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From “Myth” to “Mystery”: An Emendation of The Confidence-Man JONATHAN A. COOK Washington DC he fourth paragraph of the first chapter of The Confidence-Man (1857) consists of a long sentence characterizing the crowd on the Fidele that Tgathers to look at a “wanted”notice offering a reward for the apprehension of a “mysteriousimposter” (i.e., the Confidence Man). The sentence reads: As if it had been a theatre-bill, crowds were gathered about the announcement, and among them certain chevaliers, whose eyes, it was plain, were on the capitals, or, at least, earnestly seeking sight of them from behind intervening coats; but as for their fingers, they were enveloped in some myth; though, during a chance interval, one of these chevaliers somewhat showed his hand in purchasing from another chevalier, ex-officio a peddler of money-belts, one of his popular safe-guards, while another peddler, who was still another versatile chevalier, hawked, in the thick of the throng, the lives of Meason, the bandit of Ohio, Murrel, the pirate of the Mississippi, and the brothers Harpe, the Thugs of the Green River country, in Kentucky -creatures, with others of the sort, one and all exterminated at the time, and for the most part, like the hunted generations of wolves in the same regions, leaving comparatively few successors; which would seem cause for unalloyed gratulation, and is such to all except those who think that in new countries, where the wolves are killed off, the foxes increase.’ The word “myth” in the second independent clause above represents perhaps the most conspicuous remaining verbal crux in this most baffling and beguiling of Melville’s fictions. As the editors of the Northwestern-Newberry edition have noted, the word “is so hard to interpret satisfactorily in the context as to suggest that it was miscopied from Melville’smanuscript” (NNCM 376). In his 1971Norton Critical Edition of the novel, Hershel Parker had similarly asserted : “This peculiar use of myth is probably not what Melville wrote.”*The text of the first American edition of The Confidence-Man, the basis for the simulta- ’Herman Melville, The Confidence-Man: H i s Masquerade, ed. Harrison Hayford, Hershel Parker, and G. Thomas Tanselle (Evanston and Chicago: Northwestern University Press and The Newberry Library, 1984), pp, 3-4, my emphasis. Subsequent citations to this text appear parenthetically as NN CM. 2The Confidence-Man, ed. Parker (New York: Norton, 1971), p. 1. In his 1970 dissertation [Mel. A J O U R N A L O F M E L V I L L ES T U D I E S 7 3 J O N A T H A N A . C O O K neously published English edition, was in fact plagued with a host of typographical errors and textual incongruities (most of which have sincebeen corrected ), the result of Melville’s disengagement from the publication process due to his long trip to Europe and the Levant from October 1856to May 1857. As a solution to this verbal crux, I propose that Melville in all likelihood wrote “mystery” and that the word in Melville’shand may have been mistaken for “myth”by his sister Augusta, who acted as Melville’s copyist during composition of the novel. Moreover, this probable mistake was not rectified by Melville’s brother Allan, who was responsible for correcting proof for the American edition published by Dix, Edwards Q Co. on April 1,1857.Why this and other errors were not eliminated before publication is impossible to determine from the evidence now available.3 Unfortunately, no manuscript version of the lines containing the word that appears to be “myth” survives, so we cannot determine the actual text through a direct inspection of the handwritten word Melville wrote. Nevertheless, a good case can be made that “myth” should be read as “mystery .”To be a viable alternative, the word replacing “myth”needs to meet four criteria. First, it should convey the idea of obscurity or invisibility. Second, it should offer some basic chirographic resemblance to “myth for the mistake originally to have occurred. Third, it should be stylistically suited to its immediate phrasal context. Fourth, it should contribute to the larger semantic and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1750-1849
Print ISSN
1525-6995
Pages
pp. 73-78
Launched on MUSE
2013-05-29
Open Access
No
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