Herman Melville home
780 Holmes Road
There’s a marked difference in the way that Emily Dickinson’s home and Herman Melville’s are interpreted for the public. Both were prominent 19th-century literary figures, but at the Dickinson homestead (not far from here in Amherst), guides focus on Emily’s “petite figure” and the number of her supposed suitors. By contrast, at Arrowhead, Melville’s writing is of foremost importance, his study the centerpiece of the house.
At Arrowhead, where he lived from 1850 to 1863, Herman Melville (1819-1891) wrote what is considered his masterpiece, Moby-Dick (1851). He was reportedly inspired by the view from the window of his study of Mount Greylock, a rolling mountain with the vague shape of a giant whale. Melville would rise early to feed the farm animals, and then after breakfast light the fire in his study and work on his writing until late afternoon.
It was also here in the Berkshires that his friendship and fascination with Nathaniel Hawthorne, who lived nearby, blossomed, though there is no evidence that the relationship between the two writers was anything but platonic. Melville held a lifelong attraction for sailors, filling his sea tales with homoerotic undertones. If you look carefully at the document displayed under glass on his desk at Arrowhead, you may smile at a line in a letter to his seafaring brother, who had complained about the laziness of his fellow sailors. “For my part I love sleepy fellows,” Herman Melville wrote, “and the more ignorant the better.”
Melville wrote many other works at Arrowhead, including the humorous short story “I and My Chimney,” in which he extolled the virtues of his large stone chimney. Later, Melville’s brother Allan lived at Arrowhead and had the opening sentences of the story inscribed into the fireplace in honor of his famous brother (see photo). At this location, Melville also penned the six stories known as The Piazza Tales, named for the piazza that ran the width of the house, which he added to Arrowhead during his years there.
When he purchased Arrowhead with the help of his wife’s father, Melville had the idea that he would write part time and farm the rest. But he was unprepared for the strenuous life of a farmer, and his experiment finally ended. He moved his family to New York City, where he became a customs inspector. Arrowhead is now operated by the Berkshire County Historical Society and is open to the public for tours.
I have been building some shanties of houses (connected with the old one) and likewise some shanties of chapters and essays. I have been ploughing & sowing & raising & printing & praying, and now begin to come out upon a less bristling time, and to enjoy the calm prospect of things from a fair piazza at the north of the old farmhouse here.”