Tuesday, June 22, 2021

London Morning Herald notices of The Whale

Previously unrecorded notices of The Whale, as the first British edition of Herman Melville's Moby-Dick; or, The Whale was titled, are now accessible on The British Newspaper Archive among pages of the London Morning Herald that were only digitized in this very month of June 2021. Digitized or digitised literally yesterday, some of them. 

New items transcribed below include an earlier printing of the long-undiscovered paragraph that also appeared in the London Globe and Traveller, known for half a century only by a blurb ascribed in publisher's ads to an otherwise unidentified "Evening Paper." Another new item is the review of The Whale on November 17, 1851, not collected in Herman Melville: The Contemporary Reviews, edited by Brian Higgins and Hershel Parker (Cambridge University Press, 1995; paperback 2009). The likely existence of this later and longer review in the Morning Herald was demonstrated in two previous posts on Melvilliana:
First, the paragraph of praise for Melville's Whale that later appeared in the London Globe on October 20, 1851. This from the London Morning Herald on October 17, 1851:
All honour and praise to Fenimore Cooper, whose memory will never be suffered to die whilst the English language endures. That great and lamented genius was one of the most forcible delineators of sea-life that ever made old ocean and his familiars his peculiar study. But he has left a worthy successor (we know how much we say when we assert this) in the person of Herman Melville, whose 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 Herald, 17 October 1851.
Transcribed below from the London Morning Herald of October 20, 1851 is the notice of The Whale previously collected in Herman Melville: The Contemporary Reviews, page 353:
HERMAN MELVILLE is on the right track now. His “Omoo,” “Typee,” and “White-jacket,” gave evidence of great and peculiar powers; but the audacity of youthful genius impelled him to throw off these performances with “a too much vigour,” as Dryden has it, which sometimes goes near to defeat its own end. But in “The Whale,” his new work, just published, we see a concentration of the whole powers of the man. Resolutely discarding all that does not bear directly on the matter in hand, he has succeeded in painting such a picture—now lurid, now a blaze with splendour—of sea life, in its most arduous and exciting form, as for vigour, originality, and interest, has never been surpassed.
From the London Morning Herald, October 27, 1851; excerpted from the London Morning Advertiser review on October 24, 1851:
“THE WHALE.” —Of this new work, by the very popular author of “Typee” and “Omoo,” the Morning Advertiser says,— "To convey an adequate idea of a book of such various merits as that which Mr. Melville has here placed before the reading public is impossible in the scope of a review. High philosophy, liberal feeling, abstruse 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. As a sample of Herman Melville’s learning, we may refer to the chapter headed ‘Cetology,’ in the second volume; and that we have not over-rated his dramatic ability for producing a prose poem, read the chapter on the ‘Whiteness of the whale,’ and the scene where Ahab nails the doubloon to the mast, as an earnest of the reward he will give to the seaman who first ‘sights’ ‘Moby Dick,’ the white whale, the object of his burning and unappeasable revenge Then come whale adventures wild as dreams, and powerful in their cumulated horrors. Now we have a Carlylism of phrase, then a quaintness reminding us of Sir Thomas Browne, and anon a heap of curious out-of-the-way learning, after the fashion of the Burton who ‘anatomised melancholy.’ Mingled with all this are bustle, adventure, battle, and the breeze. In brief, the interest never palls. We can only, in conclusion, refer the reader to these volumes, than which three more honourable to American literature have not yet reflected credit on the country of Washington Irving, Fenimore Cooper, Dana, Sigourney, Bryant, Longfellow, and Prescott.”  --London Morning Herald, 27 October 1851.

Next item is from the London Morning Herald of November 3, 1851; reprinted with different punctuation and without credit to the London Morning Post where the same notice had appeared on October 20, 1851, as reported here on Melvilliana: 

  • Melville is a star

"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. --as reprinted in the London Morning Herald, 3 November 1851. 

Transcribed below is the later, longer review of Melville's Whale that appeared in the London Morning Herald on November 17, 1851. I'm adding this also to the tally of favorable reviews in the Melvilliana post



The Whale. By Herman Melville, Author of “Typee,” &c. Three Vols. Richard Bentley.— 
In this novel Mr. Melville has exceeded what he has hitherto written, in all that regards the conception of the plot and the drawing of the characters. The hardships and perils of the whale fishery are delineated with much detail, and all the appearance of rigid truth; indeed it is difficult to conceive that an author could give so minute and exact a description of this hazardous calling unless he had acted a part in the scenes he so vividly paints. To constitute a novel, a connected plot, contrast of character, and situations more or less striking are required, and, though it must be allowed that the greater portion of these volumes is occupied with didactic and scientific matter, yet this is so interwoven with a romantic story that all readers are likely to take a strong interest in it. The principal character is that of the captain, an old weather-beaten whaler. The points in his peculiar disposition are strongly painted. He is afflicted with a species of monomania, and having lost one of his legs in a conflict with a white whale of enormous size and tremendous power, he registers a vow of vengeance against this particular fish, which thus
“Was doomed to death, but fated not to die.”
In the pursuit of this absurd species of vengeance, the captain, Ahab, at length meets with his old antagonist, well known from its having “a milky white head and hump, all crows feet and wrinkles, and harpoons sticking in near his starboard fin.” He encounters this formidable enemy, and loses his life in the attack, and the whale, after staving in the bows of the ship, escapes, leaving the vessel to founder at sea with all hands. 
Such is a rough outline of the main incident of this remarkable novel, which, though based on an improbability, is nevertheless read with great delight. There is a certain wild grandeur in the arrangements of the actors and accessories, a great vigour in the delineation of character, and the language throughout is forcible, though sometimes a little inflated, and sometimes descending rather too much into technicality. There are several animated descriptions, among which may be particularly mentioned the accounts of New Bedford and Nantucket, the shipping of the hands on board the Pelog, several engagements with the whales, and an amazingly effective scene of a storm at sea with lightning. The novel is unquestionably the production of no ordinary mind.
--London Morning Herald, 17 November 1851; digitized in June 2021 and accessible on The British Newspaper Archive. https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/

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