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

Chapter IV

Discourses on the road, and a description of the palace of Death.

We were all silent for some minutes, till, being well shaken into our several seats, I opened my mouth first, and related what had happened to me after our separation in the city we had just left.

The rest of the company, except the grave female spirit whom our reader may remember to have refused giving an account of the distemper which occasioned her dissolution, did the same. It might be tedious to relate these at large; we shall therefore only mention a very remarkable inveteracy which the Surfeit declared to all the other diseases, especially to the Fever, who, she said, by the roguery of the porters, received acknowledgments from numberless passengers which were due to herself. “Indeed,” says she, “those cane-headed fellows” (for so she called them, alluding, I suppose, to their ticket) “are constantly making such mistakes; there is no gratitude in those fellows; for I am sure they have greater obligations to me than to any other disease, except the Vapors.” These relations were no sooner over than one of the company informed us we were approaching to the most noble building he had ever beheld, and which we learned from our coachman was the palace of Death. Its outside, indeed, appeared extremely magnificent. Its structure was of the Gothic order; vast beyond imagination, the whole pile consisting of black marble. Rows of immense yews form an amphitheater round it of such height and thickness that no ray of the sun ever perforates this grove, where black eternal darkness would reign was it not excluded by innumerable lamps which are placed in pyramids round the grove; so that the distant reflection they cast on the palace, which is plentifully gilt with gold on the outside, is inconceivably solemn. To this I may add the hollow murmur of winds constantly heard from the grove, and the very remote sound of roaring waters. Indeed, every circumstance seems to conspire to fill the mind with horror and consternation as we approach to this palace, which we had scarce time to admire before our vehicle stopped at the gate, and we were desired to alight in order to pay our respects to his most mortal majesty (this being the title which it seems he assumes). The outward court was full of soldiers, and, indeed, the whole very much resembled the state of an earthly monarch, only more magnificent. We passed through several courts into a vast hall, which led to a spacious staircase, at the bottom of which stood two pages, with very grave countenances, whom I recollected afterwards to have formerly been very eminent undertakers, and were in reality the only dismal faces I saw here; for this palace, so awful and tremendous without, is all gay and sprightly within; so that we soon lost all those dismal and gloomy ideas we had contracted in approaching it. Indeed, the still silence maintained among the guards and attendants resembled rather the stately pomp of eastern courts; but there was on every face such symptoms of content and happiness that diffused an air of cheerfulness all round. We ascended the staircase and passed through many noble apartments whose walls were adorned with various battle-pieces in tapistry, and which we spent some time in observing. These brought to my mind those beautiful ones I had in my lifetime seen at Blenheim, nor could I prevent my curiosity from inquiring where the Duke of Marlborough’s victories were placed (for I think they were almost the only battles of any eminence I had read of which I did not meet with); when the skeleton of a beef-eater, shaking his head, told me a certain gentleman, one Lewis XIV, who had great interest with his most mortal majesty, had prevented any such from being hung up there. “Besides,” says he, “his majesty hath no great respect for that duke, for he never sent him a subject he could keep from him, nor did he ever get a single subject by his means but he lost 1000 others for him.” We found the presence-chamber at our entrance very full, and a buzz ran through it, as in all assemblies, before the principal figure enters; for his majesty was not yet come out. At the bottom of the room were two persons in close conference, one with a square black cap on his head, and the other with a robe embroidered with flames of fire. These, I was informed, were a judge long since dead, and an inquisitor-general. I overheard them disputing with great eagerness whether the one had hanged or the other burned the most. While I was listening to this dispute, which seemed to be in no likelihood of a speedy decision, the emperor entered the room and placed himself between two figures, one of which was remarkable for the roughness, and the other for the beauty of his appearance. These were, it seems, Charles XII of Sweden and Alexander of Macedon. I was at too great a distance to hear any of the conversation, so could only satisfy my curiosity by contemplating the several personages present, of whose names I informed myself by a page, who looked as pale and meager as any court-page in the other world, but was somewhat more modest. He showed me here two or three Turkish emperors, to whom his most mortal majesty seemed to express much civility. Here were likewise several of the Roman emperors, among whom none seemed so much caressed as Caligula, on account, as the page told me, of his pious wish that he could send all the Romans hither at one blow. The reader may be perhaps surprised that I saw no physicians here; as indeed I was myself, till informed that they were all departed to the city of Diseases, where they were busy in an experiment to purge away the immortality of the soul.

It would be tedious to recollect the many individuals I saw here, but I cannot omit a fat figure, well dressed in the French fashion, who was received with extraordinary complacence by the emperor, and whom I imagined to be Lewis XIV himself; but the page acquainted me he was a celebrated French cook. We were at length introduced to the royal presence, and had the honor to kiss hands. His majesty asked us a few questions, not very material to relate, and soon after retired. When we returned into the yard we found our caravan ready to set out, at which we all declared ourselves well pleased; for we were sufficiently tired with the formality of a court, notwithstanding its outward splendor and magnificence.

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