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BILLY BUDD SAILOR BY HERMAN MELVILLE In December 1885 Herman Melville finally retired from his job at the New York Custom House Unable to support himself through his writing he had been working there for 19 years as a customs inspector He was 66 years old and he had not written fiction in almost 30 years though he had been writing and publishing poetry steadily At some point during the following two years he began to work on a poem that would eventually be called Billy in the Darbies about a mutinous sailor shackled aboard ship awaiting his execution The poem was intended for inclusion in a volume of poetry to be called John Marr and other Sailors 1888 and Melville wrote a prose headnote to accompany it Then the story began to grow and change in Melvilles imagination and he returned to it expanding the headnote into a novella that he would revise throughout the remaining years of his life At the time of Melvilles death in 1891 the manuscript of the novella was sequentially complete but Melville was still revising its language and thematic emphases In addition the manuscript itself was found in a condition of such physical disarray that the presentation of an authoritative version became difficult if not impossible The novella was finally published in 1924 its text edited by Raymond Weaver and given the title Billy Bud Foretopman a subsequent edition was produced for Harvard University Press by F Barron Freeman in 1948 Critical dissatisfaction with the choices made by both of these editors led to the production of a new reading text by Harrison Hayford and Merton M Sealts Jr in 1962 which they presented with a lengthy commentary explaining their editorial decisions and a genetic text a literal transcription of the surviving leaves of Melvilles manuscript In addition Hayford and Sealts changed the title of the novella from Billy Budd Foretopman to Billy Budd Sailor
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