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Melville’s Mosses Review and the Proclamation of Hawthorne as America’s Literary Messiah JONATHAN A. COOK Notre Dame Academy / Lord Fairfax Community College T he Melville-Hawthorne friendship has long fascinated critics and biographers of both authors, as well as anyone interested in the history of American literature.1 After Shakespeare and the Bible, Hawthorne as both man and literary artist had perhaps the greatest influence on Melville’s writing, leaving a distinctive imprint on his plots, themes, characterizations , and symbols from Moby-Dick through Clarel and beyond. For Melville, Hawthorne’s writing possessed a transcendent value, while his friendship had a sacramental quality—a communion-like brotherhood—that formed part of Melville’s ongoing creative revaluation of Christianity. The signs of this underlying agenda are evident in Melville’s celebrated, pseudonymous review of Hawthorne’s Mosses from an Old Manse, published in two installments in Evert Duyckinck’s Literary World on August 17 and 24, 1850, and in the surviving correspondence from Melville to Hawthorne, in which the younger author frequently expresses his “infinite fraternity of feeling” with his older, New England contemporary.2 The secularized Christian motifs present in Melville’s Mosses review provide an overlooked context for understanding Melville’s quasi-deification of C  2008 The Authors Journal compilation C  2008 The Melville Society and Wiley Periodicals, Inc. 1 An essential guide to the scholarly literature on the Melville-Hawthorne relationship (through the early 1990’s) is James C. Wilson, ed., The Hawthorne and Melville Friendship: An Annotated Bibliography, Biographical and Critical Essays, and Correspondence Between the Two (Jeffersonville, NC: McFarland, 1991). See also David Laskin, A Common Life: Four Generations of American Literary Friendship and Influence (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994), 25-94. My overview of the friendship, together with commentary on Melville’s annotations to Hawthorne’s Mosses from an Old Manse, is available at Melville’s Marginalia Online, ed. Steven Olsen-Smith, Peter Norberg, and Dennis C. Marnon, http://www.boisestate.edu/melville. 2 Herman Melville, Correspondence, ed. Lynn Horth (Evanston and Chicago: Northwestern University Press and The Newberry Library, 1993), 213; hereafter cited as NN Correspondence. On the circumstances surrounding Melville’s Mosses review, see Hershel Parker, Herman Melville: A Biography: Volume 1, 1819-1850 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996), Chs. 35 and 36. 62 L E V I A T H A N 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 H A W T H O R N E A S L I T E R A R Y M E S S I A H Hawthorne as a writer in 1850.3 In this note, I argue that in his review Melville assumes the role of a critical St. Paul to proclaim Hawthorne as America’s long-awaited literary messiah. Moreover, Melville’s pseudonymous “Virginian” frames the essay as a kind of literary conversion experience, comparable to the well-known conversion of Saul to Paul on the road to Damascus. As variously described in Acts 9, 22, and 26, Saul is struck to the ground by a light from heaven and hears the disembodied voice of Christ, which is followed by a period of temporary blindness, a new name, and baptism as a Christian.4 By re-examining the Mosses essay in this New Testament context, we may gain additional insight into Melville’s enthusiastic initial response to Hawthorne, and his ongoing creative interaction with Hawthorne’s writing. Melville’s Mosses review famously posits an interrelation between Hawthorne, Shakespeare, and the Bible.5 In comparing Hawthorne to Shakespeare as purveyor of a subversive “truth,” Melville allies Hawthorne’s depiction of the “power of blackness,” or the pervasiveness of evil, with the dark moral insights of Shakespearean tragedy. On the other hand, he attributes Hawthorne’s brooding sense of evil to the author’s conscious employment of the Calvinist and Augustinian concepts of innate depravity and original sin, which trace their origin to Paul and the myth of the Fall derived from Genesis. Because of his profound moral and psychological insights, which approximated 3 Marvin Fisher, who presents one of the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1750-1849
Print ISSN
1525-6995
Pages
pp. 62-70
Launched on MUSE
2013-05-29
Open Access
No
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