William Beckford:
The Vision
(c. 1777)
Pages 1-30


[1] I happened accidentally to open my Casement the Moon shone bright in the clear Sky illuminating the Mountains. I stole away silently from the gay circle of Company and passing swiftly the Garden of Flowers the Orange trees and the Grove betwixt the House and the Rocks set my feet to some steps cut in their solid sides. Luckily I had mounted the hundred steps which lead to the first flat Crag of the Mountain before a dark grey Cloud fleeting from the North veiled the Moon and obscured the light which conducted me. What could I do! The steps were too steep, too precarious too irregular, to descend in darkness besides tho’ darkness may prevail for a moment light will soon return I must not despair so folding my arms I sat patiently on a stone which time had smoothed with moss.
Wayward Fortune! How many at this instant curse thy power how many deprecate thy rage by patience and resignation. Of that number Heaven grant I may be such was my short prayer. a long series of thoughts crouded on my mind I recollected past events I prophesied future I rejected my prophesies I thought all a dream the next moment every thing seemed real I cast my eyes on a glow worm which glimmered hard by Ah cried I we are all Reptiles and the most distinguished of us but Glow worms. I had almost forgot myself and my situation when the Moon emerged from her concealment shewing the leafy woods and the Rocks beneath, my mind was travelling in another world of fancy and I forgot that I came to view the Lake by the azure moonlight. Rousing from my trance, and calling my strength to my assistance I clambered the Steeps, now grasping the Stump of an antiquated oak now helping myself along by the uncertain fragments of the Mountains. Surely my time is not yet come surely I am reserved to fall from the precipices of the Andes or the more probable [2] precipices of Ambition exclaimed my Vanity when I attained a Summit from whence I looked down on the dreadful rock I had surmounted. A rock that in truth I believe was never before trod. Or else I should have fallen from on high an instant ago and been dashed against the points or mangled by the Hawthorns, those Hawthorns I had so often admired, plants to which I had addressed a volume of nonsensical Apostrophes To whom I have often sung in the plaintive simple Scotch measures

In April when Primroses paint the green ground
And Summer approaching rejoices the Year
The Yellow haired Laddie would oftentimes go
To wilds and deep Glens where the Hawthorn trees grow.

I was much embarrassed how to get down again but I considered that I was now to think how I should get up to my point; for that Lake rose not yet upon my sight, again I paced along a rugged Goat path, forwards over the forests, dark shades enveloping their beauties and the Moon but rarely discovering its glimmer amongst the leaves. Now I found my path finish its course and where think you did it lead to not to a summit from whence an extensive Landscape was to be surveyed nor to a forest of Pines the natural production of a Mountain, but to a gloomy dell skirted with huge Masses of Rock troubled by winds that howled Desolation and Torrents that flowed in narrow encumbered Channels sending forth a discordant hollow murmur. When cast my heavy eyes upwards, no chearful object appeared to relieve them, no tree was rooted in the crevices, no Shrub diversified the shaggy promontories around, nothing was seen but Rocks and Water, all served to abstract it from the more chearful Scenes of Nature and to stamp it with a Cast of sublime singularity. Tis true the Moon gleamed the faint light which discovered this Scene of melancholy grandeur; but then her orb was retired from the small portion of the Concave azure discernable above my head and scanty opening that the Rocks admitted off was canopied with Clouds. The glances of that glorious Planet gave the ruff pinnacles of stone Strange fantastic appearances sometimes they assumed the air of Gigantic Idols, sometimes obelisks and pyramids of mysterious Shape [3] Shape and uncouth sculpture seemed to stand confessed around. The awful majesty of the place bowed me down and I crept along the cold flat surface of the stone, fearfully approaching the torrent brink casting one glance and then retired shivering to the nooks of the precipices. As I crawled in one of these panics along not venturing a look beyond my stony track my eye caught a spot where the Moonlight shone most strongly, on which I thought was impressed the stain of Blood – Ah tis too true, it must be this horrible Valley is the Temple of some accursed Superstition. Here the evil spirit brooding over Man instigates some foul compact. These grim Idols these mystic pyramids this blood the soul of some Wanderer spilt as a sacrifice to fiends too plainly indicate what Ceremonies are here acted. Here resort, before an hours past haggard wretches abandoned by the mercy of Heaven a miserable few shrinking from Mankind and burying themselves in this gloom to work mischief and pour destruction on those who ages past may have offended them. – Revenge the baneful passion, is their Soul and for which they blot their names from the Book of Life and sacrifice an Eternity of Happiness. Hark! Was not that their yell amongst the mountain Peaks on high – No it was but the Wind thro that time worn crevice; but it was enough to chill my heart. – And art thou so sunk William! Art thou reduced to the level of such as these? Is thy conscience troubled, is thy reason fled, fearest thou the harmless gust of Air that makes mock melody amongst the Cliffs Arise then from thy abject posture cast away thy feverish fancies and resume the attitude of Man. I arose! The warm blood flowed again round my heart and my Limbs required their accustomed motion I sternly viewed the pinnacles of Rock and saw they were but pinnacles I looked down on the red Stain and it was but the tint of Nature. The resemblance of Idols the imaginary purpose of the place the fears of the Torrent had rolled far away and left a sublime Landscape rendered placid by the Moon. Now I ventured to the farther end of the Valley divested of all its terrors and ascending from chink to chink and from one projecting fragment to another set a foot on the healthy Brow of the Mountain top whilst the other was suspended over the space below. The Dangers I had surmounted emboldened me and I gazed at the Lake, smooth as a mirror the range of Hills, Mountains and peaks projecting seemingly into the Waters and casting long tracks of Shadow which obscured the [4] cultivated plains the Cities and the Villages. How shall I paint the clear azure deep of air the brilliant silver clouds tempered by modest grey hovering round that orb that World that habitation of unknown Beings, steering its majestic Course along these azure plains of sky moving by the wonderful impulse of him who fixed it in its sphere, marked out its track and bid it equally diffuse its light to the Hemispheres. Observe! How that Peak brightens at its approach, see how its snows imitate the celestial Lustre. The long range of Alpine Mountains catch the Beams, they glisten they array their Summits with the same vesture. All Earth seems proud to wear the Livery of the Moon The Lake receives the glory, becomes a new heaven and displays another Orb whose light floats amongst the Waters and quivers brilliantly on the Waves. I turned my eyes from these Glories finding the attraction of the Moon too powerful and sat myself peaceably down on the smooth verdure of the Thyme which carpeted the Brow. At this very moment yon Planet may be the object of thy admiration. Yes – tho’ so far distant we may both regard this same object with what pleasure then did I dwell upon its sight. Yet a little while and the cares of this vile Earth will rob me of these serene enjoyments. A few years the projects of Ambition the sordid schemes of Interest and all the occupations of the World must seclude from such meditations. No – I will resist them I will repulse their influence if they rob me of the meridian Sunshine, if I must waste those hours in Cabinets and Councils if the Evening must be sacrificed to debates and to watchful consultations still they shall not rob me of the midnight Moon then shall we walk and gather plants by her light and her soothing influence shall calm my soul. – Poor Mortal! Take thy fill of these pleasures to day; for to morrow thou will die. – Sighing this sentiment I got up and viewed the lovely situation in which I now stood. I had not attained the steep peak of the Mountain it was a solid Rock perpendicular sharp pointed and without a blade of Vegetation. Time had made no impression on this mass nor were its sides imprinted with the least mark of his power [5] there were no Crevices no Nooks by whose assistance I could climb; every part was solid and unworn. Nature had formed it inaccessible and I was contented to let it remain above me. Level with its base on the opposite side of a horrid cleft torn probably by an Earthquake, was another Mountain its Rocks almost concealed by noble sweeps of Wood, the growth of a Century flourishing in the height of their perfection. The tall fir, the spreading Oak, the round headed Beach, the Walnut the Juniper, the elegant Birch whose slender white stems were silvered by the beams of the Moon formed a beautiful prospect contrasted to the barren Peak near which I stood I could not help desiring to approach so inviting a Scene and warily looked round and round and about and here and there for a place or a path (however dangerous) which might lead me to these Bowers. No sooner did I approach the gloomy Gulph than I retreated, no sooner did I look down the precipices than I despaired gaining the wished for shore. - - At last after anxiously pacing backwards and forwards the Mountain Brow I spied a very narrow ridge about ten yards down formed of the same Rock which lined the sides of the Cliffs and joining the side I stood on to the opposite Bowers like a Bridge. – But how shall I descend the steep cliff to gain this Bridge? I will I must. So embracing a huge Stone and putting my feet on the tough branches of an antient Juniper I slid down and rested luckily on a spot overgrown with soft moss. – What a variety of Flowers of Shrubs, of plants has Nature placed in these Crevices, apparently without Soil, her accustomed instrument of vegetation. Art would never have dared to have planted them on so barren a Foundation. Surely I smell the perfume of the Rose of the Pink of the Honysuckle. See these they grow their trunks and stems twisted together and hanging over the steeps in fantastic garlands. Figure to yourself this narrow Ridge a dangerous Gulph on each side grim dark horrible, itself spangled with flowers many of them unknown to me and sending forth a new smell. – See me wantonly treading under foot what if transported to England would become the pride of our Gardens. – Take [6] your eyes off this beautiful spot and let them range along a frightful perspective of steeps of crags of impending Mountains just admitting the Moonlight to shew my path and discover the flowers. But I must own I could not enjoy this delicious vegetation untainted by disagreeable sensations, the Ridge was so narrow, that the least false step might have precipitated me to destruction, the very herbs and flowers I trod on tho’ all fair, might give away and put a period to my worldly existence. –
Behold then in my Countenance a strange mixture of pleasure and pain, haste mark on your Tablets, that uncertain Character. See how cautiously I measure my steps and poise my Body see how I keep my eyes fixed on the shore and am almost ignorant of the Scene on each side. Now behold me leap exultingly on a grassy Bank and fix my feet in the Soil. Well give me joy. I have surmounted obstacles that at the first glance, my third even looked actually unsurmountable. I shiver at the danger I have past in a greater degree than at the moment I was engaged in them; tis well, or I should have been no more. I lay a few moments on the Bank a gentle Breeze fanned the Groves, the Gumcistus which sprouted out of the verdure on my side dropped its flowers over me. How sweet the pleasure of Ease after Labour, how agreeable the sensation of surmounting completely any obstacle. Whilst I lay indulging in this manner amongst the vast Wilds and uninterrupted solitudes a thought intruded unwillingly upon me of the good people I had left at home. What will they think become of me? their Imagination will form wild Beasts to eat me up. Robbers to murder me Rocks (as indeed was not improbable) to give way and roll me from their summits mangled at their feet. Alas it is vain to repent I shall fulfil their fears were I to return and measure back my dangerous uncertain way; before the morning. Heavens! How shall I descend the steeps, climb the precipices by this fallacious light. The ardour, the Enthusiasm which has helped me on will no longer assist me in getting down. There is nothing tempting to return to a House which my vagaries have troubled. All these considerations must be banished for the present from my Mind and I will seek comfort as I intended in these shades till the Morning. Thus you see how imperfect is [7] our happiness in this midst of the gratification of my most Romantic pleasures, these mean Sorrows stole in and troubled my enjoyment. Rising from the Bank and shaking off the flowers I plunged into the thickets and let the cool leaves of the Beach tree flap my flushed face. After continually stumbling over antiquitated stumps and fallen trees, that some Violence had laid low I penetrated (the ground still rising) into the dark dark retired recess of the Forest and leaning against the Trunk of an aged towering pine exclaimed, Where am I by what strange Impulse am I driven for what end am I come here why do I fly like a Miscreant from my Home and bury myself deeper and deeper in this Gloom. What a horrid Darkness just visible envelopes this Wood and fits it for shocking actions. It was to such a solitude to such a dreary Waste that Cain fled, seeking from the murder of his Brother, and what murder have I committed, what crime have I perpetrated that I should conceal myself like him from everything Human A sort of Madness has hurried me here and I strive in vain to reason with myself. I am not at this instant reasonable. Whilst I was saying those passionate words my eye fixed itself on something that bore the semblance of a Pool, fed by the Snow which melts from the Mountains. Into this Abyss will I plunge I will extinguish the flame of Life, I will start into Eternity my Curiosity shall be satisfied I will know if……………….As I was moving to my Destruction something held me back. I trembled a cold chill froze my blood, my Hair softened with a frigid sweat my Soul was shrivelled – I thought my good Angel interposed. I heard his instinct speak in me. If Mercy has preserved thee from crimes must thou form them thyself? wilt thou work thy own ruin? I awoke as from a trance and found myself riveted to the torn branch of the pine against which I still leaned tho’ my imagination had aped motion so strongly that I could scarce distinguish the Shadow from the Reality. With a violent Effort that extricated me from my momentary imprisonment I disentangled my torn garment and pursued my way amongst the Forest almost in total darkness. A faint glimmer amongst the Leaves declared that I was near an opening and suddenly I emerged to a little Knowl covered with smooth verdure and encompassed by the Forest on every side, except where [8] a Huge Rock bulged forth of a Bulk, a size an immensity which exceeded all the others I had passed. Below I could distinguish the aweful Mouth of a Cavern which seemed to contain the thickest darkness. Its ponderous jaws were hung in fearful suspense and every moment menaced a dreadful fall. From under one of the Crags gushed forth clear water tumbling and rolling its course down unseen Steeps, till it was heard no more. Another stream of a more moderate kind trickled and oozed from the porous stone and made itself a channel along the Valley bordered by a stately species of Lillies and flag Flowers waving with the gale. Yet another stream flowed out of the Cavern mouth black tho clear impregnated with mineral gold. These three mysterious Rivers filled my mind with wonder. The Sky was free from Storms, unclouded and serene, no vapours except a few and those light fleeting round the peaked summit of the monstrous Rock where no herb or plant, or flower ventured to grow. Below their growth was luxuriant cherished by an heated Soil and their flowers gigantic and Rampant. Their odour powerful; breathing vivid spirit into the animal frame.

– It was now the hour!
The holy Hour, when to the cloudless height
Of yon starred Concave climbs the full orb’d Moon.

A soft delusion like a descending dew stole on my senses and I sunk down on the grass the scene still distinct before my eyes, my mind in a delirium. Sounds seemed to proceed from the Cavern long protracted sounds wafted over the dark bubbling River. Swelling peals of distant harmony. Soon I thought the notes of some silver toned Instrument accompanied by an angelic Voice stile into the porches of my ear filling me full of rapture. Now a full accord now a majestic pause – now wildly warbling notes dying away amidst the Recesses of the Caverns. Silence prevailed for a moment. Then a distant murmur in the Woods on the clifts on the Vapours on the Waters, melody as faint as a departing mist floated in the Æther …….. ascending higher and higher till, but a vibration remained on my Ear. An universal Calm succeeded for many moments till it was broken by a faint [9] whisper issuing from the Cave. My soul was all attention, every sense on their utmost stretch the sound increased till I could distinguish something like the human Voice modulating in two different tones, one deep and faultering, the other clear smooth and delightful as the Voice I had heard before. – My Eye had not been much longer fixed on the Cavern; before it could distinguish two stately Forms emerging from the dark gloom and advancing like Phantoms stood silently before the Entrance. The tallest wore the figure of a majestic Sage his hoary hair bound by a golden Fillet inscribed with unknown Characters his Beard waving over an ample Robe of deep azure of the colour of the Meridian Sky and concealing his Feet and Arms with its folds, one hand grasped a taper Rod of Gold, the other held a Woman who had an imperial Mein a sublime port and a spirit in her opal eyes, a fire which I dare not describe. A mazy Vesture of Muslin, encircled her Limbs, proportioned with the most polished finish of delicacy, she had neither gold, nor silver nor jewels, her hair was indeed braided with a row of pearls, but its luxuriance almost concealed them. I knew not what to think, nor how to fear, I would willingly have retired; but I know not what chained me to the Ground. I dreaded the glance of these Beings (whatever they were) and yet I loved them. The looks of the Sage, encouraged me, the Woman had turned aside her opal Eyes and I lay patiently on the Turf, waiting the issue of this Apparition. - - -
Now is the time (said the deep voice I had before heard) and now the hour, to consult Nature, In silence she discloses her wonders, her mineral powers and the juices of her plants. These herbs have now an influence on every Animal, hidden from the generality of even the most careful Observers.
The philosopher who after the researches of many, many long Years, vainly imagines the volume of Nature extended before him is deceived unless by toil, by more than European perseverance by fasting and by meek resignation he wins the Ætherial spirits to befriend him then like my sacred tribe he may cast his eye into the very bowels of a Mountain, more huge than these spy out the [10] lurking ore the glistening Diamond, the mineral fraught with powerful Influence on the Human Frame and the concealed source of mighty Rivers. The compact Soil the flinty Rock, the layer of binding chalk fathoms of Sand and all the barriers in which Nature has studded her choicest productions, are all laid open and explored by him alone. What a glorious supremacy does this Knowledge give, my emerald eyed Nouronihar, and thou shalt partake it with me Thou shalt not remain in vulgar ignorance unworthy of the Godlike Race of which thou springest.
»You, who can read my inmost Soul (answered Nouronihar) can see it bend in acknowledgements before your instructions, You! Kind Director of my Youth have cheared my lonely path when straying in the subterraneous Caverns of the Globe. By your assistance have I been supported – By your councils have I sustained the horrors I was decreed to View and prevented Despair from gnawing my vitals when
………… Nouronihar could not continue, she cast her humid Eyes on the Ground and then on the Sage who spoke again.
»The midnight Hour will shortly pass away. Therefore Let us seize the moment and cull the Herb on which the Moon shines brightest It is a plant, which in gross foul material Hands might prove the instrument of unlawful power. The evil ones know this and snatch it with their fangs, then commit the prize to their Votaries and behold them rise to the Summit of Ambition, work magical infatuation and cruel delusion – Delusions that mislead embezzle the noble faculties of the Soul and degrade the Man to the vile Brute or Reptile fill him with destructive passions and hurry him to situations to which he will implore the protection of the instigating Fiend and become subject to his power. Such is the influence of the Herb, when given into the power of malignity; but when it is pointed out to those bred in our Schools of Virtue, like Balm it cools the acrid Spirit the tumultuous desire and the turbulent Lust of lawless Rapine. It is this Lust which enlarges and expands the faculties of Reason [11] and guides the Mind towards the source of all perfection, towards that All Wise before [whom] my sacred tribe fall and at whose mention, their inmost Soul glows with sensations of Love, of gratitude, of awe, too fervent for their mortal frame. In such Raptures have I seen them retire to the summit of Gehabil and glorious was the monument of their Dissolution. Often have I stood when the Clouds would divide and stream with tracks of vivid pure light shot from the mansions of their happiness Often have I returned and edified the Synod of our Sages with their parting hour.» As the Bramin spoke, his every action was full of Inspiration. The elegant Nouronihar, leaning against the Rock had concealed her face within her folding arms. She was awed, she was penetrated with the sublime Instructions of the Sage and remained entranced till his Voice called her to gather the mysterious Herb. –
»Hasten Nouronihar, cried the Bramin, whilst the Moon beam points out thy way. Occasion is near at hand when the Balm shall be required………» A dread without a cause a sudden tremor, had taken possession of my Nerves, the Conversation I had heard was so unusual so aweful, so mysterious that I could form no Judgment the Music that had sounded in the Spheres, the Deportment of the Bramin, who at this moment seated on a monstrous blueish stone was poring attentively over the dark River, had a solemn cast that affected me more than I can express. –
Nouronihar had obeyed the command of her Instructor she was kneeling on the herbage brightened by the Moon and prying carefully for the plant she was directed to cull. Whilst thus employed I had time to examine her features, never did my eyes behold so majestic an assemblage her Complexion a clear Brown, was animated with sentiment and vivacity glowing with health. Her attitude discovered the harmony of her proportions, her beautiful Bosom was in a very visible palpitation when she gathered the [12] wished for Herb replete with such qualities, She arose and with a motion graceful as the wave of the Palm tree was regaining the Cavern when the herb dropped from between her taper fingers. As she turned to take it up a gleam of Light shone full upon the turf where I lay and discovered me to her sight. Hastily snatching up the herb she flew swiftly to the Bramin and exclaimed – »Father! look! behold that mortal within the verge of this hallowed Valley, surely he must be one of the accursed or never could he have dared intrude on this Spot and at this holy hour. Speak, Father……he cannot be mortal or how should those tremendous precipices those gulphs, those natural horrors that encircle our abode been surmounted. Have you not often told me, that none of those that tread the plains of that unknown Country I have viewed from the pinnacle of our Mountain, could enter here, have you not calmed my inquietudes by repeated assurances of our security? and now some evil one or some Frengui has violated our retreat and polluted this vale by his profane presence. Who dares affirm the purity of our Celestial protectors will not take Umbrage at this sacriledge and never revisit us more –» The Bramin with a smile of complacency, that seemed to bode no revengeful intent, answered, This is no evil one nor could he have passed the Gulphs that encompass our residence had he the mind of a Frengui. His Soul has not been yet torn with the avaritious thirst of riches the malignity and the ferocity of those Nations amongst whom he was born – no – had he such passions, he could not have possessed that equal temperature without which the narrow ridge is inaccessible, We will pardon his innocent intrusion; but as his Ear has caught the Music in the spheres and the harmony with which we invoke the Spirits of Æther, he must sustain a reverse purificatn [13] or venture back ignorant and unbenefited by our converse. –
I had now but one method of proceeding and that my Curiosity urged with the greater vivacity (to return along the Forests encounter the horrid Darkness that would shortly prevail and traverse the precipices was rejected as impracticable with safety) Summoning all my resolution I ventured towards the Bramin and Nouronihar who were seated on the margin of the black River and when I approached the Character of Wisdom so strongly expressed on the aged visage of the Seer his Garb and the uncouthness of his whole appearance struck me with such Awe that I fell to the Ground. He raised me up and with an affable benignity bade me be of good cheer No doubt, continued he, the Sounds you heard and which mortals are so unaccustomed to have thrilled your heart, perhaps our Foreign Habits our Conversation and the appearance of the Cave we live in may have occasioned the Sensations that seem to overpower you; but let the gaze of wonder give way to the Calmness of attention – Mark me do you find yourself sufficiently bold to perform some ceremonies, nay start not! Be assured they are no evil tendency on the contrary leading to instructions that may then and only then be given. Must they be the consequence of a Discipline which in truth you will find severe; but if, young Man your Soul is desirous of expanding itself, if the acquisition of more than worldly knowledge be alluring I will answer you will prefer a momentary pain to lasting enjoyments; but still if human frailty wavering doubts and the cases of thy mortal Body triumph over the pure delights of the Mind – Speak, use no disguise and I will discover to you a path which will conduct you in security to your World below and there grovel like the herd that are universally spread over its [14] surface. Never shall you behold us more and should you uncautiously disclose what you have hitherto seen Depend you will never be credited, you will be dispised as a raving Dreamer and dispised with the Contempt of those whose sorry Imaginations could never rise to even what you have as yet beheld. Now behold your alternative.» – A piercing Look from Nouronihar, a look that at once encouraged my enterprize and dispised me, if I feared it, proved determinative. I fired at the idea of being held dastardly in such eyes and exclaimed with some Violence, Lead me to the Trial, whatever the Task I am ready to execute it. – »Young Man answered the Bramin this sudden Compliance must not be the result of passionate Vehemence nor of wanton Curiosity If from the bottom of your heart you can declare a sincere desire of being initiated into the sacred mysteries of the Shasta that Fountain of Knowledge your request shall be granted you shall enter our abode and I will unfold a Scene which never before has been displayed to European Sight. A Story shall be revealed which will appal every Sense with wonder and experience shall demonstrate its truth. But before you resign yourself to my power Let me apprize you that the purification you are about to undergo is sufficient to make the most Courageous shudder. You must in a manner be committed to the Flames and then to a raging torrent your Body must receive the most severe Shocks and your Mind for some instants distracted with a dreadful Suspense. Thus I paint the enterprize you are willing to undertake; if it appears in its most gloomy Colouring you have still the power of abandoning it; but if the Constancy and firmness of your Mind triumphs over the frailty and weakness of your Body Be assured that Glory, refreshment both Spiritual and Corporeal will follow in a degree so sublime, so superior to mortality in general that you will exult [15] in the remembrance of your sufferings. Be seated on that Stone and ponder well your resolution. I obeyed – It was utterly impossible to retract. An Enthusiasm that did not admit of fear had long possessed me I was resolved and convincing the Bramin of the Sincerity of my desire beseeched him to order me instantaneously to the Trial. He complied and turning to Nouronihar said »Haste my daughter to the interior grot, see that fuel be supplied to the Consecrated Hearth. Call Malich and Terminga.» She arose and casting on me a gracious glance cried, »Adieu Stranger Nouronihar will ever interest herself for one who defies so terrifying a prospect. We shall meet in the Halls of the Glorious.» The Persian Language sounded inexpressibly melodious on her tongue she plunged into the darkness of the Cave and left me immersed in thought. The Bramin favoured my mood and did not brake the silence till in the fullness of my heart I begged him to believe the Confidence I placed in him Nothing continued I can affright me, the opinion I entertain of the benevolence of your Tribe has entirely banished Suspicion; but O my Father pray that I may sustain the Severity of this Trial May it please heaven to grant me strength to endure the Shocks. Doubtless Heaven will answered the Sage and I will strive by my fervent prayers to obtain a Consolation that shall sustain your sinking frame and fit you for the horrors of your trial. He prostrated himself before the Mouth of the Cave, Drops trickled from his aged head, His body seemed convulsed; but in the space of a few seconds it regained its former tranquillity. The Clouds seemed to gather over the Moon and shortly an entire gloom overspread the face of the Heavens It was then that I heard an aweful Sound from above like Thunder, to this succeeded the shrill sound of unknown Instruments [16] born on the blasts of wind violent Gusts that sung in the Cave. Next a full Choir of clear loud Harmony seemed to join in breathing an Inspiration unfelt before and then to roll away in Æther. – I felt the influence of this Musick my senses were revived and strengthened in a tone of Heroism. - -
A feeble glimmer at a vast distance in the Cave attracted my sight. It augmented till I beheld two tall lucid forms advancing hand in hand their white vesture was resplendent apparently without a cause and diffused a moonish Lustre on the craggy arches which bent over the Grot. They glided along till they stopped right opposite to the Bramin, who at that moment arose from the ground. Terminga, (addressing himself to that which shone next me) is all prepared. All waits the Stranger replied the Form with a faint voice like a distant Flute. Malich (to the other) hast thou opened the Iron Portal The sacred grot may now be approached answered Malich. –
»Nothing remains, my Son, said the Bramin, but the performance of your Resolution Follow these freely commit yourself to them. Silently they must execute their orders. Silently they must be obeyed. I must retire expect no further encouragement Rely on no supernatural Interposition Seek consolation in your own Bosom and you will find it. We shall meet again in splendour, think of that moment Direct your thoughts to that point let them dwell on expectation and repose on Hope. Every thing now depends on your conduct should you reluctantly linger on the brink of Initiation or hesitate one Instant the performance [17] of what these will point out to you. Never hope to behold the Light of the Sun. I will not mistrust my Son continued the Bramin and retiring into a recess of the Cavern left me between Malich and Terminga. There was nothing ghastly in the Countenances of my Guides but the luminous quality with which their Bodies was invested occasioned me to shrink back from them. My resolution soon returned and fluctuating between hope and fear I sincerely resigned myself to them. The Moment I had inwardly determined this I found myself moving along with the same imperceptible Motion as my Guides whose feet did not seem to touch the Pavement. In this manner we skimmed along the immense hollow space where the most uninterrupted silence prevailed. Now and then, indeed, I could just distinguish drops clear as cristals, dripping one by one from the Isicles that hung over my head. The light which streamed on all sides from my Guides illuminated the concave vault above and nothing perhaps can exceed the splendor of the appearance as we advanced farther and farther. Cristals of every form of every colour, tinged with the Rays from Malich and Terminga, grew below around and above us with the most luxuriant Vegetation minerals and ores of the most vivid hues were studded on the craggy arches which irregularly bent over our passage some twinkled far very far on high like Stars in the firmament, others like the reflection of those luminaries in Water shone on the pavement beneath. How shall I describe the lovely elegance of form with which Nature has moulded these her hidden production every grace, every beauty is lavished on the tall, slender wasted pillars of Cristalization which cling to the sides and the Roof of the Cavern and then spread in bowers of weblike texture over the Arches. – The Distance we had gone in the very womb of the Mountain seemed prodigious, the [18] the time inconsiderable, Such was the amazing swiftness of our motion. –
The reflection of light glancing from Cristal to Cristal, streaming from Arch to Arch and from one brilliant Mineral or Spar to another was exquisitely agreeable The Majestic roll of two distinct Rivers the one black the other clear and receiving the play of the glittering Ceiling above added not a little to the enchantment of the Scene. To give you an Idea how I felt at seeing these objects would be without the Circle of Description. Let it suffice then to assure you that the outward appearance of the Cave, its situation and the Circumstances that attended my viewing it however striking were mean in comparison. The delight I experienced was very greatly tempered by the fears the doubts the apprehensions that continually tormented me with the idea of where I was going. This unpleasant thought was as may easily be conceived, sufficient to check the perfection of my happiness nor indeed do I believe that there exists upon earth, the circumstance of perfect enjoyment. Never in my life did I breathe with so much freedom or inhale such life as in the breezes of this Cavern. I am convinced I was lifted above the rest of mortals, my motion, my sight that at once took in such extent and the spirit that invigorated my whole frame forced me to entertain that opinion. Thus was I wafted along to a spot where the Grot extended and lengthening into ailes that looked boundless, all adorned in the same glittering manner all producing Groves of vegetable cristal and all glistening with rills of pure Water trickling and oozing from every spar. The Waters which flowed from every quarter formed labyrinths continually intersecting one another would utterly have impeded or at least perplexed in a great degree the Rout of an unprotected Mortal were no [19] obstructions to my way. We glided over them with the Facility and elasticity of a feather born up by the Stream and advanced on their surface till we came to the edge of a torrent. A torrent of a magnitude that would have astonished an Inhabitant of the banks of Niagara. Had I not been supported by extraordinary power I should never have ventured a mere look down on this formidable deep from which arose a spray, at first sight like particles of rasped Diamonds but on examination proved innumerable myriads of shining insects which the water dashes from its Bosom. I found myself involved in this brilliant mist, when I recollected how we were to descend to the depths beneath as my Guides directed their course apparently to that quarter, but before the recollection of an Instant we shot down with the swiftness of a Star beam and darkness for a moment screened my eyes from the Splendours that had dazzled them. During this period my sense of hearing was powerfully moved by the Roar and complicated murmur of many Waters, nor do I believe there is any sound on Earth equal in loudness, the very Echo was sufficient to deafen and when that echo was repeated again and again thro the hollow Caverns, - Grots and recesses of the Mountain imagine if you dare the Sound. I cannot exactly tell how long my Senses remained numbed when they were unlocked I could distinguish notwithstanding the Winds and Torrents that hollowed in my ears, the hum and buz of some sort of monstrous Moths that whizzed by my ears monstrous I call them, for surely the great noise they made could not proceed from small organs and besides they were every second flapping full in my face and banging against my Body with a violence that was [20] far from inconsiderable. The light which had before proceeded from Malich and Terminga was extinguished the moment we entered these gloomy Regions and as they observed the strictest silence I knew not whether they were with me or no; but I was grown callous with the wonders that had befallen me and finding the supernatural Motion I acquired in these Caverns continue, supported myself with entire Confidence. By degrees I proceeded till the noise of the Waterfalls gradually lessened and my ears admitted the least sounds with the nicest exactitude. The flutter of some sort of wings, very high above, the cries and growling of animals that proceeded I suppose from the Crevices in the Rock and the very crawl and creeping of some kinds of Reptiles underneath was plainly discernable. They seemed to swarm in great Multitudes as I perceived a clammy crackling sound as they turned about one another from this reason I conjectured them to be of the Serpent or Lizard Species. I may declare to have passed, a great variety of Climates some hot, some wet, some cold, vapours strongly impregnated with Sulphur and Vitriol wrapped round me like garments causing momentary pains and achings dreadfully acute. Others again conveyed the most heady fœtid smells and others grateful refreshing odours that restored me to life and vigour. The Vapours continued for some time [21] increasing in heat till they became so intense that I breathed with difficulty, they were clogged with a rich spicy perfume that made my head so giddy that I should have sunk under the oppression; had I not found myself sustained by something dense and soft. By this time I lamented with vehemence the privation of light, when suddenly a breeze of pure air restored me to every enjoyment. A vivid blaze of light, flashed once more from the forms of Malich and Terminga who shone on each side of me with redoubled Lustre. A heavenly radiance bright as the Moon in full illuminated the Spot I discovered with a silver light. I again regarded with pleasure the two Rivers I observed before rolling along under an arched concave space blooming with Groves of shining plants unlike any I had seen some shooting in tall spires from the Water, others bending in bowers over a little Island formed by the streams and carpeted with a soft purple Moss, spangled with innumerable white flowers, of a form a texture and a delicacy you have no idea of on Earth. – These subterraneous productions have a finish an elegance you can scarce conceive, much less execute. The Roof seemed many hundred fathom high and towards the summit, hovered several golden coloured clouds shot with vivid light and airy as muslin Veils floating on the winds. Every gale (for many ranged thro’ut this grot) shook the blossoms from the plants on the margins of the Rivers [22] and these blew about as the vehicles of Insects that sucked their nourishment from their leaves. Conceive these clouds these flowers these insects in motion and surely you will delight in the brilliant flutter. When my Eye had roved over these beautiful objects it directed itself to the termination of the Scene where the arches, bowing down seemed to touch the surface of the Rivers which joining on the opposite side of the Island looked as if they derived their common source from that quarter; but I had no time to observe for my motion, which I had subsided the instant I spent at gazing around, continued with repeated swiftness and brought me with my Guides to the Island. Here we, once more stopped and my Guides, reclining on the soft turf under the shade of a tall plant with broad leaves something like the Bannana, cropped some fruit and flowers with which it was braided at the same time and graciously presented them to me. I laid myself down at a respectful distance from them and with great humility received the present they tendered me. The smell of the flowers was reviving and the taste of the fruit and its effects exhilarating in a great degree. As I lay along the turf, I observed by the bright light which my Guides cast immediately around them, various little animals of a beautiful form and covered with a soft down moving [23] from flower to flower and tending their young which they concealed in the white glossy leaves, they were so gentle and tame, that they suffered me to drop into their Mouths grain by grain, the seeds of the fruit I eat and expressed their gratitude by a low melodious sound accompanied by many little actions that expressed their confidence in me such as uncovering their Young and displaying to my sight their little magazines where they hoarded their provisions of seeds. I could observe also the broad leaves of the plant which waved over my head crowded with little beings, so different from any you ever beheld that I despair, of conveying an Idea of them. The Roots too of these plants which twisting together in fantastic forms hung over the water, were not destitute of Inhabitants. Here I discovered the nests of gigantic Water fowl lined with their own feathers and teeming with a young brood as large and as white as Swans. Their parents, on the most distant shore of the River stalked about stately as Ostriches and moved the Sovereigns of their Species. A Variety of Birds something like our Swanns, Ducks and Geese, but far more beautiful in their plumage swimming along the Water brought roots, flowers and fruits to their respective Young. –
Malich, roused me from my Contemplations by kindly offering [24] some liquid dew which was gathered in the ample flower of a large aloe which sprouted out of the turf by his side. I quaffed the draught with great pleasure and soon after sunk into a profound repose. The Time I slept, I am totally ignorant of; but when I awoke, Judge of my surprize, when instead of the chearful light, the busy animated Scene, the lovely vegetation, the mild breeze and the soft Moss I found myself extended on the rough surface of a rugged Rock, in an immense gloomy Cavern lofty but obscured by volumes of dark thick smoke rising in waving Curls from an hearth of red hot Iron on which burnt a tremendous fire fed with Minerals distilling an oil which catching flame rolled its burning waves with a sullen fury along the hearth and then distilled in drops on the pavement. The red angry light which the fire diffused was just sufficient to shew the horrors which surrounded it the black dingy Vault the uncouth crags of bare Rock and the boiling waters of a rapid Torrent which forming a frightful Whirlpool in a Gulph at the farther end of this dismal grot was there confounded with a darkness, that looked substantial. I had every Reason to imagine that I was in the Neighbourhood of some Volcano the heat was more excessive than could be derived from the fire alone and in the Channels and fissures of the rocks down [25] horrible chasms flowed a fiery stream of molten gold silver and other minerals indiscriminately mingled with ore and lava which sent forth black vapours that tinged the roof and the pavement with an infernal hue. My two Companions, one at my head and the other at my feet seemed to guard me as I lay on the sullied ground, their white Raiment still retained its purity; but the glory which formerly played around them was obscured by the murky Air of the place. The first reflection that entered my Mind, was how I was conveyed to this Grot, no outlet, no entrance was visible, but after much search I perceived an Iron grated Door by which I imagine I was brought in which I recollected the Bramin had mentioned before. What means this Fire (cried I to myself) surely the Bramin is an Idolater and means to sacrifice me to his barbarous God. Soon as I had thought these Words the Countenances of my Malich and Terminga glowed with a flush of Indignation I saw my error and thought of the last words of the Sage. »I will not mistrust my son» »and what shall I withdraw my Confidence from him who reposed so much on me shall I shrink shall I doubt, shall I hesitate rather Let me perish in the flames I dread. Yes I behold the necessity of purification and I will meet it joyfully It shall explode these vile mistrusts these ungenerous fears.» The Smile of approbation again returned and graced the features of my guides who instantly divesting me of my Garments poured over me a balsamic Oil which was to protect me in some measure [26] from the fury of the Flames. The struggle I own was violent my arteries beat my heart panted with unknown violence my limbs refused to sustain me I sought Consolation in the Countenances of the Forms and found it, When I ventured to lift up my eyes O horror of horrors what Objects did I behold on the farther side of the blazing hearth Two Ranks of ghastly Spectres, rose like exhalations from the vapours and formed a continued Line from the Fireside to the foaming whirlpool. Their tall meagre forms wrapped round with robes of a misty grey were calculated to inspire wonder disgust and dread, their withered Arms scarcely held taper wands of steel with which they struck a multitude of Sculls that sent forth a lamentable murmur that rung amongst the arches and to this dire cadence they joined a mournful Song that pierced my heart with despair and froze the current of my Blood. Could you conceive all them at once opening their lank wide mouths and from their scrannel jaws sending forth dismal grating complaints in an unknown language and to a tune like the sound of an ancient portal which the winds turn on its hinges, you would shudder in a circle of gayest pleasures. And yet there was sometimes a plaintive tone in their measures that inclined me to weep with [27] compassion. Now they turned on me their hollow sockets, where their eyes gleamed feebly like expiring Lamps and now they stretched forth their pale arms as if to implore that I would not pass. What this meant I could not well determine but a tremulous horror again threatned to overturn the resolute Sentiments that had just before ruled. A look from Terminga that seemed to say And wilt thou then – made the scale of Resolution again preponderate. The Forms took advantage of this favorite moment and snatching me like a Whirlwind wafted me thro the Flames. It would be vain to attempt describing the anguish that fired every pore my blood seemed shrivelled I felt ……. Enough of these horrors enough more remain. The Spectres vanished soon as I passed the hearth; but in what manner I cannot tell I could distinguish or feel nothing but the present pain, every thing seemed fire and myself too, when by a violent and sudden transition I found myself committed to the whirlpool. Its eddies in an instant almost totally deprived me of my senses, the waters seemed every where to overpower me and with a gush that is inconceivable hurried me away seeming ten fathom deep and as precipitately dashed me against the low craggy Roof that impended. How I escaped Death is astonishing, At least I suffered all the horrors of its approach [28] during the period before my Senses were entirely gone. The Current was bearing me away when the stupefaction came on and what then became of me I cannot tell, when I awakened once more to life, I was cast upon a Beech which felt like sand without the least glimmer of light. Here I lay a prey to every misery. my patience entirely exhausted, and for some moments destitute of every consolation, freezing with wet Cold, covered with sharp pointed sands, that some violent Wind blew furiously against and trickling with fœtid unwholsome dews, that fell one by one in large Drops on my head. Yet, tho attacked by a complication of Calamities, the words of the Bramin, shot into my mind, this dismal situation, was perhaps the suspence I was to expect and that the happiness promised would soon follow was the hope that solaced the dreary hour for so long do I imagine was the time I shivered on the Beech I could not help thinking my situation a little similar to that of the poor Ghosts whom the ancients represented hovering on the banks of the Styx whilst their bodies remained neglected and unhonoured with the Rites of Sepulchre. Thank Heaven I had not long to make any more Reflections, an immense flow of Water returned like the tides of the Sea and washed me away under, narrow craggy channels till at length the full blaze of that Silver light which had delighted me before burst forth and a wave laid me gently on a Shore which was carpeted with mossy herbage a delicious [29] refreshing Slumber, again made me sink down and reunited my wearied frame soon after I was called by a melodious voice I looked up and beheld Malich and Terminga in all their Radiance. These forms with looks of ineffable Beneficence poured over me a Balm which cast around a delicious Odour, I arose, firm and unshaken, my mind clear, every sense restored and in a perfection I had never experienced, not even in the luminous Cavern. Malich threw over me a Robe of the purest white and shining with the same brilliancy as those which gleamed on him and his Comrade. Terminga placed on my head a Circle of Light and with joy beaming in his eyes declared all performed. »And now young Mortal continued the form prepare thyself for those enjoyments of pure knowledge, thou hast merited by thus daring the most formidable of Elements, Now expect instruction from the lips of the good Moisasour the Master of our Race, Behold the Center of the Earth, its wonders, its sublimities behold the influence of the All Wise instinctive in the whole. Mark that silver Radiance, which inlightens these abodes, which ignorant Men think enveloped in Darkness, how goodly its effects on the Animals, the Vegetation and the Air. See how wonderfully adapted every the least plant or Insect to its Situation. Cast your Eyes to the Horizon of Rocks which terminates this particular valley. Do you observe that Cloud of luminous Insects, which hover near those distant Caverns? They are destined to illuminate the plants and shrubs for the use of those white Animals which you see Cropping their flowers. Admire that uniform [30] expanse of bright æther, spread universally over the Valley and judiciously concealing the craggy concave of the arching Rocks, which laid open might appear disagreeably harsh and menacing to the sight. From this Æther, which is composed of innumerable luminous particles, singly imperceptible, proceeds the serene, mild Light we enjoy. Often with a charming Variety, Meteors exhale from the mineral Rocks that glide gently along, for many hours gilding the Rocks, the Groves and the Cristals with tints that no Pencil can imitate. Some in the Shape of smooth lucid Globes of blueish Fire, roll down with the Cataracts and hover over their streams, as they flow thro’ the plain beneath. Others, something like your Sun, shine amongst our bright Clouds and for days and weeks regularly appear at the same hour and diffuse a gay, brilliant lustre, that enlivens every Animal and every species of Vegetation; but do not imagine they yield a more fervent degree of heat than we experienced in their absence. Temperate warmth we enjoy is occasioned, by latent Fires in the Rocks tho at a great distance, to the effect of these which answers to that of your Sun, we owe that multitude of animals, and that luxuriant Vegetation, with which we are Blessed. It is their genial influence, which cherishes the seeds of plants and the eggs of Animals, which thawes those immense masses of Ice which otherwise would choak up the hollows and concavities, destined for Inhabitants and gives birth to Rills which afford refreshment for the mossy turf and the many little reptiles that lurk under its covert. – Altho we have


The fall of Fonthill. Detail from the dustwrapper of J.W. Oliver's The Life of William Beckford (1932).

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