Category Archives: literature

an early review of Moby-Dick


Everet Duyckinck review of Moby-Dick – The Literary World 11-15-1851 (2)

Everet Duyckinck review of Moby-Dick – The Literary World 11-22-1851 (2)


Posted here (PDF files above):

Evert Duyckinck

review of Herman Melville

Moby Dick; Or, the Whale

The Literary World

November 15, 1851


Evert Duyckinck

review of Herman Melville

Moby Dick; Or, the Whale

Second Notice

The Literary World

November 22, 1851


Evert Duyckinck (1816-1878) was editor of The Literary World, a weekly review of books published in New York. He helped launch Herman Melville’s career and became a close friend.


– posted by Roger W. Smith

   September 2022

Herman Melville, “Hawthorne and His Mosses”


Melville, ‘Hawthorne and His Mosses’ – The Literary World 8-17-1850 (2)

Melville, ‘Hawthorne and His Mosses’ – The Literary World 8-24-1850 (2)


Posted here (PDF files above):

[Herman Melville]

“Hawthorne and His Mosses”

By a Virginian Spending July in Vermont.

The Literary World

August 17, 1850

[Herman Melville]

“Hawthorne and His Mosses”

By a Virginian Spending July in Vermont.

[Concluded from the last number.]

The Literary World

August 24, 1850


— posted by Roger W. Smith

   September 2022

A. Robert Lee, “Moby-Dick: The Tale and the Telling”


A. Robert Lee, ‘Moby-Dick; The Tale and the Telling’


Posted here (PDF file above):

A. Robert Lee. “Moby-Dick: The Tale and the Telling”


New Perspectives on Melville

edited by Faith Pullin

Edinburgh University Press, 1978

This is a brilliant essay which shows an appreciation for and provides insight into Melville’s genius while at the same time providing an analysis of what makes Moby-Dick a difficult book to categorize and to assess as part of the literary canon,


— posted by Roger W. Smith

  September 2022

“Hawthorne, Melville, and the Sea”


Harrison Hayford, ‘Hawthorne, Melville, and the Sea’


At Salem, for company, he had “the sea-flushed shipmaster, just in port, with his vessel’s papers under his arm in a tarnished tin box,” the cheerful or sullen owner, the smart young clerk already sending adventures in his master’s ships, the outward bound sailor in quest of a protection, and captains of rusty little schooners bringing firewood from the British provinces. And here his colleagues were “ancient sea-captains, for the most part, who after being tost on every sea … had finally drifted into this quiet nook,” to sit out the lag-end of their lives. (quoting from Nathaniel Hawthorne, “The Custom House,” The Scarlet Letter)

Posted here (PDF file above) is a fascinating article — containing hitherto unknown anecdotes and information about both writers  that was discovered by the author — by Melville scholar Harrison Hayford:

Hawthorne, Melville, and the Sea

By Harrison Hayford

The New England Quarterly, Vol. 19, No. 4 (December 1946), pp. 435-452



A personal note.

Apropos the seafaring and merchant heritage of Nathaniel Hawthorne (his father was captain of a trading vessel out of Salem, Massachusetts), I am a direct descendant on my father’s side of Capt. Livermore Whittredge, Jr. (1739-1803) of the adjoining town of Beverly.

Capt. Livermore was a wealthy merchant. An inventory of his estate of was taken May 26, 1804 and sworn to July 3, 1804. It consisted of substantial real estate including land at the water’s edge (a wharf) and a farm situated in the part of Beverly called Montserrat containing about 115 acres. The total value of his real estate was $12,300. His personal estate was worth $18,915.68. This means that the total value of his estate was over $31,000, a remarkable sum for the times.

From his inventory (including schooners; shipping appurtenances such as riggings, and large quantities of various items such as fish, molasses, coffee, and salt that would be obtained in trade) and the fact that his real estate included a wharf, it is evident that Capt. Livermore, Jr. was involved in mercantile commerce.

He was a well read man, as Nathaniel Hawthorne’s father was. Capt. Livermore’s library included a large Bible and several other books, among them: Matthew Henry, An exposition of the Old and New Testament; Job Orton, Six discourses on Family Worship; Edward Wells, An historical geography of the New Testament and John Willison, Sacramental Meditations and Advices.

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   September 2022

He felt the horizons of his world expanding beyond all expectation.


The following passage is from a marvelous biography of Keats by my former professor Aileen Ward: John Keats: The Making of a Poet.

The air was still electric with adventure when, one evening later in October, [Charles Cowden] Clarke invited [Keats] up to Warner Street to share a discovery. A friend of [Leigh] Hunt’s had loaned him a 1616 folio of George Chapman’s translation of Homer, a treasure in the days when much Elizabethan literature had not been reprinted and was hard to come by. Both Keats and Clarke knew Homer only through Pope’s translation, which tailored the long, swinging hexameters of the Greek to the neat proportions of the balanced couplet. As they searched Chapman for some of the great passages–Helen’s conversation with Priam on the walls of Troy, the descriptions of the shield of Diomed, the chariot of Neptune–they found a free-striding verse that matched Homer’s own, and a hard masculine strength of phrase that made Pope’s elegant abstractions seem thin and bloodless. Where Pope had described the ship­wrecked Ulysses as he staggered up on the Phaeacian shore, streamng with salt water:

his knees no more
perform’d their office, or his weight upheld:
His swoln heart heav’d, his bloated body swell’d:
From mouth to nose the briny torrent ran,
And lost in lassitude lay all the man,
Deprived of voice, of motion, and of breath,
The soul scarce waking in the arms of death, …

Chapman showed him

both knees falt’ring, both
His strong hands hanging down, and all with froth
His cheeks and nostrils flowing, voice and breath
Spent to all use, and down he sank to death.
The sea had soak’ d his heart through. . . .

As Clarke recalled, Keats shouted with delight at this last line. This was what it was to lead a band of heroes against Troy and voyage homeward through long years of misadventure and lie half drowned on a lonely beach; this was what Homer had been saying all along–or so he thought; this was poetry of a kind that had not been written in England for two hundred years.

All night they turned the pages of the great calf-bound book together. When Keats tore himself away at last it was almost six. He walked home through the empty streets under the fading planets, with the lines of a sonnet beating in his head. The storm of that night’s excitement ·had stirred up the very depths of his mind; things he had seen and felt and read in the last few months and six or eight years ago were washing up together on the shores of his consciousness. The sea which he had stared at from the cliffs of Margate, the stars he had watched and the moon

lifting her silver rim
Above a cloud, and with a gradual swim
Coming into the blue with all her light, . …

the Mediterranean islands and the new vistas of poetry which he had glimpsed that evening with Clarke: all these were jostling in his mind with phrases from Shakespeare and Wordsworth and recollections more distant still–passages from Bonnycastle and Robertson describing Herschel’s discovery of the planet Uranus and Balboa’s discovery of the Pacific and Cortez’s first view of Mexico City, which recalled a painting by Titian which Severn may have pointed out to him that summer. When he reached Dean Street at dawn he took a piece of paper, marked lines down the right-hand margin to guide him in his rhymes, and wrote out the poem that had been taking shape in his head. When it was done, he made a copy and sent it off by messenger to Clarke, who found it on his breakfast table when he came down that morning:

Much have I travell’d in the Realms of Gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many Western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
That low brow’d Homer ruled as his Demesne;
Yet could I never judge what Men could mean,
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then felt I like some Watcher of the Skies
When a new Planet swims into his Ken,
Or like stout Cortez, when with wond’ring eyes
He star’d at the Pacific—and all his Men
Look’d at each other with a wild surmise–
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

It is not hard to imagine Clarke’s amazement as he read the sonnet over. The poem was a miracle; not simply because of its mastery of form, or because Keats was only twenty when he wrote it, or because he wrote it in the space of an hour or two after a night without sleep. Rather because nothing in his earlier poetry gave any promise of this achievement: the gap between this poem and his summer work could be leaped only by genius. He had still to rework a phrase here and there before he was quite satisfied; he overlooked a false rhyme in the sixth line and a historical slip in the eleventh which went unnoticed till Tennyson pointed it out years later. But the unity of form and feeling that begins in the first line and swells in one crescendo of excitement to the final crashing silence was instantaneous and unimprovable. After the reverberation of that ending has died away, something new appears to our eyes. The sonnet, we realize, is not about Chapman, or Homer, or even Keats’s reading of Chapman’s translation. It is about something much larger, more universal, the rapture of discovery itself–of a new star in the vast heavens, of a sea where none was known before. Cortez standing on his peak is Keats himself on the cliff at Margate, staring at the sea and thinking “on what will be, and what has been”; the poem as a whole expresses his rising excitement of the previous weeks, from the moment Clarke promised to introduce him to Hunt. Saluted by Hunt and his friends, his eyes opened to new kingdoms of poetry, Keats felt the horizons of his world expanding beyond all expectation. It was the limitless possibilities of his own future that he saw spread out before him that morning, shining with the promise of El Dorado.


— posted by Roger W. Smith

   August 2022

Edward Everett Hale review of Leaves of Grass (1856)


Edward Everett Hale review of Leaves of Grass – North American Review, January 1856


posted here (PDF file above):

review of Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

reviewed by Edward Everett Hale

North American Review

January 1856

An excellent early review. Edward Everett Hale got Whitman – verily – as few critics at that point in time did.


— posted by Roger W. Smith

   August 2022


The introduction to Ulysses in the 1934 Random House advertisement got me to thinking. To quote from the introduction: Ulysses “is essentially a story and can be enjoyed as such. …. one of the greatest novels of our time.”

Is Ulysses really a novel? — is it even a novel? Is it a good story?

The parallels to the Odyssey and the characters are explained schematically. Leopold Bloom is Odysseus and Stephen Dedalus is Telemachus. Stephen is the young James Joyce, the artist as a young man. Simon Dedalus (Stephen’s father) represents Joyce’s father.

My therapist, Dr. Ralph Colp Jr., and I discussed Joyce quite a lot. It began, as I recall, because I was reading Richard Ellman’s definitive biography of Joyce. Around that time I also read Stephen Hero, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, some but not all of Dubliners, and a few of Joyce’s poems. I also read My Brother’s Keeper by Stanislaus Joyce. Dr. Colp and I discussed Joyce’s epiphanies; and epiphany became a sort of code word between us on all sorts of subjects.

Dr. Colp recognized and acknowledged Joyce’s genius. He said to me, could you imagine if I had him for a patient?

I also took a course on Joyce at Columbia University with Joyce scholar William York Tyndall. The course was devoted solely to Ulysses. I have read and am familiar with a good part of the book, but have never read it in its entirety or straight through.

I told Dr. Colp that I found Stephen Dedalus to be boring. A self absorbed character whom one would not find interesting in real life. Dr. Colp agreed with this assessment.

Professor Tyndall said several times in his lectures that Joyce had “a medieval mind.” I did not quite understand what he meant by that. Now I think I do. He also mentioned scholasticism and Saint Thomas Aquinas.

Leopold Bloom is everyman. Molly Bloom is everywoman. The book happens on a single day in Dublin and is about Bloom, Stephen, Molly, and the people they encounter during that day. It could be any day, the point being the commonality and universality of human experience as described by Homer, by Joyce, by the giants of literature, as experienced by you and I, by Leopard Bloom making his breakfast of kidneys on a particular morning, by my own father toasting marshmallows in the fireplace when I was a boy, by your father or mother, by all of us.

Bloom is everyman and his life could be ours. The Odyssey is an epic for all time with universal applicability. Ditto for Ulysses. There is a great continuity from Homer through Beowulf, Chaucer, Mallory, Shakespeare, Milton, Defoe, and I forget who else. See Ulysses, Chapter 14.

Joyce belongs in this company. But Ulysses is more like a treatise than a story or novel. An exegesis. A treatise by an Aquinas, a medieval doctor. I understand Professor Tyndall’s comment now.

Can you imagine, Dr. Colp said to me, that Joyce said: “The only demand I make of my reader, is that he should devote his whole life to reading my works” (and had given scholars enough to keep them busy)?

Joyce was a genius and his use of the interior monologue, indirect discourse; Freudian insights; stream of consciousness are brilliant and unprecedented. It’s like Beethoven. Literature post Joyce will never be the same.

But let’s take characters. Charles Dickens’s are unforgettable. Realer than real. The major and minor ones: Pip; Joe Gargery; Mrs. Joe, Pip’s sister; Biddy; Magwitch; Estella; Mr. Jaggers; Wemmick, Mr. Jaggers’s clerk; the Aged, Wemmick’s father, who toasts sausages and repeats himself in conversation.

Huckleberry Finn is a novel about boyhood. You can say that this is its theme, boyhood. Two memorable characters: Huck and Jim. A damn good yarn.

What about Theodore Dreiser? His first novel, Sister Carrie? Intellectually, and as a writer, one could say, Dreiser, compared to Joyce, is a pygmy. There is no comparison. Sister Carrie is a “plain” tale drawn from real life. While Joyce was a genius of language, Dreiser in his maturity was still struggling to write acceptable English prose and showing off by using obsolete “literary” words such as “vagrom” and “distrait.”

Sorry, dear readers, but I can get into Sister Carrie, whereas I can’t manage to finish Ulysses. And, An American Tragedy, which is several hundred pages longer than Ulysses, carried me through from beginning to end. So did Moby-Dick, which is the work of a genius which tells a good story.

This is an egregious understatement: Ulysses impresses one. But does it engage the reader the way a novel by an “inferior” writer like Dreiser does, the way Mark Twain, Steinbeck, and, by comparison, “plebeian” writers like James T. Farrell do? I would answer in the negative.

But Ulysses, as Dr. Colp noted, will continue to challenge and delight readers and scholars. As it should.

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   July 2022

advertisement for Ulysses, 1934


‘How to Enjoy Ulysses’

Ulysses ad – Saturday Review 2-10-1934 pp 474-475


Posted here (PDFs above) is an advertisement for James Joyce’s Ulysses, which (the advertisement) is now in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Columbia University.

The advertisement is dated 1934, the year in which a ban on the book was lifted, enabling its publication by Random House. The advertisement was published in the Saturday Review of Literature, February 10, 1934.


— posted by Roger W. Smith

    July 2022

CONTEMPO Volume III, Number 13; James Joyce Issue


Contempo, Vol. III, No. 13


I am posting what I believe to be a very rare item, which I have copied at the New York Public Library:

CONTEMPO Volume III, Number 13

James Joyce Issue (edited by Stuart Gilbert)

February 15, 1934

I was alerted to this issue in the following article: “ ‘Ulysses’ Arrives in the United States: A Perspective from Eighty Years Ago.” By Richard J. Gerber, James Joyce Quarterly, Fall 2013, pp. 163-167.

As Gerber explains, Bennett Cerf’s Random House published one hundred copies of Joyce’s Ulysses in January 1934 in order to secure its copyright in the United States. U.S. District Judge John M. Woolsey had ruled that the book was not pornographic, enabling the book’s publication.

Contempo was a so called “little magazine” offering literary and social commentary. It was published only for three years, between 1931 and 1934. Samuel Beckett, T. S. Eliot, and Eugene O’Neill were among the authors featured. Ezra Pound served as the magazine’s foreign editor. In addition to the James Joyce issue, Contempo published special editions devoted to work and criticism by and about William Faulkner, Hart Crane, and George Bernard Shaw. The editors of Contempo asked Stuart Gilbert, one of the first Joyce scholars, to serve as guest-editor for their final, special edition devoted to Joyce.


James Joyce’s “Work in Progress [published as Finnegans Wake],” Part I

Random House co-founder Bennett Cerf’s “Publishing Ulysses”

commentary by Stuart Gilbert, one of the first Joyce scholars: “We’ll to the Woods No More”

Modern Library advertisement for its editions of Joyce’s Dubliners (1926) and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1928)

Richard Thoma, “A Dream in Progress,” a discussion of “Anna Livia Plurabelle” (a character in Finnegans Wake)

Samuel Beckett’s acrostic poem “Home Olga.” based on Joyce’s name and written in 1932

William van Wyck’s “To James Joyce, Master Builder,” a poem in tribute to Joyce

Eugene Jolas’s “Verbirrupta for James Joyce,” a parody of Finnegans Wake

a review by Padraic Colum of Charles Duff’s Joyce and the Plain Reader

Gotham Book Mart’s advertisement for the Egoist Press edition of Ulysses and other works. (A personal note: I used to patronize the Gotham Book Mart.)

Contempo advertisement for the Random House Ulysses

Gerber concludes:

Contempo III.13 is an important document in the Joyce and Ulysses history, with Gilbert’s recollection of Joyce’s rediscovery and iconic use of the monologue intérieur technique representing the immediate past, Cerf’s account of publishing Ulysses embodying the remarkable present, and Joyce’s excerpt from Finnegans Wake presaging the imminent future. From start to finish, the brilliance of Contempo III.13 is that it captures, in part, a sampling of the critical atmosphere at the initial high point of modern literature–that moment when Ulysses first burst upon the American scene, like a comet, a shooting star streaking across the literary sky.


— posted by Roger W. Smith

   January 2022