In , while still working in the store, Melville enrolled in Albany Classical School, perhaps using Maria's part of the proceeds from the sale of the estate of his maternal grandmother in March He also participated in debating societies, in an apparent effort to make up as much as he could for his missed years of schooling. In this period he read Shakespeare—at least Macbeth , whose witch scenes gave him the chance to teasingly scare his sisters. Gansevoort served as a role model and support for Melville in many ways throughout his life, at this time particularly in forming a self-directed educational plan.
Among the sample entries was "Pequot, beautiful description of the war with," with a short title reference to the place in Benjamin Trumbull's A Complete History of Connecticut Volume I in , and Volume II in where the description could be found. The two surviving volumes of Gansevoort's are the best evidence for Melville's reading in this period.
The Panic of forced Gansevoort to file for bankruptcy in April. In June, Maria told the younger children they must leave Albany for somewhere cheaper. He taught about 30 students of various ages, including some his own age. The semester over, he returned to his mother in In the Albany Microscope in March, Melville published two polemical letters about issues in vogue in the debating societies. Historians Leon Howard and Hershel Parker suggest the motive behind the letters was a youthful desire to have his rhetorical skills publicly recognized.
In an April letter recommending Herman for a job in the Engineer Department of the Erie Canal , Peter Gansevoort says his nephew "possesses the ambition to make himself useful in a business which he desires to make his profession," but no job resulted. Just weeks after this failure, Melville's first known published essay appeared.
Using the initials "L. On May 31, , Gansevoort, then living in New York City, wrote that he was sure Herman could get a job on a whaler or merchant vessel. Melville resumed teaching, now at Greenbush, New York , but left after one term because he had not been paid.
In the summer of he and his friend James Murdock Fly went to Galena, Illinois to see if his Uncle Thomas could help them find work. Unsuccessful, he and his friend returned home in autumn, very likely by way of St. Louis and up the Ohio River. Probably inspired by his reading of Richard Henry Dana, Jr.
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Reynolds 's account in the May issue of The Knickerbocker magazine of the hunt for a great white sperm whale named Mocha Dick , Melville and Gansevoort traveled to New Bedford , where Melville signed up for a whaling voyage aboard a new ship, the Acushnet. She measured slightly less than tons, had two decks and three masts , but no galleries. On Sunday the 27th the brothers heard the Reverend Enoch Mudge preach at the Seamen's Bethel on Johnny-Cake Hill, where white marble cenotaphs on the walls memorialized local sailors who had died at sea, often in battle with whales.
On January 3, , the Acushnet set sail. Cutting in and trying-out boiling a single whale took about three days, and a whale yielded approximately one barrel of oil per foot of length and per ton of weight the average whale weighed 40 to 60 tons. The oil was kept on deck for a day to cool off, and was then stowed down; scrubbing the deck completed the labor. An average voyage meant that some forty whales were killed to yield some barrels of oil.
On April 15, the Acushnet sailed around Cape Horn , and traveled to the South Pacific, where the crew sighted whales without catching any. On June 23 the ship anchored for the first time since Rio, in Santa Harbor. On September 25 the ship reported barrels of oil to another whaler, and in October barrels. This short visit would be the basis for The Encantadas.
From November 19 to 25 the ship anchored at Chatham's Isle,  and on December 2 reached the coast of Peru and anchored at Tombez near Paita , with barrels of oil on board. From February 13 to 7 May, seven sightings of sperm whales were recorded but none killed. On June 16 she carried barrels, and sent home on the Herald the Second.
A time of some emotional turbulence for Melville ensued over the next summer months. On July 9, , Melville and his shipmate Richard Tobias Greene jumped ship at Nukahiva Bay and ventured into the mountains to avoid capture. Scholarly research starting in the s and extending into the twenty-first century has increasingly shown that much if not all of this account was either taken from Melville's readings or exaggerated to dramatize a contrast between idyllic native culture and Western civilization.
Troy escaped Tahiti for Eimeo. Upon his return, Melville regaled his family and friends with his adventurous tales and romantic experiences, and they urged him to put them into writing. Melville completed Typee , his first book, in the summer of while living in Troy. Melville extended the period his narrator spent on the island by three months, made it appear he understood the native language, and incorporated material from source books he had assembled.
An unsigned review in the Salem Advertiser written by Nathaniel Hawthorne called the book a "skilfully managed" narrative by an author with "that freedom of view Hawthorne stated:. This book is lightly but vigorously written; and we are acquainted with no work that gives a freer and more effective picture of barbarian life, in that unadulterated state of which there are now so few specimens remaining.
The gentleness of disposition that seems akin to the delicious climate, is shown in contrast with the traits of savage fierceness He has that freedom of view—it would be too harsh to call it laxity of principle—which renders him tolerant of codes of morals that may be little in accordance with our own, a spirit proper enough to a young and adventurous sailor, and which makes his book the more wholesome to our staid landsmen. The depictions of the "native girls are voluptuously colored, yet not more so than the exigencies of the subject appear to require".
Whether Hawthorne has simply availed himself of this mystical blackness as a means to the wondrous effects he makes it to produce in his lights and shades; or whether there really lurks in him, perhaps unknown to himself, a touch of Puritanic gloom—this, I cannot altogether tell. Certain it is, however, that this power of blackness in him derives its force from its appeals to that Calvinistic sense of Innate Depravity and Original Sin, from whose visitations, in some shape or another, no deeply thinking mind is always and wholly freed.
Pleased but slightly bemused by the adulation of his new public, years later Melville expressed concern that he would "go down to posterity The two corresponded until , and sustained a bond for life: in his final years Melville "traced and successfully located his old friend". As the writer and editor Nathaniel Parker Willis wrote, "With his cigar and his Spanish eyes, he talks Typee and Omoo, just as you find the flow of his delightful mind on paper".
In June , Melville and Elizabeth Knapp Shaw were engaged, after knowing each other for approximately three months. Melville had first asked her father, Lemuel Shaw , for her hand in March, but was turned down at the time. According to scholars Joyce Deveau Kennedy and Frederick James Kennedy, Lizzie brought the following qualities to their marriage: a sense of religious obligation in marriage, an intent to make a home with Melville regardless of place, a willingness to please her husband by performing such "tasks of drudgery" as mending stockings, an ability to hide her agitation, and a desire "to shield Melville from unpleasantness".
Biographer Robertson-Lorant's cites "Lizzie's adventurous spirit and abundant energy," and she suggests that "her pluck and good humor might have been what attracted Melville to her, and vice versa". The illusion is quite dispelled however when Herman stalks into my room without even the ceremony of knocking, bringing me perhaps a button to sew on, or some equally romantic occupation".
In June, he described the book to his English publisher as "a romance of adventure, founded upon certain wild legends in the Southern Sperm Whale Fisheries," and promised it would be done by the fall. The original manuscript has not survived, but over the next several months Melville radically transformed his initial plan, conceiving what Delbanco has described as "the most ambitious book ever conceived by an American writer".
Nathaniel Hawthorne and his publisher James T.
Fields joined the group while Hawthorne's wife stayed at home to look after the children. Melville wrote that these stories revealed a dark side to Hawthorne, "shrouded in blackness, ten times black". He thought Melville in Redburn and White-Jacket put the reality "more unflinchingly" before his reader than any writer, and he thought Mardi was "a rich book, with depths here and there that compel a man to swim for his life.
It is so good that one scarcely pardons the writer for not having brooded long over it, so as to make it a great deal better". In September , Melville borrowed three thousand dollars from his father-in-law Lemuel Shaw to buy a acre farm in Pittsfield. Melville called his new home Arrowhead because of the arrowheads that were dug up around the property during planting season. According to Robertson-Lorant, "The handsome Hawthorne made quite an impression on the Melville women, especially Augusta, who was a great fan of his books".
They spent the day mostly "smoking and talking metaphysics". In Robertson-Lorant's assessment of the friendship, Melville was "infatuated with Hawthorne's intellect, captivated by his artistry, and charmed by his elusive personality," and though the two writers were "drawn together in an undeniable sympathy of soul and intellect, the friendship meant something different to each of them," with Hawthorne offering Melville "the kind of intellectual stimulation he needed".
They may have been "natural allies and friends," yet they were also "fifteen years apart in age and temperamentally quite different" and Hawthorne "found Melville's manic intensity exhausting at times". Melville dedicated the work to Hawthorne: "In token of my admiration for his genius, this book is inscribed to Nathaniel Hawthorne".
In between these dates, on October 22, , the Melvilles' second child, Stanwix, was born. It gives me an idea of much greater power than his preceding ones. This was the last known contact between the two writers before Melville visited Hawthorne in Liverpool four years later. Melville had high hopes that his next book would please the public and restore his finances. In April he told his British publisher, Richard Bentley , that his new book had "unquestionable novelty" and was calculated to have wide appeal with elements of romance and mystery.
It was not well received.
The item, offered as a news story, reported,. A critical friend, who read Melville's last book, Ambiguities , between two steamboat accidents, told us that it appeared to be composed of the ravings and reveries of a madman. We were somewhat startled at the remark, but still more at learning, a few days after, that Melville was really supposed to be deranged, and that his friends were taking measures to place him under treatment. We hope one of the earliest precautions will be to keep him stringently secluded from pen and ink. On May 22, , Melville's third child and first daughter Elizabeth Bessie was born, and on or about that day Herman finished work on the Agatha story, Isle of the Cross.
After the commercial and critical failure of Pierre , Melville had difficulty finding a publisher for his follow-up novel, Israel Potter. Instead, this narrative of a Revolutionary War veteran was serialized in Putnam's Monthly Magazine in From November to , Melville published fourteen tales and sketches in Putnam's and Harper' s magazines. It also contained five previously published stories, including " Bartleby, the Scrivener " and " Benito Cereno ".
The writing of The Confidence-Man put great strain on Melville, leading Sam Shaw, a nephew of Lizzie, to write to his uncle Lemuel Shaw, "Herman I hope has had no more of those ugly attacks"—a reference to what Robertson-Lorant calls "the bouts of rheumatism and sciatica that plagued Melville".
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While in England, in November he spent three days with Hawthorne, who had taken an embassy position there. At the seaside village of Southport , amid the sand dunes where they had stopped to smoke cigars, they had a conversation which Hawthorne later described in his journal:. Melville, as he always does, began to reason of Providence and futurity, and of everything that lies beyond human ken, and informed me that he "pretty much made up his mind to be annihilated"; but still he does not seem to rest in that anticipation; and, I think, will never rest until he gets hold of a definite belief.
It is strange how he persists—and has persisted ever since I knew him, and probably long before—in wandering to-and-fro over these deserts, as dismal and monotonous as the sand hills amid which we were sitting. He 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 immortality than most of us.
Melville's subsequent visit to the Holy Land inspired his epic poem Clarel. This novel, subtitled His Masquerade , has won general acclaim in modern times as a complex and mysterious exploration of issues of fraud and honesty, identity and masquerade. But, when it was published, it received reviews ranging from the bewildered to the denunciatory.
To repair his faltering finances, Melville was advised by friends to enter what had proven to be, at least for others, a remunerative field: public lecturing.