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

Chapter IX

More adventures in Elysium.

A crowd of spirits now joined us, whom I soon perceived to be the heroes, who here frequently pay their respects to the several bards the recorders of their actions. I now saw Achilles and Ulysses addressing themselves to Homer, and Aeneas and Julius Caesar to Virgil: Adam went up to Milton, upon which I whispered Mr. Dryden that I thought the devil should have paid his compliments there, according to his opinion. Dryden only answered, “I believe the devil was in me when I said so.” Several applied themselves to Shakespeare, amongst whom Henry V made a very distinguishing appearance. While my eyes were fixed on that monarch a very small spirit came up to me, shook me heartily by the hand, and told me his name was THOMAS THUMB. I expressed great satisfaction in seeing him, nor could I help speaking my resentment against the historian, who had done such injustice to the stature of this great little man, which he represented to be no bigger than a span, whereas I plainly perceived at first sight he was full a foot and a half (and the 37th part of an inch more, as he himself informed me), being indeed little shorter than some considerable beaux of the present age. I asked this little hero concerning the truth of those stories related of him, viz., of the pudding, and the cow’s belly. As to the former, he said it was a ridiculous legend, worthy to be laughed at; but as to the latter, he could not help owning there was some truth in it: nor had he any reason to be ashamed of it, as he was swallowed by surprise; adding, with great fierceness, that if he had had any weapon in his hand the cow should have as soon swallowed the devil.

He spoke the last word with so much fury, and seemed so confounded, that, perceiving the effect it had on him, I immediately waived the story, and, passing to other matters, we had much conversation touching giants. He said, so far from killing any, he had never seen one alive; that he believed those actions were by mistake recorded of him, instead of Jack the giant-killer, whom he knew very well, and who had, he fancied, extirpated the race. I assured him to the contrary, and told him I had myself seen a huge tame giant, who very complacently stayed in London a whole winter, at the special request of several gentlemen and ladies; though the affairs of his family called him home to Sweden.

I now beheld a stern-looking spirit leaning on the shoulder of another spirit, and presently discerned the former to be Oliver Cromwell, and the latter Charles Martel. I own I was a little surprised at seeing Cromwell here, for I had been taught by my grandmother that he was carried away by the devil himself in a tempest; but he assured me, on his honor, there was not the least truth in that story. However, he confessed he had narrowly escaped the bottomless pit; and, if the former part of his conduct had not been more to his honor than the latter, he had been certainly soused into it. He was, nevertheless, sent back to the upper world with this lot:— ARMY, CAVALIER, DISTRESS.

He was born, for the second time, the day of Charles II’s restoration, into a family which had lost a very considerable fortune in the service of that prince and his father, for which they received the reward very often conferred by princes on real merit, viz. — 000. At 16 his father bought a small commission for him in the army, in which he served without any promotion all the reigns of Charles II and of his brother. At the Revolution he quitted his regiment, and followed the fortunes of his former master, and was in his service dangerously wounded at the famous battle of the Boyne, where he fought in the capacity of a private soldier. He recovered of this wound, and retired after the unfortunate king to Paris, where he was reduced to support a wife and seven children (for his lot had horns in it) by cleaning shoes and snuffing candles at the opera. In which situation, after he had spent a few miserable years, he died half-starved and broken-hearted. He then revisited Minos, who, compassionating his sufferings by means of that family, to whom he had been in his former capacity so bitter an enemy, suffered him to enter here.

My curiosity would not refrain asking him one question, i. e., whether in reality he had any desire to obtain the crown? He smiled, and said, “No more than an ecclesiastic hath to the miter, when he cries Nolo episcopari.” Indeed, he seemed to express some contempt at the question, and presently turned away.

A venerable spirit appeared next, whom I found to be the great historian Livy. Alexander the Great, who was just arrived from the palace of death, passed by him with a frown. The historian, observing it, said, “Ay, you may frown; but those troops which conquered the base Asiatic slaves would have made no figure against the Romans.” We then privately lamented the loss of the most valuable part of his history; after which he took occasion to commend the judicious collection made by Mr. Hook, which, he said, was infinitely preferable to all others; and at my mentioning Echard’s he gave a bounce, not unlike the going off of a squib, and was departing from me, when I begged him to satisfy my curiosity in one point — whether he was really superstitious or no? For I had always believed he was till Mr. Leibnitz had assured me to the contrary. He answered sullenly, “Doth Mr. Leibnitz know my mind better than myself?” and then walked away.

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