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Our Authors and Authorship. Melville and Curtis

O'Brien, Fitz-James. "Our Authors and Authorship. Melville and Curtis." Putnam's Monthly. 11 Apr. 1857.
literary criticism

1 April 1857: Putnam's Monthly
Fitz-James O'Brien, "Our Authors and Authorship. Melville and Curtis":
Mr. Melville was not only a young man, but a young American, and a young American educated according to the standard of our day and country. He had all the metaphysical tendencies which belong so eminency to the American's mind--the love of antic and extravagant speculation, the fearlessness of intellectual consequences, and the passion for intellectual legislation, which distinguish the cleverest of our people. It was inevitable that he should have stamped himself pretty clearly on his book [Typee], and his book was all the more interesting that he had so stamped himself upon it. . . . Had not Mr. Melville been impelled to a good deal of sharp, sensible writing in "Omoo," by his wrath against the missionaries, it is clear, we think, that he would have plunged headlong into the vasty void of the obscure, the oracular, and the incomprehensible . . .

. . . dull of perception, and still more dull of instinct must the critic be who does not recognize in every page of Mr. Melville's writings, however vague and obscure, and fantastic, the breathing spirit of a man of genius, and of a passionate and earnest man of genius. It is precisely because we are always sure that Mr. Melville does mean something, and something intrinsically manly and noble, too, that we quarrel with him for hiding his light under such an impervious bushel . . .

The sum and substance of our fault-finding with Herman Melville is this. He has indulged himself in a trick of metaphysical and morbid meditations until he has perverted his fine mind from its healthy productive tendencies. A singularly truthful person--as all his sympathies show him to be--he has succeeded in vitiating both his thought and his style into an appearance of the wildest affectation and untruth. . . .

The two latest published books of our author differ considerably from their predecessors, in the degree in which they exhibit the characteristics of the classes of writing to which they respectively belong. "Israel Potter" is a comparatively reasonable narrative . . .

The "Confidence Man," on the contrary, belongs to the metaphysical and Rabelaistical class of Mr. Melville's works, and yet Mr. Melville, in this book, is more reasonable, and more respectful of probabilities . . . than he usually is when he wraps his prophetic mantle about him . . .

. . . We desire him to give up metaphysics and take to nature and the study of mankind. We rejoice, therefore, to know that he is, at this moment, traveling in the Old World, where, we hope, he will enjoy himself heartily, look about him wisely, and come home ready to give us pictures of life and reality.

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