Melville’s review essay of Hawthorne’s Mosses from an Old Manse is now the most famous literary manifesto of the American nineteenth century, though it did not resurface until 1922 or gain much currency until Edmund Wilson’s inclusion of it in The Shock of Recognition in 1943. It argues for a uniquely American national literature (one awaiting recognition along the banks of the Ohio) as well as an enduring place for American genius in world literature. At the same time, it offers unprecedented praise for Hawthorne’s aesthetics that compresses bright and dark visions.
As a literary document, the essay poses editorial and digital challenges. Because “Mosses” exists in fair-copy manuscript, revised manuscript, and print versions, editors have multiple options in what they chose to print. By giving access to all options, MEL’s proposed edition of “Hawthorne and His Mosses” will give readers a chance to compare significantly different versions of Melville’s remarkable manifesto. Because modern editors differ on how to edit “Mosses,” Melville’s essay is also a significant example of how scholarly editions contribute to and extend a literary work as a fluid text.
Melville submitted a fair-copy manuscript of “Mosses,” inscribed in his wife Elizabeth Shaw Melville’s hand, to their friend Evert A. Duyckinck, for publication in his journal The Literary World (LW). The manuscript, located at NYPL, includes punctuation and corrections in Melville’s hand and 100 other revisions by both Melville and Duyckinck. Duyckinck’s Literary World print version reproduces these manuscript revisions.
Arguing in their 1987 edition of the essay that Melville had no choice but to comply with Duyckinck’s changes and that the unrevised fair-copy text more closely represents Melville’s final intentions, the Northwestern-Newberry editors rejected the revised LW print version in favor of the fair-copy manuscript as their copy-text. To this base version, they added selected authorial and editorial changes, including some emendations of their own. In his own edition of “Mosses” included alongside the 2002 Norton Critical Edition of Moby-Dick, Hershel Parker changed at least one word in the text: he removed scared in Melville’s metaphor of Truth as being “forced to fly like a scared white doe in the woodlands” and replaced it with sacred (523). In 2017, arguing that the print version represents a “hemispheric” rather than simply nationalistic perspective, Robert S. Levine announced that for his Norton Anthology of American Literature, he would replace the NN manuscript version used in previous editions of the Anthology with Duyckinck’s Literary World print version, thereby parting with the standard text. In their separate, variant texts, Parker and Levine have created further instantiations of Melville’s fluid text, as did Melville himself, Elizabeth Melville, Duyckinck, and the NN edition before them.
Valid arguments exist for adopting either the manuscript or print version, but rather than excluding one version for the other—as anthologists and editors are often constrained to do—MEL’s edition of “Mosses” will follow a strategy of inclusion. We will transcribe the manuscript, collate fair-copy and revised manuscript versions against the print version, highlight changes, and supply revision narratives. Our fluid-text edition will encourage closer analysis of both versions of Melville’s manifesto, and give readers an opportunity to make their own arguments regarding the essay’s versions, in the context of evolving modern editions.