Literary and Manual Labors: Pittsfield, Massachusetts


“Since you have been here, I have been building some shanties of houses … and likewise some shanties of chapters and essays,” wrote Herman Melville to Nathaniel Hawthorne, in 1851, from his newly renovated property in Western Massachusetts. “I have been plowing and sowing and raising and painting and printing and praying—and now begin to come out upon a less bustling time, and to enjoy the calm prospect of things from a fair piazza at the north of the old farm house here.” The letter, sent while Melville was putting the finishing touches onMoby-Dick, reveals how completing his literary labors had begun to merge with various acts of husbandry and home improvement.

In early autumn of 1850, Melville had relocated abruptly from New York City to a farm on the outskirts of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, a small city in the heart of Berkshire County familiar to him through sporadic visits to an estate owned by his uncle (and later his cousin). At the time, Melville was midway through the composition ofMoby-Dick. Having settled into the 18th-century farmhouse on the south side of Arrowhead (so christened because of the hunting flints Melville found nearby), he would lock himself in the second-floor study for hours on end, scribbling furiously till several continuous knocks on his door would gradually “wean” him from his manuscript.

In the course of these solitary writing sessions in Pittsfield, Melville fundamentally reimagined the architecture of the novel. Far from New York City, in the midst of his physical exertions, he turned what he had initially described as a “romance of adventure” into an existential conflict between a biblically named ship captain and a Miltonian white whale.

在同一时期,因为他在与霍桑的信函中解释的长度,梅尔维尔也改变了物业的物理结构。In just under a year, he oversaw the construction of a piazza (i.e., porch) facing north toward Mount Greylock, added several outbuildings in a field adjacent to the farmhouse, planted a crop of corn and potatoes, and engaged in enough carpentry to cause several large blisters to form on his writing hand. In the midst of all this, he still found time to visit Hawthorne, who was working onThe House of the Seven Gablesin the neighboring town of Lenox, and to whom Melville had already confessed his grand ambitions for his novel-in-progress—along with the sources of those blisters (hammering and hoeing).


Melville’s reinvention of his literary life in Pittsfield has often been described as an experiment in rural self-reliance—with some logistical help from his family and a timely mental assist from his genius friend. Yet Melville’s manual and spiritual labors at Arrowhead did not just serve his own creative needs. They were also instrumental in building a mid-19th-century Berkshire literary community that rivaled even the storied Transcendentalist enclave in Concord.

事实上,虽然同时代人倾向于将梅尔维尔和霍桑的特征在于隐秘,但这些时期的账目表明他们积极参与该地区的文化生活 - 至少在他们没有写作时。例如,这对一对着名的第一次见面,在1850年夏天的伯克斯,是一座徒步旅行的伟大巴林顿的纪念碑山,举起了令人印象深刻的本地和大都市数字。远足派对包括诗人和散文家奥利弗温德尔·福尔摩斯SR.,他拥有260英亩的独木舟Meadows Estate,距离箭头仅几英里;律师亨利·塞加维克二世,他的阿姨Catharine Maria是最畅销的区域小说的作者一个新英格兰的故事and希望Leslie.; and Evert Duyckinck and James T. Fields, kingpins respectively of the New York and Boston literary worlds. Melville and Hawthorne both made calls to the Sedgwick house at Stockbridge, which had long served as a stopping place for illustrious visitors to the region, among them the actress and activist Fanny Kemble, who had established her own place in Lenox (The Perch) in 1849. Fireside poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow spent his honeymoon in Pittsfield at his wife Fanny Appleton’s home on East Street, Elm Knoll, which contained a grandfather clock (still extant, and now displayed at Melville’s Arrowhead) that inspired Longfellow’s well-known poem “The Old Clock on the Stairs.”

The sheer density of this literary environment led cultural historian Richard Birdsall to describe the mid-19th-century Berkshires as the “American Lake District,” likening it to the iconic English region that fostered the British Romantic poets William Wordsworth and Samuel Coleridge.1

皮茨菲尔德在19世纪中叶的意义extended beyond its literary contributions. The Reverend Samuel Harrison, who presided over a devoted community of worshippers in the city’s Second Congregational Church, was the first African American pastor in the Berkshires. Just a few months after the Emancipation Proclamation, Harrison left Pittsfield to join the Union army as a chaplain for the famed all-Black 54th Regiment. It was his formal complaint—that soldiers “of African descent” were not receiving the same wages as white soldiers—that ultimately compelled Abraham Lincoln to retroactively grant all soldiers equal pay, regardless of the color of their skin. Harrison would later describe the town’s early African American community in a powerful sermon titled “Pittsfield 25 Years Ago.”


在19世纪末和20世纪初,伯克尔继续生产并吸引非凡的作家。这些包括W. E. B. Du Bois(在Great Barrington),Edith Wharton(Lenox),埃德纳圣文森特米勒(在奥斯特利茨郡,与纽约边界)。

但皮特斯菲尔德的轨迹与周围的区域分歧。虽然Lenox和Stockbridge在基本上,来自纽约和波士顿的二楼买家的领域 - 特别是在镀金时代的百万富翁大厦建筑物斗牛菲尔德出现为伯克郡县的工业中心。1901年,斯坦利电气公司在早晨的社区竖立了一个庞大的电站和变压器,雇用了1,200名工人。两年后,一般电气收购了斯坦利电气的Pittsfield Holdings的财产和其余部分。皮特斯菲尔德成为一座葛镇;在20世纪40年代,在其人口的高度,这座城市的13,645人为GE工作了55,000名居民。

Pittsfield eventually became known more for its plastics factories than for its long-deceased literary celebrities. In the late 1960s, noted critic Ann Charters spent three summers in Pittsfield searching for the “ghosts” of the city’s literary past. And yet, as she wrote of the retired workers in her rooming house on West Housatonic Street, “None of them had thought at all about Herman Melville, one of their neighbors.”2

Leaving the Stanley Works at 6 p.m., Pittsfield 1913

Over the next half century, a series of plant closures, worker strikes, and price-fixing scandals culminated in GE’s decision, in 1986, to all but eliminate its Pittsfield operations (by the 1990s, fewer than seven hundred GE employees remained). Deindustrialization hit the city particularly hard. In the 1990s and 2000s, residents and resources flowed out of Pittsfield at an increasingly rapid rate.

In a 2019今日美国article on the 25 fastest-shrinking cities in the United States, Pittsfield was ranked number 21—the only metro area in New England to appear on the list.3沿着北街沿着今天的北街遇到了一个老化的基础设施,与店面的长短店面和长的备用人行道,与一个世纪以前的照片中描绘的繁华的通道很少相对相似。

For the past few years, I have spent each July in Pittsfield working as the director of research for a public-humanities project called The Mastheads. The project was founded in 2016, by third-generation Pittsfield resident Tessa Kelly and her partner Chris Parkinson, born and raised in Williamstown, on the other side of Mount Greylock. The mission of The Mastheads is to galvanize Pittsfield’s current cultural community by looking to its literary past.


我的角色之一是举办了一系列公开对话,就伯克斯师的文学史有助于我们如何理解县现在。In that capacity, I have not only frequented the archives of the Berkshire Athenaeum and the Berkshire County Historical Society, I have also spent days at a time in the habitats of these historical authors: the Melville house in Pittsfield, Wharton’s estate in Lenox, Du Bois’s river walk in Great Barrington.



由Gill Partington.

The Mastheads founding motto—borrowed from George Orwell—is “We must add to our heritage or lose it.” The motto speaks to the project’s conviction that the best way to celebrate Pittsfield’s cultural past is to build on it, not simply to memorialize it.

这种信念促使我们开发ise a unique kind of writers’ residency: every year, five up-and-coming writers spend a month living in a communal house in Pittsfield and working in the writing studios. The idea is that the Berkshire scenery (and the knowledge of those who have preceded them there) will fire their imagination much as it did Melville’s. It also led us to develop the Fireside poetry program in the Pittsfield public schools, conceived and run (along with the writers’ residency) by poet and Great Barrington resident Sarah Trudgeon. The program features a diverse group of K–12 Pittsfield students reading texts by historic Pittsfield authors, in order to stimulate their own writing about the city they inhabit.

Hopefully the author ofMoby-Dick会批准。他知道最大胆的创作行为也是改造的行为。

本文被委托Abigail Struhl..icon

  1. 查看理查德·斯塔尔,Berkshire County: A Cultural History(Yale University Press, 1959), pp. 323–79.
  2. Ann Charters, “Melville in the Berkshires,” inEvidence of What Is Said: The Correspondence between Ann Charters and Charles Olson about History and Herman Melville(Tavern, 2015).
  3. Samuel Stebbins, “America’s Fastest Shrinking Cities Often Have Unemployment, Crime as Concerns,“今日美国, May 5, 2019.
Featured image: The five Masthead writing studios at MASS MoCa. Photograph by Iwan Baan