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- The Visions of the Sleeping Bard - 3/21 -


III.--A BRIEF SUMMARY.

I. VISION OF THE WORLD.

One summer's day, the Bard ascends one of the mountains of Wales, and gazing a long while at the beautiful scene, falls asleep. He dreams and finds himself among the fairies, whom he approaches and requests permission to join. They snatch him up forthwith and fly off with him over cities and realms, lands and seas, until he begins to fear for his life. They come to a huge castle--Castle Delusive, where an Angel of light appears and rescues him from their hands. The Angel, after questioning him as to himself, who he was and where he came from, bids him go with him, and resting in the empyrean, he beholds the earth far away beneath them. He sees an immense City made up of three streets; at the end of which are three gates and upon each gate a tower and in each tower a fair woman. This is the City of Destruction and its streets are named after the daughters of Belial--Pride, Lucre and Pleasure. The Angel tells him of the might and craftiness of Belial and the alluring witchery of his daughters, and also of another city on higher ground--the City of Emmanuel--whereto all may fly from Destruction. They descend and alight in the Street of Pride amidst the ruined and desolate mansions of absentee landlords. They see there kings, princes, and noblemen, coquettes and fops; there is a city, too, on seven hills, and another opposite, with a crescent on a golden banner above it, and near the gate stands the Court of Lewis XIV. Much traffic is going on between these courts, for the Pope, the Sultan and the King of France are rivals for the Princesses' hands.

They next come to the Street of Lucre, full of Spaniards, Dutchmen and Jews, and here too, are conquerors and their soldiers, justices and their bribers, doctors, misers, merchants and userers, shopmen, clippers, taverners, drovers, and the like. An election of Treasurer to the Princess is going on--stewards, money-lenders, lawyers and merchants being candidates, and whoso was proved the richest should obtain the post. The Bard then comes to the Street of Pleasure, where all manner of seductive joys abound. He passes through scenes of debauchery and drunken riot, and comes to a veritable Bedlam, where seven good fellows-- a tinker, a dyer, a smith and a miner, a chimney-sweep, a bard and a parson--are enjoying a carousal. He beholds the Court of Belial's second daughter, Hypocrisy, and sees a funeral go by where all the mourners are false. A noble lord appears, with his lady at his side, and has a talk with old Money-bags who has lent him money on his lands--all three being apt pupils of Hypocrisy.

The Angel then takes him to the churches of the City; and first they come to a pagan temple where the human form, the sun and moon, and various other objects are worshipped. Thence they come to a barn where Dissenters imitate preaching, and to an English church where many practise all manner of hypocrisy. The Bard then leaves the City of Destruction and makes for the celestial City. He beholds one man part from his friends and, refusing to be persuaded by them, hasten towards Emmanuel's City. The gateway is narrow and mean, while on the walls are watchmen urging on those that are fleeing from Destruction. Groups from the various streets arrive and claim admittance, but, being unable to leave their sins, have to return. The Bard and his Guide enter, and passing by the Well of Repentance come in view of the Catholic Church, the transept of which is the Church of England, with Queen Anne enthroned above, holding the Sword of Justice in the left hand, and the Sword of the Spirit in the right. Suddenly there is a call to arms, the sky darkens, and Belial himself advances against the Church, with his earthly princes and their armies. The Pope and Lewis of France, the Turks and Muscovites fall upon England and her German allies, but, the angels assisting, they are vanquished; the infernal hosts, too, give way and are hurled headlong from the sky; whereupon the Bard awakes.

II. THE VISION OF DEATH.

It is a cold, winter's night and the Bard lies abed meditating upon the brevity of life, when Sleep and his sister Nightmare pay him a visit, and after a long parley, constrain him to accompany them to the Court of their brother Death. Hieing away through forests and dales, and over rivers and rocks, they alight at one of the rear portals of the City of Destruction which opens upon a murky region--the chambers of Death. On all hands are myriads of doors leading into the Land of Oblivion, each guarded by the particular death-imp, whose name was inscribed above it. The Bard passes by the portals of Hunger, where misers, idlers and gossips enter, of Cold, where scholars and travellers go through, of Fear, Love, Envy and Ambition.

Suddenly he finds himself transported into a bleak and barren land where the shades flit to and fro. He is straightway surrounded by them, and, on giving his name as the "Sleeping Bard," a shadowy claimant to that name sets upon him and belabours him most unmercifully until Merlin bid him desist. Taliesin then interviews him, and an ancient manikin, "Someone" by name, tells him his tale of woe. After that he is taken into the presence of the King of Terrors himself, who, seated on a throne with Fate and Time on either hand, deals out their doom to the prisoners as they come before him. Four fiddlers, a King from the neighbourhood of Rome with a papal dispensation to pass right through to Paradise, a drunkard and a harlot, and lastly seven corrupt recorders, are condemned to the land of Despair.

Another group of seven prisoners have just been brought to the bar, when a letter comes from Lucifer concerning them; he requests that Death should let these seven return to the world or else keep them within his own realm--they were far too dangerous to be allowed to enter Hell. Death hesitates, but, urged by Fate, he indites his answer, refusing to comply with Lucifer's request. The seven are then called and Death bids his hosts hasten to convey them beyond his limits. The Bard sees them hurled over the verge beneath the Court of Justice and his spirit so strives within him at the sight that the bonds of Sleep are sundered and his soul returns to its wonted functions.

III. THE VISION OF HELL.

The Bard is sauntering, one April morning, on the banks of the Severn, when his previous visions recur to his mind and he resolves to write them as a warning to others, and while at this work he falls asleep, and the Angel once more appears and bears him aloft into space. They reach the confines of Eternity and descend through Chaos for myriads of miles. A troop of lost beings are swept past them towards the shores of a death- like river--the river of the Evil One. After passing through its waters, the Bard witnesses the tortures the damned suffer at the hands of the devils, and visits their various prisons and cells. Here is the prison of Woe-that-I-had-not, of Too-late-a-repentance and of the Procrastinators. There the Slanderers, Backbiters, and other envious cowards are tormented in a deep and dark dungeon. He hears much laughter among the devils and turning round finds that the cause of their merriment are two noblemen who have just arrived and are claiming the respect due to their rank. Further on is a crowd of harlots calling down imprecations upon those that ruined them; and in a huge cavern are lawyers, doctors, stewards and other such rogues. The Princesses of the City of Destruction bring batches of their subjects as gifts to their sire.

A parliament is summoned and Lucifer addresses his princes, calling upon them to do their utmost to destroy the rest of mankind. Moloch makes his reply, reciting all that he has done, when Lucifer in rage starts off to do the work himself, but is drawn back by an invisible hand. He speaks again, exhorting them to greater activity and cruelty. Justice brings three prisoners to Hell and returning causes such a rush of fiery whirlwinds that all the infernal lords are swept away into the Uttermost Hell.

The Bard hears the din of arms and news comes that the Turks, Papists, and Roundheads are advancing in three armies. Lucifer and his hosts immediately set out to meet them and after a stubborn contest succeed in quelling the rebellion. More prisoners are brought before the King-- Catholics, who had missed the way to Paradise, an innkeeper, five kings, assize-men and lawyers, gipsies, laborers and scholars. Scarcely is judgment passed on these than war again breaks out--soldiers and doctors, lawyers and userers, misers and their own offspring, are fighting each other. The leaders of this revolt having been taken, another parliament is called and more prisoners yet brought to trial.

Lucifer asks the advice of his peers as to whom he should appoint his viceroy in Britain. Cerberus, first of all, offers the service of Tobacco; then Mammon speaks in praise of Gold and Apolyon tells what Pride can do; Asmodai, the demon of Lust, Belphegor. the demon of Sloth, and Satan, devil of Delusion, each pleads for his own pet sin; and after Beelzebub has spoken in favour of Thoughtlessness, Lucifer sums up, weighs their arguments, and finally announces that it is another he has chosen as his vicegerent in Britain. This other is Prosperity, and her he bids them follow and obey. Then the lost Archangel and his counsellors are hurled into the Bottomless Pit, and the Angel takes the Bard up to the vault of Hell where he has full view of a three-faced ogress, Sin, who would make of heaven, a hell, and thence departing, a heaven of hell. The Angel then leaves him, bidding him, as he went, to write down what he had seen for the benefit of others.

TO THE READER.

Let whoso reads, consider; Considering, remember, And from remembering, do, And doing, so continue. Whoso abides in Virtue's paths, And ever strives until the end From sinful bondage to be free, Ne'er shall possess wherewith to feed The direful flame, nor weight of sin To sink him in th' infernal mire; Nor will he come to that dread realm Where Wrong and Retribution meet. But, woe to that poor, worthless wight Who lives a bitter, stagnant life, Who follows after every ill And knows not either Faith or Love, (For Faith in deeds alone doth live). Eternal woe shall be his doom - More torments he shall then behold Yea, in the twinkling of an eye Than any age can e'er conceive.

THE VISIONS OF THE SLEEPING BARD


The Visions of the Sleeping Bard - 3/21

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