Greetings ATS! This will be the first of several installments leading up to a study of Moby Dick. I’m really excited to have you aboard!
First of all, I was amazed to discover that Melville wrote the epic Moby Dick at the young age of 31. Upon learning more about his life, I found that
the novel was the result of a singular upbringing and a confluence of events without which the book would never have been possible.
For brevity’s sake, I will concentrate on only the most important aspects of Herman’s life, but I would highly recommend the biography written by
Hershel Parker to anyone interested in all of the finer details. It is an excellent biography, and all of the following information was gathered from
it-- “Herman Melville: A Biography. Vol 1”.
Melville was the third of eight children born to Allan Melvill (name was later changed to Melville) and Maria Gansevoort Melvill in 1819. He was the
grandson of two American heroes-- his paternal grandfather, Major Thomas Melvill, was born in Boston in 1751 and educated at Princeton. He was an
intimate friend of Samuel Adams, and in 1773, after being present at a passionate meeting at the Old South Church at Marlbourough, forced his way
along with fellow Bostonians aboard the Indiamen and threw its contents into the Boston Harbor in a protest later known as the Boston Tea Party. He
was 22 at the time. Herman's maternal grandfather, Peter Gansevoort Sr, later known as The Hero of Fort Stanwix, undertook and successfully held the
defence of Fort Stanwix against an assault of British troops in 1777, which later proved to be one of the defining battles of the Revolutionary War.
The family had many powerful political and military connections, as well as royal European (Scottish, Hungarian and Danish) blood.
Despite the prestige of Major Melvill, Herman’s father Allan proved to be prodigal and unsuccessful at business. He shamelessly borrowed money from
both his own father and his wife’s estate, and while he provided Herman with a luxurious and comfortable first decade of life, was forced to flee
debtors in Manhattan and take refuge in Albany when Herman was 11 years old. Within a few years, Herman’s easy life had taken a turn for the worse.
Allan died, raving and feverish, when Herman was just 13 years old, leaving his widow and 8 children in poverty and debt. He had burned enough
bridges that, upon his death, both Major Melvill (Herman’s grandfather) and Peter Gansevort (Herman’s maternal uncle) had shut the family coffers
to the needy widow and her children. Herman and his remarkable brother Gansevoort (more on him later) were left with the burden of supporting their
mother and siblings.
Herman tried his hand at a number of jobs in order to provide for the family. Due to the misfortunate circumstances of his family life, he never
received proper schooling (although he had always been given access to excellent literature at home and through family/public libraries). Among the
jobs Melville had were clerk, farmer and teacher. Interestingly enough, he was so unremarkable (or unpopular) as a teacher that none of his former
students ever came forward with any anecdotes from this time, despite Melville later becoming a well-known author.
Next up: Herman goes to sea! Thanks for reading and I would love to hear from anyone who has questions or comments.
edit on 28-11-2016 by zosimov because: (no reason given)