Billy Budd: el lado absurdo de la bondad

¡Maldición!, decidí leer Billy Budd, de Herman Melville y, por supuesto, me arruinó el sueño. Al fin de la noche uno acaba con la sensación de que Billy intenta un motín, y sólo uno: el de nuestra consciencia.

La bondad es tartamuda: hay que escucharle sin prisas y a sabiendas de que, prisionera del mundo y atacada por la maldad, no alcanzará a articular su defensa. Como Billy, la bondad es víctima de la crueldad, que le priva de todo y que usa sus mejores cualidades en su contra.

Les dejo unos fragmentos que, en mi opinión, muestran el argumento de la terriblemente maravillosa novela:

‘Beg pardon, but you don’t understand, Lieutenant. See here now. Before I shipped that young fellow, my forecastle was a rat-pit of quarrels. It was black times, I tell you, aboard the Rights here. I was worried to that degree my pipe had no comfort for me. But Billy came; and it was like a Catholic priest striking peace in an Irish shindy. Not that he preached to them or said or did anything in particular; but a virtue went out of him, sugaring the sour ones. They took to him like hornets to treacle; all but the bluffer of the gang, the big, shaggy chap with the fire-red whiskers. He indeed, out of envy, perhaps, of the newcomer, and thinking such a “sweet and pleasant fellow,” as he mockingly designated him to the others, could hardly have the spirit of a game-cock, must needs bestir himself in trying to get up an ugly row with him. Billy forbore with him, and reassured with him in a pleasant way—he is something like myself, Lieutenant, to whom aught like a quarrel is hateful—but nothing served.

 

… What was the matter with the master-at-arms? And be the matter what it might, how could it have direct relation to Billy Budd, with whom prior to the affair of the spilled soup he had never come into any special contact, official or otherwise? What indeed could the trouble have to do with one so little inclined to give offense as the merchant ship’s peacemaker, even him who in Claggart’s own phrase was ‘the sweet and pleasant young fellow’? Yes, why should Jemmy Legs, to borrow the Dansker’s expression, be down on the Handsome Sailor?

 

But, at heart and not for nothing, as the late chance encounter may indicate to the discerning, down on him, secretly down on him, he assuredly was.

 

… But the thing which in eminent instances signalizes so exceptional a nature is this: though the man’s even temper and discreet bearing would seem to intimate a mind peculiarly subject to the law of reason, not the less in his soul’s recesses he would seem to riot in complete exemption from that law, having apparently little to do with reason further than to employ it as an ambidexter implement for effecting the irrational. That is to say: toward the accomplishment of an aim which in wantonness of malignity would seem to partake of the insane, he will direct a cool judgment sagacious and sound.

 

These men are true madmen, and of the most dangerous sort, for their lunacy is not continuous, but occasional; evoked by some special object; it is secretive and self-contained, so that when most active it is to the average mind not distinguished from sanity, and for the reason above suggested that whatever its aim may be, and the aim is never disclosed, the method and the outward proceeding is always perfectly rational.

 

… That Claggart’s figure was not amiss, and his face, save the chin, well molded, has already been said. Of these favorable points, he seemed not insensible, for he was not only neat but careful in his dress. But the form of Billy Budd was heroic; and if his face was without the intellectual look of the pallid Claggart’s, not the less was it lit, like his, from within, though from a different source. The bonfire in his heart made luminous the rose-tan in his cheek.

 

In view of the marked contrast between the persons of the twain, it is more than probable that when the master-at-arms in the scene last given applied to the sailor the proverb ‘Handsome is as handsome does,’ he there let escape an ironic inkling, not caught by the young sailors who heard it, as to what it was that had first moved him against Billy, namely, his significant personal beauty.

 

Now envy and antipathy, passions irreconcilable in reason, nevertheless, in fact, may spring conjoined like Chang and Eng in one birth. Is envy then such a monster? Well, though many an arraigned mortal has in hopes of mitigated penalty pleaded guilty to horrible actions, did ever anybody seriously confess to envy? Something there is in it universally felt to be more shameful than even felonious crime. And not only does everybody disown it, but the better sort are inclined to incredulity when it is in earnest imputed to an intelligent man. But since its lodgment is in the heart, not the brain, no degree of intellect supplies a guarantee against it.