“It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation.”
— Herman Melville,
novelist, short story writer, & poet
Herman Melville (born Melvill;[a] August 1, 1819 – September 28, 1891) was an American novelist, short story writer and poet of the American Renaissance period. Among his best-known works are Moby-Dick (1851), Typee (1846), a romanticized account of his experiences in Polynesia, and Billy Budd, Sailor, a posthumously published novella. Although his reputation was not high at the time of his death, the centennial of his birth in 1919 was the starting point of a Melville revival and Moby-Dick grew to be considered one of the great American novels.
Melville was born in New York City, the third child of a prosperous merchant whose death in 1832 left the family in financial straits. He took to sea in 1839 as a common sailor on a merchant ship and then on the whaler Acushnet but he jumped ship in the Marquesas Islands. Typee, his first book, and its sequel, Omoo (1847) were travel-adventures based on his encounters with the peoples of the island. Their success gave him the financial security to marry Elizabeth Shaw, the daughter of a prominent Boston family. Mardi (1849), a romance-adventure and his first book not based on his own experience, was not well received. Redburn (1849) and White Jacket (1850), both tales based on his experience as a well-born young man at sea, were given respectable reviews but did not sell well enough to support his expanding family.