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Herman Melville
1819 - 1891

Critics Include Moby Dick as One of America's Greatest Novels

Herman Melville, best known as the author of Moby Dick, is classed by literary critics as among the nation's half dozen greatest authors. ■ He was born August 1, 1819, in New York City. His father was in the importing business. His grandfather, Major Thomas Melvill (note spelling), a native of Scotland, took part in the Boston Tea Party. He also was active in other events leading up to the Revolution. ■ His father died when he was 13, so Herman withdrew from Albany Academy and became successively a clerk, farmhand and teacher. ■ He studied engineering and traveled west to Galena, Illinois. In 1841 he joined the crew of a whaling ship. He deserted and lived among the natives of the South Seas before enlisting in the U.S. Navy at Honolulu. ■ His travels gave him material for his writing, and his first books Typee and Omoo were well received. He wrote other novels culminating in his greatest work, Moby Dick, in 1851. ■ At his death in New York City on September 28, 1891, the beautiful short novel Billy Budd was found among his papers. It was not published until 1924. ■ Melville was relatively neglected in his day, but was rediscovered in 1919 when critics began to re-evaluate his importance as a major U.S. author. Moby Dick is prized for its detailed description of the whaling industry. It is also interpreted as a philosophical view of life. ■ Melville's rejection by the literary critics of his time is thought to be due to their dislike of his realistic reflections which were out of step with the romantic cult of the times. Neither did they seem to understand the allegorical implications found in many of his writings like Moby Dick.

Wayne Rethford, President Emeritus
Illinois Saint Andrew Society
Scottish-American History Club
2800 Des Plaines Avenue
North Riverside, IL 60546