Nathaniel Hawthorne on Herman Melville: “He can neither believe, nor be comfortable in his unbelief”

Melville, as he always does, began to reason of Providence and futurity, and of everything that lies beyond human ken, and informed me that he “pretty much made up his mind to be annihilated”; but still he does not seem to rest in that anticipation; and, I think, will never rest until he gets hold of a definite belief.

It is strange how he persists — and has persisted ever since I knew him, and probably long before — in wandering to-and-fro over these deserts, as dismal and monotonous as the sand hills amid which we were sitting. He can neither believe, nor be comfortable in his unbelief; and he is too honest and courageous not to try to do one or the other.

If he were a religious man, he would be one of the most truly religious and reverential; he has a very high and noble nature, and better worth immortality than most of us.

From Nathaniel Hawthorne’s journal entry for November 20, 1856; I encountered the quote in Charles Olson’s study of Melville, Call Me Ishmael.