Biography of Famous Writers and Authors: Herman Melville Part 1

About the famous American writer Herman Melville, history and biography of the author.

Herman Melville (1819-1891). Herman Melville's life is a mystery. No one has satisfactorily explained, although many have tried, why the 32-year-old author of the monumental novel Moby Dick would for the next 40 years write nothing of consequence. And no one can understand why a hardy seafarer like Melville, who had experienced the delights and hardships of the South Seas both aboard ship and on shore, should spend most of his last 19 years at the humdrum job of customs inspector.

Perhaps the answer lies in Melville's early background. Descended from old American stock, Herman Melville was born in New York, the son of a prosperous dry goods importer whose business later failed. Melville's father died when Herman was only 13, and he left his family in a dire financial state. Melville was forced to make his way in the world at an early age. He was mortified at his family's loss of stature, and the remainder of his life seemed to involve a quest for security and inner peace.

After halfhearted attempts at being a bank clerk, a teacher, and a cabin boy, Melville finally shipped out to sea on a whaler bound for the South Seas. For the 1st time the world opened up to him. The beauty and the cruelty of the sea caught him forever in its spell. When his ship reached the Marquesas Islands (now part of French Polynesia), Melville and a companion jumped ship and lived among the pleasure-loving (and cannibalistic) natives. But despite his attachment to an island girl, Melville became homesick and signed on a passing whaler. This voyage did not last long, for he joined a mutiny and landed in a Tahitian jail--from which he promptly escaped. Melville renewed his wanderings among the islanders and rapidly stored up the knowledge that was to serve him so well in his books. But he still yearned for home and therefore joined the crew of another whaler as a harpooner. He left this ship in Hawaii and shortly thereafter began the last leg of his journey home by joining the crew of a U.S. naval frigate as an able-bodied seaman. When Melville arrived back in America he had everything he needed to inspire 6 years of magnificent creativity as a novelist.

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