I am half way in the work . . . .  It will be a strange sort of book, tho’, I fear; blubber is blubber you know; tho’ you might get oil out of it, the poetry runs as hard as sap from a frozen maple tree; — and to cook the thing up, one must needs throw in a little fancy, which from the nature of the thing, must be ungainly as the gambols of the whales themselves. Yet I mean to give the truth of the thing, spite of this.

Herman Melville, on writing Moby-Dick, in a letter to Richard Henry Dana,  Jr., dated May 1,1850.

Melville’s masterpiece was  published on this day in 1851.  Nobody bought it.  In 1865, Melville took a  job as a customs inspector and began to  concentrate on poetry, eventually cranking out the longest poem in American literature.  Rumors of his insanity circulated, and he drank  too much.   The story that on his death the New York Times memorialized him as Henry Melville, however, is an urban myth, no doubt perpetuated by generations of writers, good and bad, hoping that life-long obscurity would open the door to the American literary canon.