Documentary Note on Melville's Marginalia in Nathaniel Hawthorne's Mosses from an Old Manse.

Herman Melville acquired this copy of Nathaniel Hawthorne's Mosses from an Old Manse in Pittsfield on July 18, 1850. As his autograph inscription on the verso of the front free endpaper states, it was given to him by his "Aunt Mary," most likely Mary Anna Augusta Melvill, the widow of his Uncle Thomas, who was then living with her son Robert (Herman's cousin) at the old farm mansion where Melville had spent the summer in 1836 (see Parker, 1:104-117). Robert was working the farm (leased from his grandfather’s estate) and running the mansion as a summer boardinghouse, at which Melville stayed with his family from mid-July to mid-September, and it was there that he composed his review "Hawthorne and his Mosses, By a Virginian spending July in Vermont," published in the August 17 and 24, 1850 numbers of the Literary World. This copy served as the basis for that review. Melville made notes for the review on the verso of the rear free endpaper and on the rear pastedown, took quotations from nine of the passages he marked, and referenced several other stories that he also marked and annotated. He also made additional notes on the verso of the rear free endpaper based on his reading of the broadside Masonic Mirror and Symbolical Chart (Sealts No. 351.1) that apparently have no bearing on the Mosses review. There is also an erased note on the rear pastedown (partly covered by the Houghton Library label) that may or may not have bearing on the Mosses review.

Although he borrowed a copy of Hawthorne's Twice-Told Tales (Sealts No. 258) from Evert Duyckinck in the summer of 1849, and mentions having read that volume both in the Mosses review and on the rear pastedown of this volume, he later confessed in a letter to Duyckinck on February 12, 1851 that he "had not read but a few of them before" (NN Correspondence 181). The marginalia in this volume, therefore, provide evidence of Melville’s first full engagement with Hawthorne’s writings at the time of their acquaintance in the summer of 1850. That Melville reread stories in this volume later in his career is shown by his dating of a reading of "The Celestial Railroad" "May 1865," one year from Hawthorne's death, May 19, 1864. The volume remained in his family's possession until 1937, when Eleanor Melville Metcalf placed it on deposit in the Treasure Room of Harvard's Widener Library. She made it a gift in February 1942, at the time of the opening of Harvard's Houghton Library.

The volume is bound in publisher’s green cloth, with blind block-printed covers and with the series title, book title, author's last name, and publisher’s name in gilt on the spine. Prior to its donation to Houghton, the volume was rebacked with green cloth, with most of the original spine laid down. A piece of paper bearing a piece of "sea moss" is attached with sealing wax to the front pastedown which, according to Melville’s inscription, is meant to serve as a "frontispiece." Four sets of pinholes (and other single pinholes) in the front free endpaper suggest some external materials were affixed to the verso of this leaf at different times. All of the marginalia in this volume correspond to Melville’s characteristic patterns of marking and annotation and present no special problems for attribution.

Publication: 2010, Melville's Marginalia Online. Jay Leyda published selected marginalia in this volume in The Melville Log (1951), 1:380-381, 390; 2:674-75. First transcribed in full by Walker Cowen, Melville's Marginalia, 2 vols., Harvard Dissertations in American and English Literature (New York: Garland, 1987), 1:604-628 (Cowen's dissertation was completed in 1965). A revised transcription of Melville’s notes on the verso of the rear free endpaper and the rear pastedown was published in Journals, eds. Harrison Hayford et al. (Evanston and Chicago: Northwestern University Press and the Newberry Library, 1989), 599-607. Transcribed in a surrogate format at Melville's Marginalia Online, 2007.

Selected studies that cite this copy: Nathalia Wright, "Mosses from an Old Manse and Moby-Dick," Modern Language Notes, 67 (1952): 387-92. Walker Cowen, "Melville’s Marginalia: Hawthorne," Studies in the American Renaissance (1978): 279-302. The Hawthorne and Melville Friendship, ed. James Wilson, (McFarland and Co. 1991).

Visualization Support