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Biography

In 1890, a year before Melville's death, a reporter set out to do a quasi-"where-is-he-now?" story about the once-famous writer. "If one choose to walk along East Eighteenth Street, New York City, any morning about 9 o'clock, he would see the famous writer of sea stories—stories which have never been equalled perhaps in their special line," Edward Bok wrote. "Forty-four years ago, when his most famous tale, Typee, appeared, there was not a better known author than he, and he commanded his own prices. Publishers sought him, and editors considered themselves fortunate to secure his name as a literary star. And to-day? Busy New York has no idea he is even alive, and one of the best-informed literary men in this country laughed recently at my statement that Herman Melville was his neighbor by only two city blocks. 'Nonsense,' said he. 'Why, Melville is dead these many years!'"22

Herman Melville died at home in New York City on 28 September 1891 of a heart attack. He was buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx. Even though he died virtually forgotten, within a generation or two people began to pick up the seafarer's books with a renewed interest. Billy Budd, Sailor, a novel whose unpublished manuscript was discovered in Melville's desk after his death, was published in 1924. It is now considered one of his greatest works. Moby-Dick is now one of the most famous books in the English language. For all the mockery that he endured during his life, it looks like Herman Melville got the last laugh. He may have seen it coming. For as Ishmael said, there are times "when a man takes his whole universe for a vast practical joke, though the wit thereof he but dimly discerns, and more than suspects that the joke is at nobody's expense but his own."23

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