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Passions in PoetryHerman Melville
1819 - 1891

Melville was the third of eight children born to Allan and Maria Gansevoort Melville, fairly wealthy middle-class descendants of Scottish and Dutch settlers. He attended Albany Classical School in 1835 and Lansinburgh Academy in 1837 but was mainly self-taught. His early life was spend in almost ceaseless travel. His family moved from New York City to Albany and to Lansinburgh. Following his first naval voyage in 1839 to Liverpool, Melville sailed for years as a whaler and in the US Navy. He visited the islands of the South Sea, Tahiti and Hawaii and was also later to spend time in Europe and Morocco. In 1847 he married Elizabeth Shaw, with whom he had four children including two sons who died prematurely.

Melville was much influenced by Shakespeare and the Bible, as well as by Nathaniel Hawthorne with whom he had a close friendship until 1856 when they drifted apart. Many of his works have disguised autobiographical themes. All his six first novels share the themes of sea travel although the realistic travels described in Omoo and Typee differ greatly from the allegorical and spiritual journey of, for example, Moby Dick. Melville's early work was well-received, but after the publication of Moby Dick his popularity diminished. His disappointment was such that after the failure of his darkly comic novel The Confidence Man, he moved to New York City in 1863 and worked for many years in a customs house in the city's harbour. Melville is now considered not only a great writer with many original talents, but also a shrewd social critic and philosopher.

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