Poli 1

Herman Melville

Who was Herman Melville? He was a brilliant, famous American writer with one of his novels being Moby Dick. Herman Melville was a famous man because of Moby Dick and the 16 other pieces he has written. However, Melville did not seem to be recognized until after his death. He was a writer, yes, but no one deemed his work to be "a great American classic" until after his death. It was after his death that people began to realize he really was an excellent, worthy writer, but they were just now giving him the credit for it. However, Melville did a lot more things than write during his life. He wrote and published 17 novels, got married and had children, and he travelled to different places and taught school in most of the places that he travelled.

When Herman Melville was a child, life was not too difficult for him, but it was not too easy for him, either. When he was a child, he moved from one place to the other. He was born in New York City. They spent the summer at his grandmother's house in Albany. Melville's mother had found a home for them in Albany, so they moved there. Melville had attended school there; however, he did not like to read books. In 1826, he came down with Scarlet Fever. This is known as what caused his poor eye sight later on in his life. Melville had moved to Boston for some time to visit his grandfather. At this time, his father's business was suffering from stagnant national economy. Melville moved back to Albany, New York where he became a monitor in a male New York high school in order to save some money to help his father save his business. In 1831, his father became ill and later in 1832, he passed away. Melville left school after that and became a clerk at his uncle's bank. It was not too long after that that Melville had went to Pittsfield Massachusetts for just the summer to visit his other uncle. However, he stayed there so he could work on his uncle's farm. After eight months or so, he went back to Albany, New York and began to attend Albany Classical School where he worked after school in his brother's store. In Autumn, two years later, Melville moved back to Pittsfield, Massachusetts and began to teach at a country school near Pittsfield (Melville and His World, 134).

First, it was very easy for Melville to fit in with the societyaround him. He was able to go to school, teach at different schools, as well as travel to many places. He was a white man and was able to do pretty much what he wanted. Melville had taught a few different schools such as a school in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, an academy in Greenbush, New York, and in Brunswick, New York. (Herman Melville: A Biography, 119) With his travels, it made it easy for him to write and publish his first novel, Typee. Just one year later, in 1847, Melville published the sequel to Typee called Omoo.

This was also when he married his wife, Elizabeth Shaw, who was the daughter of the Chief Justice of Massachusetts(Great Short Works of Herman Melville, 509). Together, Melville and his wife had four children together. However, their oldest child, aged 18, killed himself with a pistol in 1867 (Melville and His World, 137). After this, a few people in Melville's life had passed away. His brother Allan passed away in 1872, his sister Augusta passed away in 1876, his brother Thomas passed away in 1884, his sister Frances Priscilla passed away in 1885, and his son Stanwix passed away in 1886. The two good things that happened to him since his first son had killed himself was that Melville's niece was married in 1874 and Melville published two other novels and began to write a third novel to be published (Melville and His World, 137).

Also, Melville had made a lot of contributions to his specific area of where he was living. During the 72 years of his life, Melville published 17 works of literature. One of them being the famous Moby Dick. Moby Dick was published in October of 1851. Before this, Melville already had five other novels published. However, Moby Dick was the most famous and read by his fans and everyone. Melville had some self-doubt about his work, but Moby Dick was receiving very good reviews (Herman Melville 1819-1891). Melville became a very popular writer when he had published Moby Dick. This is because this novel was his longest one and it was also the novel that seemed to have the most adventure in it, aside from his novels Typee and its sequel Omoo. It is written beautifully not only with the idea of the plot, but the descriptive words and scenes in general. All of his readers loved to read his books about all the exotic adventures that took place whether they were fiction or non-fiction.

Later, Nathaniel Hawthorne, author of The Scarlet Letter, was very good friends with Herman Melville. The two of them had met in the Summer of 1850 when Melville had purchased a house in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. The two of them had met at a picnic gathering. Familiar with each other's works, they began talking and ended up being good friends. Hawthorne would allow Melville to spend a few days with him while he got settled as well as for the good company. When Melville stayed with Hawthorne for a couple days, which was only the first of the many visits that the two of them would have together. It was because of Hawthorne that Melville was encouraged to write Moby Dick, argued to be the most greatest American novel. In August of 1852, Melville had written Hawthorne a letter about a true story of the young woman who took in a shipwrecked sailor. They decided to write something similar to that, but they were going to write the piece together. However, nothing was published, so it is unclear whether they actually wrote a piece together or not. Melville's relationship with Hawthorne, although they appeared to be great friends, only lasted a little over two years. No one knows as to why the two of them stopped writing letters to each other or why they stopped seeing each other (Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne).

Melville was very noteworthy in his time. This is because he had written and published 17 pieces of literature when he did not want to even be a writer. If it were not for his travels, Melville probably would not have begun writing in the first place. Melville wanted to and did go to school for engineering and surveying. However, he failed at both of those. He did well in school, but when he applied to get a job for surveying, he did not make it. Because of this, he decided to travel. Melville contributed to the Democratic Press and Lansingburgh Adertiser. He was able to travel on St. Lawrence ship. Where ever he landed, he usually stayed in that place for a little bit and got a job teaching at one of the schools. Due to all of his traveling, he decided to write about his travels and get them published. He wanted to publish his work because he travelled so much that it was not possible for him to teach at just one school. He taught in at least three different schools. Since he wrote his books, he was able to work while he travelled and made money off of it. Soon, his traveling seemed to be his work because most of his books were based off of his travels, whether he twisted it around to make it a fiction novel, or if he kept the story as it was in real life to publish a non-fiction novel (Melville and His World, 4-7).

His travels were where he thought of the idea for Moby Dick. That novel is about a sailor who joins the voyage of a captain, who only has one leg. The captain is searching out for a whale named Moby Dick. Moby Dick, the whale, had bitten off the captain's leg, which is why the captain is searching for the whale once more—revenge. Moby Dick is considered a "Great American Novel," according to many Americans who have read this book. This novel is 822 pages of problematic themes, great language, and has fantastic writing in general.

If Melville never wrote Moby Dick, his most popular book probably would have been Billy Budd, Sailor. This novel is, as well as Moby Dick, written very well. This is the first sentence of Melville's Billy Budd, Sailor, "In the time before steamships, or hen more frequently than now, a stroller along the docks of any considerable seaport would occasionally have its attention arrested by a group of bronzed mariners, man-of-war's men or merchant sailors in holiday attire, ashore on liberty." (Herman Melville Classic Stories, 427) That is the first sentence of Melville's Billy Budd, Sailor. In just the first sentence, you can literally picture the scene and everything that is going with all the descriptive words and adjectives that he used. Novels were not the only pieces of literature that Melville wrote. He also wrote poetry. "I den in a garret; As void as a drum; In lieu of plum-pudding; I paint the plum! No use in one's grieving; The shops you must suit; Broken hearts are but potsherds; Paint flowers and fruit! How whistles my garret; A seine for the snows; I hum O fortuna; And paint the rose! December is howling; But feign it a flute; Help on the deceiving; Paint the flowers and fruit!" (Tales, Poems, and Other Writings, 320) That is a short poem called Fruit and Flower Painter. That is just one of the many poems that Melville wrote in addition to all of his novels. Melville had written mostly novels, but a little less than half of the works that he published were all poetry. His poetry were worth discussing because he did so well writing novels, that his poetry really made the imagery within the words pop.

Altogether, Melville published 17 pieces of literature. From the year 1846 to the year 1924, Melville had published 17 novels. Those novels being (in order of publication) Typee (1846), Omoo (1847), Mardi (1849), Redburn (1849), White Jacket (1850), Moby Dick (1851), Pierre or The Ambiguities (1852), Bartleby the Scrivener (1853), Israel Potter (1855), Benito Cereno (1855), The Piazza Tales (1856), The Confidence Man (1857), Battle Pieces: Aspects of the War: Civil War Poems (1866), Clarel: A Poem and a Pilgrimage (1876), John Marr and Other Sailors (1888), Timoleon (1891), and Billy Budd (1924) (Herman Melville, 147-149). Melville passed away from a heart attack in 1891 just after he completed the manuscript for Billy Budd. However, it was not until 1924 that Billy Budd was actually published. Melville lived in the 19th century and there were a lot of changes going on while he was alive. However, the president changes or the wars or anything else did not stop him from doing what he was supposed to do. However, Melville was unaffected by these changes going on around him. This is because he was travelling and doing things that were the most important to himself. He was focusing on his own life with his travels, writing, and his family. Melville seemed to have lived his life to the fullest. Despite his father's failure with the shop, despite his parents passing away as well as his son committing suicide, Melville pressed on. He not only lived his life, but he did whatever was needed to be done. Just because he went to school for one thing and did not make it in that field, did not mean that he should have just given up. Writing was the one thing that he did not think that he was ever going to do, but he ended up making a living off of it.

Herman Melville was an overall great man who lived his life to the fullest. He travelled to many different places, worked in various schools teaching, monitoring, and even worked at companies such as banks. He was married and had children, but that did not stop him from having a writing career. Even with all the deaths of his family members, including his father's shop, he still pressed on with his writing. If Melville was still alive today, he would still be making a good amount of money plus more because he probably would have a lot more novels published than his original 17. However, if Mody Dick was the only novel that Melville ever published, he would have been well off with just that.



Allen, Gay Wilson. Melville and His World. New York: Viking Press, 1971.

Bloom, Harold. Herman Melville. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 2006.

Melville, Herman. Herman Melville Classic Stories. Waterville, Me: Thorndike Press, 2005.

-. Tales, Poems, and Other Writings. New York: Modern Library, 2001.

-. Great Short Works of Herman Melville. New York: Perennial, 2004.

Milton, Meltzer. Herman Melville: A Biography. Minneapolis, Minn.: Twenty-First Century Books, 2006.


Herman Melville (1819-1891). C. D. Merriman. 2007. Jalic Inc. September 24, 2011.

Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Multiverse. November 25, 2011. .