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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 24

24 Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters [Vol. 74 
server, at least, Melville had not passed the crucial test. The Daily Free
Democrat said Melville had a "large audience. . . perhaps the most of
whom
were disappointed in the lecturer." He gave "a literary effort
below mediocrity,
unless he intended it as a reading. In fact, it seemed as though he had one
of his romances before him, and had selected the most uninteresting passages
to read for our edification." The audience listened "attentively,"
according
to this report; however, newspapers invariably complimented local audiences
so, sometimes the greater to criticize an uninteresting speaker. "[S]o
general
were his remarks that they failed to create much interest in the minds of
hearers," the paper said. 
The Daily Sentinel agreed that Melville had "an unusually large audience"
to hear him talk about the beauties of the tropics "in his own inimitable
way." The Sentinel offered little actual review and principally summarized
the lecture, as the Daily Wisconsin had done. Only the hostile Daily Free
Democrat undertook a critique rather than a summary. Although the Sentinel
would appear to have approved of Melville by its comment on his "inimitable"
style, the compliment is hardly hearty and even has a certain irony. Familiarity
with the idiom of newspaper reviewing in the nineteenth century suggests
that the term was something of a cliche; it was often used in advance publicity
in place of anything more precise, and in a review, it may mean only that
the reviewer had not really observed anything remarkable. "As a lecturer,"
the reporter noted, "Mr. Melville sustains the idea we have formed of
him
in ' Typeer' [sic], a soft voluptuous ease is the predominant characteristic.
. . . [T]he same drowsy enchantment that makes his writings so fascinating
radiates from the speaker." The Sentinel's reviewer might have been
a subtle
reader of Melville, if indeed he had read Melville, for few critics would
have called Typee "drowsy enchantment." The book 
actually had been accused of lewdness, Munchausenism, and trumped-up criticism
of colonial missionaries. Moreover, Melville read his new material from a
script—only the Daily Free Democrat was unhappy for this—but,
even though the Sentinel did not register any criticism of its own, its report
of Melville's subdued manner was not generally an endorsement of stage skill.
Audiences usually preferred a more animated speaker. In a sense, the Sentinel
had called Melville "bookish," a term the Daily Free Democrat used
as sharp
criticism. 
 Cramer's review in his own paper was the only solidly-complimentary one
that Melville received. The Daily Wisconsin, in fact, said a "very large
and appreciative audience" heard Melville, although it did not judge
the
applause, as the Daily Free Democrat had done. The Daily Wisconsin denied
that Melville read a "stilted lecture" nor indulged in "rhetorical
flights,"
but instead spoke in "delicious literary languor. . . graceful and musical."
Melville was not one for stage theatrics, but instead spoke "as one
would
like to sit down to a club room, and with the blue smoke of a meerschaum
gracefully curling and floating away.. . dream for hours, even till the night
wore away." Cramer's simile was appropriate; in fact, Melville was generally
best in intimate surroundings. 
 Albany Hall seated about 800 people. The actual attendance can only be estimated—all
papers called it "large"—but despite the Daily Free Democrat's
insinuation
about the Young Men's Association profiting at the audience's expense, the
receipts do not suggest a tremendously successful booking or a capacity crowd.
The Association actually lost money on the particular performance. The ledger
records $50.45 received at the door, $50 for Melville's fee, and another
$29.50 for expenses. The door receipts do not include subscribers to the
season lecture program, but there is no estimate of exactly how many members
attended. Ticket prices were 25~, the standard charge for stage per- 


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