The American author Herman Melville. He was born August 1, 1819 in New York, the son of Allan Melville, a ne’ er-do-well importer of the most fashionable clothes and expensive materials. When in 1812 war broke out between Britain and the United States, the business failed. In 1832 Herman Melville’s father died, his mind unbalanced by the misfortunes of his business affairs.
Young Herman was then attending as academy in albany. Two years later, at the age of fifteen, he commenced work in a bank , his uncle being the President. This job did not last long and Herman Melville then worked for his mother and his elder brother Gansevoort in a store which they owned. Once again, however, he was soon on his way, but this time to be a farmhand on another uncle’s farm.
The spirit of adventure ran very strongly in Herman’s veins and he was eighteen years of age when he signed on as an ordinary seaman on board the freighter Highlander, then bound for the English port of Liverpool. It was a life of terrible hardship and when the ship returned to New York, Herman made off and found employment as a school teacher. During his school teaching days, he tried his hand at writing but met with no success. Again, adventure lured him to sea and once more, as an ordinary seaman, he was a member of a ship’s crew when it set sail for the south Pacific, hunting for whales.
He was now twenty two and there followed two years of harsh treatment at the hands of ruthless officers. He deserted his first ship, then joined another whaler and look part in a mutiny. Arrested later, he and other mutineers were imprisoned. Luck was with him for he escaped and after working for a time in a store in Honolulu, he joined the US Navy as an ordinary seaman. On board the frigate United States he then returned home.
Then began his successful career as an author and for nearly twenty years he also occupied a post in the custom house in New York. He died there on September 27, 1891. He wrote several novels of which Moby Dick is considered his masterpiece. Moby Dick is a monstrous white whale, hunted with a ferocious obsession by the half crazy Captain Ahab who has lost his right leg in a previous encounter with the great whale. After many adventures, Ahab finally catches up with Moby Dick. In the terrible battle that follows, Ahab’s ship is sunk and only one seaman survives to tell the tale.
Other famous books by Melville are Typee, Omoo, and White Jacket. Typee is a fictional version of the young Herman Melville’s exciting adventures at sea and is of special interest because it was the first book written about the South Seas.