Monday, August 13, 2012

Herman Melville, Billy Budd, Sailor and Selected Stories

Herman Melville, Billy Budd, Sailor and Selected Stories, Oxford University Press, 1998.

  Ginger Nut, the third on my list, was a lad some twelve years old. His father was a carman, ambitious of seeing his son on the bench instead of a cart, before he died. So he sent him to my office as student at law, errand boy, and cleaner and sweeper, at the rate of one dollar a week. He had a little desk to himself, but he did not use it much. Upon inspection, the drawer exhibited a great array of the shells of various sorts of nuts. (Bartleby, The Scrivener, 9)

"Will you tell me, Bartleby, where you were born?"
"I would prefer not to."
"Will you tell me any thing about yourself?"
"I would prefer not to."
"But what reasonable objection can you have to speak to me? I feel friendly towards you."
He did not look at me while I spoke, but kept his glance fixed upon my bust of Cicero, which as I then sat, was directly behind me, some six inches above my head.
"What is your answer, Bartleby?" said I, after waiting a considerable time for a reply, during which his countenance remained immovable, only there was the faintest conceivable tremor of the white attenuated mouth.
"At present I prefer to give no answer," he said, and retired into his hermitage.
It was rather weak in me I confess, but his manner on this occasion nettled me. Not only did there seem to lurk in it a certain calm disdain, but his perverseness seemed ungrateful, considering the undeniable good usage and indulgence he had received from me.
Again I sat ruminating what I should do. Mortified as I was at his behavior, and resolved as I had been to dismiss him when I entered my offices, nevertheless I strangely felt something superstitious knocking at my heart, and forbidding me to carry out my purpose, and denouncing me for a villain if I dared to breathe one bitter word against this forlornest of mankind. At last, familiarly drawing my chair behind his screen, I sat down and said: "Bartleby, never mind then about revealing your history; but let me entreat you, as a friend, to comply as far as may be with the usages of this office. Say now you will help to examine papers to-morrow or next day: in short, say now that in a day or two you will begin to be a little reasonable: - say so, Bartleby."
"At present I would prefer not to be a little reasonable," was his mildly cadaverous reply. (23)

The next day I noticed that Bartleby did nothing but stand at his window in his dead-wall revery. Upon asking him why he did not write, he said that he had decided upon doing no more writing.
"Why, how now? what next?" exclaimed I, "do no more writing?"
"No more."
"And what is the reason?"
"Do you not see the reason for yourself," he indifferently replied. (25)

But he answered not a word; like the last column of some ruined temple, he remained standing mute and solitary in the middle of the otherwise deserted room. (27)
The yard was entirely quiet. It was not accessible to the common prisoners. The surrounding walls, of amazing thickness, kept off all sounds behind them. The Egyptian character of the masonry weighed upon me with its gloom. (40)
And as for solitariness; the great forests of the north, the expanses ofunnavigated waters, the Greenland ice-fields, are the profoundest ofsolitudes to a human observer; still the magic of their changeable tidesand seasons mitigates their terror; because, though unvisited by men,those forests are visited by the May; the remotest seas reflect familiarstars even as Lake Erie does; and in the clear air of a fine Polar day,the irradiated, azure ice shows beautifully as malachite.
But the special curse, as one may call it, of the Encantadas, that whichexalts them in desolation above Idumea and the Pole, is, that to themchange never comes; neither the change of seasons nor of sorrows. Cut bythe Equator, they know not autumn, and they know not spring; whilealready reduced to the lees of fire, ruin itself can work little moreupon them. The showers refresh the deserts; but in these isles, rainnever falls. Like split Syrian gourds left withering in the sun, theyare cracked by an everlasting drought beneath a torrid sky. "Have mercyupon me," the wailing spirit of the Encantadas seems to cry, "and sendLazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool mytongue, for I am tormented in this flame." (The Encantadas, 108)
Nay, such is the vividness of my memory, or the magic of my fancy, thatI know not whether I am not the occasional victim of optical delusionconcerning the Gallipagos. For, often in scenes of social merriment, andespecially at revels held by candle-light in old-fashioned mansions, sothat shadows are thrown into the further recesses of an angular andspacious room, making them put on a look of haunted undergrowth oflonely woods, I have drawn the attention of my comrades by my fixed gazeand sudden change of air, as I have seemed to see, slowly emerging fromthose imagined solitudes, and heavily crawling along the floor, theghost of a gigantic tortoise, with "Memento * * * * *" burning in liveletters upon his back. (111-112)
Of this maritime Chief of Police the ship's-corporals, so called, were the immediate subordinates, and compliant ones; and this, as is to be noted in some business departments ashore, almost to a degree inconsistent with entire moral volition. His place put various converging wires of underground influence under the Chief's control, capable when astutely worked thro' his understrappers of operating to the mysterious discomfort, if nothing worse, of any of the sea-commonalty. (Awkward) (Billy Budd, Sailor, 302)
When Billy saw the culprit's naked back under the scourge gridironed with red welts, and worse; when he marked the dire expression on the liberated man's face as with his woolen shirt flung over him by the executioner he rushed forward from the spot to bury himself in the crowd, Billy was horrified. (typical weak afterthought of an ending) (303)
Well then, in his mysterious little difficulty, going in quest of the wrinkled one, Billy found him off duty in a dog-watch ruminating by himself, seated on a shot-box of the upper-gun-deck, now and then surveying with a somewhat cynical regard certain of the more swaggering promenaders there. Billy recounted his trouble, again wondering how it all happened. The salt seer attentively listened, accompanying the Foretopman's recital with queer twitchings of his wrinkles and problematical little sparkles of his small ferret eyes. Making an end of his story, the Foretopman asked, "And now, Dansker, do tell me what you think of it."  The old man, shoving up the front of his tarpaulin and deliberately rubbing the long slant scar at the point where it entered the thin hair, laconically said, "Baby Budd, Jemmy Legs" (meaning the Master-at-arms) "is down on you."
"Jimmy Legs!” ejaculated Billy, his welkin eyes expanding; "what for? Why he calls me the sweet and pleasant fellow, they tell me."
"Does he so?" grinned the grizzled one; then said, "Ay, Baby Lad, a sweet voice has Jimmy Legs."
"No, not always. But to me he has. I seldom pass him but there comes a pleasant word."
"And that's because he's down upon you, Baby Budd."
Such reiteration along with the manner of it, incomprehensible to a novice, disturbed Billy almost as much as the mystery for which he had sought explanation. (305)

What was the matter with the Master-at-arms? And, be the matter what it might, how could it have direct relation to Billy Budd with whom, prior to the affair of the spilled soup, he had never come into any special contact, official or otherwise? What indeed could the trouble have to do with one so little inclined to give offence as the merchant-ship's peacemaker, even him who in Claggart's own phrase was "the sweet and pleasant young fellow"? Yes, why should Jimmy Legs, to borrow the Dansker's expression, be down on the Handsome Sailor?
But, at heart and not for nothing, as the late chance encounter may indicate to the discerning, down on him, secretly down on him, he assuredly was. (annoyingly folksy, 307)
In a list of definitions included in the authentic translation of Plato, a list attributed to him, occurs this: "Natural Depravity: a depravity according to nature." A definition which tho' savoring of Calvinism, by no means involves Calvin's dogmas as to total mankind. Evidently its intent makes it applicable but to individuals. Not many are the examples of this depravity which the gallows and jail supply. At any rate for notable instances, since these have no vulgar alloy of the brute in them, but invariably are dominated by intellectuality, one must go elsewhere. Civilization, especially if of the austerer sort, is auspicious to it. It folds itself in the mantle of respectability. It has its certain negative virtues serving as silent auxiliaries. It never allows wine to get within its guard. It is not going too far to say that it is without vices or small sins. There is a phenomenal pride in it that excludes them from anything mercenary or avaricious. In short the depravity here meant partakes nothing of the sordid or sensual. It is serious, but free from acerbity. Though no flatterer of mankind it never speaks ill of it. (Outmoded. Before the banality of evil. 309)
Reason, … implement for effecting the irrational. That is to say: Toward the accomplishment of an aim which in wantonness of malignity would seem to partake of the insane, he will direct a cool judgement sagacious and sound.
These men are true madmen, and of the most dangerous sort, for their lunacy is not continuous but occasional, (310)
…like the scorpion for which the Creator alone is responsible, act out to the end the part allotted it. (312)
Nor at first was he without some surprise that one who so far as he had hitherto come under his notice had shown considerable tact in his function should in this particular evince such lack of it. (326)
But do these buttons that we wear attest that our allegiance is to Nature? No, to the King. … So little is that true, that in receiving our commissions we in the most  important regards ceased to be natural free agents. When war is declared are we the commissioned fighters previously consulted? We fight at command. If our judgments approve the war, that is but coincidence. (342)
If in vain the good Chaplain sought to impress the young barbarian with ideas of death akin to those conveyed in the skull, dial, and cross-bones on old tombstones; equally futile to all appearance were his efforts to bring home to him the thought of salvation and a Saviour. Billy listened, but less out of awe or reverence perhaps than from a certain natural politeness; doubtless at bottom regarding all that in much the same way that most mariners of his class take any discourse abstract or out of the common tone of the work-a-day world. And this sailor-way of taking clerical discourse is not wholly unlike the way in which the pioneer of Christianity full of transcendent miracles was received long ago on tropic isles by any superior savage so called--a Tahitian say of Captain Cook’s time or shortly after that time. Out of natural courtesy he received, but did not appropriate. It was like a gift placed in the palm of an outreached hand upon which the fingers do not close. (352)
The symmetry of form attainable in pure fiction cannot so readily be achieved in a narration essentially having less to do with fable that with fact. Truth uncompromisingly told will always have its ragged edges; hence the conclusion of such a narration is apt to be less finished that an architectural finial. (358)


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