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Herman Melville

Photograph of Herman Melville
Born August 19, 1819(1819-08-19)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Died September 28, 1891 (aged 72)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Occupation Novelist, short story writer, teacher, sailor, lecturer, poet, customs inspector
Nationality American
Genres Travelogue, Captivity narrative, Sea story, Gothic Romanticism, Allegory, Tall tale
Literary movement Romanticism, Dark Romanticism, and Skepticism; precursor to Modernism, precursor to absurdism and existentialism
Signature

Herman Melville (August 19, 1819 – September 28, 1891) was an American novelist, short story writer, essayist and poet, whose work is often classified as part of the genre of dark romanticism. He is best known for his novel Moby-Dick and novella Billy Budd, the latter of which was published posthumously.

His first three books gained much attention, the first becoming a bestseller, but after a fast-blooming literary success in the late 1840s, his popularity declined precipitously in the mid-1850s and never recovered during his lifetime. When he died in 1891, he was almost completely forgotten. It was not until the "Melville Revival" in the early 20th century that his work won recognition, most notably Moby-Dick which was hailed as one of the chief literary masterpieces of both American and world literature. He was the first writer to have his works collected and published by the Library of America.

Contents

Biography

Early life, education, and family

Herman Melville was born in the Bronx on August 19, 1819,[1] as the third child of Allan and Maria Gansevoort Melvill. After her husband Allan died, Maria added an "e" to the family surname. Part of a well-established and colorful Boston family, Melville's father spent a good deal of time abroad doing business deals as a commission merchant and an importer of French dry goods. The author's paternal grandfather, Major Thomas Melvill, an honored survivor of the Boston Tea Party who refused to change the style of his clothing or manners to fit the times, was depicted in Oliver Wendell Holmes's poem "The Last Leaf". Herman visited him in Boston, and his father turned to him in his frequent times of financial need. The maternal side of Melville's family was Hudson Valley Dutch. His maternal grandfather was General Peter Gansevoort, a hero of the battle of Saratoga; in his gold-laced uniform, the general sat for a portrait painted by Gilbert Stuart. The portrait is mentioned and described in Melville's 1852 novel, Pierre, for Melville wrote out of his familial as well as his nautical background. Like the titular character in Pierre, Melville found satisfaction in his "double revolutionary descent."[2]

Allan Melvill sent his sons to the New York Male School (Columbia Preparatory School). Overextended financially and emotionally unstable, Allan tried to recover from his setbacks by moving his family to Albany in 1830 and going into the fur business. The new venture, however, was unsuccessful: the War of 1812 had ruined businesses that tried to sell overseas and he was forced to declare bankruptcy. He died soon afterward, leaving his family penniless, when Herman was 12.[3] Although Maria had well-off kin, they were concerned with protecting their own inheritances and taking advantage of investment opportunities rather than settling their mother's estate so Maria's family would be more secure. Herman's younger brother, Thomas Melville, eventually became a governor of Sailors Snug Harbor.

Historical marker at the site of the family home in Albany, NY.

Melville attended the Albany Academy from October 1830 to October 1831, and again from October 1836 to March 1837, where he studied the classics.[4]

Early working life

Herman Melville's roving disposition and a desire to support himself independently of family assistance led him to seek work as a surveyor on the Erie Canal. This effort failed, and his brother helped him get a job as a cabin boy on a New York ship bound for Liverpool. He made the voyage, and returned on the same ship. Redburn: His First Voyage (1849) is partly based on his experiences of this journey.

The three years after Albany Academy (1837 to 1840) were mostly occupied with school-teaching, except for the voyage to Liverpool in 1839. Near the end of 1840 he once again decided to sign ship's articles. On January 3, 1841, he sailed from New Bedford, Massachusetts on the whaler Acushnet,[5] which was bound for the Pacific Ocean. He was later to comment that his life began that day. The vessel sailed around Cape Horn and traveled to the South Pacific. Melville left little direct information about the events of this 18-month cruise, although his whaling romance, Moby-Dick; or, The Whale, probably gives many pictures of life onboard the Acushnet. Melville deserted the Acushnet in the Marquesas Islands in July 1842.[5] For three weeks he lived among the Typee natives, who were called cannibals by the two other tribal groups on the island -- though they treated Melville very well. His book Typee was Melville's first novel. It describes a brief love affair with a beautiful native girl, Fayaway, who generally "wore the garb of Eden" and came to epitomize the guileless noble savage in the popular imagination. We have no independent evidence, however, of Melville's actual activities among the islanders.

Melville did not seem to be concerned about repercussions from his desertion from the Acushnet. He boarded another whaler bound for Hawaii and left that ship in Honolulu. While in Honolulu, he became a controversial figure for his vehement opposition to the activities of Christian missionaries seeking to convert the native population. After working as a clerk for four months he joined the crew of the frigate USS United States, which reached Boston in October 1844. These experiences were described in Typee, Omoo, and White-Jacket, which were published as novels mainly because few believed their veracity.

Melville completed Typee in the summer of 1845 though he had difficulty getting it published.[6] It was eventually published in 1846 in London, where it became an overnight bestseller. The Boston publisher subsequently accepted Omoo sight unseen. Typee and Omoo gave Melville overnight notoriety as a writer and adventurer and he often entertained by telling stories to his admirers. As writer and editor Nathaniel Parker Willis wrote, "With his cigar and his Spanish eyes, he talks Typee and Omoo, just as you find the flow of his delightful mind on paper".[6] The novels, however, did not generate enough royalties for him to live on. Omoo was not as colorful as Typee, and readers began to realize Melville was not just producing adventure stories. Redburn and White-Jacket had no problem finding publishers. Mardi was a disappointment for readers who wanted another rollicking and exotic sea yarn.

Marriage and later working life

Melville married Elizabeth Shaw (daughter of noted Massachusetts jurist and chief justice of the state's supreme judicial court Lemuel Shaw) on August 4, 1847; the couple honeymooned in Canada.[7] They had four children, two sons and two daughters. In 1850 they purchased Arrowhead, a farm house in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, now a museum. Here Melville lived for thirteen years, occupied with his writing and managing his farm. While living at Arrowhead, he befriended the author Nathaniel Hawthorne, who lived in nearby Lenox. Melville, an intellectual loner for most of his life, was tremendously inspired and encouraged by his new relationship with Hawthorne[8] during the period that he was writing Moby-Dick (dedicating it to Hawthorne[9]), though their friendship was on the wane only a short time later, when he wrote Pierre there. However, these works did not achieve the popular and critical success of his earlier books. Indeed, The New York Day Book on 8 September 1852 published a venomous attack on Melville and his writings headlined HERMAN MELVILLE CRAZY. The item, offered as a news story, reported, "A critical friend, who read Melville's last book, 'Ambiguities," between two steamboat accidents, told us that it appeared to be composed of the ravings and reveries of a madman. We were somewhat startled at the remark, but still more at learning, a few days after, that Melville was really supposed to be deranged, and that his friends were taking measures to place him under treatment. We hope one of the earliest precautions will be to keep him stringently secluded from pen and ink."[10] Following this and other scathing reviews of Pierre by critics, publishers became wary of Melville's work. His publisher, Harper & Brothers, rejected his next manuscript, Isle of the Cross which has been lost. On April Fool's Day 1857, Melville published what would be the last full-length novel he published, The Confidence-Man. This novel, subtitled "His Masquerade," has won general acclaim in modern times as a complex and mysterious exploration of issues of fraud and honesty, identity and masquerade, but when it was published, it received reviews ranging from the bewildered to the denunciatory.[11]

Herman Melville

To repair his faltering finances, Melville listened to the advice of friends and decided to enter what was for others the lucrative field of lecturing. From 1857 to 1860, he spoke at lyceums, chiefly on the South Seas. Turning to poetry, he gathered a collection of verse that failed to interest a publisher. In 1863, he and his wife resettled, with their four children, in New York City. After the end of the American Civil War, he published Battle Pieces and Aspects of the War, (1866) a collection of over seventy poems that generally was ignored by the critics, though a few gave him patronizingly favorable reviews. In 1866, Melville's wife and her relatives used their influence to obtain a position for him as customs inspector for the City of New York (a humble but adequately paying appointment), and he held the post for 19 years. In a notoriously corrupt institution, Melville soon won the reputation of being the only honest employee of the customs house. (The customs house was ironically on Gansevoort St., named after his mother's prosperous family.) But from 1866 his professional writing career can be said to have come to an end.

Melville spent years writing a 16,000-line epic poem, Clarel, inspired by his earler trip to the Holy Land. His uncle, Peter Gansevoort, by a bequest, paid for the publication of the massive epic in 1876. But the publication failed miserably, and the unsold copies were burned when Melville was unable to afford to buy them at cost.

As his professional fortunes waned, Melville's marriage was unhappy, plagued by rumors of his alcoholism and insanity and allegations that he inflicted physical abuse on his wife. Her relatives repeatedly urged her to leave him, and offered to have him committed as insane, but she refused. In 1867 his oldest son, Malcolm, shot himself, perhaps accidentally. While Melville worked, his wife managed to wean him off alcohol, and he no longer showed signs of agitation or insanity. But recurring depression was added-to by the death of his second son, Stanwix, in San Francisco early in 1886. Melville retired in 1886, after several of his wife's relatives died and left the couple legacies that Mrs. Melville administered with skill and good fortune.

As English readers, pursuing the vogue for sea stories represented by such writers as G. A. Henty, rediscovered Melville's novels, he experienced a modest revival of popularity in England, though not in the United States. Once more he took up his pen, writing a series of poems with prose head notes inspired by his early experiences at sea. He published them in two collections, each issued in a tiny edition of 25 copies for his relatives and friends: John Marr (1888) and Timoleon (1891).

One of these poems further intrigued him, and he began to rework the headnote to turn it into at first a short story and then a novella. He worked on it on and off for several years, but when he died in September 1891, he left the piece unfinished, and not until the literary scholar Raymond Weaver published it in 1924 did the book – which we now know as Billy Budd, Sailor – come to light.

The grave of Herman Melville and his wife

Melville died at his home in New York City early on the morning of September 28, 1891, age 72. The doctor listed "cardiac dilation" on the death certificate.[12] He was interred in the Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx, New York. A common story says that his New York Times obituary called him "Henry Melville",[12] implying that he was unknown and unappreciated at his time of death, but the story isn't true.[13]

From about age thirty-three, Melville ceased to be popular with a broad audience because of his increasingly philosophical, political, and experimental tendencies. His novella Billy Budd, Sailor, unpublished at the time of his death, was published in 1924. Later it was turned into an opera by Benjamin Britten, a play, and a film by Peter Ustinov.

In Herman Melville's Religious Journey, Walter Donald Kring detailed his discovery of letters indicating that Melville had been a member of the Unitarian Church of All Souls in New York City. Until this revelation, little had been known of his religious affiliation. Hershel Parker in the second volume of his biography makes it clear that Melville became a nominal member only to placate his wife. Melville despised Unitarianism and its associated "ism", Utilitarianism. (The great English Unitarians were Utilitarians.) See the 2006 Norton Critical Edition of The Confidence-Man for more detail on Melville and religion than in Parker's 2002 volume.

Publications and contemporary reactions

Title page of the first U.S. edition of Moby-Dick, 1851.

Most of Melville's novels were published first in the United Kingdom and then in the U.S. Sometimes the editions contain substantial differences; at other times different printings were either bowdlerized or restored to their pre-bowdlerized state. (For specifics on different publication dates, editions, printings, etc., please see entries for individual novels.)

Moby-Dick has become Melville's most famous work and is often considered one of the greatest literary works of all time. It was dedicated to Melville's friend Nathaniel Hawthorne.[9] It did not, however, make Melville rich. The book never sold its initial printing of 3,000 copies in his lifetime, and total earnings from the American edition amounted to just $556.37 from his publisher, Harper & Brothers. Melville also wrote Billy Budd, White-Jacket, Typee, Omoo, Pierre, The Confidence-Man and many short stories and works of various genres.

Melville is less well known as a poet and did not publish poetry until later in life. After the Civil War, he published Battle Pieces and Aspects of the War, which did not sell well; of the Harper & Bros. printing of 1200 copies, only 525 had been sold ten years later.[14] Again tending to outrun the tastes of his readers, Melville's epic length verse-narrative Clarel, about a student's pilgrimage to the Holy Land, was also quite obscure, even in his own time. Among the longest single poems in American literature, Clarel, published in 1876, had an initial printing of only 350 copies. The critic Lewis Mumford found a copy of the poem in the New York Public Library in 1925 "with its pages uncut".[citation needed] In other words, it had sat there unread for 50 years.

His poetry is not as highly critically esteemed as his fiction, although some critics place him as the first modernist poet in the United States; others would assert that his work more strongly suggest what today would be a postmodern view.[citation needed] A leading champion of Melville's claims as a great American poet was the poet and novelist Robert Penn Warren, who issued a selection of Melville's poetry prefaced by an admiring and acute critical essay.

Critical response

Contemporary criticism

Melville was not financially successful as a writer, having earned just over $10,000 for his writing during his lifetime.[15] After the success of travelogues based on voyages to the South Seas and stories based on misadventures in the merchant marine and navy, Melville's popularity declined dramatically. By 1876, all of his books were out of print.[16] In the later years of his life and during the years after his death he was recognized, if at all, as only a minor figure in American literature.

Melville revival

A confluence of publishing events in the 1920s brought about a reassessment now commonly called the Melville Revival. The two books generally considered most important to the Revival[citation needed] were both brought forth by Raymond Weaver: his 1921 biography Herman Melville: Man, Mariner and Mystic and his 1924 version of Melville's last great but never quite finished or properly organized work, Billy Budd, which Melville's granddaughter gave to Weaver when he visited her for research on the biography. The other works that helped fan the Revival flames were Carl Van Doren's The American Novel (1921), D. H. Lawrence's Studies in Classic American Literature (1923), and Lewis Mumford's biography, Herman Melville: A Study of His Life and Vision (1929). In 1945, the Melville Society was formed as a nonprofit organization dedicated to celebrating Melville’s literary legacy.[17] In 1951, Newton Arvin published the critical biograghy Herman Melville which won the nonfiction National Book Award.[18]

In the 1960's, the Northwestern University Press, in alliance with the Newberry Library and the Modern Language Association, established on-going publication runs of Melville's various titles.[19] This alliance sought to create a "definitive" edition of Melville's works. Titles republished under the Northwestern-Newberry Library include Typee, Piazza Tales and Other Prose Pieces, Omoo, Israel Potter, Pierre or the Ambiguities, Confidence-Man, White Jacket or the World in a Man-of-War, Moby Dick, Mardi and a Voyage Thither, Redburn, Clarel , as well as several volumes of Melville's poems, journals, and correspondence.

Themes of gender and sexuality

Although not the primary focus of Melville scholarship, there has been an emerging interest in the role of gender and sexuality in some of Melville's writings.[20][21][22] Some critics, particularly those interested in gender studies, have explored the existence of male-dominant social structures in Melville's fiction.[23] For example, Alvin Sandberg claimed that "The Paradise of Bachelors and the Tartarus of Maids" offers "an exploration of impotency, a portrayal of a man retreating to an all-male childhood to avoid confrontation with sexual manhood" from which the narrator engages in "congenial" digressions in heterogeneity. [24] In line with this view Warren Rosenberg argues the homosocial "Paradise of Bachelors" is shown to be "superficial and sterile."[22] David Harley Serlin observes in the second half of Melville's diptych, "The Tartarus of Maids," the narrator gives voice to the oppressed women he observes: "As other scholars have noted, the "slave" image here has two clear connotations. One describes the exploitation of the women's physical labor, and the other describes the exploitation of the women's reproductive organs. Of course, as models of women's oppression, the two are clearly intertwined."[25] In the end the narrator is never fully able to come to terms with the contrasting masculine and feminine modalities. Issues of sexuality have been observed in other works as well. Rosenberg notes Taji, in "Mardi", and the protagonist in "Pierre" "think they are saving young "maidens in distress" (Yillah and Isabel) out of the purest of reasons but both are also conscious of a lurking sexual motive."[22] When Taji kills the old priest holding Yillah captive, he states "remorse smote me hard; and like lightning I asked myself whether the death deed I had done was sprung of virtuous motive, the rescuing of a captive from thrall, or whether beneath the pretense I had engaged in this fatal affray for some other selfish purpose, the companionship of a beautiful maid."[26] In "Pierre" the motive for his self-sacrifice for Isabel is admitted: "womanly beauty and not womanly ugliness invited him to champion the right."[27] Rosenberg argues "This awareness of a double motive haunts both books and ultimately destroys their protagonists who would not fully acknowledge the dark underside of their idealism. The epistemological quest and the transcendental quest for love and belief are consequently sullied by the erotic."[22]

Melville fully explores the theme of sexuality in his major poetical work "Clarel." When the narrator is separated from Ruth, with whom he has fallen in love, he is free to explore other sexual (and religious) possibilities before deciding at the end of the poem to participate in the ritualistic order marriage represents. In the course of the poem "he considers every form of sexual orientation - celibacy, homosexuality, hedonism, and heterosexuality-raising the same kinds of questions as when he considers Islam or Democracy."[22]

Other critics have suggested possible homoerotic overtones in some works. Commonly given examples of the latter from Moby Dick are the interpretation of male bonding from what they term the "marriage bed" episode involving Ishmael and Queequeg, and the "Squeeze of the Hand" chapter describing the camaraderie of sailors extracting spermaceti from a dead whale.[28] Although some of these critics have speculated that what they perceive to be homoerotic themes in his writings may be reflective of Melville's own sexual orientation, there is no biographical evidence to support these claims.[29] Still others have argued "Ahab's pursuit of the whale, which can be associated with the feminine in its shape, mystery, and in its naturalness, represents the ultimate fusion of the epistemological and sexual quest."[22]

Law and literature

In recent years, Billy Budd has become a central text in the field of legal scholarship known as law and literature. In the novel, Billy, a handsome and popular young sailor impressed from the merchant vessel "Rights of Man" to serve aboard H.M.S. "Bellipotent" in the late 1790s, during the war between Revolutionary France and Great Britain and her monarchic allies, excites the enmity and hatred of the ship's master-at-arms, John Claggart. Claggart devises phony charges of mutiny and other crimes to level against Billy, and Captain the Honorable Edward Fairfax Vere institutes an informal inquiry, at which Billy convulsively strikes Claggart because his stammer prevents him from speaking. Vere immediately convenes a drumhead court-martial, at which, after serving as sole witness and as Billy's de facto counsel, Vere then urges the court to convict and sentence Billy to death. The trial is recounted in chapter 21, the longest chapter in the book, and that trial has become the focus of scholarly controversy: was Captain Vere a good man trapped by bad law, or did he deliberately distort and misrepresent the applicable law to condemn Billy to death? [30]

Bibliography

References and further reading

  • Adler, Joyce (1981). War in Melville's Imagination. New York: New York University Press. ISBN 0814705758. 
  • Arvin, Newton (2002). Herman Melville. New York: Grove Press. ISBN 0802138713. 
  • Bryant, John (1986). A Companion to Melville Studies. Westport: Greenwood Press. ISBN 031323874X. 
  • Bryant, John (1993). Melville and Repose: The Rhetoric of Humor in the American Renaissance. Oxford Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195077822. 
  • Chamberlain, Ray (1985). Monsieur Melville. City: Coach House Pr. ISBN 0889102392. 
  • Delbanco, Andrew (2005). Melville, His World and Work. New York: Knopf. ISBN 0375403140. 
  • Garner, Stanton (1993). The Civil War World of Herman Melville. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas. ISBN 0700606025. 
  • Goldner, Loren (2006). Herman Melville: Between Charlemagne and the Antemosaic Cosmic Man. Race, Class and the Crisis of Bourgeois Ideology in an American Renaissance Writer. Cambridge: Queequeg Publications. ISBN 0970030827. 
  • Gretchko, John M. J. (1990). Melvillean Ambiguities. Cleveland: Falk & Bright. 
  • Hardwick, Elizabeth (2000). Herman Melville. New York: Viking. ISBN 0670891584. 
  • Hayford, Harrison (2003). Melville's Prisoners. Evanston: Northwestern University Press. ISBN 0810119730. 
  • Levine, Robert (1998). The Cambridge Companion to Herman Melville. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 052155571X. 
  • Martin, Robert (1986). Hero, Captain, and Stranger: Male Friendship, Social Critique, and Literary Form in the Sea Novels of Herman Melville. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 0807816728. 
  • Miller, Perry (1956). The Raven and the Whale: The War of Words and Wits in the Era of Poe and Melville. New York: Harvest Book. 
  • Parker, Hershel (1996). Herman Melville: A Biography. Volume I, 1819–1851. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0801854288. 
  • Parker, Hershel (2005). Herman Melville: A Biography. Volume II, 1851–1891. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0801881862. 
  • Renker, Elizabeth (1998). Strike through the Mask: Herman Melville and the Scene of Writing. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0801858755. 
  • Robertson-Lorant, Laurie (1996). Melville: A Biography. New York: Clarkson Potter/Publishers. ISBN 0517593149. 
  • Rogin, Michael (1983). Subversive Genealogy: The Politics and Art of Herman Melville. New York: Knopf. ISBN 039450609X. 
  • Rosenberg, Warren (1984). "'Deeper than Sappho': Melville, Poetry, and the Erotic". Modern Language Studies 14 (1). 
  • Sullivan, Wilson (1972). New England Men of Letters.. New York: Atheneum. ISBN 0027886808. 
  • Weisberg, Richard (1984). The Failure of the Word: The Lawyer as Protagonist in Modern Fiction. New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 0300045921. 

Notes

  1. ^ Sullivan, 116
  2. ^ Parker, Vol. I, 12
  3. ^ Sullivan, 117
  4. ^ Titus, David K., "Herman Melville at the Albany Academy", Melville Society Extracts, May 2003, No. 42, pp. 1, 4-10, found at Titus, Herman Melville at the Albany Academy. Accessed August 4, 2008.
  5. ^ a b Miller, 5
  6. ^ a b Delbanco, 66
  7. ^ Delbanco, 91–92
  8. ^ In the Essay Melville published on Hawthorne's 'Mosses' in the Literary Review of August 1850 he wrote: "To what infinite height of loving wonder and admiration I may yet be borne, when by repeatedly banquetting on these Mosses, I shall have thoroughly incorporated their whole stuff into my being,--that, I can not tell. But already I feel that this Hawthorne has dropped germinous seeds into my soul. He expands and deepens down, the more I contemplate him; and further, and further, shoots his strong New-England roots into the hot soil of my Southern soul.
  9. ^ a b Cheevers, Susan (2006). American Bloomsbury: Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau; Their Lives, Their Loves, Their Work. Detroit: Thorndike Press. Large print edition. p. 196. ISBN 078629521X.
  10. ^ Parker, Vol. I, 131–132
  11. ^ See generally the collection of reviews of Melville's works edited by Watson G. Branch, Herman Melville: The Critical Heritage (London and New York: Routledge, 1997) (the reviews of The Confidence-Man appear in a section beginning at 369.)
  12. ^ a b Delbanco, 319
  13. ^ "Obituary" (in English). The New York Times (New York: The New York Times). 29 September 1891. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=9A0CE6D6153AE533A2575AC2A96F9C94609ED7CF. Retrieved 13 November 2009. 
  14. ^ Collected Poems of Herman Melville, Ed. Howard P. Vincent. Chicago: Packard & Company and Hendricks House (1947), 446.
  15. ^ Delbanco, 7
  16. ^ Delbanco, 294
  17. ^ Clare L. Spark (2006). Hunting Captain Ahab: Psychological Warfare and the Melville Revival. Kent State University Press. p. 352. ISBN 031332140X. http://books.google.com/books?id=i0AsRZRwYjEC&pg=PA352&dq=%22melville+society%22&lr=&cd=26#v=onepage&q=%22melville%20society%22&f=false. 
  18. ^ Newton Arvin
  19. ^ About Northwestern University PressSearch at NU Press website
  20. ^ Serlin, David Harley. "The Dialogue of Gender in Melville's The Paradise of Bachelors and the Tartarus of Maids". These two writings are separate but often read together for the full effect of Melville's purpose. In both these works many phallic symbols are represented (such as the swords and snuff powder which represented a lack of semen in the bachelors.) Not only this, but in the Tartarus of Maids there was a detailed description of how the main character arrived at the Tartarus of Maids. This description was intended to resemble that of the vaginal canal. Modern Language Studies 25.2 (1995): 80-87
  21. ^ James Creech, Closet writing: The case of Melville's Pierre, 1993
  22. ^ a b c d e f Rosenberg, 70-78
  23. ^ see Delblanco, Andrew. American Literary History 1992.
  24. ^ Sandberg, Alvin. "Erotic Patterns in 'The Paradise of Bachelors and the Tartarus of Maids.' " Literature and Psychology 18.1 (1968): 2-8.
  25. ^ Serlin, David Harley. "The Dialogue of Gender in Melville's The Paradise of Bachelors and the Tartarus of Maids" Modern Language Studies 25.2 (1995): 80-87
  26. ^ Melville, Herman. Mardi, ed. Tyrus Hillway. New Haven: College and University Press, 1973. p. 132.
  27. ^ Melville, Herman. "Pierre" New York: Grove Press, 1957. p. 151.
  28. ^ E. Haviland Miller, Melville, New York 1975.
  29. ^ see Delblanco, Andrew. American Literary History 1992.
  30. ^ Weisberg, Richard H. The Failure of the Word: The Lawyer as Protagonist in Modern Fiction (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1989), chapters 8 and 9.

External links


Quotes

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

It is better to fail in originality, than to succeed in imitation. He who has never failed somewhere, that man can not be great. Failure is the true test of greatness.

Herman Melville (1 August 181928 September 1891) was an American novelist, essayist, and poet.

See also:

Moby-Dick
The Confidence-Man

Contents

Sourced

Instinct and study; love and hate;
Audacity — reverence. These must mate,
And fuse with Jacob’s mystic heart,
To wrestle with the angel — Art.
  • It is — or seems to be — a wise sort of thing, to realise that all that happens to a man in this life is only by way of joke, especially his misfortunes, if he have them. And it is also worth bearing in mind, that the joke is passed round pretty liberally & impartially, so that not very many are entitled to fancy that they in particular are getting the worst of it.
    • Letter to Samuel Savage (24 August 1851), as published in The Writings of Herman Melville : The Northwestern-Newberry Edition (1993), edited by Lynn Horth, Vol. 14, p. 203
  • Instinct and study; love and hate;
    Audacity — reverence. These must mate,
    And fuse with Jacob’s mystic heart,
    To wrestle with the angel — Art.
  • Indolence is heaven’s ally here,
    And energy the child of hell:
    The Good Man pouring from his pitcher clear
    But brims the poisoned well.
    • Timoleon, Fragments of a Lost Gnostic Poem of the Twelfth Century, Fragment 2

White-Jacket (1850)

Are there no Moravians in the Moon, that not a missionary has yet visited this poor pagan planet of ours, to civilise civilisation and christianise Christendom?
  • It was not a very white jacket, but white enough, in all conscience, as the sequel will show.
    The way I came by it was this...
    • Ch. 1, First lines
  • Many sensible things banished from high life find an asylum among the mob.
    • Ch. 7
  • Oh, give me again the rover's life — the joy, the thrill, the whirl! Let me feel thee again, old sea! let me leap into thy saddle once more. I am sick of these terra firma toils and cares; sick of the dust and reek of towns. Let me hear the clatter of hailstones on icebergs, and not the dull tramp of these plodders, plodding their dull way from their cradles to their graves. Let me snuff thee up, sea-breeze! and whinny in thy spray. Forbid it, sea-gods! intercede for me with Neptune, O sweet Amphitrite, that no dull clod may fall on my coffin! Be mine the tomb that swallowed up Pharaoh and all his hosts; let me lie down with Drake, where he sleeps in the sea.
    • Ch. 19
  • Familiarity with danger makes a brave man braver, but less daring. Thus with seamen: he who goes the oftenest round Cape Horn goes the most circumspectly.
    • Ch. 23
  • In time of peril, like the needle to the loadstone, obedience, irrespective of rank, generally flies to him who is best fitted to command.
    • Ch. 27
  • We Americans are the peculiar, chosen people — the Israel of our time; we bear the ark of the liberties of the world.
    • Ch. 36
  • A man of true science... uses but few hard words, and those only when none other will answer his purpose; whereas the smatterer in science... thinks, that by mouthing hard words, he proves that he understands hard things.
    • Ch. 63
    • This has sometimes been paraphrased: A man thinks that by mouthing hard words he understands hard things. where "hard" can readily be taken to imply "harsh" words rather than those "difficult to understand".
  • Are there no Moravians in the Moon, that not a missionary has yet visited this poor pagan planet of ours, to civilise civilisation and christianise Christendom?
    • Ch. 64
    • This has often been quoted with modernized American spelling, rendering it "to civilize civilization and christianize Christendom?"
  • I had now been on board the frigate upward of a year, and remained unscourged; the ship was homeward-bound, and in a few weeks, at most, I would be a free man. And now, after making a hermit of myself in some things, in order to avoid the possibility of the scourge, here it was hanging over me for a thing utterly unforeseen, for a crime of which I was as utterly innocent. But all that was as naught.
    • Ch. 67
  • I cannot analyse my heart, though it then stood still within me. But the thing that swayed me to my purpose was not altogether the thought that Captain Claret was about to degrade me, and that I had taken an oath with my soul that he should not. No, I felt my man's manhood so bottomless within me, that no word, no blow, no scourge of Captain Claret could cut me deep enough for that. I but swung to an instinct in me — the instinct diffused through all animated nature, the same that prompts even a worm to turn under the heel. Locking souls-with him, I meant to drag Captain Claret from this earthly tribunal of his to that of Jehovah and let Him decide between us. No other way could I escape the scourge.
    • Ch. 67
  • Nature has not implanted any power in man that was not meant to be exercised at times, though too often our powers have been abused. The privilege, inborn and inalienable, that every man has of dying himself, and inflicting death upon another, was not given to us without a purpose. These are the last resources of an insulted and unendurable existence.
    • Ch. 67
  • I let nothing slip, however small; and feel myself actuated by the same motive which has prompted many worthy old chroniclers, to set down the merest trifles concerning things that are destined to pass away entirely from the earth, and which, if not preserved in the nick of time, must infallibly perish from the memories of man. Who knows that this humble narrative may not hereafter prove the history of an obsolete barbarism? Who knows that, when men-of-war shall be no more, "White-Jacket" may not be quoted to show to the people in the Millennium what a man-of-war was? God hasten the time!
    • Ch. 68
  • The worst of our evils we blindly inflict upon ourselves; our officers cannot remove them, even if they would. From the last ills no being can save another; therein each man must be his own saviour. For the rest, whatever befall us, let us never train our murderous guns inboard; let us not mutiny with bloody pikes in our hands. Our Lord High Admiral will yet interpose; and though long ages should elapse, and leave our wrongs unredressed, yet, shipmates and world-mates! let us never forget, that, Whoever afflict us, whatever surround, Life is a voyage that's homeward-bound!
    • Ch. 93

Hawthorne and His Mosses (1850)

Essay in The Literary World (August 17 & 24, 1850) - Full text online
Genius, all over the world, stands hand in hand, and one shock of recognition runs the whole circle round.
In this world of lies, Truth is forced to fly like a sacred white doe in the woodlands; and only by cunning glimpses will she reveal herself, as in Shakespeare and other masters of the great Art of Telling the Truth, — even though it be covertly, and by snatches.
  • Would that all excellent books were foundlings, without father or mother, that so it might be, we could glorify them, without including their ostensible authors. Nor would any true man take exception to this; — least of all, he who writes, — "When the Artist rises high enough to achieve the Beautiful, the symbol by which he makes it perceptible to mortal senses becomes of little value in his eyes, while his spirit possesses itself in the enjoyment of the reality."
  • In this world of lies, Truth is forced to fly like a sacred white doe in the woodlands; and only by cunning glimpses will she reveal herself, as in Shakespeare and other masters of the great Art of Telling the Truth, — even though it be covertly, and by snatches.
  • It is better to fail in originality, than to succeed in imitation. He who has never failed somewhere, that man can not be great. Failure is the true test of greatness. And if it be said, that continual success is a proof that a man wisely knows his powers, — it is only to be added, that, in that case, he knows them to be small. Let us believe it, then, once for all, that there is no hope for us in these smooth pleasing writers that know their powers.
  • Certain it is, however, that this great power of blackness in him derives its force from its appeals to that Calvinistic sense of Innate Depravity and Original Sin, from whose visitations, in some shape or other, no deeply thinking mind is always and wholly free. For, in certain moods, no man can weigh this world, without throwing in something, somehow like Original Sin, to strike the uneven balance.
  • You must have plenty of sea-room to tell the truth in.
  • Genius, all over the world, stands hand in hand, and one shock of recognition runs the whole circle round.
  • I found that but to glean after this man, is better than to be in at the harvest of others.
  • The truth seems to be, that like many other geniuses, this Man of Mosses takes great delight in hoodwinking the world, — at least, with respect to himself. Personally, I doubt not, that he rather prefers to be generally esteemed but a so-so sort of author; being willing to reserve the thorough and acute appreciation of what he is, to that party most qualified to judge — that is, to himself. Besides, at the bottom of their natures, men like Hawthorne, in many things, deem the plaudits of the public such strong presumptive evidence of mediocrity in the object of them, that it would in some degree render them doubtful of their own powers, did they hear much and vociferous braying concerning them in the public
  • It is hard to be finite upon an infinite subject, and all subjects are infinite.

Moby-Dick: or, the Whale (1851)

Pierre: or, The Ambiguities (1852)

All Profound things, and emotions of things are preceded and attended by Silence.
Nature is not so much her own ever-sweet interpreter, as the mere supplier of that cunning alphabet, whereby selecting and combining as he pleases, each man reads his own peculiar lesson according to his own peculiar mind and mood.
  • There are some strange summer mornings in the country, when he who is but a sojourner from the city shall early walk forth into the fields, and be wonder-smitten with the trance-like aspect of the green and golden world. Not a flower stirs; the trees forget to wave; the grass itself seems to have ceased to grow; and all Nature, as if suddenly become conscious of her own profound mystery, and feeling no refuge from it but silence, sinks into this wonderful and indescribable repose.
    • Bk. I, ch. 1 (First lines)
  • From without, no wonderful effect is wrought within ourselves, unless some interior, responding wonder meets it. That the starry vault shall surcharge the heart with all rapturous marvelings, is only because we ourselves are greater miracles, and superber trophies than all the stars in universal space. Wonder interlocks with wonder; and then the confounding feeling comes. No cause have we to fancy, that a horse, a dog, a fowl, ever stand transfixed beneath yon skyey load of majesty. But our soul's arches underfit into its; and so, prevent the upper arch from falling on us with unsustainable inscrutableness.
    • Bk. III, ch. 1
  • Thou hast evoked in me profounder spells than the evoking one, thou face! For me, thou hast uncovered one infinite, dumb, beseeching countenance of mystery, underlying all the surfaces of visible time and space.
    • Bk. III, ch. 1
  • But I shall follow the endless, winding way, — the flowing river in the cave of man; careless whither I be led, reckless where I land.
    • Bk. V, ch. 7
  • What we take to be our strongest tower of delight, only stands at the caprice of the minutest event — the falling of a leaf, the hearing of a voice, or the receipt of one little bit of paper scratched over with a few small characters by a sharpened feather.
    • Bk. IV
  • One trembles to think of that mysterious thing in the soul, which seems to acknowledge no human jurisdiction, but in spite of the individual's own innocent self, will still dream horrid dreams, and mutter unmentionable thoughts.
    • Bk. IV
  • A smile is the chosen vehicle of all ambiguities.
    • Bk. IV, ch. 5
  • All Profound things, and emotions of things are preceded and attended by Silence.
    • Bk. XIV, ch. 1
  • Silence is the general consecration of the universe. Silence is the invisible laying on of the Divine Pontiff's hands upon the world. Silence is at once the most harmless and the most awful thing in all nature. It speaks of the Reserved Forces of Fate. Silence is the only Voice of our God.
    • Bk. XIV, ch. 1
    • A paraphrase of the last portion of this has sometimes been cited as a quotation of Melville: God's one and only voice is silence.
  • The more and the more that he wrote, and the deeper and the deeper that he dived, Pierre saw the everlasting elusiveness of Truth; the universal lurking insincerity of even the greatest and purest written thoughts. Like knavish cards, the leaves of all great books were covertly packed. He was but packing one set the more; and that a very poor jaded set and pack indeed. So that there was nothing he more spurned, than his own aspirations; nothing he more abhorred than the loftiest part of himself. The brightest success, now seemed intolerable to him, since he so plainly saw, that the brightest success could not be the sole offspring of Merit; but of Merit for the one thousandth part, and nine hundred and ninety-nine combining and dovetailing accidents for the rest.
    • Bk. XXV, ch. 3
  • His was the scorn which thinks it not worth the while to be scornful. Those he most scorned, never knew it.
    • Bk. XXV, ch. 3
  • Say what some poets will, Nature is not so much her own ever-sweet interpreter, as the mere supplier of that cunning alphabet, whereby selecting and combining as he pleases, each man reads his own peculiar lesson according to his own peculiar mind and mood.
    • Bk. XXV, ch. 4

Bartleby, the Scrivener (1853)

  • "At present I would prefer not to be a little reasonable," was his mildly cadaverous reply.
  • Nothing so aggravates an earnest person as a passive resistance.
  • Ah, happiness courts the light, so we deem the world is gay, but misery hides aloof, so we deem that misery there is none.
  • And here Bartleby makes his home, sole spectator of a solitude which he has seen all populous- a sort of innocent and transformed Marius brooding among the ruins of Carthage!

The Encantadas (1854)

Those whom books will hurt will not be proof against events. Events, not books, should be forbid.
  • If some books are deemed most baneful and their sale forbid, how, then, with deadlier facts, not dreams of doting men? Those whom books will hurt will not be proof against events. Events, not books, should be forbid.
    • Sketch Eighth

The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade (1857)

Battle Pieces: And Aspects of the War (1860)

At the height of their madness
The night winds pause,
Recollecting themselves;
But no lull in these wars.
Full text at Project Gutenberg
  • With shouts the torrents down the gorges go,
    And storms are formed behind the storm we feel
    :
    The hemlock shakes in the rafter, the oak in the driving keel.
    • Misgivings, st. 2
  • The poor old Past,
    The Future's slave
    ,
    She drudged through pain and crime
    To bring about the blissful Prime,
    Then — perished. There's a grave!
    • The Conflict of Convictions, st. 6
  • At the height of their madness
    The night winds pause,
    Recollecting themselves;
    But no lull in these wars.
    • The Armies of the Wilderness, Pt. II, st. 5
  • Youth is the time when hearts are large,
    And stirring wars
    Appeal to the spirit which appeals in turn
    To the blade it draws.
    • On the Slain Collegians, st. 1
  • What troops
    Of generous boys in happiness thus bred —
    Saturnians through life's Tempe led,
    Went from the North and came from the South,
    With golden mottoes in the mouth,
    To lie down midway on a bloody bed.
    • On the Slain Collegians, st. 2

Billy Budd, the Sailor (1891)

Also known as Foretopman Billy Budd ; written in 1891 but not published until 1924; several varying renditions of it have since been published, drawing upon the notes of Melville.
Who in the rainbow can draw the line where the violet tint ends and the orange tint begins? Distinctly we see the difference of the colors, but where exactly does the one first blendingly enter into the other? So with sanity and insanity.
Forty years after a battle it is easy for a non-combatant to reason about how it ought to have been fought. It is another thing personally and under fire to direct the fighting while involved in the obscuring smoke of it. Much so with respect to other emergencies involving considerations both practical and moral, and when it is imperative promptly to act.
  • But are sailors, frequenters of fiddlers' greens, without vices? No; but less often than with landsmen do their vices, so called, partake of crookedness of heart, seeming less to proceed from viciousness than exuberance of vitality after long constraint: frank manifestations in accordance with natural law.
    • Ch. 2
  • Struck dead by an angel of God! Yet the angel must hang!
    • Ch. 19
  • Who in the rainbow can draw the line where the violet tint ends and the orange tint begins? Distinctly we see the difference of the colors, but where exactly does the one first blendingly enter into the other? So with sanity and insanity. In pronounced cases there is no question about them. But in some supposed cases, in various degrees supposedly less pronounced, to draw the exact line of demarcation few will undertake tho' for a fee some professional experts will. There is nothing nameable but that some men will undertake to do it for pay.
    • Ch. 21
  • In the light of that martial code whereby it was formally to be judged, innocence and guilt personified in Claggart and Budd in effect changed places. In a legal view the apparent victim of the tragedy was he who had sought to victimize a man blameless; and the indisputable deed of the latter, navally regarded, constituted the most heinous of military crimes.
    • Ch. 21
  • Says a writer whom few know, "Forty years after a battle it is easy for a non-combatant to reason about how it ought to have been fought. It is another thing personally and under fire to direct the fighting while involved in the obscuring smoke of it. Much so with respect to other emergencies involving considerations both practical and moral, and when it is imperative promptly to act."
    • Ch. 21
    • This statement is often attributed entirely to Melville, but the way he presents it in the story indicates that he might be quoting a lesser known author.
  • In war-time on the field or in the fleet, a mortal punishment decreed by a drum-head court — on the field sometimes decreed by but a nod from the General — follows without delay on the heel of conviction without appeal.
    • Ch. 21
  • If possible, not to let the men so much as surmise that their officers anticipate aught amiss from them is the tacit rule in a military ship. And the more that some sort of trouble should really be apprehended the more do the officers keep that apprehension to themselves; tho' not the less unostentatious vigilance may be augmented.
    In the present instance the sentry placed over the prisoner had strict orders to let no one have communication with him but the Chaplain. And certain unobtrusive measures were taken absolutely to insure this point.
    • Ch. 23
  • Billy's agony, mainly proceeding from a generous young heart's virgin experience of the diabolical incarnate and effective in some men — the tension of that agony was over now.
    • Ch. 24
  • Marvel not that having been made acquainted with the young sailor's essential innocence (an irruption of heretic thought hard to suppress) the worthy man lifted not a finger to avert the doom of such a martyr to martial discipline. So to do would not only have been as idle as invoking the desert, but would also have been an audacious transgression of the bounds of his function, one as exactly prescribed to him by military law as that of the boatswain or any other naval officer. Bluntly put, a chaplain is the minister of the Prince of Peace serving in the host of the God of War — Mars. As such, he is as incongruous as a musket would be on the altar at Christmas. Why then is he there? Because he indirectly subserves the purpose attested by the cannon; because too he lends the sanction of the religion of the meek to that which practically is the abrogation of everything but brute Force.
    • Ch. 24
  • At the penultimate moment, his words, his only ones, words wholly unobstructed in the utterance were these — "God bless Captain Vere!"
    • Ch. 25
  • The symmetry of form attainable in pure fiction can not so readily be achieved in a narration essentially having less to do with fable than with fact. Truth uncompromisingly told will always have its ragged edges...
    • Ch. 28
  • But me they'll lash me in hammock, drop me deep.
    Fathoms down, fathoms down, how I'll dream fast asleep.
    I feel it stealing now. Sentry, are you there?
    Just ease this darbies at the wrist, and roll me over fair,
    I am sleepy, and the oozy weeds about me twist.
    • Ch. 30, Billy in the Darbies

Quotes about Melville

  • Melville, as he always does, began to reason of Providence and futurity, and of everything that lies beyond human ken, and informed me that he "pretty much made up his mind to be annihilated"; but still he does not seem to rest in that anticipation; and, I think, will never rest until he gets hold of a definite belief. It is strange how he persists — and has persisted ever since I knew him, and probably long before — in wandering to-and-fro over these deserts, as dismal and monotonous as the sand hills amid which we were sitting. He can neither believe, nor be comfortable in his unbelief; and he is too honest and courageous not to try to do one or the other. If he were a religious man, he would be one of the most truly religious and reverential; he has a very high and noble nature, and better worth immortality than most of us.

Misattributed

  • We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men; and along these fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects.
    • Though this statement and a few other variants of it have been widely attributed to Herman Melville, it is actually a paraphrase of one found in a sermon of Henry Melvill, "Partaking in Other Men's Sins", St. Margaret's Church, Lothbury, England (12 June 1855), printed in Golden Lectures (1855) :
There is not one of you whose actions do not operate on the actions of others—operate, we mean, in the way of example. He would be insignificant who could only destroy his own soul; but you are all, alas! of importance enough to help also to destroy the souls of others. ...Ye cannot live for yourselves; a thousand fibres connect you with your fellow-men, and along those fibres, as along sympathetic threads, run your actions as causes, and return to you as effects.

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Simple English

Herman Melville
File:Herman Melville
Photograph of Herman Melville
Born August 1, 1819(1819-08-01)
New York City, New York, United States
Died September 28, 1891 (aged 72)
New York City, New York
Occupation novelist, short story writer, teacher, sailor, lecturer, poet
Nationality American
Genres travelogue, Captivity narrative, Sea story, Gothic Romanticism, Allegory, Tall tale, porn
Literary movement Romanticism, Dark Romanticism, and Skepticism; precursor to Modernism, precursor to absurdism and existentialism

Herman Melville (August 1, 1819 – September 28, 1891) was an American novelist, short story writer, essayist and poet. He is known for writing Moby-Dick.

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