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Melville in Montreal: The Archives of the Montreal Mercantile Library Association GAIL SHANNON Montreal W hen Herman Melville first embarked on the lyceum circuit in the fall and winter of 1857-58, he delivered a single lecture, on Roman statuary, before sixteen audiences on the Eastern seaboard and one Canadian city.1 That lecture,”Statues in Rome,” was scheduled to be delivered for the fourth time on December 10, 1857, in Montreal; Melville traveled by train from Boston the preceding day to keep the engagement.2 However, in “Herman Melville’s Lecture in Montreal,” Frederick James Kennedy established that the train carrying Melville suffered a minor accident near Rouse’s Point in upstate New York. Melville’s arrival was delayed, and the lecture was hurriedly rescheduled for the next evening, Friday, December 11. Melville recorded the cost of his enforced overnight stay in Rouse’s Point, as well as a telegram to his Montreal host, in his memoranda of lecture engagements and travel expenses (Kennedy 129).3 Melville’s Montreal host was G. H. Frothingham, a prosperous hardware merchant, who resided at 16 Durocher St. on the slope of Mount Royal near McGill College (Mackay 1857-58, 123). Frothingham’s address in this exclusive area indicates that Melville would have been comfortably accommodated before or after presenting his lecture on December 11.4 An announcement in the December 10, 1857 Montreal Daily Transcript and Commercial Advertiser5 erroneously noted that Melville had arrived in Montreal on the ninth, but testified to his being eagerly awaited (Kennedy 128): HERMAN MELVILLE—This gentleman, we learn, arrived in town yesterday, and during his stay is the guest of G. H. Frothingham, Esq. This distinguished author will lecture this evening before the Mercantile Library Association at the Mechanics’ Hall. His works are not less known in England than on this side of the Atlantic. We anticipate for his audience a rich intellectual treat. With regard to “Statues in Rome,” Sealts notes that “in the body of the lecture [Melville] seeks to lead his audience through the gates of Rome into the twin worlds of art and the ancient past, thus adapting the familiar c  2012 The Melville Society and Wiley Periodicals, Inc. 44 L E V I A T H A N A J O U R N A L O F M E L V I L L E S T U D I E S M E L V I L L E I N M O N T R E A L structural pattern of a journey through space that is found in most of his writing” (Sealts 8). Melville guides his audience on an imaginative tour of the numerous Roman statues in the Vatican, where they “hold out their hands to the present” (NN PT 399). He compares the noble, ancient past, rooted in art and expressed in statuary, to the practical, scientific present, a contrast particularly evoked in the sculpted head of Julius Caesar whom “the present practical age would regard as a good representative of the President of the New York and Erie Railroad” (401). Melville’s tour extends from the Vatican to the Coliseum and beyond to villas outside Rome. He “repeoples” the Coliseum in order to fully “appreciate the Gladiator” in a brilliant display of word-painting (NN PT 404-5). In his conclusion, Melville directly addresses the art-science dichotomy: “To undervalue art is perhaps somewhat the custom now. The world has taken a practical turn, and we boast of our progress, of our energy, of our scientific achievements—though science is beneath art, just as the instinct is beneath reason” (408). Despite the “rich intellectual treat” anticipated by the Transcript and Advertiser on December 10, Melville’s chosen topic was to prove controversial for the Montreal Mercantile Library Association (MMLA). Kennedy notes that “the shift in title from ‘Statuary’ to ‘Sight-Seeing’ was the work of a lecture committee eager to embellish the program” (Kennedy 126). Newly discovered evidence in the association archives reveals the serious misgivings on the part of the MMLA about Melville’s proposed subject.6 The MMLA archives, which contain the Association’s minutes from 1856-74,7 also disclose that...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1750-1849
Print ISSN
1525-6995
Pages
pp. 44-53
Launched on MUSE
2013-05-29
Open Access
No
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