The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 5/Tatler Number 81
THE TATLER. No. 81.
Saturday, Oct. 15, 1709.
Hic manus ab patriam pugnando vulnera passi,——
Quique pii vates, & Phœbo digna locuti,
Inventas aut qui vitam excoluére per aries,
Quique sui memores alios fecêre merendo.
Virg. Æn. vi. 660.
Here Patriots live, who for their country's good,
In fighting fields were prodigal of blood;
Here Poets, worthy their inspiring god,
And of unblemish'd life, make their abode:
And searching Wits, of more mechanick parts,
Who grac'd their age with new invented arts:
Those who to worth their bounty did extend;
And those who knew that bounty to commend.
From my own apartments, October 14.
THERE are two kinds of immortality; that which the soul really enjoys after this life, and that imaginary existence, by which men live in their fame and reputation. The best and greatest actions, have proceeded from the prospect of the one, or the other of these; but my design is to treat only of those who have chiefly proposed to themselves the latter, as the principal reward of their labours. It was for this reason that I excluded from my Tables of Fame, all the great founders and votaries of religion; and it is for this reason also, that I am more than ordinarily anxious to do justice to the persons of whom I am now going to speak; for, since fame was the only end of all their enterprises and studies, a man cannot be too scrupulous in allotting them their due proportion of it. It was this consideration which made me call the whole body of the learned to my assistance; to many of whom I must own my obligations for the catalogues of illustrious persons, which they have sent me in upon this occasion. I yesterday employed the whole afternoon in comparing them with each other; which made so strong an impression upon my imagination, that they broke my sleep for the first part of the following night, and at length threw me into a very agreeable vision, which I shall beg leave to describe in all its particulars.
I dreamed that I was conveyed into a wide and boundless plain, that was covered with prodigious multitudes of people, which no man could number. In the midst of it there stood a mountain, with its head above the clouds. The sides were extremely steep, and of such a particular structure, that no creature which was not made in a human figure could possibly ascend it. On a sudden there was heard from the top of it a sound like that of a trumpet; but so exceedingly sweet and harmonious, that filled the hearts of those who heard it with raptures, and gave such high and delightful sensations, as seemed to animate and raise human nature above itself. This made me very much amazed to find so very few in that innumerable multitude, who had ears fine enough to hear or relish this musick with pleasure: but my wonder abated, when, upon looking round me, I saw most of them attentive to three sirens clothed like goddesses, and distinguished by the names of Sloth, Ignorance, and Pleasure. They were seated on three rocks, amid a beautiful variety of groves, meadows, and rivulets, that lay on the borders of the mountain. While the base and grovelling multitude of different nations, ranks, and ages, were listening to these delusive deities; those of a more erect aspect, and exalted spirit, separated themselves from the rest, and marched in great bodies toward the mountain, from whence they heard the sound, which still grew sweeter, the more they listened to it.
On a sudden methought this select band sprang forward, with a resolution to climb the ascent, and follow the call of that heavenly musick. Every one took something with him, that he thought might be of assistance to him in his march. Several had their swords drawn, some carried rolls of paper in their hands, some had compasses, others quadrants, others telescopes, and others pencils; some had laurels on their heads, and others buskins on their legs: in short, there was scarce any instrument of a mechanick art, or liberal science, which was not made use of on this occasion. My good demon, who stood at my right hand during the course of this whole vision, observing in me a burning desire to join that glorious company, told me, he highly approved that generous ardour with which I seemed transported; but at the same time, advised me to cover my face with a mask all the while I was to labour on the ascent. I took his counsel, without inquiring into his reasons. The whole body now broke into different parties, and began to climb the precipice by ten thousand different paths. Several got into little alleys, which did not reach far up the hill, before they ended and led no farther; and I observed, that most of the artisans, which considerably diminished our number, fell into these paths.
We left another considerable body of adventurers behind us, who thought they had discovered byways up the hill, which proved so very intricate and perplexed, that after having advanced in them a little, they were quite lost among the several turns and windings; and though they were as active as any in their motions, they made but little progress in the ascent. These, as my guide informed me, were men of subtle tempers, and puzzled politicks, who would supply the place of real wisdom, with cunning and artifice. Among those who were far advanced in their way, there were some, that by one false step fell backward, and lost more ground in a moment, than they had gained for many hours, or could be ever able to recover. We were now advanced very high, and observed that all the different paths, which ran about the sides of the mountain, began to meet in two great roads; which insensibly gathered the whole multitude of travellers into two great bodies. At a little distance from the entrance of each road, there stood a hideous phantom, that opposed our farther passage. One of these apparitions had his right hand filled with darts, which he brandished in the face of all who came up that way: crowds ran back at the appearance of it, and cried out Death. The spectre that guarded the other road, was Envy: she was not armed with weapons of destruction, like the former; but by dreadful hissings, noises of reproach, and a horrid distracted laughter, she appeared more frightful than Death itself; insomuch that abundance of our company were discouraged from passing any farther, and some appeared ashamed of having come so far. As for myself, I must confess my heart shrunk within me at the sight of these ghastly appearances: but on a sudden, the voice of the trumpet came more full upon us, so that we felt a new resolution reviving in us; and in proportion as this resolution grew, the terrours before us seemed to vanish. Most of the company, who had swords in their hands, marched on with great spirit, and an air of defiance, up the road that was commanded by Death; while others, who had thought and contemplation in their looks, went forward, in a more composed manner, up the road possessed by Envy. The way above these apparitions grew smooth and uniform, and was so delightful, that the travellers went on with pleasure, and in a little time arrived at the top of the mountain. They here began to breathe a delicious kind of ether, and saw all the fields about them covered with a kind of purple light, that made them reflect with satisfaction on their past toils; and diffused a secret joy through the whole assembly, which showed itself in every look and feature. In the midst of these happy fields there stood a palace of a very glorious structure: it had four great folding doors, that faced the four several quarters of the world. On the top of it was enthroned the goddess of the mountain, who smiled upon her votaries, and sounded the silver trumpet which had called them up, and cheered them in their passage to her palace. They had now formed themselves into several divisions; a band of historians taking their stations at each door, according to the persons whom they were to introduce.
On a sudden, the trumpet which had hitherto sounded only a march, or point of war, now swelled all its notes into triumph and exultation: the whole fabrick shook, and the doors flew open. The first that stepped forward was a beautiful and blooming hero, and as I heard by the murmurs round me, Alexander the Great. He was conducted by a crowd of historians. The person, who immediately walked before him, was remarkable for an embroidered garment, who not being well acquainted with the place, was conducting him to an apartment appointed for the reception of fabulous heroes. The name of this false guide was Quintus Curtius. But Arrian and Plutarch, who knew better the avenues of this palace, conducted him into the great hall, and placed him at the upper end of the first table. My good demon, that I might see the whole ceremony, conveyed me to a corner of this room, where I might perceive all that passed, without being seen myself. The next who entered was a charming virgin, leading in a venerable old man that was blind. Under her left arm she bore a harp, and on her head a garland. Alexander, who was very well acquainted with Homer, stood up at his entrance, and placed him on his right hand. The virgin, who it seems was one of the nine sisters that attended on the goddess of Fame, smiled with an ineffable grace at their meeting, and retired.
Julius Cæsar was now coming forward; and though most of the historians offered their service to introduce him, he left them at the door, and would have no conductor but himself.
The next who advanced, was a man of a homely but cheerful aspect, and attended by persons of greater figure than any that appeared on this occasion. Plato was on his right hand, and Xenophon on his left. He bowed to Homer, and sat down by him. It was expected that Plato would himself have taken a place next to his master Socrates; but on a sudden there was heard a great clamour of disputants at the door, who appeared with Aristotle at the head of them. That philosopher, with some rudeness, but great strength of reason, convinced the whole table, that a title to the fifth place was his due, and took it accordingly.
He had scarce sat down, when the same beautiful virgin that had introduced Homer, brought in another, who hung back at the entrance, and would have excused himself, had not his modesty been overcome by the invitation of all who sat at the table. His guide and behaviour made me easily conclude it was Virgil. Cicero next appeared, and took his place. He had inquired at the door for one Lucceius to introduce him; but not finding him there, he contented himself with the attendance of many other writers, who all, except Sallust, appeared highly pleased with the office.
We waited some time in expectation of the next worthy, who came in with a great retinue of historians, whose names I could not learn, most of them being natives of Carthage, The person thus conducted, who was Hannibal, seemed much disturbed, and could not forbear complaining to the board, of the affronts he had met with among the Roman historians, who attempted, says he, to carry me into the subterraneous apartment; and perhaps would have done it, had it not been for the impartiality of this gentleman, pointing to Polybius, who was the only person, except my own countrymen, that was willing to conduct me hither.
The Carthaginian took his seat, and Pompey entered with great dignity in his own person, and preceded by several historians. Lucan the poet was at the head of them, who, observing Homer and Virgil at the table, was going to sit down himself, had not the latter whispered him, that whatever pretence he might otherwise have had, he forfeited his claim to it, by coming in as one of the historians. Lucan was so exasperated with the repulse, that he muttered something to himself; and was heard to say, that since he could not have a seat among them himself, he would bring in one who alone had more merit than their whole assembly: upon which he went to the door, and brought in Cato of Utica. That great man approached the company with such an air, that showed he contemned the honour which he laid a claim to. Observing the seat opposite to Cæsar was vacant, he took possession of it, and spoke two or three smart sentences upon the nature of precedency, which, according to him, consisted not in place, but in intrinsick merit; to which he added, that the most virtuous man, wherever he was seated, was always at the upper end of the table. Socrates, who had a great spirit of raillery with his wisdom, could not forbear smiling at a virtue which took so little pains to make itself agreeable. Cicero took the occason to make a long discourse in praise of Cato, which he uttered with much vehemence. Cæsar answered him with a great deal of seeming temper; but, as I stood at a great distance from them, I was not able to hear one word of what they said. But I could not forbear taking notice, that in all the discourse which passed at the table, a word or nod from Homer decided the controversy.
After a short pause Augustus appeared, looking round him, with a serene and affable countenance, upon all the writers of his age, who strove among themselves which of them should show him the greatest marks of gratitude and respect. Virgil rose from the table to meet him; and though he was an acceptable guest to all, he appeared more such to the learned, than the military worthies. The next man astonished the whole table with his appearance: he was slow, solemn, and silent in his behaviour, and wore a raiment curiously wrought with hieroglyphicks. As he came into the middle of the room, he threw up the skirts of it, and discovered a golden thigh. Socrates, at the sight of it, declared against keeping company with any who were not made of flesh and blood; and therefore, desired Diogenes the Laertian to lead him to the apartment allotted for fabulous heroes and worthies of dubious existence. At his going out, he told them, that they did not know whom they dismissed; that he was now Pythagoras, the first of philosophers, and that formerly he had been a very brave man at the siege of Troy. That may be very true, said Socrates; but you forget that you have likewise been a very great harlot in your time. This exclusion made way for Archimedes, who came forward with a scheme of mathematical figures in his hand; among which I observed a cone and a cylinder.
Seeing this table full, I desired my guide, for variety, to lead me to the fabulous apartment, the roof of which was painted with gorgons, chimeras, and centaurs, with many other emblematical figures, which I wanted both time and skill to unriddle. The first table was almost full: at the upper end sat Hercules leaning an arm upon his club; on his right hand were Achilles and Ulysses, and between them Æneas; on his left were Hector, Theseus, and Jason: the lower end had Orpheus, Æsop, Phalaris, and Musæus. The ushers seemed at a loss for a twelfth man, when, methought, to my great joy and surprise, I heard some at the lower end of the table mention Isaac Bickerstaff: But those of the upper end received it with disdain; and said, if they must have a British worthy, they would have Robin Hood.