Moby-Dick Centennial Essays

Moby-Dick Centennial Essays

Moby-Dick Centennial Essays

Moby-Dick Centennial Essays

Excerpt

During the summer of 1850, Herman Melville informed his British publisher, Richard Bentley, that he was at work on a new book, which he said would be ready "in the latter part of the coming autumn" and which he described as "a romance of adventure, founded upon certain wild legends of the Southern Sperm Whale Fisheries, and illustrated by the author's own personal experience, of two years & more, as a harpooner."

"Should you be inclined to take the book," Melville urged hopefully,

I think that it will be worth to you £200. Could you be positively put in possession of the copyright, it might be worth to you a larger sum -- considering its novelty; for I do not know that the subject treated of has ever been worked up by a romancer; or, indeed, by any writer, in any adequate manner. But as things are, I say £200, because that sum was given for "White-Jacket"; and . . . there seems reason to conclude that, at £200, "White-Jacket" must have been, in some degree, profitable to you.

Bentley later was to send Melville a memorandum showing that, far from enjoying a profit from the publication of White- Jacket, he had lost on it in two years a total of 173 pounds, nine shillings, and sixpence. Meanwhile, however, he agreed -- though not before August, 1851 -- to pay Melville 150 pounds as an advance upon royalties for Moby-Dick and to undertake its publication on a half-profits arrangement. Under the title of The Whale, and suitably bowdlerized -- or rather Anglicized -- it appeared in three handsome volumes in London sometime between October 11 and October 18, 1851. A month later, on November 14, it was published by Harper and Brothers in New York under its present title.

No special acclaim greeted the appearance of the book . . .

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