The Piazza Tales were written upon the public indignation over his novel Pierre, which had forced Melville to retire to the piazza of his house in Lenox, Massachusetts. The six tales included here are among Melville’s most notable writings. They include the famed tale “Bartleby” a story of slavery, “Benito Cereno,” “The Encantadas,” “The Lightning-Rod Man,” “The Bell-Tower,” and the title story, “The Piazza.”
When I removed into the country, it was to occupy an old–fashioned farm–house, which had no piazza—a deficiency the more regretted, because not only did I like piazzas, as somehow combining the coziness of in–doors with the freedom of out–doors, and it is so pleasant to inspect your thermometer there, but the country round about was such a picture, that in berry time no boy climbs hill or crosses vale without coming upon easels planted in every nook, and sun–burnt painters painting there. A very paradise of painters. The circle of the stars cut by the circle of the mountains. At least, so looks it from the house; though, once upon the mountains, no circle of them can you see. Had the site been chosen five rods off, this charmed ring would not have been.
The house is old. Seventy years since, from the heart of the Hearth Stone Hills, they quarried the Kaaba, or Holy Stone, to which, each Thanksgiving, the social pilgrims used to come. So long ago, that, in digging for the foundation, the workmen used both spade and axe, fighting the Troglodytes of those subterranean parts—sturdy roots of a sturdy wood, encamped upon what is now a long land–slide of sleeping meadow, sloping away off from my poppy–bed. Of that knit wood, but one survivor stands—an elm, lonely through steadfastness.
Whoever built the house, he builded better than he knew; or else Orion in the zenith flashed down his Damocles’ sword to him some starry night, and said, “Build there.” For how, otherwise, could it have entered the builder’s mind, that, upon the clearing being made, such a purple prospect would be his?—nothing less than Greylock, with all his hills about him, like Charlemagne among his peers.