Herman Melville was born in New York City on 1st August 1819.
At the age of 7 Melville contracted scarlet fever which permanently diminished his eyesight. Add this to a contemporary description of being "very backwards in speech and somewhat slow in comprehension" and his opportunities for success seemed limited.
His father died when he was 12 leaving the family in very straitened times. 2 years later Melville took a job in a bank and followed up with a failed stint as a surveyor. He went to sea and travelled across to Liverpool and then to the Pacific on adventures which included a mutiny, being jailed and falling in love with a South Pacific beauty. He was also a figure of opposition to the coercion of native Hawaiians to the Christian religion. These experiences helped provide the novels ‘Typee’, ‘Omoo’, and ‘White-Jacket’.
By 1851 his ambitious masterpiece, ‘Moby Dick’, was ready to be published. It never sold out its initial print run of 3,000 and Melville’s earnings on his masterpiece was a mere $556.37.
In succeeding years his reputation waned, life was increasingly difficult. His family was growing and a stable income was essential. Melville took the advice of friends to try public lecturing, as others had, to increase his revenues. He embarked on three successful lecture tours, speaking on Roman statuary and sightseeing in Rome.
In 1876 he was at last able to publish privately his 16,000 line epic poem ‘Clarel’. It was to no avail. The book had an initial printing of 350 copies, but sales failed miserably.
It was only in late 1885 that Melville was at last able to retire after his wife inherited several legacies, enough to provide them with a reasonable income.
Herman Melville, novelist, poet, short story writer and essayist, died at his home on 28th September 1891 from cardiovascular disease.