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The long quietus of thirty years that followed was unbroken save by two ventures into poetry: It is somewhat surprising, therefore, to find literary aspiration still latent in the former author who, nearing his biblical allotment of years, emerged from the New York Custom House in It is still more surprising that for his swan song he turned back once more to prose and to his first chosen and best milieu, the sea.
But now the harassed artist of the fifties had made his peace with ambition.
Billy Budd, Foretopman, was the child of his old age, completed less than six months before his death. Several facts in the record of these last years witness this nostalgia for his seafaring days.
The first use that Melville made of the leisure afforded by his retirement was to collect some sea pieces he had been writing during the past ten years, add a few new ones, and issue them in as a slender poetic offering entitled John Marr and Other Sailors, in a privately printed edition of twenty-five copies.
The prose introduction, setting forth the career and old age of the fictitious sailor, seems but thinly disguised autobiography. No one liked to listen to his garrulous reminiscences of old shipmates: Chase had actually been his shipmate as well as the hero of White-Jacket.
The scene is laid in the momentous year ofmade memorable by the mutinies at Spithead and the Nore in April and May, which had come near crippling the British fleet at the very outset of the Napoleonic Wars.
Some of the much needed reforms had been accomplished by the Great Mutiny, according to Melville, but among the abuses that remained was the traditionally sanctioned practice of impressment. With discontent still lurking and the officers apprehensive, H.
Indomitable set sail to join the Mediterranean fleet in the summer of Lacking her full complement of men, she stopped a homeward-bound English merchantman, the Rights-of-Man, and impressed for services as a foretopman Billy Budd, a handsome young sailor of twenty-one.
After junction with the fleet had been effected, the Indomitable was dispatched on scouting duty, not only because of her superior sailing qualities but because of the reputation as a prompt disciplinarian of her commander, Edward Fairfax Vere.
During one of these expeditions, at her furthest remove from the Mediterranean station, word reached the captain of discontent among the impressed seamen and of an incipient mutiny led by Billy Budd. A drumhead court was called forthwith. The extraordinary character of the accused and of his offense urged delay and even clemency, but the insecurity of discipline since the Great Mutiny demanded the immediate application of the severest punishment.
Consequently, the next morning at sunrise Billy Budd was hanged from the yardarm. After a desperate engagement, in which Captain Vere was killed, the enemy ship was captured.
There was no ship in the Royal Navy at this period named the Indomitable. Likewise, none of the names that Melville gives to his officers appear in the lists of the period, but a model may be suggested for one of them, Captain Edward Fairfax Vere. According to Melville, he had seen considerable service, had been in various engagements, and had distinguished himself as a good officer, strict disciplinarian, and intrepid fighter.
A contemporary biographical sketch not only assigns the same general traits of character to Fairfax that Melville assigns to Vere, but particularizes a strikingly similar career during the American Revolution.
As a lieutenant in command of the cutter Alert, Fairfax captured the French lugger Coureur inand was promoted to the rank of post captain, frigate Tartar, January 12,remaining on the West Indian station till the close of the war:X Business Law and Legal Enviroment, m Kindred Spirits - Adrift in Literary London, Jeremy Lewis Anthology of Short Stories Pack 2 Jazz Suites (Nso Ukraine, Kuchar) Transporter 2 Final Breath, Kevin O'Brien Risen .
Billy Budd study guide contains a biography of Herman Melville, literature essays, quiz questions, major themes, characters, and a full summary and analysis. Detailed explanations, analysis, and citation info for every important quote on LitCharts.
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