MELVILLE, Herman (1819-1891)
Plaque erected in 2005 by English Heritage at 25 Craven Street, Charing Cross, London, WC2N 5NT, City of Westminster
HERMAN MELVILLE 1819-1891 Author of Moby Dick lived here in 1849
Herman Melville was the author of Moby Dick, often described as the definitive American novel. He is commemorated with a blue plaque at 25 Craven Street in Charing Cross, where he stayed for a few weeks at the end of 1849.
SEA-FARING AND LONDON SIGHT-SEEING
Born in New York, Melville spent much of his early life at sea. It was his experiences in the Pacific, where he sailed on board the whaler Acushnet in 1841, that formed the basis of many of his works, including Typee (1846), Omoo (1847) and his masterpiece, Moby Dick (1851).
Melville came to London in the autumn of 1849 to secure a publishing deal for his new novel White-Jacket, or, the World in a Man-of-War (1850) and to gather material for an account of the American revolutionary Israel Potter (published 1855).
Living in cheap lodgings in Craven Street on 6–27 November and 13–25 December 1849 – stays separated by a brief visit to the Continent – Melville was an indefatigable partygoer and sightseer. In his diary, he recorded seeing the Lord Mayor’s Show, a public hanging, the British Museum, the National Gallery and London Zoo.
MOBY DICK AND LATER YEARS
On returning home to Massachusetts, Melville wrote his best-known work, Moby Dick, or, The Whale (1851), dedicated to his friend Nathaniel Hawthorne. It subsequently became one of the first American novels to attain classic status, though it flopped completely on first publication. The failure of this work – and of its satirical successor, Pierre (1852) – brought about a mental breakdown from which Melville never entirely recovered. Largely forgotten by literary society, he became a New York customs inspector, and abandoned fiction for poetry, save for a last – unfinished – novel, Billy Budd (published 1924).