Throughout American history, very few authors have earned the right to be called "great."
Herman Melville is one of these few. His novels and poems have been enjoyed world wide for
over a century, and he has earned his reputation as one of the finest American writers of all time.
A man of towering talent, with intellectual and artistic brilliance, and a mind of deep insight into
human motives and behavior, it is certainly a disgrace that his true greatness was not recognized
until nearly a generation after his death.
Born in the city of New York on August 1, 1819, Melville was the third child and second son
of Allan Melville(it wasn't until Allan's death in 1832 that the "e" at the end of Melville was added,
in order to make a more obvious connection with the Scottish Melville clan), a wholesale
merchant and importer then living in comfortable economic circumstances, and of Maria
Gansevoort Melvill, only daughter of "the richest man in Albany," the respected and wealthy
General Peter Gansevoort, hero of the defense of Fort Stanwix during the American Revolution.
In total, Allan and Maria had eight children. On his father's side, his ancestry, though not so
prosperous as on his mother's, was equally distinguished. Major Thomas Melvill, his grandfather,
was one of the "Indians" in the Boston Tea Party during the events leading to the war and who
had then served his country creditably throughout the hostilities. The Melvill family kept on their
mantelpiece a bottle of tea drained out of Major Melvill's clothes after the Tea Party as a
momento of this occasion.
Herman attended the New York Male High School from about the age of seven until 1830. By
that time, Allan Melvill's business had begun to fail, due to his credit being overextended.