The New Bedford Whaling Museum's Moby-Dick Marathon is an annual non-stop reading of Herman Melville's literary masterpiece. The multi-day program of entertaining activities and events is presented every January. Admission to the Marathon is free.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Melville and Carlyle

One hundred and thirty years ago yesterday, Thomas Carlyle died in London.  Although he is little read today outside academia, it's hard to overestimate his influence on English and American writers in the 19th century.  If you rolled David McCullough, Truman Capote, and George Will into one, you might have a writer approaching Carlyle's standing.

An insatiable reader like Melville could not have gone long without crossing Carlyle's path.  We learn from Hershel Parker ("Mr. Melville") that Melville borrowed two of Carlyle's early books, Sartor Resartus (1836) and Heroes and Hero-Worship (1841), from Evert Duykinck in mid-1850.  His reading of Sartor Resartus at this time may be especially significant, because in it Carlyle exercised a dark sense of humor, an experimentation with genre boundaries, and an intense penetration of the surfaces of things that must have appealed strongly to Melville.  What, for example, could be more Melvillean than Carlyle's epitaph for a fictitious German nobleman (given in Latin in Book II, Chapter IV, of Sartor):

Here lies 
Philip Zaehdarm, known as "the Great," 
Count of Zaehdarm, 
of the Imperial Council,
a Knight of the Golden Fleece, of the Garter, and even of the Black Vulture.
Who, while he lived under the moon,
shot five thousand partridges;
and converted directly into manure
one hundred million hundredweight
of various foods,
on his own and through his servants, quadruped and biped,
not without descending into commotion.
His works follow him,
now at rest from his labor.
If you seek his monument,
look at this big pile of dung.
He deposited it on the earth first on [fill in date]; and last on [fill in date].

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