Whitford, Philip; Whitford, Kathryn (ed.) / Transactions of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters
volume 74 (1986)
The man who lived among the cannibals: Melville in Milwaukee, pp. 19-26 PDF (4.1 MB)
26 Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters [Vol. 74 have to stay home and work at some routine came just before Mark Twain first lighted out for the western territories and began to find an idiom for himself as a world traveler and writer. Melville's difficulties as a popular writer have been exaggerated and romanticized. He never was as much the deliberate outcast as some readers have thought; he never was an Edgar Allan Poe or Charles Baudelaire, writing what he thought profound to spite a public who never could appreciate him.2' Even Melville's most critically-condemned and publicly-ignored books, Pierre and The Confidence-Man, were disappointments because he had thought that they would sell. Melville did not imagine himself essentially at odds with the bourgeois reading public, although he did finally realize that what talent he had as a writer would never make him rich or even provide a sole means of support. His lecturing, like his last romances, was a disappointment to Melville because he believed that it might work. But he found out, once again, that he did not have what it took to please the crowd. NOTES 1 See letter to Hawthorne in Moby-Dick, ed. Harrison Hayford and Hershel Parker (New York: Norton, 1967) 556-60. 2 Merrell R. Davis, "Melville's Midwestern Lecture Tour, 1859," Philological Quarterly 20 (1941): 57, suggests that Melville's South Sea lecture lacked spontaneity because he had no fresh observations on his experiences; and Merton M. Sealts, Jr., Melville as Lecturer (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1957) 100-01, 121-23, believes that Melville "was thoroughly tired" of trying to rework the popular subject and, furthermore, had "grown alien to mid-century America." See comments from his cousin Henry Gansevoort in Jay Leyda, The Melville Log: A Documentary Life of Herman Melville, 1819-1891, 2 vols. (1951; rpt. New York: Gordian Press, 1969) 2: 600-01; Alfred Kazin, An American Procession: The Major American Writers from 1830 to 1930—The Crucial Century (New York: Knopf, 1984) 13 1-60; and Sealts 61. Leon Howard, Herman Melville: A Biography (Berkeley: U of California P, 1951)211, 256-57. Howard 258-60; and Sealts 58. 6 Newspaper reviews are taken from the collections of the State Historical Society, Madison. See Ralph M. Aderman, "When Herman Melville Lectured Here," Historical Messenger 9.2 (1953): 3; Carl Bode, The American Lyceum: Town Meeting of the Mind (1956; rpt. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1968) 174-75; and John C. Colson, "Public Spirit' at Work: Philanthropy and Pubic Libraries in Nineteenth- Century Wisconsin," Wisconsin Magazine of History 59.3 (1976): 192-209. 8 Bode 168, 175. Bode 98, 166-68; Davis 52-53; and Sealts 61, 83-84. 10 Kathleen Warnes, "Milwaukee: The German Athens in America, 1835-1920," Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts, and Letters Symposium and Conference, Wausau, 25 April 1986. None of the German-language papers in Milwaukee reviewed Melville. See Sealts 73-74, 94. 12 Richard Nelson Current, Wisconsin: A Bicentennial History (New York: Norton, 1977) 147. 13 See Bode 217-19. 14 Sealts 64. 15 The full text of "The South Seas" is reconstructed by Sealts (155-80). Page references for passages quoted in the test of this essay are contained in parentheses. 16 Davis 47; Leyda 603; and Sealts 76, 93. 17 Howard 261. 18 Bode 218-19; and Sealts 92-93, 99-100. 19 Howard 262-67. 20 Howard 267-69. 21 Kazin calls Melville a "captive to the commercial capital," New York City (137), and recalls that Sam Melville, the "Mad Bomber" killed at Attica State Correctional Facility in 1971, took his name for Herman, whom he identified with revolution (158). In addition, Edwin Haviland Miller, Melville (New York: Persea, 1975) 295, says that Melville could not resign himself to giving audiences what they wanted.
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