, 1851). "MOBY DICK; OR, THE WHALE. / This is the title of Herman Melville's new work, just published by the Harpers, and said to be the best written and most entertaining book put forth by that popular and clever author." Reprints first notice in The Literary World (November 15, 1851). 
  • 😠 Edinburgh Evening Courant (Edinburgh, Midlothian, Scotland) November 25, 1851. "... strange mixture of smart observations, quaint philosophy, American vulgarisms, and grandiose writing." 
  • 😍  NY Daily Commercial Times - November 26, 1851. "Persons who are fond of reading marvelous fish stories, this book will be welcome. It is written with considerable spirit, and abounds in wit and humor."
  • 😠 North American Miscellany - December 1851. "Melville's new work, 'The Whale, or Moby Dick,' is pronounced by the Athenaeum an absurd book. Its catastrophe, it says, is hastily, weakly, and obscurely managed, and the style in places disfigured by mad (rather than bad) English."
  • 😍 Providence, Rhode Island Manufacturers' and Farmers' Journal, December 1, 1851. "... his description of the ocean and of the ship have a fascination that binds the reader to his pages. We have read Typee more than once, we have forgiven Mardi, and we shall turn with the assurance of new enjoyment to Moby-Dick." 
  • πŸ‘πŸ‘Ž Buffalo NY Commercial Advertiser, December 3, 1851. Mostly borrowed from the New York, NY Commercial Advertiser review of November 28, 1851; #36 above. But the spin makes it mixed, definitely: "This is an extraordinary book, neither good, nor wholly bad—as was said of Rob Roy, it is "o'er bad for blessing, and o'er good for banning."
  • 😠 Boston Saturday Evening Gazette. December 6, 1851. Edited by the young and energetic William Warden Clapp, Jr., then 25. Discovered by Richard E. Winslow III, Clapp's notice of Moby-Dick was collected and transcribed in Melville Reviews and Notices, Continued. Although mostly negative, the Evening Gazette notice references the strongly positive review in the Boston Journal, evidently by editor John Sherburne Sleeper: "... We have read portions of Moby Dick, but fail to discover any marks of freshness, any traces of originality. The work is highly spoken of by our neighbor of the Journal, a nautical gentleman, and our opinion of its merits may be erroneous. The only way for the reader to decide is by perusing the volume." 
  • 😍 New Orleans Commercial Bulletin - December 8, 1851. "This, we take it from a cursory survey, is an exceedingly exciting and attractive work--being a kind of log of sea yarns and adventures connected with whaling, some of them partaking rather of the marvellous. The book is highly spoken of, and engages very general attention."
  • 😍 Harper's Magazine January 1852 quotes London Atlas as "one of the most discriminating reviewals we have  seen" of Melville's "greatest effort."
  • 😍 Harper's Magazine April 1852 quotes London Leader review, #12 above. "Who knows the horrors of the seas like HERMAN MELVILLE?" 
“The Whale” is not the least remarkable work of a very remarkable writer. About everything that proceeds from the pen of Mr. Melville there is a freshness, an originality, a fascination, that nothing can resist. We defy the reader to take up one of this writer’s fictions, and put it down only partly read. Impossible. He is an ancient mariner, and we are so many wedding guests. We “cannot choose but hear.” Whether the tale has an albatross or a whale for a hero, the compulsion is equally strong; and if Mr. Melville choose to write about a robin-redbreast or a mackerel, it would be most likely all the same...." 
"... How the author survives to tell his story is contemptuously left in mystery. That he has contrived to tell his story somehow we, in common with his other readers, must congratulate ourselves. We have not read a book of more absorbing interest for some time. There is something grand and poetical in the vow of the terrible old Ahab that seizes upon one by main force; and the power and vigour of the author in his descriptive passages are solemnly conspicuous. He has great command of character too. We have not had an opportunity of mentioning Starbuck, the first mate—but Starbuck is capital for all that. Stubb, too, is a complete individual; and as for our old friend Queequeg, the Indian harpooner, who accompanies the hero throughout the voyage—he is a triumph. But we have no space to enter into minutiae, for which we must refer the reader to the book itself. We can only once more express our hearty admiration of the performance as a work of interest and art."
  • 😍 Littell's Living Age 32, January 17, 1852. Reprinted from #15 above, Morning Courier and New-York Enquirer (November 14, 1851):
No American writer is more sure, at every reappearance, of a more cheerful welcome than the author of Typee. His purity and freshness of style and exquisite tact in imparting vividness and life-likeness to his sketches long since gained him hosts of admirers on both sides of the water This book has all the attractiveness of any of its predecessors; in truth, it possesses more of a witching interest, since the author's fancy has taken in it a wilder play than ever before. It is ostensibly taken up with whales and whalers, but a vast variety of characters and subjects figure in it, all set off with an artistic effect that irresistibly captivates the attention. The author writes with the gusto of true genius, and it must be a torpid spirit indeed that is not enlivened with the raciness of his humor and the redolence of his imagination.-- N. Y. Courier.
  • 😍 Rochester, NY Daily Democrat - January 21, 1852. "... replete with wild adventures and thrilling scenes. Mr. Melville is a master, and a light, in that path of Romance in which he has chose to walk. His descriptions are graphic and complete, and are thoroughly imbued with that grace and charm which is a peculiarity of his genius." See above for the earlier notice in the Daily Democrat on November 20, 1851.

Grand Total = 115


😍     78
😠     20

πŸ‘πŸ‘Ž 17


4 comments:

  1. Still, still, what breaks my heart is that the British review that got over here right away (to Boston) was devastating to HM--the one in the ATHENAEUM. All the Melvill and Shaw family saw it. And this review was promptly reprinted (again in Boston). No one knew that the savage attack was caused by the lack of an Epilogue. Now, Scott--can you find an early mention of the failure of THE WHALE to have the epilogue? I could not. Normally, a lot of British reviews would have come over and been reprinted right away. Yes, there was some wonderful appreciation of HM's genius in London--and there may be more for you to find.

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    1. OK, will look for early mention of the missing Epilogue. I wonder if the Melvill and Shaw family might have seen the favorable review in the Boston JOURNAL on November 18, 1851. Two days before the POST notice. Then edited by John S. Sleeper aka Hawser Martingale. https://melvilliana.blogspot.com/2020/02/moby-dick-in-sleepers-boston-journal.html

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  2. Allan had some praise, as in THE LEADER--but I am sure HM never knew how extravagantly and how often THE WHALE had been praised. He went through life not knowing.

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