Etching of Joseph O. Eaton's portrait of Herman Melville Published c. 1944, painting created before 1891
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Herman Melville, American author, was born in New York City on the 1st of August 1819. He shipped as a cabin-boy at the age of eighteen, thus being enabled to make his first visit to England, and at twenty-two sailed for a long whaling cruise in the Pacific. After a year and a half he deserted his ship at the Marquesas Islands, on account of the cruelty of the captain; was captured by cannibals on the island of Nukahiva, and detained, without hardship, four months; was rescued by the crew of an Australian vessel, which he joined, and two years later reached New York. Thereafter, with the exception of a passenger voyage around the world in 1860, Melville remained in the United States, devoting himself to literature -- though for a considerable period (1866-1885) he held a post in the New York custom-house -- and being perhaps Hawthorne's most intimate friend among the literary men of America. His writings were numerous, but judged of varying merit by his contemporaries; his verse, patriotic and other was forgotten; and his works of fiction and of travel were deemed of irregular execution. Nevertheless, few authors have been enabled so freely to introduce romantic personal experiences into their books. He portrayed seafaring life and character with vigour and originality, and from a personal knowledge equal to that of Cooper, Marryat or Clark Russell. But these records of adventure were followed by other tales that his contemporaries found so turgid, eccentric, opinionative, and loosely written as to seem the work of another author. He died a failed author in New York on the 28th of September 1891. The 20th century's collective reassessment of his work is much more favorable, and he is now classed among the greatest American writers.
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