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In A Brown Study, 18B

October 10, 2016

Born in 1819, Herman Melville, author of six novels including Moby Dick, was a friend to Nathaniel Hawthorne although 15 years his junior. Melville was the third child in a family of eight children; his father, a wealthy dry goods merchant in New York City, and his mother, connected to the Dutch Reformed Movement of the Calvinist Church were children of heroes in the American Revolution. Melville was proud of his heritage.

Until his father’s bankruptcy, the family lived a privileged and affluent life in New York City. His father’s death in 1832 left the family in debt. They moved to a lesser dwelling in Albany.  Later Melville wrote, “I cannot think of those delightful days before my father became bankrupt, for when I think of those days something rises in my throat and almost strangles me.” His formal education ended abruptly, but he read avidly the Bible, Shakespeare, and other works to educate himself.

His uncle got the young lad a job as a bank clerk, but his older brother began a successful business and invited Herman to join him. For a short time, he became a teacher, but soon decided to become a seaman. During the years 1839-1844 spent at sea, he gathered the information used in his books. Those wander years created a distaste for authority and a lust for personal freedom, as well as a sense of his own exceptionalism.

In 1847, after the success of his first two novels, he married Elizabeth Shaw, daughter of a wealthy Boston family. They had four children before their marriage disintegrated.

In 1850 the young family purchased a farm in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, not far from Lenox, home of the Hawthornes. The two met at a social gathering and liked each other immediately. The two men took long walks together, sharing their ideas. Hawthorne, considered a private and unsocial man, wrote to a friend, “I liked Melville so much I invited him to spend a few days with me.” Hawthorne’s editor sent him three of Melville’s novels which Hawthorne liked, claiming to enjoy the realism of Redburn and writing that Mardi was “a rich book with depth here and there that compels a man to swim for his life.”

Melville found Hawthorne’s story “Young Goodman Brown” as “deep as Dante,” suggesting that Hawthorne himself was convinced of human depravity. “It is the wont of genius to make over others in his own image.” When Hawthorne visited Melville sometime later, Melville wrote, “The handsome Hawthorne made a favorable impression on the Melville women.” His wife and daughters could not stop admiring the older man.

That deep friendship lasted, though time and distance separated them.

  • to be contd.


















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