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Chapter 71

A Book From The "Ponderings Of Old Bardianna"


"Now," said Babbalanja, lighting his trombone as we sailed from the
isle, "who are the monsters, we or the cripples?"

"You yourself are a monster, for asking the question," said Mohi.

"And so, to the cripples I am; though not, old man, for the reason you
mention. But I am, as I am; whether hideous, or handsome, depends upon
who is made judge. There is no supreme standard yet revealed, whereby
to judge of ourselves; 'Our very instincts are prejudices,' saith Alla
Mallolla; 'Our very axioms, and postulates are far from infallible.'
'In respect of the universe, mankind is but a sect,' saith Diloro:
'and first principles but dogmas.' What ethics prevail in the
Pleiades? What things have the synods in Sagittarius decreed?"

"Never mind your old authors," said Media. "Stick to the cripples;
enlarge upon them."

"But I have done with them now, my lord; the sermon is not the text.
Give ear to old Bardianna. I know him by heart. Thus saith the sage in
Book X. of the Ponderings, 'Zermalmende,' the title: 'Je pense,' the
motto:--'My supremacy over creation, boasteth man, is declared in my
natural attitude:--I stand erect! But so do the palm-trees; and the
giraffes that graze off their tops. And the fowls of the air fly high
over our heads; and from the place where we fancy our heaven to be,
defile the tops of our temples. Belike, the eagles, from their eyries
look down upon us Mardians, in our hives, even as upon the
beavers in their dams, marveling at our incomprehensible ways. And
cunning though we be, some things, hidden from us, may not be
mysteries to them. Having five keys, hold we all that open to
knowledge? Deaf, blind, and deprived of the power of scent, the bat
will steer its way unerringly:--could we? Yet man is lord of the bat
and the brute; lord over the crows; with whom, he must needs share the
grain he garners. We sweat for the fowls, as well as ourselves. The
curse of labor rests only on us. Like slaves, we toil: at their good
leisure they glean.

"'Mardi is not wholly ours. We are the least populous part of
creation. To say nothing of other tribes, a census of the herring
would find us far in the minority. And what life is to us,--sour or
sweet,--so is it to them. Like us, they die, fighting death to the
last; like us, they spawn and depart. We inhabit but a crust, rough
surfaces, odds and ends of the isles; the abounding lagoon being its
two-thirds, its grand feature from afar; and forever unfathomable.

"'What shaft has yet been sunk to the antipodes? What underlieth the
gold mines?

"'But even here, above-ground, we grope with the sun at meridian.
Vainly, we seek our Northwest Passages,--old alleys, and thoroughfares
of the whales.

"'Oh men! fellow men! we are only what we are; not what we would be;
nor every thing we hope for. We are but a step in a scale, that
reaches further above us than below. We breathe but oxygen. Who in
Arcturus hath heard of us? They know us not in the Milky Way. We prate
of faculties divine: and know not how sprouteth a spear of grass; we
go about shrugging our shoulders: when the firmament-arch is over us;
we rant of etherealities: and long tarry over our banquets; we demand
Eternity for a lifetime: when our mortal half-hours too often prove
tedious. We know not of what we talk. The Bird of Paradise out-flies
our flutterings. What it is to be immortal, has not yet entered
into our thoughts. At will, we build our futurities; tier above tier,
all galleries full of laureates: resounding with everlasting
oratorios! Pater-nosters forever, or eternal Misereres! forgetting
that in Mardi, our breviaries oft fall from our hands. But divans
there are, some say, whereon we shall recline, basking in effulgent
suns, knowing neither Orient nor Occident. Is it so? Fellow men! our
mortal lives have an end; but that end is no goal: no place of repose.
Whatever it may be, it will prove but as the beginning of another
race. We will hope, joy, weep, as before; though our tears may be such
as the spice-trees shed. Supine we can only be, annihilated.

"'The thick film is breaking; the ages have long been circling.
Fellow-men! if we live hereafter, it will not be in lyrics; nor shall
we yawn, and our shadows lengthen, while the eternal cycles are
revolving. To live at all, is a high vocation; to live forever, and
run parallel with Oro, may truly appall us. Toil we not here? and
shall we be forever slothful elsewhere? Other worlds differ not much
from this, but in degree. Doubtless, a pebble is a fair specimen of
the universe.

"'We point at random. Peradventure at this instant, there are beings
gazing up to this very world as their future heaven. But the universe
is all over a heaven: nothing but stars on stars, throughout
infinities of expansion. All we see are but a cluster. Could we get to
Bootes, we would be no nearer Oro, than now he hath no place; but is
here. Already, in its unimaginable roamings, our system may have
dragged us through and through the spaces, where we plant cities of
beryl and jasper. Even now, we may be inhaling the ether, which we
fancy seraphic wings are fanning. But look round. There is much to be
seen here, and now. Do the archangels survey aught more glorious than
the constellations we nightly behold? Continually we slight the
wonders, we deem in reserve. We await the present. With marvels we are
glutted, till we hold them no marvels at all. But had these
eyes first opened upon all the prodigies in the Revelation of the
Dreamer, long familiarity would have made them appear, even as these
things we see. Now, _now_, the page is out-spread: to the simple, easy
as a primer; to the wise, more puzzling than hieroglyphics. The
eternity to come, is but a prolongation of time present: and the
beginning may be more wonderful than the end.

"'Then let us be wise. But much of the knowledge we seek, already we
have in our cores. Yet so simple it is, we despise it; so bold, we
fear it.

"'In solitude, let us exhume our ingots. Let us hear our own thoughts.
The soul needs no mentor, but Oro; and Oro, without proxy. Wanting
Him, it is both the teacher and the taught. Undeniably, reason was the
first revelation; and so far as it tests all others, it has precedence
over them. It comes direct to us, without suppression or
interpolation; and with Oro's indisputable imprimatur. But inspiration
though it be, it is not so arrogant as some think. Nay, far too
humble, at times it submits to the grossest indignities. Though in its
best estate, not infallible; so far as it goes, for us, it is
reliable. When at fault, it stands still. We speak not of visionaries.
But if this our first revelation stops short of the uttermost, so with
all others. If, often, it only perplexes: much more the rest. They
leave much unexpounded; and disclosing new mysteries, add to the
enigma. Fellow-men; the ocean we would sound is unfathomable; and
however much we add to our line, when it is out, we feel not the
bottom. Let us be truly lowly, then; not lifted up with a Pharisaic
humility. We crawl not like worms; nor wear we the liveries of angels.

"'The firmament-arch has no key-stone; least of all, is man its prop.
He stands alone. We are every thing to ourselves, but how little to
others. What are others to us? Assure life everlasting to this
generation, and their immediate forefathers--and what tears would
flow, were there no resurrection for the countless generations
from the first man to five cycles since? And soon we ourselves shall
have fallen in with the rank and file of our sires. At a blow,
annihilate some distant tribe, now alive and jocund--and what would we
reck? Curiosity apart, do we really care whether the people in
Bellatrix are immortal or no?

"'Though they smite us, let us not turn away from these things, if
they be really thus.

"'There was a time, when near Cassiopeia, a star of the first
magnitude, most lustrous in the North, grew lurid as a fire, then dim
as ashes, and went out. Now, its place is a blank. A vast world, with
all its continents, say the astronomers, blazing over the heads of our
fathers; while in Mardi were merry-makings, and maidens given in
marriage. Who now thinks of that burning sphere? How few are aware
that ever it was?

"'These things are so.

"'Fellow-men! we must go, and obtain a glimpse of what we are from the
Belts of Jupiter and the Moons of Saturn, ere we see ourselves aright.
The universe can wax old without us; though by Oro's grace we may live
to behold a wrinkle in the sky. Eternity is not ours by right; and,
alone, unrequited sufferings here, form no title thereto, unless
resurrections are reserved for maltreated brutes. Suffering is
suffering; be the sufferer man, brute, or thing.

"'How small;--how nothing, our deserts! Let us stifle all vain
speculations; we need not to be told what righteousness is; we were
born with the whole Law in our hearts. Let us do: let us act: let us
down on our knees. And if, after all, we should be no more forever;--
far better to perish meriting immortality, than to enjoy it
unmeritorious. While we fight over creeds, ten thousand fingers point
to where vital good may be done. All round us, Want crawls to her
lairs; and, shivering, dies unrelieved. Here, _here_, fellow-men, we
can better minister as angels, than in heaven, where want and misery
come not.

"'We Mardians talk as though the future was all in all; but act as
though the present was every thing. Yet so far as, in our theories, we
dwarf our Mardi; we go not beyond an archangel's apprehension of it,
who takes in all suns and systems at a glance. Like pebbles, were the
isles to sink in space, Sirius, the Dog-star, would still flame in the
sky. But as the atom to the animalculae, so Mardi to us. And lived
aright, these mortal lives are long; looked into, these souls,
fathomless as the nethermost depths.

"'Fellow-men; we split upon hairs; but stripped, mere words and
phrases cast aside, the great bulk of us are orthodox. None who think,
dissent from the grand belief. The first man's thoughts were as ours.
The paramount revelation prevails with us; and all that clashes
therewith, we do not so much believe, as believe that we can not
disbelieve. Common sense is a sturdy despot; that, for the most part,
has its own way. It inspects and ratifies much independent of it. But
those who think they do wholly reject it, are but held in a sly sort
of bondage; under a semblance of something else, wearing the old yoke.'"

"Cease, cease, Babbalanja," said Media, "and permit me to insinuate a
word in your ear. You have long been in the habit, philosopher, of
regaling us with chapters from your old Bardianna; and with infinite
gusto, you have just recited the longest of all. But I do not observe,
oh, Sage! that for all these things, you yourself are practically the
better or wiser. You live not up to Bardianna's main thought. Where he
stands, he stands immovable; but you are a Dog-vane. How is this?"

"Gogle-goggle, fugle-fi, fugle-fogle-orum!"

"Mad, mad again," cried Yoomy.

Herman Melville