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Chapter 59

They Converse Of The Mollusca, Kings, Toad-Stools And Other Matters


Once more embarking, we gained Vivenza's southwestern side and there,
beheld vast swarms of laborers discharging from canoes, great loads of
earth; which they tossed upon the beach.

"It is true, then," said Media "that these freemen are engaged in
digging down other lands, and adding them to their own, piece-meal.
And this, they call extending their dominions agriculturally, and
peaceably."

"My lord, they pay a price for every canoe-load," said Mohi.

"Ay, old man, holding the spear in one hand, and striking the bargain
with the other."

"Yet charge it not upon all Vivenza," said Babbalanja. "Some of her
tribes are hostile to these things: and when their countryman fight
for land, are only warlike in opposing war."

"And therein, Babbalanja, is involved one of those anomalies in the
condition of Vivenza," said Media, "which I can hardly comprehend. How
comes it, that with so Many things to divide them, the valley-tribes
still keep their mystic league intact?"

"All plain, it is because the model, whence they derive their union,
is one of nature's planning. My lord, have you ever observed the
mysterious federation subsisting among the molluscs of the Tunicata
order,--in other words, a species of cuttle-fish, abounding at the
bottom of the lagoon?"

"Yes: in clear weather about the reefs, I have beheld them time and
again: but never with an eye to their political condition."

"Ah! my lord king, we should not cut off the nervous communication
between our eyes, and our cerebellums."

"What were you about to say concerning the Tunicata order of mollusca,
sir philosopher?"

"My very honorable lord, I hurry to conclude. They live in a compound
structure; but though connected by membranous canals, freely
communicating throughout the league--each member has a heart and
stomach of its own; provides and digests its own dinners; and grins
and bears its own gripes, without imparting the same to its neighbors.
But if a prowling shark touches one member, it ruffles all. Precisely
thus now with Vivenza. In that confederacy, there are as many
consciences as tribes; hence, if one member on its own behalf, assumes
aught afterwards repudiated, the sin rests on itself alone; is not
participated."

"A very subtle explanation, Babbalanja. You must allude, then, to
those recreant tribes; which, while in their own eyes presenting a
sublime moral spectacle to Mardi,--in King Bello's, do but present a
hopeless example of bad debts. And these, the tribes that boast of
boundless wealth."

"Most true, my lord. But Bello errs, when for this thing, he
stigmatizes all Vivenza, as a unity."

"Babbalanja, you yourself are made up of members:--then, if you be
sick of a lumbago,--'tis not _you_ that are unwell; but your spine."

"As you will, my lord. I have said. But to speak no more on that head
--what sort of a sensation, think you, life is to such creatures as
those mollusca?"

"Answer your own question, Babbalanja."

"I will; but first tell me what sort of a sensation life is to you,
yourself, my lord."

"Pray answer that along with the other, Azzageddi."

"Directly; but tell me, if you will, my lord, what sort of a sensation
life is to a toad-stool."

"Pray, Babbalanja put all three questions together; and then, do what
you have often done before, pronounce yourself a lunatic."

"My lord, I beseech you, remind me not of that fact so often. It is
true, but annoying. Nor will any wise man call another a fool."

"Do you take me for a mere man, then, Babbalanja, that you talk to me
thus?"

"My demi-divine lord and master, I was deeply concerned at your
indisposition last night:--may a loving subject inquire, whether his
prince is completely recovered from the effect of those guavas?"

"Have a care, Azzageddi; you are far too courteous, to be civil. But
proceed."

"I obey. In kings, mollusca, and toad-stools, life is one thing and
the same. The Philosopher Dumdi pronounces it a certain febral
vibration of organic parts, operating upon the vis inertia of
unorganized matter. But Bardianna says nay. Hear him. 'Who put
together this marvelous mechanism of mine; and wound it up, to go for
three score years and ten; when it runs out, and strikes Time's hours
no more? And what is it, that daily and hourly renews, and by a
miracle, creates in me my flesh and my blood? What keeps up the
perpetual telegraphic communication between my outpost toes and
digits, and that domed grandee up aloft, my brain?--It is not I; nor
you; nor he; nor it. No; when I place my hand to that king muscle my
heart, I am appalled. I feel the great God himself at work in me. Oro
is life.'"

"And what is death?" demanded Media.

"Death, my lord!--it is the deadest of all things."

Herman Melville