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About meLike his creation Bartleby, Herman Melville's biography is spotty at best to assemble. He took to the seas as a young man (the experiences of which informed his writing, in particular the early novels). A "whale-ship was [his] Yale College and [his] Harvard." As he grew older, perhaps not in small part because of economic hardship and the loss of both of his sons, Melville became increasingly recluse and brooding.
According to Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville was "a person of very gentlemanly instincts in every respect, save that he is a little heterodox in the matter of clean linen." Going beyond his dusty appearance, Hawthorne says that Melville "can neither believe, nor be comfortable in his unbelief; and he is too honest and courageous not to try to do one or the other. If he were a religious man, he would be one of the most truly religious and reverential; he has a very high and noble nature, and better worth of immortality than most of us." In one of the finest poems written by an American, Hart Crane eulogizes one of America's finest authors in these words:
At Melville's Tomb
Often beneath the wave, wide from this ledge
The dice of drowned men's bones he saw bequeath
An embassy. Their numbers as he watched,
Beat on the dusty shore and were obscured.
And wrecks passed without sound of bells,
The calyx of death's bounty giving back
A scattered chapter, livid hieroglyph,
The portent wound in corridors of shells.
Then in the circuit calm of one vast coil,
Its lashings charmed and malice reconciled,
Frosted eyes there were that lifted altars;
And silent answers crept across the stars.
Compass, quadrant and sextant contrive
No farther tides . . . High in the azure steeps
Monody shall not wake the mariner.
This fabulous shadow only the sea keeps.
About my libraryAbbreviations guide:
BeA = Berkshire Athenaeum, Pittsfield, Mass.
BoA = Library of the Boston Athenaeum.
GMJ = Gansevoort Melville's Journal
HCL = Harvard College Library (additional abbreviations indicate various statements or journals in the collection)
NYPL = New York Public Library (additional abbreviations indicate specific special collections)
NYSL = New York Society Library
PUL = Princeton University Library
UVL = University of Virginia Library (B is Barrett Collection; S is Stone Collection)
YUL = Yale University Library
(supplied by a sub-sub librarian)
Herman Melville's library has been graciously catalogued by Merton M. Sealts, Jr. in his work Melville's Reading. In addition to the Revised and Enlarged edition published in 1988, a cumulative supplement was published in Leviathan in March of 2004. Only 285 books have survived from Melville's library, although it has been argued that his collection included around 1,000 books.
GroupsLegacy Libraries, Moby Dick, Other People's Libraries
Favorite authorsNathaniel Hawthorne (Shared favorites)
Real nameHerman Melville
LocationThis fabulous shadow only the sea keeps
Account typepublic, lifetime
Member sinceAug 5, 2008