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Chapter 16

Media And Babbalanja Discourse

Our visiting the Pontiff at a time previously unforeseen, somewhat
altered our plans. All search in Maramma for the lost one proving
fruitless, and nothing of note remaining to be seen, we returned not
to Uma; but proceeded with the tour of the lagoon.

When day came, reclining beneath the canopy, Babbalanja would fain
have seriously discussed those things we had lately been seeing,
which, for all the occasional levity he had recently evinced, seemed
very near his heart.

But my lord Media forbade; saying that they necessarily included a
topic which all gay, sensible Mardians, who desired to live and be
merry, invariably banished from social discourse.

"Meditate as much as you will," Babbalanja, "but say little aloud,
unless in a merry and mythical way. Lay down the great maxims of
things, but let inferences take care of themselves. Never be special;
never, a partisan. In safety, afar off, you may batter down a
fortress; but at your peril you essay to carry a single turret by
escalade. And if doubts distract you, in vain will you seek sympathy
from your fellow men. For upon this one theme, not a few of you free-
minded mortals, even the otherwise honest and intelligent, are the
least frank and friendly. Discourse with them, and it is mostly
formulas, or prevarications, or hollow assumption of philosophical
indifference, or urbane hypocrisies, or a cool, civil deference to the
dominant belief; or still worse, but less common, a brutality of
indiscriminate skepticism. Furthermore, Babbalanja, on this head,
final, last thoughts you mortals have none; nor can have; and, at
bottom, your own fleeting fancies are too often secrets to yourselves;
and sooner may you get another's secret, than your own. Thus with the
wisest of you all; you are ever unfixed. Do you show a tropical calm
without? then, be sure a thousand contrary currents whirl and eddy
within. The free, airy robe of your philosophy is but a dream, which
seems true while it lasts; but waking again into the orthodox world,
straightway you resume the old habit. And though in your dreams you
may hie to the uttermost Orient, yet all the while you abide where you
are. Babbalanja, you mortals dwell in Mardi, and it is impossible to
get elsewhere."

Said Babbalanja, "My lord, you school me. But though I dissent from
some of your positions, I am willing to confess, that this is not the
first time a philosopher has been instructed by a man."

"A demi-god, sir; and therefore I the more readily discharge my mind
of all seriousness, touching the subject, with which you mortals so
vex and torment yourselves."

Silence ensued. And seated apart, on both sides of the barge, solemnly
swaying, in fixed meditation, to the roll of the waves, Babbalanja,
Mohi, and Yoomy, drooped lower and lower, like funeral plumes; and our
gloomy canoe seemed a hearse.

Herman Melville