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N° 114. SATURDAY, DECEMBER 8, 1753,
Sperat infestis, netuit secundus,
Whoe'er enjoys th' untroubled breast,
ALMET, the Dervise, who watched the sacred lamp in the sepulchre of the Prophet, as he one day rose up from the devotions of the morning, which he had performed at the gate of the temple with his body turned towards the east and his forehead on the earth, saw before him a man in splendid apparel attended by a long retinue, who gazed stedfastly at him with a look of mournful complacence, and seemed desirous to speak, but unwilling to offend.
The Dervise, after a short silence, advanced, and saluting him with the calm dignity which independence confers upon humility, requested that he would reveal his purpose.
Almet,' said the stranger, thou seest before thee a man whom the hand of prosperity has overwhelmed with wretchedness. Whatever I once desired as the means of happiness, I now possess; but I am not yet happy, and therefore I despair. I regret the lapse of time, because it glides away without enjoyment; and as I expect nothing in the fu
ture but the vanities of the past, I do not wish that the future should arrive. Yet I tremble lest it should be cut off; and my heart sinks when I anticipate the moment, in which eternity shall close over the vacuity of my life like the sea upon the path of a ship, and leave no traces of my existence more durable than the furrow which remains after the waves have united. If in the treasures of thy wisdom there is any precept to obtain felicity, vouchsafe it to me: for this purpose I am come; a purpose which yet I feared to reveal, lest like all the former it should be disappointed.' Almet listened with looks of astonishment and pity, to this complaint of a being, in whom reason was known to be a pledge of immortality; but the serenity of his countenance soon returned; and stretching out his hand towards Heaven Stranger,' said he, the knowledge which I have received from the Prophet, I will communicate to thee.'
As I was sitting one evening at the porch of the temple pensive and alone, mine eye wandered among the multitude that was scattered before me; and while I remarked the weariness and solicitude which was visible in every countenance, I was suddenly struck with a sense of their condition. Wretched mortals, said I, to what purpose are you busy? if to produce happiness, by whom is it enjoyed? Do the linens of Egypt, and the silks of Persia, bestow felicity on those who wear them, equal to the wretchedness of yonder slaves whom I see leading the camels that bring them? Is the fineness of the texture, or the splendour of the tints, regarded with delight by those to whom custom has rendered them familiar? or can the power of habit render others insensible of pain, who live only to traverse the desart; a scene of dreadful uniformity, where a barren level is bounded only by the horizon:
where no change of prospect, or variety of images, relieves the traveller from a sense of toil and danger, of whirlwinds which in a moment may bury him in the sand, and of thirst, which the wealthy have given half their possessions to allay? Do those on whom hereditary diamonds sparkle with unregarded lustre, gain from the possession what is lost by the wretch who seeks them in the mine; who lives excluded from the common bounties of nature; to whom even the vicissitude of day and night is not known; who sighs in perpetual darkness, and whose life is one mournful alternative of insensibility and labour? If those are not happy who possess, in proportion as those are wretched who bestow, how vain a dream is the life of man! and if there is, indeed, such difference in the value of existence, how shall we acquit of partiality the hand by which this difference has been made?
While my thoughts thus multiplied, and my heart burned within me, I became sensible of a sudden influence from above. The streets and the crowds of Mecca disappeared; I found myself sitting on the declivity of a mountain, and perceived at my right hand an angel, whom I knew to be Azoran, the minister of reproof. When I saw him, I was afraid. I cast mine eye upon the ground, and was about to deprecate his anger, when he commanded me to be silent. Almet,' said he, thou hast devoted thy life to meditation, that thy counsel might deliver ignorance from the mazes of error, and deter presumption from the precipice of guilt; but the book of nature thou hast read without understanding: it is again open before thee: look up, consider it, and be wise.'
I looked up, and beheld an inclosure, beautiful as the gardens of Paradise, but of a small extent. Through the middle there was a green walk; at the
end, a wild desart; and beyond, impenetrable darkness. The walk was shaded with trees of every kind, that were covered at once with blossoms and fruit; innumerable birds were singing in the branches; the grass was intermingled with flowers, which impregnated the breeze with fragrance, and painted the path with beauty: on one side flowed a gentle transparent stream, which was just heard to murmur over the golden sands that sparkled at the bottom; and on the other were walks and bowers, fountains, grottos, and cascades, which diversified the scene with endless variety, but did not conceal the bounds.
While I was gazing in a transport of delight and wonder on this enchanting spot, I perceived a man stealing along the walk with a thoughtful and deliberate pace: his eyes were fixed upon the earth, and his arms crossed on his bosom; he sometimes started, as if a sudden pang had seized him; his countenance expressed solicitude and terror; he looked round with a sigh, and having gazed a moment on the desart that lay before him, he seemed as if he wished to stop, but was impelled forwards by some invisible power: his features however soon settled again into a calm melancholy; his eye was again fixed on the ground; and he went on, as before, with apparent reluctance, but without emotion. I was struck with this appearance; and turning hastily to the Angel, was about to inquire what could produce such infelicity in a being, surrounded with every object that could gratify every sense but he prevented my request: The book of nature," said he, is before thee; look up, consider it, and be wise.' I looked, and beheld a valley between two mountains that were craggy and barren; on the path there was no verdure, and the mountains afforded no shade; the sun burned in the zenith,
and every spring was dried up; but the valley terminated in a country that was pleasant and fertile, shaded with woods, and adorned with buildings. At a second view, I discovered a man in this valley, meagre indeed and naked, but his countenance was cheerful, and his deportment active: he kept his eye fixed upon the country before him, and looked as if he would have run, but that he was restrained, as the other had been impelled, by some secret influence: sometimes, indeed, I perceived a sudden expression of pain, and sometimes he stepped short as if his foot was pierced by the asperities of the way; but the sprightliness of his countenance instantly returned, and he pressed forward without appearance of repining or complaint.
I turned again toward the Angel, impatient to inquire from what secret source happiness was derived, in a situation so different from that in which it might have been expected: but he again prevented my request: Almet,' said he, remember what thou hast seen, and let this memorial be written upon the tablets of thy heart. Remember, Almet, that the world in which thou art placed, is but the road to another; and that happiness depends not upon the path, but the end: the value of this period of thy existence is fixed by hope and fear. The wretch who wished to linger in the garden, who looked round upon its limits with terror, was destitute of enjoyment, because he was destitute of hope, and was perpetually tormented by the dread of losing that which yet he did not enjoy: the song of the birds had been repeated till it was not heard, and the flowers had so often recurred, that their beauty was not seen; the river glided by unnoticed; and he feared to lift his eye to the prospect, lest he should behold the waste that circumscribed it. But he that toiled through the valley was happy, because he looked forward