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

  • Timeline of Melville’s Life : from Google.com
  • Herman Melville and Arrowhead — Learn about Melville’s “Arrowhead” home in Pittsfield, Massachusetts and his connection to the Berkshire region of the state from the Berkshire Historical Society site.
  • Melville Society : The Melville Society is one of the oldest international single-author societies and “strives to facilitate and enhance interaction throughout the world concerning the life, associates, works, reputation, and influence of nineteenth-century American novelist and poet Herman Melville.”
  • The Life and Works of Herman Melville : This site is dedicated to disseminating information about Herman Melville, including “breaking news”, critiques, publishing history and more.
  • The Milton and Melville Society : This site is “dedicated to the pursuit of scholarly criticism dealing with authors John Milton and Herman Melville. Though the two authors may seem disparate, they are forever linked by the themes of their works.” Includes, biographical information and access to the Milton and Melville Review Journal.
  • Berkshire Historical Society at Herman Melville’s Arrowhead : Learn about Melville’s life at Arrowhead, his farm in Pittsfield, Mass., as well as efforts to restore the property. The site also offers exhibits about Arrowhead and the history of the Berkshires region.
  • One Drawing for Every Page of Moby-Dick : This blog is just what it says. Artist Matt Kish is illustrating every page of Moby Dick, focusing on one passage for each page. See all illustrations here beginning with page 1.


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

  • Into the Deep: America, Whaling & the World — A companion site to PBS’ American Experience film of the same name includes a biography of Melville, a timeline of whaling history in America, an historic map of American whaling ports and more.
  • Timeline: The History of Whaling in America — An illustrated timeline of whaling in America from PBS’ American Experience Web site.

  • New Bedford Whaling Museum : This site includes online exhibits, a calendar of events, a list of programs — including a Moby Dick marathon reading — and more; all related to the history of the whaling industry.
  • Nantucket Historical Association Whaling Museum and Historic Sites: View online exhibits, see highlights of permanent exhibits, view a calendar of events and read about Nantucket history.
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