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Carl Van Doren (1885–1950).  The American Novel.  1921.


Page 75

author. Pierre (1852) is hopelessly frantic, the work of a mad Meredith raving over moral ambiguities; Israel Potter (1855), a Revolutionary story, is not markedly original; neither are The Piazza Tales (1856) and The Confidence Man (1857). The verses which Melville wrote in his later years, his sole output, are in a few instances happy and resonant, but more often jagged and harsh. Whatever the cause of his loss of power, he fretted under it and grew more and more metaphysical, tortured, according to Hawthorne, by uncertainty as to a future life, and by his own words shown to have despaired of any future for his writings. The way of metaphysics, for Melville, was madness; his earlier works might have taught him that he was lost without a solid basis of fact; in himself he lacked discipline and form. He moved restlessly about, living now in New York, now in a farmhouse near Pittsfield, Massachusetts, now in New York again, marrying in 1847, lecturing on the South Seas during the years 1857–60 in many cities of the United States and Canada, and visiting Europe and Palestine, about which he wrote a poem—Clarel (1876)—two volumes long and a rival of Mardi in eccentricity. Finally, he was appointed to a place in the New York Custom House in 1866 and served there for twenty years, living a private life of almost entire, though voluntary and studious, seclusion, musing on the philosophies. “How many,” he had said in Moby Dick of Tashtego’s fall into the whale’s head, “have likewise fallen into Plato’s honey head, and sweetly perished there?” Melville’s death in 1891 removed from American literature one of its most promising and yet most disappointing



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