Immediately upon entering the Spouter-Inn in chapter 3 of Moby-Dick, Ishmael encounters a painting without a label, a name, or even a discernable subject. Even after examining the canvas itself, along with his own responses to it, and even after consulting “many aged persons with whom I conversed upon the subject,” Ishmael is able to offer us only “a final theory of my own” about the subject of the painting itself and the source of its “nameless yeast” (NN MD 12-13). In this entry we are faced with the subject of a mezzotint engraving without access to the engraving itself or the names of the engraver or artist who created the image.
On May 13, 1869, relatively early in his life as an active collector of Old Master prints, Herman Melville had a second thought about the print he had recently left to be framed by Elias Dexter on Broadway. He therefore wrote this note from “Down Town” in New York City (fig. 1):