Commentary, Non-Fiction

Death Day – A Tribute to Herman Melville

Herman-Melville

Celebrating the life of Herman Melville

Born a New Yorker in 1819 on August 1st, Herman Melville lived to the age of 72, until passing away on September 28, 1981. He spent most of his younger years working diligently to alleviate the debt that riddled his family, eventually finding himself aboard a merchant ship as a cabin boy. His life continued to be filled with sailing adventures, voyages to the South Seas and encounters with the present-day French Polynesian islands inhabited with cannibalistic civilizations. His writings were inspired mostly from his journeys, but were driven by a critical philosophy of American culture and society.

Herman Melville

I recommend all adventurous youths who abandon vessels in romantic islands during the rainy season to provide themselves with umbrellas.

Melville wed Elizabeth Shaw in 1847, continuing on to have two sons and two daughters. He had a brief but pivotal friendship with American writer, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and continued to publish short stories and novels throughout his life. In his later years, he worked as a customs guard on the ship harbors, writing as a habit on nights, and weekends, exploring the world of poetry too, up until the final moments of his life.

Favorite quotes:

“It is not down in any map; true places never are.”

“Nature is nobody’s ally.”

“Thou wine art the friend of the friendless, though a foe to all.”

Incomplete list of suggested reading:

  • Typee (1846)
  • Omoo (1847)
  • Redburn (1849)
  • White-Jacket (1850)
  • Moby Dick (1851)
  • Pierre (1852)
  • “Bartleby the Scrivener” (1853)
  • The Encantadas” (1854)
  • “Benito Cereno” (1855)
  • Israel Potter: His Fifty Years of Exile (1855)
  • The Confidence-Man (1857)

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Interesting fact:

Melville’s New York publisher’s house underwent a devastating fire in 1853 that destroyed most of his books.

Share a quote or excerpt of Herman Melville today in the comments or with your online community using the tag #HappyDeathDayMelville 

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Fiction

Sad Catastrophe – F. Scott Fitzgerald

We don’t want visitors, we said:
They come and sit for hours;
They come when we have gone to bed;
They are imprisoned here by showers;
They come when they are low and bored–
Drink from the bottle of your heart.
Once it is emptied, the gay horde,
Shouting the Rubaiyat, depart.

I balked: I was at work, I cried;
Appeared unshaven or not at all;

Was out of gin: the cook had died
Of small-pox–and more tales as tall.
On boor and friend I turned the same
Dull eye, the same impatient tone–
The ones with beauty, sense and fame
Perceived we wished to be alone.

But dull folk, dreary ones and rude–
Long talker, lonely soul and quack–
Who hereto hadn’t dare intrude,
Found us alone, swarmed to attack,
Thought silence was attention; rage
An echo of their own home’s war–
Glad we had ceased to “be upstage.”
–But the nice people came no more.

From On Booze

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Fiction

Excerpt from Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters

Seymour’s diary, Fort Monmouth, in late 1941 and early 1942:: J.D. Salinger

How I love and need her undiscriminating heart. She looked over at me when the children in the picture brought in the kitten to show their mother. M. loved the kitten and wanted me to love it. Even in the dark, I could sense that she felt the usual estrangement from me when I don’t automatically love what she loves. Later, when we were having a drink at the station, she asked me if I didn’t think that kitten was ‘rather nice.’ She doesn’t use the word ‘cute’ any more. When did I ever frighten her out of her normal vocabulary? Bore that I am, I mentioned R. H. Blyth’s definition of sentimentality: that we are being sentimental when we give to a thing more tenderness than God undoubtedly loves kittens, but not, in all probability, with Technicolor bootees on their paws. He leaves that creative touch to script writers. M. thought this over, seemed to agree with me, but the ‘knowledge’ was’t too very welcome. She sat stirring her drink and feeling unclose to me. She worries over the way her love for me comes and goes, appears and disappears. She doubts its reality simply because it isn’t as steadily pleasurable as a kitten. God knows it is sad. The human voice conspires to desecrate everything on earth.”

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Fiction

Excerpt from Franny and Zooey

He thought this over, then gave a mild snort. “I’d like to see him do it, the bastard.” He took a drag on his cigar. “Everybody in this family gets his goddam religion in a different package,” he commented, with a notable absence of awe in his tone. “Walt was a hot one. Walt and Boo Boo had the hottest religious philosophies in the family.” He dragged on his cigar, as if to offset being amused when he didn’t care to be.

“Walt once told Walker that everybody in the family must have piled up one helluva lot of bad karma in his past incarnations. He had a theory, Walt, that the religious life, and all the agony that goes with it, is just something God sicks on people who have the gall to accuse Him of having created an ugly world.”

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Fiction

Excerpt from Holidays On Ice

Santaland Diaries:: David Sedaris

I Photo Elfed all day for a variety of Santas and it struck me that many of the parents don’t allow their children to speak at all. A child sits upon Santa’s lap and the parent say, “All right now, Amber, tell Santa what you want. Tell him you want a Baby Alive and My Pretty Ballerina and that winter coat you saw in the catalog.”

        The parents name the gifts they have already bought. They don’t want to hear the word “pony,” or “television set,” so they talk through the entire visit, placing words in the child’s mouth. When the child hops off the lap, the parents address their children, each and every time, with, “What do you say to Santa?”

        The child says, “Thank you, Santa.”

         It is sad because you would like to believe that everyone is unique and then they disappoint you every time by being exactly the same, asking for the same things, reciting the exact same lines as though they have been handed a script. 

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