Herman Melville Quotes
Herman Melville. His work was almost forgotten during his last thirty years. His writing draws on his experience at sea as a common sailor, exploration of literature and philosophy, and engagement in the contradictions of American society in a period of rapid change. He developed a complex, baroque style: the vocabulary is rich and original, a strong sense of rhythm infuses the elaborate sentences, the imagery is often mystical or ironic, and the abundance of allusion extends to Scripture, myth, philosophy, literature, and the visual arts.
Born in New York City as the third child of a merchant in French dry goods, Melville's formal education ended abruptly after his father died in 1832, leaving the family in financial straits. Melville briefly became a schoolteacher before he took to sea in 1839 as a common sailor on a merchant ship. In 1840 he signed aboard the whaler Acushnet for his first whaling voyage, but jumped ship in the Marquesas Islands. After further adventures, he returned to Boston in 1844. His first book, Typee, is a sea narrative that develops into a philosophical allegory, but was not well received. Redburn, a story of life on a merchant ship, and his 1850 expose of harsh life aboard a Man-of-War, White-Jacket yielded warmer reviews but not financial security.
In August 1850, Melville moved his growing family to Arrowhead, a farm near Pittsfield, Massachusetts, where he established a profound but short-lived friendship with Nathaniel Hawthorne, to whom he dedicated Moby-Dick. Moby-Dick was another commercial failure, published to mixed reviews. Melville's career as a popular author effectively ended with the cool reception of Pierre, and "Benito Cereno" was his poetic reflection on the moral questions of the Civil War. In 1867 his oldest child, Malcolm, died at home from a self-inflicted gunshot. Clarel: A Poem and Pilgrimage in the Holy Land, a metaphysical epic, appeared in 1876. In 1886, his second son, Stanwix, died and Melville retired. During his last years, he privately published two volumes of poetry, left one volume unpublished, and returned to prose of the sea: the novella Billy Budd, left unfinished at his death, was published in 1924.
Melville's death from cardiovascular disease in 1891 subdued a reviving interest in his work. The 1919 centennial of his birth became the starting point of the "Melville Revival". Critics discovered his work, scholars explored his life, his major novels and stories have become world classics, and his poetry has gradually attracted respect.