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- The Visions of the Sleeping Bard - 6/21 -

Thence we went where we heard a loud noise, beating and clamouring, crying and laughing, shouting and singing. "Well, here's Bedlam and no mistake," quoth I. By the time we got in, the turmoil had ceased; one man lay like a log on the ground, another was vomiting, another nodding his head over a hearth full of battered flagons, and broken pipes and mugs. On enquiring, what should it be but a carousal of seven thirsty neighbours--a tinker, a dyer, a blacksmith, a miner, a chimney-sweep, a bard, and a parson who had come to preach sobriety, and to show in his own person how repulsive drunkenness is; and the beginning of the recent altercation was a discussion and dispute they had as to which of the seven callings loved best the pot and pipe; the bard had beaten all but the parson and, due regard being observed for the cloth, he was adjudged victor and worthy to be leader of his good comrades, and so the bard wound up the discussion thus:

"Where can ye find such thirsty seven, "Search every clime and land? "And quaffing off the ruddy ale, "Bard and parson lead the band."

Thoroughly tired of these drunken swine, we drew nearer the gate in order to spy out the blemishes in the magnificent court of Love, the purblind king, wherein it is easy to enter, but difficult to get out again, and where are chambers innumerable. In the hall opposite the door stood giddy Cupid, with two arrows in his bow, darting a languishing venom called lust. Along the floor I saw many fair and comely women walking with measured steps, and following them, wretched youths gazing upon their beauty, and each one begging a glance from his mistress, fearing a frown even more than death; now and then one, bowing to the ground, would place a letter in his goddess' hand, and another a sonnet, the while in fear expectant, like schoolboys showing their task to the master. They in return would favour their adorers with a simpering smile or two, just to keep their desires on edge, but granting nought more lest their lust be sated and they depart healed of the disease. Going on into the parlour I saw them having lessons in dancing and singing, with voice and hand, in order to make their lovers sevenfold madder than before; on again into the dining hall where they were taught coy smartness in eating; into the cellar, where potent love philtres were being mixed of nail parings and the like; in the upper rooms we could see one in a secret chamber twisting himself into all shapes, practising gentlemanly behaviour when in his mistress' presence; another before a mirror learning how to smile correctly without showing his teeth too prominently to his ladylove; another preparing his tale to tell her, repeating the same thing an hundred times. Wearied with this insipid babbling we came to another cell: here a nobleman had sent for a poet from the Street of Pride to indite him a sonnet of praise to his angel, and an eulogy of himself; the bard was discoursing of his art: "I can," said he, "liken her to everything red and everything white under the sun, and her tresses to an hundred things more yellow than gold, and as for your poem, I can trace your lineage through many knights and princes, and through the water of the deluge right up to Adam." "Well, here's a poet," quoth I, "who is a better genealogist than I." "Come, come," said the Angel, "their intention is to deceive the woman, but, once in her presence, you may be sure they will have to meet trick with trick."

Upon leaving these we had a glimpse of cells where fouler deeds were being done than modesty permits to mention, and which caused my companion to snatch me away in anger from this fatuous court into the princess' treasury (for we went where we list notwithstanding doors and locks). There we saw myriads of fair women, all kinds of beverages, fruits and dainties, stringed instruments and books of songs,--harps, pipes, odes and carols, all sorts of games,--backgammon, dice {20a} and cards; pictures of various lands, towns and persons, inventions and amusing tricks; all kinds of waters, perfumes, pigments and spots to make the ugly fair, and the old look young, and the leman's malodorous bones smell sweet for the nonce. In short, the shadow of pleasure and the guise of happiness in every conceivable form was to be found there; and sooth to say, I almost think I too had been enticed by the place had not my friend instantly hurried me away far from the three alluring towers to the top end of the streets, and set me down near an immense palatial castle, the front view of which seemed fair, but the further side was mean and terribly ugly, though it was scarcely to be seen at all. It had a myriad portals--all splendid without but rotten within. "An't please you, my lord," asked I, "what is this wondrous place?" "This is the court of Belials' second daughter whose name is Hypocrisy; here she keeps her school, and there is no man or woman throughout the whole city who has not been a pupil of hers, and most of them have imbibed their learning remarkably well; so that her lessons are discernible as a second nature intertwined with all their thoughts, words, and deeds from very childhood almost." I had been looking awhile on the falsity of every part of the edifice when a funeral came by with many weeping and sighing, and many men and horses in mourning trappings; and shortly the poor widow, veiled so as not to see this cruel world any more, came along with piping voice and weary sighs, and fainting fits at intervals. In truth, I could not help but weep a little out of pity for her. "Nay, nay," said the Angel, "keep thy tears for a more worthy occasion; these voices are only what Hypocrisy has taught, and these mourning weeds were fashioned in her great school. Not one of these weep sincerely; the widow, even before the body had left the house, let in another husband to her heart; were she rid of the expenses connected with the corpse she would not care a straw if his soul were at the bottom of hell; nor do his own kindred care any more than she: for when it went hardest with him, instead of giving him good counsel and earnestly praying for mercy upon him, they were talking of his property, his will or his pedigree; or what a handsome robust man he was, and such talk; and now this wailing {21a} on the part of some is for mere ceremony and custom, on the part of others for company's sake or for pay."

Scarcely had these gone by than another throng came in sight: a most gallant lord with his lady at his side, slowly advancing in state, to whom many men of position doffed, and many were on tiptoe with eagerness to show him obeisance and reverence. "Here is a noble lord," said I, "who is worthy such respect from all these!" "Wert thou to take everything to consideration thou wouldst speak differently. This lord comes from the Street of Pleasure, she is of the Street of Pride, and yon old man who is conversing with him comes from the Street of Lucre, and has a mortgage on almost every acre of my lord's, and is come to-day to complete the loan." We drew nigh to hear the conversation. "In sooth, sir," Old Money-bags was saying, "I would not for all that I possess that you should lack anything which lies in my power to enable you to appear your own true self this day, especially seeing that you have met so beautiful and lovely a lady as madam here" (the wily dog knowing full well what she was). "By the --- by the --- ," said the lord, "next to gazing at her beauty, my greatest pleasure was to hearken to your fair reasons; I had liefer pay you interest than get money elsewhere free." "Indeed, my lord," said one of his chief friends called Flatterer, "nuncle pays you not a whit less respect than is due to you, but an it please you, he has bestowed upon her ladyship scarce the half her mead of praise. I defy any man," quoth he, "to show a lovelier woman in all the Street of Pride, or a nobler than you in all the Street of Pleasure, or a kinder than you, good mine uncle, in all the Street of Lucre." "Ah, that is your good opinion," said my lord, "but I cannot believe that any couple were ever more united in the bonds of love than we twain." As they went on the crowd increased, and everyone had a pleasant smile and low bow for the other, and hastened to salute each other with their noses to the ground, like a pair of gamecocks on the point of striking. "Know then," said the Angel, "that thou hast seen naught of civility nor heard one word which Hypocrisy has not taught. There is no one here, after all this gentleness, who has a hap'orth of love one to another, yea, many of them are sworn foes. This lord is the butt {23a} of everybody, and all have their dig at him. The lady looks only to his greatness and high degree, so that she may thereby ascend a step above many of her neighbours. Old Money-bags has his eye on my lord's lands for his own son, and all the others on the money he received as dowry; for they are all his dependants, his merchants, tailors, cobblers and other craftsmen, who have decked him out and maintained him in this splendor, and have never had a brass farthing for it, nor are likely to get aught save smooth words and sometimes threats perhaps. How many layers, how many folds had Hypocrisy laid over the face of Truth! He, promising greatness to his love, while his lands were on the point of being sold; she, promising him dower and beauty, while her beauty is but artificial, and cancer is consuming both her dowry and her body." "Well, this teaches us," said I, "never to judge by appearances." "Yes verily," said he, "but come on and I will show thee more."

At the word he transported me up to where the churches of the City of Destruction were; for everyone therein, even the unbelieving, has a semblance of religion. And it was to the temple of the unbelievers that we first came, and there I saw some worshipping a human form, others the sun, the moon and a countless other like gods down to onions and garlic; and a great goddess called Deceit was universally worshipped. However, there were some traces of the influence of Christianity to be found in most of these religions. Thence we came to a congregation of mutes, {24a} where there was nothing but sighing and quaking and beating the breast. "Here," said the Angel, "is the appearance of great repentance and humility, but which in reality is perversity, stubbornness, pride and utter darkness; although they talk much about the light within, they have not even the spectacles of nature which the heathen thou erstwhile saw, possess."

From these dumb dogs we chanced to turn into an immense, roofless church, with thousands of shoes lying at the porch, whereby I learnt it was a Turkish mosque. These had but very dark and misty spectacles called the Koran; yet through these they gazed intently from the summit of their church for their prophet, who falsely promised to return and visit them long ago, but has left his promise unfulfilled.

From thence we entered the Jewish synagogue--these too were unable to flee from the City of Destruction, although they had grey-tinted spectacles, for when they look a film comes over their eyes from want of anointing them with that precious ointment--faith.

Next we came to the Papists. "Here is the church that beguiles the nations," exclaimed the Angel, "it was Hypocrisy that built this church at her own cost. For the Papists encourage, yea, command men to break an oath with a heretic even though sworn on the sacraments." From the chancel we went through the keyholes, up to the top of a certain cell which was full of candles, though it was broad daylight, and where we could see a tonsured priest walking about as if expecting someone to come to him; and ere long there comes a buxom matron, with a fair maid in her wake, bending their knees before him to confess their sins. "My spiritual father," said the good wife, "I have a burthen too heavy to bear unless I obtain your mercy to lighten it: I married a member of the Church of England!" "What!" cried the shorn-pate, "married a heretic! wedded to an enemy? forgiveness can never be obtained!" At these words she fainted, while he kept calling down imprecations upon her head. "Woe's me, and what is worse," cried she when come to herself, "I killed him!" "Oh ho! thou hast killed him? Well, that's something towards gaining the reconciliation of the Church; I tell thee now, hadst thou not slain him, thou wouldst never have obtained absolution nor purgatory, but a straight gate and a leaden weight to the devil. But where's your offering, you jade?" he demanded with a snarl. "Here," said she, handing him a considerable bag of money. "Well," said he, "now I'll make your reconciliation: your penance is to remain always a widow lest you should make another bad bargain." When she was gone, the maiden also came forward to make her confession. "Your pardon, father confessor," cried she, "I conceived a child and slew it." "A fair deed, i'faith," said the confessor, "and who might the father be?" "Indeed 'twas one of your

The Visions of the Sleeping Bard - 6/21

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