August Babies – Herman Melville & Moby-Dick

by jeanineoloughlin

August did not have any compelling holidays to celebrate, so this month I’ll be posting about authors who were born in the month of August.


Herman Melville – 8/1/1819 – 9/28/1891

Herman Melville was born in New York City August 1, 1819 and is best known for his whaling novel Moby-Dick. Melville was well-educated and was said to have been a promising student, but when his father’s death when he was only 12 years old left the family in financial hardship many of was in and out of schools and jobs helping support his family as best he could while still pursuing education. From 1839 to 1844 Melville spent much of his time at sea on whaler or merchant vessels. In 1846 Melville saw his first book Typee published in London and was a great success. In August 1847 he married Elizabeth Shaw to whom he had four children with.

His most famous novel Moby-Dick was published in 1851 inspired by many of his own experiences while at sea. The book was not well received at the time of its initial publication in London and since much of the American market was influenced by its British cousins the sales at home did not fare well either. Some scholars believe that this was due in part that the British printing did not include the Epilogue which left the readers with a first person narrative in which the narrator did not survive to be giving the tale which they had just read. There is also speculation that the themes of whaling and maritime adventures were no longer of interest to the public at that time. The Gold Rush had shifted the imagination of the world to Western tales of romantic adventure.

The years following Moby-Dick’s publication saw several other publication failures for Melville. For financial reasons Melville started to lecture in 1857 and took up publishing poetry, which also did not sell well. In 1866 Melville took a position as a customs inspector for the City of New York which he held for the remaining 19 years of his life during which he earned the reputation for being the only honest employee in a notoriously corrupt institution. Melville died at his home in New York City on September 28, 1891 at the age of 72. His death certificate reads cause of death as “cardiac dilation.”