Over three decades after Melville's death, the first edition of Billy Budd was published in London as part of a series entitled The Standard Edition of Melville's Complete Works. The following is Raymond Weaver's introductory statement from that 1924 Constable Edition in full. The very language Weaver chooses suggests a sureness of which he could hardly have been certain. Only the second paragraph contains a hint at the reservation with which Weaver produced this version of the novel. In a move meant surely to serve as a disclaimer, he attempts to substantiate his editorial adjustments as merely "slight adjustments in the interest of interest of grammar or style."
In fact, Weaver's changes were more substantial than he would have the reader believe. As Hayford and Sealts note in their thorough examination of the manuscript nearly four decades later, Weaver's misreadings range from those that are indeed 'slight' to others of much greater significance.
BILLY BUDD, the title-piece of this volume, is a novel finished by Melville five months before his death in 1891, and never before published. 'Daniel Orme ' is a sketch 'omitted from Billy Budd.' The fourth piece-'The Two Temples'-was on May 12, I854, refused by Publisher's Monthly Magazine out of a fear of offending the religious sensibilities of the congregation of Grace Church, New York. This volume concludes with eight sketches surviving in manuscript, written, in all probability, after Melville's retirement in 1886, at the age of sixty-seven, from his post as Inspector of Customs in New York City. Except for his letters, journals, and the juvenile 'Fragments from a Writing Desk,' this closes the count of Melville as a writer of prose. The rest of the volume comprises all Melville's contributions to magazines that he acknowledged but never reprinted.
The text of matter hitherto unpublished has, so far as possible, been printed verbatim from Melville's manuscript. Here and there, however, owing to the heavily corrected condition of many of the papers, slight adjustments in the interests of grammar or of style have been made in Melville's wording.
The editor and publishers are indebted, to the Princeton University Press for their courtesy in allowing two of the essays included in this volume to be reprinted from The Apple-Tree Table and Other Sketches, a volume of Melville's prose miscellanea recently issued from Princeton.
Four years later, Weaver slightly modified his earlier edition of Billy Budd for publication in the United States. The Horace Liveright edition entitled The Shorter Novels of Herman Melville, while adjusted a bit by Weaver himself, was essentially the same as the 1924 edition of Billy Budd.
Below are selections from Weaver's considerably longer introduction to the 1928 edition. In it, he provides a fairly detailed biography paying particular attention to the works Melville produced at different points in his career. He also dwells on the melancholy which haunted Mevlille during his waning years and the resulting aridity in his literary production. After discussing the successes of Melville's early years, Weaver notes that the author had "challenged the world with his genius, and the world defeated him by ignoring the challenge and starving him. He stopped writing because he ahd failed and because he had no choice but to accept the world's terms: there is no mystery here" (33).
Towards the end of the introduction, Weaver finally turns his attention to Billy Budd. He does not, however, in any way address the manuscript issues; he still seems content with the reading edition he had presented in 1924. He instead focuses on the (pseudo)psychology behind Melville's work. It was not until the later work of F. Barron Freeman that anyone would produce a more scholarly edition which better reflected the complexities of deciphering the manuscript.
|His last word upon the strange mystery of himself and of human destiny is Billy Budd: "A story," so Melville said in a pencilled note at the end, "not unwarranted by what happens in this incongruous world of ours-innocence and infirmity, spiritual depravity and fair respite." It is a brief and appealing narrative, unmatched among Melville's works in lucidity and inward peace. "With calm of mind, all passion spent," Melville turned again to the narrative of one who, like Pierre, reaps death as the wages of virtue. (36)
Claggart would seem to be an American forerunner of the Charlus of Marcel Proust. And as a study in abnormal psychology, Billy Budd is remarkably detached, subtle, and profound. In the writing of it, however, Melville's exclusive interest was not to probe clinically into "the mystery of iniquity." (37)
Just as some theologians have presented the fall of man evidence of the great glory of God, in similar manner Melville studies the evil in Claggart in vindication of the innocence in Billy Budd. For, primarily, Melville wrote Billy Budd in witness to his ultimate faith that evil is defeat and natural goodness invincible in the affections of man. Billy Budd, as Pierre, ends in disaster and death; in each case inexperience and innocence and seraphic impulse are wrecked against the malign forces of darkness that seem to preside over external human destiny. In Pierre, Melville had hurled himself into a fury of vituperation against the world; with Billy Budd he would justify the ways of God to man. Among the many parallels of contrast between these two books, each is a tragedy (as was Melville's life), but in opposed senses of the term. For tragedy may be viewed not as being essentially the representation of human misery, but rather as the representation of human goodness or nobility. All of the supremest art is tragic: but the tragedy is, in Aristotle's phrase, "the representation of Eudaimonia," or the highest kind of happiness. There is, of course, in this type of tragedy, with its essential quality of encouragement and triumph, no flinching of any horror of tragic life, no shirking of the truth by a feeble idealism, none of the compromises of the so-called "happy ending." The powers of evil and horror must be granted their fullest scope; it is only thus we can triumph over them. Even though in the end the tragic hero finds no friends among the living or dead, no help in God, only a deluge of calamity everywhere, yet in the very intensity of his affliction he may reveal the splendour undiscoverable in any gentler fate. Here he has reached, not the bottom, but the crowning peak of fortune-something which neither suffering nor misfortune can touch. Only when worldly disaster has worked its utmost can we realize that there remains something in man's soul which is for ever beyond the grasp of the accidents of existence, with power in its own right to make life beautiful. Only through tragedy of this type could Melville affirm his everlasting yea. The final great revelation-or great illusion -of his life, he uttered in Billy Budd.(37-38)