Melville Book Boxes

The Melville Book Boxes are designed to enrich our appreciation and understanding of the prints he is known to have collected during the last three decades of his life with selected engravings from the books he is known to have been collecting at the same time. The engraved images in his books were often by the same artists and engravers as the engraved images in his print collection, and they often explored similar subjects. The fusion of images from Melville’s book collection and his art collection in both his mind and heart is one essential component of the “pictorial fusion of his mind and vision” in the subtitle of this project. That cohabitation of pictorial images in his own home and imagination--enriched by his highly retentive memory of “books, pictures, and the face of nature” from a lifetime of travel through the libraries, galleries, and oceans of the world—gave Melville continual access to his own version of those three pleasures which Hazlitt had called the only “pure and lasting ones” in the passages Melville marked twice in the 1843 edition of Hazlitt’s Criticisms of Art he added to his own book collection in 1870 (Sealts no. 263a, MMO 263a, 040).

The Melville Book Boxes to be provided for each chapter rely heavily on the work of the three scholars whose painstaking work in discovering, documenting, and displaying books Melville is known to have owned—and the markings and marginalia he had entered into them—has enabled us to begin to imagine what the books he collected might have meant to his mind, imagination, and artistry. Walker Cowen completed Melville’s Marginalia as his 12-voume Harvard doctoral thesis in 1965. Merton Sealts published the expanded edition of Melville’s Reading in 1988. Steven Olsen-Smith continues to publish new entries in Melville’s Marginalia Online as our MCPO project prepares to publish its own first installment in 2021. In this section of our project, I will follow the caption for each MBB entry with an abbreviated reference to Cowen, Sealts, or MMO as appropriate, adding, when known, the library in which the book from Melville’s collection is currently being preserved.