Story for the Day: A Leathal Lecture
In Damson's Distress, Danaco mentions to Damson that Bartleby once killed a man by lecturing him to death. Danaco was serious.
“Ah doan’t understaun,” said Houghleidh, in amazement. “Ah couldnae overpower the men who captured meh, an’ he’s conquerin’ the captain with a history lesson?”
“Ah, you mistake what is truly happening, my friend,” said Danaco, smiling. “The old git might be lecturing them on various subjects they know nothing about, but what he is really doing is giving their characters a very serious lesson in humility. Bartleby,” calling out to him, “how do you there, my friend?”
“A moment, captain,” the old man said, in heated reproach, “I am in the middle of telling this midshipman, or whatever he pretends to be, about how poor his management of the bell is. You cannot ring it before there is something to warn the crew about, you bleezed wagon, you ring it after you have identified a threat. Nobody likes to be taken from his bed for nothing, and you will wake up the entire ship because you want your recess? You must earn it, and I will have you reciting the kings and queens of Marridon in order of their succession with all their subsequent issues if I have to beat it into you. Don’t complain of your bruises. I did not whape you as hard as I should have, you azzardly whelp. If you wish to cry, go caterwauling to your mother. I’m sure she will be the only one who cares about your bruises. Nonsense for a grown man to wail over a smack. When I was your age, children who refused to learn something were violently thrashed in school, and they either thanked their teachers for their bruises when they graduated at the head of their class or disdained them and became common filthmongers, playing at dice in the streets, sittings amongst all the festering rats, gathering mange on the hems of their garments. Is that what you should like to be? A mange-hoarder?”
“No, sir,” the galley captain groaned.
“Then—“ Bartleby snapped his book closed beneath the galley captain’s nose, shaking him into instant alarm, “—right yourself and pay attention. Sit with your feet together on the floor—no, together! You are not a five-toed pigeon, to be sitting with your talons divorced from one another. Together—yes, that’s it. Sit up straight. You are not a willow tree, to be fawning over yourself and festooning your withies in the wind. You already have a hundred demerits for being the most unforgivable student and a poor listener, you need not receive anymore for not know how to sit properly.”
The galley captain, unable to endure the old man’s prognostications any longer, stood up and leapt toward the railing of the ship. He was already weltering in irrevocable demerits and saw no manner in which to redeem himself. He was a horror, an abomination of scholarship who could neither be taught nor assisted when it came to understanding his lessons. He was a stupid child and should be so forever—so said his teachers at the institution in Thellis, and so said the old man now, for he had been made a galley captain; he was fit for little else: he knew how to command attention and shout orders, how to govern and how to project, how to drink, how to be revelrous and raucous, how to express feigned cruelty, and how to work the rigging, He had been taught how to run a trade ship, and was set to sea, to convey the consignments of those who neither cared for him or thought of him. He was a pawn, a porter, a means to whatever end he was paid to go. His inability and complete contempt of education had brought him to such a reprehensible profession, and now that he was being obliged to remember his childhood failures, all his feelings of insufficiency and missuccess were here revived. He stumbled toward the railing, wallowing in his regrets and hating himself for having them, and with a doleful cry, the galley captain threw himself into the sea.
“Where do you think you’re going?” the old man shouted after him. “A student does not leave a lesson by launching himself into the sea. It is unpardonable rudeness—unpardonable!—to toss oneself overboard in the middle of a lecture. Swim back here this moment if you don’t want to have a year’s worth of home assignments to do. If you will be obstinate, and I think you will because you obviously did not listen the first time manners were taught you, that will be another ten demerits to go on your record. Do you hear me? Another ten, I said, to add to your collection—and where are you going?” said Bartleby, stabbing a finger at the drummer, who was endeavouring to slip silently away. “Return to your seat and wait until the lesson is over. If you cannot wait to do whatever it is you mean to do—you cannot mean to go again, you have only just gone ten minutes ago-- then you must raise your hand and ask.”
The drummer reluctantly raised his hand.
“Yes, yes,” the old man scoffed impatiently, “what is it?”
“May I be excused, sir?”
Bartleby flurned and looked offended. “No, you cannot be excused.”
“But you said I should raise my hand and ask, sir.”
“And that does not mean I will allow you to miss the remainder of the lesson. We have not been at it above an hour! Do you think lessons take five minutes? This is not the theatre, sir, where you may watch and be entertained and leave whenever it suits you. This is not the circus, where you may practice your comings and goings mightily at your ease. This is a classroom, a place of learning, a sacred temple to the scholarly arts. You are here to learn, to glean, to understand, not to prance about whenever you come down with a case of the fidgets.”
The drummer would have asserted that this was a quarterdeck of a slave ship and could therefore hardly constitute as a classroom of any sort, but he checked himself, sighed and let it pass; the old man had rid him of a most unwanted and cruel master, had done away with the only man standing between him and his freedom—other than the old man, who was now shamelessly monopolizing his time-- and he could therefore forgive the old man for his pedantic rants, though the drummer’s legs were in desperate want of a stretch. It had been some time since he had been permitted to stand and walk about, and as the two men approaching appeared prepared to overtake the ship, one with a sword in his hand and the other a gargantuan yet sanguine hyldan-- the drummer was very ready to leave his seat and allow them to claim the galley had not the chains binding his ankles impeded him.