Melville and Turner in Venice
A second example of the long-range effect of Melville’s 1857 travels in Italy on his subsequent life as a poet deeply attuned to the intersection among “books, pictures, and the face of nature” (in the phrase he marked in the copy of Hazlitt’s Criticisms of Art he acquired in 1870) began with his visit to the private gallery of the poet Samuel Rogers in London in 1849 and ended with the publication of Timoleon in New York in 1891. The essential connecting tissue between the 1849 visit in London and the 1891 publication in New York entered Melville’s retinal consciousness in month of April 1857, first in a Venetian gondola, then in a London gallery.
As discussed in the above entries on Raphael, Titian, and Veronese (CAT 108, 109, 110), young Melville, during his two visits to the private gallery of Samuel Rogers in December 1849, would have seen first-impression prints of the 57 watercolor vignettes that J. M. W. Turner had created for reproduction in Rogers’s Italy 1830 and Poems in 1834. One of the most beautiful of those was Venice, a small vignette (2 5/8 inches high by 3 3/8 inches wide) engraved by E. Goodall as the head-piece for the same-named poem (fig. 4). Goodall’s minute engraving after Turner’s exquisite design catches perfectly the spirit in which Rogers invokes a vision of Venice in the opening lines of the poem printed directly beneath the engraved vignette:
There is a glorious City in the Sea.
The Sea is in the broad, the narrow streets,
Ebbing and flowing; and the salt sea-weed
Clings to the marble of her palaces.
No track of men, no footsteps to and fro,
Lead to her gates. The path lies o’er the Sea.