Abstract

This essay announces the discovery of Herman Melville’s erased annotation in Elizabeth Shaw Melville’s copy of the six-volume Works of William E. Channing, as well as the presence of hundreds of unattributed markings in this set, some of which may be in Herman’s hand. It describes the collaborative process of recovering the four-line erased annotation, in which Melville challenges Channing’s argument in “The Evidences of Revealed Religion” that Jesus’s obscure origins, followed by his unlikely success at founding a world religion, point to his divine mission; Melville queries whether one might make the same point about “Mahomet,” who after age 40 began to preach his “Gospel.” This essay argues that Melville’s perception of Muhammad’s obscure background, unsupported by the biographical information in previously identified sources for his knowledge of Muhammad, is traceable to his 1849 reading of the entry on “Mahomet” in Pierre Bayle’s Historical and Critical Dictionary, presented here as a new source for his understanding of Islam. Melville may have erased this annotation himself after reading in 1850 Thomas Carlyle’s On Heroes (1841) or Washington Irving’s Mahomet and His Successors (1850), both of which emphasize Muhammad’s high rank and early advantages. This possible self-editing invites scholars to rethink erasures and excisions elsewhere in Melville’s library.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1750-1849
Print ISSN
1525-6995
Pages
pp. 74-88
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-20
Open Access
No
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