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Melville's Marginalia Online is a virtual archive of books owned and borrowed by American author Herman Melville (1819-1891). Select "Policies" for our editorial guidelines, and "Browse Volumes" to view the site's new virtual format.

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Documentary Note on Melville's Marginalia in Shakespeare’s Sonnets.

As his autograph inscription on the verso of the front free endpaper indicates, Melville acquired this copy of Shakespeare’s Sonnets on January 20, 1871, in New York. He had been familiar with Shakespeare’s works since his enthusiastic reading of an edition in “glorious great type” described in his February 24, 1849 letter to Evert Duyckinck (Correspondence, 119). He also was familiar with Shakespeare’s sonnet sequence from his copy of Cooke’s edition of The Poetical Works, a book he may have acquired as early as 1848 from his publisher John Wiley (Sealts No. 464 and 460a). Melville’s marginalia in The Poetical Works show a thorough reading of the sonnet sequence but he subsequently gave this volume to his sister Fanny on May 19, 1862. Nearly a decade later, he purchased Shakespeare’s Sonnets while actively studying the history of poetic forms during his composition of Clarel (1876). Although Melville seems to have never experimented with the sonnet form, the themes of friendship and loss in Shakespeare’s sonnet sequence may have relevance for the relationships dramatized in Clarel, as Kelly Richardson demonstrates in her critical introduction to this electronic edition.

The volume is bound in publisher’s green cloth with the title in gilt on its cover and spine. Eighteen sonnets are marked in various ways, and four of these include erasures. All of the marginalia correspond to Melville’s characteristic patterns of marking and present no special problems for attribution. It remained in the family’s possession following Melville’s death and was among the volumes given to his granddaughter Katharine G. Binnian, whose pencil autograph is below Melville’s on the verso of the front free endpaper. She presented the volume to Harvard’s Houghton Library on April 22, 1946.

Publication: 2012, Melville's Marginalia Online. Jay Leyda published selected marginalia in this volume in The Melville Log (1951), 2:718. First transcribed in full by Walker Cowen, Melville's Marginalia, 2 vols., Harvard Dissertations in American and English Literature (New York: Garland, 1987), 2:498-501 (Cowen's dissertation was completed in 1965).

Selected studies that cite this copy: Newton Arvin, Herman Melville, New York: William Sloan Associates, 1950. Hershel Parker, Herman Melville: A Biography, 2 vols., (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996, 2002), 2:722.