Moralizing as a Seductive Art (Dec. 6)

Moralizing as a Seductive Art
"The Vision of Mirza" and "Westminster Abbey," first printed
in "The Spectator," are examples of Addison’s wondrous gift
of expression. He leads us to higher realms.
(Last issue of "The Spectator" published Dec. 6, 1712.)
Read: Addison’s ESSAYS Vol. 27, pp. 73-80

THE VISION OF MIRZA1
Omnem, quce nunc obducta tuenti
Mortales hebetat visus tibi, et humida circum
Caligat, nubem eripiam?
—Virgil, "iEneid," ii. 604.

WHEN I was at Grand Cairo, I picked up several oriental
manuscripts, which I have still by me. Among others I
met with one entitled "The Visions of Mirza," which I
have read over with great pleasure. I intend to give it to the public
when I have no other entertainment for them, and shall begin with
the first vision, which I have translated word for word, as follows:—
"On the fifth day of the moon, which according to the custom of
my forefathers I always keep holy, after having washed myself and
offered up my morning devotions, I ascended the high hills of
Bagdad, in order to pass the rest of the day in meditation and prayer.
As I was here airing myself on the tops of the mountains, I fell into
a profound contemplation on the vanity of human life, and passing
from one thought to another, ‘Surely,’ said I, ‘man is but a shadow,
and life a dream.’ Whilst I was thus musing, I cast my eyes towards
the summit of a rock that was not far from me, where I discovered
one in the habit of a shepherd, with a little musical instrument in
his hand. As I looked upon him he applied it to his lips, and began
to play upon it. The sound of it was exceeding sweet, and wrought
into a variety of tunes that were inexpressibly melodious and altogether
different from anything I had ever heard. They put me in
mind of those heavenly airs that are played to the departed souls of
good men upon their first arrival in Paradise, to wear out the impressions
of the last agonies, and qualify them for the pleasures of
that happy place. My heart melted away in secret raptures.
‘Published in "The Spectator," September 1, 1711.
2 "Every cloud which now drawn before thee dulls thy mortal vision and sends mists
around thee, I shall snatch away."
73

74 JOSEPH ADDISON
"I had often been told that the rock before me was the haunt of
a genius; and that several had been entertained with music who had
passed by it, but never heard that the musician had before made
himself visible. When he had raised my thoughts by those transporting
airs which he played, to taste the pleasures of his conversation,
as I looked upon him like one astonished, he beckoned to me, and
by the waving of his hand directed me to approach the place where
he sat. I drew near with that reverence which is due to a superior
nature; and as my heart was entirely subdued by the captivating
strains I had heard, I fell down at his feet and wept. The genius
smiled upon me with a look of compassion and affability that
familiarized him to my imagination, and at once dispelled all the
fears and apprehensions with which I approached him. He lifted
me from the ground, and taking me by the hand, ‘Mirza,’ said he,
‘I have heard thee in thy soliloquies; follow me.’
"He then led me to the highest pinnacle of the rock, and placing
me on the top of it, ‘Cast thy eyes eastward,’ said he ‘and tell me
what thou seest.’ ‘I see,’ said I, ‘a huge valley and a prodigious tide
of water rolling through it.’ ‘The valley that thou seest,’ said he,
‘is the Vale of Misery, and the tide of water that thou seest is part
of the great tide of eternity.’ ‘What is the reason,’ said I, ‘that the tide
I see rises out of a thick mist at one end, and again loses itself in
a thick mist at the other?’ ‘What thou seest,’ said he, ‘is that portion
of eternity which is called time, measured out by the sun, and reaching
from the beginning of the world to its consummation. Examine
now,’ said he, ‘this sea that is thus bounded by darkness at both ends,
and tell me what thou discoverest in it.’ ‘I see a bridge,’ said I, ‘standing
in the midst of the tide.’ ‘The bridge thou seest,’ said he, ‘is
human life; consider it attentively.’ Upon a more leisurely survey
of it I found that it consisted of more than threescore and ten entire
arches, with several broken arches, which, added to those that were
entire, made up the number to about a hundred. As I was counting
the arches, the genius told me that this bridge consisted at first of
a thousand arches; but that a great flood swept away the rest, and
left the bridge in the ruinous condition I now beheld it. ‘But tell
me further,’ said he, ‘what thou discoverest on it.’ ‘I see multitudes
of people passing over it,’ said I, ‘and a black cloud hanging on each

THE VISION OF MIRZA 75
end of it.’ As I looked more attentively, I saw several of the passengers
dropping through the bridge into the great tide that flowed
underneath it; and upon further examination, perceived there were
innumerable trap-doors that lay concealed in the bridge, which the
passengers no sooner trod upon, but they fell through them into
the tide and immediately disappeared. These hidden pitfalls were
set very thick at the entrance of the bridge, so that throngs of people
no sooner broke through the cloud, but many of them fell into them.
They grew thinner towards the middle, but multiplied and lay
closer together towards the end of the arches that were entire.
"There were indeed some persons, but their number was very
small, that continued a kind of hobbling march on the broken arches,
but fell through one after another, being quite tired and spent with
so long a walk.
"I passed some time in the contemplation of this wonderful structure,
and the great variety of objects which it presented. My heart
was filled with a deep melancholy to see several dropping unexpectedly
in the midst of mirth and jollity, and catching at everything
that stood by them to save themselves. Some were looking up
towards the heavens in a thoughtful posture, and in the midst of a
speculation stumbled and fell out of sight. Multitudes were very
busy in the pursuit of bubbles that glittered in their eyes and danced
before them, but often when they thought themselves within the
reach of them their footing failed and down they sunk. In this confusion
of objects,I observed some with scimitars in their hands, and
others with urinals, who ran to and fro upon the bridge, thrusting
several persons on trap-doors which did not seem to lie in their way,
and which they might have escaped had they not been thus forced
upon them.
"The genius, seeing me indulge myself on this melancholy prospect,
told me I had dwelt long enough upon it. ‘Take thine eyes off
the bridge,’ said he, ‘and tell me if thou seest anything thou dost
not comprehend.’ Upon looking up, ‘What mean,’ said I, ‘those
great flights of birds that are perpetually hovering about the bridge,
and settling upon it from time to time? I see vultures, harpies,
ravens, cormorants, and among many other feathered creatures
several little winged boys that perch in great numbers upon the

76 JOSEPH ADDISON
middle arches.’ ‘These,’ said the genius, ‘are Envy, Avarice, Superstition,
Despair, Love, with the like cares and passions that infest
human life.’
"I here fetched a deep sigh. ‘Alas,’ said I, ‘man was made in vain:
how is he given away to misery and mortality, tortured in life, and
swallowed up in death!’ The genius being moved with compassion
towards me, bid me quit so uncomfortable a prospect. ‘Look no
more,’ said he, ‘on man in the first stage of his existence, in his
setting out for eternity; but cast thine eye on that thick mist into
which the tide bears the several generations of mortals that fall into
it.’ I directed my sight as I was ordered, and (whether or no the
good genius strengthened it with any supernatural force, or dissipated
part of the mist that was before too thick for eye to penetrate)
I saw the valley opening at the farther end, and spreading forth into
an immense ocean that had a huge rock of adamant running through
the midst of it, and dividing it into two equal parts. The clouds still
rested on one half of it, insomuch that I could discover nothing in
it; but the other appeared to me a vast ocean planted with innumerable
islands, that were covered with fruits and flowers, and interwoven
with a thousand little shining seas that ran among them. I
could see persons dressed in glorious habits with garlands upon their
heads, passing among the trees, lying down by the sides of fountains,
or resting on beds of flowers; and could hear a confused harmony
of singing birds, falling waters, human voices, and musical instruments.
Gladness grew in me upon the discovery of so delightful a
scene. I wished for the wings of an eagle that I might fly away to
those happy seats; but the genius told me there was no passage to
them except through the gates of death that I saw opening every
moment upon the bridge. ‘The islands,’ said he, ‘that lie so fresh
and green before thee, and with which the whole face of the ocean
appears spotted as far as thou canst see, are more in number than
the sands on the seashore; there are myriads of islands behind those
which thou here discoverest, reaching farther than thine eye, or
even thine imagination can extend itself. These are the mansions
of good men after death, who, according to the degree and kinds of
virtue in which they excelled, are distributed among these several
islands, which abound with pleasures of different kinds and degrees

THE VISION OF MIRZA 77
suitable to the relishes and perfections of those who are settled in
them; every island is a paradise accommodated to its respective
inhabitants. Are not these, O Mirza, habitations worth contending
for? Does life appear miserable that gives thee opportunities of
earning such a reward ? Is death to be feared that will convey thee
to so happy an existence? Think not man was made in vain who
has such an eternity reserved for him.’ I gazed with inexpressible
pleasure on these happy islands. At length, said I, ‘Show me now,
I beseech thee, the secrets that lie hid under those dark clouds which
cover the ocean on the other side of the rock of adamant.’ The genius
making me no answer, I turned me about to address myself to him
a second time, but I found that he had left me; I then turned again
to the vision which I had been so long contemplating; but, instead
of the rolling tide, the arched bridge, and the happy islands, I saw
nothing but the long valley of Bagdad, with oxen, sheep, and camels
grazing upon the sides of it."
The end of the first vision of Mirza.

WESTMINSTER ABBEY1
Pallida mors cequo palsat pede pauperam tabernas
Regumque tures, O bead Sexti,
Vitce summa brevis spem nos vetat inchoare longami
Jam te premet nox, jabulceque manes,
Et domus exilis Plutonia.-—HOR.2

WHEN I am in a serious humour, I very often walk by
myself in Westminster Abbey, where the gloominess of
the place, and the use to which it is applied, with the
solemnity of the building, and the condition of the people who lie
in it, are apt to fill the mind with a kind of melancholy, or rather
thoughtfulness, that is not disagreeable. I yesterday passed a whole
afternoon in the churchyard, the cloisters, and the church, amusing
myself with the tombstones and inscriptions that I met with" in
those several regions of the dead. Most of them recorded nothing
else of the buried person, but that he was born upon one day, and
died upon another: the whole history of his life being comprehended
in those two circumstances, that are common to all mankind. I
could not but look upon these registers of existence, whether of
brass or marble, as a kind of satire upon the departed persons; who
had left no other memorial of them, but that they were born and
that they died. They put me in mind of several persons mentioned
in the battles of heroic poems, who have sounding names given them,
for no other reason but that they may be killed, and are celebrated
for nothing but being knocked on the head.
T\avKbv Tt Mtdovrd re QepaiXoxi" Te. HOM.
Glaucumque, Medontaque, Thersilochumque. VIRG.
The life of these men is finely described in Holy Writ by "the path
of an arrow," which is immediately closed up and lost.
‘Published in "The Spectator," March 30, 1711.
2 "Pale death knocks with impartial foot at the huts of the poor and at the towers
of kings, O happy Sextus. The shortness of the span of life forbids us to cherish
remote hope; already night overtakes thee, and the fabled shades, and the wretched
house of Pluto."
78

WESTMINSTER ABBEY 79
Upon my going into the church, I entertained myself with the
digging of a grave; and saw in every shovelful of it that was thrown
up, the fragment of a bone or skull intermixt with a kind of fresh
mouldering earth, that some time or other had a place in the
composition of a human body. Upon this, I began to consider with
myself what innumerable multitudes of people lay confused together
under the pavement of that ancient cathedral; how men and
women, friends and enemies, priests and soldiers, monks and
prebendaries, were crumbled amongst one another, and blended
together in the same common mass; how beauty, strength, and youth,
with old age, weakness and deformity, lay undistinguished in the
same promiscuous heap of matter.
After having thus surveyed this great magazine of mortality, as
it were, in the lump; I examined it more particularly by the accounts
which I found on several of the monuments which are raised in
every quarter of that ancient fabric. Some of them were covered with
such extravagant epitaphs, that, if it were possible for the dead person
to be acquainted with them, he would blush at the praises which
his friends have bestowed upon him. There are others so excessively
modest, that they deliver the character of the person departed in
Greek or Hebrew, and by that means are not understood once in
a twelvemonth. In the poetical quarter, I found there were poets who
had no monuments, and monuments which had no poets. I observed
indeed that the present war had filled the church with many of these
uninhabited monuments, which had been erected to the memory
of persons whose bodies were perhaps buried in the plains of Blenheim,
or in the bosom of the ocean.
I could not but be very much delighted with several modern
epitaphs, which are written with great elegance of expression and
justness of thought, and therefore do honour to the living as well
as to the dead. As a foreigner is very apt to conceive an idea of the
ignorance or politeness of a nation, from the turn of their public
monuments and inscriptions, they should be submitted to the perusal
of men of learning and genius, before they are put in execution.
Sir Cloudesly Shovel’s monument has very often given me great
offence: instead of the brave rough English Admiral, which was the
distinguishing character of that plain gallant man, he is represented

80 JOSEPH ADDISON
on his tomb by the figure of a beau, dressed in a long periwig, and
reposing himself upon velvet cushions under a canopy of state. The
inscription is answerable to the monument; for instead of celebrating
the many remarkable actions he had performed in the service of his
country, it acquaints us only with the manner of his death, in which
it was impossible for him to reap any honour. The Dutch, whom
we are apt to despise for want of genius, show an infinitely greater
taste of antiquity and politeness in their buildings and works of this
nature, than what we meet with in those of our own country. The
monuments of their admirals, which have been erected at the
public expense, represent them like themselves; and are adorned
with rostral crowns and naval ornaments, with beautiful festoons of
seaweed, shells, and coral.
But to return to our subject. I have left the repository of our
English kings for the contemplation of another day, when I shall
find my mind disposed for so serious an amusement. I know that
entertainments of this nature are apt to raise dark and dismal
thoughts in timorous minds, and gloomy imaginations; but for my
own part, though I am always serious, I do not know what it is to
be melancholy; and can therefore take a view of nature in her deep
and solemn scenes, with the same pleasure as in her most gay and
delightful ones. By this means I can improve myself with those
objects, which others consider with terror. When I look upon the
tombs of the great, every emotion of envy dies in me; when I read
the epitaphs of the beautiful, every inordinate desire goes out; when
I meet with the grief of parents upon a tombstone, my heart melts
with compassion; when I see the tomb of the parents themselves, I
consider the vanity of grieving for those whom we must quickly
follow; when I see kings lying by those who deposed them, when I
consider rival wits placed side by side, or the holy men that divided
the world with their contests and disputes, I reflect with sorrow and
astonishment on the little competitions, factions and debates of mankind.
When I read the several dates of the tombs, of some that died
yesterday, and some six hundred years ago, I consider that great day
when we shall all of us be contemporaries, and make our appearance
together.

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