Billy Budd Part 1, Chapter 1
Before the advent of steamships, there were merchant sailors who seemed to be a 'higher' and somehow more regal member of their class. Unlike on land, shipmates of all colors mixed in companionship. Of these types the handsome sailor type has became all but extinct on the steamships. He was proficient in his art like a boxer or a wrestler, "on shore he was a champion; afloat the spokesman; on every suitable occasion always foremost." Chapter 1, pg. 431. He was a sailor and a hunter; his morality was as keen as his character. Of such a sort is Billy Budd. He is sailing after the American Revolution and at the beginning of the French Revolution, in 1797. The British Empire is at its greatest extent; its navy patrols almost every ocean near all the major continents.
The H.M.A. Bellipotent 74 is short of its necessary crew, so by naval order Lieutenant Radcliffe boards the merchant ship, the Rights-of-Man, to inspect Billy for military service. Billy doesn't try to avoid the lieutenant and he makes no objections. The master of the ship gives him a look of reproach, but says nothing. Captain Graveling, a man who rarely sleeps on a voyage, does not want the lieutenant to take Billy away because he holds his crew together. Billy has become a leader and an inspiration to the rest of the crew. The old head of the crew, Red Whiskers, did not like Billy because he was jealous of him. Once he tried to punch Billy and got pummeled himself. Anyone on the ship would do anything for Billy and the lieutenant quips: "blessed are the peacemakers" Chapter 1, pg. 434. He reminds the captain that the royal commissioners will be grateful if he gives up Billy willingly. Billy enters with his possessions in a chest, but the Lieutenant tells him to put all his stuff in a bag because there is no room for chests on a naval ship. As they row to the naval vessel, Billy stands up to wave, a breach of naval protocol. Not only is one required to sit in a boat, but a member of the navy is supposed to act with more restraint. The lieutenant stifles his laughter. Billy is ambivalent about his enlistment:
"And it may be that he rather liked this adventurous turn in his affairs, which promised an opening into novel scenes and martial excitements." Chapter 1, pg. 435
On the Bellipotent he is liked; many of the men seem jovial, but are actually sullen. Life in the navy is hard and they are overworked. Many of them miss their wives and children. Billy is a foretopman, working in the sails. Unlike the other men, Billy doesn't have a family to worry about.