University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Link to University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Link to University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
The State of Wisconsin Collection

Page View

Whitford, Philip; Whitford, Kathryn (ed.) / Transactions of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters
volume 74 (1986)

Pribek, Thomas
The man who lived among the cannibals: Melville in Milwaukee,   pp. 19-26 PDF (4.1 MB)


Page 21

1986] Pribek—Melville in Milwaukee 21 
toward any Easterner who showed the slightest trace of snobbery or disrespect
for the culture of the West; in addition, the character of midwestern audiences
and their expectations sharply differed from those in New England. The Young
Men's Associations attracted people with social expectations and pretensions,
but these lyceum organizations in the West belonged to a second phase of
the movement and lacked its original New England roots in the drive for popular
literacy and free public education. By the standards of the time, Wisconsin
had already accomplished such improvements in its first decade of statehood.
Consequently, audiences in this state and others in the Midwest demanded
as much entertainment as edification and were generally unreceptive to speakers
who appeared as though they wanted to "school" the audience.9 
For instance, Cramer's paper pointed out that Melville's lecture was "entertaining"
and "also instructive" (emphasis added), suggesting the educational
material
was secondary. Cramer wrote that Melville "lay open a field of adventure
and wanderings to which one rarely has his attention called" (emphasis
added).
Melville found out that reviewers were quick to bristle at the suspicion
that they were being patronized or treated like uneducated backwoodsmen.
Milwaukee's literacy was accomplished in part by German immigration, half
the city by 1860. The German population in particular regarded itself as
better educated and cultivated than other nationalities, including the native
Americans, and very much resented being considered a pioneer settlement.'°
 When Melville first published south-sea adventures like Typee and Omoo,
he had been accused of romantic exaggeration of the exotic island life. His
new lecture on "The South Seas," however, now brought occasional
complaints
among midwestern reviewers that he was rehearsing well known material which
any library could yield. For once, Melville found himself accused of a 
want of originality and a failure to be sufficiently exotic and entertaining."
The Milwaukee Daily Free Democrat, for instance, commented, "On the
whole,
we think there are few who knew much more about the South Seas, after he
concluded, than before he began." Melville had said that this lecture
was
not to be a personal narrative—' ' a great mistake," said
the paper,
"for had he stated some of the scenes which he had passed through himself,
and thereby invested his lecture with some life, instead of telling us what
the primary geographies told us in our schooldays, he would have created
a better impression in Milwaukee." 
 The starting time for Melville's lecture was moved up a half-hour so that
Albany Hall could offer a held-over performance of Father Kemp's Old Folks
Concert Troupe, a costumed choir and orchestra with a variety of sacred and
patriotic music. The choir alone numbered thirty-seven people; the group
was billed as "The Largest Concert Troupe in the World." Melville
was in
competition with a musical extravaganza, and although the auditorium was
reserved for him, he was obliged to defer to the more popular show. In fact,
the newspaper advertisements for performances at Albany Hall and elsewhere
indicate a demand for drama and musical entertainment. Other selections in
the winter season included a "Grand Masquerade Ball" and "St.
David's Vocal
and Instrumental Concert." Melville's competition on February 25th at
Johnson's
Atheneum was selections from The Merchant of Venice and Rob Roy. The Atheneum
was also booked for Uncle Tom's Cabin, partly a musical on stage, and Ten
Nights in a Barroom, starring the popular cracker-barrel comedian "Yankee"
Locke. Such variety acts of the lyceum stage have been called 
12 
 The advance publicity for Melville's lecture billed him as the author of
Typee, his first book of south-sea adventure—not as the author
of any
metaphysical allegories, 


Go up to Top of Page