The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XV. Colonial and Revolutionary Literature; Early National Literature, Part I.
§ 21. Melville
Contemporaries suspected, what Mayo denied, that Kaloolah must have taken hints from Typee. The suspicion was natural at a time when Melville, at the height of his first fame, had not entered the long seclusion which even yet obscures the merit of that romancer who, among all Cooper’s contemporaries, has suffered least from the change of fashion in romance. Herman Melville, grandson of the conservative old gentleman upon whom Holmes wrote The Last Leaf, and son of a merchant of New York, was born there, I August, 1819. The early death of his father and the loss of the family fortune having narrowed Melville’s chances for higher schooling to a few months in the Albany Classical School, he turned his hand to farming for a year, shipped before the mast to Liverpool in 1837, taught school from 1837–40, and in January, 1841, sailed from New Bedford on a whaling voyage into the Pacific. Upon the experiences of that voyage his principal work is founded. The captain of the Acushnet, it seems, treated the crew badly, and Melville, with the companion whom he calls Toby, escaped from the ship to the Island of Nukuheva [Nukahiva] in the Marquesas and strayed into the cannibal valley Typee [Taipi], where the savages kept them for four months in an “indulgent captivity.” Rescued by an Australian whaler, Melville visited Tahiti and other islands of the Society group, took part in a mutiny, and once more changed ship, this time setting out for Honolulu. After some months as a clerk in Hawaii, he joined the crew of the frigate United States and returned by the Horn to Boston, October, 1844. “From my twenty-fifth year,” he told Hawthorne, “I date my life.” Why he held 1844 so important is not clear; he may then first have turned to authorship. Though he had kept no notes of his journeying, within a year he had completed his first book, Typee, the record of his captivity. This was followed the next year by Omoo, which completes his island adventures. In 1849 came Redburn, based on his earlier voyage to Liverpool, and in 1850 WhiteJacket, an account of life on a man-of-war.