Billy Budd and Other Stories (Anglais) Broché – 1 avril 1986
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In the time before steamships, or then more frequently than now, a stroller along the docks of any considerable seaport would occasionally have his attention arrested by a group of bronzed mariners, man-of-war's men or merchant sailors in holiday attire, ashore on liberty. In certain instances they would flank, or like a bodyguard quite surround, some superior figure of their own class, moving along with them like Aldebaran among the lesser lights of his constellation. That signal object was the "Handsome Sailor" of the less prosaic time alike of the military and merchant navies. With no perceptible trace of the vainglorious about him, rather with the offhand unaffectedness of natural regality, he seemed to accept the spontaneous homage of his shipmates.
A somewhat remarkable instance recurs to me. In Liverpool, now half a century ago, I saw under the shadow of the great dingy street-wall of Prince's Dock (an obstruction long since removed) a common sailor so intensely black that he must needs have been a native African of the unadulterate blood of Ham–a symmetric figure much above the average height. The two ends of a gay silk handkerchief thrown loose about the neck danced upon the displayed ebony of his chest, in his ears were big hoops of gold, and a Highland bonnet with a tartan band set off his shapely head. It was a hot noon in July; and his face, lustrous with perspiration, beamed with barbaric good humor. In jovial sallies right and left, his white teeth flashing into view, he rollicked along, the center of a company of his shipmates. These were made up of such an assortment of tribes and complexions as would have well fitted them to be marched up by Anacharsis Cloots before the bar of the first French Assembly as Representatives of the Human Race. At each spontaneous tribute rendered by the wayfarers to this black pagod of a fellow–the tribute of a pause and stare, and less frequently an exclamation–the motley retinue showed that they took that sort of pride in the evoker of it which the Assyrian priests doubtless showed for their grand sculptured Bull when the faithful prostrated themselves.
To return. If in some cases a bit of a nautical Murat in setting forth his person ashore, the Handsome Sailor of the period in question evinced nothing of the dandified Billy-be-Dam, an amusing character all but extinct now, but occasionally to be encountered, and in a form yet more amusing than the original, at the tiller of the boats on the tempestuous Erie Canal or, more likely, vaporing in the groggeries along the towpath. Invariably a proficient in his perilous calling, he was also more or less of a mighty boxer or wrestler. It was strength and beauty. Tales of his prowess were recited. Ashore he was the champion; afloat the spokesman; on every suitable occasion always foremost. Close-reefing topsails in a gale, there he was, astride the weather yardarm-end, foot in the Flemish horse as stirrup, both hands tugging at the earing as at a bridle, in very much the attitude of young Alexander curbing the fiery Bucephalus. A superb figure, tossed up as by the horns of Taurus against the thunderous sky, cheerily hallooing to the strenuous file along the spar.
The moral nature was seldom out of keeping with the physical make. Indeed, except as toned by the former, the comeliness and power, always attractive in masculine conjunction, hardly could have drawn the sort of honest homage the Handsome Sailor in some examples received from his less gifted associates.
Such a cynosure, at least in aspect, and something such too in nature, though with important variations made apparent as the story proceeds, was welkin-eyed Billy Budd–or Baby Budd, as more familiarly, under circumstances hereafter to be given, he at last came to be called–aged twenty-one, a foretopman of the British fleet toward the close of the last decade of the eighteenth century. It was not very long prior to the time of the narration that follows that he had entered the King's service, having been impressed on the Narrow Seas from a homeward-bound English merchantman into a seventy-four outward bound, H.M.S. Bellipotent; which ship, as was not unusual in those hurried days, having been obliged to put to sea short of her proper complement of men. Plump upon Billy at first sight in the gangway the boarding officer, Lieutenant Ratcliffe, pounced, even before the merchantman's crew was formally mustered on the quarter-deck for his deliberate inspection. And him only he elected. For whether it was because the other men when ranged before him showed to ill advantage after Billy, or whether he had some scruples in view of the merchantman's being rather short-handed, however it might be, the officer contented himself with his first spontaneous choice. To the surprise of the ship's company, though much to the lieutenant's satisfaction, Billy made no demur. But, indeed, any demur would have been as idle as the protest of a goldfinch popped into a cage.
Noting this uncomplaining acquiescence, all but cheerful, one might say, the shipmaster turned a surprised glance of silent reproach at the sailor. The shipmaster was one of those worthy mortals found in every vocation, even the humbler ones–the sort of person whom everybody agrees in calling "a respectable man." And–nor so strange to report as it may appear to be–though a ploughman of the troubled waters, lifelong contending with the intractable elements, there was nothing this honest soul at heart loved better than simple peace and quiet. For the rest, he was fifty or thereabouts, a little inclined to corpulence, a prepossessing face, unwhiskered, and of an agreeable color–a rather full face, humanely intelligent in expression. On a fair day with a fair wind and all going well, a certain musical chime in his voice seemed to be the veritable unobstructed outcome of the innermost man. He had much prudence, much conscientiousness, and there were occasions when these virtues were the cause of overmuch disquietude in him. On a passage, so long as his craft was in any proximity to land, no sleep for Captain Graveling. He took to heart those serious responsibilities not so heavily borne by some shipmasters.
Now while Billy Budd was down in the forecastle getting his kit together, the Bellipotent's lieutenant, burly and bluff, nowise disconcerted by Captain Graveling's omitting to proffer the customary hospitalities on an occasion so unwelcome to him, an omission simply caused by preoccupation of thought, unceremoniously invited himself into the cabin, and also to a flask from the spirit locker, a receptacle which his experienced eye instantly discovered. In fact he was one of those sea dogs in whom all the hardship and peril of naval life in the great prolonged wars of his time never impaired the natural instinct for sensuous enjoyment. His duty he always faithfully did; but duty is sometimes a dry obligation, and he was for irrigating its aridity, whensoever possible, with a fertilizing decoction of strong waters. For the cabin's proprietor there was nothing left but to play the part of the enforced host with whatever grace and alacrity were practicable. As necessary adjuncts to the flask, he silently placed tumbler and water jug before the irrepressible guest. But excusing himself from partaking just then, he dismally watched the unembarrassed officer deliberately diluting his grog a little, then tossing it off in three swallows, pushing the empty tumbler away, yet not so far as to be beyond easy reach, at the same time settling himself in his seat and smacking his lips with high satisfaction, looking straight at the host.
These proceedings over, the master broke the silence; and there lurked a rueful reproach in the tone of his voice: "Lieutenant, you are going to take my best man from me, the jewel of 'em."
"Yes, I know," rejoined the other, immediately drawing back the tumbler preliminary to a replenishing. "Yes, I know. Sorry."
"Beg pardon, but you don't understand, Lieutenant. See here, now. Before I shipped that young fellow, my forecastle was a rat-pit of quarrels. It was black times, I tell you, aboard the Rights here. I was worried to that degree my pipe had no comfort for me. But Billy came; and it was like a Catholic priest striking peace in an Irish shindy. Not that he preached to them or said or did anything in particular; but a virtue went out of him, sugaring the sour ones. They took to him like hornets to treacle; all but the buffer of the gang, the big shaggy chap with the fire-red whiskers. He indeed, out of envy, perhaps, of the newcomer, and thinking such a 'sweet and pleasant fellow,' as he mockingly designated him to the others, could hardly have the spirit of a gamecock, must needs bestir himself in trying to get up an ugly row with him. Billy forebore with him and reasoned with him in a pleasant way–he is something like myself, Lieutenant, to whom aught like a quarrel is hateful–but nothing served. So, in the second dogwatch one day, the Red Whiskers in presence of the others, under pretense of showing Billy just whence a sirloin steak was cut–for the fellow had once been a butcher–insultingly gave him a dig under the ribs. Quick as lightning Billy let fly his arm. I dare say he never meant to do quite as much as he did, but anyhow he gave the burly fool a terrible drubbing. It took about half a minute, I should think. And, lord bless you, the lubber was astonished at the celerity. And will you believe it, Lieutenant, the Red Whiskers now really loves Billy–loves him, or is the biggest hypocrite that ever I heard of. But they all love him. Some of 'em do his washing, darn his old trousers for him; the carpenter is at odd times making a pretty little chest of drawers for him. Anybody will do anything for Billy Budd; and it's the happy family here. But now, Lieutenant, if that young fellow goes–I know how it will be aboard the Rights. Not again very soon shall I, coming up from dinner, lean over the capstan smoking a quiet pipe–no, not very soon again, I think. Ay, Lieutenant, you are going to take away the jewel of 'em; you are going to take away my peacemaker!" And with that the good soul had really some ado in checking a rising sob.
"Well," said the lieutenant, who had listened with amused interest to all this and now was waxing merry with his tipple; "well, blessed are the peacemakers, especially the fighting peacemakers. And such are the seventy-four beauties some of which you see poking their noses out of the portholes of yonder warship lying to for me," pointing through the cabin window at the Bellipotent. "But courage! Don't look so downhearted, man. Why, I pledge you in advance the royal approbation. Rest assured that His Majesty will be delighted to know that in a time when his hardtack is not sought for by sailors with such avidity as should be, a time also when some shipmasters privily resent the borrowing from them a tar or two for the service; His Majesty, I say, will be delighted to learn that one shipmaster at least cheerfully surrenders to the King the flower of his flock, a sailor who with equal loyalty makes no dissent.–But where's my beauty? Ah," looking through the cabin's open door, "here he comes; and, by Jove, lugging along his chest–Apollo with his portmanteau!–My man," stepping out to him, "you can't take that big box aboard a warship. The boxes there are mostly shot boxes. Put your duds in a bag, lad. Boot and saddle for the cavalryman, bag and hammock for the man-of-war's man."
The transfer from chest to bag was made. And, after seeing his man into the cutter and then following him down, the lieutenant pushed off from the Rights-of-Man. That was the merchant ship's name, though by her master and crew abbreviated in sailor fashion into the Rights. The hardheaded Dundee owner was a staunch admirer of Thomas Paine, whose book in rejoinder to Burke's arraignment of the French Revolution had then been published for some time and had gone everywhere. In christening his vessel after the title of Paine's volume the man of Dundee was something like his contemporary shipowner, Stephen Girard of Philadelphia, whose sympathies, alike with his native land and its liberal philosophers, he evinced by naming his ships after Voltaire, Diderot, and so forth.
But now, when the boat swept under the merchantman's stern, and officer and oarsmen were noting–some bitterly and others with a grin–the name emblazoned there; just then it was that the new recruit jumped up from the bow where the coxswain had directed him to sit, and waving hat to his silent shipmates sorrowfully looking over at him from the taffrail, bade the lads a genial good-bye. Then, making a salutation as to the ship herself, "And good-bye to you too, old Rights-of-Man."
"Down, sir!" roared the lieutenant, instantly assuming all the rigor of his rank, though with difficulty repressing a smile.
To be sure, Billy's action was a terrible breach of naval decorum. But in that decorum he had never been instructed; in consideration of which the lieutenant would hardly have been so energetic in reproof but for the concluding farewell to the ship. This he rather took as meant to convey a covert sally on the new recruit's part, a sly slur at impressment in general, and that of himself in especial. And yet, more likely, if satire it was in effect, it was hardly so by intention, for Billy, though happily endowed with the gaiety of high health, youth, and a free heart, was yet by no means of a satirical turn. The will to it and the sinister dexterity were alike wanting. To deal in double meanings and insinuations of any sort was quite foreign to his nature.
As to his enforced enlistment, that he seemed to take pretty much as he was wont to take any vicissitude of weather. Like the animals, though no philosopher, he was, without knowing it, practically a fatalist. And it may be that he rather liked this adventurous turn in his affairs, which promised an opening into novel scenes and martial excitements.
Aboard the Bellipotent our merchant sailor was forthwith rated as an able seaman and assigned to the starboard watch of the foretop. He was soon at home in the service, not at all disliked for his unpretentious good looks and a sort of genial happy-go-lucky air. No merrier man in his mess: in marked contrast to certain other individuals included like himself among the impressed portion of the ship's company; for these when not actively employed were sometimes, and more particularly in the last dogwatch when the drawing near of twilight induced revery, apt to fall into a saddish mood which in some partook of sullenness. But they were not so young as our foretopman, and no few of them must have known a hearth of some sort, others may have had wives and children left, too probably, in uncertain circumstances, and hardly any but must have had acknowledged kith and kin, while for Billy, as will shortly be seen, his entire family was practically invested in himself. --Ce texte fait référence à l'édition Poche .
Présentation de l'éditeur
"Billy Budd, Sailor," a classic confrontation between good and evil, is the story of an innocent young man unable to defend himself from wrongful accusations. Other selections include "Bartleby," "The Piazza," "The Encantadas," "The Bell-Tower," "Benito Cereno," "The Paradise of Bachelors," and "The Tartarus of Maids."
For more than seventy years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 1,700 titles, Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines. Readers trust the series to provide authoritative texts enhanced by introductions and notes by distinguished scholars and contemporary authors, as well as up-to-date translations by award-winning translators.
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This particular collection, refracted as it is by a heartfelt introduction by contemporary American author Frederick Busch, highlights both author and character in alienated reserve in the well-known "Bartleby, Scrivener"; exhibits the writer's knowing infatuation with the great satires of Swift and allegories of Milton in "The Paradise of Bachelors and Tartarus of Maids" and "The Encantadas"; his obsession with the interplay of virtue and pragmatism in "Billy Budd, Sailor"; and reveals even prophetic intonations in a story about race, "Benito Cereno." Some seem little more than amusing studies, but even the least in this collection testifies to Melville's eternal ability to astonish and take your breath clean out of your body. Indeed, Melville's shorter work reveals just how far he was from the day's critical appraisal of him as an unsuccessful writer of mere adventures that simply didn't fit the bill.
"I would prefer not to," Bartleby, a lawyer's scrivener who ostensibly is hired to copy--by hand--the long-winded motions, quotidian depositions and byzantine judgments that pass through a New York corporate law office, tells his employer when he's needed to fill his role as a drafthorse of a copyist. While he's otherwise a model employee--nearly perfect handwriting, implacably accurate, always on time, never blotches the page, devoid of the scurrilous habits of his two oddball coworkers--Bartleby nevertheless stands out like a mythical portrait of Thoreau, cast upon the 19th Century urban business world, a conscientious objector, civil disobedient, a taciturn young man who, for unknown reasons, has chosen to literally step out of this world without leaving the office. Regardless of his employer's kindhearted attempts to convince Bartleby to "get with the program," Bartleby's unspoken show of both defiance and questionable sanity should tell us that, even then, individual sovereignty was being held hostage at the office.
This archetypically American conflict between ideals of freedom and practicalities of work--one more fully covered by the likes of Europeans such as Kafka, Sartre and Beckett, perhaps due to American considerations of "market forces"--is pallid in comparison to an epic tale of piracy and mutiny told in "Benito Cereno." An encounter in the South Seas between an American clipper and a wayward, sail-shorn Spanish slave galley--ostensibly a story of rescue--in the end turns into a timeless assessment of pan-Atlantic political and cultural affairs, and of the hypocricy of a young democracy's dependence on the slave trade. The ancient Mediterranian powers--Spain and the Catholic Church (itself a subject of widespread controversy in Melville's America...)--serving as puppets for those in the Third World who are determined to choose death before they lose their liberty in the service of commercial interests...well, imagine that! Did Melville ever feel himself a slave to the interests of literary commerce? Could he have been speculating on the ultimate fate of one of those Old World entanglements the nation midway through its first century obsessed over?
Like many American transcendentalists of the day, literary executors who found the world upon a doorstep, Melville's writing often takes a turn to the avant-garde as he stretches his themes--and the constraints of realism--to embrace much broader themes, many of them pitting Enlightenment bred values with Christian-borne systems from the decaying Old World of European monarchism. Nowhere in this collection is this more evident than in the gentle delight, "The Paradise of Bachelors and Tartarus of Maids"--a short dyptich that pairs (and obliquely seems to betray some of the secrets of) a masonic men's club with the unmentioned women in their orbit. According to Melville, it's high time the democracy criticizes--rather than continue to play along with--the suffocating heirarcy in which man's role is to have a breezy go at enjoying obscure rituals rich with wine--while women supply the paper upon which to write.
Although Melville, like most great writers, was a real stickler when it came to asking his world to live up to its own standards and ideals, readers can get whatever they put into relating to his stories. "Billy Budd," for example, is one of America's finest adventure tales. You can leave it at that, too. Beyond that, Melville asks if it is even possible to believe that the virtues of character can protect a man from those whose main conceit stems from an underhanded contempt of those very virtues. Even though this era's preoccupation with the barest of bones of very real values that underpinned Melville's times is usually uncultivated and malinformed, the ridiculous paces through which we take our own cultural values do not in any way detract from two important messages about Melville's life and times to remember: first, Melville seems to remember for us far more effectively--and more subtly, too--than many of today's more high-profile commentators; and second, Melville was, more than anything, a victim of the failure of those very values. Had those values been real--even in the mid-19th Century--Melville would doubtless have been recognized as the genius we rever today.
Maybe we each have a breaking point, some boundary beyond which the spirit would rebel and scream "I have received enough neglect and I won't take it anymore!" If I ever reached that breaking point, would my cries also go unanswered?
Some other 19th-century American authors like Emerson and Thoreau have fairly "sunny" views of human nature. Melville (along with Poe and Hawthorne) thought it was dangerous to ignore the other side of being human. In particular, Melville wants to address the question, Can a person do evil just for the sake of being evil?
Why does Claggart hate Billy Budd so much? Jealousy may be part of it, but that could not explain the depth of his hatred. Claggart is simply pure evil. His evil is motivated by nothing but the love of evil itself. Melville wants us to see that people like Claggart are a real possibility. And those who, like Billy Budd, are "innocent" will be helpless in the face of such evil.
If these issues interest you, you can pursue this topic through Poe's great short story, "The Black Cat," and St. Augustine's _Confessions_, especially "Book II" (really a chapter in length).
The other great story in this anthology is "Bartleby, Scrivener." It seems, on the surface, to be merely a story about mental illness. A clerk starts to simply refuse to do his work, until he cannot care for himself any more, and is committed to an insane asylum. But this is not a story only about depression. The key of the story is that Bartleby once worked in the "dead letter" department of the post office. Seeing the mountains of letters -- carrying the hopes, fears, and plans of so many people -- ending in a sort of clerical limbo, helped destroy Bartleby's sense that life has a point. Now, Bartleby suffers from the "deadly sin" of sloth (better described as "spiritual apathy"). He lacks the faith, hope and charity needed to find meaning in life. Consequently, he gradually sinks into inaction.
"Bartleby the Scrivener" brings out the important irony of American life, that most people do not want you to tell the truth. When asked why he didn't do the work assigned, Bartleby answered truthfully and it kills him. How often does that happen in American life?
"Benito Cereno" shows the duplicity of the American Slave trade. And it shows that the ethics of the slave trade also depend on a lie.
"Billy Budd" shows that the first casualty in war time is the truth. And this dealing with liars and the truth and the immutable truth that the law without judgment is itself unjust.
Get this collection for your library.
Billy Budd is the tale of an innocent naive young foretopman on a British ship during the time England fought Napoleonic France. A recent mutiny of British tars at Nore had recently been put down. Billy is picked on by the burly and crude John Claggart. In retaliation against Claggart young Billy hits the bully. Claggart dies and Billy is forced to undergo a drumhead court martial. Captain Vere is forced to execute Billy for mutiny even though he knows the lad is an innocent soul. This tale presents the reader with a moral dilemma. Should persons in authority be merciful or should they see that strict justice is accomplished.? Vere
(his name means "truth") is a complicated man. Billy Budd has been seen symbolically as a Christ figure beloved of the men aboard the ship upon which he serves. Composer Benjamin Brittain later turned this tragic tale into a successful opera. Billy is the innocent outsider who is a sacrifice to the realities of a tough world. I wonder if Melville who had lost a young son saw himself as Captain Vere and Billy as his deceased son?
Benito Cereno deals with a seizure of a slave ship by Africans on their way to America. The ship is commanded by Benito Cereno a Spaniard but when it encounters the American whaler ship under Captain Delano deception is planned by the slaves. Delano believes the ship is still led by Cereno only to learn he is a prisoner under the crafty slave Babo. Melville was against chattel slavery. The story is a complex examination into the stain of slavery and the deceptions we face in life.
Bartelby is an unusual story about a New York scrivener who labors in a laid back lawyer's office. Bartelby likes to say "I prefer not to..." in refusing to do certain duties he is asked to perform. He later is sent to the Tombs prison and dies. We learn he once worked in the dead letter office. Bartelby may be a portrait of Melville whose works were received as dead letters by the fickle public.
The Encatantas or Enchanted Islands is a series of vignettes of visits made to the Galapagos Islands. Melville considered penguins to be the most worthless animals on earth. There are also stories of shipwrecks and the strange flora/fauna of the islands. I found this story to be a delight.
The Bell Tower deals with an inventor who dies following making a clock striking device. The story is set in the Middle Ages and indicates the futility of human striving and creation.
The Paradise of Bachelors and the Tartarus of Women is a slight tale of the joys of being a bachelor and the hades of women forced to worked in a paper mill.
Herman Melville is not an easy author to digest and understand. My few comments on these profound works only scratch a small surface of their
complex artistry. The reader who wants to understand Melville is invited to a lifetime of reading pleasure as the stories yield a multiplicity of