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Melville’s Hand: Studies in Manuscript and Interpretation In Behalf of “Dearth” ROBERT MILDER Washington University, St. Louis n her review of the Northwestern-Newberry edition of CZavel, Shirley M. Dettlaff remarked on the editors’ substitution of the word “death” for the I1876Putnam edition’s “dearth”in Part I, Canto 28 (“Tomband Fountain”) in which Melville physically and morally sets the scene for his introduction of Vine.’ Exploring Jerusalem and its environs, Clarel and Nehemiah ... were one mild morning led Out to a waste where beauty clings, Vining a grot how doubly dead: The rifled Sepulcherof Kings. Hewn from the rock a sunken space Conducts to garlands-fit for vase In sculptured frieze above a tomb: Palm leaves,pine apples, grapes. These bloom, Involved in death -to puzzle us As ‘twerethy line, Theocritus, DarkJoel’s text of terror threading:...z Dettlaff finds the Northwestern-Newberryeditors’decision “debatable”and wishes they had included a discussion specifying their reasons for the change (Dettlaff, 13). In lieu of a survivingmanuscript, the Putnam edition servesas the copy-textfor Northwestern-NewberryClarel; “theprincipal sourcesfor emendation [are] Melville’s annotated copy” of the poem (NN Clarel 677)-which includes “some forty possible textual corrections and revisions” (849), most of them minor but a few of interpretive significance -and the editors’reading of the Putnam text for “eitherobviousmistakessuch as typographicalerrors or less obvious mistakes o f whatever origin that are recognized when the sense ofa passage is carefully considered (681; emphasis mine). This second class of “mistakes” requires editors to decide which of alternative possibilities seems most consonant with Melville’sprobable intention (676), a criticaljudgment that depends not only on the editors’understanding of a particular passagebut on their appre1 Shirley M. Dettlaff. Rev, of Clarel:A Poem and Pilgrimage, Melville Society Extracts 94 (1993): 13. I would like to thank John Bryant, Walter E. Bezanson, and Gail Milder for their astute criticism of early drafts of this article. 2 Herman Melville, Clarel: A Poem and Pilgrimage in the Holy Land, ed. Hamson Hayford, Alma A. MacDougall, Hershel Parker, and G. Thomas Tanselle (Evanston and Chicago: Northwestern University Press and The Newbeny Library, 1991),1.28. 21-31.Hereafter cited in the text as NN Clare[. L E VI AT 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 S6 3 R O B E R T M I L D E R hension of the poem as a whole and, in some cases, on their feelingfor the entire Melvilleancontext as it implies an interpretive gestalt. Melville read the Putnam sheets meticulously enough to alter “dented plate” to “dinted plate” (NNClarel 856), but he made no annotation beside the above-quoted Sepulcher of Kings passage. In emending “dearth” to “death,” the NN editors grouped “dearth”with “errors”such as “Then”for “Than”and “rear-wall’’ for “rear-ward’’ that “most likely arose from a misreading of Melville’s hand” (684); they treated the word, that is, as an “accidental” (a freak of spelling or mistranscription) without considering that it might be a “substantive”with contextual propriety of its own. Yet unlike most corrected errors in the text, which “cannot be the [readings] Melville intended” (681), “dearth” quite plausibly could have been Melville’s choice. The contrast between “death” and “bloom” three words earlier is appropriate for sculpted flora on a tomb, but “dearth”with “bloom”is also apt and therefore “possible,” as Dettlaff observes, so far as it echoes the phrase “a waste where beauty clings” (Dettlaff,13).Both words fit nicely: Vine is an attractive but austere figure , voyeuristically aloof from others and spiritually atrophied; he is also, despite his air of distinction and elusive charm, a squandered human being whose immense talents have been realized only in the cool perfection of an aesthetic pose. As evocations of Vine’s character, the two words “death” and “dearth”overlap and seem almost to converge; the difference is that “dearth” applies less obviously to a tomb and therefore directs our attention toward Vine himself, who it intimates is barren.3 The distinction is important because Melville is concerned not only with...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1750-1849
Print ISSN
1525-6995
Pages
pp. 63-69
Launched on MUSE
2013-05-29
Open Access
No
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