Herman Melville (1819-1891). Forty years ago, few American authors had so wide a reputation as Melville, whose books of sea-adventure, part fact and part fancy, were read and praised in England quite as much and as warmly as in this country. Not to have read Typee and Omoo was not to have made the acquaintance of the most entertaining and novel current literature: and those who take them up to-day find their charm and interest almost unimpaired. The leading sea-novelist of the present day has acknowledged Melville as his master; and there is no doubt that he possessed not only exhaustive technical knowledge of his chosen field, but that his talent for exploiting it amounted to genius. The main substance of his books is plainly founded on fact: but the facts are so judiciously selected as to produce the effect of art, while the flavoring of fiction is so artfully introduced as to seem like fact. All the stories are told in the first person, and there is a fascination and mystery in the narrator's personality that much enhances the interest of the tale. But Melville's imagination has a tendency to wildness and metaphysical extravagance; and when he trusted to it alone, he becomes difficult and sometimes repulsive. There seems, also, to be a background of gloom in his nature, making itself felt even in the midst of his sunshine: and now and then his speculations and rhapsodies have a tinge almost of insanity. Typee and Omoo are stories of adventure in the Pacific archipelago, as is also Mardi, but the latter merges into a quasi-symbolic analysis of human life, perplexing to the general reader, though the splendor and poetic beauty of the descriptions win his admiration. Redburn is the narrative of a voyage to Liverpool before the mast, in an American clipper, and is a model of simplicity and impressiveness: White Jacket describes life on an American man-of-war, and overflows with humor, character, adventure and absorbing pictures of a kind of existence which has now ceased forever to exist. Moby Dick, or the Whale takes up the whole subject of whaling, as practised in the '30's and '40's, and is, if anything, more interesting and valuable than White Jacket; the scenes are grouped about a wildly romantic and original plot, concerned with the chase round the world of an enormous white whale -- Moby Dick -- by a sea-captain who has previously lost a limb in a conflict with the monster, and has sworn revenge. This is the most powerful of Melville's books; it was also the last of any literary importance. Pierre, or The Ambiguities is a repulsive, insane and impossible romance, in which the sea has no part, and one or two later books need not be mentioned. But Melville's position in literature is secure and solitary: he surpasses Cooper, when Cooper writes of the sea; and no subsequent writer has even challenged a comparison with him on that element.

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