When we reflect on the nature of these men, and their
dissimilarity to the rest of mankind, must we not
conclude, that they are a different species of the same
genus? Of other animals, it is well known, there are
many kinds, each kind having its proper species
subordinate thereto; and why shall we insist, that
man alone, of all other animals, is undiversified in
the same manner, when we find so many irresistible
proofs which denote his conformity to the
general system of the world?
—Edward Long, The History of Jamaica (1774)
NEAR THE END OF MELVILLE’S NOVEL ISRAEL POTTER (1855), ISRAEL, the disabled and dispossessed beggar, wanders through the streets of London. In these last pages, no longer depending on the biography that had given shape and structure to most of the novel, Melville envisions another kind of history that combines fantasy and horror. Ostensibly describing the “mud and mire” of brickmaking, after he has recalled a drowned slave at the bottom of the Dismal Swamp in tidewater Virginia, he portrays a crowd streaming “like an endless shoal of herring, over London Bridge,” laborers trudging over the flagging of London streets as if on “the vitreous rocks in the cursed Gallipagos, over which the convict tortoises crawl.” Animals play a key role in his depiction.