« PreviousContinue »
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 pit-falls 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 every thing 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, 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 in 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 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, bade 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 the eye to penetrate) I saw the valley opening at the further 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 upon beds of flowers; and could hear a confused harmony of singing birds, falling waters, human voices, and musical instruments. Gladness grew in me at 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 sea-shore; there are myriads of islands behind those whch thou here discoverest, reaching further 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, 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 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 hollow valley of Bagdat, with oxen, sheep, and camels, grazing upon the sides of it.-Spectator.
ONE day when the Caliph Omar was sitting in council with the companions of the prophet and great men of his time, two young men appeared before him leading a third, whose beauty attracted general attention. Omar gave them a sign to approach, and one of the two, who held the third, spake to the following effect :
"We are two brothers, whose happiness it was to have a father who for his virtues was esteemed by the whole tribe. He was in the habit of walking in his garden to enjoy the air, and this young man killed him there. We have apprehended him, and brought him hither for the purpose of receiving from you the right of punishment."" Answer to this," said Omar to the young man, who stood before him with the greatest calmness, retaining a placid and guiltless countenance; and he proceeded to defend himself thus:
They are right; yet hear me, commander of the faithful. I belong to a Bedouin family, who wander about the desert. One of our young and finest camels approached the wall of the city, to crop the tender branches of a tree which hung over it; an old man appeared above the wall,
and rolled down a huge stone, which crushed my young camel-he sunk down beside me dead. In my rage, I seized the stone and flung it back towards the wall, where it struck the old man who had killed my camel. The blow was mortal. I sought to save myself by flight, but these two young persons apprehended me, and have brought me before you."- -"Thou hast confessed thy crime," said Omar; "the punishment of retaliation awaits thee." "I am ready to endure it," replied the young man; "but I have a young brother, whom our father on his death-bed particularly recommended to my care. The property which by inheritance falls to him, lies buried in a spot known to none but myself. If you cause me to be put to death before I have delivered it to him, you will hereafter, O commander of the faithful! have to answer for the loss of his inheritance before God. Grant me but three days to arrange this business." When Omar had reflected for a moment, he said: “But who will be responsible for your return?" The young man pointed to Abizar, one of the members of the council, who, with no other security than the confidence with which the appearance of the young man inspired him, consented to become the guarantee for his return.
The third day was almost at an end, and still the Bedouin came not. The two brothers began to demand with a loud voice the blood of the man who had taken upon himself to answer for the murderer's return. The companions of the prophet opposed it: but the severe Omar pronounced sentence, that the life of Abizar should be taken if the young man returned not before the setting of the sun. At that very moment he re-appeared, breathless with haste and in profuse perspiration. "I have," said he, put my brother's money in safety; pardon me if the excessive heat has retarded me more than I expected.”"Commander of the faithful," said Abizar, "I have been security for this youth without ever having known anything of him, and inspired with confidence in him solely through his honest countenance-behold him here! Let us no more say there is neither truth nor honour upon earth!"
All were astonished at the upright conduct of the youth, and the two brothers, who were equally affected, withdrew their accusation, and declared they pardoned
him. Omar accepted their pardon of the youth, and congratulated himself that there was so much truth and honour under his government, and among the Bedouins.
THE STORY OF THE SIRENS.
"SPREAD the sails to the wind," said Ulysses of a thousand counsels. "Spread the sails to the wind, and let
the ship bend her course to Ithaca."
The breeze sang in the shrouds above,-the waves foamed to the oars below and swiftly and steadily they cleft the deep. And the shores of beautiful Circe grew dim in the distance;-of beautiful Circe, who could not make Ulysses forget his home. But when she saw that he would leave her, and that her charms availed not to stay him, she spake a word in his ear, and gave him prudent counsel. "Avoid the Sirens," she said, “that dwell in the island of Pelorus. Their voice is sweet, but deadly,-none ever listened to it and lived. tarries to hear that song, can never tear himself from it. He is rooted as a tree to the island, till he pines and dies of hunger. But since thou must needs pass their dwelling, I will show thee a refuge from destruction. Fill the ears of thy comrades with wax, and bid them lean on the oars. Thyself, if thou willest it, listen to the song; but first be bound to the mast. For this is the fate of the Sirens; and they know it well of old. When one voyager has passed them unharmed, their life draws to an end."
Night came down on the sea, and Ulysses spake to his companions. He told them of the wiles of the Sirens, and of the counsel of the heavenly goddess. "And if," he said, "the melody beguiles me also, so that I make signs to you to stay your speed, I charge you to disobey my words, and to bend more strongly to your oars. I myself am a mortal man; and may err like mortal men." So saying, he laid him down to sleep, and his comrades were stretched in the hold. But when Aurora drove forth her chariot from the glorious gates of the day, up sprang, from his hard couch, the holy strength of Ulysses. He called his companions around him, and gave pure wax to each. Then they bound him to the strong mast, fastened him with thongs and cables, lest he should yearn for the