Herman Melville

Herman Melville

Overview
Herman Melville was an American novelist, short story
Short story
A short story is a work of fiction that is usually written in prose, often in narrative format. This format tends to be more pointed than longer works of fiction, such as novellas and novels. Short story definitions based on length differ somewhat, even among professional writers, in part because...

 writer, essayist, and poet. He is best known for his novel Moby-Dick
Moby-Dick
Moby-Dick; or, The Whale, was written by American author Herman Melville and first published in 1851. It is considered by some to be a Great American Novel and a treasure of world literature. The story tells the adventures of wandering sailor Ishmael, and his voyage on the whaleship Pequod,...

and the posthumous novella Billy Budd
Billy Budd
Billy Budd is a short novel by Herman Melville.Billy Budd can also refer to:*Billy Budd , a 1962 film produced, directed, and co-written by Peter Ustinov, based on Melville's novel...

.
His first three books gained much contemporary attention (the first, Typee
Typee
Typee is American writer Herman Melville's first book, a classic in the literature of travel and adventure partly based on his actual experiences as a captive on the island Nuku Hiva in the South Pacific Marquesas Islands, in 1842...

, becoming a bestseller), and after a fast-blooming literary success in the late 1840s, his popularity declined precipitously in the mid-1850s and never recovered during his lifetime.
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Quotations

Indolence is heaven’s ally here,And energy the child of hell:The Good Man pouring from his pitcher clearBut brims the poisoned well.

Timoleon, Fragments of a Lost Gnostic Poem of the Twelfth Century, Fragment 2

It was not a very white jacket, but white enough, in all conscience, as the sequel will show.The way I came by it was this...

Ch. 1, First lines

Many sensible things banished from high life find an asylum among the mob.

Ch. 7

Familiarity with danger makes a brave man braver, but less daring. Thus with seamen: he who goes the oftenest round Cape Horn goes the most circumspectly.

Ch. 23

In time of peril, like the needle to the loadstone, obedience, irrespective of rank, generally flies to him who is best fitted to command.

Ch. 27

We Americans are the peculiar, chosen people — the Israel of our time; we bear the ark of the liberties of the world.

Ch. 36

A man of true science... uses but few hard words, and those only when none other will answer his purpose; whereas the smatterer in science... thinks, that by mouthing hard words, he proves that he understands hard things.

Ch. 63
Encyclopedia
Herman Melville was an American novelist, short story
Short story
A short story is a work of fiction that is usually written in prose, often in narrative format. This format tends to be more pointed than longer works of fiction, such as novellas and novels. Short story definitions based on length differ somewhat, even among professional writers, in part because...

 writer, essayist, and poet. He is best known for his novel Moby-Dick
Moby-Dick
Moby-Dick; or, The Whale, was written by American author Herman Melville and first published in 1851. It is considered by some to be a Great American Novel and a treasure of world literature. The story tells the adventures of wandering sailor Ishmael, and his voyage on the whaleship Pequod,...

and the posthumous novella Billy Budd
Billy Budd
Billy Budd is a short novel by Herman Melville.Billy Budd can also refer to:*Billy Budd , a 1962 film produced, directed, and co-written by Peter Ustinov, based on Melville's novel...

.
His first three books gained much contemporary attention (the first, Typee
Typee
Typee is American writer Herman Melville's first book, a classic in the literature of travel and adventure partly based on his actual experiences as a captive on the island Nuku Hiva in the South Pacific Marquesas Islands, in 1842...

, becoming a bestseller), and after a fast-blooming literary success in the late 1840s, his popularity declined precipitously in the mid-1850s and never recovered during his lifetime. When he died in 1891, he was almost completely forgotten. It was not until the "Melville Revival" in the early 20th century that his work won recognition, especially Moby-Dick
Moby-Dick
Moby-Dick; or, The Whale, was written by American author Herman Melville and first published in 1851. It is considered by some to be a Great American Novel and a treasure of world literature. The story tells the adventures of wandering sailor Ishmael, and his voyage on the whaleship Pequod,...

, which was hailed as one of the literary masterpieces of both American and world literature. He was the first writer to have his works collected and published by the Library of America
Library of America
The Library of America is a nonprofit publisher of classic American literature.- Overview and history :Founded in 1979 with seed money from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Ford Foundation, the LoA has published over 200 volumes by a wide range of authors from Mark Twain to Philip...

.

Early life, education, and family




Herman Melville was born in New York City on August 1, 1819, the third of eight children of Allan and Maria Gansevoort Melvill. After her husband Allan died (& between 1832 & 1834), Maria added an "e" to the family surname — seemingly at the behest of Melville's brother Gansevoort. Part of a well-established and colorful Boston
Boston
Boston is the capital of and largest city in Massachusetts, and is one of the oldest cities in the United States. The largest city in New England, Boston is regarded as the unofficial "Capital of New England" for its economic and cultural impact on the entire New England region. The city proper had...

 family, Melville's father spent a good deal of time abroad as a commission merchant and an importer of French dry goods. The author's paternal grandfather, Major Thomas Melvill
Thomas Melvill (American patriot)
Thomas Melvill or Thomas Melville of Boston, Massachusetts, was a merchant, member of the Sons of Liberty, participant in the Boston Tea Party, a major in the American Revolution, a longtime fireman in the Boston Fire Department, state legislator, and paternal grandfather of writer Herman...

, an honored participant of the Boston Tea Party
Boston Tea Party
The Boston Tea Party was a direct action by colonists in Boston, a town in the British colony of Massachusetts, against the British government and the monopolistic East India Company that controlled all the tea imported into the colonies...

 who refused to change the style of his clothing or manners to fit the times, was depicted in Oliver Wendell Holmes
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. was an American physician, professor, lecturer, and author. Regarded by his peers as one of the best writers of the 19th century, he is considered a member of the Fireside Poets. His most famous prose works are the "Breakfast-Table" series, which began with The Autocrat...

's poem "The Last Leaf". Herman visited him in Boston, and his father turned to him in his frequent times of financial need. The maternal side of Melville's family was Hudson Valley Dutch. His maternal grandfather was General Peter Gansevoort
Peter Gansevoort
Peter Gansevoort was a Colonel in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. He is best known for leading the resistance to Barry St. Leger's Siege of Fort Stanwix in 1777. Gansevoort was also the maternal grandfather of Moby-Dick author Herman Melville.-Early life:He was born...

, a hero of the Battle of Saratoga
Battle of Saratoga
The Battles of Saratoga conclusively decided the fate of British General John Burgoyne's army in the American War of Independence and are generally regarded as a turning point in the war. The battles were fought eighteen days apart on the same ground, south of Saratoga, New York...

; in his gold-laced uniform, the general sat for a portrait painted by Gilbert Stuart
Gilbert Stuart
Gilbert Charles Stuart was an American painter from Rhode Island.Gilbert Stuart is widely considered to be one of America's foremost portraitists...

, which is described in Melville's 1852 novel, Pierre
Pierre: or, The Ambiguities
Pierre: or, The Ambiguities is a novel written by Herman Melville, and published in 1852 by Harper & Brothers.The publication of Pierre was a critical and financial disaster for Melville. It was universally condemned for both its morals and its style...

, for Melville wrote out of his familial as well as his nautical background. Like the titular character in Pierre, Melville found satisfaction in his "double revolutionary descent."

Allan Melvill sent his sons to the New York Male School (Columbia Preparatory School
Columbia Grammar & Preparatory School
Columbia Grammar and Preparatory School is the oldest non-sectarian private school in the United States, located on the Upper West Side of Manhattan , in New York City, New York...

). Overextended financially and emotionally unstable, Allan tried to recover from his setbacks by moving his family to Albany
Albany, New York
Albany is the capital city of the U.S. state of New York, the seat of Albany County, and the central city of New York's Capital District. Roughly north of New York City, Albany sits on the west bank of the Hudson River, about south of its confluence with the Mohawk River...

 in 1830 and going into the fur business. The new venture, however, was unsuccessful; the War of 1812
War of 1812
The War of 1812 was a military conflict fought between the forces of the United States of America and those of the British Empire. The Americans declared war in 1812 for several reasons, including trade restrictions because of Britain's ongoing war with France, impressment of American merchant...

 had ruined businesses that tried to sell overseas and he was forced to declare bankruptcy
Bankruptcy
Bankruptcy is a legal status of an insolvent person or an organisation, that is, one that cannot repay the debts owed to creditors. In most jurisdictions bankruptcy is imposed by a court order, often initiated by the debtor....

. He died soon afterward, leaving his family penniless, when Herman was 12. Although Maria had well-off kin, they were concerned with protecting their own inheritances and taking advantage of investment opportunities rather than settling their mother's estate so Maria's family would be more secure with Herman's younger brother, Thomas Melville
Thomas Melville
Thomas Melville was a sailor and later governor of Sailors' Snug Harbor, and the younger brother of author Herman Melville....

, who eventually became a governor of Sailors Snug Harbor
Sailors Snug Harbor
Sailors' Snug Harbor, also known as Sailors Snug Harbor or Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden or referenced informally as Snug Harbor, is a collection of architecturally significant 19th century buildings set in a park located along the Kill Van Kull on the north shore of Staten...

.

Melville attended the Albany Academy
The Albany Academy
The Albany Academy is an independent college preparatory day school for boys in Albany, New York, USA, enrolling students from Preschool to Grade 12. It was established in 1813 by a charter signed by Mayor Philip Schuyler Van Rensselaer and the city council of Albany...

 from October 1830 to October 1831, and again from October 1836 to March 1837, where he studied the classics
Classics
Classics is the branch of the Humanities comprising the languages, literature, philosophy, history, art, archaeology and other culture of the ancient Mediterranean world ; especially Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome during Classical Antiquity Classics (sometimes encompassing Classical Studies or...

.

Early working life



Melville's roving disposition and a desire to support himself independently of family assistance led him to seek work as a surveyor on the Erie Canal
Erie Canal
The Erie Canal is a waterway in New York that runs about from Albany, New York, on the Hudson River to Buffalo, New York, at Lake Erie, completing a navigable water route from the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes. The canal contains 36 locks and encompasses a total elevation differential of...

. This effort failed, and his brother helped him get a job as a cabin boy
Cabin boy
A Cabin boy or ship's boy is a boy who waits on the officers and passengers of a ship, especially running errands for the captain....

 on a New York ship bound for Liverpool
Liverpool
Liverpool is a city and metropolitan borough of Merseyside, England, along the eastern side of the Mersey Estuary. It was founded as a borough in 1207 and was granted city status in 1880...

. He made the voyage, and returned on the same ship. Redburn: His First Voyage
Redburn
Redburn: His First Voyage is a novel by Herman Melville published on September 29, 1849, by Richard Bentley in London and on November 14, 1849, by Harper & Brothers in New York City.-Overview:...

(1849) is partly based on his experiences of this journey.

The three years after Albany Academy (1837 to 1840) were mostly occupied with teaching school, except for the voyage to Liverpool in 1839. From 1838 to 1847, he resided at what is now known as the Herman Melville House
Herman Melville House (Troy, New York)
Herman Melville House is a historic home located at Lansingburgh in Troy, Rensselaer County, New York. It was a home of author Herman Melville between 1838 and 1847. It was originally built about 1786 and substantially remodeled in the Late Victorian style about 1872. It is a -story, brick and...

 in Lansingburgh, New York
Lansingburgh, New York
Lansingburgh was the first chartered village in Rensselaer County, New York, USA and was settled around 1763. The name is from Abraham Lansing, an early settler, combined with the Scottish word burgh....

. Near the end of 1840 he once again decided to sign ship's articles
Articled clerk
An articled clerk, also known as an articling student, is an apprentice in a professional firm in Commonwealth countries. Generally the term arises in the accountancy profession and in the legal profession. The articled clerk signs a contract, known as "articles of clerkship", committing to a...

. On January 3, 1841, he sailed from New Bedford, Massachusetts
New Bedford, Massachusetts
New Bedford is a city in Bristol County, Massachusetts, United States, located south of Boston, southeast of Providence, Rhode Island, and about east of Fall River. As of the 2010 census, the city had a total population of 95,072, making it the sixth-largest city in Massachusetts...

 on the whaler Acushnet, which was bound for the Pacific Ocean. He was later to comment that his life began that day. The vessel sailed around Cape Horn
Cape Horn
Cape Horn is the southernmost headland of the Tierra del Fuego archipelago of southern Chile, and is located on the small Hornos Island...

 and traveled to the South Pacific. Melville left little direct information about the events of this 18-month cruise, although his whaling romance, Moby-Dick; or, The Whale, probably gives many pictures of life on board the Acushnet. Melville deserted the Acushnet in the Marquesas Islands
Marquesas Islands
The Marquesas Islands enana and Te Fenua `Enata , both meaning "The Land of Men") are a group of volcanic islands in French Polynesia, an overseas collectivity of France in the southern Pacific Ocean. The Marquesas are located at 9° 00S, 139° 30W...

 in July 1842. For three weeks he lived among the Typee natives, who were called cannibals by the two other tribal groups on the island—though they treated Melville very well. Typee
Typee
Typee is American writer Herman Melville's first book, a classic in the literature of travel and adventure partly based on his actual experiences as a captive on the island Nuku Hiva in the South Pacific Marquesas Islands, in 1842...

, Melville's first novel, describes a brief love affair with a beautiful native girl, Fayaway, who generally "wore the garb of Eden" and came to epitomize the guileless noble savage
Noble savage
The term noble savage , expresses the concept an idealized indigene, outsider , and refers to the literary stock character of the same...

 in the popular imagination.
Melville did not seem to be concerned about repercussions from his desertion from the Acushnet. He boarded another whaler bound for Hawaii and left that ship in Honolulu. While in Honolulu, he became a controversial figure for his vehement opposition to the activities of Christian missionaries seeking to convert the native population. After working as a clerk for four months, he joined the crew of the frigate
Frigate
A frigate is any of several types of warship, the term having been used for ships of various sizes and roles over the last few centuries.In the 17th century, the term was used for any warship built for speed and maneuverability, the description often used being "frigate-built"...

 , which reached Boston in October 1844. These experiences were described in Typee
Typee
Typee is American writer Herman Melville's first book, a classic in the literature of travel and adventure partly based on his actual experiences as a captive on the island Nuku Hiva in the South Pacific Marquesas Islands, in 1842...

, Omoo
Omoo
Omoo: A Narrative of the South Seas is Herman Melville's sequel to Typee, and, as such, was also autobiographical. After leaving Nuku Hiva, the main character ships aboard a whaling vessel which makes its way to Tahiti, after which there is a mutiny and the majority of the crew are imprisoned on...

, and White-Jacket
White-Jacket
White-Jacket; or, The World in a Man-of-War, usually referred to as White-Jacket, is an 1850 novel by Herman Melville first published in England on January 23 by Richard Bentley and in the U.S...

, which were published as novels mainly because few believed their veracity.

Melville completed Typee in the summer of 1845, though he had difficulty getting it published. It was eventually published in 1846 in London, where it became an overnight bestseller. The Boston publisher subsequently accepted Omoo sight unseen. Typee and Omoo gave Melville overnight notoriety as a writer and adventurer, and he often entertained by telling stories to his admirers. As writer and editor Nathaniel Parker Willis
Nathaniel Parker Willis
Nathaniel Parker Willis , also known as N. P. Willis, was an American author, poet and editor who worked with several notable American writers including Edgar Allan Poe and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. He became the highest-paid magazine writer of his day. For a time, he was the employer of former...

 wrote, "With his cigar and his Spanish eyes, he talks Typee and Omoo, just as you find the flow of his delightful mind on paper". The novels, however, did not generate enough royalties for him to live on. Omoo was not as colorful as Typee, and readers began to realize Melville was not just producing adventure stories. Redburn
Redburn
Redburn: His First Voyage is a novel by Herman Melville published on September 29, 1849, by Richard Bentley in London and on November 14, 1849, by Harper & Brothers in New York City.-Overview:...

and White-Jacket
White-Jacket
White-Jacket; or, The World in a Man-of-War, usually referred to as White-Jacket, is an 1850 novel by Herman Melville first published in England on January 23 by Richard Bentley and in the U.S...

had no problem finding publishers. Mardi
Mardi
Mardi, and a Voyage Thither is the third book by American author Herman Melville, first published in 1849.-Overview:Mardi is Melville's first pure fiction work...

was a disappointment for readers who wanted another rollicking and exotic sea yarn.

Marriage and later working life



Melville married Elizabeth Shaw, daughter of chief justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Lemuel Shaw
Lemuel Shaw
Lemuel Shaw was an American jurist who served as Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court...

, on August 4, 1847; the couple honeymooned in Canada. They had four children: two sons and two daughters. In 1850 they purchased Arrowhead
Arrowhead (Herman Melville)
Arrowhead , also known as Herman Melville House, was the home of American author Herman Melville during his most productive years from 1850-1863...

, a farm house in Pittsfield, Massachusetts
Pittsfield, Massachusetts
Pittsfield is the largest city and the county seat of Berkshire County, Massachusetts, United States. It is the principal city of the Pittsfield, Massachusetts Metropolitan Statistical Area which encompasses all of Berkshire County. Its area code is 413. Its ZIP code is 01201...

, now a museum. Here Melville lived for 13 years, occupied with his writing and managing his farm. While living at Arrowhead, he befriended the author, Nathaniel Hawthorne
Nathaniel Hawthorne
Nathaniel Hawthorne was an American novelist and short story writer.Nathaniel Hawthorne was born in 1804 in the city of Salem, Massachusetts to Nathaniel Hathorne and the former Elizabeth Clarke Manning. His ancestors include John Hathorne, a judge during the Salem Witch Trials...

, who lived in nearby Lenox
Lenox, Massachusetts
Lenox is a town in Berkshire County, Massachusetts, United States. Set in Western Massachusetts, it is part of the Pittsfield, Massachusetts Metropolitan Statistical Area. The population was 5,077 at the 2000 census. Where the town has a border with Stockbridge is the site of Tanglewood, summer...

. Melville, was tremendously inspired and encouraged by his new relationship with Hawthorne during the period that he was writing Moby-Dick (dedicating it to Hawthorne), though their friendship was on the wane only a short time later, when he wrote Pierre
Pierre: or, The Ambiguities
Pierre: or, The Ambiguities is a novel written by Herman Melville, and published in 1852 by Harper & Brothers.The publication of Pierre was a critical and financial disaster for Melville. It was universally condemned for both its morals and its style...

there.
However, these works did not achieve the popular and critical success of his earlier books. Indeed, The New York Day Book on September 8, 1852, published a venomous attack on Melville and his writings headlined HERMAN MELVILLE CRAZY. The item, offered as a news story, reported, "A critical friend, who read Melville's last book, 'Ambiguities," between two steamboat accidents, told us that it appeared to be composed of the ravings and reveries of a madman. We were somewhat startled at the remark, but still more at learning, a few days after, that Melville was really supposed to be deranged, and that his friends were taking measures to place him under treatment. We hope one of the earliest precautions will be to keep him stringently secluded from pen and ink." Following this and other scathing reviews of Pierre by critics, publishers became wary of Melville's work. His publisher, Harper & Brothers, rejected his next manuscript, Isle of the Cross
Isle of the Cross
Isle of the Cross was an unpublished and subsequently lost novel by Herman Melville. The work was completed after the commercial failures of Moby-Dick and Pierre: or, The Ambiguities. Concerned about poor reviews of Pierre, and Melville's continuing viability as a successful novelist, the work was...

, which has been lost. On April 1, 1857, Melville published his last full-length novel, The Confidence-Man
The Confidence-Man
The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade was the last major novel by Herman Melville, the American writer and author of Moby-Dick. Published on April 1, 1857 , The Confidence-Man was Melville's tenth major work in eleven years...

. This novel, subtitled "His Masquerade", has won general acclaim in modern times as a complex and mysterious exploration of issues of fraud and honesty, identity and masquerade, but when it was published, it received reviews ranging from the bewildered to the denunciatory.
To repair his faltering finances, Melville listened to the advice of friends and decided to enter what was for others the lucrative field of lecturing. From 1857 to 1860, he spoke at lyceum
Lyceum
The lyceum is a category of educational institution defined within the education system of many countries, mainly in Europe. The definition varies between countries; usually it is a type of secondary school.-History:...

s, chiefly on the South Seas. Turning to poetry, he gathered a collection of verse that failed to interest a publisher. In 1863, he and his wife resettled, with their four children, in New York City. After the end of the American Civil War
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...

, he published Battle Pieces and Aspects of the War, (1866) a collection of over 70 poems that generally was ignored by the critics, though a few gave him patronizingly favorable reviews. In 1866, Melville's wife and her relatives used their influence to obtain a position for him as customs inspector for the City of New York (a humble but adequately paying appointment), and he held the post for 19 years. In a notoriously corrupt institution, Melville soon won the reputation of being the only honest employee of the customs house. (The customs house was coincidentally on Gansevoort St., named after his mother's prosperous family.) But from 1866, his professional writing career can be said to have come to an end.

Later years


Melville spent years writing a 16,000-line epic poem, Clarel
Clarel
Clarel: A Poem and Pilgrimage in the Holy Land is an American epic poem by Herman Melville, published in two volumes in 1876. Clarel is the longest poem in American literature, stretching to almost 18,000 lines...

, inspired by his earlier trip to the Holy Land. His uncle, Peter Gansevoort, by a bequest, paid for the publication of the massive epic in 1876. But the publication failed miserably, and the unsold copies were burned when Melville was unable to afford to buy them at cost.
As his professional fortunes waned, Melville's marriage was unhappy. Elizabeth's relatives repeatedly urged her to leave him, and offered to have him committed as insane, but she refused. In 1867, his oldest son, Malcolm, shot himself, perhaps accidentally. While Melville worked, his wife managed to wean him off alcohol, and he no longer showed signs of agitation or insanity. But recurring depression was added to by the death of his second son, Stanwix, in San Francisco early in 1886. Melville retired in 1886, after several of his wife's relatives died and left the couple legacies that Mrs. Melville administered with skill and good fortune.

As English readers, pursuing the vogue for sea stories represented by such writers as G. A. Henty
G. A. Henty
George Alfred Henty , was a prolific English novelist and a special correspondent. He is best known for his historical adventure stories that were popular in the late 19th century. His works include Out on the Pampas , The Young Buglers , With Clive in India and Wulf the Saxon .-Biography:G.A...

, rediscovered Melville's novels, he experienced a modest revival of popularity in England, though not in the United States. Once more he took up his pen, writing a series of poems with prose head notes inspired by his early experiences at sea. He published them in two collections, each issued in a tiny edition of 25 copies for his relatives and friends: John Marr (1888) and Timoleon (1891).

One of these poems further intrigued him, and he began to rework the headnote to turn it into first a short story and then a novella. He worked on it on and off for several years, but when he died in September 1891, he left the piece unfinished, and not until the literary scholar Raymond Weaver published it in 1924 did the book – which is now known as Billy Budd, Sailor – come to light.


Melville died at his home in New York City early on the morning of September 28, 1891, age 72. The doctor listed "cardiac dilation" on the death certificate. He was interred in the Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx
The Bronx
The Bronx is the northernmost of the five boroughs of New York City. It is also known as Bronx County, the last of the 62 counties of New York State to be incorporated...

, New York. A common story says that his New York Times obituary called him "Henry Melville", implying that he was unknown and unappreciated at his time of death, but the story is not true.

From about age 35, Melville ceased to be popular with a broad audience because of his increasingly philosophical, political and experimental tendencies. His novella Billy Budd, Sailor
Billy Budd
Billy Budd is a short novel by Herman Melville.Billy Budd can also refer to:*Billy Budd , a 1962 film produced, directed, and co-written by Peter Ustinov, based on Melville's novel...

, unpublished until 33 years after the author's death, was later turned into a play, an opera
Opera
Opera is an art form in which singers and musicians perform a dramatic work combining text and musical score, usually in a theatrical setting. Opera incorporates many of the elements of spoken theatre, such as acting, scenery, and costumes and sometimes includes dance...

 by Benjamin Britten
Benjamin Britten
Edward Benjamin Britten, Baron Britten, OM CH was an English composer, conductor, and pianist. He showed talent from an early age, and first came to public attention with the a cappella choral work A Boy Was Born in 1934. With the premiere of his opera Peter Grimes in 1945, he leapt to...

 and a film by Peter Ustinov
Peter Ustinov
Peter Alexander Ustinov CBE was an English actor, writer and dramatist. He was also renowned as a filmmaker, theatre and opera director, stage designer, author, screenwriter, comedian, humourist, newspaper and magazine columnist, radio broadcaster and television presenter...

.

In Herman Melville's Religious Journey, Walter Donald Kring detailed his discovery of letters indicating that Melville had been a member of the Unitarian
Unitarianism
Unitarianism is a Christian theological movement, named for its understanding of God as one person, in direct contrast to Trinitarianism which defines God as three persons coexisting consubstantially as one in being....

 Church of All Souls in New York City. Until this revelation, little had been known of his religious affiliation. Hershel Parker
Hershel Parker
Hershel Parker is the H. Fletcher Brown Professor Emeritus at the University of Delaware. He is co-editor with Harrison Hayford of the landmark Norton Critical Edition of Moby-Dick and Associate General Editor of The Writings of Herman Melville.Volume 1 of Parker's two-volume biography, Herman...

 in the second volume of his biography makes it clear that Melville became a nominal member only to placate his wife. Melville despised Unitarianism and its associated "ism", Utilitarianism
Utilitarianism
Utilitarianism is an ethical theory holding that the proper course of action is the one that maximizes the overall "happiness", by whatever means necessary. It is thus a form of consequentialism, meaning that the moral worth of an action is determined only by its resulting outcome, and that one can...

. (The great English Unitarians were Utilitarians.) See the 2006 Norton Critical Edition of The Confidence-Man for more detail on Melville and religion than in Parker's 2002 volume.

Publications and contemporary reactions



Most of Melville's novels were published first in the United Kingdom and then in the U.S. Sometimes the editions contain substantial differences; at other times different printings were either bowdlerized
Thomas Bowdler
Thomas Bowdler was an English physician who published an expurgated edition of William Shakespeare's work, edited by his sister Harriet, intended to be more appropriate for 19th century women and children than the original....

 or restored to their pre-bowdlerized state. (For specifics on different publication dates, editions, printings, etc., please see entries for individual novels.)

Moby-Dick
Moby-Dick
Moby-Dick; or, The Whale, was written by American author Herman Melville and first published in 1851. It is considered by some to be a Great American Novel and a treasure of world literature. The story tells the adventures of wandering sailor Ishmael, and his voyage on the whaleship Pequod,...

; or, The Whale
has become Melville's most famous work and is often considered one of the greatest literary works of all time. It was dedicated to Melville's friend Nathaniel Hawthorne
Nathaniel Hawthorne
Nathaniel Hawthorne was an American novelist and short story writer.Nathaniel Hawthorne was born in 1804 in the city of Salem, Massachusetts to Nathaniel Hathorne and the former Elizabeth Clarke Manning. His ancestors include John Hathorne, a judge during the Salem Witch Trials...

.Cheevers, Susan (2006). American Bloomsbury: Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau; Their Lives, Their Loves, Their Work. Detroit: Thorndike Press. Large print edition. p. 196. ISBN 0-7862-9521-X. It did not, however, make Melville rich. The book never sold its initial printing of 3,000 copies in his lifetime, and total earnings from the American edition amounted to just $556.37 from his publisher, Harper & Brothers. Melville also wrote Billy Budd
Billy Budd
Billy Budd is a short novel by Herman Melville.Billy Budd can also refer to:*Billy Budd , a 1962 film produced, directed, and co-written by Peter Ustinov, based on Melville's novel...

, White-Jacket
White-Jacket
White-Jacket; or, The World in a Man-of-War, usually referred to as White-Jacket, is an 1850 novel by Herman Melville first published in England on January 23 by Richard Bentley and in the U.S...

, Israel Potter
Israel Potter
Israel Potter: His Fifty Years of Exile is a novel by Herman Melville published in installments in Putnam's Monthly Magazine from July 1854 through March 1855, in book form by George Palmer Putnam in New York in March 1855, and in a pirated edition by George Routledge in London in May 1855...

, Redburn
Redburn
Redburn: His First Voyage is a novel by Herman Melville published on September 29, 1849, by Richard Bentley in London and on November 14, 1849, by Harper & Brothers in New York City.-Overview:...

, Typee
Typee
Typee is American writer Herman Melville's first book, a classic in the literature of travel and adventure partly based on his actual experiences as a captive on the island Nuku Hiva in the South Pacific Marquesas Islands, in 1842...

, Omoo
Omoo
Omoo: A Narrative of the South Seas is Herman Melville's sequel to Typee, and, as such, was also autobiographical. After leaving Nuku Hiva, the main character ships aboard a whaling vessel which makes its way to Tahiti, after which there is a mutiny and the majority of the crew are imprisoned on...

, Pierre
Pierre: or, The Ambiguities
Pierre: or, The Ambiguities is a novel written by Herman Melville, and published in 1852 by Harper & Brothers.The publication of Pierre was a critical and financial disaster for Melville. It was universally condemned for both its morals and its style...

, The Confidence-Man
The Confidence-Man
The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade was the last major novel by Herman Melville, the American writer and author of Moby-Dick. Published on April 1, 1857 , The Confidence-Man was Melville's tenth major work in eleven years...

and many short stories, including "Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street" and "Benito Cereno
Benito Cereno
Benito Cereno is a novella by Herman Melville. It was first serialized in Putnam's Monthly in 1855 and later included in slightly revised version in his collection The Piazza Tales .-Plot summary:...

," and works of various genre
Genre
Genre , Greek: genos, γένος) is the term for any category of literature or other forms of art or culture, e.g. music, and in general, any type of discourse, whether written or spoken, audial or visual, based on some set of stylistic criteria. Genres are formed by conventions that change over time...

s.

Melville is less well known as a poet and did not publish poetry until later in life. After the Civil War
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...

, he published Battle Pieces and Aspects of the War, which did not sell well; of the Harper & Bros. printing of 1200 copies, only 525 had been sold ten years later. Again tending to outrun the tastes of his readers, Melville's epic length verse-narrative Clarel
Clarel
Clarel: A Poem and Pilgrimage in the Holy Land is an American epic poem by Herman Melville, published in two volumes in 1876. Clarel is the longest poem in American literature, stretching to almost 18,000 lines...

, about a student's pilgrimage to the Holy Land
Holy Land
The Holy Land is a term which in Judaism refers to the Kingdom of Israel as defined in the Tanakh. For Jews, the Land's identifiction of being Holy is defined in Judaism by its differentiation from other lands by virtue of the practice of Judaism often possible only in the Land of Israel...

, was also quite obscure, even in his own time. Among the longest single poems in American literature, Clarel, published in 1876, had an initial printing of only 350 copies. The critic Lewis Mumford
Lewis Mumford
Lewis Mumford was an American historian, philosopher of technology, and influential literary critic. Particularly noted for his study of cities and urban architecture, he had a broad career as a writer...

 found a copy of the poem in the New York Public Library
New York Public Library
The New York Public Library is the largest public library in North America and is one of the United States' most significant research libraries...

 in 1925 "with its pages uncut"—in other words, it had sat there unread for 50 years.

His poetry is not as highly critically esteemed as his fiction, although some critics place him as the first modernist
Modernism
Modernism, in its broadest definition, is modern thought, character, or practice. More specifically, the term describes the modernist movement, its set of cultural tendencies and array of associated cultural movements, originally arising from wide-scale and far-reaching changes to Western society...

 poet in the United States; others would assert that his work more strongly suggest what today would be a postmodern view. A leading champion of Melville's claims as a great American poet was the poet and novelist Robert Penn Warren
Robert Penn Warren
Robert Penn Warren was an American poet, novelist, and literary critic and was one of the founders of New Criticism. He was also a charter member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers. He founded the influential literary journal The Southern Review with Cleanth Brooks in 1935...

, who issued a selection of Melville's poetry prefaced by an admiring and acute critical essay. According to Melville scholar Elizabeth Renker "a sea change in the reception of the poems is incipient."

Contemporary criticism


Melville was not financially successful as a writer, having earned just over $10,000 for his writing during his lifetime. After the success of travelogues
Travel literature
Travel literature is travel writing of literary value. Travel literature typically records the experiences of an author touring a place for the pleasure of travel. An individual work is sometimes called a travelogue or itinerary. Travel literature may be cross-cultural or transnational in focus, or...

 based on voyages to the South Seas and stories based on misadventures in the merchant marine and navy, Melville's popularity declined dramatically. By 1876, all of his books were out of print. In the later years of his life and during the years after his death he was recognized, if at all, as only a minor figure in American literature.

Melville revival


A confluence of publishing events in the 1920s brought about a reassessment now commonly called "the Melville Revival". The two books generally considered most important to the Revival were Raymond Weaver's 1921 biography Herman Melville: Man, Mariner and Mystic and his 1924 edition of Melville's last great but never quite finished manuscript, Billy Budd
Billy Budd
Billy Budd is a short novel by Herman Melville.Billy Budd can also refer to:*Billy Budd , a 1962 film produced, directed, and co-written by Peter Ustinov, based on Melville's novel...

, which Melville's granddaughter gave to Weaver when he visited her for research on the biography. The other works that helped fan the Revival flames were Carl Van Doren's The American Novel (1921), D. H. Lawrence
D. H. Lawrence
David Herbert Richards Lawrence was an English novelist, poet, playwright, essayist, literary critic and painter who published as D. H. Lawrence. His collected works represent an extended reflection upon the dehumanising effects of modernity and industrialisation...

's Studies in Classic American Literature
Studies in Classic American Literature
Studies in Classic American Literature is a seminal work of literary criticism by the English writer D. H. Lawrence. It was first published by Thomas Seltzer in the USA in August 1923. The English edition was published in June 1924 by Martin Secker....

(1923), and Lewis Mumford
Lewis Mumford
Lewis Mumford was an American historian, philosopher of technology, and influential literary critic. Particularly noted for his study of cities and urban architecture, he had a broad career as a writer...

's biography, Herman Melville: A Study of His Life and Vision (1929). In 1945, the Melville Society was formed as a nonprofit organization dedicated to celebrating Melville’s literary legacy. Jay Leyda
Jay Leyda
Jay Leyda was an American avant-garde filmmaker and film historian, noted for his work on U.S, Soviet and Chinese Cinema. His The Melville Log was a day to day compilation of documents which he had painstakingly collected on the life of Herman Melville. He was a member of the Workers Film and...

, better known for his work in film, spent more than a decade gathering documents and records for the day by day Melville Log (1951). In the same year Newton Arvin
Newton Arvin
Newton Arvin was an American literary critic and academic. He achieved national recognition for his studies of individual nineteenth-century American authors....

 published the critical biography Herman Melville, which won the nonfiction National Book Award
National Book Award
The National Book Awards are a set of American literary awards. Started in 1950, the Awards are presented annually to American authors for literature published in the current year. In 1989 the National Book Foundation, a nonprofit organization which now oversees and manages the National Book...

.

In the 1960s, Northwestern University Press
Northwestern University Press
Northwestern University Press is the university press of Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, USA.- History :Northwestern University Press was founded in 1893, at first specializing in legal periodicals. Today, the Press publishes scholarly books of fiction, non-fiction, and literary...

, in alliance with the Newberry Library
Newberry Library
The Newberry Library is a privately endowed, independent research library for the humanities and social sciences in Chicago, Illinois. Although it is private, non-circulating library, the Newberry Library is free and open to the public...

 and the Modern Language Association
Modern Language Association
The Modern Language Association of America is the principal professional association in the United States for scholars of language and literature...

, established ongoing publication runs of Melville's various titles. This alliance sought to create a "definitive" edition of Melville's works. Titles republished under the Northwestern-Newberry Library include Typee, Piazza Tales and Other Prose Pieces, Omoo, Israel Potter, Pierre or the Ambiguities, Confidence-Man, White Jacket or the World in a Man-of-War, Moby Dick, Mardi and a Voyage Thither, Redburn, Clarel, as well as several volumes of Melville's poems, journals, and correspondence.

Themes of gender and sexuality



Although not the primary focus of Melville scholarship, there has been an emerging interest in the role of gender and sexuality in some of Melville's writings. Some critics, particularly those interested in gender studies, have explored the existence of male-dominant social structures in Melville's fiction. For example, Alvin Sandberg claimed that the short story "The Paradise of Bachelors and the Tartarus of Maids
Paradise of Bachelors and Tartarus of Maids
"The Paradise of Bachelors and the Tartarus of Maids" is a short story written by American writer Herman Melville in April 1855. Best known for his novel Moby-Dick, Melville wrote numerous books and short stories...

" offers "an exploration of impotency, a portrayal of a man retreating to an all-male childhood to avoid confrontation with sexual manhood" from which the narrator engages in "congenial" digressions in heterogeneity. In line with this view Warren Rosenberg argues the homosocial "Paradise of Bachelors" is shown to be "superficial and sterile." David Harley Serlin observes in the second half of Melville's diptych, "The Tartarus of Maids," the narrator gives voice to the oppressed women he observes: "As other scholars have noted, the "slave" image here has two clear connotations. One describes the exploitation of the women's physical labor, and the other describes the exploitation of the women's reproductive organs. Of course, as models of women's oppression, the two are clearly intertwined." In the end the narrator is never fully able to come to terms with the contrasting masculine and feminine modalities. Issues of sexuality have been observed in other works as well. Rosenberg notes Taji, in "Mardi", and the protagonist in "Pierre" "think they are saving young "maidens in distress" (Yillah and Isabel) out of the purest of reasons but both are also conscious of a lurking sexual motive." When Taji kills the old priest holding Yillah captive, he states "remorse smote me hard; and like lightning I asked myself whether the death deed I had done was sprung of virtuous motive, the rescuing of a captive from thrall, or whether beneath the pretense I had engaged in this fatal affray for some other selfish purpose, the companionship of a beautiful maid." In "Pierre" the motive for his self-sacrifice for Isabel is admitted: "womanly beauty and not womanly ugliness invited him to champion the right." Rosenberg argues "This awareness of a double motive haunts both books and ultimately destroys their protagonists who would not fully acknowledge the dark underside of their idealism. The epistemological quest and the transcendental quest for love and belief are consequently sullied by the erotic."

Melville fully explores the theme of sexuality in his major poetical work "Clarel." When the narrator is separated from Ruth, with whom he has fallen in love, he is free to explore other sexual (and religious) possibilities before deciding at the end of the poem to participate in the ritualistic order marriage represents. In the course of the poem "he considers every form of sexual orientation - celibacy, homosexuality, hedonism, and heterosexuality - raising the same kinds of questions as when he considers Islam or Democracy."

Some passages and sections of Melville's works demonstrate his willingness to address all forms of sexuality, including the homoerotic, in his works. Commonly given examples from Moby Dick are the interpretation of male bonding
Male bonding
Male bonding is a term that is used in ethology, social science, and in general usage to describe patterns of friendship and/or cooperation in men...

 from what is termed the "marriage bed" episode involving Ishmael and Queequeg, and the "Squeeze of the Hand" chapter describing the camaraderie of sailors extracting spermaceti from a dead whale. Billy Budd
Billy Budd
Billy Budd is a short novel by Herman Melville.Billy Budd can also refer to:*Billy Budd , a 1962 film produced, directed, and co-written by Peter Ustinov, based on Melville's novel...

's physical attractiveness is described in quasi-feminine terms: "As the Handsome Sailor, Billy Budd's position aboard the seventy-four was something analogous to that of a rustic beauty transplanted from the provinces and brought into competition with the highborn dames of the court." Some critics argue that "Ahab's pursuit of the whale, which can be associated with the feminine in its shape, mystery, and in its naturalness, represents the ultimate fusion of the epistemological and sexual quest."

Law and literature


In recent years, Billy Budd
Billy Budd
Billy Budd is a short novel by Herman Melville.Billy Budd can also refer to:*Billy Budd , a 1962 film produced, directed, and co-written by Peter Ustinov, based on Melville's novel...

has become a central text in the field of legal scholarship known as law and literature. In the novel, Billy, a handsome and popular young sailor impressed from the merchant vessel Rights of Man to serve aboard H.M.S. Bellipotent in the late 1790s, during the war between Revolutionary France and Great Britain and her monarchic allies, excites the enmity and hatred of the ship's master-at-arms, John Claggart. Claggart devises phony charges of mutiny and other crimes to level against Billy, and Captain the Honorable Edward Fairfax Vere institutes an informal inquiry, at which Billy convulsively strikes Claggart because his stammer prevents him from speaking. Vere immediately convenes a drumhead court-martial, at which, after serving as sole witness and as Billy's de facto counsel, Vere then urges the court to convict and sentence Billy to death. The trial is recounted in chapter 21, the longest chapter in the book, and that trial has become the focus of scholarly controversy: was Captain Vere a good man trapped by bad law, or did he deliberately distort and misrepresent the applicable law to condemn Billy to death?

Legacy


On May 12, 1985, the New York City Herman Melville Society gathered at 104 East 26th Street to dedicate the intersection of Park Avenue south and 26th Street as Herman Melville Square. This is the street where Melville lived from 1863 to 1891 and where, among other works, he wrote Billy Budd.

In 2010 it was announced that a new species of extinct giant sperm whale, Livyatan melvillei
Livyatan melvillei
Livyatan melvillei is an extinct species of physeteroid whale, which lived during the Miocene epoch, approximately 12-13 million years ago.- Discovery :...

was named in honor of Melville. The paleontologists who discovered the fossil are all fans of Moby-Dick and wanted to dedicate their discovery to Melville.

Selected Bibliography



  • Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life
    Typee
    Typee is American writer Herman Melville's first book, a classic in the literature of travel and adventure partly based on his actual experiences as a captive on the island Nuku Hiva in the South Pacific Marquesas Islands, in 1842...

    (1846)
  • Omoo: A Narrative of Adventures in the South Seas
    Omoo
    Omoo: A Narrative of the South Seas is Herman Melville's sequel to Typee, and, as such, was also autobiographical. After leaving Nuku Hiva, the main character ships aboard a whaling vessel which makes its way to Tahiti, after which there is a mutiny and the majority of the crew are imprisoned on...

    (1847)
  • Mardi: And a Voyage Thither
    Mardi
    Mardi, and a Voyage Thither is the third book by American author Herman Melville, first published in 1849.-Overview:Mardi is Melville's first pure fiction work...

    (1849)
  • Redburn: His First Voyage
    Redburn
    Redburn: His First Voyage is a novel by Herman Melville published on September 29, 1849, by Richard Bentley in London and on November 14, 1849, by Harper & Brothers in New York City.-Overview:...

    (1849)
  • White-Jacket; or, The World in a Man-of-War
    White-Jacket
    White-Jacket; or, The World in a Man-of-War, usually referred to as White-Jacket, is an 1850 novel by Herman Melville first published in England on January 23 by Richard Bentley and in the U.S...

    (1850)
  • Moby-Dick; or, The Whale
    Moby-Dick
    Moby-Dick; or, The Whale, was written by American author Herman Melville and first published in 1851. It is considered by some to be a Great American Novel and a treasure of world literature. The story tells the adventures of wandering sailor Ishmael, and his voyage on the whaleship Pequod,...

    (1851)
  • Pierre: or, The Ambiguities
    Pierre: or, The Ambiguities
    Pierre: or, The Ambiguities is a novel written by Herman Melville, and published in 1852 by Harper & Brothers.The publication of Pierre was a critical and financial disaster for Melville. It was universally condemned for both its morals and its style...

    (1852)
  • "Bartleby the Scrivener
    Bartleby the Scrivener
    Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street is a short story by the American novelist Herman Melville . It first appeared anonymously in two parts in the November and December 1853 editions of Putnam's Magazine, and was reprinted with minor textual alterations in his The Piazza Tales in...

    " (1853) (short story)
  • "The Encantadas, or Enchanted Isles" (1854) (novella, possibly incorporating a short rewrite of the lost Isle of the Cross
    Isle of the Cross
    Isle of the Cross was an unpublished and subsequently lost novel by Herman Melville. The work was completed after the commercial failures of Moby-Dick and Pierre: or, The Ambiguities. Concerned about poor reviews of Pierre, and Melville's continuing viability as a successful novelist, the work was...

    )
  • "Benito Cereno
    Benito Cereno
    Benito Cereno is a novella by Herman Melville. It was first serialized in Putnam's Monthly in 1855 and later included in slightly revised version in his collection The Piazza Tales .-Plot summary:...

    " (1855) (short story)
  • Israel Potter: His Fifty Years of Exile
    Israel Potter
    Israel Potter: His Fifty Years of Exile is a novel by Herman Melville published in installments in Putnam's Monthly Magazine from July 1854 through March 1855, in book form by George Palmer Putnam in New York in March 1855, and in a pirated edition by George Routledge in London in May 1855...

    (1855)
  • The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade
    The Confidence-Man
    The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade was the last major novel by Herman Melville, the American writer and author of Moby-Dick. Published on April 1, 1857 , The Confidence-Man was Melville's tenth major work in eleven years...

    (1857)
  • Battle Pieces and Aspects of the War (1866) (poetry collection)
  • Clarel: A Poem and Pilgrimage in the Holy Land
    Clarel
    Clarel: A Poem and Pilgrimage in the Holy Land is an American epic poem by Herman Melville, published in two volumes in 1876. Clarel is the longest poem in American literature, stretching to almost 18,000 lines...

    (1876) (epic poem)
  • Billy Budd, Sailor (An Inside Narrative) (unfinished, 1891) [Published Posthumously] (1924)

External links