From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Billy Budd is a novella begun around 1886 by American author Herman Melville, left unfinished at his death in 1891 and not published for the first time until 1924. The work has been central to Melville scholarship since it was discovered in manuscript form among Melville's papers in 1924 and published the same year.
It has an ignominious editorial history, as poor transcription and misinterpretation of Melville's notes on the manuscript marred the first published editions of the text. For example, early versions gave the book's title as Billy Budd, Foretopman, while it now seems clear Melville intended Billy Budd, Sailor: (An Inside Narrative); some versions wrongly included a chapter that Melville had excised as a preface (the correct text has no preface); some versions fail to correct the name of the ship to Bellipotent (from the Latin bella war and potens power), from Indomitable, as Melville called her in an earlier draft.
In 1962, Harrison Hayford and Merton M. Sealts, Jr. established what is now considered the correct text; it was published by the University of Chicago Press, and most editions printed since then follow the Hayford/Sealts text. One of the most influential twentieth-century versions of the story was the opera Billy Budd by Benjamin Britten to the libretto by E. M. Forster and Eric Crozier, which follows the earlier text as prepared for publication by Raymond Weaver.