How we cite our quotes:
Civilization, especially if of the austerer sort, is auspicious to it. It folds itself in the mantle of respectability. It has its certain negative virtues serving as silent auxiliaries. It never allows wine to get within its guard. It is not going too far to say that it is without vices or small sins. There is a phenomenal pride in it that excludes them. It is never mercenary or avaricious. In short, the depravity here meant partakes nothing of the sordid or sensual. It is serious, but free from acerbity. Though no flatterer of mankind it never speaks ill of it. (11.9)
This is the narrator's rather complex description of Claggart's depravity. He suggests that it is not immediately apparent, that it "folds itself in the mantle of respectability." Why is it that some sins need to express themselves and others do not? Is working to hide one's vices itself a vice?
Well, though many an arraigned mortal has in hopes of mitigated penalty pleaded guilty to horrible actions, did ever anybody seriously confess to envy? (12.3)
In this passage, the narrator speculates as to what might motivate Claggart's hatred of Billy – namely, envy. Why is envy an embarrassing sin? What sins are less embarrassing? Are there sins that are not embarrassing at all, sins that people actually take pride in, even though they denounce them?
With no power to annul the elemental evil in him, though readily enough he could hide it; apprehending the good, but powerless to be it; a nature like Claggart's, surcharged with energy as such natures almost invariably are, what recourse is left to it but to recoil upon itself and, like the scorpion for which the Creator alone is responsible, act out to the end the part allotted it. (12.4)
As the narrator presents Claggart in this passage, he can't but help be evil. He is "like the scorpion for which the Creator alone is responsible." If Claggart has no control over his actions, then do they constitute a sin?