Hawthorne in Salem Search Hawthorne in Salem





Facebook Page
[Home]  

EXCERPTS FROM: "HAWTHORNE AND MELVILLE" LECTURE BY DAVID B.KESTERSON

Excerpts from the Lecture "Hawthorne and Melville" by David B. Kesterson, from the section: Literary Interaction and Influences: Melville's Reviews of Hawthorne's Works. Delivered in Salem, Massachusetts, September 23, 2000 Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum

As I said earlier, in that same seminal August of 1850 when Hawthorne and Melville first met on the trek up Monument Mountain and a slide through the Ice Glen, Melville published his two-part review of Mosses from an Old Manse in Evert Duyckinck's Literary World, the piece appearing in the August 17 and 24 issues. True, the book had been published four years earlier and Melville had been given a gift copy of it by his Aunt Mary Ann Melville on July 18, 1850 (Parker, HM, 736); but it appeared not too late to Melville to write the review. What emerged in his review was a major analysis of Hawthorne, of the state of American writing to date (with a hearty dose of American literary nationalism tossed in for measure) and of the talents of Melville himself. But our emphasis here is on Hawthorne. What did Melville think of Hawthorne as revealed in Mosses?

Melville says in the review that "for four years the Mosses on the Old Manse never refreshed me with their perennial green. It may be, however, that all this while the book, like wine, was only improving in flavor and body" (240). As the so-called Southerner sojourning in Vermont begins the book "stretched on that new mown clover, the hill-side breeze blowing over me through the wide barn-door, and soothed by the hum of the bees in the meadows around, how magically stole over me this Mossy Man!. . . The soft ravishments of the man spun me round about in a web of dreams" (241). He extols Hawthorne's nature and spirit evinced in the tales, which "argue such a depth of tenderness, such a boundless sympathy with all forms of being, such an omnipresent love, that we must needs say that this Hawthorne is here almost alone in his generation" (242--notice he says "almost alone," leaving room for Mellville's own eminence too!). He says that Hawthorne has "a great, deep intellect, which drops down into the universe like a plummet" (242). Then Melville moves to the subject that "so fixes and fascinates" him--the blackness in Hawthorne (244). "For spite of all the Indian-summer sunlight on the hither side of Hawthorne's soul, the other side--like the dark half of the physical sphere--is shrouded in a blackness, ten times black" (243). Pondering the source of this blackness, Melville postulates that "this great power of blackness in him derives its force from its appeal to that Calvinistic sense of Innate Depravity and Original Sin, from whose visitations, in some shape or other, no deeply thinking mind is always and wholly free. For, in certain moods, no man can weigh this world without throwing in something, somehow like Original Sin, to strike the uneven balance" (243). It is this very blackness that "furnishes the infinite obscure of his back-ground,--that back-ground, against which Shakspeare plays his grandest conceits, the things that have made for Shakspeare his loftiest but most circumscribed renown, as the profoundest of thinkers" (244). Melville goes on to compare to Hawthorne to Shakespeare, saying, "Shakespeare has been approached." "Now, I do not say that Nathaniel of Salem is a greater than William of Avon, or as great. But the difference between the two men is by no means immeasurable. Not a very great deal more, and Nathaniel were verily William" (245). Fictionally taking an overnight break before finishing his review, he returns to it the next morning "charged more and more with love and admiration of Hawthorne" (250). Then in the famous and suggestive panegyric, Melville writes that "already I feel that this Hawthorne has dropped germinous seeds into my soul. He expands and deepens down, the more I contemplate him; and further and further, shoots his strong New England roots in the hot soil of my Southern soul" (250).

A year and a half after writing the review of Mosses, Melville mentions in a letter to Evert Duyckinck (12 February 1851) that he has recently read Twice-Told Tales, having read "but a few of them before." Melville believes they "exceed the 'Mosses' --they are, I fancy, an earlier vintage from his vine. Some of those sketches are wonderfully subtle. Their deeper meanings are worthy of a Brahmin" (M Corresp, 18l). However, for the first time Melville finds some failing in Hawthorne's writing: "Still there is something lacking--good deal lacking--to the plump sphericity of the man. What is that? He does'nt [sic] patronize the butcher--he needs roast-beef, done rare. - Nevertheless, for one, I regard Hawthorne (in his books) as evincing a quality of genius, immensely loftier, & more profound, too, than any other American has shown hitherto in the printed form. Irving is a grasshopper to him--putting the souls of the two men together, I mean" (181).

If Melville was supposedly introduced to the works of Hawthorne via Mosses (though we know that not to be the case), he was equally impressed with both The House of the Seven Gables, and The Blithedale Romance, published in 1851 and 1852 respectively, after Melville and Hawthorne had become acquainted. Hawthorne presented Melville with a personal copy of Seven Gables when Melville called at the red house in Lenox on April 11, 1851, and five days later Melville wrote Hawthorne a letter in the form of a book review. Melville finds that this novel, "for pleasantness of running interest, surpasses the other works of the author. The curtains are more drawn; the sun comes in more; genialities peep out more" (M Corresp, 185). He recognizes the power in Hawthorne and, again, the depth and ambiguity, comparing the book to a "fine old chamber, with comfortable furnishings and good wine and food, with a "dark little black-letter volume in golden clasps" in one corner "entitled 'Hawthorne: A Problem'"(185). He concludes that "There is the grand truth about Nathaniel Hawthorne. He says NO! in thunder; but the Devil himself cannot make him say yes" (M Corresp, 186). As Turner has observed, these words "were struck from the same mind that at the time was creating Captain Ahab of the Pequod" (Turner, NH, 217). We shall look further at Hawthorne's influence on Moby-Dick momentarily.

Of The Blithedale Romance , Melville wrote Hawthorne on July 17, 1852, that the "name of 'Hawthorne' seems to be ubiquitous," what with the new book appearing everywhere and of its being much talked of. To him this is natural: "Well, the Hawthorne is a sweet flower; may it flourish in every hedge" (M Corresp, 230). While Melville has only begun to read Blithedale, he deems it sufficient to find that Hawthorne has "most admirably employed materials which are richer than I had fancied them." And then, with a comment on the times, he concludes, "Especially at this day, the volume is welcome, as an antidote to the mooniness of some dreamers--who are merely dreamers--------Yet, who the devel aint a dreamer?" (M Corresp, 231). (Obviously, Melville's sentiments towards the novel were not the same as those eventually held by its publishers. James T. Fields, disenchanted with its lack of popularity, wrote to a friend, "I hope Hawthorne will give us no more Blithedales" (BR, Centenary Ed., III, xxii).

Hawthorne's Commentary on Melville's Works

When it comes to Hawthorne's commentary of Melville's works, the record is much sparser. The older writer's natural reticence, of course, would have prevented the kind of effusive remarks characteristic of Melville's responses to Hawthorne's writings. Further, Hawthorne was more formal and succinct in his written opinions. Nevertheless, there are a number of instances where Hawthorne did comment on Melville as writer. The first was in a review of Typee, published anonymously in the Salem Advertiser for March 25, 1846. Duyckinck had sent it to Hawthorne for review somewhat apologetically, referring to the book as "a Frenchy coloured picture"(Parker, HM, 412). However, Hawthorne liked the book, observing that it "is lightly but vigorously written; and we are acquainted with no work that gives a freer and more effective picture of barbarian life, in that unadulterated state of which there are now so few specimens remaining" (CE, XXIII, 235). Of the sensual depiction of Polynesian girls, Hawthorne admits that they are "voluptuously colored, yet not more so than the exigencies of the subject appear to require." Moreover, he points out that Melville has "that freedom of view--it would be too harsh to call it laxity of principle--which renders him tolerant of codes of morals that may be little in accordance with our own; a spirit proper enough to a young and adventurous sailor, and which makes the book the more wholesome to our staid landsmen" (235-36). Hawthorne concludes that "the narrative is skillfully managed, and in a literary point of view, the execution of the work is worthy of the novelty and interest of its subject" (236).

Hawthorne's references to Typee's immediate successors appear four years later in a letter to Evert Duyckinck on August 29, 1850, the month when the two men first met on the Monument Mountain excursion. Hawthorne tells Duyckinck that he has "read Melville's works with a progressive appreciation of the author. No writer ever put the reality before his reader more unflinchingly than he does in 'Redburn,' and 'White Jacket.' 'Mardi' is a rich book, with depths here and there that compel a man to swim for his life. It is so good that one scarcely pardons the writer for not having brooded long over it, so as to make it a great deal better" (which is a kind way of stating the shortcomings of Mardi) (H Letters, 29 Aug 1850, XVI, 362).

When it came to the big book, Moby-Dick, Hawthorne did not write a review, but again commented on it in his letters. To Duyckinck, on December 1, 1851, just one month after its American publication (It was first published in England in October under the title The Whale), Hawthorne writes, "What a book Melville has written! It gives me an idea of much greater power than his preceding ones. It hardly seemed to me that the review of it, in the Literary World, did justice to its best points" (H Letters, 508). [Duyckinck had written the review in Literary World (IX Nov. 15, 22, 1851; 381-83, 403-4. Rpt. In Hershel Parker and Harrison Hayford, eds., Moby-Dick as Doubloon: Essays and Extracts (1851-1870) (New York: W. W. Norton, 1970), 33-36, 49-52). "Melville was so offended by Duyckinck's sanctimonious view of 'the intense Captain Ahab' and the 'bilious,' 'self-torturing' Ishmael that on February 14, 1852, he canceled his subscription . . . and satirized Duyckinck in Pierre, Book XVII, chapter iii (H Letters, 508-09)]. Jay Leyda speculates that Hawthorne wrote Melville about November 15, 1851, giving his favorable impression of the book and offering to write a review (Melville Log, p. 434). Melville wrote back a few days later in a letter partially quoted above (the "pantheistic," "flagon of life" letter), admonishing, "Don't write a word about the book, That would be robbing me of my miserly delight. I am heartily sorry I ever wrote anything about you--it was paltry. Lord, when shall we be done growing? As long as we have anything more to do, we have done nothing. So, now, let us add Moby Dick to our blessing, and step from that. Leviathan is not the biggest fish;--I have heard of Krakens" (M Corresp, [17?] November, 1851, 213). Melville refers to Hawthorne's letter in correspondence to Sophia Hawthorne of January 8, 1852, saying that it was Hawthorne's letter that "first revealed to" him "the speciality of many of the particular subordinate allegories," and "intimated the part-&- parcel allegoricalness of the whole" (M Corresp, 219). In the same letter, by the way, Melville comments on a letter Sophia had written him on December 29, 1851, [a letter now lost] expressing her excitement over the novel. Melville writes, "It is true that some men have said they were pleased with it, but you are the only woman-or as a general thing, women have small taste for the sea" (2l9). He claims that her allusion to the "Spirit Spout" chapter "first showed to me that there was a subtile significance in that thing-but I did not, in that case, mean it. I had some vague idea while writing it, that the whole book was susceptible of an allegoric construction, & also that parts of it were. . ." (219).

The Influence of Hawthorne on Melville's Works

Hawthorne's influence on Melville as individual as well as writer was significant, far more so than any influence that in return Melville might have had on his Berkshire neighbor.

That influence is seen not only in such letters of Melville's that we have looked at above, but in a number of Melville's writings, especially Moby-Dick, Pierre, the long narrative poem Clarel, the story "The Bell-Tower," most likely the short poem "Monody," and Billy Budd, Sailor. But first of all, the leviathan, Moby-Dick.

To begin with, of course, there is the dedication of the book to Hawthorne, which reads, "To Nathaniel Hawthorne: In token of my admiration for his genius." We must remember that the novel was being written at the time when Hawthorne and Melville were neighbors in the Berkshires and Hawthorne's influence was so stongly felt by Melville. The facts and suppositions of the matter of Hawthorne's influence on the book are fascinating. And they go something like this: [I am in debt to Arlin Turner, NH; Edwin Haviland Miller, M; and especially Howard P. Vincent's The Trying-Out of Moby Dick for details of the compositional details of Moby-Dick). By the middle of July, 1850, --in other words, one month before meeting Hawthorne for the first time-- Melville's book, which seemingly was primarily a whaling voyage, was "in sight of port" (Vincent 35). Then Melville read Mosses from an Old Manse, wrote his famous essay on Hawthorne's book for Literary World, met Hawthorne on the Monument Mountain excursion, and --with Hawthorne as his "magnet" (179), as Miller defines the beckoning, moved to the Berkshires in early fall. Reading and writing the review of Mosses, afterward reading Twice-Told Tales, and becoming acquainted with Hawthorne provided "reinforcement," as Arlin Turner phrases it, "for his own sense of the 'blackness' in human nature" (217). We don't know just when Melville decided he had to recast his "whaling voyage," but apparently he began his revision in November, 1850, after he had bought Arrowhead in September and spent a month settling in. By December 12 he was hard at work on the revision. During mid winter, yes some four months after the "'whaling voyage' was 'mostly done,' Melville was working on his manuscript from five to six hours a day" (Vincent 41). He described his routine thusly:

Do you want to know how I pass my time?-I rise at eight-thereabouts--& go to my barn-say good-morning to the horse, & give him his breakfast. (It goes to my heart to give him a cold one, but it can't be helped) Then, pay a visit to my cow-cut up a pumpkin or two for her, & stand by to see her eat it-for it's a pleasant sight to see a cow move her jaws-she does it so mildly & with such sanctity.-My own breakfast over, I go to my work-room & light my fire-then spread my M.S.S. on the table-take one business squint at it, & fall to with a will. At 2 P.M. I hear a preconcerted knock at my door, which (by request) continues till I rise & go to the door, which serves to wean me effectively from my writing, however interested I may be (Vincent 42).

Since there is no Ur-Moby-Dick manuscript in existence, we can only guess what the original narrative was like. And here, again, it is Howard Vincent who hazards the most convincing guess. The plot was likely that of conflict between two men, an officer and a common sailor--probably manifest in the "Town-Ho's Story" chapter about the two crewman Steelkilt and Radney. Between August 1850 and August 1851 Melville would have added the major elements of the whale, Ahab, and Ishmael and turned the plot from an adventure story to "mythos" (Vincent 46-47). Probably the great whale entered the manuscript in March or April 1851 because in March Hawthorne gave Melville four volumes of The Mariner's Chronicle that contains stories of tragedy at sea, some involving whales. As Vincent says, "The gift suggests that Melville had discussed his plot problems with his friend and that Hawthorne had given his old volumes . . . in a helping spirit" (47). In reviewing the famous sea tragedies in these volumes, Melville read of the whaleship Essex disaster that involved the ramming and sinking of a whale ship by huge sperm whale in the Pacific Ocean. Melville pushed on with his writing all spring and summer-long during 1851 and at last had a manuscript ready by September, in time for the English edition of October 18 and the American edition of 14 November (Vincent 49).

The major occurrence in Melville's life, then, during the writing of Moby-Dick was the growing friendship with Nathaniel Hawthorne, "the one writer in America who had expressed the tragic point of view, which was deeply felt, but not hitherto declared, by Melville himself. Hawthorne was the catalyst speeding Melville's accumulated reflections into expression" (Vincent 50-51). We are reminded that throughout the fall and winter of 1850, and summer of 1851, Hawthorne and Melville were visiting and writing to each other. We recall Melville's letter to Hawthorne of June 29, 1851, when Melville invites Hawthorne to "Come and spend a day here, if you can and want to . . . . When I am quite free of my present engagements, I am going to treat myself to a ride and a visit to you. Have ready a bottle of brandy, because I always feel like drinking that heroic drink when we talk ontological heroics together" (M Corresp, 196). And indeed that visit of Melville to the little red farm house took place on August 1, 1851, Hawthorne encapsulating their conversation by writing in his journal: "Melville and I had a talk about time and eternity, things of this world and of the next, and books, and publishers, and all possible and impossible matters, that lasted pretty deep into the night . . . (Am NB, 448). Thus it seems more than clear, especially considering the dedication of the book, that Hawthorne the older friend left an indelible imprint on its composition.





Page citation: http://www.hawthorneinsalem.org/page/10452/


About US Privacy Policy Copyright Credits Site Map Site Help