15 February 2006

Following the pencil trail

From the introduction to Melville's Marginalia Online:
The acclaimed writer of Moby-Dick, Billy Budd, Sailor and other revered works of American literature was also, as might be expected, a great reader of books. Yet few even among American literary scholars are familiar with the scope and variety of Herman Melville's personal library, and the profound influence of his reading on the growth of his intellect and on the composition of his own fiction and poetry. From youth onward Melville educated himself through rigorous, systematic reading, a habit of life and mind he assumed after the bankruptcy and death of his father required him to withdraw from formal schooling. By the time of his death in 1891, Melville’s library numbered some 1,000 volumes before being dispersed among friends, family members, and second-hand book sellers in Manhattan and Brooklyn.

Books bearing Melville's autograph and marginalia continue to resurface, bringing periodic gains to our knowledge of his intellectual and aesthetic development.* Since Melville marked and annotated his books with uncommon regularity and precision, the expanding record of evidence reveals his direct engagement with many past and contemporaneous works and figures: the King James Bible, Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, Edmund Spenser, John Milton, Alexander Pope, Arthur Schopenhauer, William Wordsworth, Honoré de Balzac, Matthew Arnold, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and a host of others. An ongoing project with cooperation and support from numerous individuals and institutions, Melville’s Marginalia Online aims to make this wealth of evidence fully and widely available to scholars and students.
(Via pages turned)

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