Correspondent Colorings: Melville in the Marketplace

By Sheila Post-Lauria | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TEN
The Move to Poetry

TWO WEEKS AFTER the appearance of The Confidence-Man, Melville's publishers declared bankruptcy. This inevitably had a severe impact on their magazine, Putnam's Monthly. When Miller and Curtis took over the publication in July 1857, they radically changed the foundation on which Putnam had built the monthly. New publishers, new editorial policies, and new readers radically altered the former existence of the "best of American monthlies." On the back cover of the July edition, the editors stated their new policy:

The new proprietors of the Magazine beg to announce that it will hereafter be much enlarged and conducted upon a more popular basis. A larger space than heretofore will be devoted to miscellaneous and entertaining literature. . . . The object of this arrangement is, to make the best possible Family Magazine . . . the friend of sound morals, and the ally of cheerfulness and humor.1

The socially discerning literary environment of Putnam's had encouraged Melville to write what Q. D. Leavis calls his most mature prose and "some of his most interesting thinking."2 In 1857 the new editors of Putnam's traded in the very audience central to Melville's Putnam's-oriented fiction in the hope of securing a more economically remunerative market majority, the general reader of sentimental fiction. From this moment, Melville no longer had a vehicle -- either a critical magazine or a perceptive publisher -- for reaching those readers who most appreciated his work.

Yet this end of an era only partially accounts for Melville's move

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