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Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Fake News from the Mediterranean

Some few weeks after the execution, among other matters under the head of News from the Mediterranean, there appeared in a naval chronicle of the time, an authorised weekly publication, an account of the affair. It was doubtless for the most part written in good faith, tho' the medium, partly rumor, through which the facts must have reached the writer, served to deflect and in part falsify them. The account was as follows:--
"On the tenth of the last month a deplorable occurrence took place on board H. M. S. Indomitable. John Claggart, the ship's maaster-at-arms, discovering that some sort of plot was being hatched incipient among an inferior section of the ship's company, and that the plotter ringleader was one William Budd; a foretopman he, Claggart in the act of arraigning the man before the Captain was vindictively stabbed to the heart by the suddenly drawn sheath-knife of Budd.

The deed and the implement employed, sufficiently suggest that tho' mustered into the service under an English name the assassin was no Englishman, but one of those aliens adopting English names cognomens whom the present extraordinary necessities of the service have caused to be admitted into it in considerable numbers.

The enormity of the crime and the extreme depravity of the criminal, appear the greater in view of the character of the victim, a middle-aged man eminently respectable, safe and and discreet, belonging to that minor official grade, the petty-officers, upon whom, as His Majesty's navy upon which, as are none know better than the commissioned officers gentlemen, the efficiency of His Majesty's navy so considerably largely depends.--the petty officers. His function was a an onerous and responsible one, at once onerous & thankless, and his fidelity in it the more greater because of the peculiar earnestness of his strong patriotic loyal impulse that signalisesing him trait in him. greater because of his strong patriotic impulse. In this instance as in so many other instances in these days, the example of this character of this unfortunate man signally refutes, if refutation were needed, that peevish saying attributed to the late Dr. Johnson, that patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.

The criminal paid the penalty of his crime. The promptitude of the example punishment has proved salutary. Nothing amiss is now apprehended aboard H. M. S. Indomitable."
The above appearing in a publication now long ago superannuated and forgotten is all that stands hitherto has stood in authoritative human record up to the present time to attest what manner of men respectively were John Claggart and Billy Budd. 
--Herman Melville, transcribed from digital images of Billy Budd in manuscript. available online courtesy of Harvard Library. <http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:FHCL.Hough:4686413> Melville, Herman, 1819-1891. Herman Melville papers, 1761-1964. Billy Budd. A.Ms.; [n.p., n.d.]. MS Am 188 (363). Houghton Library, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass. Houghton Library, Harvard University. Accessed 24 January 2018.
pages with links:

340 (seq. 773): http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:FHCL.Hough:4686413?n=773

341 (seq. 775): http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:FHCL.Hough:4686413?n=775

342 (seq. 777): http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:FHCL.Hough:4686413?n=777

343 (seq. 779): http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:FHCL.Hough:4686413?n=779

344 (seq. 781): http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:FHCL.Hough:4686413?n=781
The best version in print appears in the hefty new Northwestern-Newberrry Edition of Billy Budd, Sailor and Other Uncompleted Writings. Edited by Harrison Hayford, Alma A. MacDougall, Robert A. Sandberg, and G. Thomas Tanselle, Historical Note by Hershel Parker. Net weight 3.2 lbs as I learned the other morning after stepping on the scale absentmindedly, book in hand. For one thing I was looking to see what the editors made of Melville's incomprehensible word in the cancelled bit after the passage transcribed above.
Here ends a story not unwarranted by what sometimes happens in this in *^$)@%(#&!
world of ours--Innocence and infamy, spiritual depravity and fair repute
Some print versions make the uncertain word(s) incomprehensible, as in "this incomprehensible world of ours." In the appended "Transcription of Billy Budd, Sailor" (page 540) the Northwestern-Newberry editors leave it "undeciphered." However, the "Discussions" section (page 433) reports three previous suggestions:
  • incongruous
  • incomprehensible
  • incompetent
If you want to play this game at home, here's the link again to manuscript page 344 (seq. 781) with that famously hard word:
And here's another try at the "News from the Mediterranean" chapter--same text as above, but now omitting cancelled words for easier reading:
Some few weeks after the execution, among other matters under the head of News from the Mediterranean, there appeared in a naval chronicle of the time, an authorised weekly publication, an account of the affair. It was doubtless for the most part written in good faith, tho' the medium, partly rumor, through which the facts must have reached the writer, served to deflect and in part falsify them. The account was as follows:--
"On the tenth of the last month a deplorable occurrence took place on board H. M. S. Indomitable. John Claggart, the ship's maaster-at-arms, discovering that some sort of plot was incipient among an inferior section of the ship's company, and that the ringleader was one William Budd; he, Claggart in the act of arraigning the man before the Captain was vindictively stabbed to the heart by the suddenly drawn sheath-knife of Budd.

The deed and the implement employed, sufficiently suggest that tho' mustered into the service under an English name the assassin was no Englishman, but one of those aliens adopting English cognomens whom the present extraordinary necessities of the service have caused to be admitted into it in considerable numbers.

The enormity of the crime and the extreme depravity of the criminal, appear the greater in view of the character of the victim, a middle-aged man respectable and discreet, belonging to that minor official grade, the petty-officers, upon whom, as none know better than the commissioned gentlemen, the efficiency of His Majesty's navy so largely depends. His function was a responsible one, at once onerous & thankless, and his fidelity in it the greater because of his strong patriotic impulse. In this instance as in so many other instances in these days, the character of this unfortunate man signally refutes, if refutation were needed, that peevish saying attributed to the late Dr. Johnson, that patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.

The criminal paid the penalty of his crime. The promptitude of the punishment has proved salutary. Nothing amiss is now apprehended aboard H. M. S. Indomitable."
The above appearing in a publication now long ago superannuated and forgotten is all that hitherto has stood in human record to attest what manner of men respectively were John Claggart and Billy Budd.
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