100 Quotes by Herman Melville

Herman Melville, a literary genius of the 19th century, crafted narratives that delved into the complexities of human nature and the enigmatic forces of the universe. While his early works gained moderate attention, it was his masterpiece "Moby-Dick" that secured his place in literary history. This epic tale, weaving the story of Captain Ahab's obsessive pursuit of the white whale, explored themes of fate, vengeance, and the unfathomable depths of the human psyche. Melville's ability to blend philosophical introspection with thrilling storytelling marked him as a pioneer of American literature. Despite facing commercial challenges during his lifetime, Melville's influence has endured, as modern readers recognize his deep insights into the human condition and his ability to unravel the intricate tapestry of human motivations and emotions.

Herman Melville Quotes

I am, as I am; whether hideous, or handsome, depends upon who is made judge.

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Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the criticisms made on the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well- warmed, and well-fed.

It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation.

Dream tonight of peacock tails, Diamond fields and spouter whales. Ills are many, blessing few, But dreams tonight will shelter you.

All experience teaches that, whenever there is a great national establishment, employing large numbers of officials, the public must be reconciled to support many incompetent men; for such is the favoritism and nepotism always prevailing in the purlieus of these establishments, that some incompetent persons are always admitted, to the exclusion of many of the worthy.

Toil is man's allotment; toil of brain, or toil of hands, or a grief that's more than either, the grief and sin of idleness.

The Past is dead, and has no resurrection; but the Future is endowed with such a life, that it lives to us even in anticipation. The Past is, in many things, the foe of mankind; the Future is, in all things, our friend. In the Past is no hope; The Future is both hope and fruition. The Past is the text-book of tyrants; the Future is the Bible of the Free. Those who are solely governed by the Past stand like Lot's wife, crystallized in the act of looking backward, and forever incapable of looking before.

Meditation and water are wedded for ever.

I love to sail forbidden seas, and land on barbarous coasts.

It is better to fail in originality, than to succeed in imitation. He who has never failed somewhere, that man can not be great. Failure is the true test of greatness.

There is a savor of life and immortality in substantial fare. Like balloons, we are nothing till filled.

We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men.

No philosophers so thoroughly comprehend us as dogs and horses.

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A whale ship was my Yale College and my Harvard.

It is not down in any map; true places never are.

To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme.

Why did the old Persians hold the sea holy? Why did the Greeks give it a separate deity, and own brother Jove? Surely all this is not without meaning. And still deeper the meaning of that story of Narcissus, who because he could not grasp the tormenting mild image he saw in the fountain, plunged into it and was drowned. But that same image, we ourselves see in all rivers and oceans. It is the image of the ungraspable phantom of life; and this is the key to it all.

for there is no folly of the beast of the earth which is not infinitely outdone by the madness of men

There is no quality in this world that is not what it is merely by contrast. Nothing exists in itself.

A book in a man's brain is better off than a book bound in calf - at any rate it is safer from criticism.

In this world of lies, Truth is forced to fly like a scared white doe in the woodlands; and only by cunning glimpses will she reveal herself, as in Shakespeare and other masters of the great Art of Telling the Truth, even though it be covertly, and by snatches.

Faith, like a jackal, feeds among the tombs, and even from these dead doubts she gathers her most vital hope.

Nature is nobody's ally.

Hope is the struggle of the soul, breaking loose from what is perishable, and attesting her eternity.

What is an atheist, but one who does not, or will not, see in the universe a ruling principle of love; and what a misanthrope, but one who does not, or will not, see in man a ruling principle of kindness?

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Life’s a voyage that’s homeward bound.

Ignorance is the parent of fear.

You cannot spill a drop of American blood without spilling the blood of the whole world.... We are not a nation, so much as a world.

Art is the objectification of feeling.

They talk of the dignity of work. The dignity is in leisure.

All Profound things, and emotions of things are preceded and attended by Silence... Silence is the general consecration of the universe. Silence is the invisible laying on of the Divine Pontiff's hands upon the world. Silence is at once the most harmless and the most awful thing in all nature. It speaks of the Reserved Forces of Fate. Silence is the only Voice of our God.

For as this appalling ocean surrounds the verdant land, so in the soul of man there lies one insular Tahiti, full of peace and joy, but encompassed by all the horrors of the half known life.

A smile is the chosen vehicle of all ambiguities.

Silence is the only Voice of our God.

The most mighty of nature's laws is this, that out of Death she brings Life.

There are some enterprises in which a careful disorderliness is the true method.

Methinks we have hugely mistaken this matter of Life and Death. Methinks that what they call my shadow here on earth is my true substance. Methinks that in looking at things spiritual, we are too much like oysters observing the sun through the water, and thinking that thick water the thinnest of air. Me thinks my body is but the lees of my better being. In fact take my body who will, take it I say, it is not me.

To know how to grow old is the master work of wisdom, and one of the most difficult chapters in the great art of living.

You know nothing till you know all; which is the reason we never know any thing.

An utterly fearless man is a far more dangerous comrade than a coward.

Heaven have mercy on us all - Presbyterians and Pagans alike - for we are all somehow dreadfully cracked about the head, and sadly need mending.

But are sailors, frequenters of fiddlers' greens, without vices? No; but less often than with landsmen do their vices, so called, partake of crookedness of heart, seeming less to proceed from viciousness than exuberance of vitality after long constraint: frank manifestations in accordance with natural law.

At last the anchor was up, the sails were set, and off we glided. It was a sharp, cold Christmas; and as the short northern day merged into night, we found ourselves almost broad upon the wintry ocean, whose freezing spray cased us in ice, as in polished armor.

Friendship at first sight, like love at first sight, is said to be the only truth.

We may have civilized bodies and yet barbarous souls. We are blind to the real sights of this world; deaf to its voice; and dead to its death. And not till we know, that one grief outweighs ten thousand joys will we become what Christianity is striving to make us.

We are only what we are; not what we would be; nor every thing we hope for. We are but a step in a scale, that reaches further above us than below.

A man of true science... thinks, that by mouthing hard words, he proves that he understands hard things.

If you can get nothing better out of the world, get a good dinner out of it, at least.

Better be an old maid, a woman with herself as a husband, than the wife of a fool; and Solomon more than hints that all men are fools; and every wise man knows himself to be one.

Consider the subtleness of the sea; how its most dreaded creatures glide under water, unapparent for the most part, and treacherously hidden beneath the loveliest tints of azure. Consider also the devilish brilliance and beauty of many of its most remorseless tribes, as the dainty embellished shape of many species of sharks. Consider, once more, the universal cannibalism of the sea; all whose creatures prey upon each other, carrying on eternal war since the world began.

In a multitude of acquaintances is less security, than in one faithful friend.

As for me, I am tormented with an everlasting itch for things remote. I love to sail forbidden seas, and land on barbarous coasts.

There is no figure more common in scripture, and none more beautiful, than that by which Christ is likened unto light. Incomprehensible in its nature, itself the first visible, and that by which all things are seen, light represents to us Christ. Whose generation none can declare, but Who must shine upon us ere we can know aught aright, whether of things Divine or human.

That author who draws a character, even though to common view incongruous in its parts, as the flying-squirrel, and, at different periods, as much at variance with itself as the caterpillar is with the butterfly into which it changes, may yet, in so doing, be not false but faithful to facts.

Better to sleep with a sober cannibal than a drunken Christian.

When the passage "All men are born free and equal," when that passage was being written were not some of the signers legalised owners of slaves?

The Past is the textbook of tyrants; the Future the Bible of the Free. Those who are solely governed by the Past stand like Lot's wife, crystallized in the act of looking backward, and forever incapable of looking before.

Aid my disillusionment, my friend!

Only the man who says no is free

Whatever my fate, I'll go to it laughing.

There is one knows not what sweet mystery about this sea, whose gently awful stirrings seem to speak of some hidden soul beneath.

Take almost any path you please, and ten to one it carries you down in a dale, and leaves you there by a pool in the stream. There is magic in it. Let the most absent-minded of men be plunged in his deepest reveries--stand that man on his legs, set his feet a-going, and he will infallibly lead you to water, if water there be in all that region. Should you ever be athirst in the great American desert, try this experiment, if your caravan happen to be supplied with a metaphysical professor. Yes, as every one knows, meditation and water are wedded for ever.

Let us speak, though we show all our faults and weaknesses, - for it is a sign of strength to be weak, to know it, and out with it - not in a set way and ostentatiously, though, but incidentally and without premeditation.

Beneath those stars is a universe of gliding monsters.

Benevolent desires, after passing a certain point, can not undertake their own fulfillment without incurring the risk of evils beyond those sought to be remedied.

Yet habit - strange thing! what cannot habit accomplish?

But the past is passed; why moralize upon it? Forget it. See, yon bright son has forgotten it all, and the blue sea, and the blue sky; these have turned over new leaves. Because they have no memory . . . because they are not human.

The path to my fixed purpose is laid with iron rails whereon my soul is grooved to run

Ladies are like creeds; if you cannot speak well of them, say nothing.

Do not presume, well-housed, well-warmed, and well-fed, to criticize the poor

All deep, earnest thinking is but the intrepid effort of the soul to keep the open independence of her sea, while the wildest winds of heaven and earth conspire to cast her on the treacherous, slavish shore.

People think that if a man has undergone any hardship, he should have a reward; but for my part, if I have done the hardest possible day's work, and then come to sit down in a corner and eat my supper comfortably -why, then I don't think I deserve any reward for my hard day's work -for am I not now at peace? Is not my supper good?

One trembles to think of that mysterious thing in the soul, which seems to acknowledge no human jurisdiction, but in spite of the individual's own innocence self, will still dream horrid dreams, and mutter unmentionable thoughts.

The eyes are the gateway to the soul.

Stay true to the dreams of thy youth.

My body is but the lees of my better being.

The only true infidelity is for a live man to vote himself dead.

He who has never failed somewhere, that man can not be great.

Failure is the true test of greatness

Truth is in things, and not in words.

I do not think I have any uncharitable prejudice against the rattlesnake, still, I should not like to be one.

Honor lies in the mane of a horse.

Truth uncompromisingly told will always have its ragged edges.

When among wild beasts, if they menace you, be a wild beast.

The sweetest joys of life grow in the very jaws of its perils.

Man is a money-making animal, which propensity too often interferes with his benevolence.

We cannot live for ourselves alone.

A good laugh is a mighty good thing, and rather too scarce a good thing.

Is there some principal of nature which states that we never know the quality of what we have until it is gone?

Tis no dishonor when he who would dishonor you, only dishonors himself.

Ignorance is the father of all fear.

It is hard to be finite upon an infinite subject, and all subjects are infinite.

Real strength never impairs beauty or harmony, but it often bestows it, and in everything imposingly beautiful, strength has much to do with the magic.

Failure is the test of greatness.

I'll try a pagan friend, thought I, since Christian kindness has proved but hollow courtesy.

There's magic in the water that draws all men away form the land, that leads them over hills, down creeks and streams and rivers to the sea.

Youth is the time when hearts are large.

If you begin the day with a laugh, you may, nevertheless, end it with a sob and a sigh.

Many sensible things banished from high life find an asylum among the mob.

One of the coolest and wisest hours a man has, is just after he awakes in the morning.

Old age is always wakeful; as if, the longer linked with life, the less man has to do with aught that looks like death.

We may have civilized bodies and yet barbarous souls.

I cherish the greatest respect towards everybody's religious obligations, no matter how comical.

Think not, is my eleventh commandment; and sleep when you can, is my twelfth.

I am a man who, from his youth upwards, has been filled with a profound conviction that the easiest way of life is the best.

Contempt is as frequently produced at first sight as love.

The Past is the textbook of tyrants; the Future is the Bible of the Free.

See how elastic our prejudices grow when once love comes to bend them.

You cannot hide the soul.

A thing may be incredible and still be true; sometimes it is incredible because it is true.

Time is made up of various ages; and each thinks its own a novelty.

The poor man wants many things; the covetous man, all.

A ship is a bit of terra firma cut off from the main; it is a state in itself; and the captain is its king.

Mystery is in the morning, and mystery in the night, and the beauty of mystery is everywhere; but still the plain truth remains, that mouth and purse must be filled.

We die, because we live.

Thou hast evoked in me profounder spells than the evoking one, thou face! For me, thou hast uncovered one infinite, dumb, beseeching countenance of mystery, underlying all the surfaces of visible time and space.

Doesn't the devil live forever; who ever heard that the devil was dead? Did you ever see any person wearing mourning for the devil?

To a sensitive being, pity is not seldom pain.

True places are not found on maps.

I will live and die by this testimony: that I loved a good conscience; that I never invaded another man's liberty; and that I preserved my own.

Youth is immortal; Tis the elderly only grow old!

All Profound things, and emotions of things are preceded and attended by Silence.

There are doubts, sir, which, if man have them, it is not man that can solve them.

It is against the will of God that the East should be Christianized.

Fame is an accident; merit a thing absolute.

The entire merit of a man can never be made known; nor the sum of his demerits, if he have them. We are only known by our names; as letters sealed up, we but read each other's superscriptions.

The sun hides not the ocean, which is the dark side of this earth, and which is two thirds of this earth. So, therefore, that mortal man who hath more of joy than sorrow in him, that mortal man cannot be true-- not true, or undeveloped. With books the same. The truest of all men was the Man of Sorrows, and the truest of all books is Solomon’s, and Ecclesiastes is the fine hammered steel of woe.

What plays the mischief with the truth is that men will insist upon the universal application of a temporary feeling or opinion.

All things that God would have us do are hard for us to do--remember that--and hence, he oftener commands us than endeavours to persuade.

To be called one thing, is oftentimes to be another.

Students of history are horror-struck at the massacres of old; but in the shambles, men are being murdered to-day.

You must have plenty of sea-room to tell the truth in.

Nothing so aggravates an earnest person as a passive resistance.

That hour in the life of a man when first the help of humanity fails him, and he learns that in his obscurity and indigence humanity holds him a dog and no man: that hour is a hard one, but not the hardest. There is still another hour which follows, when he learns that in his infinite comparative minuteness and abjectness, the gods do likewise despise him, and own him not of their clan.

That one most perilous and long voyage ended, only begins a second; and a second ended, only begins a third, and so on, for ever and for aye. Such is the endlessness, yea, the intolerableness of all earthly effort.

There is nothing namable but that some men will, or undertake to, do it for pay.

― Herman Melville Quotes

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Chief Editor

Tal Gur is an author, founder, and impact-driven entrepreneur at heart. After trading his daily grind for a life of his own daring design, he spent a decade pursuing 100 major life goals around the globe. His journey and most recent book, The Art of Fully Living, has led him to found Elevate Society.

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