- NAME: Herman Melville
- OCCUPATION: Author, Poet
- BIRTH DATE: August 01, 1819
- DEATH DATE: September 28, 1891
- EDUCATION: Albany Academy, Lansingburgh Academy, Albany Classical School, Grammar School of Columbia College, New York Male High School
- PLACE OF BIRTH: New York, New York
- PLACE OF DEATH: New York, New York
- Full Name: Herman Melville
- Originally: Herman Melvill
Best Known For
Herman Melville wrote the classic American novel Moby-Dick (1851), a whaling adventure which regarded as one of the greatest literary works of all time.
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Herman Melville was an American author born on August 1, 1819 in New York, New York. The author penned many books and later in life wrote poetry. Best known for his novel Moby Dick, Melville was only heralded as one of America’s greatest writers after his death on September 28, 1891. The Library of Congress honored him as its first writer to collect and publish.
Herman Melville was born in New York City on August 1, 1819, to Allan and Maria Gansevoort Melvill (Maria added the "e" to the family name following her husband's death in 1832). In the mid-1820s, young Herman fell ill to scarlet fever, and though he regained his health not long after, his vision was left permanently impaired by the illness. Melville's family had enjoyed a prosperous life for many years due to Allan Melvill's success as a high-end importer and merchant. However, when Allan made a failed attempt to branch into the fur trade in 1830, the family's fortune took a big hit. When Allan died suddenly soon after, in 1832, finances dwindled significantly.
Allan's oldest son, Gansevoort, took control of the family's fur and cap business in New York following his father's death. Melville later joined his brother as a business partner, followed by some of his other siblings (there were eight children in all). Around the same time, in the mid-1830s, Melville enrolled at the Albany Classical School, where he studied classic literature and began taking part in student debates. He had also begun writing by this time—including poems, essays and short stories. He left Albany for a teaching job in Massachusetts, but soon found the work to be unfulfilling and left the position after only three months, returning to New York.
In 1837, Gansevoort's fur and cap business folded, putting Melville's family back into a dire financial situation. The family relocated to Lansingburgh soon after, and many of Melville's siblings took odd jobs; Melville enrolled at Lansingburgh Academy, where he studied surveying in hopes of gaining employment with the newly initiated Erie Canal project.
He never received that position, however, and in 1839, Gansevoort arranged for Melville to work as a crew member of a merchant ship called the St. Lawrence, which was scheduled to travel from New York City to Liverpool. Melville, always interested in sea travel, gladly accepted the position and his subsequent stint on the St. Lawrence—his first sea voyage—would prove valuable to his later literary work: Redburn: His First Voyage, written several years after the St. Lawrence voyage, is said to be largely based on Melville's life as a crew member of the vessel. Redburn, an embellished, romanticized version of Melville's real-life experiences—much like his other novels—was published in 1849.
In 1841, Melville embarked on his second sea voyage: He was hired to work aboard the Acushnet, a whaling ship. His subsequent journey would last nearly three years and spur the creation of his first novel, Typee.
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