Introduction to Melville's Marginalia in Nathaniel Hawthorne's Mosses from an Old Manse

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Jonathan A. Cook
Independent Scholar

The friendship of Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne has long fascinated critics and biographers of both authors, as well as anyone interested in the history of American literature and the genesis of one of its supreme masterworks, Moby-Dick, dedicated to Hawthorne as a token of Melville's admiration for the older writer's "genius." The story of their first meeting at a literary picnic on 5 August 1850 and their subsequent sixteen-month friendship while both were residents in the Berkshires has often been told, including (on Melville's side) the friendship's initial heady intellectual exchange, creative fertilization, and confessional urgency, to be followed by gradual estrangement, disillusionment, and a long-term ambivalence. After Shakespeare and the Bible, Hawthorne as man and artist had perhaps the greatest influence on Melville's writing, leaving a distinctive imprint on his plots, themes, characterizations, symbols, and images from Moby-Dick through Clarel and beyond.[1]

The circumstances for Melville's meeting with Hawthorne were propitious, with both authors approaching the zenith of their literary careers and creative accomplishments. Melville had traveled from New York to his uncle's capacious old Berkshire home (soon to be dubbed "Broadhall") in July 1850 for a vacation with his young family while he was attempting to complete his new whaling novel. With the arrival on 3 August of Melville's friend, Evert Duyckinck, who was on good terms with both authors, Melville was invited to attend a day-long picnic of literary notables—including Hawthorne, James T. Fields (Hawthorne's Boston publisher), Oliver Wendell Holmes (poet, essayist, and professor of medicine at Harvard), David Dudley Field (lawyer and legal writer), Cornelius Mathews (close writer friend of Duyckinck), and Duyckinck (critic and editor of the weekly Literary World)—that would include a hike up nearby Monument Mountain, an afternoon meal at the home of David Dudley Field in Stockbridge, an exploration of a local natural curiosity called the Icy Glen, and high-spirited talk continuing throughout the day. During the festivities Melville and Hawthorne made a favorable impression on each other, and the famously reticent Hawthorne even invited Melville to make an extended visit with him and his wife Sophia at their rented house in Lenox at some point later that summer.

Only three days afterwards, in the company of Duyckinck, Mathews, and his younger brother Allan, Melville spent more time socializing with Hawthorne in Lenox, and the next day he sat down to write an enthusiastic, pseudonymous review of Hawthorne's Mosses from an Old Manse for Duyckinck's Literary World, to be published in two installments on 17 and 24 August. The review would be Melville's most sustained piece of critical writing and a window into his unbounded literary ambitions at this key point in his career. Melville subsequently made a four-day visit with the Hawthornes in early September, and shortly thereafter he decided to purchase a house and farm in Pittsfield, moving his family—including his mother and unmarried sisters—from New York that October. Thus began a series of mutual visits and correspondence that would exert a profound influence on the lives and works of both writers.

There were several reasons that Melville and Hawthorne were immediately drawn to one another, despite the fifteen-year difference in their ages. First, both writers harbored a shared ambition to create a new, more artistically sophisticated form of the national literature that could stand on an equal footing with the literature of England. Second, both writers were steeped in the Calvinist tradition and the potent idea of original sin as a metaphor for the human condition (Herbert, Donohue). Third, both came from families that had distinguished themselves in colonial or Revolutionary-era history. Fourth, both had traditions of seafaring in their families (Hayford, "Hawthorne, Melville, and the Sea"). Fifth, both had close personal or family ties to the Democratic party. And sixth, both had lost their fathers at an early age and were raised by grieving mothers in straitened economic circumstances (Parker, Mellow). On the other hand, salient differences in the personalities of Melville and Hawthorne would contribute both to the initial flourishing and eventual demise of the friendship; for whereas Melville was an emotional enthusiast engaged in an ongoing ecumenical quest for religious and philosophical truths, Hawthorne was both temperamentally reserved and more conservative on many of the important religious and social issues of the day.

However one chooses to assess the nature and development of the Melville-Hawthorne friendship, we must recognize that from Melville's perspective the relationship from the beginning had a sacramental quality that formed part of Melville's ongoing creative revaluation of Christianity. Of prime importance to Melville was his belief that in Hawthorne he had found a writer of profound intellectual and emotional depth; in particular, a writer who—unlike most of his contemporaries—shared his vision of the darker forces shaping human destiny. The signs of such an underlying agenda are evident in Melville's enthusiastic review of Hawthorne's Mosses from an Old Manse and the marginalia in his copy of the book, as well as in the surviving correspondence from Melville to Hawthorne in which the younger author frequently expresses his "infinite fraternity of feeling" with his older contemporary (Correspondence 212). The first part of this introduction will accordingly outline some of the key points of Melville's Mosses review, while subsequent sections will examine the dominant themes in Melville's markings in Hawthorne's Mosses and go on to suggest some of their connections with Melville's literary creativity beginning with Moby-Dick.

Melville's Mosses Review

As recorded in his hand on the front fly leaf, Melville received his copy of Mosses from an Old Manse on 18 July 1850, from his Aunt Mary Melvill at his uncle Thomas's home in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, less than three weeks before he would meet Hawthorne in person on 5 August. According to his heightened account of the presentation in "Hawthorne and His Mosses" (where Aunt Mary figures as young cousin Cherry), "she left me, and soon returned with a volume, verdantly bound, and garnished with a curious frontispiece in green,—nothing less, than a fragment of real moss cunningly pressed to a fly-leaf" ("Hawthorne and His Mosses" 240). Melville's copy (bound in green publisher's cloth) actually displays a fragment of "sea-moss" (i.e, marine algae) on the front pastedown, which he seems to have affixed after composing his review, with an accompanying notation dated "August 1850": "This moss was gathered in Salem, and therefore I place it here for a frontispiece. P.S. It may be objected that this is sea-moss;—but then, it only went to sea—like many young mortals—in its youth, and to my certain knowledge has been ashore ever since."[2] In thus ornamenting the front endpaper Melville commemorated not just the copy but his relationship with its author, a bond all but sanctified by his close reading and enthusiastic review of Hawthorne's book.

Adopting the persona of "A Virginian Spending July in Vermont," Melville begins his review by describing the enchantment that has seized him on reading Hawthorne in his rural retreat. He is mortified to admit how he had failed to read Mosses since its publication four years earlier until it was recently given to him as a gift by his "cousin Cherry," thereby replacing his current summer reading (Timothy Dwight's Travels in New England). He first recounts his outdoor experience of reading the book, which has cast a potent "spell" over him, and then details the individual stories and sketches that created this effect, beginning with works showing the author's delicate humor and sympathetic nature, such as "The Old Manse," "Buds and Bird-Voices," and "The Old Apple Dealer." Yet while demonstrating both humor and love, Hawthorne also offers deep moral and intellectual insight in his writing, as shown in such works as "Monsieur du Miroir," "Earth's Holocaust," "The Intelligence Office," "The Christmas Banquet," and "The Bosom Serpent." In these and other works Hawthorne demonstrates the pervasive "blackness" within his creative vision, whether as a means of creating notable artistic "effects" by the juxtaposition of light and shade, or perhaps because there really exists "a touch of Puritanic gloom" in his nature. "Certain it is, however, that this great power of blackness in him derives its force from its appeals to that Calvinistic sense of Innate Depravity and Original Sin, from whose visitations, in some shape or other, no deeply thinking mind is always and wholly free. For, in certain moods, no man can weigh this world, without throwing in something, somehow like Original Sin, to strike the uneven balance" ("Hawthorne and His Mosses" 243). Melville’s reference to "blackness" in the Mosses review was probably adapted from Jude 13, in which sinners are called “wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever." As perhaps the most quoted assertion in the Mosses essay, Melville's claims about Hawthorne's "power of blackness" here need to be understood as implying both an aesthetic and a moral dimension. The aesthetic dimension is the author's equation of Hawthorne's blackness with the painterly technique of chiaroscuro (with its evocation of contemporary concepts of the sublime and picturesque); the moral aspect stems from its reliance on the Calvinist and Augustinian concepts of Original Sin, ultimately based on the doctrines of St. Paul and the Christian interpretation of the Fall.

In the reviewer's estimation, Hawthorne's recurrent exploration of moral evil in his writings is one of his greatest strengths, and Melville claims that it is this blackness of Hawthorne that magically "fixes and fascinates" him ("Hawthorne and His Mosses" 244); moreover, it is this same blackness that Shakespeare uses for the "infinite obscure of his back-ground." For it is not Shakespeare's crowd-pleasing theatrical virtuosity that makes for his high reputation among more thoughtful individuals.

But it is those deep far-away things in him; those occasional flashings-forth of the intuitive Truth in him; those short, quick probings at the very axis of reality;—these are the things that make Shakespeare, Shakespeare. Through the mouths of the dark characters of Hamlet, Timon, Lear, and Iago, he craftily says, or sometimes insinuates the things, which we feel to be so terrifically true, that it were all but madness for any good man, in his own proper character, to utter, or even to hint of them. (244)


Like Shakespeare, Hawthorne insinuates his truths indirectly, creating a misleading impression of his harmlessness as a writer. Although some American readers may be shocked by the author's comparison of Hawthorne to Shakespeare, the shock may only be an index to America's mindless popular deification of Shakespeare as a dramatist, for the nation's writers should in fact strive to equal or surpass the English dramatist, in keeping with America's progressive political doctrines.

There follows the reviewer's plea for literary nationalism, urging support for original American writers who shun the imitation of English models and strive for originality, even at the cost of failure; for "it is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation" (247). Those "smooth, pleasing writers who know their own powers"—the target here is manifestly the polished and popular Washington Irving—only furnish "an appendix to Goldsmith" (248). While America seems headed for geopolitical supremacy by the end of the century, it is unprepared for any accompanying cultural supremacy; and to begin this process, undue reverence for English writers should be discouraged and American authors recognized for their achievements—"those writers, who breathe that unshackled, democratic spirit of Christianity in all things, which now takes the practical lead in this world, though at the same time led by ourselves—us Americans" (248). After a warm recommendation of Hawthorne as just such an original American author, Melville concluded this portion of his review by claiming that most authors include a self-portrait in their work, and he speculates that Hawthorne has obliquely depicted himself as the anonymous "thinker" in "The Intelligence Office" who is there as a seeker after "truth" (250).

Following a break in the text which signals the lapse of a day in writing (i.e., 9-10 August), Melville continues his delighted perusal of Hawthorne's Mosses, undergoing what he characterizes as a communion-like absorption of their contents into his being. In the process, Hawthorne is dropping "germinous seeds" into his soul: "He expands and deepens down, the more I contemplate him" (250). Melville then discusses two works in particular, "Young Goodman Brown" and "A Select Party," that he had not read yet when writing his previous words. The former, which he calls "deep as Dante," is in fact a perfect illustration of the "blackness" he had earlier identified in Hawthorne, while the latter is worthy of Spenser, and in its representation of the "Master Genius" of American literature anticipates the arrival of America's literary "Shiloh" (i.e., messiah).[3] Suggesting that there may be more than one impending Master Genius in America, just as there was a plurality of geniuses in Elizabethan drama (thereby seeking to ensure his own future recognition along with Hawthorne's), Melville concludes with a final tribute to Hawthorne's achievement, enthusiastically asserting that his Mosses will henceforth be considered his masterpiece, unless he is able, through some happy accident or cross-fertilization of influence, to write something greater.

As a plea for literary nationalism, the Mosses essay was a continuation of the friendly argument between Melville and Oliver Wendell Holmes at the 5 August literary picnic concerning the merits of Americans versus the British (see Parker 1:746). The merits of American literary nationalism had long been championed by Melville's friend Evert Duyckinck and the latter's close associate Cornelius Mathews, both of whom would have approved of Melville's outspoken advocacy; Duyckinck had in fact published Hawthorne's Mosses in a designedly nationalistic series he edited for Wiley & Putnam, the Library of American Books. In his discussion of Shakespeare in his Mosses review, moreover, Melville manifestly drew on Romantic-era commentary on Shakespeare by Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Charles Lamb but was also possibly influenced by the theatrical expertise of the famously self-promoting Matthews, editor of a new theatrical journal called The Prompter.[4]

Various issues have engaged scholars' attention in their consideration of the Mosses review as Melville's most important piece of critical writing. Thus, Harrison Hayford has noted the essay's overall Romantic tenor and the manner in which Melville creatively adapted ideas and images from Hawthorne's Mosses, as in his description of the rural setting in which he was writing, and his feeling of enchantment by the author, both motifs being borrowed from Hawthorne's introductory essay, "The Old Manse" ("Hawthorne and Melville" 70-87). Melville also repeated a number of critical commonplaces about Hawthorne's writing, especially by his friend Duyckinck, who had long promoted Hawthorne's career in favorable reviews. Marvin Fisher, on the other hand, has observed that in his review Melville "applies the devices of fiction to the appraisal of a collection of sketches and short fiction, and the result is far more narrative than expository in form" (111).

Other critics have long recognized that in his Mosses review Melville may have been attributing to Hawthorne his own belief in a pervasive "power of blackness" that the older writer could only have partially endorsed (Hoeltje; Gross; Loving; Moss; Colacurcio, Province, 5-36, "Life Within," "Artificial Fire"). Jerome Loving, for example, has argued that Melville's markings in Mosses show a systematic distortion of Hawthorne's general treatment of the theme of evil; for Hawthorne typically depicted evil as a remediable psychological obsession growing out of an individual's alienation from humanity, whereas Melville interpreted evil as a metaphysical reality reflecting an irremediable flaw in both the cosmos and creator. Melville was doubtless projecting onto Hawthorne many of his own preoccupations as a writer, and today we are prepared (by Harold Bloom and others) to better appreciate such acts of creative misreading of a strong literary predecessor. The remainder of this essay will explore the dominant themes in Melville's markings in his copy of Hawthorne's Mosses, together with suggestions for their influence on Melville's writing, especially his masterwork Moby-Dick.

Melville's Mosses Marginalia

We begin with a quantitative tabulation of Melville's markings in Mosses. Those stories and sketches that include roughly a dozen or more separate markings—checks, marginal scores, underlining, and annotations—are "The Old Manse," "The Birth-Mark," "A Select Party," "Rappaccini's Daughter," "Monsieur du Miroir," "The Procession of Life," and "The Christmas Banquet." The four works that elicited verbal annotations were "The Birth-Mark," "Fire Worship," "Monsieur du Miroir," and "The Celestial Rail-road." It should be noted that the number of Melville's markings does not necessarily correlate to the influence of each story or sketch on Melville's Mosses review or his later writing. For instance, Melville's markings of "Young Goodman Brown" hardly suggest the importance of this story on Melville's creative vision and his understanding of Hawthorne's (imputed) vision of evil. There is also some variation in the significance of Melville's system of demarcation. In some cases, a wavy score in the margin indicates text that Melville would subsequently quote in the Mosses review; in other cases, it simply designates Melville's strong interest in its contents.

As seen in his markings, the major themes that were of particular interest to Melville in Hawthorne's Mosses included Hawthorne's vision of evil and moral ambiguity; his abiding concern with questions of death and the afterlife; his depiction of the familiar Romantic debate between head and heart, intellect and emotion; his preoccupation with the philosophical conflict of ideal and real, appearance and reality; and his representation of the artist as idealist, prophet, and truth-teller. Taken together, these markings and comments clearly show Melville's enthusiastic response to Hawthorne's volume.

Evil and Moral Ambiguity

As indicated by the Mosses review, Melville was forcibly impressed by Hawthorne's acknowledgment of evil as both psychological tendency and existential reality. So in his reading of "The Birth-mark," Melville made a long marginal score at the last paragraph of the story, which comments on the demonic laugh of Aminadab at Georgiana's death: "Thus ever does the gross Fatality of earth exult in its invariable triumph over the immortal essence, which, in this dim sphere of half-development, demands the completeness of a higher state" (1:51.15-18). In "Young Goodman Brown," Melville marked the devil's words to the story's eponymous hero, revealing that "all whom ye have reverenced from youth" are to be found at the witches' sabbath (1:81.20-21). In "Rappaccini's Daughter," Melville marked more passages than in any other story or sketch in Hawthorne's Mosses, most of them concerning Hawthorne's complex treatment of evil in that story. Thus, he marked the narrator's characterization of Rappaccini's garden as an "Eden of the present [i.e., fallen] world" with Rappaccini as its (Old) Adam (1:88.11). He marked the passage in which the narrator blessed all "simple emotions" and condemned the "lurid intermixture" of sentiments as producing "the illuminating blaze of the infernal regions" (1:91.14-15). He underlined the statement that Giovanni "knew not whether he were wicked or only desperate" when he discovered his poisonous infection by Beatrice while testing the force of his breath on a spider (1:113.1). He triple-scored Giovanni's bitter assertion to Beatrice that since they were now both poisonous in their breath they should kiss in hatred and die (1:115.13). And he again triple-scored the end of the story in which Dr. Rappaccini coldly rebukes his dying daughter by asking her whether she would have liked to have been "exposed to all evil, and capable of none?" (1:118.14).

In "The Celestial Rail-road," which would later provide an important source for The Confidence-Man, Melville marked the passage where Mr. Smooth-it-away responded to the narrator's Bunyanesque question about a "rusty iron door" on a hillside near the Celestial City providing a "by-way to Hell" by evasively claiming that the door only led to a cavern used as "a smoke-house for the preparation of mutton hams" (1:190.17-18). And he triple-checked the passage in which the narrator at the conclusion to the sketch rebuked Smooth-it-away as a hypocrite: "The impudent fiend! To deny the existence of Tophet, when he felt its fiery tortures raging within his breast!" (1:192.22-23). Finally, in "The Procession of Life," Melville marked a passage with a marginal wavy score and underlining in which the narrator notes that one of "the most hopeless of all sinners" might remain ignorant of their own "deadly crime" by means of "an exemplary system of outward duties" (1:200.6-7). In the next paragraph he checked the narrator's equation of statesmen, rulers, and generals as sinners on a grand scale, as compared to the "meanest criminal" (1:201.5).

Death and Afterlife

Melville was also particularly attentive to Hawthorne's concern with questions of death and the afterlife. In "The Birth-Mark," for example, he labeled the final moral of the story "wonderfully fine," referring to the passage in which Aylmer inadvertently killed his wife while attempting to remove the birthmark on her cheek because he "failed to look beyond the shadowy scope of Time, and living once for all Eternity, to find the perfect Future in the present" (1:51.22-24). A more somber and ambiguous vision of death and the afterlife is presented in "Monsieur du Miroir," whose message was more in keeping with Melville's unsettled views on the issue of personal immortality. Melville thus singled out for special attention a passage in which the narrator speculates on the nature of Monsieur du Miroir's existence after his death, asking whether the latter would linger where the narrator once lived to remind the world of "one who staked much to win a name" (1:155.3—a remark to which Melville, perhaps aware of the dozen years that Hawthorne spent in almost total obscurity as a young writer, responded with the comment: "What a revelation"). Farther down the same page Melville bracketed the sentence concluding the narrator's speculations on his reflected image's existence after death: "He will pass to the dark realm of Nothingness, but will not find me there" (1:155.13-14). Melville's somber comment—"This trenches upon the uncertain and the terrible"—highlights his concern with the mysteries of the afterlife and the possibility of spiritual annihilation.

More optimistic but still tentative about the posthumous fate of the soul was a passage at the conclusion to "The Procession of Life" that Melville marked in which the narrator claims that Death, the leader of the Procession, does not know life's ultimate destination; but God, "who made us, knows, and will not leave us on our toilsome and doubtful march, either to wander in infinite uncertainty, or perish by the way!" (1:207.31). On the other hand, in "The Christmas Banquet," Melville recorded a wavy marginal score next to a passage describing the presence of a death's head shrouded in a black mantle; if the banqueters should remove the veil in order to know "the purpose of earthly existence," all they would discover would be "a stare of the vacant eye-caverns, and a grin of the skeleton-jaws!" (2:41.4). Finally, Melville marked a passage at the conclusion to "The Virtuoso's Collection" in which the virtuoso responds to the narrator's discovery that he is actually the legendary figure of the Wandering Jew by claiming that his destiny is "linked with the realities of the earth," not to the narrator's "visions and shadows of a future state." The narrator scornfully asserts that the virtuoso's "soul is dead within him!"—making him a grotesque image of death-in-life surrounded by a Barnumesque collection of cultural curiosities (2:211.1-9).

Head versus Heart

A third important theme in Melville's markings of Hawthorne's Mosses is the debate between head and heart, intellect and emotion, that permeated a wide range of Romantic-era writing. While reading "A Select Party," for example, Melville triple-scored the passage describing the coming Master Genius who would create an authentic American literature as "a young man in poor attire, with no insignia of rank or acknowledged eminence, nor anything to distinguish him among the crowd except a high, white forehead, beneath which a pair of deep-set eyes were glowing with warm light. It was such a light as never illuminates the earth, save when a great heart burns as the household fire of a grand intellect" (1:60.14-20). In "The Procession of Life," Melville applied a double wavy marginal score next to a passage describing how the discovery of a powerful truth, "being the rich grape-juice expressed from the vineyard of the ages, has an intoxicating quality, when imbibed by any save a powerful intellect, and often, as it were, impels the quaffer to quarrel in his cups" (1:203.21-24). In "The Christmas Banquet," Melville checked a passage describing a young man, Gervayse Hastings, whose occasionally brilliant conversation was "lacking the powerful characteristics of a nature that had been developed by suffering" (2:46.5-6); and he scored a later confession of the same character lamenting the vacuity of his life because of "a chilliness—a want of earnestness—a feeling as if what should be my heart were a thing of vapor" (2:57.30-32). In "The Intelligence Office," Melville recorded a wavy marginal score next to the passage describing the young "thinker" who has a face "full of sturdy vigor" that was "tempered with the glow of a large, warm heart, which had force enough to heat his powerful intellect through and through" (2:87.27-30—a description, we recall, that Melville interpreted in his Mosses review as the author's self-portrait). Finally, in "P's Correspondence," Melville scored a passage in which the narrator describes how the hypothetical productions of the poet Shelley's "maturity" are better than those of his youth because "[t]he author has learned to dip his pen oftener into his heart, and has thereby avoided the faults into which a too exclusive use of fancy and intellect are wont to betray him" (2:124.26-28).

Real and Ideal

A fourth theme evident from Melville's markings of Hawthorne's Mosses is the philosophical conflict of ideal and real, appearance and reality. So in "The Birth-Mark," Melville scored the margin where the narrator mentioned the human preference for images over realities, or the "indescribable difference, which always makes a picture, an image, or a shadow, so much more attractive than the original" (1:40.24-26). In "Rappaccini's Daughter," he checked a passage in which the narrator asserted: "There is something truer and more real, than what we can see with the eyes, and touch with the finger" (1:111.17-18). In "The Hall of Fantasy," he checked a passage suggesting that "the fantasies of one day are the deepest realities of a future one" (1:166.16-17). In "The Intelligence Office," Melville scored the narrator's description of the book of wishes, which demonstrated that there is "more of good and more of evil" than gets acted out in the real world (2:86.16). And in "The Old Apple-Dealer," Melville marked a passage with a wavy marginal score in which the narrator claimed that if he could read only a small part of the heart and mind of his humble nondescript subject, "it would be a volume of deeper and more comprehensive import than all that the wisest mortals have given to the world; for the soundless depths of the human soul, and of eternity, have an opening through your breast" (2:163.2-5).

The Artist

Lastly, Melville marked passages in Hawthorne's Mosses that represent the artist and thinker as an idealist, prophet, and truth-teller who must keep faith in the importance of his message and mission. Thus, in "The Birth-Mark," Melville checked, underlined, and scored a passage describing Georgiana's reading of her husband's journals and discovering that his successes were failures compared to the ideals at which he aimed: "It was the sad confession, and continual exemplification, of the short-comings of the composite man—the spirit burthened with clay and working in matter; and of the despair that assails the higher nature, at finding itself so miserably thwarted by the earthly part. Perhaps every man of genius, in whatever sphere, might recognize the image of his own experience in Aylmer's journal" (1:44.32-33; 1:45.1-5). In "A Select Party," he scored a passage describing the inconspicuous but sanctified appearance of the "Master Genius" who would create an authentic American literature: "he dwells as yet unhonored among men, unrecognized by those who have known him from his cradle;—the noble countenance, which should be distinguished by a halo diffused around it, passes daily amid the throng of people, toiling and troubling themselves about the trifles of a moment—and none pay reverence to the worker of immortality" (1:60.30-33; 1:61.1-2). And at the end of the same sketch, Melville triple-scored a passage in which this Master Genius assumes his proper place in the allegorical group when Posterity "led him to the chair of state, beneath a princely canopy. When once they beheld him in his true place, the company acknowledged the justice of the selection by a long thunder-roll of vehement applause" (1:66.11-14).

In "The Intelligence Office," Melville applied a wavy marginal score next to a passage describing the appearance of the anonymous "thinker" who asks the Man of Intelligence what his office represents: "It will not satisfy me to point to this fantastic show of an Intelligence Office, and this mockery of business. Tell me what is beneath it, and what your real agency in life, and your influence upon mankind?" (2:88.21-22). And in "The Artist of the Beautiful," Melville triple-scored a passage describing the "ideal artist": "It is requisite for the ideal artist to possess a force of character that seems hardly compatible with its delicacy; he must keep his faith in himself, while the incredulous world assails him with its utter disbelief; he must stand up against mankind and be his own sole disciple, both as respects his genius, and the objects to which it is directed" (2:171.15-19). Such a faith in the artist's vocation would be much needed by Melville as his popularity began to falter in the early 1850s following the publication of Moby-Dick.

The Impact of Hawthorne's Mosses on Melville's Fiction

What immediate and long-term impact did Melville's reading of Hawthorne's Mosses have on his fiction? Most significant for our purposes are the traces of Hawthorne's volume in Moby-Dick. While an exhaustive list of recognizable links is not feasible here, we can suggest a few general lines of influence, following the lead of others who have explored the subject more extensively (Wright, Stone, Gross, Reynolds, Moss, Waggoner). Melville's whaling novel was initially supposed to be finished by the fall of 1850 but would take another eight months to complete, ostensibly because of Melville's changed conception of the story in reaction to his reading of Hawthorne's fiction and the latter's inspiring presence as his Berkshire neighbor.

There can be little doubt that Melville's comments on Hawthorne's alleged obsession with moral and metaphysical "blackness" should be related to his evolving characterization of Ahab, and the development of Moby-Dick's tragic structure. The story in Mosses with the closest correlation to Ahab's obsessive moral vision is "Young Goodman Brown," in which the title character makes a hallucinatory journey to a witches' sabbath in the woods where he observes his family, community, and new wife being initiated into a satanic community of sinners—a traumatic vision based on "specter evidence" that nevertheless permanently darkens Brown's view of the world. Larry J. Reynolds has demonstrated the pervasive influence that "Young Goodman Brown" had on "The Candles" (Chapter 119 of Moby-Dick) in a scene in which Ahab, like Brown, undergoes an ambiguous night-time initiation into the ubiquity of cosmic evil, complete with atmospheric displays of hellfire. But whereas Brown's moral vision is darkened because of a self-willed obsession, Ahab's dark vision reacts to more plausible evidence for evil in the cosmos. In general, however, both writers suggest the destructive potential of an obsession with the demonic that haunted the Puritan and post-Puritan imagination.

Other annotations in Melville's copy of Mosses lead us toward the character of Ishmael. Edward Stone (64) has noted the parallels between a passage that Melville marked in "The Procession of life" and his initial depiction of the friendship between Ishmael and Queequeg in Moby-Dick. Hawthorne had written, "Each sect surrounds its own righteousness with a hedge of thorns. It is difficult for the good Christian to acknowledge the good Pagan; almost impossible for the good Orthodox to grasp the hand of the good Unitarian, leaving to their Creator to settle the matters in dispute, and giving their mutual efforts strongly and trustingly to whatever right thing is too evident to be mistaken" (203). Melville scored the next sentence, which notes the contrast in some individuals between their expansive heart and narrowly focused intellect; and he double-scored a subsequent sentence detailing the intoxicating qualities of a powerful "Truth," leading its possessor to "quarrel in his cups" (1:203.11-12, 24). The whole passage casts a suggestive light on the Presbyterian Ishmael's friendship with the pagan Queequeg, and his rationalized decision at the end of "A Bosom Friend" (Chapter 10 of Moby-Dick) to join his new Polynesian comrade in worshipping the idol Yojo.

In "Rappaccini's Daughter," another of the texts he had extensively marked in Mosses, Melville had responded to the narrator's claim that "there is an influence in the light of morning that tends to rectify whatever errors of fancy, or even of judgment, we may have incurred during the sun's decline, or among the shadow of the night, or in the less wholesome glow of moonshine" (1:90.8-11). The passage would patently contribute to Ishmael's experiences in "The Try-Works" (Chapter 96 of Moby-Dick) when, after a critical ordeal of nearly capsizing the Pequod, he expands his moral vision to include the beneficent powers of light, thereby breaking from his commitment to Ahab's uncompromising obsession with the power of blackness: "Look not too long in the face of the fire, O man! . . . To-morrow, in the natural sun, the skies will be bright; those who glared like devils in the forking flames, the morn will show in far other, at least gentler, relief; the glorious, golden, glad sun, the only true lamp—all others but liars!" (424). The ambiguous nature of fire as both hellish destructive agent, as in "Young Goodman Brown," and sacred center of domestic warmth, as in "Fire-Worship," would also seem to have contributed to Ishmael's divided representation of fire in "The Try-Works." As critics have often noted, the difference between Ahab's and Ishmael's moral vision is that between self-destructive obsession with evil and a more balanced acknowledgment of the complex intermixture of good and evil in the world. In general, the balance of head and heart that Melville singled out for praise in the portraits of the Master Genius in "A Select Party" and the truth-seeker in "The Intelligence Office" would have provided potential models for the development of Ishmael's morally balanced character.

As we have seen, Melville was highly responsive to the metaphysical mysteries of Hawthorne's sketch about his reflective doppelgänger, "Monsieur du Miroir," which touched on the question of the immortality of the soul that recurrently preoccupied Melville because of his loss of traditional Christian faith. The mysteries of self and soul depicted in Hawthorne's sketch thus parallel Ishmael's metaphysical quest for identity in Moby-Dick, as in his discussion of the mysterious, irresistible human attraction to water in Chapter 1 of Moby-Dick, illustrated by the classical myth of Narcissus who drowned because he couldn't "grasp the tormenting, mild image he saw in the fountain" and whose moral implies "the image of the ungraspable phantom of life" (5). The elusive nature of Monsieur du Miroir's image may have also contributed to the portrait of the ghostly Fedallah, Ahab's demonic double and ostensible guide in the hunt for the White Whale. The reader of Moby-Dick might well say of the Parsee what Hawthorne's narrator says of his mysterious doppelgänger: "I could fancy that M. du Miroir himself is a wanderer from the spiritual world, with nothing human, except his illusive garment of visibility" (1:158.1-3). Ahab's baffled speculations on the ultimate agency of his quest for revenge in "The Symphony" (Chapter 132) would also seem to be forecast in a passage Melville marked earlier in the same sketch: "Is it too wild a thought, that my fate may have assumed this image of myself, and therefore haunts me with such inevitable pertinacity, originating every act which it appears to imitate, while it deludes me by pretending to share the events, of which it is merely the emblem and prophecy?" (1:156.10-15).

The Aftermath

While a detailed analysis of Melville's interactions with Hawthorne during their shared Berkshire residence is beyond the scope of this essay, we should note some aspects of its aftermath. Hawthorne eventually left the Berkshires in November 1851 while Melville was in the midst of writing Pierre, the underlying despair of which may be associated with the departure of his friend. The following year, as a way to keep the friendship alive, Melville attempted to interest Hawthorne in using the story of an abandoned Nantucket woman, Agatha Hatch Robertson, that he had learned while traveling with his father-in-law Lemuel Shaw on court duty on Cape Cod in July 1852. But Hawthorne eventually declined the offer, as Melville found out after a brief visit with him at his new home in Concord, Massachusetts, in December 1852—a month after Hawthorne's college friend Franklin Pierce had won the presidential election, thereby setting up Hawthorne, author of the candidate's campaign biography, for a lucrative political appointment to Liverpool a few months later. With the commercial failure of Pierre in 1852 and his inability to publish his next novel, The Isle of the Cross (based on the story that he offered to Hawthorne; see Parker 2:136-61) in the spring of 1853, Melville was forced to begin a career as a writer of short fiction.

Hawthorne's Mosses would now provide him with needed artistic models for a literary genre he had hitherto not utilized (Newman). As we can see from a brief sampling of evidence, creative transmutations of Hawthorne's stories and sketches in Mosses pervade Melville's short fiction. In Melville's portrait of "Bartleby the Scrivener," for example, we find likely connections with Hawthorne's image of the uncompromising, ideal-driven artist (Drowne, Owen Warland, the "Master Genius"), as well as of the pathos-laden old apple dealer in the sketch of the same name (Levy). "Benito Cereno" shares with "Young Goodman Brown" and "Rappaccini's Daughter" the theme of initiation into evil (Waggoner 141); as in the latter story, we find in Melville's explosive narrative the ambiguous representation of a dangerously alluring victim (Cereno, Beatrice) to a cultural innocent (Delano, Giovanni). William Dillingham has noted the many Hawthornean echoes in "The Encantadas" while analyzing it as a "devastatingly effective answer to his own earlier essay 'Hawthorne and His Mosses'" (92). In "The Fiddler," too, "Melville has in effect recreated a single episode from the career of an artistic Owen Warland" (Dillingham 165). Bruce Bickley has called "The Bell Tower" "Melville's most overt attempt at allegory in the Hawthornean manner" (96). Finally, we find motifs from "The Old Manse" in "The Apple Tree Table" (Rosenberry), and from "The Old Manse," "Fire Worship," and "Monsieur du Miroir" in "I and My Chimney" (Rosenberry; Bickley 49-51); while echoes of "Fire Worship" and "Young Goodman Brown" again appear in "The Lightning-Rod Man."

In addition to providing various themes and motifs for his short fiction, Hawthorne would also serve as a model for several characterizations in Melville's fiction and poetry, based on the initial appeal but later disenchantment that Melville found in Hawthorne's charismatic but elusive personality. So Hawthorne would help inspire the drama of disillusionment depicted in Pierre (Lueders; Milder Ch. 6) and again in "The Piazza" (Dillingham Ch. 13; Waggoner 130-36), as well as the sardonic satirical caricature of Hawthorne as Charlie Noble in The Confidence-Man (Cook 144-60), and the portrait of the troubled Hawthornean artist figure Vine in Clarel (Bezanson).

As both creature and creator, then, Hawthorne would continue to drop "germinous seeds" into Melville's "soul," which would produce important literary fruit even after Melville's gradual estrangement from his Berkshire friend, whom he last saw in Liverpool, England, in November 1856 and then again more briefly in May 1857. On the first of these occasions, Hawthorne recorded his famous description of Melville as a religious seeker: "He can neither believe, nor be comfortable in his unbelief; and he is too honest and courageous not to try to do one or the other. If he were a religious man, he would be one of the most truly religious and reverential; he has a very high and noble nature, and better worth immortality than most of us" (Journals 628-29). If Melville had rhapsodically proclaimed Hawthorne as America's literary messiah and Master Genius in his Mosses review six years earlier, Hawthorne was now rendering a more somber judgment on Melville's religious and philosophical skepticism—a skepticism that would help make Melville a key figure in America's transition to modernity in the early twentieth century and a recognized master of world literature.

The following bibliography includes works cited in the foregoing essay as well as authors and titles named in the mouse-over critical commentary accompanying the edition of "Melville's Marginalia in Nathaniel Hawthorne's Mosses from an Old Manse" linked at the top of this page. The text and marginalia were assembled primarily by Boise State University interns Andrea Johnson and Christopher Ohge from base text generously supplied by the Electronic Text Center, University of Virginia. Ohge assumed responsibility for finalizing the transcription, and Rachel Hays assisted in proof-reading the text. The marginalia transcription was verified against Melville's original copy by Peter Norberg and Steven Olsen-Smith, with guidance and advice by Dennis C. Marnon.

[1] Wilson provides an essential guide to the scholarly literature on the Melville-Hawthorne friendship; see also Mansfield, Jones, and Davis. The pioneering examination of the relationship was by Hayford. Still useful for its commentary on the friendship and its collection of original documents is Metcalf. Relevant biographical data on both writers is available in Mellow and Parker. For recent studies of the Hawthorne-Melville relationship in the context of American literary friendships, see Laskin, 25-94, and Lingeman, Ch. 2.

[2] Melville’s copy of the 1846 Wiley & Putnam edition (Sealts No. 248) is housed at Houghton Library, Harvard University. *AC85.M4977.Zz846h by permission of Houghton Library. Parenthetical page references to marked and annotated passages refer to pagination in "Herman Melville's Marginalia in Nathaniel Hawthorne's Mosses from an Old Manse," with line numbers following pagination, where applicable. For instance, the citation "1:51.15-18" refers to Volume 1, page 51, lines 15 to 18 of the PDF edition linked at the top of this page, and may include the mouse-over critical comment linked to the passage in question.

[3] An ancient religious center of Israel, “Shiloh” was also a traditional name for the messiah, based on the words of the dying Jacob in Genesis: “The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be” (49:10).

[4] On Shakespeare’s reputation in nineteenth-century America and the cultural context of Melville’s remarks on him in the Mosses review, see Sturgess. For Cornelius Mathews’ possible influence on Melville’s Mosses essay, see Bousquet, 642-49; see also Parker, 1:739-40.


Bezanson, Walter E. "Selections from the Introduction to the Hendricks House Edition of Clarel." In Wilson, ed., Hawthorne and Melville Friendship, 77-90.

Bickley, R. Bruce, Jr. The Method of Melville's Short Fiction. Durham: Duke University Press, 1975.

Bousquet, P. Marc. "Mathews's Mosses? Fair Papers and Foul: A Note on the Northwestern-Newberry Edition of Melville's 'Hawthorne and His Mosses.'" New England Quarterly 67 (1994): 622-49.

Colacurcio, Michael J. "'Artificial Fire': Reading Melville (Re-)Reading Hawthorne." Nathaniel Hawthorne Review 33 (Spring 2007): 1-22.

————. The Province of Piety: Moral History in Hawthorne's Early Tales. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1984.

————. "'Life Within the Life': Sin and Self in Hawthorne's New England." Nathaniel Hawthorne Review 30 (2004): 1-31.

Cook, Jonathan A. Satirical Apocalypse: An Anatomy of Melville's "The Confidence-Man." Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1996.

Cowen, Wilson Walker. Melville's Marginalia. PhD Dissertation. Harvard University, 1965.

Crews, Frederick. The Sins of the Fathers: Hawthorne's Psychological Themes. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1966.

Davis, Clark. "Hawthorne's Shyness: Romance and the Forms of Truth." ESQ 26 (First and Second Quarters 2000): 32-65.

Dillingham, William. Melville's Short Fiction, 1853-1856. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1977.

Donohue, Agnes McNeill. Hawthorne: Calvin's Ironic Stepchild. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1985.

Fisher, Marvin. "Portrait of the Artist in America." In Wilson, ed., Hawthorne and Melville Friendship, 111-20.

Gross, Seymour L. "Hawthorne Versus Melville." In Wilson, ed., Hawthorne and Melville Friendship, 121-37.

Hayford, Harrison. "Hawthorne and Melville: A Biographical and Critical Study." PhD Dissertation. Yale University, 1945.

————. "Hawthorne, Melville, and the Sea." New England Quarterly 19.4 (December 1946): 435-52

Herbert, T. Walter, Jr. "Moby-Dick" and Calvinism: A World Dismantled. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1977.

Hoeltje, Hubert H. "Hawthorne, Melville, and Blackness." American Literature 37 (1965): 41-51.

Jones, Buford. "Some 'Mosses' from the Literary World: Critical and Bibliographical Survey of the Hawthorne-Melville Relationship." In G. R. Thompson and Virgil L. Lokke, eds. Ruined Eden of the Present: Hawthorne, Melville, Poe. West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press, 1981.

Laskin, David. A Common Life: Four Generations of American Literary Friendship and Influence. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994.

Levy, Leo B. "Hawthorne and the Idea of Bartleby.'" ESQ 47 (Second Quarter, 1967): 66-69.

Leyda, Jay, ed. The Melville Log: A Documentary Life of Herman Melville, 1819-1891. 2 vols. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1951; reprint, with supplement, New York: Gordian Press, 1969.

Lingeman, Richard. Double Lives: American Writers' Friendships. New York: Random House, 2006.

Loving, Jerome M. "Melville's Pardonable Sin." New England Quarterly 47 (1974): 262-78.

Lueders, Edward G. "The Hawthorne-Melville Relationship in Pierre and The Blithedale Romance." In Wilson, ed., Hawthorne and Melville Friendship, 138-49.

Mansfield, Luther Stearns. "Melville and Hawthorne in the Berkshires." In Melville & Hawthorne in the Berkshires: A Symposium. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1966.

Mellow, James R. Mellow. Nathaniel Hawthorne in His Times. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1980.

Melville, Herman. Clarel: A Poem and Pilgrimage in the Holy Land. Ed. Harrison Hayford, Hershel Parker, and G. Thomas Tanselle. Evanston and Chicago: Northwestern University Press and the Newberry Library, 1991.

————. Correspondence. Ed. Lynn Horth. Evanston and Chicago: Northwestern University Press and the Newberry Library, 1993.

————. "The Fiddler." In The Piazza Tales and Other Prose Pieces 1839-1860. Ed. Harrison Hayford, Alma A. MacDougall, and G. Thomas Tanselle. Evanston and Chicago: Northwestern University Press and the Newberry Library, 1987: 262-67.

————. "Hawthorne and His Mosses." In The Piazza Tales and Other Prose Pieces 1839-1860. Ed. Harrison Hayford, Alma A. MacDougall, and G. Thomas Tanselle. Evanston and Chicago: Northwestern University Press and the Newberry Library, 1987: 239-53.

————. Journals. Ed. Howard C. Horsford with Lynn Horth. Evanston and Chicago: Northwestern University Press and the Newberry Library, 1989.

————. Moby-Dick; or, The Whale. Ed. Harrison Hayford, Hershel Parker, and G. Thomas Tanselle. Evanston and Chicago: Northwestern University Press and the Newberry Library, 1988.

————. Pierre, or the Ambiguities. Ed. Harrison Hayford, Hershel Parker, and G. Thomas Tanselle. Evanston and Chicago: Northwestern University Press and the Newberry Library, 1971.

————. The Poems of Herman Melville. Ed. Douglas Robillard. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 2000.

Metcalf, Eleanor Melville. Herman Melville: Cycle and Epicycle. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1953.

Milder, Robert. Exiled Royalties. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Moss, Sidney P. "Hawthorne and Melville: An Inquiry into Their Art and the Mystery of Their Friendship." In Wilson, ed., The Hawthorne and Melville Friendship, 150-91.

Newman, Lea Bertani Vozar. A Reader's Guide to the Short Stories of Herman Melville. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1986.

Parker, Hershel. Herman Melville: A Biography. 2 vols. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996 and 2002.

Powell, Thomas. "Herman Melville, Romancist." The New York Daily News (14 April 1856); reprinted in Steven Olsen-Smith. "Herman Melville's Planned Work on Remorse." Nineteenth-Century Literature 50 (1996), 489-500.

Reynolds, Larry J. "Melville's Use of 'Young Goodman Brown,'" American Transcendental Quarterly 31 (Summer 1976): 12-14.

Rosenberry, Edwin H. "Melville and His Mosses," American Transcendental Quarterly 7 (Summer 1970): 47-51.

Sealts, Merton M. Jr. Melville's Reading: Revised and Enlarged Edition. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1988.

Stone, Edward. "More on Hawthorne and Melville." The Nathaniel Hawthorne Journal 1975. Englewood, CO: Microcard Editions, 1975.

Sturgess, Kim C. Shakespeare and the American Nation. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

Waggoner, Hyatt H. The Presence of Hawthorne. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1979.

Wilson, James C. The Hawthorne and Melville Friendship: An Annotated Bibliography, Biographical and Critical Essays, and Correspondence Between the Two. Jeffersonville, NC: McFarland, 1991.

Wright, Nathalia. "Mosses from an Old Manse and Moby-Dick." Modern Language Notes 67 (1952): 387-92.

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