New York Public Library-2008-7.jpg

William Ellis

William Ellis Lives On

I came upon a volume of William Ellis’s Polynesian Researches in a bookshop last week in Oakland, CA. Thanks to the work of scholarly sleuths like the late Harrison Hayford, we know that Ellis was Melville’s major source for Omoo. Mary K. Bercaw notes how Harrison Hayford was even able to identify the edition Melville used:

Melville characteristically appropriated into his own works blocks of writing from other works whose origin is so clear that the source-hunter can identify not only Melville’s source but also the very edition he used. The “fingerprints” by which scholars make such identifications with confidence include peculiar wording, errors in titles or dates, and misspellings that Melville copied without changing. With such fingerprints, Harrison Hayford was able to identify the 1833 Harper edition of William Ellis’s Polynesian Researches as the major source for Melville’s second book Omoo. Hayford based his identification on internal evidence (evidence found within Melville’s writing); there is no external evidence of Melville’s having used Ellis: no surviving volume owned by Melville, no library slip, no sales receipt. ((Bercaw, Mary K. “A Fine, Boisterous Something”: Nantucket in Moby-Dick.

Like many others who have discovered the convenience of digital books available online through Amazon’s Kindle and Barnes and Noble’s Nook, I am in the process of thinning out my book collection, keeping only what can never be digitally replaced. Books like this modern edition of Ellis are best had and appreciated in their three-dimensional analog form. They will survive my bibliographic cull.

Hopefully this colorfully bound edition of Ellis will be there available for purchase when I return next to Oakland.

November 2018
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