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

Chapter VIII

The adventures which the author met on his first entrance into Elysium.

We pursued our way through a delicious grove of orange-trees, where I saw infinite numbers of spirits, every one of whom I knew, and was known by them (for spirits here know one another by intuition). I presently met a little daughter whom I had lost several years before. Good gods! what words can describe the raptures, the melting passionate tenderness, with which we kissed each other, continuing in our embrace, with the most ecstatic joy, a space which, if time had been measured here as on earth, could not be less than half a year.

The first spirit with whom I entered into discourse was the famous Leonidas of Sparta. I acquainted him with the honors which had been done him by a celebrated poet of our nation; to which he answered he was very much obliged to him. We were presently afterwards entertained with the most delicious voice I had ever heard, accompanied by a violin, equal to Signior Piantinida. I presently discovered the musician and songster to be Orpheus and Sappho.

Old Homer was present at this concert (if I may so call it), and Madam Dacier sat in his lap. He asked much after Mr. Pope, and said he was very desirous of seeing him; for that he had read his Iliad in his translation with almost as much delight as he believed he had given others in the original. I had the curiosity to inquire whether he had really writ that poem in detached pieces, and sung it about as ballads all over Greece, according to the report which went of him. He smiled at my question, and asked me whether there appeared any connection in the poem; for if there did he thought I might answer myself. I then importuned him to acquaint me in which of the cities which contended for the honor of his birth he was really born? To which he answered, “Upon my soul I can’t tell.”

Virgil then came up to me, with Mr. Addison under his arm. “Well, sir,” said he, “how many translations have these few last years produced of my Aeneid?” I told him I believed several, but I could not possibly remember; for that I had never read any but Dr. Trapp’s. “Ay,” said he, “that is a curious piece indeed!” I then acquainted him with the discovery made by Mr. Warburton of the Elusinian mysteries couched in his sixth book. “What mysteries?” said Mr. Addison. “The Elusinian,” answered Virgil, “which I have disclosed in my sixth book.” “How!” replied Addison. “You never mentioned a word of any such mysteries to me in all our acquaintance.” “I thought it was unnecessary,” cried the other, “to a man of your infinite learning: besides, you always told me you perfectly understood my meaning.” Upon this I thought the critic looked a little out of countenance, and turned aside to a very merry spirit, one Dick Steele, who embraced him, and told him he had been the greatest man upon earth; that he readily resigned up all the merit of his own works to him. Upon which Addison gave him a gracious smile, and, clapping him on the back with much solemnity, cried out, “Well said, Dick!”

I then observed Shakespeare standing between Betterton and Booth, and deciding a difference between those two great actors concerning the placing an accent in one of his lines: this was disputed on both sides with a warmth which surprised me in Elysium, till I discovered by intuition that every soul retained its principal characteristic, being, indeed, its very essence. The line was that celebrated one in Othello —

PUT OUT THE LIGHT, AND THEN PUT OUT THE LIGHT. according to Betterton. Mr. Booth contended to have it thus:—

Put out the light, and then put out THE light. I could not help offering my conjecture on this occasion, and suggested it might perhaps be-

Put out the light, and then put out THY light. Another hinted a reading very sophisticated in my opinion —

Put out the light, and then put out THEE, light, making light to be the vocative case. Another would have altered the last word, and read —

PUT OUT THY LIGHT, AND THEN PUT OUT THY SIGHT. But Betterton said, if the text was to be disturbed, he saw no reason why a word might not be changed as well as a letter, and, instead of “put out thy light,” you may read “put out thy eyes.” At last it was agreed on all sides to refer the matter to the decision of Shakespeare himself, who delivered his sentiments as follows: “Faith, gentlemen, it is so long since I wrote the line, I have forgot my meaning. This I know, could I have dreamed so much nonsense would have been talked and writ about it, I would have blotted it out of my works; for I am sure, if any of these be my meaning, it doth me very little honor.”

He was then interrogated concerning some other ambiguous passages in his works; but he declined any satisfactory answer; saying, if Mr. Theobald had not writ about it sufficiently, there were three or four more new editions of his plays coming out, which he hoped would satisfy every one: concluding, “I marvel nothing so much as that men will gird themselves at discovering obscure beauties in an author. Certes the greatest and most pregnant beauties are ever the plainest and most evidently striking; and when two meanings of a passage can in the least balance our judgments which to prefer, I hold it matter of unquestionable certainty that neither of them is worth a farthing.” From his works our conversation turned on his monument; upon which, Shakespeare, shaking his sides, and addressing himself to Milton, cried out, “On my word, brother Milton, they have brought a noble set of poets together; they would have been hanged erst have [ere they had] convened such a company at their tables when alive.” “True, brother,” answered Milton, “unless we had been as incapable of eating then as we are now.”

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