Moby-Dick, had attracted little attention and any remaining fame from his earlier books, Typee and Omoo, was fizzling. To earn money, he took the same tactic Mark Twain later took when in financial need: Herman Melville became a lecturer.
His first was in Concord, Massachusetts at the end of November. But, on December 2, 1857, he had a larger audience in Boston. His pay was $40.00. Melville's lecture tour took him from Massachusetts to Montreal, Connecticut, New York, and Ohio. He earned nearly $600 in about three months but, after his traveling expenses, was left with only $373.70. In the next couple years, he continued lecturing in cities like Baltimore, Milwaukee, and Chicago.
Melville's lecture topics included "South Seas" and "Statues of Rome." In Boston, before the Mercantile Library Association, he presented the latter — a topic which had no relation to the books which brought him fame. The lecture was not met with high praise. "[The] lecture was quite interesting to those of artistic tastes," according to one newspaper review, but "the larger part of the audience would have preferred something more modern and personal." Melville told his audience that science ranked below art, which "caused some little discussion." Some audience members were confused by Melville's words.
A relative had predicted only days earlier that when Melville tried to put forth philosophy, "he seeks to ascend by waxen wings from his proper sphere only to find his mind dazzled his wings melted and his fall mortifying." A cousin in attendance reported that the lecture was well-planned but lacking in force; he would have done better if he talked about the South Seas, he said.
*For this post, I am indebted to the work of Hershel Parker in the second volume of his Melville biography: Herman Melville: A Biography (Volume 2, 1851-1891).