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Chapter 39

Wherein Babbalanja Discourses Of Himself


An interval of silence was at last broken by Babbalanja.

Pointing to the sun, just gaining the horizon, he exclaimed, "As old
Bardianna says--shut your eyes, and believe."

"And what may Bardianna have to do with yonder orb?" said Media.

This much, my lord, the astronomers maintain that Mardi moves round
the sun; which I, who never formally investigated the matter for
myself, can by no means credit; unless, plainly seeing one thing, I
blindly believe another. Yet even thus blindly does all Mardi
subscribe to an astronomical system, which not one in fifty thousand
can astronomically prove. And not many centuries back, my lord, all
Mardi did equally subscribe to an astronomical system, precisely the
reverse of that which they now believe. But the mass of Mardians have
not as much reason to believe the first system, as the exploded one;
for all who have eyes must assuredly see, that the sun seems to move,
and that Mardi seems a fixture, eternally _here_. But doubtless there
are theories which may be true, though the face of things belie them.
Hence, in such cases, to the ignorant, disbelief would seem more
natural than faith; though they too often reject the testimony of
their own senses, for what to them, is a mere hypothesis. And thus, my
lord, is it, that the masts of Mardians do not believe because they
know, but because they know not. And they are as ready to receive one
thing as another, if it comes from a canonical source. My lord, Mardi
is as an ostrich, which will swallow augh you offer, even a bar of
iron, if placed endwise. And though the iron be indigestible, yet it
serves to fill: in feeding, the end proposed. For Mardi must have
something to exercise its digestion, though that something be forever
indigestible. And as fishermen for sport, throw two lumps of bait,
united by a cord, to albatrosses floating on the sea; which are
greedily attempted to be swallowed, one lump by this fowl, the other
by that; but forever are kept reciprocally going up and down in them,
by means of the cord; even so, my lord, do I sometimes fancy, that our
theorists divert them-selves with the greediness of Mardians to
believe."

"Ha, ha," cried Media, "methinks this must be Azzageddi who speaks."

"No, my lord; not long since, Azzageddi received a furlough to go home
and warm himself for a while. But this leaves me not alone."

"How?"

"My lord,--for the present putting Azzageddi entirely aside,--though I
have now been upon terms of close companionship with myself for nigh
five hundred moons, I have not yet been able to decide who or what I
am. To you, perhaps, I seem Babbalanja; but to myself, I seem not
myself. All I am sure of, is a sort of prickly sensation all over me,
which they call life; and, occasionally, a headache or a queer conceit
admonishes me, that there is something astir in my attic. But how know
I, that these sensations are identical with myself? For aught I know,
I may be somebody else. At any rate, I keep an eye on myself, as I
would on a stranger. There is something going on in me, that is
independent of me. Many a time, have I willed to do one thing, and
another has been done. I will not say by myself, for I was not
consulted about it; it was done instinctively. My most virtuous
thoughts are not born of my musings, but spring up in me, like bright
fancies to the poet; unsought, spontaneous. Whence they come I know
not. I am a blind man pushed from behind; in vain, I turn about to see
what propels me. As vanity, I regard the praises of my friends; for
what they commend pertains not to me, Babbalanja; but to this unknown
something that forces me to it. But why am I, a middle aged Mardian,
less prone to excesses than when a youth? The same inducements and
allurements are around me. But no; my more ardent passions are burned
out; those which are strongest when we are least able to resist them.
Thus, then, my lord, it is not so much outer temptations that prevail
over us mortals; but inward instincts."

"A very curious speculation," said Media. But Babbalanja, have you
mortals no moral sense, as they call it?"

"We have. But the thing you speak of is but an after-birth; we eat and
drink many months before we are conscious of thoughts. And though some
adults would seem to refer all their actions to this moral sense, yet,
in reality, it is not so; for, dominant in them, their moral sense
bridles their instinctive passions; wherefore, they do not govern
themselves, but are governed by their very natures. Thus, some men in
youth are constitutionally as staid as I am now. But shall we
pronounce them pious and worthy youths for this? Does he abstain, who
is not incited? And on the other hand, if the instinctive passions
through life naturally have the supremacy over the moral sense, as in
extreme cases we see it developed in irreclaimable malefactors,--shall
we pronounce such, criminal and detestable wretches? My lord, it is
easier for some men to be saints, than for others not to be sinners."

"That will do, Babbalanja; you are on the verge, take not the leap! Go
back whence you set out, and tell us of that other, and still more
mysterious Azzageddi; him whom you hinted to have palmed himself off
on you for you yourself."

"Well, then, my lord,--Azzageddi still set aside,--upon that self-same
inscrutable stranger, I charge all those past actions of mine, which
in the retrospect appear to me such eminent folly, that I am
confident, it was not I, Babbalanja, now speaking, that committed
them. Nevertheless, my lord, this very day I may do some act, which at
a future period may seem equally senseless; for in one lifetime we
live a hundred lives. By the incomprehensible stranger in me, I say,
this body of mine has been rented out scores of times, though always
one dark chamber in me is retained by the old mystery."

"Will you never come to the mark, Babbalanja? Tell me something direct
of the stranger. Who, what is he? Introduce him."

"My lord, I can not. He is locked up in me. In a mask, he dodges me.
He prowls about in me, hither and thither; he peers, and I stare. This
is he who talks in my sleep, revealing my secrets; and takes me to
unheard of realms, beyond the skies of Mardi. So present is he always,
that I seem not so much to live of myself, as to be a mere
apprehension of the unaccountable being that is in me. Yet all the
time, this being is I, myself."

"Babbalanja," said Media, "you have fairly turned yourself inside out."

"Yes, my lord," said Mohi, "and he has so unsettled me, that I begin
to think all Mardi a square circle."

"How is that, Babbalanja," said Media, "is a circle square?"

"No, my lord, but ever since Mardi began, we Mardians have been
essaying our best to square it."

"Cleverly retorted. Now, Babbalanja, do you not imagine, that you may
do harm by disseminating these sophisms of yours; which like your
devil theory, would seem to relieve all Mardi from moral
accountability?"

"My lord, at bottom, men wear no bonds that other men can strike off;
and have no immunities, of which other men can deprive them. Tell a
good man that he is free to commit murder,--will he murder? Tell a
murderer that at the peril of his soul he indulges in murderous
thoughts,--will that make him a saint?"

"Again on the verge, Babbalanja? Take not the leap, I say."

"I can leap no more, my lord. Already I am down, down, down."

"Philosopher," said Media, "what with Azzageddi, and the mysterious
indweller you darkly hint of, I marvel not that you are puzzled to
decide upon your identity. But when do you seem most yourself?"

"When I sleep, and dream not, my lord."

"Indeed?"

"Why then, a fool's cap might be put on you, and you would not know it."

"The very turban he ought to wear," muttered Mohi.

"Yet, my lord, I live while consciousness is not mine, while to all
appearances I am a clod. And may not this same state of being, though
but alternate with me, be continually that of many dumb, passive
objects we so carelessly regard? Trust me, there are more things alive
than those that crawl, or fly, or swim. Think you, my lord, there is
no sensation in being a tree? feeling the sap in one's boughs, the
breeze in one's foliage? think you it is nothing to be a world? one of
a herd, bison-like, wending its way across boundless meadows of ether?
In the sight of a fowl, that sees not our souls, what are our own
tokens of animation? That we move, make a noise, have organs, pulses,
and are compounded of fluids and solids. And all these are in this
Mardi as a unit. Daily the slow, majestic throbbings of its heart are
perceptible on the surface in the tides of the la-goon. Its rivers are
its veins; when agonized, earthquakes are its throes; it shouts in the
thunder, and weeps in the shower; and as the body of a bison is
covered with hair, so Mardi is covered with grasses and vegetation,
among which, we parasitical things do but crawl, vexing and tormenting
the patient creature to which we cling. Nor yet, hath it recovered
from the pain of the first foundation that was laid. Mardi is alive to
its axis. When you pour water, does it not gurgle? When you strike a
pearl shell, does it not ring? Think you there is no sensation in
being a rock?--To exist, is to be; to be, is to be something: to be
something, is--"

"Go on," said Media.

"And what is it, to be something?" said Yoomy artlessly. "Bethink
yourself of what went before," said Media.

"Lose not the thread," said Mohi.

"It has snapped," said Babbalanja.

"I breathe again," said Mohi.

"But what a stepping-off place you came to then, philosopher," said
Media. "By the way, is it not old Bardianna who says, that no Mardian
should undertake to walk, without keeping one foot foremost?"

"To return to the vagueness of the notion I have of myself," said
Babbalanja.

"An appropriate theme," said Media, "proceed."

"My lord," murmured Mohi, "Is not this philosopher like a centipede?
Cut off his head, and still he crawls."

"There are times when I fancy myself a lunatic," resumed Babbalanja.

"Ah, now he's beginning to talk sense," whispered Mohi.

"Surely you forget, Babbalanja," said Media. "How many more theories
have you? First, you are possessed by a devil; then rent yourself out
to the indweller; and now turn yourself into a mad-house. You are
inconsistent."

"And for that very reason, my lord, not inconsistent; for the sum of
my inconsistencies makes up my consistency. And to be consistent to
one's self, is often to be inconsistent to Mardi. Common consistency
implies unchangeableness; but much of the wisdom here below lives in a
state of transition."

"Ah!" murmured Mold, "my head goes round again."

"Azzageddi aside, then, my lord, and also, for the nonce, the
mysterious indweller, I come now to treat of myself as a lunatic. But
this last conceit is not so much based upon the madness of particular
actions, as upon the whole drift of my ordinary and hourly ones;
those, in which I most resemble all other Mardians. It seems like
going through with some nonsensical whim-whams, destitute of fixed
purpose. For though many of my actions seem to have objects, and all
of them somehow run into each other; yet, where is the grand result?
To what final purpose, do I walk about, eat, think, dream? To what
great end, does Mohi there, now stroke his beard?"

"But I was doing it unconsciously," said Mohi, dropping his hand, and
lifting his head.

"Just what I would be at, old man. 'What we do, we do blindly,' says
old Bardianna. Many things we do, we do without knowing,--as with you
and your beard, Mohi. And many others we know not, in their true
bearing at least, till they are past. Are not half our lives spent in
reproaches for foregone actions, of the true nature and consequences
of which, we were wholly ignorant at the time? Says old Bardianna,
'Did I not so often feel an appetite for my yams, I should think every
thing a dream;'--so puzzling to him, seemed the things of this Mardi.
But Alla-Malolla goes further. Says he, 'Let us club together, fellow-
riddles:--Kings, clowns, and intermediates. We are bundles of comical
sensations; we bejuggle ourselves into strange phantasies: we are air,
wind, breath, bubbles; our being is told in a tick.'"

"Now, then, Babbalanja," said Media, "what have you come to in all
this rhapsody? You everlastingly travel in a circle."

"And so does the sun in heaven, my lord; like me, it goes round, and
gives light as it goes. Old Bardianna, too, revolved. He says so
himself. In his roundabout chapter on Cycles and Epicycles, with Notes
on the Ecliptic, he thus discourseth:--'All things revolve upon some
center, to them, fixed; for the centripetal is ever too much for the
centrifugal. Wherefore, it is a perpetual cycling with us, without
progression; and we fly round, whether we will or no. To stop, were to
sink into space. So, over and over we go, and round and round; double-
shuffle, on our axis, and round the sun.' In an another place, he
says:--'There is neither apogee nor perigee, north nor south, right
nor left; what to-night is our zenith, to-morrow is our nadir; stand
as we will, we stand on our heads; essay to spring into the air, and
down we come; here we stick; our very bones make glue.'"

"Enough, enough, Babbalanja," cried Media. "You are a very wise
Mardian; but the wisest Mardians make the most consummate fools."

"So they do, my lord; but I was interrupted. I was about to say, that
there is no place but the universe; no limit but the limitless; no
bottom but the bottomless."

Herman Melville