Saturday, May 26, 2018

Vere, Budd, Spirit of Beauty

Melville’s Billy Budd

...None of this sort of thinking, it can be ventured, went into the Kentucky breeder’s decision to call his horse ‘Billy Budd’ a half-century or so before Melville wrote his tale. As a matter of fact, ‘Billy Budd’ was the name of two horses—one racing in Kentucky in the early 1840s, the other in Michigan and Ohio in the mid-to-late 1870s. The name appeared with some regularity at the time in journals such as Spirit of the Times, American Gentleman’s Newspaper, and Turf, Field, and Farm.
Interestingly enough—and it may not be merely coincidental—when Melville’s ‘Handsome Sailor’ is asked about his background, his forebears, and his lineage, questions that he cannot answer, the narrator tells us that this Billy Budd was ‘a FOUNDLING, a presumable by-blow, and, evidently, no ignoble one’, for ‘noble descent was evident in him as in A BLOOD HORSE’. The question, on the other hand, that Melville’s critics will have difficulty answering is to what extent was Melville aware that he had given his young hero a name already belonging to blooded racehorses, particularly a stallion named ‘Billy Budd’ that (unlike Melville’s fictional sailor) lived to sire other notable race horses.


Venus and Adonis - Shakespeare

...But, lo, from forth a copse that neighbors by,
A breeding jennet, lusty, young and proud,
Adonis' trampling courser doth espy,
And forth she rushes, snorts and neighs aloud:
The strong-neck'd steed, being tied unto a tree,
Breaketh his rein, and to her straight goes he.
Imperiously he leaps, he neighs, he bounds,
And now his woven girths he breaks asunder;
The bearing earth with his hard hoof he wounds,
Whose hollow womb resounds like heaven's thunder;
The iron bit he crusheth 'tween his teeth,
Controlling what he was controlled with.
His ears up-prick'd; his braided hanging mane
Upon his compass'd crest now stand on end;
His nostrils drink the air, and forth again,
As from a furnace, vapours doth he send:
His eye, which scornfully glisters like fire,
Shows his hot courage and his high desire.
Sometime he trots, as if he told the steps,
With gentle majesty and modest pride;
Anon he rears upright, curvets and leaps,
As who should say 'Lo, thus my strength is tried,
And this I do to captivate the eye
Of the fair breeder that is standing by.'
What recketh he his rider's angry stir,
His flattering 'Holla,' or his 'Stand, I say'?
What cares he now for curb or pricking spur?
For rich caparisons or trapping gay?
He sees his love, and nothing else he sees,
For nothing else with his proud sight agrees.
Look, when a painter would surpass the life,
In limning out a well-proportion'd steed,
His art with nature's workmanship at strife,
As if the dead the living should exceed;
So did this horse excel a common one
In shape, in courage, colour, pace and bone.
Round-hoof'd, short-jointed, fetlocks shag and long,
Broad breast, full eye, small head and nostril wide,
High crest, short ears, straight legs and passing strong,
Thin mane, thick tail, broad buttock, tender hide:
Look, what a horse should have he did not lack,
Save a proud rider on so proud a back.

Vere/Truth/Shakespeare,  Budd/Beauty/Heir of [His] Invention/Book

Righteous Violence: Revolution, Slavery, and the American Renaissance
By Larry John Reynolds

…On points of honor, Melville was obstinate, and despite his explorations of cultural relativism and epistemological uncertainty, much of his thought rested upon a foundation of ethical certainty. At the heart of Melville’s great work, Moby-Dick, lies an obsession with justice, and Ahab’s quarrel with the god or gods who allow the faithful and innocent to suffer can be read as an insistence that life should resemble a boxing match where strict rules apply. Billy Budd marks Melville’s final exploration of this topic and offers the insight that justice itself can cause the faithful and innocent to suffer. It should be added, though, that Billy’s violent streak and his failure to report a mutiny in the making call into question his putative innocence.
In his interactions with members of his family, especially his sons, Melville displayed a firmness much like Vere’s, which set him apart. Vere, we are told, “though a conscientious disciplinarian,…was no lover of authority for mere authority’s sake”, and one suspects Melville thought of himself in the same way. As Merton Sealts has pointed out, Melville “was a strict disciplinarian, given to moodiness and irascibility that some of his relatives by marriage came to interpret as outright insanity.” In his dealings with his own children, he seems to have been inflexible, and circumstantial evidence suggests that the suicide of his son Malcolm in 1867 may have been precipitated by Melville’s harsh discipline…
The fact that Vere and Billy are portrayed as exceptional men gives us additional reason to view them in the context of Melville’s life and career. Vere’s rigidity as well as Billy’s goodness are Christ-like within Melville’s socio-political system of values. Sometime after receiving a copy of New Testament and Psalms as a gift in 1846, Melville copied and underscored the following description of Christ into the book:

In Life he appeared as a true Philosopher – as a wise man in the highest sense. He stands firm to his point [note – [Vere]stood erectly rigid as a musket in the ship-armorer's  rack, BB] ; he goes on his way inflexibly; and while he exalts the lower to himself, while he makes the ignorant, the poor, the sick, partakers of is wisdom, of his riches, of his strength, he, on the other hand, in no wise conceals his divine origin; he dares to equal himself with God; nay to declare that he himself is God.
In this manner he wont from youth upwards to astonish his familiar friends; of these he gains a part to his own cause; irritates the rest against him; and shows to all men, who are aiming at a certain elevation in doctrine and life, what they have to look for from the world.

This interpretation of the character and life of Christ not only captures Melville’s sense of his own “inflexibility” but also illuminates his admiration for Vere’s firmness. Near the end of his life, as he was revising Billy Budd, Melville marked several book passages that reveal  his continued fascination with the superior individual. In Balzac’s Fame and Sorrow, he scored a passage describing ‘the horrible strife, the incessant warfare which mediocrity wages against superior men,’ and in Schopenhauer’s Studies in Pessimism, he underlined, “If he is a man of genius, he will occasionally feel like some noble prisoner of state, condemned to work, in the galleys with common criminals; and he will follow his example and try to isolate himself.’ These passages help us understand Melville’s conception of himself, of Vere, and perhaps even Billy.
Of all the qualities linking Vere and Billy to each other, the noble blood flowing in their veins is the most telling, and it sets them apart from the turbulent masses. Despite his democracy, Melville believed that “blood will tell,” and we should see no irony in his insistence that “noble descent was as evident in {Billy} as in a blood horse”. Melville had made the same point about King Mehevi in Typee (1846), Jack Chase in White-Jacket, and Queequeg in Moby-Dick. Like his own father and mother, Melville prided himself on his ancestry, and he named his son Malcolm after Scottish nobility. In 1850 Melville told Sophia Hawthorne, and she reported to her sister, that he was “of Scotch decent – of noble lineage – of the Lords of Melville & Leven, & Malcolm is a family name.” like Jack Chase, to whom Billy Budd is dedicated, Billy is a “by-blow,” a noble foundling, whose “small and shapely” ear, ‘the arch of the foot, the curve in mouth and nostril,” expression, attitude, and movement all “strangely indicated a lineage in direct contradiction to his lot”. As many readers have noticed, he could be Vere’s actual, as well as surrogate, son.
While Melville privileged blood and respected the elevation it conferred, he had no blind faith in authority. Billy Budd argues on behalf of law, order, social stability, and family solidarity, but our reading is complicated by indications that here, as in White-Jacket, Melville views with contempt those who represent established order yet act to subvert it. The villain, Claggart, after all, is master-at-arms, the chief policeman on the ship; it is he who seeks to engage Billy in mutiny.

Melville to Duyckinck:
Dear Duyckinck - --Feb 24 1849
…I have been passing my time very pleasurably here. But chiefly in lounging on a sofa (a la the poet Grey) & reading Shakspeare. It is an edition in glorious great type, every letter whereof is a soldier, & the top of every “t” like a musket barrel. Dolt & ass that I am I have lived more than 29 years, & until a few days ago, never made close acquaintance with the divine William. Ah, he’s full of sermons-on-the-mount, and getle, aye, almost as Jesus. I take such men to be inspired. I fancy that this moment Shakspeare in heaven ranks with Gabriel Raphael and Michael. And if another Messiah ever comes twill be in Shakespere’s person.  – I am mad to think how minute a cause has prevented me hitherto from reading Shakspeare. But until now, every copy that was come-atable to me, happened to be in a vile small print unendurable to my eyes which are tender as young sparrows. But chancing to fall ni with this glorious edition, I now exult over it, page after page. –

Billy Budd - noble foundling/bastard:

'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_)  


Hawthorne and His Mosses
By Herman Melville
The Literary World, August 17 and 24, 1850

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. Nor would any true man take exception to this;--least of all, he who writes,--"When the Artist rises high enough to achieve the Beautiful, the symbol by which he makes it perceptible to mortal senses becomes of little value in his eyes, while his spirit possesses itself in the enjoyment of the reality."
But more than this, 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? With reverence be it spoken, that not even in the case of one deemed more than man, not even in our Saviour, did his visible frame betoken anything of the augustness of the nature within. Else, how could those Jewish eyewitnesses fail to see heaven in his glance.
Now it is that blackness in Hawthorne, of which I have spoken, that so fixes and fascinates me. It may be, nevertheless, that it is too largely developed in him. Perhaps he does not give us a ray of his light for every shade of his dark. But however this may be, this blackness it is that furnishes the infinite obscure of his background,--that background, against which Shakespeare plays his grandest conceits, the things that have made for Shakespeare his loftiest, but most circumscribed renown, as the profoundest of thinkers. For by philosophers Shakespeare is not adored as the great man of tragedy and comedy.--"Off with his head! so much for Buckingham!" this sort of rant, interlined by another hand, brings down the house,--those mistaken souls, who dream of Shakespeare as a mere man of Richard-the-Third humps, and Macbeth daggers. But it is those deep far-away things in him; those occasional flashings-forth of the INTUITIVE TRUTH in him; those short, quick probings at the very axis of reality:--these are the things that make Shakespeare, Shakespeare. Through the mouths of the dark characters of Hamlet, Timon, Lear, and Iago, he craftily says, or sometimes insinuates the things, which we feel to be so terrifically true, that it were all but madness for any good man, in his own proper character, to utter, or even hint of them. Tormented into desperation, Lear the frantic King tears off the mask, and speaks the sane madness of vital truth. But, as I before said, it is the least part of genius that attracts admiration. And so, much of the blind, unbridled admiration that has been heaped upon Shakespeare, has been lavished upon the least part of him. And few of his endless commentators and critics seem to have remembered, or even perceived, that the immediate products of a great mind are not so great, as that undeveloped, (and sometimes undevelopable) yet dimly-discernible greatness, to which these immediate products are but the infallible indices. In Shakespeare's tomb lies infinitely more than Shakespeare ever wrote. And if I magnify Shakespeare, it is not so much for what he did do, as for what he did not do, or refrained from doing. For in this world of lies, Truth is forced to fly like a scared white doe in the woodlands; and only by cunning glimpses will she reveal herself, as in Shakespeare and other masters of the great Art of Telling the Truth,--even though it be covertly, and by snatches.
But if this view of the all-popular Shakespeare be seldom taken by his readers, and if very few who extol him, have ever read him deeply, or, perhaps, only have seen him on the tricky stage, (which alone made, and is still making him his mere mob renown)--if few men have time, or patience, or palate, for the SPIRITUAL TRUTH as it is in that great genius;--it is, then, no matter of surprise that in a contemporaneous age, Nathaniel Hawthorne is a man, as yet, almost utterly mistaken among men.

 Signior Amorphus/Oxford

Cynthia’s Revels - Jonson
Act 1 Sc. III
 Amorphus. I am a Rhinoceros, if I had thought a Creature
of her symmetry, could have dar'd so improportionable,
and abrupt a digression. Liberal, and divine Fount,
suffer my prophane hand to take of thy Bounties. By
the Purity of my taste, here is most ambrosiack Water;
I will sup of it again. By thy favour, sweet fount.
See, the Water (a more running, subtile, and humo-
rous Nymph than she) permits me to touch, and handle
her. What should I infer? If my Behaviours had been
of a cheap or customary garb; my Accent or Phrase
vulgar; my Garments trite; my Countenance illite-
rate, or unpractis'd in the incounter of a beautiful and
brave attir'd Piece; then I might (with some change
of colour) have suspected my Faculties: but know-
ing my self an essence so sublimated, and refin'd by
travel; of so studied, and well exercis'd a Gesture; so
alone in Fashion; able to render the face of any States-
man living; and so speak the meer extraction of Lan-
guage; one that hath now made the sixth return upon
ventuer; and was your first that ever inricht his Coun-
trey with the true Laws of the duello; whose optiques
have drunk the SPIRIT OF BEAUTY, in some Eight score
and eighteen Princes Courts, where I have resided, and
been there fortunate in the amours of Three hundred
forty and five Ladies (all Nobly, if not Princely de-
scended) whose names I have in Catalogue; to con-
clude, in all so happy, as even Admiration her self doth
seem to fasten her kisses upon me: Certes, I do neither
see, nor feel, nor taste, nor favour the least steam, or
fume of a reason, that should invite this foolish fastidi-
ous Nymph, so peevishly to abandon me. Well, let the
Memory of her fleet into Air; my thoughts and I am
for this other Element, Water.


Billy Budd, Melville
Chapter 2
Though our new-made foretopman was well received in the top and on the gun decks, hardly here was he that cynosure he had previously been among those minor ship's companies of the merchant marine, with which companies only had he hitherto consorted.
He was young; and despite his all but fully developed frame, in aspect looked even younger than he really was, owing to a lingering adolescent expression in the as yet smooth face, all but feminine in purity of natural complexion, but where, thanks to his seagoing, the lily was quite suppressed and the rose had some ado visibly to flush through the tan.
To one essentially such a novice in the complexities of factitious life, the abrupt transition from his former and simpler sphere to the ampler and more knowing world of a great war-ship; this might well have abashed him had there been any conceit or vanity in his composition. Among her miscellaneous multitude, the Indomitable mustered several individuals who, however inferior in grade, were of no common natural stamp, sailors more signally susceptive of that air which continuous martial discipline and repeated presence in battle can in some degree impart even to the average man. As the Handsome Sailor, Billy Budd's position aboard the seventy-four was something analogous to that of a rustic beauty transplanted from the provinces and brought into competition with the highborn dames of the court. But this change of circumstances he scarce noted. As little did he observe that something about him provoked an ambiguous smile in one or two harder faces among the blue jackets. Nor less unaware was he of the peculiar favorable effect his person and demeanour had upon the more intelligent gentlemen of the quarter deck.  Nor could this well have been otherwise. Cast in a mould peculiar to the finest physical examples of those Englishmen in whom the Saxon strain would seem not at all to partake of any Norman or other admixture, he showed in face that humane look of reposeful good nature which the Greek sculptor in some instances gave to his heroic strong man, Hercules. But this again was subtly modified by another and pervasive quality. The ear, small and shapely, the arch of the foot, the curve in mouth and nostril, even the indurated hand dyed to the orange-tawny of the toucan's bill, a hand telling alike of the halyards and tar-bucket; but, above all, something in the mobile expression, and every chance attitude and movement, something suggestive of a MOTHER eminently favored by LOVE and the GRACES; all this strangely indicated a lineage in direct contradiction to his lot. The mysteriousness here became less mysterious through a matter-of-fact elicited when Billy, at the capstan was being formally mustered into the service. Asked by the officer, a small brisk little gentleman, as it chanced among other questions, his place of birth, he replied, "Please, Sir, I don't know."
"Don't know where you were born?- Who was your father?"
"God knows, Sir."




The Phoenix and Turtle


Beauty, truth, and rarity,
Grace in all simplicity,
Here enclos'd, in cinders lie.

Death is now the Phoenix' nest,
And the Turtle's loyal breast
To eternity doth rest,

Leaving no posterity:
'Twas not their infirmity,
It was married chastity.

Truth may seem but cannot be;
Beauty brag but 'tis not she;
Truth and beauty buried be.

To this urn let those repair
That are either true or fair;
For these dead birds sigh a prayer.


Tempest - Shakespeare
 Alonso - Therefore my son i' the ooze is bedded, and. I'll seek him deeper than e'er plummet sounded. -And with him there lie mudded.

Tempest, Shakespeare
Prospero - 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.

Billy in the Darbies – Herman Melville

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.

I love all men who dive. Any fish can swim near the surface, but it takes a great whale to go down stairs five miles or more; and if he don't attain the bottom, why all the lead in Galena can't fashion the plummet that will. I'm not talking of Mr Emerson now -but of the whole corps of thought-divers, that have been diving and coming up again with bloodshot eyes since the world began.”  --Herman Melville