About This Author

Herman Melville

Herman Melville, 1870. Oil painting by Joseph Oriel Eaton.
Herman Melville, 1870. Oil painting by Joseph Oriel Eaton .

Born

August 1, 1819 New York City, New York, U.S.

Died

September 28, 1891 New York City, New York, U.S.

Resting place

Woodlawn CemeteryThe Bronx, New York

Occupation

Novelist, short story writer, teacher, sailor, lecturer, poet, customs inspector

Genres

Travelogue, captivity narrative, nautical fiction, gothic romanticism, allegory, tall tale

Literary movement

Romanticism

Spouse

Elizabeth Knapp Shaw ( m.  1847)

Children

  • Malcolm
  • Stanwix
  • Elizabeth
  • Frances

Signature

Herman Melville was an American novelist, short story writer, and poet of the American Renaissance period. Among his best known works are Typee , a romantic account of his experiences of Polynesian life, and his whaling novel Moby-Dick .

Melville was born in New York City, the third child of a merchant who dealt in French dry goods and his wife. Years as a common sailor from 1839 to 1844 were the basis of his early writings. His first book was Typee , a highly romanticized account of his life among Polynesians. It became such a best-seller that he wrote the sequel Omoo . These successes gave him the financial basis to marry Elizabeth Shaw, daughter of a prominent Boston family, but the success proved hard to sustain. His first novel that was not based on his own experiences was Mardi , a sea narrative that develops into a philosophical allegory—but it was not well received. He received warmer reviews for Redburn , a story of life on a merchant ship, and his 1850 description of the harsh life aboard a man-of-war in White-Jacket, but they did not provide financial security.

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Discover Herman Melville Quotes and Sayings

I am tormented with an everlasting itch for things remote. I love to sail forbidden seas. - Herman Melville

I am tormented with an everlasting itch for things remote. I love to sail forbidden seas.

Herman Melville

Old age is always wakeful as if, the longer linked with life, the less man has to do with aught that looks like death. - Herman Melville

Old age is always wakeful as if, the longer linked with life, the less man has to do with aught that looks like death.

Herman Melville

death age
Art is the objectification of feeling. - Herman Melville

Art is the objectification of feeling.

Herman Melville

art
To know how to grow old is the master work of wisdom, and one of the most difficult chapters in the great art of living. - Herman Melville

To know how to grow old is the master work of wisdom, and one of the most difficult chapters in the great art of living.

Herman Melville

work wisdom great art
Faith, like a jackal, feeds among the tombs, and even from these dead doubts she gathers her most vital hope. - Herman Melville

Faith, like a jackal, feeds among the tombs, and even from these dead doubts she gathers her most vital hope.

Herman Melville

hope faith
Friendship at first sight, like love at first sight, is said to be the only truth. - Herman Melville

Friendship at first sight, like love at first sight, is said to be the only truth.

Herman Melville

truth love friendship
There are times when even the most potent governor must wink at transgression, in order to preserve the laws inviolate for the future. - Herman Melville

There are times when even the most potent governor must wink at transgression, in order to preserve the laws inviolate for the future.

Herman Melville

future
Hope is the struggle of the soul, breaking loose from what is perishable, and attesting her eternity. - Herman Melville

Hope is the struggle of the soul, breaking loose from what is perishable, and attesting her eternity.

Herman Melville

hope
We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men. - Herman Melville

We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men.

Herman Melville

men
Is there some principal of nature which states that we never know the quality of what we have until it is gone? - Herman Melville

Is there some principal of nature which states that we never know the quality of what we have until it is gone?

Herman Melville

nature
At sea a fellow comes out. Salt water is like wine, in that respect. - Herman Melville

At sea a fellow comes out. Salt water is like wine, in that respect.

Herman Melville

respect
A smile is the chosen vehicle of all ambiguities. - Herman Melville

A smile is the chosen vehicle of all ambiguities.

Herman Melville

smile
Let us speak, though we show all our faults and weaknesses, - for it is a sign of strength to be weak, to know it, and out with it - not in a set way and ostentatiously, though, but incidentally and without premeditation. - Herman Melville

Let us speak, though we show all our faults and weaknesses, - for it is a sign of strength to be weak, to know it, and out with it - not in a set way and ostentatiously, though, but incidentally and without premeditation.

Herman Melville

strength
In this world, shipmates, sin that pays its way can travel freely, and without passport; whereas Virtue, if a pauper, is stopped at all frontiers. - Herman Melville

In this world, shipmates, sin that pays its way can travel freely, and without passport; whereas Virtue, if a pauper, is stopped at all frontiers.

Herman Melville

travel
Truth is the silliest thing under the sun. Try to get a living by the Truth and go to the Soup Societies. Heavens! Let any clergyman try to preach the Truth from its very stronghold, the pulpit, and they would ride him out of his church on his own pulpit bannister. - Herman Melville

Truth is the silliest thing under the sun. Try to get a living by the Truth and go to the Soup Societies. Heavens! Let any clergyman try to preach the Truth from its very stronghold, the pulpit, and they would ride him out of his church on his own pulpit bannister.

Herman Melville

truth
Truth uncompromisingly told will always have its ragged edges. - Herman Melville

Truth uncompromisingly told will always have its ragged edges.

Herman Melville

truth