Documentary Note on Herman and Elizabeth Melville's Marginalia in William Ellery Channing's Works.

Elizabeth Shaw Melville's set of The Works of William E. Channing (6 vols.) was presented to her by her father Lemuel Shaw at an unknown time between its publication in 1848 and Shaw's death on 30 March 1861. The absence of a presentation date by Shaw in all of the six front inscriptions makes it impossible to determine with any precision when pencil marginalia were inscribed in the set, including the single instance of marking and annotation verifiably by Herman Melville (and their subsequent erasure) on p. 123 of Vol. 3. Dawn Coleman presents the case that Melville inscribed the annotation between April 1849 and June 1850 ("Mahomet's Gospel" 85). The rest of the annotations in the set are almost certainly in Elizabeth Melville's hand and could represent readings undertaken by her at times between the publication date and her death in 1906.

The set was retained by family members after Elizabeth Melville's death in 1906, and it was among books presented in the 1940s to the New York Public Library by the Melvilles' granddaughter Frances Osborne. Throughout the second half of the 20th Century, the set was listed and indexed in Merton M. Sealts's "Check-List of Books Owned and Borrowed by Melville" (1948-50; 1966; and 1988) as "annotated by Elizabeth Melville," without explicit association with her husband. In 2013, Melville's hand was identified in Vol. 3 by MMO staff in response to research inquiries made with the project by Coleman, leading to classification of the set in the "Online Catalog" as "Marked and annotated by Herman Melville and Elizabeth Shaw Melville."

Given the presence of annotations by both Herman and Elizabeth Melville, the abundance of pencil markings in the set cannot definitively be associated with one or the other annotator and may represent both hands. However, one reader's practice of inserting opening and closing parentheses and/or bars at the beginning- and end-points of passages (ie, Vol. 2, p. 370) does not correspond to known in-line methods of marking by Herman Melville, whose surviving marginalia include square brackets used in this fashion. The instances of parentheses and bars are therefore more likely to be in the hand of Elizabeth than of Herman Melville. Straight and broken scores are common in the set, and these varieties of marginalia appear frequently in books Melville owned and annotated. In the set of Channing's Works they could be in the hands of both readers. Apart from the erased marginalia by Melville on p. 123 of Vol. 3, where he used checkmarks to link one of his two annotations on the page to the text that prompted it, the set contains only two other instances of checkmarks, on pp. 54 and 68 of Vol. 5. To an extent allowed by the non-definitive character of markings, in shape and contour these appear characteristic of Melville's use of checkmarks in books owned by him, and his clear association with their only other use in the set at 3.123 suggests plausibly that the instances in Vol. 5 are also by him. As with other markings, however, their generic character forbids explicit association with one reader or the other.

Apart from the annotation and reference marks documented at 3.123, then, pencil markings in the set of Channing's Works are classified in this digital copy as being in the hand of either Herman Melville or Elizabeth Shaw Melville. Inscribed pages, furthermore, are labeled as such in the digital copy even where the annotator is identified as Elizabeth (or, in the case of the front inscriptions, Lemuel Shaw) rather than Herman. This departure from existing editorial policy (where marginalia in later hands are typically unlabeled in page names so as to clearly disassociate markings and annotations by subsequent owners from Melville's) is warranted by the close association and contemporaneity of the marginalia in this set, and by the convenience it affords users who may wish to study Elizabeth Melville's marginalia. As with all digital copies in this archive displaying marginalia by different hands, users should practice caution while endeavoring to study either reader's engagement with Channing's Works.

Preserved within Vols. 1 and 3 of the set are clippings of three items from unidentified newspapers: in Vol. 1, the poem "Channing," by Henry Theodore Tuckerman, dated 14 March 1868 and reprinted from the Liberal Christian, and in Vol. 2, an undated notice of litigation concerning international copyright and an undated essay by W. H. Furness entitled "Reminiscences of Dr. Channing."

Publication: Melville's Marginalia Online, 2015.

Selected studies of Melville that cite this copy: Dawn Coleman, "Mahomet's Gospel and Other Revelations: Discovering Melville's Hand in The Works of William E. Channing," Leviathan: A Journal of Melville Studies 17.2 (June 2015), 74-88.

Visualization Support