Diary of Evert Duyckinck, 1 October 1856
Journal of Nathaniel Hawthorne, 12 November 1856
The following entries are included in order to provide perspectives on Melville's state of mind immediately after finishing The Confidence-Man, when he was beginning his journey through Europe and the Middle East. Duyckinck's account of Melville has suggested to John Seelye that Melville was probably not so despondent and mentally exhausted during this period as many critics have made him out to be; this would in turn undermine a common contention that The Confidence-Man was simply Melville's tired and bitter farewell to prose (Seelye, Introduction to The Confidence-Man. San Francisco: Chandler, 1968. XV). Duyckinck's mention of Robert Burton has also supported the argument of critics following Elizabeth Foster, that The Anatomy of Melancholy was likely an important source for Melville, especially in writing Chapter 45 (see Dryden, Melville's Thematics of Form, 188-195). The excerpt from Hawthorne is included, first of all, to suggest the spiritual or philosophical darkness that had precipitated Melville's voyage abroad in the first place. That Hawthorne would pinpoint the problem of "definite belief" indicates the relevance of his insight to The Confidence-Man, as his conclusion of Melville's contending "belief" and "unbelief" suggests the dialectic of understanding that continues throughout the novel. Melville's problem, it should be noted, is not with knowing "Providence" alone, but rather with attempting to understand "everything that lies beyond human ken." According to Hawthorne, Melville's would seem to be a spiritual and epistemological crisis--one which would then directly involve the interpretive conflicts of The Confidence-Man.
Evert Duyckinck, 1 October 1856:
Herman Melville passed the evening with me -- fresh from his mountain charged to the muzzle with his sailor metaphysics and jargon of things unknowable. But a good stirring evening -- ploughing deep and bringing to the surface some rich fruits of thought and experience -- Melville instanced old Burton as atheistical -- in the exquisite irony of his passages on some sacred matters; cited a good story from the Decameron the Enchantment of the husband in the tree; a story from Judge Edmonds of a prayer meeting of female convicts at Sing Sing which the Judge was invited to witness and agreed to, provided he was introduced where he could not be seen. It was an orgie of indecency and blasphemy. Said of Bayard Taylor that as some augur predicted the misfortunes of Charles I from the infelicity of his countenance so Taylor's prosperity 'borne up by the Gods' was written in his face.
Nathaniel Hawthorne, 12 November 1856:
. . . we took a pretty long walk together, and sat down in a hollow among the sand hills (sheltering ourselves from the high, cool wind) and smoked a cigar. Melville, as he always does, began to reason of Providence and futurity, and of everything that lies beyond human ken, and informed me that he had "pretty much made up his mind to be annihilated;" but still he does not seem to rest in that anticipation; and, I think, will never rest until he gets hold of a definite belief. It is strange how he persists -- and has persisted ever since I knew him, and probably long before -- in wandering to and fro over these deserts, as dismal and monotonous as the sand hills amid we were sitting. 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.
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