Friday, November 16, 2012

the last book I ever read (The Art of Fielding, excerpt one)

from The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach:

In the spring of 1880, Herman Melville, then sixty years old, was working as a customs inspector at the Port of New York, having proved unable to support his family through literary work. He was not famous and earned almost nothing from royalties. His first-born son, Malcolm, had committed suicide thirteen years earlier. Melville’s in-laws, among others, feared for his health and regarded him as insane. On a national scale, the horrific, bloody rift he’d prophesied in Moby-Dick and Benito Cereno (both long out of print in 1880) had come to pass, and, as he had been perhaps the first to foresee, the anguish had not ceased with the end of the war.

Not surprising, then, that the great writer might have found himself growing grim about the mouth, as his best-known protagonist put it; that he might have deemed it high time to get back to sea. Too old, impecunious, and hemmed in by family matters to make any more ocean crossings. Melville settled upon a more modest adventure. The spring thaw came early that year, and in March he boarded a ship headed up the Erie Canal, to tour the Great Lakes and thereby reprise alone a trip he had taken with his friend Eli Fly forty years before. Scholars have made much of Melville’s pilgrimage to Jerusalem (1856-57), but this later domestic voyage went unmentioned until 1969, when an undergraduate at Westish College—a small, venerable but already in those days slightly decrepit liberal arts school on the western shore of Lake Michigan—made a remarkable discovery.

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