Redburn: His First Voyage

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Redburn: His First Voyage:

Publishing History

First British edition published in two volumes on September 29, 1849 by Richard Bentley, London. First American edition published November 14, 1849 by Harper & Brothers, New York.

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"Wellingborough, as you are going to sea, suppose you take this shooting-jacket of mine along; it's just the thing -- take it, it will save the expense of another. You see, it's quite warm; fine long skirts, stout horn buttons, and plenty of pockets."
Out of the goodness and simplicity of his heart, thus spoke my elder brother to me, upon the eve of my departure for the seaport. --opening paragraphs

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Contemporary Criticism and Reviews

The author, from his slap-dash kind of writing, seems to have taken up with the notion that anything will do for the public. We are afraid he has been spoiled by partial success. In this work, as in Mardi, his talent seems running to seed from want of careful pruning, and, unless he pays more attention to his composition in future, we think it very unlikely that the announcement of a new work from his pen will excite the slightest desire to peruse it. --London Britannia, October 27 1849

... [D]esirous though we are to praise, we are compelled to admit that, in Redburn, Mr. Melville comes not up to the mark he himself has made. It is evident that, on his debut, he threw off the rich cream of his experiences, and he must not marvel if readers have thereby been rendered dainty, and grumble a little when served with the skim-milk. Redburn is a clever book, as books now go, and we are far from visiting it with wholesale condemnation; but it certainly lacks the spontaneous flow and racy originality of the author's South Sea narration....
... We can assure Mr. Melville he is most effective when most simple and unpretending; and if he will put away affectation and curb the eccentricities of his fancy, we see no reason for his not becoming a very agreeable writer of nautical fictions. He will never have the power of a Cringle, or the sustained humour and vivacity of a Marryat, but he may do very well without aspiring to rival the masters of the art. --Frederick Hardman, in Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, November 1849

It gives us pleasure to be able to praise this book, for we feared that the author had exhausted his vein, and that he might follow up his Mardi with others of similar sort, to disgust rather than to amuse the public.... The book is intensely interesting, and yet is reared on a basis apparently insufficient.... But the great charm of the work is its realness. It seems to be fact word for word, bating a little that is melo-dramatic and exaggerated in the hero, at the outset. With this exception, the tale is told simply and without the least pretension; and yet, within its narrow bounds, are flashes of genuine humor, strokes of pure pathos, and real and original characters. --Charles Gordon Greene, in Boston Post, November 20, 1849

Ships, the sea, and those that plough it, with their belongings on shore -- these subjects are identified with Herman Melville's name; for he has most unquestionably made them his own. No writer, not even Marryat himself, has observed them more closely, or pictured them more impressively. Indeed, in one respect, Melville, to our thinking, has shown more talent than many of his predecessors in telling tales of the sea. They have generally chosen the picturesque side of nautical life. He often selects those views of it which, apart from his clever treatment, would be uninteresting, if not repulsive. --William Young, in New York Albion, November 24 1849

The present work, though it hardly has the intellectual merit of Mardi, is less adventurous in style, and more interesting. It can be read through at one sitting, with continued delight, and we see no reason why it should not be one of the most popular of all the books relating to the romance of the sea. The fact that it narrates the adventures of a "green hand," will make it invaluable to a large class of youthful sailors. The style sparkles with wit and fancy, but its great merit is a rapidity of movement, which bears the reader along, almost by main force from the commencement to the conclusion of the volume. --Philadelphia Graham's Magazine, January 1850

Many of the notices of Redburn that we have seen, speak of him as a second De Foe, but there is hardly an English writer he so little resembles as the author of Robinson Crusoe. The charm of De Foe is his simplicity of style, and artistic accuracy of description; the author of Redburn on the contrary is, at times, ambitiously gorgeous in style, and at others coarse and abrupt in his simplicity. But his style is always copious, free and transparent. His chief defect is an ambitious desire to appear fine and learned which causes him to drag in by the head and shoulders remote images that ought not to be within a thousand miles of the reader's thoughts. --Charles F. Briggs, in New York Holden's Dollar Magazine, January 1850

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