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Dictionary of World Biography
to track down and kill ‘the great white whale’ which
had crippled him in a previous encounter. Although
Melville denied that Moby Dick was an allegory,
critics have regarded the book as expressing man’s
struggle with nature or even with God. Even more
puzzling to critics was Pierre (1852), a strange and
morbid story about incestuous passion. The harsh
welcome it received is said to have induced the
melancholia into which Melville sank; however, he
continued to write, e.g. The ConfidenceMan (1857).
Billy Budd, the novel on which Benjamin *Britten’s
opera (1951) is based, was left unfinished and not
published until 1924. Melville’s style is rhetorical, his
vocabulary eccentric, rich and varied, but the note of
‘oddity’ bewildered the critics and for a time repelled
the public. He was almost forgotten until revival and
reassessment in the 1920s gave him a very exalted
position among American writers.
Humphreys, A. R., Melville. 1962.
Memling (or Memlinc), Hans (c.1440–1494).
Flemish painter, born near Frankfurt. Almost
certainly a pupil of Rogier van der *Weyden, he
lived in Bruges from 1465, became rich and is
commemorated there by a museum in the old
hospital. His best works include the Donne Triptych
(?1468, once at Chatsworth and now at the National
Gallery, London),The Man of Sorrows in the Arms of
the Virgin (1475, National Gallery, Melbourne), The
Betrothal of St Catherine (1479, for an altar at Bruges),
Compassion for the Dead Christ, with a Donor (1485?,
Rome) and The Legend of St Ursula (1489, Bruges).
His portraits show originality and he is said to have
introduced the practice of setting a three-quarter bust
against a scenic background.
Menander (c.343–291 BCE). Athenian poet.
Principal dramatist of the ‘New Comedy’, his
innovations included the disappearance of the
chorus (except as a ‘turn’ between the acts) and the
presentation of humorous situations of everyday life
(in contrast to the fantasies of Aristophanes). Here are
the slave or servant with a taste for intrigue, the jealous
husband, lover, wife or mistress, the long-lost child
suddenly restored, the shrew, the cheat all to reappear
in the Latin plays of *Plautus and *Terence, and in
*Shakespeare, *Molière and many lesser writers. Until
large portions of several of Menander’s plays were
discovered in the 20th century, it was thought that
only fragments of his work had survived.
Sandbach, F. H., Menander: A Commentary. 1973.
Menchù (Tum), Rigoberta (1959– ). Guatemalan
human rights worker. A Mayan, whose language was
Quiché, she claimed that her parents and brother
were tortured and murdered by the army. She went
to Mexico, then Europe, and was assisted to write
an autobiography I, Rigoberta Menchú (1983) which
illustrated the plight of indigenous peoples generally.
She was awarded the 1992 Nobel Peace Prize as a
gesture of protest against persecution of Indians in
Central America. In 1999 she admitted that some
experiences in her book had not been personal, but
justified publication as having directed international
attention to appalling cruelties.
Mencius (Latinised form of Meng-tzu) (c.370–c.290
BCE). Chinese Confucian philosopher, born in
Shantung province. Sometimes called ‘second sage’
(‘Ya sheng’), he founded a school devoted to the study
of the works of *Confucius. After wandering through
China for over 20 years attempting to persuade
princes and administrators to rule in a moral rather
than opportunist way, he retired to teach and write.
Legge, I., ed., The Chinese Classics. Vol. 2., Mencius.
3rd ed. 1960.
Mencken, H(enry) L(ouis) (1880–1956). American
author and critic, born in Baltimore. He was on the
staff of the Baltimore Sun (1906–41) and his greatest
work is the monumental The American Language (4
volumes, 1919–48). As editor of the American Mercury
(1925–33) he helped to gain public recognition for
Theodore *Dreiser and Sinclair *Lewis. He was an
outspoken critic who denounced religion, intellectuals,
politicians, sentimentalists and foreigners. Although
violently prejudiced, his attacks on complacency and
conformity did much to raise the standards of US
writing. He also wrote books on *Shaw, *Nietzsche and
Stenerson, D. C., H. L. Mencken: Iconoclast from
Baltimore. 1971.
Mendel, Gregor Johann (1822–1884). Austrian
botanist, born in Heinzendorf (now in the Czech
Republic). Discoverer of the Mendelian laws of
inheritance, he became a monk at Brunn (Brno)
and was ordained in 1847. His scientific studies at
Vienna University were encouraged and paid for
by the monastery, of which he later became abbot
(1869). Many of his experiments on the breeding
and hybridisation of plants were carried out in the
garden there. He kept (1857–68) systematic records
of the pedigrees of many generations of plants,
closely examining the effects of heredity on the
characteristics of individual plants and discovering
the statistical laws governing the transmission from
parent to offspring of unit hereditary factors (now
called genes). His results were only published (1865
and 1869) in a local journal. His work, dismissed
by *Nägeli, was not appreciated until its rediscovery
c.1900 by de *Vries. Complicating factors have since
been discovered but Mendel’s fundamental principles
remain undisturbed by later research.
Stern, C., and Sherwood, E. R., eds., The Origin
of Genetics: A Mendel Source Book. 1967.
Mendeleyev, Dimitri Ivanovich (1834–1907).
Russian chemist, born in Tobolsk. The youngest of a
large family, son of a school principal, he was educated
at Heidelberg and St Petersburg, becoming professor