Hunting Captain Ahab: Psychological Warfare and the Melville Revival

By Clare L. Spark | Go to book overview

7

Pluralism in One Perfectly Happy Family, 1926—1953 A Peep at Apes and Angels

No critic who is himself a scrupulous and integrated mind can regard Catholicism and Marxism—to cite a pair of contemporary options—as equally tenable readings of reality. Privately, he must have arrived at the decision that one exceeds the other in maturity and coherence; and, as between two hypothetically equal writers, the one a Catholic and the other a Marxist, he must consider the “true believer” to be the greater, though this certainly need not mean that the critic will use his author, whether “orthodox” or “heretical, ” as the occasion for doctrinal homily.

—Austin Warren, 1941

What a madness and anguish it is, that an author can never—under no conceivable circumstances—be at all frank with his readers!

—Herman Melville to Evert Duyckinck, epigraph to John Freeman,
Herman Melville, 1

Following the publication of the Weaver study (1921), two more popular biographies were published during the 1920s Melville Revival. The first post-Weaver retreat was written in 1926 by John Freeman (1880—1929). Melville and Walt Whitman were the two Americans included in the Macmillan English Men of Letters series edited by Sir John Collings Squire, the well-known poet and editor of the London Mercury.1 Squire assigned the Melville biography to Freeman. Like Squire, thoroughly Tory in his politics and sensibility, John Freeman was both an insurance executive and a poet, pursuits he kept separate; friends and associates had no idea he was leading a double life. 2 An admirer of Wordsworth and Blake (127), he shared their distrust of “common sensuous apprehension” (183) or, as he termed it

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