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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 26

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. 
 1 See letter to Hawthorne in Moby-Dick, ed. Harrison Hayford and Hershel
Parker (New York: Norton, 1967) 
 2 Merrell R. Davis, "Melville's Midwestern Lecture Tour, 1859,"
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
 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
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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