Saturday, August 1, 2020

Billy Budd as the Best Part of Shakespeare

Jonson, Poetaster

Ovid Jr.

...The suffering plough-share or the flint may wear;
     But heavenly Poesy no death can fear.
     Kings shall give place to it, and kingly shows,
     The banks o'er which gold-bearing Tagus flows.
     Kneel hinds to trash: me let bright Phoebus swell
     With cups full flowing from the Muses' well.
     Frost-fearing myrtle shall impale my head,
     And of sad lovers I be often read.
     Envy the living, not the dead, doth bite!
     For after death all men receive their right.
     Then, when this body falls in funeral fire,
     My name shall live, and MY BEST PART ASPIRE.

Venus and Adonis - Shakespeare:

Vilia miretur vulgus: mihi flavus Apollo
Pocula Castalia plena ministret aqua.


"There is another reason that excuseth B [note - Ben Jonson]., which is, that is one be allowed to love the natural issue of his body, why not that of the brain, which is of a spiritual and more noble extraction?" (note- not marked in Melville's copy of Hazlitt)

Captain Edward Fairfax Vere - Master of Man-o-war Bellipotent/Indomitable

Melville's Testament of Acceptance
E. L. Grant Watson

...Here is Melville at his very best, at his deepest, most poetic, and therefore at his most concentrated, most conscious. Every image has its significant implication: the very roll of the heavily-cannoned ship so majestic in moderate weather - the musket in the ship armourer's rack; and Billy's last words are the triumphant seal of his acceptance, and they are more than that, for in this supreme passage [note - God Bless Captain Vere] a communion between PERSONALITY at its purest, most-God-given form, and CHARACTER, hard-hammered from the imperfect material of life on the battleship Indomitable, is here suggested, and one feels that the souls of Captain Vere and Billy are at the moment STRANGELY ONE.

Strong's Concordance

tupos: a figure, model, type
Original Word: τύπος, ου, ὁ
Part of Speech: Noun, Masculine
Transliteration: tupos
Phonetic Spelling: (too'-pos)
Definition: typically
Usage: (originally: the MARK of a BLOW [note- Billy's fist], then a stamp struck by a die), (a) a figure; a copy, image, (b) a pattern, model, (c) a type, prefiguring something or somebody.


Shakespeare's Man-o-War Body:

From 'The Dramatic Works of William Shakspeare. Life. New facts regarding the life.

...But from some cause or other, which it is not our present business to explore, each of these editors, in his turn, has disappointed the just expectations of the public; and, with an inversion of Nature's general rule, the little men have finally prevailed against the great. The blockheads have hooted the wits from the field' and, attaching themselves to the mighty body of Shakspeare, like barnacles to the hull of a proud MAN-O-WAR, they are prepared to plough with him the vast ocean of time; and thus, by the only means in their power to snatch themselves from that oblivion to which Nature had devoted them. It would be unjust, however, to defraud these gentlemen of their proper praise. They have read for men of talents; and, by their gross labor in the mine, they have accumulated materials to be arranged and polished by the hand of the finer artist. - Some apology may be necessary for this short digression from the more immediate subject of my biography. [Dr. Symmons, Intro., p. xxv]

(Italicized words marked with a line in the margin in Melville's copy)



Billy Budd/Beauty - noble foundling

'Yes, Billy Budd was a foundling, a presumable by-blow, and, evidently, no ignoble one. Noble descent was as evident in him as in a blood horse.' (Melville, _Billy Budd_)

There was “something in the mobile expression and every chance attitude and movement, something suggestive of a mother eminently favoured by Love and the Graces” (235-6)


1850: "Hawthorne and His Mosses" by Herman Melville

"Would that all excellent BOOKS were FOUNDLINGS, without father or
mother, that so it might be we could glorify them, without including
their ostensible authors."

“I know not what would be the right name to put on the title-page
of an excellent book, but this I feel, that the names of all fine
authors are fictitious ones, far more than that of Junius,-- simply
standing, as they do, for the mystical, ever-eluding SPIRIT of all
BEAUTY, which ubiquitously possesses men of genius. Purely imaginative
as this fancy may appear, it nevertheless seems to receive some
warranty from the fact, that on a personal interview no great author
has ever come up to the idea of his reader. But that dust of which our
bodies are composed, how can it fitly express the nobler intelligences
among us?”

Melville - a “virtue went out of” Billy and “sugared” the crew.


Hazlitt - from Melville's Library. Lecture II. On Shakespeare and Jonson 

Extract from Howel's Letters (From a supper with Ben Jonson)
From James Howel, Esq., to Sir Thomas Hawk, Kt.
Westminster, 5th April, 1636
I was invited yesternight to a solemn supper by B.J., where you were deeply remembered; there was good company, excellent cheer, choice wines, jovial welcome: one thing intervened, which almost spoiled the relish of the rest, that B. began to engross all the discourse, to vapour extremely by himself, and, by vilifying others, to magnify his own Muse. T. Ca (Tom Carew) buzzed me in the ear, that though Ben had barrelled up a great deal of knowledge, yet it seems he had not read the ethics, which, among other precepts of morality, forbid self-commendation, declaring it to be an ill-favoured solecism in good manners. It made me think upon the lady (not very young) who, having a good while given her guest neat entertainment, a capon being brought upon the table, instead of a spoon, she took a mouthful of claret, and spouted into the hollow bird: such an accident happened in this entertainment: you know -  propria, laus sordet in ore: be a man's breath ever so sweet, yet it makes one's praise stink, if he makes his own mouth the conduit-pipe of it. But, for may part, I am content to dispense with the Roman infirmity of Ben, now that time hath snowed upon his pericranium. You know Ovid and (your) Horace were subject to this humour, the first bursting out into - 

Jamque opus exegi, quod nec Jovis ir nec ignis, etc.

The other into- 

Exegi monumentum aere perennius, etc.

As also Cicero, while he forced himself into this hexameter: O fortunatum natam me consule Romam! There is another reason that excuseth B., which is, that if one be allowed to love the natural issue of his body, why not that of the brain, which is of a spiritual and more noble extraction?" (note- not marked in Melville's copy of Hazlitt)

E. L. Grant Watson
All the grim setting of the world is in the battleship Indomitable; war and threatened mutiny are the conditions of her existence. Injustice and inhumanity are implicit, yet Captain Vere, her commander, is the man who obeys the law and yet understands the truth of the spirit.
In Captain Vere we find a figure which may interestingly be compared to Pontius Pilate. Like Pilate, he condemns the just man to a shameful death, knowing him to be innocent, but, unlike Pilate, he does not wash his hands, but manfully assumes the full responsibility, and in such a way as to take the half, if not more than the half, of the bitterness of the execution upon himself. We are given to suppose that there is an affinity, a spiritual understanding between Captain Vere and Billy Budd, and it is even suggested that in their partial and separate existences they contribute two essential portions of that larger spirit which is man. Such passages as that quoted lie on the surface of this story, but they indicate the depths beneath. There are darker hints: those deep, far-away things in Vere, those occasional flashings-forth of intuition - short, quick probings to the very axis of reality.

(See 'Melville's Billy Budd and the Disguises of Authorship', Stritmatter, Anderson and Stone - shows how Grant Watson took this description of Vere from Melville's description of Shakespeare in 'Hawthorne and his Mosses' - deep faraway things..)

Melville's edition Shakespeare:
'The Dramatic Works of William Shakspeare. Life. New facts regarding the life.

So exquisite, indeed, appears to have been his relish of the quiet, which was his portion within the walls of New Place, that it induced a complete oblivion of all that had engaged his attention, and had aggrandized his name, in the preceding scenes of his life. Without any regard to his literary fame, either present or to come, he saw with perfect unconcern some of his immortal works brought, mutilated and deformed, before the world, in surreptitious copies; and others of them, with an equal indifference to their fate, her permitted to remain in their unrevised or interpolated MSS. in the hand of the theatric prompter. There is not, probably, in the whole compass of literary history, such another instance of a proud superiority to what has been called by a rival genius, 

"The last infirmity of noble minds,"

As that which was not exhibited by our illustrious Dramatist and Poet.


Melville (of Vere)  - 'The spirit that spite its philosophic austerity may yet have indulged in the most secret of all passions, ambition, never attained to the fulness of fame.' 

Said of Vere in Billy Budd. Look at Symmons essay that describes Shaksberd's complete disregard for fame of any of the 'offspring of his brain'. Also quotes Milton's Lycidas 'ambition the last infirmity of  noble minds

Captive Good Attending Captain Ill:

Symmons essay in Melville's Shakespeare mention Dr. Johnson's criticism of Sh. Johnson faulting him for 'sacrificing virtue to convenience'. Essays describing Vere's sacrifice of Billy to the rules and  'measured forms' of the warship tend to emphasize how Vere sacrifices truth and 'morality' for the sake of political expediency.

"Billy Budd, Foretopman" and the Dynamics of Canonization
Hershel Parker 

...E.L Grant Watson, a British naturalist and literary man, published in 1930 in the New England Quarterly a reading of Pierre which for decades stood as the most sensitive tribute to that book. He followed it in the same journal with a 1933 article on Billy Budd as "Melville's Testament of Acceptance" - with "testament" carrying the sense of last will but also in the scriptural sense, for he saw the work as Melville's "gospel story." Melville himself, Watson said, in Billy Budd is "no longer a rebel," nor is Billy. Rather, the "supreme quality of acceptance" marks Billy, and Captain Vere as well. Drawing some phraseology from Melville's essay on Hawthorne's Mosses from an Old Manse, Watson stressed the provocative, haunting qualities of the work: "There are darker hints: those deep, far-away things in Vere, those occasional flashings-forth of intuition - short quick probings to the very axis of reality"
By 1940 in his article in the University of Toronto Quarterly on Melville's "metaphysics of evil" R.E. Watters could loftily hold up *the power of love in Billy Budd as a pattern man imprints on the blackness of the cosmos.*
Detailed academic criticism, what we think of as "close reading" of the text, began with great appropriateness, in the quintessentially New Critical journal, The Explicator (December 1943). There T.T. E. observed that in Ch. 6 the narrator speaks admiringly of Vere's disinterested mental processes, but later makes Vere's arguments at the trial hinge on the "practical consequences" if Billy is not hanged at once. T.T.E asked: "Are we to regard this disparity as an oversight or as one of the essential ambiguities in the story? Does it perhaps point the way to regarding the novel as more concerned with social repercussions and less concerned with personal ethics than is customary? In this respect the 'Preface' deserves especial note". Ironically, this first piece of academic criticism demonstrated the problematic nature of the characterization of Vere, evident when anyone pays close attention to the words in any text, not just the Weaver text; (snip)

Prospero, Tempest

...But this rough magic
I here abjure, and when I have required
Some heavenly music, which even now I do,
To work mine end upon their senses that
This airy charm is for, I’ll break my staff,
Bury it certain fathoms in the earth,
And deeper than did ever plummet sound
I’ll drown my book.

Melville, Billy in the Darbies

...But me they’ll lash me in hammock, drop me deep.
Fathoms down, fathoms down, how I’ll dream fast asleep.
I feel it stealing now. Sentry, are you there?
Just ease these darbies at the wrist,
And roll me over fair.
I am sleepy, and the oozy weeds about me twist.

Milton, Lycidas
 Alas! what boots it with incessant care
To tend the homely, slighted shepherd's trade,
And strictly meditate the thankless Muse?
Were it not better done, as others use,
To sport with Amaryllis in the shade,
Or with the tangles of Neæra's hair?
Fame is the spur that the clear spirit doth raise
(That last infirmity of noble mind)
To scorn delights and live laborious days;
But the fair guerdon when we hope to find,
And think to burst out into sudden blaze,
Comes the blind Fury with th'abhorred shears,
And slits the thin-spun life. "But not the praise,"
Phoebus replied, and touch'd my trembling ears;
"Fame is no plant that grows on mortal soil,
Nor in the glistering foil
Set off to th'world, nor in broad rumour lies,
But lives and spreads aloft by those pure eyes
And perfect witness of all-judging Jove;
As he pronounces lastly on each deed,
Of so much fame in Heav'n expect thy meed." 
Weep no more, woeful shepherds, weep no more,
For Lycidas, your sorrow, is not dead,
Sunk though he be beneath the wat'ry floor;
So sinks the day-star in the ocean bed,
And yet anon repairs his drooping head,
And tricks his beams, and with new spangled ore
Flames in the forehead of the morning sky:
So Lycidas sunk low, but mounted high
Through the dear might of him that walk'd the waves;
Where, other groves and other streams along,
With nectar pure his oozy locks he laves,
And hears the unexpressive nuptial song,
In the blest kingdoms meek of joy and love.
There entertain him all the Saints above,
In solemn troops, and sweet societies,
That sing, and singing in their glory move,
And wipe the tears for ever from his eyes.
Now, Lycidas, the shepherds weep no more:
Henceforth thou art the Genius of the shore,
In thy large recompense, and shalt be good
To all that wander in that perilous flood. 

Billy/Fair youth

But be contented when that fell arrest
Without all bail shall carry me away;
My life hath in this line some interest,
Which for memorial still with thee shall stay.
When thou reviewest this, thou dost review
The very part was consecrate to thee;
The earth can have but earth, which is his due,
My spirit is thine, the better part of me;
So then thou hast but lost the dregs of life,
The prey of worms, my body being dead,
The coward conquest of a wretch’s knife,
Too base of thee to be remembered;
The worth of that, is that which it contains,
And that is this, and this with thee remains

Billy Budd -answer to Shakespeare authorship and solution to Phoenix and Turtle (Beauty and Truth) 

William Shakespeare - offspring of the 'chaste' marriage of the true minds of Phoenix and Turtle. Vere's compliment to the Queen. 

If my dear love were but the child of state,
It might for Fortune's bastard be unfathered,
As subject to Time's love or to Time's hate,
Weeds among weeds, or flowers with flowers gathered.
No, it was builded far from accident;
It suffers not in smiling pomp, nor falls
Under the blow of thralled discontent,
Whereto th' inviting time our fashion calls:
It fears not policy, that heretic,
Which works on leases of short-number'd hours,
But all alone stands hugely politic,
That it nor grows with heat, nor drowns with showers.
   To this I witness call the fools of time,
   Which die for goodness, who have lived for crime.