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Is Melville's 18,000-line 1876 centennial poem worth reading today? (REVIEW ESSAY)

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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) July 8, 2020: Herman Melville (1819-1891), whose paternal and maternal grandfathers were heroes of the American Revolution, heroically devoted years of his life in obscurity as a minor customs official in Manhattan to writing his long centennial poem Clarel: A Poem and Pilgrimage in the Holy Land (1876) - an American Protestant jeremiad in the well-established tradition that Sacvan Bercovitch describes in his book The American Jeremiad (University of Wisconsin Press, 1978; 2nd ed., 2012), in which he discusses Melville from time to time (see the index entry for Melville for specific page references).

However, without ever adverting explicitly to the American Protestant jeremiad tradition in general, or to Bercovitch's book in particular, William Potter (born in 1955; Ph.D. in English and American Literature, City University of New York, 1998) otherwise extensively reviews pertinent related literature in his 2004 book Melville's Clarel and the Intersympathy of Creeds (Kent State University Press). As Potter explains on page xiii, the expression "the intersympathy of creeds" is taken from Melville's poem Clarel (Part 1, Canto 5, Line 207 - or, for short, 1.5.207).

An overview of Potter's book is in order. After the title page and the copyright page, the book includes the following parts:

Dramatis Personae [Names of Nine Characters, with Lines from the Poem Describing Each One] (page v)

Contents (page vii)

Acknowledgments (pages ix-x)

Introduction (pages xi-xxii)

Chapter 1: Clarel and Nineteenth-Century Comparative Religion (pages 3-9)

Chapter 2: Melville as Comparative Religionist (pages 10-19)

Chapter 3: Nineteenth-Century Comparative Religion and the Evolutionary Model (pages 20-24)

Chapter 4: Manifest Destiny and the "American Religion" (pages 25-37)

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; Ph.D.in higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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