Herman Melville

Herman Melville

Herman Melville

Herman Melville

Excerpt

Herman Melville, the most powerful of all the great American writers, was born on the 1st August 1819, in New York. His father, Allan, was the fourth child of Major Thomas Melville. The family was of old Scots lineage, being descended from that John Melville of Carnbee who was knighted by James the Sixth, and a yet earlier origin has been traced in a Sir Richard Melville who took allegiance to Edward the First in the thirteenth century.

Herman's grandfather, Thomas, was the first of the Melvilles to be born in America. Allan Melville, son of a Scots clergyman of Leven (Fife), had emigrated in 1748 and became a merchant at Boston. Herman's father and grandfather both died in 1832, when he was but thirteen, and while references to his father are to be found--open and veiled--in the novelist's work, there are but few direct indications of a concern with any earlier generation. Herman was not insensible to the distinction and privileges of birth, and it may be permitted to trace his mistrust of democracy to an active sense of aristocracy; but in the main he helps a biographer but little to search into family records. His father, Allan, did not share this indifference, for only a year before Herman's birth he visited Scotland in order to make himself known to his distinguished collaterals. The memorials of this visit are brief, but he records that his reception by the Earl of Leven and Melville was very hospitable and friendly. Nevertheless, the visit was not repeated, nor does it seem to have been followed by correspondence. It was a mere "call" of courtesy and curiosity, prompted immediately, no doubt, by Allan poring over Memoirs of his own Life by Sir James Melvil of Hallhill, a volume published in London in 1683, and a genealogy which he had pleased or teased himself with constructing. Mr. Weaver, Herman Melville's biographer, to whom we owe almost all that American research has been able to achieve for his subject, has stated that this volume contained the autograph of Thomas Melville of Scoonie, Herman's clerical ancestor; and such a book, with such an autograph, would probably suffice to prompt even a faintly romantic exile to an act of recognition and brief reunion with his family . . .

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