The argument of this essay is that several of the notes that Herman Melville wrote in the back leaves of one of his Shakespeare volumes—notes that have been an object of interest and speculation ever since their discovery in the 1930s—were responses to essays written by Leigh Hunt and collected in a volume called The Indicator. In all likelihood, Melville read these essays—along with a Quarterly Review essay by Francis Palgrave, which has previously been shown to be the source of other notes in the back of the Shakespeare volume—on the sofa of his father-in-law, Lemuel Shaw, shortly before or after the birth of his son Malcolm in February 1849. The discovery of the new source is important both as an aid in identifying when and where Melville took all of these notes and as an indication of how carefully Melville studied the British periodical essay before beginning Moby-Dick (1851). In the essays of writers like Hunt, he encountered a form that seemed as though it could stretch to accommodate his literary and philosophical ambitions without sacrificing the companionship of the implied reader. For at least two years, Melville would believe enough in the possibilities of that form to compose his miraculously sociable expressions of unresolvable hope and rage, to give voice to the seemingly “wicked,” and yet to feel, as he told Nathaniel Hawthorne, “spotless as the lamb.”

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