« VorigeDoorgaan »
reaching from the beginning of the world to its consummation. Examine now, said he, this sea that is thus bounded with darkness at both ends, and tell me what thou discoverest in it. I see a bridge, said I, standing in the midst of the tide. The bridge thou seest, said he, is human life; consider it attentively. Upon a more leisurely survey of it, I found that it consisted of threescore and ten entire arches, with several broken arches, which added to those that were entire made up the number about an hundred. As I was counting 10 the arches the genius told me that this bridge consisted at first of a thousand arches; but that a great flood swept away the rest, and left the bridge in the ruinous condition I now beheld it. But tell me, further, said he, what thou discoverest on it. I see multitudes of people passing over it, said I, and a black cloud hanging on each end of it. As I looked more attentively, I saw several of the passengers dropping through the bridge, into the great tide that flowed underneath it; and upon further examination, perceived there were innumerable trap-doors that lay concealed in the bridge, 20 which the passengers no sooner trod upon, but they fell through them into the tide and immediately disappeared. These hidden pit-falls were set very thick at the entrance of the bridge, so that throngs of people no sooner broke through the cloud, but many of them fell into them. They grew thinner towards the middle, but multiplied and lay closer together towards the end of the arches that were entire.
There were indeed some persons, but their number was very small, that continued a kind of hobbling march on the broken arches, but fell through one after another, being quite 30 tired and spent with so long a walk.
I passed some time in the contemplation of this wonderful structure, and the great variety of objects which it presented. My heart was filled with a deep melancholy to see several dropping unexpectedly in the midst of mirth and jollity, and catching at everything that stood by them to save themselves. Some were looking up towards the heavens in a
thoughtful posture, and in the midst of a speculation stumbled and fell out of sight. Multitudes were very busy in the pursuit of baubles that glittered in their eyes and danced before them, but often when they thought themselves within the reach of them, their footing failed and down they sunk. In this confusion of objects, I observed some with scimitars in their hands, who ran to and fro upon the bridge, thrusting several persons upon trap-doors which did not seem to lie in their way, and which they might have escaped, had they not been thus forced upon them.
"The genius seeing me indulge myself in this melancholy prospect, told me I had dwelt long enough upon it: take thine eyes off the bridge, said he, and tell me if thou seest anything thou dost not comprehend. Upon looking up, what mean, said I, those great flights of birds that are perpetually hovering about the bridge, and settling upon it from time to time? I see vultures, harpies, ravens, cormorants, and among many other feathered creatures, several little winged boys, that perch in great numbers upon the middle arches. These, said the genius, are envy, avarice, superstition, despair, love, 20 with the like cares and passions, that infect human life.
“I here fetched a deep sigh ; alas, said I, man was made in vain ! How is he given away to misery and mortality! tortured in life, and swallowed up in death! The genius, being moved with compassion towards me, bid me quit so uncomfortable a prospect. Look no more, said he, on man in the first stage of his existence, in his setting out for eternity; but cast thine eyes on that thick mist into which the tide bears the several generations of mortals that fall into it. I directed my sight as I was ordered, and (whether or no the 30 good genius strengthened it with any supernatural force, or dissipated part of the mist that was before too thick for the eye to penetrate) I saw the valley opening at the farther end, and spreading forth into an immense ocean, that had a huge rock of adamant running through the midst of it, and dividing it into two equal parts. The cloud still rested on one
half of it, insomuch that I could discover nothing in it but the other appeared to me a vast ocean planted with innumerable islands, that were covered with fruits and flowers, and interwoven with a thousand little shining seas that ran among them. I could see persons dressed in glorious habits with garlands upon their heads, passing among the trees, lying down by the sides of the fountains, or resting on beds of flowers; and could hear a confused harmony of singing birds, falling waters, human voices, and musical instruments. 10 Gladness grew in me upon the discovery of so delightful a scene. I wished for the wings of an eagle, that I might fly away to those happy seats; but the genius told me there was no passage to them, except through the gates of death that I saw opening every moment upon the bridge. The islands, said he, that lie so fresh and green before thee, and with which the whole face of the ocean appears spotted as far as thou canst see, are more in number than the sands on the sea-shore; there are myriads of islands behind those which thou here discoverest, reaching farther than thine eye, or 20 even thine imagination, can extend itself. These are the mansions of good men after death, who, according to the degree and kinds of virtue in which they excelled, are distributed among these several islands, which abound with pleasures of different kinds and degrees, suitable to the relishes and perfections of those who are settled in them: every island is a paradise, accommodated to its respective inhabitants. Are not these, Ó Mirza, habitations worth contending for? Does life appear miserable, that gives thee opportunities of earning such a reward? Is death to be 30 feared, that will convey thee to so happy an existence ? Think not man was made in vain, who has such an eternity - reserved for him. I gazed with inexpressible pleasure on these happy islands. At length, said I, show me now, I beseech thee, the secrets that lie hid under those dark clouds which cover the ocean on the other side of the rock of adamant. The genius making me no answer, I turned about
to address myself to him a second time, but I found that he had left me. I then turned again to the vision which I had been so long contemplating, but, instead of the rolling tide, the arched bridge, and the happy islands, I saw nothing but. the long hollow valley of Bagdat, with oxen, sheep, and camels grazing upon the sides of it."
XXI. ON THE WHIMS OF LOTTERY-ADVENTURERS.
Tuesday, October 9, 1711.
Deluding vision of the night.-Pope.
SOME ludicrous schoolmen have put the case, that if an ass were placed between two bundles of hay, which affected his 10 senses equally on each side, and tempted him in the very same degree, whether it would be possible for him to eat of either. They generally determine this question to the disadvantage of the ass, who they say would starve in the midst of plenty, as not having a single grain of freewill to determine him more to the one than to the other. The bundle of hay on either side striking his sight and smell in the same proportion, would keep him in a perpetual suspense, like the two magnets which, travellers have told us, are placed one of them in the roof, and the other in the floor of Mahomet's 20 < Burying-place at Mecca, and by that means, say they, pull the impostor's iron coffin with such an equal attraction, that it hangs in the air between both of them. As for the ass's behaviour in such nice circumstances, whether he would starve sooner than violate his neutrality to the two bundles of hay, I shall not presume to determine; but only take notice of the conduct of our own species in the same perplexity. When a man has a mind to venture his money in a lottery, every figure of it appears equally alluring, and
They all of them stand upon the
as likely to succeed as any of its fellows. have the same pretensions to good luck, same foot of competition, and no manner of reason can be given why a man should prefer one to the other before the lottery is drawn. In this case, therefore, caprice very often acts in the place of reason, and forms to itself some ground-. less imaginary motive, where real and substantial ones are wanting. I know a well-meaning man that is very well pleased to risk his good fortune upon the number 1711, 10 because it is the year of our Lord. I am acquainted with a tacker that would give a good deal for the number 134. On the contrary I have been told of a certain zealous dissenter, who being a great enemy to popery, and believing that bad men are the most fortunate in this world, will lay two to one on the number 666 against any other number, because, says he, it is the number of the beast. Several would prefer the number 12000 before any other, as it is the number of the pounds in the great prize. In short, some are pleased to find their own age in their number; some that they have 20 got a number which makes a pretty appearance in the ciphers, and others, because it is the same number that succeeded in the last lottery Each of these, upon no other grounds, thinks he stands fairest for the great lot, and that he is possessed of what may not be improperly called the Golden Number.
These principles of election are the pastimes and extravagancies of human reason, which is of so busy a nature, that it will be exerting itself in the meanest trifles and working even when it wants materials. The wisest of men 30 are sometimes acted by such unaccountable motives, as the life of the fool and the superstitious is guided by nothing else.
I am surprised that none of the fortune-tellers, or, as the French call them, the Diseurs de bonne Avanture, who publish their bills in every quarter of the town, have not turned our lotteries to their advantage; did any of them set up for a