Document Type

Contribution to Books

Publication Date



Herman Melville’s copy of Thomas Warton’s The History of English Poetry (1871) both epitomises the fate of Melville’s dispersed library and illustrates the challenges and importance of his reading and marginalia to research on his life and writings. This 1032-page volume left Melville’s library following his death in 1891; it was discovered in the 1930s, subsequently lost, and rediscovered in 1999. Twice rebound and missing its original endpapers, the extremely brittle volume has now been digitised at Melville’s Marginalia Online. Melville’s markings and annotations reveal his preoccupation with Warton’s attention to subjects “almost unknown to the general reader”: lost works, the dispersals of libraries, works rescued from oblivion, languages and writings concealed by ecclesiastical dictates, banned writings, and esoteric modes of literary expression—all topics with deep aesthetic and biographical connections to Melville’s own writings and to his failed career as a popular author. The book contains marginalia on writers Melville had studied in still-surviving volumes, on now-forgotten writers, excerpted by Warton, and on writers by whom no Melville copies are known to survive. Dating from the period of Melville’s reputational decline, his marginalia offers an unparalleled look into an obscure but artistically fertile period of his life and thought.


Marginal Notes: Social Reading and the Literal Margins is a volume of the New Directions in Book History book series.

Copyright Statement

This document was originally published in Marginal Notes: Social Reading and the Literal Margins by Palgrave Macmillan. Copyright restrictions may apply.