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- The Visions of the Sleeping Bard - 5/21 -


the street, and many an ambling fop who might winnow beans by the wind of his train.

Whilst I was looking from afar at these and a hundred similar things, lo! there came by us a gaudy, strapping quean of arrogant mien, and after whom a hundred eyes were turned; some made obeisance, as if in worship of her, a few put something in her hand. I could not make out what she was, and so I enquired. "Oh," said my friend, "she is one whose entire dowry is on show, and yet thou see'st how many fools there are who seek her, and the meanest is received notwithstanding all the demand there is for her; whom she will, she cannot have, and whom she can, she will not; she will only speak to her betters because her mother told her that a young woman can make no greater mistake than to be humble in courtship." Thereupon a burly Falstaff, who had been alderman and in many offices, came out from beneath us, spreading out his wings as if to fly, when he could scarcely limp along like a pack-horse, on account of his huge paunch, and the gout, and many other gentlemanly complaints; but for all that you could not get a single glance from him except as a great favour, remembering the while to address him by all his title and offices. From him I turned my eyes to the other side of the street, and saw a bluff young nobleman with a numerous following, smiling graciously and bowing low to everyone he met. "It is strange," said I, "that these two should belong to the same street." "It is the same princess--Pride, who governs them both," answered he, "this one's errand is but to speak fair; he is now making a bid for fame with the intent thereby to attain the highest office in the State; he is most ready to weep with the people, and tell them how greatly they are wronged through the oppression of wicked ministers; yet it is his own exaltation, and not the common weal that is the main object of his pursuit."

After looking for a longwhile I saw close by the Porch of Pride a fair city on seven hills, and over its magnificent court the triple crown, the swords and cross-keys. "Well, here is Rome," quoth I, "here lives the Pope, is it not?" "Yes, most often," said the Angel, "but he hath a court in each of the other streets." Over against Rome I could see a city with a very fine court, whereon was raised on high a crescent on a golden banner, by which I knew the Turk was there. After these came the court of Lewis XIV. of France, as I perceived by his arms--the three fleur-de-lys on a silver banner reared high. Whilst admiring the loftiness and magnificence of these palaces, I observed that there was much traversing from one court to another, and asked the reason. "Oh, there is many a dark reason," said the Angel, "existing between these three potent and crafty monarchs, but though they deem themselves fitting peers to the three princesses up yonder, their power and guile is nought compared with theirs. Yea more, great Belial deems the whole city, notwithstanding the number of its kings, unsuitable for his daughters. Although he offers them in marriage to everybody, he has never actually given them to anyone. Keen rivalry has existed between these three for their hands; the Turk, who calls himself the god of earth, would have the eldest, Pride, to wife. "Nay," said the king of France, "she is mine, for I keep all my subjects in her street, and bring her many from England and many other realms." Spain would have the Princess of Lucre, spite of Holland and all the Jews, and England, the Princess of Pleasure in spite of the Pagans. But the Pope claimed the three, and for better reasons than all the others; and Belial admits him next to them in each street." "Is that the cause of this commerce?" said I. "No," said he, "Belial has made peace between them upon that matter long ago. But now he has bid the three put their heads together to consider how they can the soonest destroy yon bye-street; that is the City of Emmanuel, and especially one great mansion therein, out of mere jealousy, perceiving it to be a finer edifice than any in all the City of Destruction. And Belial promises half his kingdom during his life, and the whole on his decease, to him who succeeds in doing so. But notwithstanding the magnitude of his power, the depth of his wiles, and the number of emperors, kings and crafty rulers that are beneath his sceptre in that huge City of Destruction, notwithstanding the courage of his countless hosts beyond the gates in the lower region, that task will prove too difficult for them; however great, powerful and untiring his majesty may be, in yon small street is a greater than he."

I was not able to give very close attention to his angelic reasons, being occupied in watching the frequent falls people were having on the slippery street. Some I could see with ladders scaling the tower, and having reached the highest rung, falling headlong to the bottom. "Where do those fools try to get to?" I asked. "To a place that is high enough- -they are endeavouring to break into the treasury of the princess." "I warrant it be full," quoth I. "Yes," answered he, "of everything that belongs to this street, to be distributed among its denizens: all kinds of weapons for invading and extending territories; all kinds of coats-of- arms, banners, escutcheons, books of genealogy, sayings of the ancients, and poems, all sorts of gorgeous raiments, boastful tales and flattering mirrors; every pigment and lotion to beautify the face; every high office and title--in short, everything is there which makes a man think better of himself and worse of others than he ought. The chief officers of this treasury are masters of the ceremonies, roysters, heralds, bards, orators, flatterers, dancers, tailors, gamblers, seamstresses and the like."

From this street we went to the next where the Princess of Lucre rules supreme; this street was crowded and enormously wealthy; yet not half so magnificent and clean as the Street of Pride, nor its people so foolishly haughty, for here they were for the most part skulking and sly. Thousands of Spaniards, Dutchmen, Venetians, and Jews were here, and also a great many aged people. "Prithee, sir," said I, "what manner of men might these be?" "They are pinchfists one and all. In the lower end thou shalt see the Pope once more together with conquerors of kingdoms and their soldiery, oppressors, foresters, obstructors of public paths, justices and their bribers, and all their progeny from the barrister to the constable; on the other side, physicians, apothecaries, leeches, misers, merchants, extortioners, money lenders, withholders of tithes, wages, rents or doles left to schools, almhouses and the like; drovers, dealers who regulate the market for their own benefit; shopmen (or rather, sharpers) who profit on the need or ignorance of their customers; stewards of all grades; clippers {14a} and innkeepers who despoil the idlers' family of their goods and the country of its barley, which would otherwise be made into bread for the poor. All these are arrant robbers, the others in the upper end of the street are mostly small fry, such as highwaymen, tailors, weavers, millers, grocers and so on."

In the midst of this I could hear a terrible commotion towards the far end of the street, and a great crowd of people thronging the gate, and such pushing and quarelling as made me think that there was a general riot afoot, until I asked my friend what was the matter. "There is very valuable treasure in that tower," said the Angel, "and the reason for this tumult is that they are about to choose a treasurer for the Princess, instead of the Pope, who has been driven from office." So we went to see the election.

The candidates for the post were the stewards, the money-lenders, the lawyers, and the merchants, and it was the wealthiest of these that was to have it (for the more thou hast, the more wilt thou have and seek for- -an insatiate complaint pertaining to this street). The stewards were rejected at the outset, lest they might impoverish the whole street and, just as they had erected their mansions upon their masters' ruins, in the end dispossess the princess herself. The contest then lay between the other three. The merchants had more silk, the lawyers more mortgages on land, and the money-lenders more bills and bonds and fuller purses. "Ho, they won't agree this night," said the Angel, "come away; the lawyers are richer than the merchants, the money-lenders than the lawyers, the stewards than the money-lenders, and Belial richer than all; for they and all that belongs to them are his." "Why does the princess keep these robbers about her?" "What more befitting, seeing that she herself is arch-robber?" I was amazed to hear him call the princess by such name, and the proudest gentry in the land arrant robbers. "Why, pray my lord," said I, "do you consider these great noblemen worse thieves than highwaymen?" "Thou art a simpleton--think on that knave who roves the wide world over, sword in hand, and with his ravagers at his back, slaying and burning, and depriving the true possessors of their states, and afterwards expecting to be worshipped as conqueror; is he not worse than the petty thief who takes a purse on the highway? What is a tailor who filches a piece of cloth compared to a squire who steals from the mountain-side half a parish? Ought the latter not be called a worse robber than the former, who only takes a shred from him, while he deprives the poor of pasture for his beast, and consequently of the means of livelihood for himself, and those depending upon him? What is the stealing a handful of flour in the mill compared with the storing up of a hundred bushels to rot, in order to obtain later on for one bushel the price of four? What is a threadbare soldier who robs thee of thy clothes at the swords' point when compared with the lawyer who despoils thee of thy whole estate with the stroke of a quill, and against whom thou canst claim no recompense or remedy? What is a pickpocket who steals a five- pound in comparison to a dice-sharper who robs thee of a hundred pounds in the third part of a night? And what the swindler that deceives thee in a worthless old hack compared with the apothecary who swindles thee of thy money and life too, for some effete, medicinal stuff? And moreover, what are all these robbers compared with that great arch-robber who deprives them all of everything, yea, of their hearts and souls after the fair is over?"

From this foul and disorderly street we proceeded to the street of the Princess of Pleasure wherein I saw many English, French, Italians and Paynims. The Princess is very fair to behold, with mixed wine in one hand, and a fiddle and a harp in the other; and in her treasury, innumerable pleasures and toys to gain the custom of everybody, and retain them in her father's service. Yea, many were wont to escape to this pleasant street to drown their grief for losses and debts they had incurred in the others. It was exceedingly crowded, especially with young people; whilst the Princess is careful to please everyone, and to have an arrow ready for every mark. If thou art thirsty, here thou will find thy favorite beverage; if thou lovest song and dance, here thou shalt have thy fill. If the beauty of the Princess has kindled thy lust, thou need'st but beckon one of her sire's officers (who, although invisible, always surround her) and they will immediately attend thy behest. There are here fair mansions, fine gardens, full orchards, shady groves fit for every secret intrigue, or to trap birds or a white rabbit or twain; clear streams, most pleasant to fish in; rich, boundless plains, whereon to hunt the hare and fox. Along the street we could see them playing interludes, juggling and conjuring, singing lewd songs to the sound of the harp and ballads, and all manner of jesting. Men and women of handsome appearance danced and sang, and many came hither from the Street of Pride in order to be praised and worshipped. Within the houses we perceived some on silken beds wallowing in debauchery; some at the gaming-table, cursing and swearing, others tossing dice and shuffling cards. Some from the Street of Lucre, having a room here, ran hither to count their money, but stayed not long lest aught of the countless geegaws that are here should entice them to part with their money without interest. Others I saw at tables feasting with somewhat of every created thing before them; and when everyone, mess after mess, had guzzled as much of the dainties as would afford a moderate man a feast for a whole week, grace followed in the form of blasphemous howling; then the king's health was called for, and that of every boon companion, and so on to quench the taste of the viands, and drown their cares. Then came tobacco, and then each one began to talk scandal of his neighbour-- whether true or false it mattered not as long as it was humorous or fresh, or, best of all, degrading. At last, what with a round of blasphemy, and the whole crowd with clay pistols belching smoke and fire and slander of their neighbours, and the floor already befouled with dregs and spittle, I feared lest viler deeds should happen, and craved to depart.


The Visions of the Sleeping Bard - 5/21

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