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“ThouMan of the Evangelist”: Henry Cheever’sReview o f Typee RANDALL CLUFF SouthernVirginia College There was a spice of civil scepticism in your manner, My Dear Sir, when we were conversing together the other day about “Tpee”What will the politely incredulous Mr Duyckinck now say to the true Toby’s having turned up in Buffalo...vouching for the truth of all that part (what has been considered the most extraordinary part) of the narative, where he is made to figure.-Give ear then, oh ye of little faith-especially thou man of the EvangelistHerman Melville to Evert Duyckinck, 3July 18461 T ihe first American edition of Herman Melville’s first literary work, Tpee, was copyrighted and published by Wiley Q Putnam 17March 1846,and hit American bookstands a few days later.? The next day Evert Duyckinck, Wiley & Putnam’s architect and editor of the Library of American Books series in which Tyyee appeared, set the tone of most of the early reviews in an unsigned piece for the New York Morning News that declared, “Tyyee,in fact, is a happy hit whichever way you look at it, whether as travels, romance, poetry or humor. It has a sufficiency of all of these to be one of the most agreeable , readable books of the day”3 Duyckinck was half prophet: Qpee remained readable, but twenty-two days later on 9 April 1846, a reviewer for the New York Evangelist found Melville’sbook disagreeable indeed: If this not be sheer romance, (which there is reason to suspect,) it is the extremely exaggerated, but racily-written narrative of a forecastle runaway from an American whale ship.., . The book abounds in praises of the life of nature, alias savagism, and in slurs and flings against missionaries and civilization.When the author alludes to, or touches matters of life in the Sandwich Islands, he shows the sheerest ignorance, and utter disregard of truth.... We have long noted it as true in criticism, that what makes a large class of books bad, immoral, and consequently injurious, is not so 1 Herman Melville, Correspondence, ed. Lynn Horth (Evanston and Chicago: Northwestern University Press and The Newberry Library, 19931, p. 50. Leon Howard, “Historical Note,” in Herman Melville, Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life, ed. Harrison Hayford, Hershel Parker, and G. Thomas Tanselle (Evanston and Chicago: Northwestern University Press and The Newberry Library, 19681, p. 283. Subsequent references appear parenthetically in the text as NN Typee. 3 Brian Higgins and Hershel Parker, eds., Melville: The Contemporary Reviews, The American Critical Archives 6 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 19951, pp, 17-18. Subsequent references appear parenthetically in the text as Higgins and Parker. A J O U R N A L O F M E L V I L L E S T U D I E S 6 1 R A N D A L L C L U F F much what is plainly expressed,as what is left to be imagined by the reader.Apply this rule to the work in hand, and while everybodywill admit it is writtenwith an attractivevivacity,and (exceptwhere it palpably lies) with great good humor, it cannot escape severe condemnation . (Higgins and Parker 46) The potent influence reviews had on Melville and his work cannot be overstated.4The much-discussed Evangelist review is particularly important for a number of reasons. Melville’s shipmate, Richard Tobias (Toby) Greene, belatedly read the review and came forward to refute the critics attacking Melville’s veracity5 Moreover, at the time of Typee’s publication, the Evangelist had the largestcirculation of any religious weeklyin the country,and the reviewer’s opinion quickly gained currency and marked a decisive turning point in the reception of the book by American readers! The review must have stung Melville, judging by his July letter to Duyckinck in which he singles out the “man at the Evangelist” for comment (see epigraph). Finally, the Evangelist review “began a crusade against [Typee’s] condemnation of missionary activitiesin Hawaii” and “forcedMelville to agree to expurgate the American edition of Typee” (Higgins and Parker ix).Whether the Evangelistreviewwas the catalystthat initiatedJohn Wiley’s decision to expurgate the text or simply provided the justification the publisher...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1750-1849
Print ISSN
1525-6995
Pages
pp. 61-71
Launched on MUSE
2013-05-29
Open Access
No
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