Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Melville's Lecture on "Travel"

detail of the Procession Fresco at Knossos Palace in Crete, Greece
Luis Santos via Shutterstock
Melville delivered this last lecture only three times that we know of, once in New York (Flushing) and twice in Massachusetts (Danvers and Cambridgeport). Long title: "TRAVEL, its Pleasures, Pains and Profit." His talk before the Young Men's Association of Flushing, Long Island took place on Monday, November 7, 1859. The following week, a New York correspondent of the Boston Evening Transcript named Melville along with another visiting lecturer, John R. Thompson of Virginia:
"J. R. Thompson, of the Southern Literary Messenger, and Hermann Melville, have been here on a lecturing visit." --New York correspondence signed "Z" in the Boston Evening Transcript, Tuesday, November 15, 1859.
As reported in Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper (Saturday, November 19, 1859), "the brilliant editor" John R. Thompson spoke on "Fools and their Uses" at Clinton Hall, Astor Place on Thursday, November 10, 1859.
Cambridge Chronicle, February 25, 1860
via Cambridge Public Library
The 1860 newspaper report, transcribed below, condenses the talk Melville gave before the Dowse Institute in Cambridgeport, Massachusetts on February 21, 1860. Not the whole thing, but so far it's the only known account. Melville in Cambridgeport was subbing for Emerson, as Hershel Parker points out in Herman Melville: A Biography, V2.414. Steven Olsen-Smith brings more of the Long Island story to light in his March 1999 Leviathan essay, "Travel": New Evidence on Melville's Third Lecture.  Edited texts of Melville's lectures on Statues in Rome, the South Seas, and Travel are available in Melville as Lecturer by Merton M. Sealts, Jr. and the Northwestern-Newberry edition of Melville's Piazza Tales.



In the isolated cluster of mountains called Greylock, there lies a deep valley named The Hopper, which is a huge sort of verdant dungeon among the hills. Suppose a person should be born there, and know nothing of what lay beyond, and should after a time ascend the mountain, with what delight would he view the landscape from the summit! The novel objects spread out before him would bewilder and enchant him. Now it is in this very kind of experience that the prime pleasure of travel consists. Every man's home is in a certain sense a 'Hopper,' which however fair and sheltered, shuts him in from the outer world. Books of travel do not satisfy; they only stimulate the desire to see. To be a good traveller, and derive from travel real enjoyment, there are several requisites. One must be young, care-free, and gifted with geniality and imagination, for if without these last he may as well stay at home. Then, if from the North, his first landing should be on a fine day, in a tropical climate, with palm trees, and gaily dressed natives in view, and he will have the full pleasure of novelty. If without the above qualities, and of a somewhat sour nature besides, he might be set down even in Paradise and have no enjoyment, for joy is for the joyous nature. To be a good lounger,—that is essential, for the traveller can derive pleasure and instruction from the long galleries of pictures, the magnificent Squares, the Cathedrals, and other places that require leisurely survey, only through this quality. The pleasure of leaving home, carefree, with no concern but to enjoy, has also as a pendant the pleasure of coming back to the old hearthstone, the home to which however travelled the heart still fondly turns, ignoring the burden of its anxieties and cares. 
One must not anticipate unalloyed pleasure. Pleasure, pain and profit are all to be received from travel. As Washington Irving has remarked, the sea-voyage, with its excitements, its discomforts, and its enforced self-discipline, is a good preparation for foreign travel. The minute discomforts, the afflictions of Egypt and Italy, in the shape of fleas, and other insects, we will pass over lightly, though they by no means pass lightly over the traveller. A great grievance from first to last is the passport, and you soon learn by official demands, what becomes to you an adage — Open passport, open purse; and its endless crosses at the close of your travels, remind you of the crosses it has cost you all the way through. The persecutions and extortions of guides, not only the rough and robber like, but those who combine the most finished politeness with the most delicate knavery, are another serious drawback on your pleasure. Though when we think of the thousand times worse extortions practised on the emigrants here, we acknowledge Europe does not hold all the rogues. There is one infallible method of escape from this annoyance: full pockets. Pay the rascals, laugh at them, and escape. Honest and humane men are also to be found, but not in an overwhelming majority. 
For the profit of travel: in the first place, you get rid of a few prejudices. The native of Norway who goes to Naples, finds the climate so delicious as almost to counterbalance the miseries of government. The Spanish Matador, who devoutly believes in the proverb, " Cruel as Turk," goes to Turkey, sees that people kind to all animals; sees docile horses, never balky, gentle, obedient, exceedingly intelligent, yet never beaten, and comes home to his bull-fights with a very different impression of his own humanity. The stock-broker goes to Thessalonica and finds Infidels more honest than Christians; the teetotaller finds a country in France where all drink and no one gets drunk; the prejudiced against color finds several hundred millions of people of all shades of color, and all degrees of intellect, rank and social worth, generals, judges, priests and kings, and learns to give up his foolish prejudice. 
Travel liberalizes us also in minor points. Our notions of dress become much modified, and comfort is studied far more than formerly. The beard also, of late years, from our travelled experience, is admitted to its rightful degree of favor. In the adornment of our houses, frescoes have taken the place of dead white. God is liberal of color; so should man be. 
Travel to a large and generous nature is as a new birth. Its legitimate tendency is to teach profound personal humility, while it enlarges the sphere of comprehensive benevolence till it includes the whole human race. 
Among minor benefits is that of seeing for one's self all striking natural or artificial objects, for every individual sees differently according to his idyosyncrasies. One may perhaps acquire the justest of all views, by reading and comparing all writers of travels. Great men do this, and yet yearn to travel. Richter longed to behold the sea. Schiller thought so earnestly of travel, it filled his dreams with sights of other lands. Dr. Johnson had the same longing, with exaggerated ideas of the distinction to be reflected from it. It is important to be something of a linguist to travel to advantage; at least to speak French fluently. In the Levant where all nations congregate, unpretending people speak half a dozen languages, and a person who thought himself well educated at home, is often abashed at his ignorance there. 
It is proposed to have steam communication direct between New York and some Mediterranean port. Then the traveller would enter the old world by the main portal, instead of as now, through a side door. 
England, France, the Mediterranean,—it is needless to dwell on their attractions. But as travel indicates change and novelty, and change and novelty are often essential to healthy life, let a narrower range not deter us. A trip to Florida will open a large field of pleasant and instructive enjoyment. Go even to Nahant, if you can go no farther— that is travel. To an invalid it is travel, that is, change, to go to other rooms in the house. The sight of novel objects, the acquirement of novel ideas, the breaking up of old prejudices, the enlargement of heart and mind,—are the proper fruit of rightly undertaken travel.
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