Thomas Powell, an English-born journalist, claimed in April 1856 that Melville once announced to him a plan for a work "intended to illustrate the principle of remorse, and to demonstrate that there is, very often, less real virtue in moral respectability than in accidental crime." Powell was a thief and a forger who took refuge in Manhattan in 1849 after being banished from the London literary establishment, where he had been an intimate of Dickens and Browning. A crative liar, Powell could have fabricated his claim about the planned work on remorse. Yet he had ample opportunity to hear Melville discourse about a projected work that had not been printed by 1856. Upon his arrival in New York, Powell had attached himself to Melville's friend Evert A. Duyckinck, then quickly made Melville's acquaintance. In June 1849 he was a guest in Melville's house, perhaps the day Melville gave him a copy of the newly published Mardi. The theme was congenial to Melville, who had used "Remorse" as the title of a chapter in Mardi. Melville's later works, moreover, including what we know of the lost The Isle of the Cross, bear close affinities with the planned work as Powell described it. Unless further evidence corroborates Powell's claim, we cannot know for certain that Melville ever discussed writing a work on remorse. Still, considering the highly Melvillean nature of the theme as Powell recalled it, the words of this English scoundrel will ring true to many lovers of Melville.
- Copyright 1996 The Regents of the University of California.