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Herman Melville Bookmark Herman Melville (1819–1891)

“Whatever is truly wondrous and fearful in man never yet was put into words or books.”

In 1850, Herman Melville moved to a house in Berkshire County, Massachusetts, that was only six miles from the home of Nathaniel Hawthorne. They met on a picnic excursion that was disrupted by thunderstorm and quickly became friends.

Melville had already had some success with his two fictionalized travel books, Typee and Omoo. But when he told Hawthorne about a lighthearted whaling adventure novel he was working on, Hawthorne encouraged him to make it an allegory about Melville’s perceptions of the nature of the divine. The result was Moby Dick, one of the greatest American novels ever written.

But at the time, only Hawthorne seemed to appreciate its greatness. It sold only 3,000 copies in Melville’s lifetime. He continued to write, but none of his subsequent books sold as well as his early work, and in 1857, Melville gave up fiction writing. He took a job as a customs inspector, which provided him with a comfortable living, and for the next twenty years wrote only poetry. By the time he died in 1891, Melville’s work was out of print. It wasn’t until the 1920s, when his work was rediscovered, that Melville began to be regarded as one of the nation’s greatest writers.
Herman Melville