Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life:
Typee was originally submitted to Harper & Brothers in New York, but was rejected on the grounds that it was too fantastic to be true. Melville's brother Gansevoort, recently appointed Secretary of the American Legation in London, took the manuscript to England and persuaded John Murray to publish it provided that Melville supply supplemental factual material to make the story seem more realistic. Despite the addition of three chapters (XX, XXI, and XXVII) of such material, many continued to doubt Melville's veracity. Much, however, was eventually done to dispel such doubts, at least in the United States, when on July 1, 1846, the Buffalo, New York, Commercial Advertiser published "A Letter from Toby". This was an attestation by Melville's friend and fellow ship-jumper Richard Tobias Greene that the adventures related in the book were indeed true.
Gansevoort Melville also contacted George Putnam at the London offices of Wiley & Putnam, who agreed to publish an American edition to be typeset in New York from Murray's proof sheets. Putnam's partner John Wiley was offended by many of the passages dealing with sex and religion, but was unable to edit the book before it went to press; he subsequently pressured Melville to delete the controversial passages for the second edition. This "revised version" of the American edition was published in August of 1846, and included a "Sequel" entitled "The Story of Toby", an account of Greene's adventures after he managed to escape from the island.
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Typee or Happar? I asked within myself. I started, for at the same moment this identical question was asked by the strange being before me. I turned to Toby; the flickering light of a native taper showed me his countenance pale with trepidation at this fatal question. I paused for a second, and I know not by what impulse it was that I answered "Typee." The piece of dusky statuary nodded in approval, and then murmured "Motarkee?" "Motarkee," said I, without further hesitation -- "Typee mortarkee." --Chapter X
As the vessel had been placed in its present position since my last visit, I at once concluded that it must have some connection with the recent festival; and, prompted by a curiosity I could not repress, in passing it I raised one end of the cover; at the same moment the chiefs, perceiving my design, loudly ejaculated, "Taboo! taboo!" But the slight glimpse sufficed; my eyes fell upon the disordered members of a human skeleton, the bones still fresh with moisture, and with particles of flesh clinging to them here and there! --Chapter XXXII
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The writer of this narrative, though filling the post of a
common sailor, is certainly no common man. His clear, lively, and
pointed style, the skilful management of his descriptive, the
philosophical reflections and sentimental apostrophes scattered
plentifully throughout the work, at first induced us to suppose
it is the joint production of an American sailor and man of
letters, of whom the one furnished the raw materials and the
other gave them shape, order, and consistency, so as to tell with
more effect upon the public....
The predominant and most objectionable characteristic of this book is the obtrusive earnestness with which its author supports a favourite notion that savage is preferable to civilised life.... Seldom have savages found so zealous a vindicator of their morals; rarely, too, has Christianity owned so ungrateful a son....
One more censure we have to pronounce.... In the course of his remarks he has frequent occasion to advert to the labours of the missionaries among these and other islanders of the South Seas; and it is remarkable that he never speaks of them but in terms either of downright disrespect, of ridicule as often as he can, or to charge them with gross and wilful exaggeration in their statements, or with credulity and blindness in their dealings with the natives. To such an extent does he carry this, that, having a misgiving it will be offensive to his readers, he purposely excuses it as best he can in the preface to his book. The tone of mock respect in which he does this is the more despicable and mischievous because it may betray the unthinking into confidence in his statements, believing that he has the real interests of Christianity very seriously at heart. We caution all such against delusions of this nature, and tell Mr. Melville that a twelve months' mental discipline under the weakest of the disinterested [missionaries] whom he reviles would be to him of the greatest service; it would teach him the value of moderation, charity, and truth-seeking, -- to draw conclusions warily and after mature consideration, and thus better qualify him for a censor of morals and commentator on a people than he has proved himself in this book. --London Critic, March 7 1846
The narrative is skilfully managed, and in a literary point of view, the execution of the work is worthy of the novelty and interest of its subject. --Nathaniel Hawthorne, in Salem, Massachusetts Advertiser, March 25 1846
Although with little pretension to author-craft, there is a life and truth in the descriptions, and a freshness in the style of the narrative, which is in perfect keeping with the scenes and adventures it delineates. --London Douglas Jerrold's Shilling Magazine, April 1846
Mr. Murray's Home and Colonial Library does not
furnish us with a more interesting book than this; hardly with a
cleverer. It is full of the captivating matter upon which the
general reader battens; and it is endowed with freshness and
originality to an extent that cannot fail to exhilarate the most
enervated and blasé of circulating-library
... His descriptions of scenery are lifelike and vigorous, sometimes masterly, and his style throughout is rather that of an educated literary man than of a poor outcast working seaman on board of a South Sea whaler....
The evidence against the authenticity of the book is more than sufficient to satisfy a court of justice. Our limits forbid us to prosecute it further. Of evidence against the smartness and talent of the production there is none. --London Times, April 6 1846
The book abounds in praises of the life of nature, alias
savageism, and in slurs and flings against missionaries and
civilization. When the author alludes to, or touches matters of
fact at the Sandwich Islands, he shows the sheerest ignorance and
utter disregard of truth.
The work was made, not for America, but for a circle, and that not the highest, in London, where theatres, opera-dancers, and voluptuous prints have made such unblushing walks along the edge of modesty as are here delineated to be rather more admired than we hope they are yet among us. We are sorry that such a volume should have been allowed a place in the "Library of American Books." --"H.C.", in New York Evangelist, April 9 1846
The author seems to possess a cultivated taste and a fair
education, but a deficient reading, and to this latter cause we
assign many of his errors of general fact, as well as gross
misstatements concerning the missionaries....
Before proceeding to our investigation of his statements concerning the missionaries, we remark of the book generally: 1. It is filled with the most palpable and absurd contradictions; 2. These contradictions are so carelessly put together as to occur in consecutive paragraphs; 3. It is throughout laudatory of the innocence and freedom from care of the barbarians of the South Seas, particularly the Marquesans; 4. It compares their condition with civilized society as being the more desirable of the two; 5. It either excuses and wilfully palliates the cannibalism and savage vices of the Polynesians, or is guilty of as great a crime in such a writer, that of ignorance of his subject; and, 6. It is redundant with bitter charges against the missionaries, piles obloquy upon their labor and its results, and broadly accuses them of being the cause of the vice, misery, destitution, and unhappiness of the Polynesians wherever they have penetrated....
We are inclined to doubt seriously whether our author ever saw the Marquesas; or if he did, whether he ever resided among the Typees; or, if he did, whether this book is not a sort of romantic satire at the expense of the poor savages.... --William Oland Bourne, in New York Christian Parlor Magazine, July 1846
A LETTER FROM TOBY
The Evangelist speaks rather disparagingly of the book as being too romantic to be true, and as being too severe on the missionaries. But to my object: I am the true and veritable "Toby," yet living, and I am happy to testify to the entire accuracy of the work so long as I was with Melville, who makes me figure so largely in it.... --Richard Tobias Greene in Buffalo, New York Commercial Advertiser, July 1 1846
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