(Book Jacket Status: Jacketed) "As a revelation of human destiny it is too deep even for sorrow," was how D.H. Lawrence characterized MOBY-DICK. Published in the same five-year span as "The Scarlet Letter," "Walden," and "Leaves of Grass," this great adventure of the sea and the life of the soul is the ultimate achievement of that stunning period in American letters.
Herman Melville was born in New York City in 1819. When his father died, he was forced to leave school and find work. After passing through some minor clerical jobs, the eighteen-year-old young man shipped out to sea, first on a short cargo trip, then, at twenty-one, on a three-year South Sea whaling venture. From the experiences accumulated on this voyage would come the material for his early books,
Typee (1846) and
Omoo (1847), as well as for such masterpieces as
The Piazza Tales (1856), and
Billy Budd, Sailor,
and Other Stories (posthumous, 1924). Though the first two novels—popular romantic adventures—sold well, Melville's more serious writing failed to attract a large audience, perhaps because it attacked the current philosophy of transcendentalism and its espoused "self-reliance." (As he made clear in the savagely comic
The Confidence Man (1857), Melville thought very little of Emersonian philosophy.) He spent his later years working as a customs inspector on the New York docks, writing only poems comprising
Battle-Pieces (1866). He died in 1891, leaving
Billy Budd, Sailor, and Other Stories unpublished.
Rockwell Kent (1882–1971) was a prolific illustrator, writer, sailor, and explorer. His illustration credits include Voltaire’s
Candide and Herman Melville’s