Monday, April 11, 2016


"If ever, my dear Hawthorne, in the eternal times that are to come, you and I shall sit down in Paradise, in some little shady corner by ourselves; and if we shall by any means be able to smuggle a basket of champagne there (I won't believe in a Temperance Heaven), and if we shall then cross our celestial legs in the celestial grass that is forever tropical, and strike our glasses and heads together, till both musically ring in concert,—then, O my dear fellow-mortal, how shall we pleasantly discourse of all the things manifold which now so distress us,—when all the earth shall be but a reminiscence, yea, its final dissolution an antiquity."

—from an early May letter from Herman Melville to Nathaniel Hawthorned, as found on page 45, The Divine Magnet: Herman Melville's Letters to Nathaniel Hawthorne, edited by Mark Niemeyer


This book, The Divine Magnet, collects ten extant letters that Herman Melville wrote to friend and fellow writer Nathaniel Hawthorne in 1851 and 1852, in addition to Melville's published review of Hawthorne's short story collection, Mosses from an Old Manse, and two poems.

These letters are fascinating to read as Melville appears to work exceptionally hard at garnering Hawthorne's attention. Melville's admiration for Hawthorne is likewise on display. We don't know what Hawthorne may have replied, since there are no known surviving letters from him back to Melville. Nonetheless, these letters show Melville to be a bit obsessive with Hawthorne and his work. There may have been a reason that Hawthorne was possibly reluctant to put as much energy into the friendship as Melville.

All of that being said, though, the language in these letters is beautiful. There are multiple references to religion and spirituality and art. There is longing and lament and laud.

I am giving these letters a first read and already know I will be returning to them many times.

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