by Herman Melville
Billy Budd Wisdom and Knowledge Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Paragraph)
[Captain Vere:] "Quite aside from any conceivable motive actuating the master-at-arms, and irrespective of the provocation to the blow, a martial court must needs in the present case confine its attention to the blow's consequence, which consequence justly is to be deemed not otherwise than as the striker's deed." (21.19)
Vere is here narrowing the focus of the debate for the drumhead court by confining the question of Billy's guilt or innocence to his deeds alone. He is also, more or less, acting as a mouthpiece for military law. Is this wise counsel? Can there be wisdom in just following orders, in just doing what one is told? Can there be wisdom in not listening to one's own private conscience?
After scanning their faces he stood less as mustering his thoughts for expression than as one inly deliberating how best to put them to well-meaning men not intellectually mature, men with whom it was necessary to demonstrate certain principles that were axioms to himself. Similar impatience as to talking is perhaps one reason that deters some minds from addressing any popular assemblies. (21.25)
Here is the narrator's take on how Vere prepares his words for the drumhead court. Is the description too condescending to the other members of the court, or does it seem an accurate description of what it is like for an intelligent person to address a crowd? How do wisdom and intelligence isolate men from one another?
It was presently brought up, the chaplain attending him. It was noted at the time, and remarked upon afterwards, that in this final scene the good man evinced little or nothing of the perfunctory. (25.2)
As Billy is being prepared for execution, the chaplain does not seem to be acting strictly according to his duties. As we see elsewhere, he doesn't make a large effort to impose his religious beliefs on Billy Budd. Why is this so? Is there wisdom in the chaplain's attitude toward Budd?