Herman Melville (born Melvill; 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 is his magnum opus, Moby-Dick (1851), and Typee (1846), a romantic account of his experiences of Polynesian life.
Melville was born in New York City, the third child of a merchant. Typee, his first book, was followed by a sequel, Omoo (1847). Both were successful and they gave him the financial basis to marry Elizabeth “Lizzie” Shaw, a daughter of a prominent Boston family. His first novel not based on his own experiences, Mardi (1849), was not well received. His next fictional work, Redburn (1849), and his non-fiction White-Jacket (1850) were given better reviews but did not provide financial security.
Moby-Dick (1851), although now considered one of the great American novels, was initially not well received by contemporary critics. His psychological novel, Pierre: or, The Ambiguities (1852) was also scorned by reviewers. From 1853 to 1856, Melville published short fiction in magazines which were collected in 1856 as The Piazza Tales. In 1857, he traveled to England and then toured the Near East, and that same year published his last work of prose, The Confidence-Man (1857). He moved to New York in 1863 to take a position as Customs Inspector and turned to poetry. Battle-Pieces and Aspects of the War (1866) was his poetic reflection on the moral questions of the American Civil War. In an emotionally jarring incident for Melville in 1867, his eldest child Malcolm died at home from a self-inflicted gunshot.
Within ten years of his son’s death, Melville’s metaphysical epic Clarel: A Poem and Pilgrimage in the Holy Land was published in 1876. In 1886, his other son Stanwix died of apparent tuberculosis, and Melville retired. During his last years, he privately published two volumes of poetry, left one volume unpublished, and returned to prose of the sea. The novella Billy Budd was left unfinished at his death but was published posthumously in 1924. Melville died from cardiovascular disease in 1891. The centennial of his birth in 1919 became the starting point of the Melville revival, with critics rediscovering his work and his major novels starting to become recognized as world classics of prominent importance to contemporary world literature.