2023 Undergraduate Research Showcase

Document Type

Student Presentation

Presentation Date


Faculty Sponsor

Dr. Steven Olsen-Smith

Dr. Elisa Barney Smith


Herman Melville’s marked and annotated copy of The Poetical Works of William Wordsworth, which is preserved at Georgetown University, contains unique biographical and intellectual significance that has gone largely unexplored by scholarship. Melville’s marginalia demonstrate an ambivalence towards Wordsworth’s personal character that is sometimes at odds with his respect for the literary aspects of his writings. To investigate this, we analyzed the marginalia alongside additional primary resources and contemporary documents to find possible explanations of Melville’s ambivalence and its significance in relation to his broader work. Using visualizations of the marginalia made possible with our recently completed XML encoding of the volume, investigation of Melville's reading reveals a particularly conflicted response to Wordsworth's great Romantic ideals, the pre-eminent impact of his writing on Melville's conception of the natural world, and the role of poetry in both art and life. In a manner similar to Melville’s conflicted idea of Wordsworth the man, Melville’s marginalia reveal complex and sometimes contradictory responses to themes such as nature, wisdom, death, and spirituality. The interaction of these two eminent minds on the pages of Melville’s surviving copy offers vivid evidence of Transatlantic literary influence in the age of Romanticism.