Herman Melville

By Joseph O. Eaton and an unknown etcher

By Joseph O. Eaton and an unknown etcher (Library of Congress) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


Herman Melville was born on August 1, 1819 in New York City to a well-to-do family. His father ran an import business and both grandfathers were Revolutionary War heroes.

In 1830, Melville’s father relocated the family to Albany, New York, after experiencing set-backs in his business affairs. When he died in 1832, the family was bankrupt. Melville attended Albany Academy from 1830-1831 and again from 1836-1837, but his formal education was erratic. He moved from job to job until becoming a cabin boy on a voyage to Liverpool, England in 1839. In 1841, Melville set sail again, this time to French Polynesia, on the whaling ship, Acushnet. In 1842, Melville deserted from the Acushnet. He sailed later on a frigate to Hawaii, then on another whaler back home to New England. He wrote his first two novels, Typee (1846) and Omoo, about his nauticial experiences. Both books were critically and commercially successful.

In 1847, Melville married Elizabeth Shaw. They had four children and, in 1851, moved to Arrowhead, their farm in Pittsfield, Mass. It was here that Melville was befriended by the author Nathaniel Hawthorne and wrote his greatest work, Moby Dick, or the Whale, which he dedicated to Hawthorne, along with other works. These works were critical failures at the time, however, and Melville turned to lecturing to make money. He later began writing poetry, but these works, too, were largely ignored or panned. Consequently, Melville obtained a position at the New York Customs House and worked there for nineteen years.

Melville died at his home in New York City early on the morning of September 28, 1891.

More on Melville

Whaling

By A. Burnham Shute (Moby-Dick edition - C. H. Simonds Co)

By A. Burnham Shute (Moby-Dick edition – C. H. Simonds Co) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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