A journey from this world to the next, by Henry Fielding

Book I

Chapter I

The author dies, meets with Mercury, and is by him conducted to the stage which sets out for the other world.

On the first day of December 1741 1 I departed this life at my lodgings in Cheapside. My body had been some time dead before I was at liberty to quit it, lest it should by any accident return to life: this is an injunction imposed on all souls by the eternal law of fate, to prevent the inconveniences which would follow. As soon as the destined period was expired (being no longer than till the body is become perfectly cold and stiff) I began to move; but found myself under a difficulty of making my escape, for the mouth or door was shut, so that it was impossible for me to go out at it; and the windows, vulgarly called the eyes, were so closely pulled down by the fingers of a nurse, that I could by no means open them. At last I perceived a beam of light glimmering at the top of the house (for such I may call the body I had been inclosed in), whither ascending, I gently let myself down through a kind of chimney, and issued out at the nostrils.

No prisoner discharged from a long confinement ever tasted the sweets of liberty with a more exquisite relish than I enjoyed in this delivery from a dungeon wherein I had been detained upwards of forty years, and with much the same kind of regard I cast my eyes 2 backwards upon it.

My friends and relations had all quitted the room, being all (as I plainly overheard) very loudly quarreling below stairs about my will; there was only an old woman left above to guard the body, as I apprehend. She was in a fast sleep, occasioned, as from her savor it seemed, by a comfortable dose of gin. I had no pleasure in this company, and, therefore, as the window was wide open, I sallied forth into the open air: but, to my great astonishment, found myself unable to fly, which I had always during my habitation in the body conceived of spirits; however, I came so lightly to the ground that I did not hurt myself; and, though I had not the gift of flying (owing probably to my having neither feathers nor wings), I was capable of hopping such a prodigious way at once, that it served my turn almost as well. I had not hopped far before I perceived a tall young gentleman in a silk waistcoat, with a wing on his left heel, a garland on his head, and a caduceus in his right hand. 3 I thought I had seen this person before, but had not time to recollect where, when he called out to me and asked me how long I had been departed. I answered I was just come forth. “You must not stay here,” replied he, “unless you had been murdered: in which case, indeed, you might have been suffered to walk some time; but if you died a natural death you must set out for the other world immediately.” I desired to know the way. “O,” cried the gentleman, “I will show you to the inn whence the stage proceeds; for I am the porter. Perhaps you never heard of me — my name is Mercury.” “Sure, sir,” said I, “I have seen you at the play-house.” Upon which he smiled, and, without satisfying me as to that point, walked directly forward, bidding me hop after him. I obeyed him, and soon found myself in Warwick-lane; where Mercury, making a full stop, pointed at a particular house, where he bade me enquire for the stage, and, wishing me a good journey, took his leave, saying he must go seek after other customers.

I arrived just as the coach was setting out, and found I had no reason for inquiry; for every person seemed to know my business the moment I appeared at the door: the coachman told me his horses were to, but that he had no place left; however, though there were already six, the passengers offered to make room for me. I thanked them, and ascended without much ceremony. We immediately began our journey, being seven in number; for, as the women wore no hoops, three of them were but equal to two men. Perhaps, reader, thou mayest be pleased with an account of this whole equipage, as peradventure thou wilt not, while alive, see any such. The coach was made by an eminent toyman, who is well known to deal in immaterial substance, that being the matter of which it was compounded. The work was so extremely fine, that it was entirely invisible to the human eye. The horses which drew this extraordinary vehicle were all spiritual, as well as the passengers. They had, indeed, all died in the service of a certain postmaster; and as for the coachman, who was a very thin piece of immaterial substance, he had the honor while alive of driving the Great Peter, or Peter the Great, in whose service his soul, as well as body, was almost starved to death. Such was the vehicle in which I set out, and now, those who are not willing to travel on with me may, if they please, stop here; those who are, must proceed to the subsequent chapters, in which this journey is continued.

1 Some doubt whether this should not be rather 1641, which is a date more agreeable to the account given of it in the introduction: but then there are some passages which seem to relate to transactions infinitely later, even within this year or two. To say the truth there are difficulties attending either conjecture; so the reader may take which he pleases.

2 Eyes are not perhaps so properly adapted to a spiritual substance; but we are here, as in many other places, obliged to use corporeal terms to make ourselves the better understood.

3 This is the dress in which the god appears to mortals at the theaters. One of the offices attributed to this god by the ancients, was to collect the ghosts as a shepherd doth a flock of sheep, and drive them with his wand into the other world.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:37