Herman Melville's Biography

About this sample

About this sample


2 pages /

1113 words

Downloads: 44

2 pages /

1113 words

Downloads: 44

downloadDownload printPrint

Table of contents

  1. Synopsis
  2. Early Life
  3. Sea Voyages and Early Writing Success
  4. 'Moby-Dick' and Other Works

Celebrated American author Herman Melville wrote 'Moby-Dick' and several other sea-adventure novels, before turning to poetry later in his literary career.

'Why Violent Video Games Shouldn't Be Banned'?


Herman Melville was born in New York City in 1819. He worked as a crew member on several vessels beginning in 1839, his experiences spawning his successful early novels Typee (1846) and Omoo (1847). Subsequent books, including his masterpiece Moby-Dick (1851), sold poorly, and by the 1860s Melville had turned to poetry. Following his death in New York City in 1891, he posthumously came to be regarded as one of the great American writers.

Early Life

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 the mid-1820s, young Herman fell ill to scarlet fever, and though he regained his health not long afterward, his vision was left permanently impaired by the illness. The family had enjoyed a prosperous life for many years due to Allan Melvill's success as a high-end importer and merchant. However, he was also borrowing heavily to finance his business interests, and after he moved the family upstate to Albany in a failed attempt to branch into the fur trade in 1830, the family's fortune took a big hit. When Allan died suddenly 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, while Herman Melville clerked at a bank to help make ends meet. During the 1830s, he was enrolled at Albany Academy and Albany Classical School, where he studied classical literature and began writing poems, essays and short stories. He left Albany in 1837 for a teaching job in Massachusetts, but found the work to be unfulfilling and soon returned to New York. That year, Gansevoort's fur and cap business folded, putting the Melville's back into a dire financial situation. The family relocated to Lansingburgh, New York, and Herman enrolled at Lansingburgh Academy to study surveying, hopeful of gaining employment with the newly initiated Erie Canal project.

Sea Voyages and Early Writing Success

Unable to gain a coveted job, Melville instead followed Gansevoort's suggestion to work as a crew member on a boat. In 1839, he signed on as a cabin boy for a merchant ship called the St. Lawrence, which traveled from New York City to Liverpool, England, and back. In 1841, Melville embarked on his second sea voyage after being hired to work aboard the Acushnet, a whaling ship. His subsequent wild journey provided the sparks for his yet-to-be-realized literary career: After arriving at the Marquesas Islands of Polynesia in 1842, Melville and a crewmate deserted the ship and, soon after, were captured by local cannibals. Although Melville was treated well, he escaped after four months on board another whaling ship, the Lucy Ann, and was jailed after joining the crew in a mutiny. He eventually wound up in Hawaii before catching a ride back to Massachusetts on the USS United States, arriving home more than three years after he left. Melville immediately set about putting pen to paper to capture his experiences.

Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life (1846), a combination of his personal tales and imagined events, drew attention for its detailed descriptions of seafaring life and a seemingly too-wild-to-believe plot. The author followed in 1847 with an equally successful sequel.

Omoo: A Narrative of Adventures in the South Seas. His career on the ascent, Melville in 1847 married Elizabeth Shaw, daughter of the chief justice of Massachusetts. They would go on to have four children.

'Moby-Dick' and Other Works

Melville continued with the sea-adventure theme for Mardi: and a Voyage Thither (1849), Redburn: His First Voyage (1849) and White-Jacket; or, The World in a Man-of-War (1850). The author in 1851 delivered what would become his signature work, Moby-Dick(initially titled The Whale). Moby-Dick, categorized as American Romanticism, is based on both Melville's years of experience aboard whaleships and the real-life disaster of the Essex whaleship. Traveling from Nantucket, Massachusetts, to South America, the Essex met its doom in the Pacific Ocean in November 1820, when a sperm whale attacked and destroyed the ship. The crew, adrift in their small whaleboats, faced storms, thirst, illness, and starvation, and were even reduced to cannibalism for survival. However, succeeding in one of the great open-boat journeys of all time, the few survivors were picked up off South America. Their story, spread widely in America in the 19th century, provided inspiration for Melville's tale of a ship captain seeking revenge on an elusive whale. While Moby-Dick eventually achieved immense critical acclaim, Melville didn't live to witness that success. In fact, the book didn't bring him any wealth or respect during his lifetime. Early critics were unimpressed by the novel; an 1851 article in the Illustrated London News called it "Herman Melville's last and best and most wildly imaginative story," and a testament to his "reckless imaginative power." The article went on to note Melville's "great aptitude for quaint and original philosophical speculation, degenerating, however, too often into Rhapsody and purposeless extravagance.

"Moby-Dick sold poorly, as did subsequent novels like Pierre; or, The Ambiguities(1852) and Israel Potter: His Fifty Years of Exile (1855). Following the release of The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade in 1857, Melville all but gave up on writing novels. Later Years, Death and LegacyMelville delivered a series of lectures throughout the late 1850s, and the following decade he began a 20-year career as a customs inspector in New York City. He also turned his creative interests to poetry during this period, publishing a collection called Battle-Pieces and Aspects of the War in 1866. In 1876, he published the epic Clarel: A Poem and Pilgrimage in the Holy Land, based on a previous trip to the region.

Get a custom paper now from our expert writers.

Melville had finally begun work on another novel when he died of a heart attack in New York City on September 28, 1891. His early fame had vanished by then, but many of his books were eventually reprinted, and his name began slowly gaining traction in the literary world. By the early 1920s, Melville had become a well-known figure among readers and critics alike; his last novel also saw the light of day, published in 1924 as Billy Budd, Sailor. Today, Herman Melville is regarded as one of America's greatest writers, his masterpiece Moby-Dick adapted for the big screen in 1956 and enduring as a staple of school reading lists. Interest in Melville and his works spiked again in 2015 with the release of the Ron Howard-directed In the Heart of the Sea, about the ill-fated voyage of the Essex.

Image of Dr. Charlotte Jacobson
This essay was reviewed by
Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

Cite this Essay

Herman Melville’s Biography. (2018, October 22). GradesFixer. Retrieved September 28, 2023, from
“Herman Melville’s Biography.” GradesFixer, 22 Oct. 2018,
Herman Melville’s Biography. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 28 Sept. 2023].
Herman Melville’s Biography [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2018 Oct 22 [cited 2023 Sept 28]. Available from:
Keep in mind: This sample was shared by another student.
  • 450+ experts on 30 subjects ready to help
  • Custom essay delivered in as few as 3 hours
Write my essay

Still can’t find what you need?

Browse our vast selection of original essay samples, each expertly formatted and styled


Where do you want us to send this sample?

    By clicking “Continue”, you agree to our terms of service and privacy policy.


    Be careful. This essay is not unique

    This essay was donated by a student and is likely to have been used and submitted before

    Download this Sample

    Free samples may contain mistakes and not unique parts


    Sorry, we could not paraphrase this essay. Our professional writers can rewrite it and get you a unique paper.



    Please check your inbox.

    We can write you a custom essay that will follow your exact instructions and meet the deadlines. Let's fix your grades together!


    Get Your
    Personalized Essay in 3 Hours or Less!


    We can help you get a better grade and deliver your task on time!

    • Instructions Followed To The Letter
    • Deadlines Met At Every Stage
    • Unique And Plagiarism Free
    Order your paper now