Author: Herman Melville

Joseph O. Eaton, portrait of Herman Melville, c. 1891

Although Herman Melville (1819–91) is now considered one of America’s greatest writers, he had a very mixed career during his own lifetime. Some of his early sea stories and sea adventures were esteemed by the public, but his epic (and to him, most significant) novel, Moby-Dick (1851), received bad reviews. Indeed, after it appeared, Melville became something of a pariah in the literary world. Turning to poetry, he encountered similar neglect. In the last quarter-century of his life, he wrote little and published less. (Billy Budd, today regarded as one of his finest works, was published posthumously.) Friends feared for his sanity. His wife’s family tried not only to get her to leave him but also to have him committed as insane. He wound up working for nineteen years as a customs inspector in New York, and when he died, he seemed destined for obscurity. 

Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall-Street

Herman Melville

In this story, a nameless, middling lawyer—perhaps an American everyman—struggles to do right by Bartleby, an “incurably forlorn” man in his employ, who “prefers not” to make any effort on his own behalf or to accept the kind of help that is offered. Melville makes deft use of images of walls—the brick walls of Wall Street and the Tombs (the city jail), the partitions and doors in the office—to call attention to the imprisonment of the spirit and the barriers separating one soul from another.

Memorials: On the Slain at Chickamauga

Herman Melville

Herman Melville (1819–91), American writer par excellence, wrote this poem to commemorate those killed at a Civil War battle that took place along Chickamauga Creek in Georgia on September 19–20, 1863. The Confederate Army, under General Braxton Bragg (1817–76) defeated the Union Army, under General William Starke Rosecrans (1819–98). The casualties and losses of those two days of fighting—over 34,000—were higher than any battle of the war, save Gettysburg.

Shiloh: A Requiem

Herman Melville

This haunting poem from 1866 by Herman Melville (1819–91), one of America’s greatest novelists and author of Moby-Dick (1851), is taken from his Battle-Pieces and Aspects of the War. This collection of poetry, inspired by the Civil War, deserves to be much better known.