Goodnight Herman Melville. I hope your 195th birthday was a good one in your current realm.
In New York City in 1863, Melville became a customs inspector and began a second literary life as a poet, drawing on the emotional impact of the Civil War. His first book of poetry was Battle-Pieces and Aspects of the War, which was praised in numerous American newspapers and magazines, but Melville was never again to rise to the prominence he’d experienced at the beginning of his career, and his ensuing stories and poems were largely ignored, including the posthumously published novel, Billy Budd.
It took readers until the 1920s to catch up to the prose, style, and power of Moby Dick. But once they did, appreciation never again lagged, and Melville’s masterpiece is now regarded as one of the greatest novels ever written.
— Herman Melville, "Billy Budd"
Herman Melville, Moby-Dick; or, The Whale
— Herman Melville, Moby-Dick; or, The Whale
Melville said to truly enjoy bodily warmth,
some part of you must be cold.
There is no quality in this world
that is not what it is without contrast.
Comfortable? Then you’re not comfortable any more.
Source: Moby Dick by Herman Melville Chapter 11: Nightgown
It was the Pequod that pursued Moby-Dick,
but in the end Melville wanted us
to remember that it was the Rachel,
searching again for her own missing children,
who came upon Ishmael - yet another orphan.
— Herman Melville
On January 3, 1841, the whaler Acushnet sailed from New Bedford, Massachusetts, with Herman Melville on board.
Family financial problems forced him to leave school and work. He tried
a bank, a few weeks as a merchant mariner, sailing to England and back and farming.
In New Bedford, he looked for a ship that would be willing to hire someone with almost no experience at sea. The ship he found was the newest of America’s whaling fleet, a 359-ton ship with two decks and three masts, which would be heading to the Pacific Ocean.
At that time, whales were extremely valuable. Their teeth and bones were used to make buggy whips, umbrella ribs, skirt hoops, collars, and corsets. But they were probably most valuable for their oil. Until 1859, when petroleum was discovered in Pennsylvania, the oil from whale blubber was the most widely available fuel for artificial lights, powering household lamps, streetlights, and even lighthouses. It was also one of the most popular lubricants, used in factory machines, sewing machines, and clocks.
Whaling was one of the most dangerous and adventurous jobs a young man could get. By signing up on a whaling ship in 1841, Melville joined the last generation of men who hunted whales by hand, which involved drawing up close to the creature and stabbing it with harpoons.
The sperm whale, which was the whale of choice, could weigh up to 60 tons and grow up to 60 feet long and swam at a speed of 20 knots. Whales had been known to kill numerous men and to destroy whole ships during a hunt.
Melville experienced his first whale hunt somewhere off the coast of Brazil in March of 1841. Melville ultimately spent four years at sea, and he would spend much of the rest of his life writing about his experiences.
— Herman Melville, Moby Dick
MOBY-DICK was published on this day in 1851. Herman Melville’s novel is about a ship captain named Ahab who is obsessed with hunting the great white sperm whale that took his leg.
The book had been published in Britain in October as The Whale. (Melville’s decision to change the title didn’t get there in time.) The reviews from Britain were harsh, and many American newspaper editors reprinted reviews from Britain without actually reading the American version of the novel with the proper ending.
Melville had just bought a farm in Massachusetts, his debts were piling up, he was hiding them from his wife, and he was counting on Moby-Dick to bring in enough money to pay off his creditors. The book flopped, partly because of those British reviews. Melville never fully recovered from the disappointment.
Truth is in things, and not in words.
Truth uncompromisingly told will always have its ragged edges."
— Herman Melville
— Herman Melville
After Moby-Dick was published (1851) and failed, Melville’s writing career also failed. He worked in the Custom House in New York City.
His next novel, Pierre (1852), got terrible reviews and he could not find a publisher who wanted his work.
The manuscript of his final work, Billy Budd, was found in his desk after he died.
He had become so obscure that The New York Times called him “Henry Melville” in his obituary.