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Finding an Audience for Clarel in Matthew Arnold’s Essuys in Criticism PETER NORBERG SaintJoseph’s University elville read extensively in Matthew Arnold‘s writings before, during, and even after the composition of Clarel (1876). Walter Bezanson Mprovides a detailed analysis of Melville’s reading of Poems (in 1862) and New Poems (in 1871), arguing that Melville “took Arnold to be his most serious poetic contemporary”1Shirley Dettlaff observes that Arnold’s criticism was an equally significant source for Clarel.2 Melville continued to purchase and annotate Arnold: an 1881edition of Literature and Dogma and 1883editions of Culture and Anarch-y and Mixed Essays.3 But despite the work of Bezanson and Dettlaff, the exact nature and extent of Arnold’s influence on Clarel remains uncertain. Dettlaff suggests that “rather than being influenced by Arnold, Melvillewas inspired by Amold’supdating of the then old German dichotomy between Hellenic and Hebraic worldviews to present his own modification of it in Clarel” (“Hebraism,” 198). She sees Melville as striving to achieve a synthesis of the competing Hebraic and Hellenic impulses in human nature that is markedly different from that proposed by Arnold. “Unlike Matthew Arnold’s synthesis,” which she characterizes as “a movement away from the extremes toward the middle,” Dettlaff claims that “Melville’smore heroic ideal requires an experience and balancing of the opposite extremes” (203). She further distances Melville from Arnold by associating Arnold’s “Hellenic latitudinarianism” with “Derwent’s rather mindless, superficial attempt to achieve a middle way” (203). Melville read Arnolds criticism carefully ,but for Dettlaff it provided him with source material, not creative insight into the function of poetry. Bezanson finds a similar ambivalence in Melville’s response to Arnold’s ’ Walter Bezanson, “Historical Note” in Clarel: A Poem and Pilgrimage in the Hol-y Land, ed. Harrison Hayford, Alma A. MacDougall, Hershel Parker, and G. Thomas Tanselle (Evanston and Chicago: Northwestern University Press and The Newberry Library, 1991). 527; hereafter cited in the text as NN Clarel. Melville’s copies of Arnold are listed in Merton M. Sealts, Jr., MefvifleS Reading (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1988),nos. 21, 20, p. 151. * Shirley M. Dettlaff, “Counter Natures in Mankind: Hebraism and Hellenism in Clarel,” in Melville’sEvermovingDawn: Centennial Essays, ed.John Bryant and Robert Milder (Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1997), 198; “Melville’sAesthetics,” in A Companion to Melville Studies, ed. John Bryant (Westport, CT : Greenwood, 1986), 625-665; “lonian Form and Esau’s Waste: Melville’sView of Art in Clarel,”American Literature 54 (May): 212-228. Merton Sealts, Melville% Reading, nos. 16, 18,and 19. 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 3 5 P E T E R N O R B E R G poetry. He suggests that Melville’s choice of meter for Clarel may have been influenced by Arnolds “Resignation. To Fausta,” or possibly, by a passage in “Empedocleson Etna,”- Callicles’song on the Centaur and Achilles-which Bezanson states “exactly duplicates the prosodic form of Clarel in its irregularly rhyming tetrameters.”) He also argues that “Stanzas from the Grande Chartreuse” “anticipateClarel in general theme, kinds of events, typical vocabulary , technical devices, and rhythmic pattern” (“Reading,”390). Nonetheless, Bezanson concludes that Melville “did not ask or allow Arnold to reshape his personal philosophy” (391). Through a close reading of Melville’s scorings and annotations to a number of poems, including “Obermann,” “Heine’sGrave,” and “Obermann Once More,” he asserts that Melville “respond[ed] to an ascetic ideal rather than a ‘positivevision”’ in his reading of Arnolds poetry (388).5 For Bezanson, as for Dettlaff, Melville came to Arnold with a fully developed philosophy of art and read primarily with an eye to matters of thematic arrangement and poetic technique. However, we do not need to consider Melville’sphilosophy “reshaped” in order to believe that his reading of Arnolds poetry and criticism significantly influenced his conception of Clarel. Hershel Parker writes that, when he purchased his copy of Poems in 1862,Melville found in Arnold “a contemporary whom he could respect (on the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1750-1849
Print ISSN
1525-6995
Pages
pp. 35-54
Launched on MUSE
2013-05-29
Open Access
No
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