Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Project MUSE - Herman Melville's Love Letters

My favorite sentence in this 2018 article by Jordan Alexander Stein is the one showing he had not read either volume of Hershel Parker's magnificent Herman Melville: A Biography. Published in 1996 and 2002 by Johns Hopkins University Press--also, ironically, the publisher of ELH where Stein's essay on "Herman Melville's Love Letters" appeared:

Project MUSE - Herman Melville's Love Letters

"Likewise, as patient an archival scholar as Hershel Parker concludes the first volume of his exhaustive Melville biography with the unverifiable assertion that the day on which Melville received Hawthorne's letter "was the happiest day of Melville's life." 

ELH  Volume 85, Number 1, Spring 2018 pages 122-3, citing "Hershel Parker, Herman Melville, A Biography: Volume 1, 1819–1851 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1996), 883."

Hahahaha 😂😂😂 

The cited page is the last in Volume 1 of Parker's biography. There Parker brings chapter 40, "Melville in Triumph," to a thrilling close with Melville's "farewell gift" of Moby-Dick to its dedicatee in what Parker has believably re-created as a private, self-funded "publication party" with Nathaniel Hawthorne as the "solitary guest" (page 879). 

Hawthorne had not even read the book, so there was no letter of praise yet for Melville to receive and get happy about.

For Parker's estimation of the lost letter from Hawthorne, and finely stated appreciation of Melville's ecstatic reply (with due attention to allusions and metaphors, the figurative as well as the literal sense of Melville's reported words) you only have to open Volume 2 and follow along for five pages or so, starting on page three. That is, Parker's extensive treatment of this particular "love letter" from Herman Melville appears right where you would expect it, early in the first chapter of the next volume. 

By saddling Melville's best biographer with an "unverifiable assertion" he never offered, Jordan Alexander Stein demonstrated convincingly (back in 2018) that he had not read either volume of Parker's work. What made Herman Melville "happiest" according to Parker was the inscribing and then physically giving of something truly great to his friend. Getting Hawthorne's letter afterward was wonderful, too, "joy-giving and exultation-breeding" as Melville told him. But the joy of bestowing Moby-Dick to the fellow-man he wrote it for surpassed even that, says Parker.

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