Posts Tagged ‘Herman Melville’s Manhattan’

Struggling New York writer Herman Melville

October 6, 2010

New York artists and writers who fear their work will never be recognized should know the story of city native Herman Melville.

Born in 1819 on Pearl Street, Melville is now considered one of the greatest American authors.

But after some early critical success, his later works, like Moby-Dick, bombed.

So he returned in defeat. In 1863, he moved from New England to 104 East 26th Street, where he lived the rest of his life. A street sign designates the corner at Park Avenue South as “Herman Melville Square.” 

To support his family, Melville was forced to take a desk job.

For years he worked as a customs inspector in an office at West and Gansevoort Streets—fitting, since his mother’s relatives were the original Gansevoorts.

He would have no idea that after his death in 1891, his work would achieve great acclaim.

Melville had a way with words about his home city. Early in Moby-Dick, he describes Manhattan like this:

“There now is your insular city of Manhattoes, belted round by wharves as Indian isles by coral reefs—commerce surrounds it with her surf. Right and left, the streets take you waterward.

“It’s extreme down-town is the Battery, where that noble mole is washed by waves, and cooled by breezes, which a few hours previous were out of sight by land. Look at the crowd of water-gazers there.”