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Naples and HMS Belliptent: Melville on the Police State STANTON GARNER San Marcos, Texas erman Melville’s visit to Naples from February 18 to February 24, 1857,affected him deeply. It was an epiphany: he saw there, for the Hfirst time, a tyranny in which, in contrast to most of Europe, a population was still being held in thrall by an unenlightened monarch whose reign depended upon subjugation by a large and alien soldiery, subversion by informers, and wholesale imprisonments of citizens only suspected of disloyalty While another man might have dismissed this revelation as a regrettable local phenomenon, Melville, whose imagination tended instead toward global synthesis, saw the police state of Naples as a type which may recur in any era of human existence and in any human community. Thus, the repression of the citizen of Naples was the potential repression of every man, and for this reason it is echoed in a number of Melville’s later works. It is the purpose of this essay to show how, after attempting to speak of it in several poems about Naples, Melville made forceful, tragic, and final use of it in Billy Budd, Sailor At the time of his arrival, the city was ruled by “Bomba,”or Ferdinand V, the latest in a dynasty of Bourbon monarchs whose rule had provoked repeated insurrections. It had been less than nine years since the last great uprising, when royal cannon had fired into the streets and Sicilian troops and Swiss mercenaries had attacked civilian barricades on the streets and had swept through shops and homes, massacring citizens and throwing men, women, and children out of windows.’ Visiting the city in its aftermath, future British prime minister William Gladstone, learning that there were 20,000 political prisoners held indiscriminately in cells with the basest of felons, condemned the regime publicly .2 In the three months prior to Melville’s arrival, Baron Francesco Bentivegna and some others had been executed for participating in a Sicilian conspiracy to establish a united, republican Italy, and during a military drill in Naples an infantryman had broken ranks in an attempt to impale the king on his bayonet. In obedience to “the fourth degree of public example,” the soldier had been tortured and executed, both in public view. In addition, a powder magazineon a military pier had exploded and a frigate had blown up in the harbor , though the authorities were unable to link these events directly to subver1 Pietro Colletta, History of the Kingdom of Naples, 1734-1825, with suppl., 1825-1856, trans. S. Horner, 2 vols. (Edinburgh: T. Constable, 1858), 2: 548-552. 2 Lacey Collison-Morley, Naples Through the Centuries (London: Methuen, 19251, p. 163. L E V I A T H A N A J O U R N A L O F M E L V I L L E S T U D I E S 5 3 S T A N T O N G A R N E R sion. Both the British and French governments had become so disgusted with the royal barbarity that they had broken off diplomatic relations and deployed warships lest their citizens in Naples be endangered.3 In his journal, Melville noted the ominous military presence: “Palace -soldiers -music -clang of arms all over city Burst of troops from archway . Cannon posted inwards,” and, later, “Military continually about streets.”4His remarks about the oppressive political climate end with that: much of the rest of the journal entries record his investigations of fabled sites in the area, as he dared the fates by descending into the crater of Vesuvius and as he walked through a grotto at Posillipo, which, he might have imagined (especially since his guide told him that it was the entrance to the “Infernal regions”) was Virgil’s model for the passage to the Underworld into which Enaeas had ventured. As a coda to his journal entries, before he left for Rome he jotted down some notes for future literary use: enumerate the momentoes of the remorselessness of Nature -ravages of war &c -burned city. Solfatara &c. -Now, one would think if any modern city were here built &c, they would be sober in view of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1750-1849
Print ISSN
1525-6995
Pages
pp. 53-61
Launched on MUSE
2013-05-29
Open Access
No
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