The Labyrinth of the World and the Paradise of the Heart (1901)/Chapter 9



(What he saw there Publicly.)

Then walking on, we arrive in a street where trades were carried on; this street was again divided into many smaller streets and squares, and everything was full of various halls, workshops, forges, working-rooms, shops, and booths, with various wondrous tools; the people turned round them in a strange fashion, with much crashing, banging, piping, blowing, hulloaing, rattling, and scrubbing in various ways. I saw here that some scraped the earth and opened mines in it, either ripping it up on the surface or digging deep into its interior like moles. Others paddled in the water, on rivers, or on the sea; others stirred fires; others gaped at the air; others busied themselves with wild beasts; others with stones and wood; others conveyed various goods to and fro. And the interpreter said to me: "See what ingenious and pleasant work this is; well, what here pleases thee most?" I said, "It may be that there is here somewhat of merriment; but with it I see much toiling, I hear much moaning." "Not all labour is so arduous," he said: "let us look more closely into these various matters." And they led me turn by turn through these places, and I viewed everything, and for the sake of experience sometimes touched this thing or that; but I neither can nor will describe everything in this spot. Only what I saw openly that I will not conceal.

(All Trades are Perilous Strivings.)

Firstly, I saw that all these worldly traffics are but labour and vain striving, and that each has its discomfort and danger. I saw, indeed, that those who dealt with fire were sunburnt and sooty like Moors; the clattering of hammers ever hummed in their ears and half hindered their hearing; the gleam of the fires ever sparkled in their eyes, and their skins were blistered and cracked. Those who carried on their trade in the earth had darkness and horror for companions, and not rarely did it happen that they were buried in the earth. Those who worked on the waters became as moist as a thatched roof; like aspen leaves, they shivered from the cold, their bowels became raw,[1] and many of them became the prey of the deep. Those who busied themselves with wood, stones, and other materials were full of weals, groaning, and fatigue. I also saw how stupid were the labours of some, who yet toiled and strove till they sweated, became fatigued, fell down, injured themselves, overworked themselves; yet, with all their miserable exertion, they barely succeeded in obtaining their daily bread. It is true that I saw others who lived more easily and more advantageously; but the less labour there was, the more was there of vice and fraud.

(Incessant Striving.)

Secondly, I saw that all the work of man is for his mouth; for whatever a man acquired that he stuffed into his own mouth, or into those of the members of his family; I must except the few who placed in their wallets that of which they deprived their mouth; but these wallets, I again saw, were full of holes; what was heaped into them streamed out again, and others gathered it up; sometimes one approached and tore the wallet away; or one stumbling against another plucked or tore away the wallet, or he lost it through some other mishap; thus did I see clearly that all these worldly employments are but as the pouring out of overflowing water; money is won and then again lost, with but this difference that it flees more easily than it approaches, whether it is absorbed by the mouth or by the money-chest. Therefore did I see more poor men than rich.

(Hard Striving.)

Thirdly, did I see that each of these labours required the entire strength of a man; if one did but look backward or somewhat tarry, he immediately remained behind; immediately everything dropped out of his hands, and before he was aware of it he was ruined.

(Difficult Striving.)

Fourthly, I beheld everywhere much hardship. Before a man was well prepared for his trade a good part of his life had passed, and even afterwards, unless he was constantly attentive, all his concerns again went backward; indeed, even among those who were the most attentive, as many, I found, met with loss than with gain.

(Striving that kindles Jealousy.)

Fifthly, did I behold among all (particularly among those of the same trade) much hatred and malice. If more work was carried to one, or more was brought forth from his shop, the neighbours immediately looked askance at him, gnashed their teeth at him, and, when able, spoilt his wares; thence arose dissensions, discord, cursing; and some, out of impatience, threw down their tools, and defying the others, gave themselves up to idleness and voluntary poverty.

(Sinful Striving.)

Sixthly, I beheld everywhere much deceit and fraud. Their work, particularly that done for others, was done hurriedly and carelessly; yet, meanwhile, they extolled and praised their work as much as they could.

(Vain and Unnecessary Striving.)

Seventhly, I found there[2] many unnecessary vanities, for I clearly understood that these occupations were mainly nothing but vanity and useless folly. For as the human body can certainly be sustained by little and very simple food and drink, as it can be clothed with few and very simple garments, and sheltered by a small and very simple building, therefore is it clear that but small and simple trouble and labour are required for these purposes, as was indeed the case in ancient times. This also I found here, that the world either will not or cannot judge rightly; for men have become accustomed to employ so many and such rare things for the purpose of filling their bellies with food and drink, that to obtain these things a large portion of the people have to work by land and on the sea, and to imperil their strength and their life; while others, again, have to be special masters in the art of preparing these things. Similarly, no small part of the people was employed in seeking various materials for clothing and building, and in giving them manifold monstrous shapes; all this is useless and vain, and often even sinful. Likewise did I see craftsmen whose whole art and labour consisted in making childish trifles, or other toys, for the purpose of causing amusement and wasting time; others, again, there were whose work it was to prepare and to multiply the instruments of cruelty against mankind, such as swords, daggers, battle clubs, muskets, and so forth. With what conscience and what pleasure of mind men could attend to all these trades, I do not know. But this I know, that if all that was useless, unnecessary, and sinful had been taken away and eliminated, the larger part of men's trade would have had to sink to the ground. Therefore for this, and for the other reasons mentioned before, my mind could find pleasure in nothing here.

(Striving that beseemed Brutes rather than Men.)

This was particularly the case when I saw that men worked only with the body and for the body, though man possessing a superior thing, namely, the soul, should bestow most care on it, and seek principally its advantage.

9. One thing, meseems, I should specially relate, how I fared among the waggoners on land and among the sailors on the sea. When I was thus depressed while visiting the workshops of the handicraftsmen, Impudence said to Falsehood: "I see that this man is restless, and wishes to constantly move like quicksilver; therefore is there no place that pleaseth him, and to which he would desire to be attached. Let us show him the freer profession of the trades who are at liberty to transport themselves from one place in the world to another, and fly about like birds." "I am not," I said, "contrary to seeing this also." Then we went on.

(The Toilsome Life of Waggoners.)

10. And then I immediately see a crowd of men who were turning round and round, and were gathering, collecting, and lifting up various things, even chips, morsels of earth and manure, and these they bound together in bundles. "What is this?" I ask. They said that these were preparing to travel across the world. And I: "But why do they not voyage without these burdens? They would proceed more easily." The guides answered: "Thou art a fool. How could they journey otherwise? These things are their wings." "Wings?" say I. "Certainly wings; for these give to them resolution and courage, and also ensure to them freer passage and safe course. Dost thou then think that men are allowed to rove vainly through the world? In this fashion must men obtain their livelihood, favour, and everything else." I then gaze, and lo! they heaped as many goods as they could find on a thing that seemed a pedestal with underlying wheels; this they rolled and screwed, and harnessed cattle to it; they then with all these goods toiled and plodded across hills, mountains, valleys and ravines, rejoicing in their minds over their merry life; and such it appeared to me also just at first. But when I saw them sticking in the mire, soiling themselves, puddling in the mud, labouring and striving; also that from rain, snow, sleet, snow-drifts, cold, and heat they suffered much discomfort; and when I also saw that everywhere on the mountain passes men lay in ambush for them and emptied their pouches (and to escape this, neither wrath, nor scuffling, nor raging availed), and that on the highroads a rapacious rabble attacked them, then I lost all pleasure in this order.

(The Discomfort of a Sailor's Life.)

11. They then said that there was a more convenient fashion of flying along the world; that was by means of navigation; there, they said, a man did not tremble, and was not soiled or delayed by the mud, and he could fly from one end of the world to the other, finding everywhere something new, unseen and unheard of; and they lead me to the boundary of the land, where we could see nothing before us but sky and water.

(Description of a Ship.)

12. Then they bade me enter a little hut constructed out of planks; and this did not stand on the earth, neither had it a foundation, nor was it strengthened by any ceiling, beams, columns, or props; but it stood on the water and rocked to and fro, so that one had even to enter it with prudence. But as others went there I also went, not to appear timid, for they said that this was our carriage. But while I thought that we should proceed, or rather, as they said, immediately fly on, we remained where we were on the second, the third, the tenth day. "What, then, is this?" quoth I. "Did you then not tell me that we should fly directly from one end of the earth to the other? and now we cannot by any means leave this spot." They then said we should wait till the relays came, and that they had relays which required neither shelter nor stable, nor forage, nor spurs, nor whip; they had only to put them to, and to drive on; I should but wait and I would see. Meanwhile, they show me cords, ropes, traces, scales, gambrels, shafts, axle-trees, waggon-beams, poles and various levers; and all these articles were fashioned in a manner different from that of the waggoners' carts. It was a cart that lay backwards, and had at its back shafts (consisting of two very long pine-trees), which projected high up into the air; from the top ropes descended to the sail-yards with various lattice-work and ladders. The axle-tree of the cart was at the back, and a man who sat there alone boasted that he could guide this huge mass in whatever direction he wished.

(Description of Navigation.)

13. Meanwhile the wind arose. Our crew started up; they begin to run to and fro, to jump, to scream, to shout; one seized this thing, another that; some climbed rapidly up and down the ropes, let down poles, expanded what seemed to be rush mats,[3] and other such things. Then, "What is this?" I said. They answered that they were putting to; and lo! I see that these rush mats swell out to the size of barns (they said these were our wings), and then everything above us begins to whizz, while under us the water is divided and splashes; and before I could look, the coast, and the land, and everything vanishes from our sight. "Whither, then, have we gone?" I said. "What now will befall us?" They said that we were flying. "Well, then, in the name of God, let us fly," I said, and I marvel how rapidly we move on, not indeed without pleasure, but also not without fear; for when I went above to look around me, giddiness overcame me; when I crawled below, the terror of the waves that rushed violently against the planks of the ship encircled me. And then I thought in my mind whether it was not grave foolhardiness to entrust a man's life to such furious elements as water and wind, and thus purposely to encounter death, from which we are separated by the breadth of two fingers; for no thicker is the plank which is between us and the terrible abyss. But having resolved not to allow my fear to be known, I was silent.

(Disgust at Sea.)

14. Then what seemed a crude form of stench begins to stun me, and penetrating my brain and all intestines, it prostrates me. Then I (as well as the others who were not used to these ways) roll about, scream, know no counsel; everything flows from me and pours out of me, so that it appeared to me, not otherwise, as if we were being dissolved in the waters like snails in the sun. Then I begin to accuse myself and my guides, not believing it possible that I should remain living; but from them, instead of pity, I obtained but mockery. No doubt they knew from experience (what I knew not) that this trouble would not endure more than a few days; and thus it was, and my strength gradually returned, and I understood that the furious sea had only welcomed me thus.

(Calm on the Sea.)

15. But what of this? Worse things than these soon befell us. The wind left us, our wings became flabby; we stopped, unable to go anywhere. I again begin to knit my brow, wondering what would happen. "We have been driven into these deserts of the sea. Oh, shall we ever leave them again? Oh, shall we ever again see the lands of the living? Oh, my mother, dear earth! oh, dear earth, my mother, where art thou? God, the Creator, gave the water to the fishes, but thee to us. Alas! the fishes prudently remain in their dwelling-place, but we senselessly forsake ours. If Heaven cometh not to our help, we must certainly perish in this doleful abyss." Over these distressful thoughts my soul did not cease to grieve, till the sailors suddenly began to scream. Running out, I exclaimed: "What is this?" They answered that the wind was rising; and I look and see nothing. Yet they spread out the sails; and the wind comes, seizes us, and carries us along. This gave great pleasure to all, but the pleasure soon became bitter.

(Storm at Sea.)

16. The wind meanwhile had increased so rapidly that not only we, but also the waves beneath us, were tossed about, so that terror entered our hearts. The sea rolled round us in every direction with such gigantic waves that our course was up high hills and down deep valleys, now upward, then downward. Sometimes we were shot upwards to such heights that it seemed as if we were to reach the moon; then again we descended as into an abyss. Now it appeared as if a wave, coming either straight or sideways towards us, would surprise us, and immediately drown us; but it merely lifted us on high, only that this our barque was thrown about here and there, and tossed on from one wave to another; sometimes it declined to this side, sometimes to that; sometimes with its prow it went perpendicularly upward, sometimes downward. Therefore, not only was the water spirted skyward on us and above us, but we could neither stand nor lie; we were tossed from side to side, and found ourselves sometimes on our feet, sometimes on our head. This caused giddiness and the subversion of everything within us.[4] And as this continued both by day and by night, everyone can conceive what anguish and fear we felt. Then I said to myself: "Surely these seafaring men must be more pious than all other men in the world, they who never for an hour are sure of their lives?" But looking at them, I observed that they were all, without exception, eating gluttonously as in a tavern—drinking, playing, laughing, talking in an obscene manner; in fact, committing every sort of evil deed and licentiousness. Grieving at this, I begin to admonish them, and to beg them to remember where we were, and ceasing such things, to call unto God. But what avails it? Some laughed; others scoffed at me; others struck out at me; others wanted to throw me overboard. My guide Falsehood told me to be silent, and to remember that I was in a strange house, where it is best to be deaf and blind. "Oh, it is impossible," quoth I, "that this matter should end well when they have such customs!" Then they again laughed. Seeing such mischievousness, I was obliged to be silent, for I feared to receive a whipping from them.

(The Ship is submerged.)

17. At this moment the storm became stronger, and a terrible gale burst on us. Then, indeed, the sea, with its waves, begins to rise heavenward; then the waves pass us on from one to another as if we were balls; then the depths open up, and sometimes threaten to devour us, sometimes again toss us downward; then the wind, encircling us, drives us hither and thither, so that everything crashed as if the ship was going to be shattered into a hundred thousand pieces. Then I became as one dead, and saw nothing before me but destruction. But the sailors, who could no longer resist the violence of the storm, and feared to be driven on to rocks or shallows, pulled down the wings, and by means of thick ropes threw out large iron hooks, hoping thus to remain on the same spot till the storm should have ceased. But in vain! Some of the men who climbed along the ropes were shaken off them by the wind as if they had been caterpillars, and thrown into the sea; also through the force of the waves the anchors were broken off and sank into the depths. And then at last our ship, and we with it, began to drift about helplessly like a chip of wood in a stream. Then only did those iron, wilful giants lose heart; they became pale, trembled, knew not what to do; then only remembered God, exhorted us to pray, and they also wrung their hands. Then our ship begins to sink down to the bottom of the sea, to strike against rocks concealed under the water, and thus to sink and break up; then through fissures water flows towards us; and though all, young and old, were ordered to pour out the water with all their might, this availed them not; it pressed powerfully against us, and drew us to it. Then there were tears, screams, moaning without measure. No one saw anything before him but a cruel death. But as life is sweet, everyone seized what he could— tables, planks, poles, hoping that they could save themselves from drowning and swim forth to some spot.

And when at last the ship broke up and everything was submerged, then I also, seizing what I could, arrived at some coast, with a few others. The terrible abyss had devoured all the others. When I had somewhat recovered from my fear and horror, I begin to rebuke my guides that they had led me here. They said that this would not harm me; now that we had escaped, I should be of a cheerful mind. A cheerful mind, indeed! To the day of my death I shall not allow myself to be led into anything of this sort.

18. Then looking round, I see that those who had been saved with me again ran to the shore and entered a ship. "Go, then, to encounter all misfortunes, ye foolhardy men," I said. "I cannot even look at this." My interpreter said: "Not everyone is so effeminate. Possessions and merchandise, my good fellow, are a fine thing. To obtain these, a man must ever risk his life." Then I said: "Am I, then, a beast, that I should risk my life merely for the sake of my body, and for the purpose of collecting things for it? Verily, indeed, even the beasts do not this, and man, possessing within him a superior thing, namely, the soul, should seek rather its advantage and pleasure."

  1. I.e., their digestion became impaired.
  2. I.e., among the order of the tradesmen.
  3. I.e., sails; comp. More's "Utopia": "The sayles were made of great rushes or of wickers."
  4. I.e., sea-sickness.