'Billy Budd' Quotes

Herman Melville's final, unfinished work

Billy Budd by Herman Melville
Billy Budd by Herman Melville. Google Images/penguin.com

Billy Budd is a novella by American writer Herman Melville. This was Melville's final work, which was incomplete when he died in 1891. It tells the story of sailor Billy Budd, the target of envy of his ship's master-at-arms John Claggart. When Billy kills Claggart, the subsequent court-martial debates what his punishment should be.

The manuscript for Billy Budd was not discovered until 1919, and several early editions were considered poorly transcribed and misinterpreted.

The definitive version of Billy Budd, by editors Harrison Hayford and Merton Sealts was published in 1962. But it's still interesting to note that we may never know Melville's exact phrasing or specific intentions in Billy Budd.

Billy Budd became a Broadway play in 1951, which was critically acclaimed. The 1962 film version garnered an Academy Award nomination for Terence Stamp, in his screen debut as Billy.

Herman Melville's best-known work is Moby Dick , but scholars agree that Billy Budd is a significant work of fiction as well.

Here are a few quotes from Billy Budd:

"On shore he was a champion; afloat the spokesman; on every suitable occasion always foremost."

- Herman Melville, Billy Budd, Ch. 1

"And it may be that he rather liked this adventurous turn in his affairs, which promised an opening into novel scenes and martial excitements."

— Herman Melville, Billy Budd, Ch. 1

"When it did, the lieutenants assigned to batteries felt it incumbent on them, in some instances, to stand with drawn swords behind the men working the guns."
— Herman Melville, Billy Budd, Ch.


"What for? Why, he calls me 'the sweet and pleasant young fellow' they tell me."
— Herman Melville, Billy Budd, Ch. 9

"For what can more partake of the mysterious than an antipathy spontaneous and profound such as is evoked in certain exceptional mortals by the mere aspect of some other mortal, however harmless he may be, if not called forth by this very harmlessness itself?"
— Herman Melville, Billy Budd, Ch.


"But after the little matter at the mess Billy Budd no more found himself in strange trouble at times about his hammock or his clothes bag or what not."
— Herman Melville, Billy Budd, Ch. 17

"As to that smile that occasionally sunned him, and the pleasant passing word, these were, if not more frequent, yet if anything more pronounced than before."
— Herman Melville, Billy Budd, Ch. 17

"Struck dead by an angel of God! Yet the angel must hang!"

— Herman Melville, Billy Budd, Ch. 19

"Captain Vere tells the truth. It is just as Captain Vere says, but it is not as the master-at-arms said. I have eaten the King's bread and I am true to the King."
— Herman Melville, Billy Budd, Ch. 21

"Out of natural courtesy he received, but did not appropriate. It was like a gift placed in the palm of an outreached hand upon which the fingers do not close."
—Herman Melville, Billy Budd, Ch. 24

"At the same moment it chanced that the vapory fleece hanging low in the East was shot through with a soft glory as of the Lamb of God seen in mystical vision, and simultaneously therewith, watched by the wedged mass of upturned faces, Billy ascended; and, ascending, took the full rose of the dawn."
—Herman Melville, Billy Budd, Ch.


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Lombardi, Esther. "'Billy Budd' Quotes." ThoughtCo, Dec. 2, 2015, thoughtco.com/billy-budd-quotes-738820. Lombardi, Esther. (2015, December 2). 'Billy Budd' Quotes. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/billy-budd-quotes-738820 Lombardi, Esther. "'Billy Budd' Quotes." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/billy-budd-quotes-738820 (accessed December 15, 2017).