We now came to the banks of the great river Cocytus, where we quitted our vehicle, and passed the water in a boat, after which we were obliged to travel on foot the rest of our journey; and now we met, for the first time, several passengers traveling to the world we had left, who informed us they were souls going into the flesh.
The two first we met were walking arm-inarm, in very close and friendly conference; they informed us that one of them was intended for a duke, and the other for a hackney-coachman. As we had not yet arrived at the place where we were to deposit our passions, we were all surprised at the familiarity which subsisted between persons of such different degrees; nor could the grave lady help expressing her astonishment at it. The future coachman then replied, with a laugh, that they had exchanged lots; for that the duke had with his dukedom drawn a shrew for a wife, and the coachman only a single state.
As we proceeded on our journey we met a solemn spirit walking alone with great gravity in his countenance: our curiosity invited us, notwithstanding his reserve, to ask what lot he had drawn.
He answered, with a smile, he was to have the reputation of a wise man with L100,000 in his pocket, and was practicing the solemnity which he was to act in the other world. A little farther we met a company of very merry spirits, whom we imagined by their mirth to have drawn some mighty lot, but, on inquiry, they informed us they were to be beggars.
The farther we advanced, the greater numbers we met; and now we discovered two large roads leading different ways, and of very different appearance; the one all craggy with rocks, full as it seemed of boggy grounds, and everywhere beset with briars, so that it was impossible to pass through it without the utmost danger and difficulty; the other, the most delightful imaginable, leading through the most verdant meadows, painted and perfumed with all kinds of beautiful flowers; in short, the most wanton imagination could imagine nothing more lovely. Notwithstanding which, we were surprised to see great numbers crowding into the former, and only one or two solitary spirits choosing the latter.
On inquiry, we were acquainted that the bad road was the way to greatness, and the other to goodness. When we expressed our surprise at the preference given to the former we were acquainted that it was chosen for the sake of the music of drums and trumpets, and the perpetual acclamations of the mob, with which those who traveled this way were constantly saluted. We were told likewise that there were several noble palaces to be seen, and lodged in, on this road, by those who had passed through the difficulties of it (which indeed many were not able to surmount), and great quantities of all sorts of treasure to be found in it; whereas the other had little inviting more than the beauty of the way, scarce a handsome building, save one greatly resembling a certain house by the Bath, to be seen during that whole journey; and, lastly, that it was thought very scandalous and mean-spirited to travel through this, and as highly honorable and noble to pass by the other. We now heard a violent noise, when, casting our eyes forwards, we perceived a vast number of spirits advancing in pursuit of one whom they mocked and insulted with all kinds of scorn. I cannot give my reader a more adequate idea of this scene than by comparing it to an English mob conducting a pickpocket to the water; or by supposing that an incensed audience at a playhouse had unhappily possessed themselves of the miserable damned poet. Some laughed, some hissed, some squalled, some groaned, some bawled, some spit at him, some threw dirt at him. It was impossible not to ask who or what the wretched spirit was whom they treated in this barbarous manner; when, to our great surprise, we were informed that it was a king: we were likewise told that this manner of behavior was usual among the spirits to those who drew the lots of emperors, kings, and other great men, not from envy or anger, but mere derision and contempt of earthly grandeur; that nothing was more common than for those who had drawn these great prizes (as to us they seemed) to exchange them with tailors and cobblers; and that Alexander the Great and Diogenes had formerly done so; he that was afterwards Diogenes having originally fallen on the lot of Alexander. And now, on a sudden, the mockery ceased, and the king-spirit, having obtained a hearing, began to speak as follows; for we were now near enough to hear him distinctly:—
“GENTLEMEN, — I am justly surprised at your treating me in this manner, since whatever lot I have drawn, I did not choose: if, therefore, it be worthy of derision, you should compassionate me, for it might have fallen to any of your shares. I know in how low a light the station to which fate hath assigned me is considered here, and that, when ambition doth not support it, it becomes generally so intolerable, that there is scarce any other condition for which it is not gladly exchanged: for what portion, in the world to which we are going, is so miserable as that of care? Should I therefore consider myself as become by this lot essentially your superior, and of a higher order of being than the rest of my fellow-creatures; should I foolishly imagine myself without wisdom superior to the wise, without knowledge to the learned, without courage to the brave, and without goodness and virtue to the good and virtuous; surely so preposterous, so absurd a pride, would justly render me the object of ridicule. But far be it from me to entertain it. And yet, gentlemen, I prize the lot I have drawn, nor would I exchange it with any of yours, seeing it is in my eye so much greater than the rest. Ambition, which I own myself possessed of, teaches me this; ambition, which makes me covet praise, assures me that I shall enjoy a much larger proportion of it than can fall within your power either to deserve or obtain. I am then superior to you all, when I am able to do more good, and when I execute that power. What the father is to the son, the guardian to the orphan, or the patron to his client, that am I to you. You are my children, to whom I will be a father, a guardian, and a patron. Not one evening in my long reign (for so it is to be) will I repose myself to rest without the glorious, the heart-warming consideration, that thousands that night owe their sweetest rest to me. What a delicious fortune is it to him whose strongest appetite is doing good, to have every day the opportunity and the power of satisfying it! If such a man hath ambition, how happy is it for him to be seated so on high, that every act blazes abroad, and attracts to him praises tainted with neither sarcasm nor adulation, but such as the nicest and most delicate mind may relish! Thus, therefore, while you derive your good from me, I am your superior. If to my strict distribution of justice you owe the safety of your property from domestic enemies; if by my vigilance and valor you are protected from foreign foes; if by my encouragement of genuine industry, every science, every art which can embellish or sweeten life, is produced and flourishes among you; will any of you be so insensible or ungrateful as to deny praise and respect to him by whose care and conduct you enjoy these blessings? I wonder not at the censure which so frequently falls on those in my station; but I wonder that those in my station so frequently deserve it. What strange perverseness of nature! What wanton delight in mischief must taint his composition, who prefers dangers, difficulty, and disgrace, by doing evil, to safety, ease, and honor, by doing good! who refuses happiness in the other world, and heaven in this, for misery there and hell here! But, be assured, my intentions are different. I shall always endeavor the ease, the happiness, and the glory of my people, being confident that, by so doing, I take the most certain method of procuring them all to myself.” — He then struck directly into the road of goodness, and received such a shout of applause as I never remember to have heard equaled. He was gone a little way when a spirit limped after him, swearing he would fetch him back.
This spirit, I was presently informed, was one who had drawn the lot of his prime minister.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:54