InscribedVersos

To Enter MEL's Reading Text of Billy Budd,
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Melville's Inscribed Versos

As a general practice to save paper, Melville set aside heavily revised and discarded leaves of deleted text with still usable blank space on the leaf's verso, or back side. In revising Billy Budd, Melville often used the blank verso of such discarded leaves to inscribe text for insertion onto another leaf of his novella. He would select a leaf from his pile of discarded leaves, turn it over to its blank side, compose new text on what effectively becomes its "recto" side, and insert the revision text at the desired spot in his narrative, attaching it—sometimes a full leaf; sometimes just a portion—to a main leaf with a straight pin. The recto revision text would be visible to the reader; the discarded verso text would remain concealed behind the recto.

In addition to transcribing all revision texts, on attachments and main leaves in the Billy Budd manuscript, MEL also transcribes the discarded texts of each Inscribed Verso. Some such texts are earlier versions of passages found elsewhere in Billy Budd. Many, however, represent versions of poems or other prose works that Melville was working on before or during the composition of Billy Budd, and are useful in determining Melville's revision of those works. Overall, the fragments of revision found on inscribed versos are clues regarding the relative timing of Melville's composition process of several works written during his final years.

In conserving and digitizing the Billy Budd Manuscript, Houghton Library removed the straight pins that attached slips of paper to each other or to main leaves and reattached the slips at their proper places with light adhesive gauze, thus enabling readers to inspect the inscribed versos without damaging the slips and leaves. A selection of the thirty or so Inscribed Versos can be viewed here.

In example, Hardly ever is he a wine-bibber. If he have no natural distaste for the grape such as some people have even for the peach, he at any rate sincerely despises that over-genial influence which may lead one imprudently to open his heart. There is a singular pride in Plato's depraved one, him operating as a safe-guard against most of the physical vices. And against some of the non-spiritual spiritual moral vices as well. not frequently is the man [space at top from which clip was removed] at sea , though now in -encounters ^ there a certain kind of displayed gallantry be fallen out of date now as hardly appliable, did the knighthood signalized in the old navies by such characters Some portraiture of the outward Claggart has already been given. As to his inner personality, one does not care to hazard getting lost in a dark labyrinth [...] that. Yet