Robert L. Gale
"Bartleby the Scrivener," which Herman Melville published in magazine form in 1853, is a
disquieting short story, one of the most challenging in all of American literature. Reviewers of
The Piazza Tales, in which it appeared in book form in 1856, admired it only in general terms, if
at all;(1) in fact, it was not until the 1920's, with Raymond Weaver, John Freeman, and especially
Lewis Mumford,(2) that any kind of justice was done to its subtlety. No noteworthy comments on
it appeared during the '30's, but since 1945 it has been subjected to considerable scrutiny, the
most provocative to me being that of Egbert S. Oliver and Leo Marx.(3) To date, then, the result
has been a bewildering variety of interpretations, which, taken together, amount to a tremendous
tribute to the ambivalence of Melville.(4)
Many commentators have felt that in portraying Bartleby, the intransigent scrivener who suddenly prefers to copy no longer, Melville was indulging in allegorical autobiography.(5) Most have gone on to regard the author as unequivocally sympathetic to the plight of his isolated, dim-eyed protagonist; for, to be sure, as Newton Arvin has stated, "What Bartleby essentially dramatizes is . . . the cosmic irony of the truth that men are at once immitigably interdependent and immitigably forlorn."(6) But a few scholars have aptly shown that part of Melville's heart goes out to the Wall Street lawyer, Bartleby's would-be benefactor who gives him employment in the first place, charitably if somewhat fatalistically endures his later civil disobedience, offers thereafter to do anything he can for him, and tries with an enlightened sense of fraternity to stand by him to the end.
I align myself with those who incline toward some annoyance with the scrivener and considerable respect for his long-suffering employer. I especially admire E.S. Oliver, who sees in "Bartleby" Melville's rejection of Thoreau's brand of social irresponsibility, and Leo Marx, who sees Melville as sympathizing with the immured scrivener's delusory plight but ultimately opposing his nihilistic solution to it in favor of the lawyer's less artistic-like attempt to adjust to the world of man and nature. I cannot accept Richard Chase's puzzling interpretation of Bartleby as "Madman and saint, clown and savior," "an infant Christ in . . . the City of Man," and a "son" to the "father"-like lawyer whom he cannot illuminate and redeem even by his death.(7) Nor do I agree with Richard Harter Fogle, when he defines Bartleby's would-be helper as a "bachelor"--that is, a Melvillian character uncommitted to life--and as a humorously fatalistic relativist.(8) Instead, I feel with Ronald Mason--and Marx appears to do so as well--that Bartleby's plight educates and spiritually illuminates his employer.(9)
All critics who have commented either in acceptance or in rejection of the theory that
Bartleby is a disguised self-portrait of Melville have concentrated their attention upon the
scrivener and have looked at the very most only glancingly at his employer's attitudes with an idea
of trying to find a real-life model for that worthy gentleman. Only Mumford and Chase have
made comments of value here. Writing of the Bartleby-like Melville of the early 1850's, Mumford
By his persistence in minding his own spiritual affairs, those who might have helped him on their own
terms, like Allan [Melville's lawyer brother] or his father-in-law [Lemuel Shaw] or his Uncle Peter [Gansevoort],
inevitably became a little impatient; for in the end, they foresaw they would be obliged to throw him off, and he
would find himself in prison, not in the visible prison for restraining criminals, but in the pervasive prison of dull
routine and meaningless activity.(10)
And Chase follows up Mumford's suggestion in this manner: "The strained and complex relationship between Bartleby and the lawyer may have certain similarities to the relationship between Melville and his father-in-law, also a lawyer, who helped the Melville family finance itself while Melville went on writing instead of getting a job."(11)
Now, I realize that Melville was mainly concerned with writing poignant fiction of
universal appeal when he penned "Bartleby," and I am also mindful of what Fogle means when he
rejects the concept that the story is to be read mainly as an allegory of its author's personal
situation and that of other impatient writers in America a century ago. Fogle says that
If . . . these themes represent his main intention in the story, then the worse for Melville. It would make
him guilty of a puerile irony and an elaborate trick upon the well-meaning reader . . . Bartleby as representative
man is certainly more interesting than Bartleby as author, or than Bartleby as Melville.(12)
Still, it is a matter of record both that Melville enjoyed elaborately tricking his "well-meaning"
Victorian readers and that he delighted in writing on several levels at once. So I am emboldened
to pursue an unexplored aspect of "Bartleby" as family allegory. Although I make no pretense
that my reading provides a key unlocking all the mysteries of this inexhaustible story, it is my
contention that Melville, while busy doing many other things as well, was here incidentally
praising but also subtly rebuking his generous and successful father-in-law, Lemuel Shaw, Chief
Justice of Massachusetts.(13)
Lemuel Shaw was as remarkable a man as most of the heroes created by his son-in-law, and in many ways a good deal more admirable. He was as worthy of our respect as Bartleby's employer is of the well-reasoned tributes of Oliver, Marx, and several other Melville scholars and readers. In his professional career, personal life, love of family, and loyalty to his daughter Elizabeth's strange husband, Judge Shaw was exemplary.(14)
Shaw was born in Barnstable, Massachusetts, in 1781, was educated at home in preparation for Harvard College--from which he was graduated in 1800--taught school briefly and did some newspaper work and began reading for the law, and was admitted to the bar in New Hampshire in 1804 but soon established in Boston what gradually became a remunerative practice. While in Amherst he fell in love with and became engaged to his friend Allan Melville's sister Nancy, but the future novelist's aunt died in 1813 before they could be married. Five years later Shaw married Elizabeth Knapp, a wealthy Boston merchant's daughter who died in 1822 giving birth to their second child, Elizabeth, later Melville's wife.
In 1830, having remarried some three years before, Shaw--by now highly successful as a legal representative of large commercial enterprises--was asked by Massachusetts Governor Levi Lincoln and induced by the eloquence of Daniel Webster to become Chief Justice of the Commonwealth. Doing so meant talking himself into feeling confident enough to perform the assignment well and also reconciling himself to a salary of only $3,500 instead of the $15,000 to $20,000 which his lucrative practice brought him annually. Writing a memorandum to himself weighing the pros and cons, the successful lawyer slowly decided to accept, and from 1830 to 1860, the year before his death, was a supremely fine judge.(15)
No less commendable is the domestic history of Judge Shaw. He once wrote his wife as
follows, "What enjoyment can I have in this life, what hope or expectation of happiness, if not
from the affection of a wife and children, who are dear to me. Their prosperity, virtue and
happiness are the only cause of my own, and I look to no other for enjoyment in this life."(16) He
did all he could to minister shrewdly to their needs and increase their material comfort. But of
more relevance here, he was also a staunch aid to the Melville family after the death of his old
friend--and almost brother-in-law--Allan Melville in 1832 and long before Herman married into
the Shaw family. As Merrill R. Davis puts it, "All members of the Melville family came to rely on
Shaw's friendship and advice."(17) The good judge sympathized with and advised the distraught
widow Maria Melville. He helped Gansevoort, her darling, at the start of that young man's legal
career. He encouraged the friendship of his daughter Elizabeth and Melville's sister Helen, while
the future novelist was in the Pacific area, and accompanied his daughter on a visit to the
Melvilles at Lansingburgh in 1845 shortly after the wandering sailor's return. One result of
Shaw's seeing Melville at this time may well have been Typee; for, as Davis suggests,
The fact that Melville's first book Typee was dedicated to Shaw . . . may indicate not only Melville's
recognition of the friendship of Lemuel Shaw for the Melville family and of his aid and advice but his true
acknowledgment of the encouragement which his future father-in-law gave him in his first publishing venture and
of the interest of Shaw in the story which Melville told of life in the South Seas.(18)
Shortly after Typee was published, early in 1846, Melville in his turn visited the judge and his daughter in Boston, and--among other activities--began his habit of borrowing books from the Athenaeum on Shaw's membership. It was August of 1847 before the somewhat leisurely courtship ended in marriage.
Once Melville was his son-in-law, Shaw had ample opportunity to demonstrate his sincerity in writing earlier that his family's happiness was "the only cause of [his] own." He advanced $2,000 for half a house in New York for Melville and Elizabeth, Melville's brother Allan buying the other half for himself and his wife.(19) Shaw happily greeted the arrival of grand-child after grand-child. He presented an open ear when Melville after Mardi complained about an uncomprehending public, and he tried to make what he could out of his son-in-law's strange statement late in 1849--after Redburn and White Jacket-- "So far as I am individually concerned, and independent of my pocket, it is my earnest desire to write those sort of books which are said to 'fail.'--pardon this egotism."(20) Shaw advanced an additional $3,000 when the Melvilles decided in 1850 to buy "Arrowhead," the farm outside of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and to move there away from Manhattan.(21) He sent Melville books through the years, including early in 1851 Owen Chase's Narrative of the Shipwreck of the Whaleship Essex and William Ley's and Cyrus M. Hussey's Narrative of the Mutiny on the Globe, of Nantucket, 1824.(22) In 1852, after Moby Dick had failed to capture the public fancy, Shaw took Melville on a little trip to Martha's Vineyard for relaxation and possibly for artistic stimulation as well; later, evidently worrying even more about Melville's health, he provided the depleted author $1,400 or so for his trip to the Holy Land, in 1856 and 1857.(23) Next, when Melville had returned to America no more able to write than just before, Shaw sympathized with his plans to lecture on Italian statuary and other subjects and at least once even did what he could to arrange a performance, in Salem just after Christmas, 1859. Over the years, he also used all of the influence he could muster in a vain effort to obtain for Melville some sort of government employment, writing influential friends in 1853 to try for a consulship--Honolulu, Antwerp, and Rome were mentioned in the correspondence at this time--trying again in 1857 for a job in the New York Custom House, and finally, in February, 1861, only a few weeks before his own death, advising by letter with Allan Melville about the consulship in Florence for the enervated novelist.(24)
All of his letters concerning or to Melville reflect Judge Shaw's evident consideration for
others. For example, to one influential politician he wrote as follows: "I learn that my son in law,
Mr. Herman Melville, now of Pittsfield in this state, is a candidate for the consulship of Honolulu,
Sandwich Islands . . . It would be a severe trial to me, to have my daughter go to such a distance
with her young and growing family, but it is [a] sacrifice I would cheerfully submit to, to promote
their welfare."(25) And from his deathbed, he wrote to Allan Melville in this fashion:
I am as deeply impressed as you possibly can be of the necessity of Herman's getting away from Pittsfield.
He is there solitary, without society, without exercise or occupation except that which is very likely to be injurious
to him in over-straining his mind. I therefore have hoped that some situation may be found for him, where he has
easy employment and moderate exercise of mind and body, and give him an opportunity to associate habitually
with others. . . . if Herman can get the appointment of Consul to Florence, I think it would be extremely beneficial
to him . . . I will do anything in my power to promote this appointment . . .(26)
But the finest letter, of validity to my topic, which Shaw ever wrote was the long and to
me beautiful one he penned to Melville on May 15, 1860, a couple of weeks before the restless
novelist's departure on his brother Captain Thomas Melville's clipper-ship the Meteor for a long
vacation to San Francisco and elsewhere. The letter is too long even to excerpt adequately, but it
begins "My Dear Herman, I am very glad to learn from your letter [not extant] that you intend to
accept Thomas' invitation to go on his next voyage. I think it affords a fair prospect of being a
permanent benefit to your health, and it will afford me the greatest pleasure to do anything in my
power to aid your preparation, and make the voyage most agreeable and beneficial to you." Shaw
continues by gently summarizing his financial assistance to Melville, for all of which he took
Melville's notes. Next, he proposes returning all notes, taking a deed to "Arrowhead," and
conveying that property to his daughter, "subject of course [he adds] to your rights as her
husband during your life." He concludes with legal formality, tact, charity, and what might be
called genuine sweetness:
The effect of this arrangement will be to cancel and discharge all debt and pecuniary obligation of every
description from you to myself. You will then leave home with the conscious satisfaction of knowing that you are
free from debt; that if by a Providential dispensation you should be prevented from ever returning to your beloved
family some provision will have been made at least for a home, for your wife and children. Affectionately and ever
faithfully Your sincere friend Lemuel Shaw.(27)
The fine spirit of Lemuel Shaw shines through these words, penned a century ago, but toward him Herman Melville must have been of two minds. The novelist who could view Nukuheva as a green paradise to be shunned, who could rush back to America and then satirize it as Vivenza, who could look with double vision at Wellingborough Redburn and also life aboard a man-of-war, and who could create the "grand, ungodly, godlike man," Captain Ahab, and also the ambivalent object of his quest--that novelist would inevitably have been silently lost in gratitude to Shaw and yet would also have loathed him for his well-intentioned but smothering acts of kindness. Shaw provided Melville a wife, a home, ostensible encouragement at first, money for travel, political contacts, once even a maid to help out after the birth of his first son.(28) But how had all this helped the artist?
Melville's six extant letters to Shaw appear to be sincerely friendly. When Melville sent him a copy of Typee--published a year and a half before the novelist's marriage, be it added--he wrote, "The dedication [to Shaw] is very simple, for the world would hardly have sympathized to the full extent of those feelings with which I regard my father's friend and the constant friend of all his family."(29) Later letters complain about the critical reception of Mardi and also about having to write such potboilers as Redburn and White Jacket. Another asks efficiently enough for help in getting a letter of recommendation from Emerson to Carlyle, before Melville went to England in 1849.(30) It is perhaps significant that no written response by Melville to Shaw's magnificent letter of May 15, 1860, appears to have survived, although Melville did duly execute the deed to "Arrowhead" which Shaw had tactfully asked for.(31) Melville evidently agreed with the sentiments of his father-in-law, who said in his letter, "I do not see any advantage in giving the business any more notoriety than will arise from putting the deeds on record;"(32) for he appears not to have made it a habit to thank the man by mail. Of course, no one knows the substance and tone of their personal conversations.(33)
Who would not like to have such a man as Judge Lemuel Shaw for a father-in-law? And
yet, when Melville strained to produce a work, Shaw--and Elizabeth too(34)--checked his sleeping
habits and the amount of exercise he was getting, and closed in on him to feel his pulse and chafe
his brow. They meant well, and yet undoubtedly they did ill to American literature. Of all this
debilitating attentiveness to Melville by his family, Charles Anderson aptly observes,
On the human level this is all understandable enough, but if the artist is saved from the consequences of
his vision the art is lost. Poe and Whitman suffered in greater degree from grinding poverty, lack of popular
recognition, and the problem of tortured personalities; but having no solicitous and hovering clan to save them, or
smother them, they struggled on through to the end. Melville withdrew into a moody silence . . . did he yield to
family pressures, implied and overt, from within himself as well as from those nearest and dearest, solicitous but
not really sympathetic?(35)
In short, did Melville in the early 1850's come to see himself as a Bartleby, walled in, scribbling meaninglessly, essentially misunderstood by those about him, and weakened by the pity of his would-be benefactor? I think that in many ways he did. And yet Bartleby-Melville's benefactor is to be thanked for his pity, and the stoical author could close his story of the scrivener with the pitying line, "Ah, Bartleby! Ah, humanity!"(36)
Now let us look at "Bartleby the Scrivener" to see whether it appears valid to regard its lawyer-narrator as partly a disguised sketch of Lemuel Shaw and therefore partly a repository of both the gratitude and the displeasure of Melville toward him. The Wall Street lawyer and the Massachusetts judge may be generally compared as to certain details of their professional work. The lawyer-narrator calls himself "a rather elderly gentleman" who for thirty years has had to do with "law-copyists" (16). Although his profession is usually "energetic and nervous, even to turbulence," he is "one of those unambitious lawyers who never address a jury, or in any way draw down public applause; but, in the cool tranquility of a snug retreat, do a snug business among rich men's bonds, and mortgages, and title-deeds" (16).(37) He is proud of having been commended once for his prudence by John Jacob Astor, who employed him professionally at one time and whose name pleasingly "rings like unto bullion" (17). He recalls having been a Master in Chancery; this work, never "arduous," was "very pleasantly remunerative." But with the "abrogation of the office . . . by the new Constitution," he was deprived of the profits (17). Finally, at one point he returns to his habitual prudence by recalling the unpremeditated murder of Samuel Adams by the "wildly excited" John C. Colt (43), which occurred in 1841.(38) As for Shaw--he was seventy-two years of age when "Bartleby" was first published, and he had been a successful lawyer and judge for nearly half a century. In a way he too was unambitious, since in 1830 he had given up his opulent practice for the lesser-paying judgeship. Further, his high pay as a lawyer had involved no turbulent addresses to juries but instead corporate work, which was indeed "very pleasantly remunerative." Finally, it seems plausible to me that when Melville alluded to the murder of Adams by Colt he may also have had in mind two other murders: the killing in self-defense of Charles Austin in 1806 by Thomas O. Selfridge, a law-partner of Shaw's, and the famous murder of George Parkman by Harvard chemistry professor John W. Webster, who was tried in 1850 before the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts presided over by Judge Shaw.(39)
The philosophy of life of the Wall Street lawyer and that of Judge Shaw are also similar in some ways. The fictional lawyer states his attitudes a few times and also allows us to conclude several things about them from his treatment of Bartleby. Feeling always that "the easiest way of life is the best" (16) and calling himself "a man of peace" (19), he avoids considering the most unpleasant side of things when he can, delays facing the inevitable, and tries first to solve his specific problem--with the uncooperative writer in his office--by the liberal use of easy money. Once he plans "to give him [Bartleby] a twenty dollar bill over and above whatever I might owe him, and tell him his services were no longer required" (35). Now, Shaw was certainly a man of peace, and he seems increasingly to have felt that the easiest way to cure his writing son-in-law of his inexplicable malady was to hand out more money for a change of scene. There appears to be no doubt that Shaw did not understand much of what Melville wrote after Omoo: he seems not to have answered Melville's letters to him concerning Mardi, Redburn, and White Jacket; he raked together books on whaling for him, to be sure, but did not, evidently, debate the symbolism of the white whale with its creator;(40) and he let "a week or two" at least go by after receiving a copy of The Confidence-Man without plunging into its depths--if indeed he ever did.(41) In fact, Shaw seems to have felt, especially after 1852, that the best thing for Melville's writing would be to lessen it by getting the author other employment or another rest. When one recalls Shaw's attempts to obtain a consulship for Melville and also his repeated efforts to ease his son-in-law's financial and psychic pressures, one is reminded forcefully of the bewildered Wall Street lawyer's attempts to help Bartleby. Would he take some "wholesome exercise in the open air?" He would not (38). Would he like a clerkship? No, but he was not particular (49).(42) How about going as a companion to Europe, to entertain some gentleman? No, he liked to be stationary (49).(43) Would he go home with the lawyer-- "'not to my office [the new one to which he had moved to avoid Bartleby], but my dwelling--and remain there till we can conclude upon some convenient arrangement for you at our leisure?'" No, he would prefer to make no change at present (49).(44) And at last, " '[I]n short, say now, that in a day or two you will begin to be a little reasonable:--say so, Bartleby.'" And the "mildly cadaverous reply"? "'At present I would prefer not to be a little reasonable'" (36).
Judge Shaw must often have thought that the writer in his family was not always
reasonable. Melville was of course grateful, undyingly so; yet who could blame him for an
undercurrent of anguished annoyance and stubbornness when he considered that Shaw had been
to Harvard while his college had been elsewhere, that Shaw's spelling, punctuation, and grammar
were impeccable while the Albany Academy had left his own somewhat uncertain,(45) that Shaw's
taxes each year through the 1850's were two to five times as great as Melville's whole income
from writing and lecturing during that entire decade,(46) and that for his bread, his roof, his jacket,
and his family's continued welfare--even many of the books he read--Melville owed thanks and
ever more thanks to generous Judge Shaw? He might have paid thanks graciously for all those
gifts and have accepted reasonably all the terms that accompanied them. But he preferred not to.
Ever possessed of an inflexibly unreasonable streak, he instead preferred unobtrusively to satirize
his pitying, charitable, successful, misunderstanding benefactor-tormentor as the lawyer in
"Bartleby the Scrivener." At the same time, he whisperingly confessed, through an incompletely
adumbrated self-portrait in the character of the scrivener, to a degree of irrationality in his own
attitude toward sympathy, aid, and work.
Robert L. Gale
1. For representative contemporary reviews of The Piazza Tales, see Jay Leyda, The Melville Log: A Documentary Life of Herman Melville 1819-1891 (New York 1951), II, 515-519, 521. Hereafter this work will be cited as Log.
2. John Freeman, Herman Melville (New York 1926), p. 145; Raymond Weaver, "Introduction" to Shorter Novels of Herman Melville (New York 1928), p. xlii; and Lewis Mumford, Herman Melville (New York 1929), pp. 236-238. Raymond Weaver, in his pioneering biography Herman Melville: Mariner and Mystic (New York 1921), does not discuss "Bartleby the Scrivener."
3. Egbert S. Oliver, "A Second Look at 'Bartleby'," College English, VI (May 1945), 431-439; and Leo Marx, "Melville's Parable of the Walls," Sewanee Review, LXI (Autumn, 1953), 602-627.
4. For a convenient brief summary of criticism of "Bartleby," see Marvin Felheim, "Meaning and Structure in 'Bartleby'," College English, XXIII (February 1962), 363-370.
5. Freeman, Melville, p. 145; Weaver, "Introduction" to Shorter Novels of Melville, p. xlii; Mumford, Melville, pp. 238-239; Alexander Eliot, "Melville and Bartleby," Furioso, III (Fall, 1947), 11-23; Jay Leyda, "Introduction" to The Complete Stories of Herman Melville (New York 1949), p. xxi; Richard Chase, Herman Melville: A Critical Study (New York 1949), pp. 146-147; Richard Chase, "Introduction" to Herman Melville: Selected Tales and Poems (New York 1950), p. viii; Newton Arvin, Herman Melville (New York 1950), p. 242; and Ronald Mason, The Spirit Above the Dust (London 1951), pp. 195-196.
6. Arvin, Melville, p. 243.
7. Chase, Melville, pp. 146, 147.
8. Richard Harter Fogle, Melville's Shorter Tales (Norman 1960), pp. 14-16, 19.
9. Mason says that Bartleby's death, far from being a waste, is creative (The Spirit Above the Dust, p. 177). Marx, disagreeing with F.O. Matthiessen, who calls "Bartleby" "a tragedy of utter negation" (American Renaissance: Art and Expression in the Age of Emerson and Whitman [New York 1941], p. 493, praises the lawyer's growing discernment and concludes that "'Bartleby' is exceptional in its sympathy and hope for the average man, and in the severity of its treatment of the artist" ("Melville's Parable of the Walls," pp. 626, 627).
10. Mumford, Melville, p. 238.
11. Chase, Melville, p. 147. A year later Chase brought Allan Melville into the picture, and also Gansevoort, another lawyer brother of Melville's, when he wrote as follows: "The relation of Bartleby to his employer perhaps mirrors the relation of Melville to his brothers Gansevoort and Allan, who actually practiced law in Wall Street, or to his father-in-law, a successful lawyer who had helped the Melville family financially" ("Introduction" to Melville: Selected Tales and Poems, p. viii).
12. Fogle, Melville's Shorter Tales, p. 23.
13. Instead of pursuing this line, Chase moved away from it to note that while Bartleby's employer is like Shaw, he also has elements of Melville in him too: "...Melville-as-writer appears not only as Bartleby but also as the lawyer himself. The lawyer's 'original business' had been that of a 'drawing-up of recondite documents of all sorts'--as Melville had drawn up such recondite documents as Mardi and Moby Dick" ("Introduction" to Melville: Selected Tales and Poems, p. viii). But the lawyer becomes "safe," which Melville never wanted to do, and never did.
14. The best biography of Shaw is Frederic Hathaway Chase, Lemuel Shaw: Chief Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts 1830-1860 (Boston 1918). The most recent work concerning Shaw, and one with an admirably pertinent introductory chapter, is Leonard W. Levy, The Law of the Commonwealth and Chief Justice Shaw (Cambridge 1957). See also Zechariah Chafee, Jr., "Shaw, Lemuel" in Dictionary of American Biography, ed. By Dumas Malone (New York 1946), XVII, 42-43.
15. Chase, "Shaw," pp. 136-139; Chafee, "Shaw," p. 43.
16. Quoted in Eleanor Melville Metcalf, Herman Melville: Cycle and Epicycle (Cambridge 1953), p. 31.
17. Merrell R. Davis, Melville's Mardi: A Chartless Voyage (New Haven 1952), p.7.
19. Metcalf, Melville, p. 48; Log, I, 260, 263 and II, 614-615. Leon Howard adds that Melville used only half the loan; however, Howard's summary clearly enough indicates that Melville's "financial situation [late in 1847] was...growing precarious" (Herman Melville: A Biography (Berkeley & Los Angeles 1951), p. 110.
20. Log, I, 316.
21. Ibid., I, 395. See also Howard, Melville, pp. 160-161.
22. Log, I, 407, 409.
23. Ibid., I, 451-453, and II, 521, 525. Howard implies that "shrewd old" Shaw's aim in taking Melville to Martha's Vineyard was to stimulate his nautical imagination (Melville, pp. 195-196); see also pp. 235-236 for Howard's summary of Shaw's part in getting Melville to the Holy Land. For a convenient reprinting of the whole letter from Shaw to Melville, dated May 15, 1860, explaining financial matters, see Metcalf, Melville, pp. 180-182.
24. Log, II, 610; I, 471-476; and II, 578, 633-634. Charles Sumner was later induced to recommend Melville for the consulship at Geneva, Glasgow, and Manchester, when the earlier leads failed (ibid., II, 639).
25. Log, I, 471. Howard, Melville, p. 205, feels that Shaw did not try very hard to obtain a consular appointment for Melville; I disagree: see Shaw's letter of February 1861, to Allan Melville (Log, II, 634), from which I quote immediately in my text.
26. Ibid., II, 634.
27. Metcalf, Melville, pp. 180-182. Would Melville have read any irony into that letter? Shaw deliberately neglected to mention sundry small gifts, such as a pre-Christmas donation in 1858, about which he had then gracefully written Melville as follows: "Believing that in providing your family supplies for the approaching winter, some pecuniary assistance may be wanted by you, I enclose you...my check...for $100" (Log, II, 596). See also Shaw's considerately phrased will, written before his trip to Europe in June, 1853 (ibid., I, 474).
28. The Letters of Herman Melville, ed. By Merrell R. Davis and William H. Gilman (New Haven, 1960), p. 84.
29. Ibid., p. 24.
30. Ibid., pp. 84, 91-92, 90. Evidently Shaw could not get that letter from Emerson but he did obtain letters from others to literary figures in England other than Carlyle (ibid., p. 90).
31. Log, II, 615. Shaw appears to have been sure that Melville would execute the deed, for he sent a draft of it with his letter (Metcalf, Melville, p. 181).
32. Metcalf, Melville, p. 181.
33. Regarding the whole subject of Melville and money, see William Charvat, "Melville's Income," American Literature, XV (November, 1943), 251-261. Charvat concludes, "His [Melville's] luck in respect to legacies was phenomenal, for he and his family received a total... of at least $63,370 during his life, and, through the generosity of his father-in-law, they lived rent-free from 1851 on... the conclusion that Melville was a poor manager seems inescapable, for even at the height of his literary fortunes he was heavily in debt... When one remembers that in spite of connections with such powerful political figures as Judge Shaw,... Melville was unable to get a political appointment better than an inspectorship, it is possible to infer that this estimate of his practical ability was shared by his relatives and acquaintances" (pp. 260, 261). Howard is more generous to Melville, pointing out for example that through the late 1850's "he seems to have held on to his capital regardless of how difficult it was for him to make a living. At the worst, his interest and dividends, with Elizabeth's small trust fund and their garden, could keep him in genteel poverty" (Melville, p. 234).
34. At least twice, in private letters, Elizabeth Shaw Melville complained that her husband was writing poetry. See Howard P. Vincent, "Introduction" to Collected Poems of Herman Melville (Chicago 1947), p. viii, and Metcalf, Melville, p. 237. Both pertinent passages are quoted in James E. Miller, Jr., Melville's Quest in Life and Art, South Atlantic Quarterly, LVIII (Autumn, 1959), 583. See also Howard, Melville, p. 235, regarding Elizabeth's "lifelong habit of worrying audibly about Herman's health and nervous condition...".
35. Charles Anderson, Review of Eleanor Metcalf Melville, Herman Melville: Cycle and Epicycle, in American Literature, XXVI (May, 1954), 264.
36. Herman Melville, "Bartleby," p. 54, in Piazza Tales, ed. By Egbert S. Oliver (New York 1948). All subsequent parenthetical references in the text are to this edition. Felheim, "Meaning and Structure in 'Bartleby,' " p. 370, points out that "Ah, Bartleby! Ah, humanity! is "uttered by no one, addressed not even to 'the reader.'"
37. Chase, Shaw, p.49, writes that "Shaw's career had nothing in its whole course of the sparkle and flash."
38. Log, I, 121.
39. Chase, Shaw, pp. 51-53, 188-210; and Levy, The Law of the Commonwealth, pp. 218-228. In November, 1849, Melville purchased a broadside concerning the murder of one O'Connor and the execution therefor of a Mr. and Mrs. Manning, to send to Shaw (Log, I, 331).
40. Melville sent Shaw a copy of Moby Dick in January, 1852 (ibid., I, 445); The Melville Log does not record the recipient's reply or comments on the work.
41. Ibid., II, 573. Anderson writes: "Chief Justice Shaw... for all his sympathy was so dimly aware of the values Melville cherished as to refer in a family letter [to Lemuel Shaw, Jr] of 1853 to 'Mr. Hawthorne, the poet and literary man whom you will recollect'" (Review of Metcalf, Melville, p. 263, quoting from Metcalf, Melville, p. 148). Lemuel Shaw, Jr., writing to his brother Samuel in July, 1856, that Melville was supposed to be working on another book, which turned out in fact to be The Confidence-Man, said, "I know nothing about it; but I have no great confidence in the success of his productions" (Log, II, 517).
42. It will be recalled that Shaw hoped--in 1861, to be sure--for "moderate exercise of...body" for his "solitary son-in-law" (ibid., II, 634). Melville apparently did not very actively seek the consulship to Honolulu which Shaw tried to get for him in the spring of 1853 (ibid., I, 471-474; Howard, Melville, p. 205).
43. One should probably not read too much into this, for there is no evidence that Shaw promoted sea voyages for Melville until 1856 and again in 1860. However, Dr. Amos Nourse, a mutual friend, wrote Shaw in March, 1852, that Melville "I fear is devoting himself to writing with an assiduity that will cost him dear by & by" (Log, I, 448), and Shaw would not have been slow to suggest changes. Further, in July, 1852, he took Melville off to Martha's Vineyard for a week of island-hopping and reported to his son Lemuel that "Melville expressed himself extremely well pleased with the excursion" (ibid., I, 453). Finally, it is likely that when Shaw went to Europe in June, 1853, he would have urged Melville, instead of Peter Gansevoort (who did go), to accompany him, but for the fact that the Melvilles had just had their third child late in May (ibid., I, 473-475).
44. It would be tedious to point out the number of times Shaw and his wife visited at Pittsfield during the early 1850's; at the conclusion of each little family reunion it is inevitable that Melville would have been urged to discontinue his mysterious writing and spend some time in Boston with them, and he must often have yielded (ibid., I, 402-477 passim). Robert Donald Spector writes as follows of "Bartleby": "From the outset, the narrator is depicted as a man who is 'eminently safe' and who is willing to compromise with all that surrounded him, even as Bartleby is not" ("Melville's 'Bartleby' and the Absurd," Nineteenth-Century Fiction, XVI [September, 1961], 176). Spector's statement just quoted remains a valid comment if we substitute "Shaw" for "narrator" and "Melville" for "Bartleby."
45. Note, for example, the several dangling constructions and slightly awkward double negatives in "Bartleby." Leedice Kissane, "Dangling Constructions in Melville's 'Bartleby'," American Speech, XXXVI (October, 1961), 195-200, tries hard to justify the danglers on the grounds of rhythm, tone, and action. It is to be doubted, however, that anyone could justify the scores of dangling modifiers in many of Melville's other works; in Omoo, Chapter XII, for example, we have the following: "waking the men, the corpse was immediately rolled up in the strips of blanketing upon which it lay, carried on deck."
46. Levy, The Law of the Commonwealth, p. 17; and Charvat, "Melville's Income," p. 260.
Mordecai Marcus, "Melville's Bartleby as a Psychological Double," College English, XXIII
(February, 1962), 366, believes that "Bartleby is a psychological double for the story's nameless
lawyer-narrator." On an unconscious level, Shaw may have been as concerned as he was about
Melville because, at least partly--as Marcus aptly says of Bartleby--he "appears to the lawyer
chiefly to remind him of the inadequacies, the sterile routine, of his world" (idem).
*Used by permission of Robert L. Gale, Professor Emeritus, University of Pittsburg.
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