Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Essay: "Hawthorne and His Mosses." Herman Melville.

Essay: “Hawthorne and His Mosses.” Herman Melville.

One-minute review: In praise of Hawthorne’s writings. His books, tales, sketches seem so quiet. He is not what he seems. There is an element of blackness in him. Melville compares Hawthorne to Shakespeare. If people do not have time to read and understand Shakespeare, it is no wonder that they do not have time to read Hawthorne. “…the American, who up to the present day has evinced in literature, the largest brain with the largest heart, that is Nathaniel Hawthorne.”


“A papered chamber in a fine old farm-house, a mile from any other dwelling, and dipped to the eves in foliage—surrounded by mountains, old woods and Indian ponds—this, surely, is the place to write of Hawthorne.”

“…had it recommended to me by a tasteful friend, as a rare, quiet book, perhaps too deserving of popularity to be popular.”

“ ‘Hawthorne and Mosses,’ said I, ‘no more: it is morning; it is July in the country and I am off to the barn.’ ”

“…but it was for me [Hawthorne] to give them rest. Rest, in a life of troubles. What better could be done for anybody….”

“All over him, Hawthorne’s melancholy rests like an Indian summer….”

“But it is the least part of genius that attracts admiration. Where Hawthorne is known, he seems to be deemed a pleasant writer, with a pleasant style—a sequestered, harmless man, from whom any deep and weighty thing would hardly be anticipated—a man who means no meanings.”

“For it is not the brain that can test such a man: it is only the heart.”

“Besides, this absolute and unconditional adoration of Shakespeare has grown to be a part of our Anglo-Saxon superstitions.”

“It is not so much paucity as superabundance of material that seems to incapacitate modern authors.”

“But it is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation. He who has never failed somewhere, that man cannot be great. Failure is the true test of greatness.”

“—a seeker, not a finder….”

“…fortune has more to do with fame than merit.”

Great Essays. Ed. Houston Peterson. New York: Washington Square Press, Inc. 1960.

What is an essay? “They are all prefaces. A preface is nothing but a talk with the reader; and they [essays] do nothing else.” Charles Lamb.

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