Melville in NYC

The snow started to come down thickly, swirling around me as I stood on the tip of the Battery, the southernmost tip of Manhattan, the first Dutch settlement of New Amsterdam. This is where Ishmael watched streams of people drift to the edge of the water:

"There now is your insular city of the Manhattoes... Its extreme downtown is the Battery, where that noble mole is washed by waves, and cooled by breezes, which a few hours previous were out of sight of land. Look at the crowds of water-gazers there. Circumambulate the city of a dreamy Sabbath afternoon. Go from Corlears Hook to Coenties Slip, and from thence, by Whitehall, northward. What do you see? Posted like silent sentinels all around the town, stand thousands upon thousands of mortal men fixed in ocean reveries... But look! here come more crowds, pacing straight for the water, and seemingly bound for a dive. Strange! Nothing will content them but the extremest limit of the land... They must get just as nigh the water as they possibly can without falling in."

I am enacting such a literary cliché by reading Chapter 1: Loomings while sitting here, but I cannot resist. There is something magical about the water, some primal impulse that drives us to gaze contentedly at it. "It is the image of the ungraspable phantom of life; and this is the key to it all," Ishmael says. I find myself wandering water-ward when the same conditions strike me, "Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul... whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off."

Taking the information from poets.org, I created a map of Melville's main locations in New York, although you could argue that the entire area south of Canal Street would have been open to his strolling. The Wall Street of Bartleby is buried deep in the bones of today's monumental skyscrapers. Some buildings that were contemporary with Melville are still visible, like the James Watson house at 7 State Street, Federal Hall, and Trinity Church. For the rest of the tour, it's fun to get a feel for places he names, like Coenties Slip and Whitehall, and to get a sense of the size of his New York.

To do it yourself, check out the Melville walking tour in NYC.

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This page contains a single entry by lz published on February 16, 2013 7:06 AM.

As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh: Journals and Notebooks, 1964-1980 was the previous entry in this blog.

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