Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

CHAPTER XV.

THE ESSAYISTS.

Joseph Addison. 1672-1719. (Manual, pp. 289–296.)

FROM “THE TATLER.”'

[ocr errors]

182. THE POLITICAL UPHOLSTERER. There lived some years since, within my neighborhood, a very grave person, an upholsterer, who seemed a man of more than ordinary application to business. He was a very early riser, and was often abroad two or three hours before any of his neighbors. He had a particular carefulness in the knitting of his brows, and a kind of impatience in all his motions, that plainly discovered he was always intent on matters of importance. Upon my inquiry into his life and conversation, I found him to be the greatest newsmonger in our quarter; that he rose before day to read the “ Postman," and that he would take two or three turns to the other end of the town before his neighbors were up, to see if there were any Dutch mails come in. He had a wife and several children, but was much more inquisitive to know what passed in Poland than in his own family, and was in greater pain and anxiety of mind for King Augustus's welfare than that of his nearest relations. He looked extremely thin in a dearth of news, and never enjoyed himself in a westerly wind. This indefatigable kind of life was the ruin of his shop; for about the time that his favorite prince left the crown of Poland, he broke and disappeared.

This man and his affairs had been long out of my mind, till, about three days ago, as I was walking in St. James's Park, I heard somebody at a distance hemming after me; and who shou

it be but my old neighbor the upholsterer? I saw he was reduced to extreme poverty by certain shabby superfluities in his dress; for, notwithstanding that it was a very sultry day for the time of the year, he wore a loose great-coat and a muff, with a long campaign wig out of curl, to which he had added the ornament of a pair of black garters, buckled under the knee. Upon his coming up to me I was going to inquire into his present circumstances, but was prevented by his asking me, with a whisper, whether the last letters brought any accounts that one might rely upon from Bender? I told him none that I heard of, and asked

But pray,

*

*

*

*

four very

him whether he had yet married his eldest daughter? He told me no. But pray, says he, tell me sincerely what are your thoughts of the king of Sweden? For though his wife and children were starving, I found his chief concern at present was for this great monarch. I told him that I looked upon him as one of the first heroes of the age.

ays he, do you think there is anything in the story of his wound? And finding me surprised at the question, - Nay, says he, I only propose it to you. I answered that I thought there was no reason to doubt of it. But why in the heel, says he, more than in any other part of the body! Because, said, I, the bullet chanced to light there. We were now got to the upper end of the Mall, where were three or

odd fellows sitting together upon the bench. These, I found, were all of them politicians, who used to sun themselves in that place every day about dinner-time. Observing them to be curiosities in their kind, and my friend's acquaintance, I sat down among them. The chief politician of the bench was a great asserter of paradoxes. He told us, with a seeming concern, that by some news he had lately read from Muscovy, it appeared to him that there was a storm gathering in the Black Sea, which might in time do hurt to the naval forces of this nation. To this he added, that for his part, he could not wish to see the Turk driven out of Europe, which he believed could not but be prejudicial to our woollen manufacture. He then told us, that he looked upon those extraordinary revolutions, which had lately happened in those parts of the world, to have risen from two persons who were not much talked of; and those, says he, are Prince Menzikoff and the Duchess of Mirandola. He backed his assertions with so many broken hints, and such a show of depth and wisdom, that we gave ourselves up to his opinions.

When we had fully discussed this point, my friend the upholsterer began to exert himself upon the present negotiations of peace, in which he deposed princes, settled the bounds of kingdoms, and balanced the power of Europe, with great justice and impartiality.

I at length took my leave of the company, and was going away; but had not gone thirty yards, before the upholsterer hemmed again after me. Upon his advancing towards me, with a whisper, I expected to hear some secret piece of news, which he had not thought fit to communicate on the bench; but, instead of that, he desired me in my ear to lend him half a crown. In compassion to so needy a statesman, and to dissipate the confusion I found he was in, I told him, if he pleased, I would give him five shillings, to receive five pounds of him when the great Turk was driven out of Constantinople; which he very readily accepted, but not before he had laid down to me the impossibility of such an event, as the affairs of Europe now stand.

*

*

FROM "THE SPECTATOR.”

183. THE VISION OF MIRZA.

On the fifth day of the moon, which, according to the custom of my forefathers, I always keep holy, after having washed myself, and offered up my morning devotions, I ascended the high hills of Bagdad, in order to pass the rest of the day in meditation and prayer. As I was here refreshing myself on the tops of the mountains, I fell into a profound contemplation on the vanity of human life; and passing from one thought to another, surely, said I, man is but a shadow, and life a dream. Whilst I was thus musing, I cast my eyes towards the summit of a rock that was not far from me, where I discovered one in the habit of a shepherd, but who was in reality a being of superior nature. I drew near with profound reverence, and fell down at his feet. The genius smiled upon me with a look of compassion and affability, that familiarized him to my imagination, and at once dispelled all the fears and apprehensions with which I approached him. He lifted me from the ground, and taking me by the hand, “ Mirza,” said he, “ I have heard thee in thy soliloquies; follow me.”

He then led me to the highest pinnacle of the rock; and placing me on the top of it, “ Cast thy eyes eastward,” said he, “and tell me what thou seest." "I see,” said I, “a huge valley, and a prodigious tide of water rolling through it." “ The valley that thou seest,” said he, “is the vale of misery; and the tide of water that thou seest, is part of the great tide of eternity.” “ What is the reason,” said I, “ that the tide I see rises out of a thick mist at one end, and again loses itself in a thick mist at the other?” " What thou seest,” said he, “ is that portion of eternity which is called time measured out by the sun, and reaching from the beginning of the world to its consummation. Examine now," said he, “this sea that is 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 three score and ten entire arches, with several broken arches, which, added to those that were entire, made up the number about a hundred. As I was counting the arches, the genius told me that this bridge consisted at first of a thousand; 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, which the passengers no sooner trod upon, than they fell through them into the tide, and immediately disappeared. These hidden pitfalls were set

very thick at the entrance of the bridge, so that throngs of people no sooner broke through the cloud than many 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 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 bubbles, 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, and others with urinals, who ran to and fro upon the bridge, thrusting several persons on trapdoors 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, with the like cares and passions that infest 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 eye on that thick mist into which the tide beai the several generations of mortals that fall into it.” I directed my sight as I was ordered, and (whether or not the 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 clouds 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 per

sons dressed in glorious habits, with garlands upon their heads, passing among the trees, lying down by the sides of fountains, or resting on beds of Aowers. Gladness grew in me at 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 seashore. There are myriads of islands behind those which thou here discoverest, reaching further than thine eye, or 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 pleasure 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, O Mirza, habitations worth contending for? Does life appear miserable, that gives the opportunities of earning such a reward? Is death to be 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 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 in ad he rolling tide, the arched bridge, and the happy islands, I saw nothing but the long hollow valley of Bagdad, with oxen, sheep, and camels grazing upon the sides of it.

184. REFLECTIONS IN WESTMINSTER ABBEY. When I look upon the tombs of the great, every emotion of envy dies in me; when I read the epitaphs of the beautiful, every inordinate desire goes out; when I meet with the grief of parents upon a tombstone, my heart melts with compassion; when I see the tomb of the parents themselves, I consider the vanity of grieving for those whom we must quickly follow. When I see kings lying by those who deposed them, when I consider rival wits placed side by side, or the holy men that divided the world with their contests and disputes, I reflect with sorrow and astonishment on the little competitions, factions, and debates of mankind. When I read the several dates of the tombs, of some that died yesterday, and some six hundred years ago, I consider that great day when we shall all of us be contemporaries, and make our appearance together.

« VorigeDoorgaan »