- From the Mast-Head
With a special section in this second “Melville at 200” issue, we honor the achievement of The Writings of Herman Melville, published by Northwestern University Press and the Newberry Library, a monumental project to make available a complete scholarly edition of Melville’s work. The effort began in 1965, under the direction of Northwestern University professor Harrison Hayford, and concluded in 15 volumes with the publication in 2017 of “Billy Budd, Sailor” and Other Uncompleted Writings. For the first time, readers now have access to meticulously prepared texts of Melville’s published and unpublished writings, edited according to guidelines established by the MLA’s Center for Editions of American Authors, along with indispensable historical notes, textual notes, and related documents. Whatever our critical and readerly investments, whatever necessary debates have arisen about editorial principles and choices, all who value Melville’s texts are in debt to the expertise and devotion of Harrison Hayford (who served as General Editor until his death in 2001), Hershel Parker (Associate General Editor from 1965 to 2001 and then General Editor from 2001 to 2017), G. Thomas Tanselle (Bibliographical Editor from 1965 to 2017), and their collaborating editors and scholars. Such editorial and contextual work, sometimes taken for granted, provides the foundation for the literary critical enterprise.
To acknowledge the project’s completion, we invited participants to reflect on their experience and on the aims and value of the undertaking. The special section includes six contributions by Parker, Tanselle, Dennis Berthold, Alma A. MacDougall, Robert D. Madison, and Robert A. Sandberg. Tanselle also has supplied an introductory “Brief History of the Northwestern-Newberry Edition.” Contributors offer an inside view of why, how, where, and with whom the work on The Writings of Herman Melville was done. Across the special section, the figure of Harrison Hayford is palpable: as General Editor for the first 13 volumes in the series (credit is also given to him for his editorial contributions to the final two volumes, published after his death) and also as dissertation director, mentor, colleague, friend, and book collector.
On April 6, 2019, I had the pleasure of attending “Making Melville Legible,” a symposium held at the Newberry Library in Chicago to acknowledge the completion of the Northwestern-Newberry Edition. Presentations were given by, among others, G. Thomas Tanselle, the project’s Bibliographical Editor for [End Page 1] its entire run; Alma A. MacDougall, Editorial Coordinator from 1981 to 2008 and then Executive Editor from 2009 to 2017; and John Bryant, Editor of the Melville Electronic Library. April 6 was also the last day of the superb “Melville: Finding America at Sea” exhibit on Melville’s career, life, and times, curated by Will Hansen of the Newberry (see Fig. 1). Fittingly, part of the exhibition space was once the Newberry’s Melville Room, in which editors and researchers labored during an early phase of the Northwestern-Newberry project. One of the display cases in the exhibit showcased items associated with The Writings of Herman Melville, including a prospectus and Harrison Hayford’s funding proposal (see Figs. 2 and 3).
With the copestone now in place for The Writings of Herman Melville, the mandate, as General Editor Hershel Parker puts it in his contribution to the special section, has been fulfilled. With the closing flourish of Melville’s “Cetology” chapter in mind, we might appreciate the “Time, Strength, Cash, and Patience” it has taken to complete this scholarly Cathedral of Cologne.
This issue of Leviathan also contains three essays analyzing from different perspectives the Melville book that continues to be the focus for a wider reading public and for the academy, transformed by critical and theoretical developments and in turn challenging its interpreters: the “hypercanonical” (Jerome McGann’s phrase in his essay for this issue) Moby-Dick; or, The Whale. In “The Great Final Hash of Moby-Dick,” McGann draws attention away from the cynosures Ahab and Ishmael, marking out their narrative functions and the limits of their perspectives. McGann’s Moby-Dick is a texture of parodies (he attends specifically to the Bible and to Byron), distinguished by parataxis and discontinuity, an expansive meditation on failure. “In Navigating Dualisms...