Harrison Hayford, Hershel Parker, and G. Thomas Tanselle (eds), The Writings of Herman Melville: The Northwestern-Newberry Edition, Vol. 5: White-Jacket: or The World in a Man-of-War

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pg 461Discussions of Adopted Readings

In these comments on emendations and on decisions not to emend, the following symbols are employed:


American Edition (1850)


English Edition (1850)


Northwestern–Newberry Edition

ix.1–9    Note … 1850.]    Since the E Preface is dated October, 1849, while the A Note is dated March, 1850, the Note is retained as representing Melville's later intention. The text of the Preface is printed below, pp. 487–88. For a discussion of the relation between it and the Note, see the comments introducing the revised fair copy of the Preface, pp. 489–92.

xii.24    Flogging not Necessary]    The A reading is retained here and at 147.2 because the E reading "Is Flogging necessary?" cannot confidently be accounted for as Melville's revision. If the English reading is assumed to be the later one it is hard to see why either Melville or anyone at Bentley's made a change whose only obvious effect would be to destroy the parallelism with the preceding chapter title. A more likely assumption appears to be that the A reading is in fact the later version, to be accounted for as a revision Melville made to secure parallelism in the two chapter titles. Possibly it was associated with the one-word revision at the beginning of the preceding chapter (see discussion of 143.3). Melville maypg 462 have made the change before he went to England, but not on the proofs he took with him as the basis of the English edition, or he may have made it after his return to New York, when he cut the Preface down to the Note. (The A reading "Flogging not Necessary" is printed as "Flogging not Necessary" in conformity with the styling of NN.)

4.25    Me? Ah me!]    The absence in E of these three words might be taken as Melville's attempt to eliminate an over-emotional exclamation, perhaps because it is somewhat uncharacteristic of White-Jacket; but since it equally well might be an excision by someone at Bentley's who considered it excessive, the copy-text reading is retained. (A further possibility is that the question mark after "Me" was an error for an exclamation point, and that what Melville had intended was a milder lament comparable to "My! oh my!")

27.2    masters-at-arms]    The A and E reading "masters-of-arms" is an obvious slip, since the form "master-at-arms", introduced just above as the title of the official, is employed consistently throughout the book.

28.14–15    Elizabethan, Franklin-warranted]    If the omission of these words from E was not merely by compositorial oversight, possibly they were cut out at Bentley's because the expression "Franklin-warranted" was thought too likely to puzzle English readers. Since the excision seems less likely to be Melville's own, the A reading is retained.

37.18    pantries]    The E reading "pantries" (for "pockets" in A) seems most likely Melville's revision to eliminate the awkward repetition of "pocket" in "pocket-edition" and reinforce the analogy of the pockets of the jacket to "lockers and pantries" at 37.31.

53.2    Drought]    NN emends the A and E word "Draught" with the reading "Drought", which is the word that occurs in the table of contents of both A and E. The decision to emend assumes that a "drought" is more likely the idea Melville intended than a "draught", though the latter is also possible in the context. The A reading "DRAUGHT" is printed as "Drought" (incorporating the emendation) in conformity with the styling of NN.

58.38    buckets-full]    The anomalous A and E reading "buckets' full" is emended on the analogy of "brushes-full" at 78.28–29.

86.23    sailor's]    The copy-text placing of the apostrophe is retained in this and other instances where literal interpretation of the number involved might favor emendation, and where E sometimes does make the change. Melville's own punctuation in a given case and his practice in general cannot be determined; usage is inconsistent within White-Jacket; and in any case idiom does not require literal construction of the sense. See, for example, 256.2, "bee's-wax"; 283.11, "officer's servants"; 303.12, "burglar's dark-lanterns"; 323.13, "Commodore's eyes".

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113.20–21 97    Commanders … 327 Lieutenants]    In both A and E the numbers are given as 297 and 377. Those numbers are errors in transcription, possibly on Melville's part but more likely on that of his copyist or the compositor. On that assumption, NN corrects them to 97 and 327 from Melville's cited source. (His estimates of the approximate total amounts drawn by the several grades were based on figures in this source and are accurate enough, except that the amount he states for midshipmen appears to be about double the actual total.)

114.17    honor]    The English edition, the copy-text for this passage (which does not appear in the American edition), reads "honour" here and at 114.18, but NN emends in accordance with spellings elsewhere in this book and with Melville's known practice. See also the emendation at 286.8 and the NN Typee, P. 323.

143.3    It]    The copy-text "It" is retained because priority between that reading and the E "But it" is uncertain. Both openings seem to be Melville's own. Probably the A reading is the later. For anyone at Bentley's to supply the word "But" to open the chapter seems unlikely, while it is highly characteristic for Melville to begin sentences, paragraphs, and even chapters with the word (see the following chapter). Yet it is more likely that Melville would open the chapter with "But" when he was composing and remove it later than that he would open without it and later feel the need to add it. Probably the revision was made at the same time as the change in the title of Chapter 35 (see discussion of xii.24).

189.16    providently]    This required correction of the A and E reading "providentially" was made by Titus Munson Coan in a copy of the Stedman edition of White-Jacket now in the Melville Collection at The Newberry Library.

194.30    three or four]    The copy-text reading is retained since there is no way to determine whether the E reading "seven or eight" was ever Melville's at all or, if so, whether it was earlier or later than the A reading. (As it happens, retention of the copy-text reading serves fact and logic, since a message in the United States navy would carry no more than four flags, and since logically four at most would be needed for four-place numbers such as Melville cites. But neither of these considerations is to the point textually because the object is to preserve the author's intended meaning even though it might be wrong and illogical.)

196.19    at last]    The A reading "soon" is plausible if "promised recovery" is taken to mean "showed signs of surviving"; but "at last" fits better with the description in the next paragraph of Baldy's slow and limited recovery. Furthermore, the E reading "hale, hearty little man" five lines later (196.24) is presumably Melville's expansion of the A reading "hale, hearty man" and is additional evidence that this whole passage received his attention as he looked over the proofs.

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196.24    little man]    See discussion of 196.19.

199.28    Yes:]    The A reading "And" implies that the auctioneer is going to make an additional point when in fact he merely reiterates what he said in the previous sentence. The superior E reading "Yes:" seems authorial and gives evidence that, in revising the proofs for Bentley, Melville gave minute attention to some passages.

229.1    were,]    The comma after "were" is adopted from E, since the A reading confuses the sense by causing the reader at first to take "far" as one of the complements of the verb, parallel with "cabined" and "cribbed", rather than as a nonrestrictive modifier of "boys" (simply reinforcing for rhetorical effect the idea already established in the preceding paragraph by such phrases as "far away").

234.12    ever]    The word "ever" supplied in E appears to be an authorial insertion to complete the idiom needed to make the exact shade of meaning clear: the sword is not now and can never have been the old Commodore's fighting sword.

262.14    Buccaneer]    The A and E reading "Mohawk" seems to be a slip for "Buccaneer", the name given for Surgeon Sawyer's ship at 253.28 and 253.32. This emendation was suggested by Hennig Cohen in the Rinehart Edition (1967).

263.12, 19    Hennen]    The actual name of the authority cited is "Hennen", but whether or not to adopt this form is a difficult question. In the first occurrence, the name falls at the end of a line in A, on a page where plate damage along the right margin has destroyed half the last letter of the word, leaving only a mark resembling an "r", which could be the left side of either an "r" or an "n" (A310.13); in the second occurrence, ten lines later, the last letter is clearly "r". (In E, "r" appears in both instances.) If an editor could be certain that the broken letter is really "r", then he could argue that the erroneous form of the name, appearing twice, was intended by Melville as a device to characterize Cuticle as inaccurate in his pedantry. On the other hand, if the broken letter is really "n", then the later occurrence of the name with "r" must be simply a compositorial error. Since there are so many uncertainties involved, since the name is in fact "Hennen", and since Melville could hardly have expected a reader to be aware of an intentional distortion of a relatively obscure name, it has seemed proper to consider "Henner" another example of a clearly misspelled proper name (parallel to "Trelwarney" at 271.8) and to emend to the correct form. Although the A and E reading "Lally" for "Larrey" (259.11) might at first seem to support the argument that Melville is consciously distorting the names of medical authorities in Cuticle's speech, the form is more convincingly explained as a misreading of "Larrey" in Melville's manuscript, since the letter "r" in his hand often has a looped peak resembling an "l".

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276.1    come]    Though possibly a compositorial substitution, the E reading "come" is adopted as Melville's own restoration of the form he originally intended to have Rose-Water use (since his speech is rendered in dialect). Presumably the copyist or American compositor would be more likely to take Melville's manuscript "come" for "came" (since his a and o are frequently indeterminate) and to conform the verb to the standard past tense than the English compositor (or anyone at Bentley's) would be to make the reverse substitution of the nonstandard form or merely to blunder into so appropriate a change.

294.23, 27, 29    men]    Since the E reading "men" occurs at three points in this passage where the A reading is "sailors" a deliberate change was involved. Both readings are almost certainly Melville's own since the revision, whether from A to E or from E to A, is not the sort anyone at Harper's or Bentley's would be likely to make. NN adopts the E reading as Melville's revision of the A reading on two counts. First, a matter of factual accuracy is involved: technically only two of the three men hanged were "sailors" (i.e., common seamen), the third, Philip Spencer, being an acting midshipman. Second, "men" is also clearly a stylistic improvement.

365.3    No!]    NN retains the A and E reading, assuming that White-Jacket makes the exclamation, since it is in keeping with his emphatic scorn for the "vile regulation-whiskers". Possibly, however, the word should be put inside quotation marks as the first word of the speech which follows.

393.1    scared]    Coupled with "hues", the word "scared", though possible, is unusual enough to suggest that a copyist or compositor may have misread Melville's hand. Paleographically plausible readings might be either "scaled" (in reference to the spectrum) or "seared" (in sequence with the heat-cold images).

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