Study Guide

Billy Budd Chapter 29

By Herman Melville

Chapter 29

  • A few weeks after Billy's execution, the naval chronicle "News from the Mediterranean" carries a feature on the story. Though the writer must have had good intentions, he did not at all get the story straight, likely due to the fact that the story came to him by way of rumor.
  • As he reports it, Billy was actually guilty of mutinous intent and the honorable Claggart was just doing his duty in reporting him.
  • Billy vindictively stabbed Claggart when he made the accusation, and the obscenity of the crime is underlined by noting what a patriotic and loyal sailor Claggart was.
  • The sad case seems, in the author of the article's opinion, to refute the late Dr. Johnson who said, "patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel" (29.4).
  • The circumstances of Billy's execution are reported, as is the fact that all is now well on the H.M.S. Bellipotent.
  • Until the current narrative, the above article, no doubt long forgotten, is the only thing standing in the human record to tell the story of Billy Budd and John Claggart.