Documentary Note on Melville's Marginalia in The Dramatic Works of William Shakspeare.

Melville's 7-volume set of The Dramatic Works of William Shakspeare (Boston: Hilliard, Gray, 1837) does not contain his autograph or a date of acquisition. The set has customarily been identified with the "edition in glorious great type" described by Melville in his February 24, 1849, letter to Evert A. Duyckinck (Correspondence 119). The typography of the present set answers Melville's description accurately enough, and if his reference there is indeed to the present set, a plausible estimation for the date of acquisition would be January or February, 1849, since Melville reports his discovery of the edition as quite recent. But as the editors of NN Moby-Dick point out, the association is "not beyond question" (956). While writing to Duyckinck, Melville was staying at the Boston home of his father-in-law, Judge Lemuel Shaw, who owned a large library. Nor does Melville report having purchased or acquired the edition outright, explaining instead that he had discovered the edition by "chancing to fall in with" it (119). The ambiguity of phrasing leaves open the possibility that he was not describing a copy he owned, and that he acquired the present set (perhaps a copy of the same edition or different impression of the one described in his letter) sometime after February 24, 1849. Published more than a decade earlier, the 1837 set was in all probability acquired in a used state by Melville, possibly for the amount of "$6" that is inscribed in pencil on the title page of vol. 2.

Likelihood of previous ownership is increased by the presence of marginalia in Melville's set of Dramatic Works that do not appear to be from his hand. Among the set's 33 annotations and inscriptions, an interlinear pencil inscription of rough Latin-to-English translation at page xiii of the set's preliminary "Life of William Shakspeare" displays significant variations from Melville's handwriting. The remaining 32 instances of handwriting in the set—including what can be deciphered of erased annotations—correspond to Melville's hand and are attributed to him in the apparatus to the digital edition, but the problematic character of the annotations on page xiii raises the need for care in attributing the set's markings. Whereas the majority of marginalia in the set correspond overwhelmingly to Melville's practices of marking, significant exceptions consist of three black-ink checkmarks inscribed at 2.64, 2.66, and 2.171. These vary from Melville's accustomed pencil medium and are significantly larger, displaying longer up-strokes, than checkmarks appearing elsewhere in this set and in other surviving volumes. They are therefore listed as unattributed in the apparatus. Whereas the apparatus treats all other markings in the set as Melville's, the generic character of markings such as scores and underlines forbids conclusive attribution. Users should practice caution while studying the marginalia as evidence of Melville's engagement with the set.

A series of notes drawn from other printed sources (see Sanborn and Norsworthy) inscribed by Melville on the rear flyleaves of vol. 7 date to 1849-1851 (NN MD 955). Following Melville's death in 1891, the set was retained by family members until 1934, when Melville's granddaughter Frances Osborne sold it to Harvard University, where it remains housed at Houghton Library. Following Harvard's acquisition of the set, each volume was rebacked and recased, with the original back and cloth relaid, and new endpapers pasted over the originals. In this process, two brief notes inscribed by Melville on the original rear pastedown of vol. 7 ("Goethe's Autobiography" and "Eschylus Tragedies") were covered over (see NN MD 959).

Publication: 2012, Melville's Marginalia Online. Jay Leyda published selected marginalia in this volume in The Melville Log (1951), 1:289-291. First transcribed in full by Walker Cowen, Melville's Marginalia, 2 vols., Harvard Dissertations in American and English Literature (New York: Garland, 1987), 2:353-484 (Cowen's dissertation was completed in 1965). "Melville's Notes (1849-51) in a Shakespeare Volume," Moby-Dick; or The Whale, eds. Harrison Hayford et al. (Evanston and Chicago: Northwestern University Press and the Newberry Library, 1988), 955-970.

Selected studies that cite this copy: Charles Olson, "Lear and Moby-Dick," Twice a Year 1 (Fall-Winter 1938): 165-189, and Call Me Ishmael (New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1947). F.O. Matthiessen, American Renaissance: Art and Expression in the Age of Emerson and Whitman (London: Oxford University Press, 1941), see especially 423-431. Julian Markels, Melville and the Politics of Identity: from King Lear to Moby-Dick (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1993). Geoffrey Sanborn, "The Name of the Devil: Melville's Other 'Extracts' for Moby-Dick," Nineteenth-Century Literature 47 (Sept. 1992): 212-35, and "Lounging on the Sofa with Leigh Hunt: A New Source for the Notes in Melville's Shakespeare Volume," Nineteenth-Century Literature 63 (June 2008): 104-15. Hershel Parker, Herman Melville: A Biography, 2 vols. (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996 and 2002). Scott Norsworthy, "Melville's Notes from Thomas Roscoe's The German Novelists," Leviathan: A Journal of Melville Studies 10.3 (October 2008): 1-31.