1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Melville, Herman

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2089991911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 18 — Melville, Herman

MELVILLE, HERMAN (1819–1891), American author, was born in New York City on the 1st of August 1819. He shipped as a cabin-boy at the age of eighteen, thus being enabled to make his first visit to England, and at twenty-two sailed for a long whaling cruise in the Pacific. After a year and a half he deserted his ship at the Marquesas Islands, on account of the cruelty of the captain; was captured by cannibals on the island of Nukahiva, and detained, without hardship, four months; was rescued by the crew of an Australian vessel, which he joined, and two years later reached New York. Thereafter, with the exception of a passenger voyage around the world in 1860, Melville remained in the United States, devoting himself to literature—though for a considerable period (1866–1885) he held a post in the New York custom-house—and being perhaps Hawthorne’s most intimate friend among the literary men of America. His writings are numerous, and of varying merit; his verse, patriotic and other, is forgotten; and his works of fiction and of travel are of irregular execution. Nevertheless, few authors have been enabled so freely to introduce romantic personal experiences into their books: in his first work, Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life, or Four Month’s Residence in a Valley of the Marquesas (1846), he described his escape from the cannibals; while in Omoo, a Narrative of Adventures in the South Seas (1847), White Jacket, or The World in a Man-of-War (1850), and especially Moby Dick, or The Whale (1851), he portrayed seafaring life and character with vigour and originality, and from a personal knowledge equal to that of Cooper, Marryat or Clark Russell. But these records of adventure were followed by other tales so turgid, eccentric, opinionative, and loosely written as to seem the work of another author. Melville was the product of a period of American literature when the fiction written by writers below Irving, Poe and Hawthorne was measured by humble artistic standards. He died in New York on the 28th of September 1891.