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"About the time of the Civil War Herman Melville could frequently be seen on the streets and in the resorts of Albany. He was better known then as the writer of soul stirring war lyrics than as the author of the famous books of the sea."This closing reference to local knowledge of Battle-Pieces reminds me of the comment in the Troy Daily Whig, where the reviewer there recalled that
"Mr. M’s muse was heard with great pleasure many times during the late war."From the Albany [New York] Times-Union, Tuesday, August 5, 1919; found in the online newspaper archives at Fulton History:
Herman Melville of Albany.Herman Melville who may fairly be classed as an Albanian, would have been over one hundred years old if he had lived till to-day. He was born August 1, 1819.
Few people of the present generation ever heard of him, but half century ago his name was almost as familiar as that of his friend Hawthorne.
He was born in New York City, but was brought to Albany when a baby, and lived here throughout his childhood days. He got his education in the schools of Albany and his early impressions were from associations here. He was an Albany boy up to the time that the death of his parents threw him on his own resources and he became a boy of the big world. He started out on his career from the Albany dock shipping on a sail craft to New York. On this craft began the real education which made him the greatest writer of marine stories of his days. From New York he shipped a barque for Liverpool and thence on a whale ship to the Pacific. His observations and experience contributed to the stock of knowledge that was to be the source of efforts in years to come. He was a sprightly, capable, self reliant young fellow. Being badly treated on ship board he stood it all without inviting further trouble by resentment or insubordination. Escaping when opportunity offered, he fell in with the cannibals of the South Sea Islands and gathered the experience there that enabled him to write “Typee,” a most charming story of adventure by sea. And so this Albany boy went on with adventure after adventure, fitting himself with stories of knowledge to be used when the time came to “write it all up,” for he had in constant mind the determination to give the world the benefit of his sea experience, and come back to Albany the home of his youth and do his literary work.
Around 1850 when still a young man, but with a wealth of material, he came back to the scene of his early struggles. Fifteen years had made great changes in his home city. Many of his companions had moved away and some of the older folks had died; but he settled down and went to work. Here he wrote “Typee,” he story of his stay among the cannibals. In it he takes his readers into the happy valley of the islanders, over cliffs precipitous and waterfalls, and through almost impenetrable ravines. He pictures days of lounging, and dances of the Calabash girls crowned with flowers, cocoanuts and breadfruit, with restful siestas, and he paints it all with the radiance and entrancing blue and green of the South Sea Islands.
This work he did in Albany; but love and friendship caused him to remove to Pittsfield, Mass., after the success of “Typee” had been assured. He fell in love with and married the daughter of Judge Lemuel Shaw of Massachusetts, and became very friendly with Hawthorne, then in the height of his success. These two incidents caused Albany to lose her gifted son, but he was close enough to make frequent trips and to have the benefit of her libraries and the friendship of her people.
And Melville went on with his successful literary work, giving the world “Omoo,” “Moby Dick,” “White Jacket,” “Redburn,” “Mardi,” and several others, all stories of the sea and of the adventures of seafaring life.
“Moby Dick,” dedicated to Hawthorne, was his most important work and certainly the most popular with the sailor men who never tired of hearing thrilling adventures. Stories of the brave days of whaling were told by him as they were never told before, and can never be told again.
Melville wrote with thrilling force and beauty, and painted his scenes with the graphic hand of a real artist. His books were read by landsmen and sailors alike, but it was in the men of the sea familiar with the thrills he infused that they found their greatest admirers. And in the old days of the sailing ship every craft carried a library of its own, and the sailor who could read entertained those who could not. A ‘fore the mast’ hand on reaching port bemoaned the hardships of the voyage by saying “fifteen days of calm, plenty of books but nary a reader in the crew.”
Every ship that rode the waves carried the books of Melville as an important part of its equipment, and every sailor felt an intimate friendship for the characters he so beautifully portrayed.
About the time of the Civil War Herman Melville could frequently be seen on the streets and in the resorts of Albany. He was better known then as the writer of soul stirring war lyrics than as the author of the famous books of the sea. –Albany Times-Union, Tuesday, August 5, 1919