After watching a TV documentary on the life story of sailor and author Herman Melville it struck me that timing is a huge factor in the success of creativity. There have been many other historical examples but this one in particular was so profound and tragic that I could not shake it from my mind.
Herman Melville is the renowned author of Moby Dick but at the time his book was published it was panned by critics and ignored by the general public.
In Melville’s early life he had spent four years or so at sea aboard whaling vessels in the South Pacific, jumped ship, lived with cannibals, survived a shipwreck and had an intimate knowledge of the sailing world of the 1800’s.
Upon returning to America, he had successfully published two books about his years aboard whaling vessels. “Moby Dick” was to be his Epic Novel of all time.
Unfortunately for Melville, by the time it was finished, public interest had shifted to the American Wild West and sea adventures were history- along with his career as an author. He never recovered from the criticism and the damage to his reputation He tried to shift his stories but continued to meet with failure and criticism and rejection. He battled depression and family tragedies. Eventually Melville landed a job as a customs agent and wrote poetry mostly as a side note. Melville died in 1891 largely unknown and unappreciated as an author.
The irony of this situation is that Melville’s book “Moby Dick” is now considered one of the greatest literary achievements and is held up as the epic novel that Melville hoped it would be.
Perhaps in terms of timing, history has a lesson to teach us in that short-term fame and fortune may not be the best measure of success. Longevity is the better measure of success but that the creator is often not around to enjoy that success when it happens.
We often poke fun about paintings being worth more then the artist is dead but as with all humor there is some truth behind every joke.