- “The old ichor stirring in my veins”: Harrison Hayford and the Burgundy Club Manuscripts
In the time before databases, my early interest in the picturesque drove me to record manually every instance of the term that occurred in my reading, even though nothing much came of that tedious effort. I had already purchased a subscription to the Northwestern-Newberry editions of Melville’s writings in 1968, the first year they were available, and as my pursuit of the picturesque continued during the 1970s, I submitted those ivory-bound paperbacks to the same painstaking treatment. Not until I stumbled upon the unpublished poems “At the Hostelry” and “Naples in the Time of Bomba” in the Constable edition did I realize just how deeply Melville had dived into picturesque theory by creating a cadre of painters arguing about the merits of the aesthetic. Teased by the poems’ rich allusiveness, I branched out into their many historical, iconographic, and political references and published a short article in Melville Society Extracts on the visual references to Albrecht Dürer’s art in “At the Hostelry.” That caught the lynx-eye of Hershel Parker and he recommended me to Harrison Hayford, then General Editor of The Writings of Herman Melville, as a contributor to the final volume. It was now 1997, twenty-five years beyond my PhD, and I had never taken a class on Melville, had published only two short articles on him, and was still struggling with a manuscript on the American picturesque. I was flattered.
Hayford responded quickly to my offer of help. Typing on his “old faithful upright,” he eagerly sought my assistance in glossing the poems and confessed, “Frankly, I am shuddering at the needed annotations, and even wondering whether to give up on them—for reasons of time, strength, cash, patience. Any help would be a godsend. Let me ask just what your project—and publication plans are. If those would be compatible with your taking over the annotations fully, I would be delighted” (17 Feb. 1997). My essay on Giuseppe Garibaldi’s role in “At the Hostelry” was awaiting journal publication, but I was still wondering how I could construct a book from the hundreds of scattered references to the picturesque I had amassed over the years, a task now complicated by the [End Page 25] vituperative debate among Melville’s ghostly Old Masters. So I jumped at the chance to focus more deeply on the poems while contributing to one of the most important publishing projects in American literature.
The working title for the final volume was “Billy Budd, Sailor and Other Late Manuscripts,” and Hayford said that Northwestern University Press wanted the completed manuscript by early summer; then he puckishly replied “We’ll be lucky to get it to them by snowfall” (3 March 1997). Little did either of us know it would take twenty snowfalls before these unpublished writings found print in 2017. My subject had expanded to include the “Burgundy Club” manuscripts while Hayford labored to establish “reading texts” of these tangled scraps. Some of the most arcane references came from Melville’s prose pieces that are now published as “Supplementary Sketches,” including “The Marquis de Grandvin,” the Jack Gentian sketches, and “The Cincinnati.” I had planned to finish by August 1997, a personal deadline that eventually extended to the summer of 1998. Hayford was no quicker than I, even less so with the monumental task of deciphering Melville’s elisions, additions, pagination, and arrangement. We maintained a close correspondence during this period and persisted despite interruptions from departmental duties and other Melville projects. “But as spring comes on,” Hayford wrote, “I feel the old ichor stirring in my veins and will be getting back at that final volume—and trip(s) to Cambridge” (4 March 1998). His patience and graciousness emboldened my aim to be thorough and precise, and after reading my final draft he was “delighted” with the annotations and added that “All your efforts and expertise are really going to help us with this important final volume of the Melville Edition. Thank you very much for the time and thoughtfulness you’ve given to this assignment” (19 July...