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The Life and Works of Herman Melville

            Herman Melville was born August, 1, 1819, in New York City. He was the third child of Allan and Maria Gansevoort Melville. His ancestors included several Scottish and Dutch settlers of New York, as well as a number of prominent leaders in the American Revolution. His paternal grandfather, Major Thomas Melville, was a participant in the Boston Tea Party, and his maternal grandfather, General Peter Gansevoort, was renowned for leading the defense of Ft. Stanwix against the British during the revolution.
             Melville's father was involved in the felt and fur import business, until1830 when his business collapsed. From there, the Melville family moved from New York City to Albany, where Allan Melville died two years later. As a child, Herman suffered from extremely poor eyesight caused by a bout of scarlet fever, but he was able to attend Male High School despite his difficulties. Herman Melville worked as a bank clerk before attending the Albany Classical School, and then worked for a short time as a teacher in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.
             Although he studied surveying at Landingsburgh Academy (with the hopes of taking part in the Erie Canal Project), Melville did not gain a post with the project and instead shipped out of America as a cabin boy on the St. Lawrence, bound for Liverpool. By this time, Melville had already started writing. In January of 1841 Melville undertook a second voyage on the whaler Acushnet from New Bedford to the South Seas. By June of the following year the Acushnet landed in the Polynesian Islands, and Melville's adventures in this area became the basis for his first novel, "Typee" (1846). This novel is the reputed story of his life among the cannibalistic Typee people for several months in 1842, but is likely a highly fictionalized dramatization of the actual events. Melville's second novel, "Omoo," (1847) details the adventures of another whaling journey in which Melville took part in a mutiny and landed in a Tahitian jail, from which he later easily escaped.

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