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Chapter 51

In Which Azzageddi Seems To Use Babbalanja For A Mouth-Piece

Porpheero far astern, the spirits of the company rose. Once again, old
Mohi serenely unbraided, and rebraided his beard; and sitting Turk-
wise on his mat, my lord Media smoking his gonfalon, diverted himself
with the wild songs of Yoomy, the wild chronicles of Mohi, or the
still wilder speculations of Babbalanja; now and then, as from pitcher
to pitcher, pouring royal old wine down his soul.

Among other things, Media, who at times turned over Babbalanja for an
encyclopaedia, however unreliable, demanded information upon the
subject of neap tides and their alleged slavish vassalage to the moon.

When true to his cyclopaediatic nature, Babbalanja quoted from a still
older and better authority than himself; in brief, from no other than
eternal Bardianna. It seems that that worthy essayist had discussed
the whole matter in a chapter thus headed: "On Seeing into Mysteries
through Mill-Stones;" and throughout his disquisitions he evinced such
a profundity of research, though delivered in a style somewhat
equivocal, that the company were much struck by the erudition

"Babbalanja, that Bardianna of yours must have been a wonderful
student," said Media after a pause, "no doubt he consumed whole
thickets of rush-lights."

"Not so, my lord.--'Patience, patience, philosophers,' said Bardianna;
'blow out your tapers, bolt not your dinners, take time, wisdom will
be plenty soon.'"

"A notable hint! Why not follow it, Babbalanja?"

"Because, my lord, I have overtaken it, and passed on."

"True to your nature, Babbalanja; you stay nowhere."

"Ay, keep moving is my motto; but speaking of hard students, did my
lord ever hear of Midni the ontologist and entomologist?"


"Then, my lord, you shall hear of him now. Midni was of opinion that
day-light was vulgar; good enough for taro-planting and traveling; but
wholly unadapted to the sublime ends of study. He toiled by night;
from sunset to sunrise poring over the works of the old logicans. Like
most philosophers, Midni was an amiable man; but one thing invariably
put him out. He read in the woods by glow-worm light; insect in hand,
tracing over his pages, line by line. But glow-worms burn not long:
and in the midst of some calm intricate thought, at some imminent
comma, the insect often expired, and Midni groped for a meaning. Upon
such an occasion, 'Ho, Ho,' he cried; 'but for one instant of sun-
light to see my way to a period!' But sun-light there was none; so
Midni sprang to his feet, and parchment under arm, raced about among
the sloughs and bogs for another glow-worm. Often, making a rapid
descent with his turban, he thought he had caged a prize; but nay.
Again he tried; yet with no better succcess. Nevertheless, at last he
secured one; but hardly had he read three lines by its light, when out
it went. Again and again this occurred. And thus he forever went
halting and stumbling through his studies, and plunging through his
quagmires after a glim."

At this ridiculous tale, one of our silliest paddlers burst into
uncontrollable mirth. Offended at which breach of decorum, Media
sharply rebuked him.

But he protested he could not help laughing.

Again Media was about to reprimand him, when Babbalanja begged leave
to interfere.

"My lord, he is not to blame. Mark how earnestly he struggles to
suppress his mirth; but he can not. It has often been the same with
myself. And many a time have I not only vainly sought to check my
laughter, but at some recitals I have both laughed and cried. But can
opposite emotions be simultaneous in one being? No. I wanted to weep;
but my body wanted to smile, and between us we almost choked. My lord
Media, this man's body laughs; not the man himself."

"But his body is his own, Babbalanja; and he should have it under
better control."

"The common error, my lord. Our souls belong to our bodies, not our
bodies to our souls. For which has the care of the other? which keeps
house? which looks after the replenishing of the aorta and auricles,
and stores away the secretions? Which toils and ticks while the other
sleeps? Which is ever giving timely hints, and elderly warnings? Which
is the most authoritative?--Our bodies, surely. At a hint, you must
move; at a notice to quit, you depart. Simpletons show us, that a body
can get along almost without a soul; but of a soul getting along
without a body, we have no tangible and indisputable proof. My lord,
the wisest of us breathe involuntarily. And how many millions there
are who live from day to day by the incessant operation of subtle
processes in them, of which they know nothing, and care less? Little
ween they, of vessels lacteal and lymphatic, of arteries femoral and
temporal; of pericranium or pericardium; lymph, chyle, fibrin,
albumen, iron in the blood, and pudding in the head; they live by the
charity of their bodies, to which they are but butlers. I say, my
lord, our bodies are our betters. A soul so simple, that it prefers
evil to good, is lodged in a frame, whose minutest action is full of
unsearchable wisdom. Knowing this superiority of theirs, our bodies
are inclined to be willful: our beards grow in spite of us; and as
every one knows, they sometimes grow on dead men."

"You mortals are alive, then, when you are dead, Babbalanja."

"No, my lord; but our beards survive us."

"An ingenious distinction; go on, philosopher."

"Without bodies, my lord, we Mardians would be minus our strongest
motive-passions, those which, in some way or other, root under our
every action. Hence, without bodies, we must be something else than we
essentially are. Wherefore, that saying imputed to Alma, and which, by
his very followers, is deemed the most hard to believe of all his
instructions, and the most at variance with all preconceived notions
of immortality, I Babbalanja, account the most reasonable of his
doctrinal teachings. It is this;--that at the last day, every man
shall rise in the flesh."

"Pray, Babbalanja, talk not of resurrections to a demi-god."

"Then let me rehearse a story, my lord. You will find it in the 'Very
Merry Marvelings' of the Improvisitor Quiddi; and a quaint book it is.
Fugle-fi is its finis:--fugle-fi, fugle-fo, fugle-fogle-orum!"

"That wild look in his eye again," murmured Yoomy. "Proceed,
Azzageddi," said Media.

"The philosopher Grando had a sovereign contempt for his carcass.
Often he picked a quarrel with it; and always was flying out in its
disparagement. 'Out upon you, you beggarly body! you clog, drug, drag!
You keep me from flying; I could get along better without you. Out
upon you, I say, you vile pantry, cellar, sink, sewer; abominable
body! what vile thing are you not? And think you, beggar! to have the
upper hand of me? Make a leg to that man if you dare, without my
permission. This smell is intolerable; but turn from it, if you can,
unless I give the word. Bolt this yam!--it is done. Carry me across
yon field!--off we go. Stop!--it's a dead halt. There, I've trained
you enough for to-day; now, sirrah, crouch down in the shade, and be
quiet.--I'm rested. So, here's for a stroll, and a reverie homeward:--
Up, carcass, and march.' So the carcass demurely rose and
paced, and the philosopher meditated. He was intent upon squaring the
circle; but bump he came against a bough. 'How now, clodhopping
bumpkin! you would take advantage of my reveries, would you? But I'll
be even with you;' and seizing a cudgel, he laid across his shoulders
with right good will. But one of his backhanded thwacks injured his
spinal cord; the philosopher dropped; but presently came to. 'Adzooks!
I'll bend or break you! Up, up, and I'll run you home for this.' But
wonderful to tell, his legs refused to budge; all sensation had left
them. But a huge wasp happening to sting his foot, not him, for he
felt it not, the leg incontinently sprang into the air, and of itself,
cut all manner of capers. Be still! Down with you!' But the leg
refused. 'My arms are still loyal,' thought Grando; and with them he
at last managed to confine his refractory member. But all commands,
volitions, and persuasions, were as naught to induce his limbs to
carry him home. It was a solitary place; and five days after, Grando
the philosopher was found dead under a tree."

"Ha, ha!" laughed Media, "Azzageddi is full as merry as ever."

"But, my lord," continued Babbalanja, "some creatures have still more
perverse bodies than Grando's. In the fables of Ridendiabola, this is
to be found. 'A fresh-water Polyp, despising its marine existence;
longed to live upon air. But all it could do, its tentacles or arms
still continued to cram its stomach. By a sudden preternatural
impulse, however, the Polyp at last turned itself inside out;
supposing that after such a proceeding it would have no gastronomic
interior. But its body proved ventricle outside as well as in. Again
its arms went to work; food was tossed in, and digestion continued.'"

"Is the literal part of that a fact?" asked Mohi.

"True as truth," said Babbalanja; "the Polyp will live turned inside out."

"Somewhat curious, certainly," said Media.--"But me-thinks,
Babbalanja, that somewhere I have heard something about organic
functions, so called; which may account for the phenomena you mention;
and I have heard too, me-thinks, of what are called reflex actions of
the nerves, which, duly considered, might deprive of its strangeness
that story of yours concerning Grande and his body."

"Mere substitutions of sounds for inexplicable meanings, my lord. In
some things science cajoles us. Now, what is undeniable of the Polyp
some physiologists analogically maintain with regard to us Mardians;
that forasmuch, as the lining of our interiors is nothing more than a
continuation of the epidermis, or scarf-skin, therefore, that in a
remote age, we too must have been turned wrong side out: an
hypothesis, which, indirectly might account for our moral
perversities: and also, for that otherwise nonsensical term--'the coat
of the stomach;' for originally it must have been a surtout, instead
of an inner garment."

"Pray, Azzageddi," said Media, "are you not a fool?"

"One of a jolly company, my lord; but some creatures besides wearing
their surtouts within, sport their skeletons without: witness the
lobster and turtle, who alive, study their own anatomies."

"Azzageddi, you are a zany."

"Pardon, my lord," said Mohi, "I think him more of a lobster; it's
hard telling his jaws from his claws."

"Yes, Braid-Beard, I am a lobster, a mackerel, any thing you please;
but my ancestors were kangaroos, not monkeys, as old Boddo erroneously
opined. My idea is more susceptible of demonstration than his. Among
the deepest discovered land fossils, the relics of kangaroos are
discernible, but no relics of men. Hence, there were no giants in
those days; but on the contrary, kangaroos; and those kangaroos formed
the first edition of mankind, since revised and corrected."

"What has become of our finises, or tails, then?" asked Mohi,
wriggling in his seat.

"The old question, Mohi. But where are the tails of the tadpoles,
after their gradual metamorphosis into frogs? Have frogs any tails,
old man? Our tails, Mohi, were worn off by the process of
civilization; especially at the period when our fathers began to adopt
the sitting posture: the fundamental evidence of all civilization, for
neither apes, nor savages, can be said to sit; invariably, they squat
on their hams. Among barbarous tribes benches and settles are unknown.
But, my lord Media, as your liege and loving subject I can not
sufficiently deplore the deprivation of your royal tail. That stiff
and vertebrated member, as we find it in those rustic kinsmen we have
disowned, would have been useful as a supplement to your royal legs;
and whereas my good lord is now fain to totter on two stanchions, were
he only a kangaroo, like the monarchs of old, the majesty of Odo would
be dignified, by standing firm on a tripod."

"A very witty conceit! But have a care, Azzageddi; your theory applies
not to me."

"Babbalanja," said Mohi, "you must be the last of the kangaroos."

"I am, Mohi."

"But the old fashioned pouch or purse of your grandams?" hinted Media.

"My lord, I take it, that must have been transferred; nowadays our sex
carries the purse."

"Ha, ha!"

"My lord, why this mirth? Let us be serious. Although man is no longer
a kangaroo, he may be said to be an inferior species of plant. Plants
proper are perhaps insensible of the circulation of their sap: we
mortals are physically unconscious of the circulation of the blood;
and for many ages were not even aware of the fact. Plants know nothing
of their interiors:--three score years and ten we trundle about ours,
and never get a peep at them; plants stand on their stalks:--we stalk
on our legs; no plant flourishes over its dead root:--dead in the
grave, man lives no longer above ground; plants die without
food:--so we. And now for the difference. Plants elegantly inhale
nourishment, without looking it up: like lords, they stand still and
are served; and though green, never suffer from the colic:--whereas,
we mortals must forage all round for our food: we cram our insides;
and are loaded down with odious sacks and intestines. Plants make love
and multiply; but excel us in all amorous enticements, wooing and
winning by soft pollens and essences. Plants abide in one place, and
live: we must travel or die. Plants flourish without us: we must
perish without them."

"Enough Azzageddi!" cried Media. "Open not thy lips till to-morrow."'

Herman Melville