Herman Melville quotes

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Herman Melville

Birthdate: 1. August 1818
Date of death: 28. September 1891

Herman Melville was an American novelist, short story writer, and poet of the American Renaissance period. His best known works include Typee , a romantic account of his experiences in Polynesian life, and his whaling novel Moby-Dick . His work was almost forgotten during his last 30 years. His writing draws on his experience at sea as a common sailor, exploration of literature and philosophy, and engagement in the contradictions of American society in a period of rapid change. He developed a complex, baroque style; the vocabulary is rich and original, a strong sense of rhythm infuses the elaborate sentences, the imagery is often mystical or ironic, and the abundance of allusion extends to biblical scripture, myth, philosophy, literature, and the visual arts.

Melville was born in New York City, the third child of a merchant in French dry goods. His formal education ended abruptly after his father died in 1832, leaving the family in financial straits. He briefly became a schoolteacher before he took to sea in 1839 as a sailor on a merchant ship. In 1840, he signed aboard the whaler Acushnet for his first whaling voyage but jumped ship in the Marquesas Islands. He returned to Boston in 1844 after further adventures.

His first book was Typee , a highly romanticized account of his life among Polynesians. It became such a best-seller that he wrote the sequel Omoo . These successes encouraged him to marry Elizabeth Shaw, daughter of a prominent Boston family, but the success proved hard to sustain. His first novel that was not based on his own experiences was Mardi , a sea narrative that develops into a philosophical allegory—but it was not well received. He received warmer reviews for Redburn , a story of life on a merchant ship, and his 1850 description of the harsh life aboard a man-of-war in White-Jacket, but they did not provide financial security.

In August 1850, Melville moved his growing family to Arrowhead, a farm near Pittsfield, Massachusetts where he established a profound but short-lived friendship with Nathaniel Hawthorne, to whom he dedicated Moby-Dick. This novel was another commercial failure, published to mixed reviews. Melville's career as a popular author effectively ended with the cool reception of Pierre , in part a satirical portrait of the literary culture at the time. His Revolutionary War novel Israel Potter appeared in 1855. From 1853 to 1856, Melville published short fiction in magazines, most notably "Bartleby, the Scrivener" , "The Encantadas" , and "Benito Cereno" . These and three other stories were collected in 1856 as The Piazza Tales. In 1857, he traveled to England where he reunited with Hawthorne for the first time since 1852, and then went on to tour the Near East. The Confidence-Man was the last prose work that he published. He moved to New York to take a position as Customs Inspector and turned to poetry. Battle-Pieces and Aspects of the War was his poetic reflection on the moral questions of the American Civil War.

In 1867, his oldest child Malcolm died at home from a self-inflicted gunshot. Clarel: A Poem and Pilgrimage in the Holy Land was published in 1876, a metaphysical epic. In 1886, his son Stanwix died 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 in 1924.

Melville's death from cardiovascular disease in 1891 subdued a reviving interest in his work. The 1919 centennial of his birth became the starting point of the "Melville Revival." Critics discovered his work, scholars explored his life, his major novels and stories have come to be considered world classics, and his poetry has gradually gained respect.

Works

White-Jacket
White-Jacket
Herman Melville
Billy Budd, Sailor
Billy Budd, Sailor
Herman Melville
Moby-Dick
Moby-Dick
Herman Melville
The Encantadas
The Encantadas
Herman Melville
Benito Cereno
Benito Cereno
Herman Melville

Quotes Herman Melville

„We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men; and along these fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects.“

—  Herman Melville

Though this statement and a few other variants of it have been widely attributed to Herman Melville, it is actually a paraphrase of one found in a sermon of Henry Melvill, "Partaking in Other Men's Sins", St. Margaret's Church, Lothbury, England (12 June 1855), printed in Golden Lectures (1855) :
: There is not one of you whose actions do not operate on the actions of others—operate, we mean, in the way of example. He would be insignificant who could only destroy his own soul; but you are all, alas! of importance enough to help also to destroy the souls of others. ...Ye cannot live for yourselves; a thousand fibres connect you with your fellow-men, and along those fibres, as along sympathetic threads, run your actions as causes, and return to you as effects.
Misattributed

„It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation.“

—  Herman Melville

Hawthorne and His Mosses (1850)
Context: It is better to fail in originality, than to succeed in imitation. He who has never failed somewhere, that man can not be great. Failure is the true test of greatness.
Context: It is better to fail in originality, than to succeed in imitation. He who has never failed somewhere, that man can not be great. Failure is the true test of greatness. And if it be said, that continual success is a proof that a man wisely knows his powers, — it is only to be added, that, in that case, he knows them to be small. Let us believe it, then, once for all, that there is no hope for us in these smooth pleasing writers that know their powers.

„A smile is the chosen vehicle of all ambiguities.“

—  Herman Melville, book Pierre: or, The Ambiguities

Bk. IV, ch. 5
Pierre: or, The Ambiguities (1852)
Source: Pierre: or, the Ambiguities

„The worst of our evils we blindly inflict upon ourselves; our officers cannot remove them, even if they would.“

—  Herman Melville, book White-Jacket

Source: White-Jacket (1850), Ch. 93
Context: The worst of our evils we blindly inflict upon ourselves; our officers cannot remove them, even if they would. From the last ills no being can save another; therein each man must be his own saviour. For the rest, whatever befall us, let us never train our murderous guns inboard; let us not mutiny with bloody pikes in our hands. Our Lord High Admiral will yet interpose; and though long ages should elapse, and leave our wrongs unredressed, yet, shipmates and world-mates! let us never forget, that, Whoever afflict us, whatever surround, Life is a voyage that's homeward-bound!

„Who knows that, when men-of-war shall be no more, "White-Jacket" may not be quoted to show to the people in the Millennium what a man-of-war was? God hasten the time!“

—  Herman Melville, book White-Jacket

Source: White-Jacket (1850), Ch. 68
Context: I let nothing slip, however small; and feel myself actuated by the same motive which has prompted many worthy old chroniclers, to set down the merest trifles concerning things that are destined to pass away entirely from the earth, and which, if not preserved in the nick of time, must infallibly perish from the memories of man. Who knows that this humble narrative may not hereafter prove the history of an obsolete barbarism? Who knows that, when men-of-war shall be no more, "White-Jacket" may not be quoted to show to the people in the Millennium what a man-of-war was? God hasten the time!

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„Nature has not implanted any power in man that was not meant to be exercised at times, though too often our powers have been abused.“

—  Herman Melville, book White-Jacket

Source: White-Jacket (1850), Ch. 67
Context: Nature has not implanted any power in man that was not meant to be exercised at times, though too often our powers have been abused. The privilege, inborn and inalienable, that every man has of dying himself, and inflicting death upon another, was not given to us without a purpose. These are the last resources of an insulted and unendurable existence.

„From without, no wonderful effect is wrought within ourselves, unless some interior, responding wonder meets it. That the starry vault shall surcharge the heart with all rapturous marvelings, is only because we ourselves are greater miracles, and superber trophies than all the stars in universal space.“

—  Herman Melville, book Pierre: or, The Ambiguities

Bk. III, ch. 1
Pierre: or, The Ambiguities (1852)
Context: From without, no wonderful effect is wrought within ourselves, unless some interior, responding wonder meets it. That the starry vault shall surcharge the heart with all rapturous marvelings, is only because we ourselves are greater miracles, and superber trophies than all the stars in universal space. Wonder interlocks with wonder; and then the confounding feeling comes. No cause have we to fancy, that a horse, a dog, a fowl, ever stand transfixed beneath yon skyey load of majesty. But our soul's arches underfit into its; and so, prevent the upper arch from falling on us with unsustainable inscrutableness.

„I cannot tell you how thankful I am for your reminding me about the apocrypha here. For the moment, its being such escaped me.“

—  Herman Melville

Source: The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade (1857), Ch. 45
Context: I cannot tell you how thankful I am for your reminding me about the apocrypha here. For the moment, its being such escaped me. Fact is, when all is bound up together, it's sometimes confusing. The uncanonical part should be bound distinct. And, now that I think of it, how well did those learned doctors who rejected for us this whole book of Sirach. I never read anything so calculated to destroy man's confidence in man. This son of Sirach even says — I saw it but just now: 'Take heed of thy friends'; not, observe, thy seeming friends, thy hypocritical friends, thy false friends, but thy friends, thy real friends — that is to say, not the truest friend in the world is to be implicitly trusted. Can Rochefoucault equal that? I should not wonder if his view of human nature, like Machiavelli's, was taken from this Son of Sirach. And to call it wisdom — the Wisdom of the Son of Sirach! Wisdom, indeed! What an ugly thing wisdom must be! Give me the folly that dimples the cheek, say I, rather than the wisdom that curdles the blood. But no, no; it ain't wisdom; it's apocrypha, as you say, sir. For how can that be trustworthy that teaches distrust?

„I had now been on board the frigate upward of a year, and remained unscourged; the ship was homeward-bound, and in a few weeks, at most, I would be a free man.“

—  Herman Melville, book White-Jacket

Source: White-Jacket (1850), Ch. 67
Context: I had now been on board the frigate upward of a year, and remained unscourged; the ship was homeward-bound, and in a few weeks, at most, I would be a free man. And now, after making a hermit of myself in some things, in order to avoid the possibility of the scourge, here it was hanging over me for a thing utterly unforeseen, for a crime of which I was as utterly innocent. But all that was as naught.

„True Work is the necessity of poor humanity's earthly condition. The dignity is in leisure.“

—  Herman Melville

Letter to Catherine G. Lansing (5 September 1877), published in The Melville Log : A Documentary Life of Herman Melville, 1819-1891 (1951) by Jay Leyda, Vol. 2, p. 765
Context: Whoever is not in the possession of leisure can hardly be said to possess independence. They talk of the dignity of work. Bosh. True Work is the necessity of poor humanity's earthly condition. The dignity is in leisure. Besides, 99 hundreths of all the work done in the world is either foolish and unnecessary, or harmful and wicked.

„The symmetry of form attainable in pure fiction can not so readily be achieved in a narration essentially having less to do with fable than with fact.“

—  Herman Melville, book Billy Budd, Sailor

Source: Billy Budd, the Sailor (1891), Ch. 28
Context: The symmetry of form attainable in pure fiction can not so readily be achieved in a narration essentially having less to do with fable than with fact. Truth uncompromisingly told will always have its ragged edges...

„Familiarity with danger makes a brave man braver, but less daring.“

—  Herman Melville, book White-Jacket

Source: White-Jacket (1850), Ch. 23
Context: Familiarity with danger makes a brave man braver, but less daring. Thus with seamen: he who goes the oftenest round Cape Horn goes the most circumspectly.

„I have no objection to any person’s religion, be it what it may, so long as that person does not kill or insult any other person, because that other person don’t believe it also.“

—  Herman Melville

Source: Moby-Dick: or, the Whale (1851), Ch. 17 : The Ramadan
Context: I have no objection to any person’s religion, be it what it may, so long as that person does not kill or insult any other person, because that other person don’t believe it also. But when a man’s religion becomes really frantic; when it is a positive torment to him; and, in fine, makes this earth of ours an uncomfortable inn to lodge in; then I think it high time to take that individual aside and argue the point with him.

„This son of Sirach even says — I saw it but just now: 'Take heed of thy friends'; not, observe, thy seeming friends, thy hypocritical friends, thy false friends, but thy friends, thy real friends — that is to say, not the truest friend in the world is to be implicitly trusted.“

—  Herman Melville

Source: The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade (1857), Ch. 45
Context: I cannot tell you how thankful I am for your reminding me about the apocrypha here. For the moment, its being such escaped me. Fact is, when all is bound up together, it's sometimes confusing. The uncanonical part should be bound distinct. And, now that I think of it, how well did those learned doctors who rejected for us this whole book of Sirach. I never read anything so calculated to destroy man's confidence in man. This son of Sirach even says — I saw it but just now: 'Take heed of thy friends'; not, observe, thy seeming friends, thy hypocritical friends, thy false friends, but thy friends, thy real friends — that is to say, not the truest friend in the world is to be implicitly trusted. Can Rochefoucault equal that? I should not wonder if his view of human nature, like Machiavelli's, was taken from this Son of Sirach. And to call it wisdom — the Wisdom of the Son of Sirach! Wisdom, indeed! What an ugly thing wisdom must be! Give me the folly that dimples the cheek, say I, rather than the wisdom that curdles the blood. But no, no; it ain't wisdom; it's apocrypha, as you say, sir. For how can that be trustworthy that teaches distrust?

„There is nothing nameable but that some men will undertake to do it for pay.“

—  Herman Melville, book Billy Budd, Sailor

Source: Billy Budd, the Sailor (1891), Ch. 21
Context: Who in the rainbow can draw the line where the violet tint ends and the orange tint begins? Distinctly we see the difference of the colors, but where exactly does the one first blendingly enter into the other? So with sanity and insanity. In pronounced cases there is no question about them. But in some supposed cases, in various degrees supposedly less pronounced, to draw the exact line of demarcation few will undertake tho' for a fee some professional experts will. There is nothing nameable but that some men will undertake to do it for pay.

„Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit. Etiam egestas wisi a erat. Morbi imperdiet, mauris ac auctor dictum.“

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