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  • Raymond Weaver, Melville Revival Pioneer:An Annotated Checklist
  • Aimery de France Dunlap-Smith

The following checklist records the work of Raymond Melbourne Weaver (1888-1948), a professor and writer who in the 1920s and 1930s explored the life and art of Herman Melville (1819-1891). When Weaver undertook his research, Melville was almost three decades dead, and few outside literary and academic circles (and not many inside) read him. Weaver's explorations, particularly Herman Melville: Mariner and Mystic, his 1921 "pioneer biography" (Parker and Hayford 367)—not only the first book-length biography but also the first book of any kind about Melville—kindled a fire of popular interest in the author which became known as the Melville revival. Now, thanks to the revival and, in good part, to Weaver, Melville is ranked among America's greatest novelists and his masterpiece Moby-Dick (1851) among the world's greatest novels.

Weaver was an improbable Melville critic, let alone a pioneering one. An enthusiast of Renaissance literature, Weaver first came across Melville in 1909 when as a college junior he started reading Typee. He quickly found the work not to his taste, however, and "stopped at the beginning" (Weaver "Manuscript relating to Herman Melville"). It took a decade and some cajoling before he started reading Melville again.

By 1919 Weaver was a graduate student and teacher of English at Columbia University and a published magazine writer. That spring, at the English department's annual dinner, he found himself sitting next to his colleague Carl Van Doren, a young professor and the recently hired literary editor of The Nation. Unlike Weaver, Van Doren had devoured everything he could find by Melville after having read him for the first time some years earlier. He then wrote the article and compiled the bibliography for the Melville section of a chapter in the first volume of The Cambridge History of American Literature (1917), which he helped edit. Now, two years later, with Melville's centennial birthday just months away, Van Doren was seizing an opportunity to spread the word about this little-known and underappreciated author by commissioning a celebratory essay. And he wanted Raymond Weaver to write it.

Beyond his qualifications as both student of literature and journalist, Weaver seemed to Van Doren the right man for the job because of "his ability [End Page 63] to deal with a speculative subject" (Van Doren 22). So Van Doren proposed the project, and Weaver responded coolly. But Van Doren persisted and thawed Weaver's reservations with the fire of his "indignation, his bafflement, at the patronizing neglect into which Melville's name had fallen" (Weaver "Mumford Sees"). It helped Van Doren, too, that Weaver had reckoned this project as "child's play," merely "a day's job."

Weaver headed to Columbia's main library assuming Melville's literary oeuvre was small because his literary reputation was small and that it would, therefore, take no time to read. He also assumed he would find a mine of Melville information to quarry for his essay because even small authors could inspire big biographies. Once at the library, however, Weaver discovered he was wrong: Melville had written a great deal, yet his extensive oeuvre had not elicited a biography; in fact, to Weaver's bewilderment, it had hardly elicited anything at all.1 As he searched for answers, the Melville mystery only deepened, deepening Weaver's fascination with it. Even before his essay ran in the 2 August 1919 number of The Nation [see 10], Weaver had decided to pursue the elusive Melville and write the author's missing biography—a decision that helped launch the Melville revival.

In citing works in this checklist, I have not repeated Weaver's or Melville's name unless it appears misspelled in the original (as in item 1). Annotations of a cited work may consist of editorial commentary and / or a paraphrase of the item's argument. If offered, editorial commentary precedes the paraphrase and appears indented. In paraphrasing Weaver's arguments, I have not corrected Weaver's facts, dates, spellings, or book titles but have transcribed them as they were printed; hence, for example, the variable spelling of Moby-Dick...


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