Saturday, January 20, 2024

Found! Cincinnati DAILY TIMES review of Melville's 1858 "Statues in Rome" lecture

In Melville as Lecturer (Harvard University Press, 1957) Merton M. Sealts, Jr. presented reading texts of Herman Melville's three lectures from 1857 to 1860 on "Statues in Rome," "The South Seas," and "Traveling," reconstructed from accounts in 19th century newspapers. On February 2, 1858 between gigs in Clarksville, Tennessee and Chillicothe, Ohio, Melville spoke for almost two hours at Smith and Nixon's Hall in Cincinnati, Ohio on "Statues in Rome." The Queen City treated Melville well. Three different Cincinnati newspapers reviewed Melville's talk on Roman statuary the day after he gave it, as documented by Sealts in a footnote (#29 on page 41) to his chapter on "The First Lecture Season": 
  1. Cincinnati Daily Commercial
  2. Cincinnati Daily Gazette
  3. Cincinnati Enquirer
Sealts named a 4th newspaper that "may likewise have carried a review of the lecture," the Cincinnati Daily Times. Lost, apparently, since the one known file of the Daily Times did not contain the February 3, 1858 issue, according to his consultant at the Historical and Philosophical Society of Ohio. 

Despite minor criticism, for instance of the speaker's occasionally "monotonous" delivery, the three known reviews of Melville's "Statues in Rome" lecture were unusually substantial and positive. Indeed, Melville's reception was so favorable that Sealts regarded the "Cincinnati engagement" as perhaps "his most successful performance" during his first tour (1857-8) of the lecture circuit. 

For the Cincinnati performance, only the three reviews located by Sealts thirty years before are listed in editorial notes for "Statues in Rome" in the 1987 Northwestern-Newberry edition of The Piazza Tales and Other Prose Pieces, 1839-1860, edited by Harrison Hayford, Alma A. MacDougall, G. Thomas Tanselle and others, page 724. But Sealts had guessed right about a possible 4th in the Cincinnati Daily Times. As demonstrated herein, the long lost issue of February 3, 1858 does have a substantial review of "Herman Melville's Lecture" of the previous evening on "Statues in Rome." 

Cincinnati Daily Times - February 3, 1858
Found on
As in the Daily Commercial, some of the content borrows from the earlier account in the Boston Daily Courier on December 3, 1857; and others, perhaps. Highlights include a physical description of "The Lecturer" in the opening section and several unique observations and phrases attributed to Melville, including one teasing reference to the lecturer's famous sojourn "in a far off land" where he glimpsed "the figure of a naked girl" who "was in surprise on beholding me." About that "naked girl," the Daily Times reporter possibly misheard, or mis-wrote. No doubt she was unclothed, mostly, but Melville instead may have described the young lady as "native" and was so quoted in the Boston Journal review of December 3, 1857. 

Bust of Tiberius - Rome, Italy Capitoline Museum 

Also worthy of closer examination and further study are some bits on Tiberius that closely correspond to the wording in Melville's 1856-7 Journal of a Visit to Europe and the Levant, more exactly in places than either 19th century newspapers or 20th century reconstructions of Melville's 1857-8 lecture on "Statues in Rome" have ever indicated. One year before, Melville had seen the marble head of Tiberius at the Capitoline Museum in Rome. In his journal entry dated February 26, 1857, Melville wrote: 
"That Tiberius? He don't look so bad at all." -- It was he. A look of sickly evil, -- intellect without manliness, & sadness without goodness.

Journal of a Visit, edited by Howard C. Horsford (Princeton University Press, 1955) page 191; and the 1989 Northwestern-Newberry Edition of Melville's Journals, edited by Howard C. Horsford with Lynn Horth, page 106. 

Except in Montreal, Melville was usually heard to quote the female bystander he had overheard as saying, "He does not look so bad"; thus avoiding the contracted and colloquial don't. Here, however, Tiberius "don't look so bad." This report omits Melville's unspoken reply, as given in other printed accounts of the lecture on Roman statues: "Madam, thought I, if he had looked bad, he could not have been Tiberius." Most impressively, however, only the Cincinnati Daily Times review finds Melville drawing directly from his journal, word-for-word, in the descriptive phrase "intellect without manliness." Words copied from Melville's journal in the Cincinnati Daily Times report are highlighted in the excerpt below:

"That Tyberias!" I heard a lady exclaim in the Vatican: "Why he don't look so bad." Sad and almost pathetic in his pensiveness--he seems to be musing upon the gallantries and miseries of the world--the greatness and littleness of man. The head conveys the idea of a man overpowered by great affections, but more narrowly scanned, it exhibits intellect without manliness--melancholy without pity. Tyberias, was, perhaps, the wickedest man that ever lived.

As readers, our sense of these really being Melville's exact words is encouraged and to some degree heightened by the reporter's giving them in the first person, as in "I heard a lady exclaim...."

One more point of interest that I can't resist noting: Melville's recorded take on the "indomitable will and undying hate" of Satan that he perceived in La caduta degli angeli ribelli or "Fall of the Rebel Angels" by Agostino Fasolato, then at the Palazzo Pappafava in Padua.

Lucifer and his companions cast down from Heaven may be seen in a palace in Padua, while Michael and his hosts bend over them. The face of Satan expresses indomitable will and undying hate. 

Here the expressions "indomitable will" and "undying hate" attributed to Melville effectively paraphrase the "unconquerable Will" and "immortal hate" ascribed to Satan by Milton in the first book of Paradise Lost, lines 106-108:

All is not lost; the unconquerable Will,
And study of revenge, immortal hate,
And courage never to submit or yield.... 

Another Cincinnati listener, as pointed out in Melville as Lecturer (page 138, footnote #18), caught different echoes from the same passage ("revenge" and "never to submit or yield") which Sealts incorporated into his reconstructed text of "Statues in Rome." As Melville reportedly verbalized it in his lecture, the dexterously carved figure of Satan remains "unbroken and defiant, his whole body breathing revenge and his attitude one never to submit or yield." In Milton and Melville (Cooper Square Publishers, 1970) at page 138, Henry F. Pommer had already observed with respect to Fasolato's work of sculpture that Melville "probably confused one of the angels with Satan, who is really at the bottom, in the form of an infernal monster." No matter, it's wonderful to find that between them, the Daily Gazette and Daily Times reviewers captured most of Melville's borrowings from three lines in Book I of Paradise Lost.

As related on page 266 in the History of Cincinnati and Hamilton County (1894) the Cincinnati Daily Times

was founded in 1821 [error for 1841] by Calvin W. Starbuck, as a weekly, when he was but nineteen years of age. He was the fastest type-setter in the West at that time, and being desirous to economise his funds until his enterprise proved self-supporting, he for years set up a great portion of the paper himself, and also assisted in its delivery to subscribers. He was eminently successful as a publisher and business man, and, to use the words of a modern writer, "was great in goodness."
Calvin Washburn Starbuck (1821-1870) still owned the Cincinnati Daily Times when the review of Melville's lecture appeared on February 3, 1858; and he continued to publish the newspaper until his lamentably early death in 1870, not yet 50 years old. Calvin's father John Starbuck 
was an old Nantucket whaler, who, after following the sea for many years, removed to Cincinnati and purchased a residence on the west side of Vine Street, just above Front, where Calvin was born. -- The Biographical Cyclopædia and Portrait Gallery Volume 3 (Cincinnati, 1884) page 743.
Cincinnati Daily Commercial - January 29, 1858

As in the Daily Commercial and other Cincinnati periodicals including Isaac M. Wise's weekly newspaper The Israelite, advertisements appeared in the Daily Times (on January 30, 1858 and February 2, 1858, for example) ahead of Melville's 

"... Lecture before the Young Men's Mercantile Library Association, 

Tuesday Evening, February 2d"

Cincinnati Daily Times - February 2, 1858
Found on
HERMAN MELVILLE, Esq.-- This gentleman will lecture before the Y. M. M. L. Association this evening at Smith & Nixon's Hall. His subject is "The Statues of Rome." --Cincinnati Daily Times, February 2, 1858
The full report of Melville's lecture on February 2nd is transcribed below from the Cincinnati Daily Times of February 3, 1858; found on

Herman Melville's Lecture.


The audience last night, at Smith & Nixon's Hall, taking into consideration the inclemency of the weather, was large--considerably larger than we had anticipated during the day. The seats in the body of the hall were nearly all filled while in the gallery were numbers seated. This "large and respectable audience" to Mr. Melville is highly complimentary, and exhibits the fact that he is known through his works--such as Typee, Omoo, &c.


Herman Melville we should judge to be a man between thirty-eight and forty years of age--rather above the medium size--stoutly and compactly built. His hair is black, short, and inclined to be wiry. His eyes appear to be dark, and are deep-set, giving him the appearance of a thinker. His forehead is neither broad or expansive, but rather low and narrow. He has cultivated whiskers and moustacheos quite extensively, nearly the entire lower portion of his face being covered by those hirsute appendages. Mr. Melville's style is rather agreeable, yet hardly sufficiently animated. His voice is musical and full of feeling, yet sometimes too monotonous. He appears perfectly at home on the rostrum, impressing one with the idea that it is not his "first appearance on any stage."


Mr. Melville commenced his lecture by denying that there was any exclusiveness in art, or rather in its appreciation. Professional artists might employ their technical terms to express their ideas of the beautiful in art, which might be expressed, perhaps, quite as sensibly by others in more homely phrases, who had quite as good appreciation thereof. Flowers could be appreciated by those who were not able to name them, as well as those versed in botanical knowledge. And so creations of Art might be enjoyed by those who are not professional artists. Many refrained from expressing their views in relation to Art, lest they might display their ignorance; but may not the opinions of such, sometimes be set above those of the professed sculptor or artist.

Being neither a critic nor a connoisseur, I have seen fit to introduce my subject, the Sculptures of Rome, with these remarks--a subject which some might suppose belonged exclusively to artists. The approach to Rome by Naples is by the gate of St. John, the first object of attention being the group of colossal figures in stone, surmounting the lofty pediment of St. John Lateran. Standing in every grand or animated attitude, they seem not only to attest that this is the Eternal City, but likewise at its portal, to offer greeting in the name of that great company of statues which, amid the fluctuations of the human census, abides the true and undying population of Rome. It is, indeed, among these mute citizens, and mostly in the Vatican Museum, that the stranger forms his most pleasing and cherished associations. In that grand hall he will not only make new acquaintances, but will likewise revive many long before introduced by the historian. And he will find many deficiencies of the historian supplied by the sculptor, who has effected in part, for the celebrities of old, what the memoir writer of the present day does for modern ones. In viewing the statues and bases of Demosthenes, Titus, Socrates, Caesar, Seneca, Nero, and others, we feel a sense of reality not to be given by history; and although we are at first startled by some of them from our preconceived opinions, yet we seldom, on reflection, fail to concede the general likeness to that which the historian has furnished us. The analysis of the marble coincides with the historian's analysis of the man.

The statue of Demosthenes may be deemed a kind of substitute for his confessions. Titus, who flits across the page of Tacitus, shows forth the character of the man as if the statue were indeed the man.

In the bust of Socrates we might look for wisdom personified, but it has more the appearance of a carnival masque, and might be taken for the head of an Irish tragedian with morals none of the purest, and yet the statue is correct. Socrates, in his earlier days, used to be reproached for his homely aspect. The head of Julius Caesar might be mistaken for that of a President of the Erie railroad. But was not Caesar, after all, as a utilitarian might say, a business man, who took upon himself the business of ruling the world? Seneca looks like a pawn-broker, and he was a userer in his life.

Nero had the appearance of a genteel, dissipated youth--a fast young man, such as may be seen upon the race-track any day. Plato looks as if he had been to the pains of smoothing and parting his hair like a lady. The character of these statues--their faces are familiarly like our own--the features of man have undergone but little change--the vices and the virtues of the ancients were like our own--on just as a gigantic scale, and it is to be hoped that the Heroic tone, like Tyrean dye has not been lost to the world. Nature is similar in all ages.

"That Tyberias!" I heard a lady exclaim in the Vatican: "Why he don't look so bad." Sad and almost pathetic in his pensiveness--he seems to be musing upon the gallantries and miseries of the world--the greatness and littleness of man. The head conveys the idea of a man overpowered by great affections, but more narrowly scanned, it exhibits intellect without manliness--melancholy without pity. Tyberias, was, perhaps, the wickedest man that ever lived.

The statue which most of all in the Vatican excites the admiration of all visitors, is the Apollo. Few speak, or even whisper, when they enter the cabinet where it stands. If one were to try to convey some adequate notion, other than artistic, of a statue which so signally lifts the imaginations of men, he might hint that it gives a kind of visible response to that class of human aspirations, which according to Faith, cannot be truly gratified, except in another world. It is infinitely grander than the Venus di Medici, in Florence, for while she is lovely, he is divine.

The thought of many of these beautiful figures having been pleasing to the Romans, at least persuades us that their violence, as a conquering race, did not engross them, and the flame kindled in most men by nature was at no time in Roman breasts wholly stamped out. When I stood in the Colliseum, its mountain-chains of ruins waving with foliage, girding me round, as in some great green hollow in the Appenine range, the solitude was like that of savage nature; but restoring the shattered arches and terraces, I repeopled them with all the statues from the Vatican, and in the turfy glen of the arena below I placed the fighting Gladiator, from the Louvre, confronting him with the dying-one from the Capitol. And as in my fancy I heard the ruffian huzzas for the first, rebound from the pitiless hiss for the last, I felt that more than one in that host I had evoked shared not in its passions; that some hearts were there that felt the horror keenly as any of us would have felt it.
The Lecturer here alluded to Milton's verse--the polish of which reflected the polish of the marble. Milton's poem was a sort of Vatican done into verse. He passed a portion of his years in Italy and a year subsequent to the finding of the Apollo he resided in Rome. Who can say how much influence these statues had upon the poet?

Lucifer and his companions cast down from Heaven may be seen in a palace in Padua, while Michael and his hosts bend over them. The face of Satan expresses indomitable will and undying hate.

The statue of Venus, in Florence, is not of as pure marble as the Apollo; she is lovely; but he divine. She is no Roman lady--no Caesar's wife--no coquette--no prude--but a child of nature, modest, true, but only as nature dictates. When a captive once, in a far off land, I saw the figure of a naked girl; she was in surprise on beholding me. She assumed the same attitude as the Venus, and nearly the same expression was upon her features. I mention this, to show how truthful to nature were the Grecian Sculptors.

The Laocoon was alluded to, but not at that length we could have wished. An allusion was made to the pastoral gentleness of the sculptors. It showed that violence did not entirely engross the Romans--but even under the Caesars, were not this people ignorant of the letter of Christianity, although they were of its spirit?

The Vatican was described by moonlight in beautiful word-painting, in which the lecturer pre-eminently excels. A fine description was given of the marble steeds, which seemed not made to be bestridden, but as if soaring to the skies like the horses of Elijah. Other statues were alluded to, but the lecturer could not crowd a description of all within an hour.-- Beautiful pictures were given of the villas of Rome, and a description of Pompeii and the luxuriant Diomedes indulged in, the lecturer closing by a general review.

Not the least, perhaps, among these causes which make the Roman museums so impressive is their tranquil air. In chambers stand the images of gods, while in the statues of men, even the vilest, what was corruptible in their originals, here in pure marble, puts on incorruption. In the Roman Vatican, and the Washington Patent Office, the respective characteristics of the ancients and moderns stand contrasted. But is the Locomotive as grand an object as the Laocoon? Does it attest his hurried intelligence? We moderns did invent the printing press, but from the ancients have we not the best thoughts which it circulates? As the Roman arch enters into and sustains our best architecture, does not her spirit still animate and support whatever is soundest in societies and States? Or shall the scheme of Fourier supplant the code of Justinian, only when the novels of Dickens silence the satires of Juvenal? If the Collisseum expresses the durability of Roman ideas, what does the Crystal Palace express? Will the glass of the one bide the hail storms of eighteen centuries as well as the travertine of the other?
"When falls the Colisseum, Rome shall fall,
And when Rome falls, the world."
-- Cincinnati Daily Times, February 3, 1858

Related posts:

No comments:

Post a Comment