Freethought of the Day

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There are 2 entries for this date: Herman Melville and Jean Baptiste LaMarck
Herman Melville

Herman Melville

On this date in 1819, Herman Melville was born in New York City, one of eight children. His father died when Herman was 12, forcing him to quit school and go to work to help support his family. In 1839, Melville became a cabin boy, and sailed the South Seas, later joining the U.S. Navy. He was shipwrecked among the Typee cannibals, and dramatically rescued. These and other exploits inspired the fictionalized account Typee (1846) and its sequel, Omoo (1847). These first two books were Melville's most popular writings during his lifetime. Moby-Dick (with its famous first line, "Call me Ishmael," 1851), now his most celebrated work, was a literary and financial disappointment at the time. The book is a multi-layered, allegorical tale about whaling and one man's obsession. "I have written a wicked book and feel as spotless as the lamb," Melville wrote his friend and neighbor Nathaniel Hawthorne, to whom the book was dedicated. Hawthorne wrote of Melville: "He can neither believe, nor be comfortable in his unbelief; and he is too honest and courageous not to try to do one or the other. If he were a religious man, he would be truly one of the most truly religious and reverential; he has a very high and noble nature, and better worth immortality than most of us." (Quoted in Why Read Moby Dick? by Nathaniel Philbrick) Melville, the prototypical struggling artist, obtained a steady income in 1862, when he was appointed customs inspector on the New York City docks, where he worked for many years. Raised Calvinist, Melville became a member of the Church of All Souls (Unitarian), New York City. His writing was full of questioning, anguished doubt, and explorations of "good and evil." D. 1891.

“Backward and forward, eternity is the same; already we have been the nothing we dread to be.”

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

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Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Jean Baptiste LaMarck

Jean Baptiste LaMarck

On this date in 1744, Jean Baptiste LaMarck was born in France, and later educated at the Jesuit College in Amiens. He left the seminary to join the Army and fight in Germany. After five years of service, he was injured and turned to the study of botany. LaMarck was appointed Royal Botanist in 1781. He became professor of invertebrate zoology at the Natural History Museum in 1793, and was the first to coin the word "invertebrate." LaMarck wrote Philosophie Zoologique (1809), proposing an early theory of evolution, a now-discredited but thoughtful theory on the inheritance of acquired traits. Darwin and others eventually hailed LaMarck, who died in obscurity and poverty, for doing the "eminent service of arousing attention to the probability of all changes in the organic, as well as in the inorganic world, being the result of law, and not of miraculous interposition." LaMarck was a Deist in the classical sense. D. 1829.

“All knowledge that is not the real product of observation, or of consequences deduced from observation, is entirely groundless and illusory.”

—pan class=Apple-style-span

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Freethought of the Day

Would you like to start your day on a freethought note? "Freethought of the Day" is a daily freethought calendar brought to you courtesy of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, highlighting birthdates, quotes, and other historic tidbits.

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