The Labyrinth of the World and the Paradise of the Heart (1901)/Chapter 22

CHAPTER XXII

THE PILGRIM FINDS HIMSELF AMONG THE NEWSMEN

When we drew near to the gate, I see a multitude of men in the market-place to the left, and Impudence says: "Lo! these also we must not omit." "What have they there?" quoth I. He answered: "Come and see." And we walk among them, and, behold, they stood there, two or three together; and one pointed with his finger at the other, averted his head, clapped his hands, scratched himself behind his ears. Finally some skip for joy; others cry. "What, then," quoth I, "are these men doing here? Are they acting a play of some fashion?" "Thou must by no means take such things for a play," said the interpreter; "they have real things before them, which, according to the manner in which they are fashioned, produce within them wonder, laughter, ire." "Yet would I gladly know what these things are at which they wonder, at which they laugh, and which cause their ire." Then gazing attentively, I behold that they were busying themselves with strange whistles, and that one man, bending towards the other, whistled somewhat into his ear; and when this piping was pleasing they rejoiced, and when it was doleful they were sad.

(These Whistles have divers Sounds.)

2. This also seemed wondrous, that the same whistles pleased some vastly that they refrained not from skipping for joy; to others the same sound appeared so grievous that they held their ears and ran away into corners, or they listened and then began to lament and cry bitterly. And I said: "This is a monstrous thing, that one and the same whistle should sound so sweet to some, and so bitter to others." The interpreter said: "It is the difference not of the sound, but of the hearing, that causes this. As one and the same medicine acts differently on patients according to their sickness, so also according to a man's inward passion and inclination to a thing the exterior sound of it appears either sweet or bitter."

(The Limping Messenger.)

3. "And where do they find these whistles?" "They bring them from everywhere," he said. "Seest thou not the vendors?" Then I look, and see that some walked and rode out who were appointed to carry about these whistles. Many of these rode forth on speedy horses, and many bought of them; others went on foot, and some even limped along on crutches, and prudent men bought rather from these, believing them to be trustworthy.[1]

(The Delight of News-letters.)

4. Not only did I look at them, but I also listened myself, stopping at divers spots; and I understood that there was truly some pleasure in hearing the divers sounds that proceeded from various directions. But it pleased me not that some acted in an immoderate fashion, for they bought up all the whistles that they could obtain; then after having used them for a short time, they again threw them away. There were also men of divers estates who sat but rarely at home, and were ever on the watch in the market-place, ever giving their ears to that which was piped there.

(The Vanity of News-writing.)

5. Yet all this pleased me not when I saw the vanity of the thing; for sometimes a doleful note resounded, so that all grieved; then after a while a different sound was heard, and the terror turned to laughter. Some notes clang so sweetly that all rejoiced and exulted; but there soon came a change. The sound either ceased or turned to a mournful rattle; thus those who were guided by it often rejoiced and grieved over many things vainly, and it was but smoke.[2] It was therefore a cause of laughter that men allowed themselves to be deceived by every gust of wind. Therefore I praised those who, heeding not such folly, looked only to their work.

(There is Discomfort both with and without News-letters.)

6. But then, again, I beheld discomfort also among those who heeded not that which was piped around them. From every direction many things fell on their necks.[3] At last I see here this also that it was not safe for all to use these whistles. For as these sounds appeared different to different ears, disputes and scuffles arose therefrom; and I myself met with an accident.[4] Having found a sharp-sounding whistle, I gave it to a friend; then others seizing it threw it to the ground and stamped on it. Then they threatened me for having divulged such things, and seeing how furious and inflamed they were, I was obliged to flee. But as my guides ever solaced me with the thought of the Castle of Fortune, we went on towards it.

  1. The "limping messenger" was a proverbial expression signifying "later news." At that period when communications were uncertain and difficult, the later news often contradicted that which had been first reported.
  2. I.e., mystification.
  3. I.e., they were accused of various things.
  4. It is very probable that this is an allusion to some adventure of the author, of which otherwise nothing is known. He appears to have been accused of divulging secret news. It was not in the nature of a man such as Komensky to be always cautious.