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Billy Budd, Claggart, and Schopenhauer
Author(s): Olive L. Fite
Source: Nineteenth-Century Fiction, Vol. 23, No. 3 (Dec., 1968), pp. 336-343
Published by: University of California Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2932562 .
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ration than selection.Given his conceptionof the Italian backgroundas a mirrorimageof Donatello,Hawthorne,to judge from
Italian was equally
musthave feltthateverything
relevantwhen,in fact,onlythosedetailsthatdelineateand deepen
the mirrorimagecould be relevant.If Hawthornehad been completelysuccessfulin realizingthisintention,Donatello and backrelatedas shadowand subgroundwould have been as intimately
stance,so thatwhatevercriticismwas made of Donatello's moral
developmenton the level of mythwould unavoidablybe a criticismofItaly'smoraldevelopmenton the level of fact.That thisis
not the case suggeststhe natureof Hawthorne'sfailure.That the
intentionis neverthelessimplicitthroughoutthe novel suggests
the natureof Hawthorne'smonumentaleffort.
SouthernIllinois University,Carbondale


SINCE THE PUBLICATIONof the Hayford-Sealts
Billy Budd,' with its genetictext and helpful introductionand
notes,theamountof criticismof thatMelville novellahas to some
extentfallenoff.Those criticswho have continuedto tryto ferretout the meaningof the old author'sfinalfictionhave been influencedby the discoveryof Hayfordand Sealts thatin the third
and final stage of revisionof his manuscript,Melville bent his
on the full developmentof the portraitof Captain Vere,
ratherthanon thatof Billy Budd or of Claggart.A numberof the
recentcriticismsconcentrateupon Vere as the keyfigurein Melville's dramaticstory.
It should be noted, however,that Melville named his short
novel Billy Budd, Sailor-not StarryVere, Captain. One name
would have been as acceptableas the otherfromthe standpoint
of attractiveness.
the storyends witha ballad about
the sailor instead of one about the captain whose fatal decision
broughtabout the hangingof the ship's favorite.Both of these
factsseem to me to have significance.
This is certainlynot to deny
the importanceof the Hayford-Sealts
findings.Indeed, what these
scholarsdiscoveredfromtheircarefulstudyof the revisionsin the
1 Harrison Hayford and Merton M. Sealts, Jr.,eds., Billy Budd, Sailor (Chicago,
1962). All page referencesto the novel are to this edition.

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manuscripthas broughtinto question a great deal of previous
BillyBudd criticism.I am merelysuggesting
the meaningin the storywas somehowbound up with the personalityof the handsomesailor. That Captain Vere was veryimportantto thismeaninggoes withoutsaying.
Van Wyck Brooks once declared that Melville was always "at
the mercyof the last book he ... [had] read." 2 Whetherthe influenceof his readingwas that strongor not is somewhatqueshis reactions(in the formof markingsor
tionable; nevertheless,
annotations)to what he read are certainlysignificantas indications of his attitudesand ideas at the time of his reading.The
checklistof Melville'sreadingcompiledby MertonM. Sealts,Jr.3
suppliesus withthe informationthatMelville was readingSchopenhauer,among other authors,at the time he was composing
have seen a possible conBilly Budd. Only a fewcommentators
nectionbetweenthe strangelyquiescentBilly in the pre-hanging
scenesand the hangingscene itself,and the Schopenhauerianphilosophyexpressedin The World as Will and Idea.4 Billy's behavior followinghis unfortunatefelling of Claggart does give
some evidencethathe acceptedthe death sentencewith complete
resignationand came to his death with astonishingcheerfulness.
It has been noted thatpossiblyMelville was impressedwithSchopenhauer'sdiscourseon the denial of the will to live and in his
last storyexplored Billy's behavioras one more way to face the
harshnecessitiesof a naturalisticuniverse.5
Walter Sutton has advanced the thesisthat Melville, long interestedin the concept of ultimate nothingness,found in the
"conceptsof Buddhism,as interpreted
by Schopenhauer"a means
of viewingthe "opposed patternsof rationalizationof the human
predicament-the rational-scientific
and the conventionallyreligious"-as equally chimeric.6Some of the problems of Billy
2Emerson and Others (New York, 1927), p. 182.
"Melville's Reading: a Check-List of Books Owned and Borrowed," Harvard
Library Bulletin (1948-1950).
"Arthur Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Idea, trans. R. B. Haldane and
J. Kemp, 3rd ed., 3 vols. (Boston, 1887). My referencesthroughoutare to this edition,
which appears in all essentials,including pagination, to be exactly like the second
edition used by Melville.
6 For a full explanation of the possible influenceof Melville's reading of Schopenhauer see my unpublished dissertation,"The Interpretationof Melville's Billy Budd"
""Melville and the Great God Budd," Prairie Schooner,XXXIV, No. 2 (Summer,
1960), 128-133.

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Budd-problems of motivationand problemsin consistency-can
thusbe solved,Suttonmaintains.
Schopenhauer,however,denied thathe had been influencedin
the conceptionof his philosophyby Buddhism.Indeed, he insists
that his work appeared before any full accounts of Buddhism
could be foundin Europe (II, 371). He does, of course,concede
thathis teachingis in veryclose agreementwiththatreligion.
Anothercritic,KennethLedbetter,also suggeststhat Melville
was influencedby his readingof Schopenhauerand "tried in his
finalworkto acceptand to definethe darknecessitythathe found
there."7 LedbetterthinkstheambiguityofBillyBudd maybe the
result of Melville's inabilityto repudiatecompletely"the transcendental-madAhab, Taji, or Pierre" thoughhe recognizedwithout being able to accept it the "inevitabilityof Schopenhauer's
necessity"(p. 134).
It is not mypurposein thispaper to submitanotherinterpretationofeitherCaptainVere'sactionor thestoryas a whole. Instead
I should like to presentotherevidence,not mentionedby Sutton
or Ledbetter,thatMelville was perhapsinfluencedin his compositionof Billy Budd by his readingin Schopenhauer.Specifically,
I should like to explore the possibilitythat the figuresof Billy
and of Claggartmayhave grownout ofwhathe foundin Schopenhauer's expositionof the will to live. The contrastbetweenthese
twois such thattheycome near at timesto beingabstractionsthat
seem to act in an allegoryto representgood and evil, respectively.
In his copyof The World as Will and Idea Melville had marked
thefollowingstatement(whichis embeddedin a discussionof the
bad and the good man): "For oppositesalwaysthrowlightupon
each other,and the day at once revealsboth itselfand the night,
as Spinozaadmirablyremarks"(I, 474). And again in a succeeding
volume he had penciled a markbeside the latterpart of the followingpassage:
But in order to understandproblemsin their full extentit is
necessaryto oppose oppositessharplyto each other.In
this case, then,let one recall how incrediblygreat is the inborn
betweenman and man,in a moraland in an intellectual
regard(III, 414).
7"The Ambiguity
of BillyBudd," Texas Studies in Literature and Language, IV,
No. 1 (Spring,1962),130-134.

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First, it is necessary to remind the reader that Schopenhauer
based his pessimistic philosophy upon the concept that the principal essence of life is the will to live-a blind impelling force,
which appears in all matter, the persistence toward growth and
being, the insistent urge which makes the plant come to flower,
fruit,and seed, which, in turn,startsthe cycle again. As an abstract
the will is free,but its manifestationsin the formsof individuals,
animals, plants, and the remainder of creation are not free. Rather,
theyare frozen in a chain of necessity.8Schopenhauer says,
A man soon accommodateshimselfto the inevitable-to something
that must be; and if he knows that nothing can happen except of
necessity,he will see that things cannot be other than they are,
and that even the strangestchances in the world are just as much a
product of necessityas phenomena which obey well-knownrules and
turn out exactly in accordance with expectation... all things are
inevitableand a productof necessity.9
Furthermore,he claims, "The character is inborn and unalterable; ..." (III, 67). Though Schopenhauer's systemdenies the intellect the ability to change the character of human beings, it
provides for the possibility of change, or, more accurately, suppression, of the character. Translated into the terms of Christian
theology, this would be rebirth or salvation. According to Schopenhauer's system,the change, which will be complete and therefore comparable to being reborn, comes about by means of knowledge, but knowledge which is not voluntarily sought. This
knowledge, or full self-consciousness,a complete understanding
of the nature of the will itself and what it wills, is the means of
attaining freedom from that will. From such knowledge comes
the ability to deny the will to live. Schopenhauer asserts,
... that denial of will also, that entrance into freedom,cannot be
forciblyattained to by intention or design, but proceeds from the
inmost relation of knowing and volition in the man, and therefore
comessuddenly,as if spontaneouslyfromwithout(I, 523).
He explains that this knowledge of the nature of the will provides
a quieter, by which the motives, that ordinarily cause us to act of
necessity,are deprived of their effect(I, 522). Thus denial of the
8 In the index
of Melville's volumes of The World as Will and Idea there is a
check mark by the word "necessity,"presumably put there by Melville himself. It
bears mute evidence of his continued interestin this subject even in old age.
9 Counsels and Maxims (London, 1890), p. 121.

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will to live is broughtabout. If we are to supposethatBilly Budd
becamean exampleof thedenial of thewill to live,it is important
to realize that the knowledge-which Schopenhauerin at least
one place equates withfaith(I, 526)-that makes the denial possible is not theresultof intellect;forBilly is picturedby Melville

as an illiterate

In Billy, then,we see the conduct of the "beautifulsoul" (I,
495) describedbySchopenhauer.The philosopherstatesthe belief
thatthe good man lives in a world of friendlyindividuals,whose
well-beinghe regardsas his own. This man is close,at least,to the
level ofself-denial
thathis weland has reachedtheunderstanding
fareand thatof othersis one and the same since all are a part of
the same unity:the world spirit,nature,the in-itselfof the will.
He sees that the distinction
betweenhimselfand others,whichto
the bad man is so greata gulf,onlybelongsto a fleetingillusive
phenomenon.He recognizesdirectlyand withoutreasoning[italics
of his ownmanifestation
is also
added foremphasis]thatthein-itself
thatof others,thewill to live,whichconstitutes
the innernatureof
and lives in all; ... (I, 481).

All partakeof the unityof the whole. To clarify,the philosopher
of everyphenomenon
but... is freefrom
... thewill is the in-itself
the formsof the phenomenal,and consequently
a truth,
to action,I do notknowhow to express
betterthanby the formulaof the Vedas...: "Tat twamasi! (This
thouartl)(I, 483).
Since everyindividualis a manifestation
of the same entityand
thuslivesin everyothermanifestation,
death,whichis certainand
never distant,does not disturbthe averageperson,who lives,as
Schopenhauerexplains,as if he would live forever.In him is a
"certaintythatspringsfromhis inmostconsciousnessthathe himselfis Nature,the world..." (I, 363). Death merelydestroysthe
illusion which separateshis consciousnessfrom that of others.
This, saysthe philosopher,is immortality.
Melville saysof Billy

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... Billy himself freelyreferredto his death as a thing close at
hand; but it was somethingin the way that children will refer to
death in general....
Not that like children Billy was incapable of conceiving what
death reallyis. No, but he was whollywithoutirrationalfear of it, a
fear more prevalent in highly civilized communitiesthan those socalled barbarous ones which in all respects stand nearer to unadulterateNature (p. 120).

Here, it seems,Melville hintsthatBilly "understood"his part in
thewhole of Nature (or,as Schopenhauerwould call it, the thingin-itself).Having denied his will to live, he could see his death as
an eventof importanceonlyas it serveda purposeforthe whole
community.That Billy consciouslyunderstoodthis transcendental idea seemsunlikelyfromMelville's descriptionof him; however,his acceptanceof Captain Vere's explanationof his guilt beforethe law and of his comingdeathas mattersof courseindicate
at leastunconsciousrecognitionof theseconcepts.
The evil man, on the otherhand, feelshimselfsurroundedby
strangeand hostileindividualsand his onlyhope is centeredin his
own good. Schopenhauerdescribeshim thus:
If, now, a man is filled with an exceptionally intense pressure of
will, -if with burning eagernesshe seeks to accumulate everything
to slake the thirstof his egoism, and thus experiences,as he inevitably must, that all satisfactionis merely apparent, that the
attained end never fulfilsthe promise of the desired object, the
final appeasing of the fierce pressure of the will, but that when
fulfilledthe wish only changes form,... and indeed that if at last
all wishes are exhausted, the pressureof will itselfremains without
any conscious motive, and makes itself known to him with fearful
pain as a feeling of terribledesolation and emptiness; if from all
this,which in the case of the ordinarydegreesof volition is only felt
in a small measure, and only produces the ordinary degree of
melancholy,in the case of him who is a manifestationof the will
reaching the point of extraordinarywickedness, there necessarily
springsan excessive inward misery,an eternal unrest,an incurable
pain; he seeks indirectlythe alleviation which directly is denied
him, -seeks to mitigatehis own suffering
by the sight of the suffering of others,which at the same time he recognizesas an expression
of power. The sufferingof others now becomes for him an end in
itself,and is a spectaclein whichhe delights;... (I, 470).

to recognizehere a pictureof Claggart,the masIt is not difficult

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whoseglance followedBilly witha melancholyexpression,and who at such timeslooked "like the man of sorrows"(p.
In his copy of SchopenhauerMelville marked the following
... because much intense sufferingis inseparable frommuch intense

volition,verybad men bear the stampof inwardsuffering
in the
veryexpressionof the countenance;.... Fromthisinwardtorment,
whichis absolutelyand directlyessentialto them,therefinallyproceeds thatdelightin the suffering
of otherswhichdoes not spring
frommereegoism,but is disinterested,
wickedand whichconstitutes
ness proper,risingto the pitchof cruelty.For thisthe suffering
othersis not a meansforthe attainment
of theendsof its own will,
butan endin itself(I, 469).
Schopenhauergoes ahead to explain how envy develops-envy
being one of the characteristics
Melville attributedto Claggart's
relationshipwith Billy. Melville also wrotethatthe antipathyof
Claggart for Billy was "spontaneous and profound" (74) and
apparentlywithoutreason. Billy had given no cause for offense.
Indeed, Melville statesthatClaggartmighteven have loved Billy
"but forfateand ban" (88). Schopenhauer-had Claggartbeen a
real personas indeed his model mayhave been-would have said
that the master-at-arms
acted fromnecessity,each act having a
cause,whichin turnhad had a previouscause.
As has been previouslynoted,onlyby an involuntaryinstreaming ofknowledgeofthewill could an individualfreehimselffrom
thischain of necessityand denyor suppressthe verywill to live.
This Billy seemsto have achieved.Melville showshis readerson
the one hand the extremewickednessof Claggart,who, feeling
himselfan island of existence,could only "act out to the end of
the part allotted" him (78), and on the other the "moral phenomenon" of Billy (78), in whom we see a suppressionof the
will, a feelingof kinshipwith all otherhuman beings,in whom
Billysenses(if he does not perceive)the essenceof his own being.
It thusbecomesobvious thatthe figuresof both Billy and Claggartcould verywell have been shaped by what Melville read in
Schopenhauerconcerningthe "beautifulsoul" and the evil man.
Other factorsthat unquestionablywent into the compositionof

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Billy Budd have been noted by manycriticsand commentators:
ofJackChase,to whomthe book is dedicated;the
the personality
relevanceof the Somersincident;the figureof Satan in Milton's
Paradise Lost; and the author'sobservationof Claggart'sprotoThese
types-Jackson(in Redburn) and Bland (in White-Jacket).
undoubtedlywere a part of the melange of ideas for which his
readingin Schopenhauerperhapsservedas a catalyst.
WesternIllinois University,
THERE ARE ONLY two referencesto Dickens in Joyce'spublished
writings.In a reviewof T. Baron Russell'sBorleseand Son Joyce
writesthatthe "landladies" of the novel "may be reminiscentof
Dickens."1 In a postcardto his brotherStanislaus,dated April 25,
1912,he writes:"Today I had to writemyEnglishtheme-Dickens." 2 As yet,Joyce'sreadingof specificDickens novels has not
been verified,though it is quite obvious from his parody of
Dickens in "the birth-of-the-language"
section in Episode 14 of
Ulyssesthathe was well awareofDickens'style.And JamesAthertondetectsallusionsin FinnegansWake to thetitlesofsix Dickens
novelsand to Pip and Estella of Great Expectations.3Stanislaus
Joycewritesof his own readingof David Copperfieldthat"in the
attemptto castthepartsamongthepeople I knew,the one about
which it seemed to me therecould be no discussionwas that of
formy brother.But my brothernevercared forDick-


In recentyearscriticshave been payingincreasedattentionto
Dickensas a consciousartist,commentingon the remarkablemo1 Originally published in the Daily Express, Dublin, November 19, 1903. Republished in Ellsworth Mason and Richard Ellmann, The Critical Writings of James
Joyce(1964),pp. 139-140.
Quoted in Richard Ellmann, James Joyce (1959), p. 331. This postcard is included in Ellmann, Letters of James Joyce (1966), II, 294-295.
3James S. Atherton,The Books at the Wake, A Study of Literary Allusions in
JamesJoyce'sFinnegans Wake (1959), p. 245. The titles alluded to are Bleak House,
Cricketon the Hearth, David Copperfield,Old CuriosityShop, Our Mutual Friend,
and PickwickPapers.
4Stanislaus Joyce,My Brother's Keeper, James Joyce'sEarly Years (1958), p. 61.
He repeats the point on p. 79: "(My) questionable taste included Scott and Dickens,
whom my brothercould not stand."

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