William Beckford:
The Vision
(c. 1777)
Pages 31-60


[31] no Sun to enlighten us by Day or Moon to direct our nocturnal hours still we are not destitute of those divisions. At the same moment when your light declines and the day fades on the horizon, the Æther and the Clouds which now glow with such lustre over your head equally loose their brightness. – Deep blue which shortly darkens intirely. It is then that from the pores of every Blossom and every Flower, from under each leaf and each Bud, issue myriads of Fiery Insects, whose wings quiver with a brilliancy like that of a Diamond and whose continual flutterings produce a vivid light, of whose excellence and beauty you will soon be the witness. Sometimes indeed when the winds, which range thro’ them subterraneous wilds, are violent these Insects fearing to encounter the fury of the blasts providently remain in their compact cells. How then will you demand are these gloomy hours, enlightened? The evil, brings with it the remedy Vapours fresh from the distant Volcanoes are wafted on the wings of the Winds and being impregnated with the particles of our Æther, occasion, long, lucid tracks of mild light, which remains during several Nights in the same position the changes at least extraordinary. Whilst Terminga was relating the admirable Disposition of this part of the Globe a troop of shining forms like his own arose from behind a promontory and glided towards us by a winding path, shaded with a variety of Shrubbs [32] These forms gleamed behind the plants, which casually intervened, like the Moon when it twinkles thro’ deep thickets. As they approached I could not refrain questioning my Guide about them. »And who are these Beings (said I) whose lustre eclipses the greatest splendor of Mortality whose graceful Motion, is never seen, on the surface of the Earth They are answered Malich, the Inhabitants of these Regions, a pure simple Race unsullied by Fraud or Rapine, Unconscious of the love of Gold, Jewels or any other Baubles which Men so much esteem. Their hands are never embrued in Blood, their Stomachs never gorged with animal food, their conduct never influenced by Ambition or Injustice. Wonder not therefore that their Bodies untainted with gross and foul particles should emit such lively rays nor suffer yourself any longer to be lost in admiration of their Motion, Our atmosphere, which probably you may fancy, cloggy by thick exhalations is on the contrary thin untainted with imperceptible Insects and purged by salutary vapours from the Minerals. You have experienced the Air we here breathe, has had the property of rendering your whole Frame elastic and as you have skimmed whole Leagues in an Instant, our motion, unopposed by the least obstruction is accelerated by every breeze and becomes fleet as the thistle Blossoms [33] on the gale. By a deception in vision which to your eyes may seem unaccountable, objects, which from their distance would appear faint and misty on the surface of the Earth, are here brought near, in a manner it would be needless as yet for me to explain. How distant should you imagine yon Caverns hollowed beneath those prodigious steeps where the shrubs, the colour of the flowers is even discernable and the Animals which feed amongst them?» I answered perhaps a Furlong. »They are (replied he) about nine Leagues from this Spot Nay check not that rising smile you will shortly be convinced of things far more improbable,» By this time the Forms had advanced close to us and stood confest in all their splendor, nothing can be conceived more, placid than their countenances, nothing more delightfull than the innocence & serenity which sat upon their brow, no wrinkles the effects of Care, no distortions the produce of passion, every Grace, every Grace, every charm the Result of Candor was there conspicuous. They modestly cast their eyes on the ground and seemed to wait till Terminga addressed them, on which account I conjectured he was of a superior Race. After a short silence during which I observed Terminga to gaze on the circle of Forms with entire complacency, he enquired whither their course was destined. The wise Moisasour (replied the whole troop, as it were with one voice) has ordered us to hasten to a remote Region, where [34] the Mortals have just discovered a copious vein of Gold. Our Master foreseeing the baneful effects, this discovery, might produce amongst those discontented frail beings, wills that we should close the vein and spare by that act, the mischiefs it might occasion amongst them. Tis well, answered Terminga the Will of Moisasour is ever the result of prudence – And next continued he we must pursue our Course, Moisasour awaits us in the Halls of the Glorious. No sooner had he spoke than the troops of Forms glided away and were soon behind the Rocks myself and my Guides were wafted swift across the ample plain whose beauties passed like dreams before my eyes and seemed to fleet with equal celerity as our motion in a few instants we gained the extremity of the Valley were something that resembled Human Art was apparent in the structure of nine grand portals raised over the Mouths of as many yawning Caverns on a nearer survey I perceived those Portals to be no more than a sort of Nich or Entablature on which was engraved a variety of Charactures intirely unknown to me. The Rocks above the Caves covered with the most flourishing growth of Shrubs and aromatic plants that bespoke the fertility of the Soil in which they grew. Some of these bowed their leafy branches quite over the mouths of the several Grots they shaded and others retired amongst the Nooks and Crevices afforded their Covert to these concealments. The height of the precipices was astonishing when I stood under them and looking upwards beheld Grove above Grove and peak above peak I was lost in amazement. My motion, which had abated during a space just [35] sufficient to allow my observing in the most cursory manner the objects which presented themselves around, again returned and hurried me together with my Guides into one of the vast Caverns I have mentioned. It was divided by at least three thousand massy Columns into the most stately Halls decorated with Colonades of slender pillars inconceivably striking. The lesser order of Pillars was formed of a clear white cristalisation, exquisitely beautiful. They supported neither frieze nor Cornice, nor any ornament in the least degree consistent with the rules of Architecture we observe on the surface of the Earth, but sustained on their airy Capitals a variety of glistening Garlands composed of Sparrs and intermixed like the branches which form our Bowers. – The pavement in some measure corresponded with the Roof. Figure to yourself a variety of marble agates jaspers and other stones some of which you are utterly unacquainted with, all painted by the hand of nature with an infinity of elegant veins, all gleaming with the polish of a Mirror and reflecting every object in the same manner. Mark how the pavement, like a Lake of marble extends amongst this spacious Labyrinth of Columns as far as your Eye can reach, deny, if you are able the beauty of the Scene. As we wound along the Isles, the sounds of Harmony came pealing from the recesses of the subterrene. I fancied I could distinguish the Voice of Nouronihar. Terminga perceived my disturbance and willing to alleviate my Impatience increased our motion with a rapidity that [36] shortly left behind the Halls and the pillars. We darted along a Gallery of prodigious Length, the Pavement Roof and Walls intirely formed of polished Agate which reflected our Forms like a Looking Glass. We passed to hastily for me to observe with any degree of Certainty the objects in the Gallery; but I could not help being struck with two Ranges of Colosal Statues placed regularly in Niches on each side illuminated by a Line of bright lambent Flames which played about the Scepters they held in their Hands. These Fires blazed on innumerable golden altars with a vivacity that dazzled my eyes. Just as I was about to enquire the meaning of the Sculptures around me we arrived at a vast arch closed by a portal of Ebony, whose valves flying open of a sudden with a sound that rung amongst the Altars, displayed an immensely spacious concave, unsupported by any visible cause and glowing with a refulgence that proceeded from an Orb of the most brilliant hue suspended from the Center by chains that almost imperceptible wore the appearance of Sun beams. Under the Orb I beheld a flight of many hundred Steps covered with a rich carpet of purple which imitated the mossy herbage of the Subterraneous Valleys. On every Step sat a lucid form increasing in glory and Stature the nearer they approached Moisasour who was seated on the summit of the Steps with Nouronihar reclined at his Feet. With this State the Bramin receives those (said Terminga) who have merited his protection by boldly contemning the Terrors which [37] encircle his abode. Advance and present yourself to him as initiated Nouronihar will no longer fly your presence. As I ascended the Steps in obedience to the directions of Terminga, the Orb darted forth vivid flashes of Light the forms, snatched each an Instrument whose shape and sound were equally new and joining in full accord hailed me with harmony that lifted me to the very portal of Heaven. How you would be enraptured could you behold those elegant forms sweeping the chords of their golden Instruments and rising of a sudden to a Majestic Stature then waving with an universal Motion the luminous Circle which tinged their Brows with radiance, what would be your Extacy could their Sounds reach your Ears – See how they lower the glories which surround them at the moment Moisasour quits his exalted Seat and leading Nouronihar descends to meet me. »Yes I am not deceived exclaimed the Sage my doubts are dissipated like the Dreams of the Night. Witness that orb, with what pleasure I behold the happy change Resolution has effected. Away terrestial prejudices. A Mortal of Europe has succeeded nor has he suffered hesitation to linger on his Actions. To one purport they have tended and behold that end attained. What [38] to arrive at the goal, beheld as the termination of a long perspective. Look around, no Frengui ever beheld the glories which the earth conceals in her Center, the Mariner who after the experience of many Years has traversed the Oceans which encircle the Surface of the Globe exults with the thoughts of having surveyed the wide extended Planet he inhabits; but how little doth he imagine that Nature veils in the Caverns of the Earth another World flourishing with as fair a Creation as that with which he is acquainted; but these wonders are carefully concealed from profane Eyes, had you not been inspired with a supernatural Courage, the access of the Cavern where you first beheld Nouronihar and hears the melody of these Beings, which inhabit our Region, would have still remained enveloped in Obscurity. In vain you would have clambered the Appenines and in vain presented yourself on the peak which overlooks its Entrance. You fancy in general that Nature partial to your Race has bestowed her favors with unbounded Liberality and that it is ye which she has placed at the summit of her works; but learn that these Beings which you here behold shining around, are indued with Faculties of which you have no idea. Their motion you have already observed [39] and in some measure required by breathing the Air of our Abode so far you can form an idea; but think how glorious the power which invisibly can witness all the transactions of Men, can survey not only their outward actions; but dive into the thoughts of their hearts and trace them from their Source. Recollect that the Forms who conducted you, followed exactly the Resolutions of your Soul and without the utmost sincerity on your part remained inactive. When on the brink of the burning hearth you shrunk back with fear and at the moment you entertained suspicions injurious to my Race, the visage of Malich was altered and Terminga dreaded you would share the Fate of others who had in vain attempted the Enterprize. Did you not remark also that instant your heart dictated a contempt of Danger the initiation was effected and you was wafted thro’ the Flames; but let me dwell no longer on the Agonies you have suffered let it suffice to assure you that these Beings exceeds in many respects the Race which bespreads your Earth. Mark that they regard you without astonishment. Are you not surprized at this seeming indifference when [40] a new object appears? Certainly you are, but know that they often fleet unseen along your Empires and silently contemplate the affairs of mankind. Like exhalations they rise from the depths of their Caverns and vanish like departing Vapours. The Regions they chiefly delight to visit are those luxuriant Forests which shade the Valleys of the Andes, here they frequently hold converse with the simple descendants of those former Rulers of the West, the mighty Incas. Embosomed in these aromatic Groves they teach them to adore the power who formed the Sun and directed his genial influence on the Planets he enlightens. Sometimes the traveller wandering amongst those silent Regions is surprized by their lucid forms glancing amongst the Meteors and sporting in the Rainbows he contemplates beneath. – Towards the extreme Peak of Catopaxi in a Climate where the Atmosphere still finer than in the Luminous Cavern you so lately beheld, is purified by eternal fires, our Race have hollowed an entrance to their subterraneous habitations. These stately Caves which form in a manner the portals of our Abode are never viewed by any except the genuine Natives of the Valleys immediately beneath. – Unknown to the rest of Mankind, these Wilds are never imprinted with their Steps [41] for the material Frames of Mortals in general and especially those of Europe are almost incapable of breathing so refined an Air. These Frenguis deterred by sudden Eruptions, furious Cataracts and Hurricanes that in a moment strew their tracks with desolation, lurk in their confined Districts without scarce venturing a Look on the tremendous Mass which occasions such formidable convulsions; but the Peruvians on the Contrary, mildly give way to the Elemental War and abandoning themselves intirely to the dispensations of Providence smile on the Dangers which sometime menace their habitations. Far from murmuring or blaspeming against the will of Heaven they regard these Tempests with religious Reverence and venerate the power in all the majesty of his Anger. The Elders of these happy Tribes seperating from the Youth who lead an active Life in the Forests, ascend when Age has in a manner, consecrated them to us even to the verge of our glistening Caverns and there lifted above the Storms the Vapours and the concerns of Humanity enjoy all the sublimity of Meditation. [42] In this Region they remain till Death delivers them to the Æther of Souls. With what delight we dwell upon the genuine Descendents of those Patriarchs who in former times were esteemed worthy of the interposition of the Creator of all things. These and these alone are conversant with the pure Spirits that move at this instant around us. –
Oftentimes in a glittering train they issue from the very Womb of the Mountain and summoning a synod of the Peruvian Sages lead them to the pinnacle of Catopaxi at the Hour of midnight. – From this elevation they point out the Worlds that roll thro’ the Heavens, describe the track of Planets and notice remote Moons that revolve around Stars of whose magnitude your Astronomers are ignorant. – The faculties of Vision are enjoyed with an infinite superiority on such an elevation. No Fogs no vapours obstruct the sight. It is these lofty Regions which the Moon enlightens with all her splendor. A perfect tranquility prevails on the peak of Catopaxi. The Air never vexed by Tempests enjoys [43] a continual Serenity free from change except when a mild dew descends and diffuses a refreshing Coolness. Altho the dense Atmosphere which envelops the World beneath, generally screens the prospects presented on its surface; yet what can be more glorious than the extent of the Skies, those azure plains where myriads of objects offer themselves to view, all beaming with a Radiance of which they seem divested when gazed at from the Empires below. The Moon and the luminary Girdle which enlightens Saturn shine confest without the aid of mechanical Instruments and in the same manner the Satellites of various planets and others of which ye have no conception are discernable at the first glance. Wonder not therefore that Sages are ambitious of such a Residence; but an experienced Age must have stamped their Characters with Wisdom before our Beings conduct them to the highest pitch of Exaltation. when this glorious Period arrives they quit their kindred in the Vallies never to return and abandon themselves solely to divine Contemplation. Nor ever more do they behold the habitations they have quitted unless the Clouds and Vapours as they fleet presented a transitory Gleam of the Grove, the verdure and the charms of the Regions below. –
Methinks at this moment, I view them seated on the Mountain Brow under the serene expanse of Æther. At their Feet many Fathom down, the Empire of the Winds raging amongst the Atmosphere of your World. Aweful Thunders that roll for hours reechoed along the [44] Precipices. Lightnings flashing from the Ocean of Vapours and darting in forked Streams, till lost amongst eternal Fogs, precipitate their Fire on the Valleys. Now I perceive them stretched on the ground, hanging over the Volumes of our Sciences. Now I behold them encircled by forms far superior in every excellence to …. But let me cease nor crowd your Senses with farther Subjects of astonishment. Your Frame has occasion for sustenance. –
Let us enter the recesses of my Habitation. What you have as yet seen is but the Portal…….»
My attention had been so earnestly fixed by the Conversation of the Bramin that I did not perceive for some time after he had finished speaking the solitude of the immense Dome. The Forms had all left us and Nouronihar and the Bramin were the only Beings visible in the vast space around. –
They were both reclined on the purple steps and seemed ruminating in silence. For my part I took advantage of the profound stillness to contemplate my present situation. And I am then sunk into the Center of the Globe have I the prodigious chain of Alps piled over my head Is it possible that I am awake can a mortal have penetrated thro such spacious Grottos? How can I have sustained the flames the whirlpool and all their attendant horrors, surely my frame must have been overcome by [45] such repeated attacks and from such formidable Elements? Yet all these circumstances seem fresh in my memory my sense of feeling has been most uncommonly exquisite I have seen, I have heard I have tasted and could I dream of these senses with like perfection is it possible that I could reason and reflect as I do at this very moment in my sleep With what distinctness I survey this stupendous Dome studded with glittering Gems that orb which flashes so clear a light that pavement of agate with all its mazy veins, those steps, those purple Carpet and more than all that elegant Female and that venerable Seer – and are they illusions – Do I not hear that rill which falls from one shell to another certainly I can distinguish the leaping of Fish in its clear waters. Do I not also inhale the incense of those Spice trees which are placed in vases on the edges of the Steps. Can I enjoy these Faculties and dream. Thus I satisfied my reason that the Scene was real when the Bramin summoned me to follow him. I obeyed he took hold of my left hand and placed Nouronihar on my Right. I had now an opportunity of viewing this fair Indian for such her Language and complexion declared her to be. I gazed with such pleasure on the grace of her motion, the fire of her eyes, the majesty of her air and listened so attentively to the accents that flowed from her tongue that I neglected to regard any other object [46] I could not resist addressing my Conversation intirely to her and the manner in which she replied inforced the adoration I had conceived for her perfections. My admiration did not cease till our motion subsides. I looked around and found myself in another Grot, small in Comparison of the former (for it was not above 50 paces long) but gay and chearful as a Landscape enlivened by the rising Sun. Two wide Arches at one extremity admitted the view of a little lawn blooming with flowers and skirted by thick Groves composed of trees and shrubs intirely unknown to me. These Woods towered to a surprizing elevation as far as the eye could reach and then seemed to blend with a light blue atmosphere absolutely without a Cloud and illuminated by a globular meteor which diffused a splendor on the Vegetation beyond description. The forests afforded a retreat to numerous herds of animals nearly resembling Antelopes and Rein Deer that bounded across the pastures and gamboled on the Lawn without betraying the least sign of timidity.
A stream which issued from the trunks of the flourishing Groves on high, descended the Steeps by a Channel almost concealed by Bushes and gliding across the Lawn entered the Cave by one of the Arches I have mentioned. Nothing can equal the purity of the Water or the brilliancy of the yellow Sand over which it flows. The sides, the Roof and part of the [47] pavement of the Grot were covered with an incrustation of greyish Spar very pleasing to the Eye and several shells were fixed to the Rock at irregular distances which contained a variety of Flowers. At the end opposite the arches, a Bason scooped out of the same spar as the rest of the cave, received the Current of the Stream and afforded a very commodious Bath, the Cave which overhung the Waters, offered a number of glistening Isicles to view reflected and multiplied in two vast Mirrors of polished Steel on which were engraved several Lines of unknown Characters. I was so much employed in admiring the simple beauties of this habitation that I scarce noticed, for some time a repast which was prepared on an enormous Leaf, spread in the middle of the Cavern fronting the lovely prospect which the Arches disclosed. The Bramin and Nouronihar sat down on Mats which were placed round the Leaf and desired me to follow their example.
»You must not expect said Nouronihar (as I reclined on the mat by her side) the flesh of Animals to satisfy your appetite such Viands are banished from this part of the Globe, unused to massacre the Creatures, into which the Allwise has inspired Life, we content ourselves with the vegetable productions, his providence has so abundantly supplied. –
That shell contains the essence of various Fruits extracted by an Insect which deposites a superfluity of its stores on the Leaves and in the blossom of almost every flower. Those Cristal Cups are filled with a mixture of the milk of Antelopes and the juices of Herbs. The Bread is moistened by the same Liquor and nothing can exceed the ripeness of those Fruits; for the paths of the Forests were strewed with them in profusion the early dawn.
[48] The fair Indian continued to explain to me the Contents of the Shells and Crystal Vases which were placed on the Leaf and invited me to taste of the variety of Fruits which were heaped on every Side; but the novelty of my Situation and the curiosity which devoured me, deprived me of the power of even satisfying my hunger: however I could not resist quenching my Thirst with a Beverage which sparkled in a Vase before me. Moisasour who seemed to observe me with attention smiled at the eagerness of my Draught and asked if I could persuade myself that I was really thirsty; for I am well acquainted, continued he with the Doubts you entertain of the reality of appearances. I exactly know the situation of your Mind since you have entered this Subterraneous World, in short I will not conceal from you that which enables me to dive into the thoughts of Mankind the breast of every Mortal is displayed like a Volume before my Sight and it was with satisfaction I traced the reasoning by which you convinced yourself of the reality of your existence in these Regions. At this moment I perceive an ardent Curiosity exciting you to enquire most particularly concerning us. You are ignorant whether we are Mortals; you wonder to hear of the Mysteries of the Bramins in the center of the Earth and are astonished to see me command the Beings that inhabit its spacious Caverns. You wish for an explanation of all the Wonders you have seen and yet can ask no Question adequate to the Multitude of your Ideas. – I was not a little confounded to find my thoughts so entirely developed; but as I had conceived none but Ideas highly favourable of Moisasour his being conscious of them did not, upon reflection distress me. As for the curiosity which I must own had long prevailed in my mind, the Circumstances which had raised and which were every moment [49] exciting it were sufficiently surprizing to plead its excuse. A little more patience (said Nouronihar and all the wonders which embarrass you shall be revealed. For my part I will relate the History of a Life which tho short has experienced a variety of singular Situations. The reasons of my inhabiting the Center of the Earth and the motives which have attached me to the pursuit of Sciences generally unknown by the rest of my Sex and especially those born amongst the Splendors of an oriental Throne and confined within the Gardens of a Zennana, shall not be withheld from you. Nor (interrupted the Bramin shall the initiation I declared the reward of the dangers you have overcome be much longer delayed. The beams of the Meteor which enlightens us begins to fade and the Atmosphere is growing pale. Already we can scarce distinguish the summit of that exalted promontory and an universal haze will shortly overspread the Valley. The flutter you hear in the Grove which screens the Arch on your right hand announces the approach of the Insects whose luminous qualities Malich has described whilst you were under his guidance; but observe the departing Rays of the Meteor strike upon those Characters inscribed on the polished mirrors by which I learn that in an hours space it will be lawful for me to reveal the knowledge you have merited. Take advantage of this interval to calm yourself with Sleep; but as the agitation of your Spirits will scarce allow you that refreshment drink the juice of those herbs which Nouronihar is pressing into a Cup of Onyx and next rest yourself in a Recess of the Cave. – I gratefully received the Liquor and retiring into one of the Niches in the Side of the Grot, found a Couch of odoriferous [50] Herbs neatly covered with a Mat of pliable materials on which I sunk down in a profound repose till I was awakened by the Sound of Voices I heard before and beheld Malich & Terminga advancing from the Cave told me again to follow them I arose and just distinguished the Grot of the Valley by the light of some brilliant Clouds composed of the Insects so often mentioned. It would be difficult to convey an idea of the strange appearance of the Scene illuminated in so singular a manner. The Lawn which framed the bottom of the Vale was covered with Animals I remarked for the first time whose form, colour and motion differed intirely from those I had been accustomed to and as neither our mountains our Forests our plains nor our Waters produce any Animals which in the least resemble them; how can I describe the immense Variety I saw without entering into a tedious Detail I resumed my former extraordinary Motion and glided after Malich and Terminga, who entering a Chasm rent in the Rock which supported the Cave, led me thro’ a winding passage of considerable Length till we reached a Cavern of such extent and loftings as struck me with astonishment. My Sight was for some moments perplexed with different coloured Rocks which were strewed over the spacious pavement all composed of Clusters of gems and minerals that gleamed with such a complicated variety of hues as exceeded the tints reflected from a thousand prisms. Numberless thin spires of Crystal shot from every fissure in these Masses some towered at least an hundred feet and then ended in groups of brilliants that seemed the fruits and flowers produced by these glorious cristalizations, others equal in elevation with the Roof were confounded with a thin Mist which admitted faint and partial gleams of such a Ceiling as no human Language can describe [51] The vast precipices and Steeps which formed the sides of the Cavern were perforated into a range of irregular Arches which declining till the perspective meet compleated the magnificence of the subterraneous Prospect. Far above the Arches I perceived a number of Galleries crossing one another sometimes lost behind a pinnacle of Rock and sometimes contrived with incredible pains along the sides of huge Promontories like those which border the Coasts of our Ocean. After my Eyes had recovered from the blaze of the Splendors which had dazzled them, I distinguished many bridges of glittering materials thrown from one peak to another and several flights of Steps which winding amongst the Rocks and the Isicles joined some stately Terraces near the pavement to which the ascent was easy. Globes of Cristal which appeared to contain liquid fire glowed on the mounds of Icicles and on the edges of the Steps whilst Lambent flames on high in the Galleries cast long Gleams on these Isles and discovered more Cristal Spires, more pinnacles, more peaks beyond in the most beautiful Confusion. Circles of brightness twinkled thro’ the mist and I imagine are suspended from the Roof; but the Vapour put a stop to my examination in that quarter. The confused admiration which I bestowed on this boundless Glory of the Forms like Malich and Terminga shooting along the Galleries; passing the bridges and descending the flights of Steps. These Beings, swarmed on the pavement at some distance from me and my Guides; but did not approach us or attempt to interrupt the silent astonishment into which I was plunged. – The sound of their Voices, instead of the jarring discordant tumult, which an equal number of Mortals conversing together, would have occasioned, soothed my Ear with an harmonious Murmur, that indicated the serenity of their Minds. Tho’ the Terraces and the open space in the Cavern below [52] was crouded with their numbers, no confusion ensued, no disorderly bustle every individual followed the purpose of his excursion and glided to and fro as smoothly as if alone in the Cave. Amongst the Multitudes which continued in motion as far as my Eye could reach I observed a number of Dwarfs whose Countenances tho different from human had nothing unpleasing. These little figures were of a dusky hue and at a distance appeared like Spots amongst the brilliant forms which shone as they moved, but tho’ the external appearance of these Dwarfs was striking only on account of their Size, nothing could be more remarkable than the activity with which they sprung from bridge to bridge, darted across the Terraces and in an instant were at the feet of the luminous Beings from whom they seemed to receive Commands. Another moment I beheld them climbing the Steeps and winding like Lizards from Rock to Rock, next slipping down an Icicle, then mounting with surprizing lightness and facility the slender spires of Cristals which bent like oziers under their feet. Another moment they were lost in the Mist; but before I could utter an exclamation of surprize they appeared jumping over dreadful Fissures sliding along banks of congealed water and next mixing with the Multitude they quitted a few minutes before. Such was the vivacity of these minute Creatures that I could not refrain from asking Terminga what Animals they were and for what purpose this amazing agility was designed. They are (answered my Guide) the Descendants of a Race who many thousand ages ago overspread the Surface of our Globe which then presented a very different [54] aspect from that it at present offers. The whole face of Nature has undergone two revolutions since that remote period. The first occasioned by an Earth-quake which rent open the Womb of Volcanoes and giving passage to torrents of inflammable matter kindled a Conflagration that was not quenched in half a Century the other produced by a Deluge of which you have yet the tradition. The Creatures who before the general Earthquake ruled with supreme authority on the surface of the Globe in course of time became depraved and were continually perpetrating Crimes, to which their …….. Nature, totally different from that of Mankind was liable. During several Centuries they were suffered to degenerate till by degrees they dwindled to the inconsiderable Stature in which you see them. Their mental faculties declined in proportion and they were no longer deemed worthy to inhabit the fair Creation in which they were placed. Suddenly a fatal instinct was implanted in their Minds which made them seek the Dens and Caverns of the Rocks. Some instigated by a Despair, which then became natural precipitated themselves into Gulphs and Fissures. Others inspired by a horrid Frenzy threw themselves into the mouths of Volcanoes, but these violent acts instead of being followed by Death or that anihilation they vainly expected, produced an end absolutely the reverse.
In the profound Abyss twelve thousand fathom beneath the Cavern we now behold, the guilty Race awoke to Life and all the horrors of Conscience. The most dreadful Silence prevailed thro’ out this gloomy Space and a substantial Darkness. Deprived of the gift of Speech and fixed to the spot on which they had fallen, each Creature imagined himself in an entire Solitude. – They had formerly heard of the idea of Eternity. They thought that dreadful Eternity arrived; an endless duration of Darkness, Solitude and Silence, without a single object to divert the gloom of their situation or a Being to whom they might have the consolation to complain. A thousand times, they wished all the horrors of Punishment at least, visible, they wished even the Cries of Torture to sound in their Ears, any degree of Misery seemed [55] preferable to this total inaction; for to a Race whose Limbs had always obeyed the Vivacity of their Souls and whose tongues had been accustomed to utter a million of thoughts which crouded their Imagination what situation can be conceived more painful than this horrid Calm of the Body whilst the Mind double active, ranged over the former period of its existence burnt to deprecate the power it had contemned, and found itself at once deprived of all the faculties of expression? Whilst these miserable Wretches conscious they had deserved the evil that had befallen them, lay dispersed on Islands in the great Deep, their former habitation was destroyed by the Earthquake I have mentioned. When this Havock had ceased, the elementary principles remained some time in that Confusion of which you have some account under the appellation of a Chaos and when the Spirit brooded over the jarring Elements, order returned and the Inhabitants of other planets again perceived the Earth which for some time had been obscured shine forth with her usual Splendor. This period answers to that Epoch you call the Creation. When this great Work was compleated the Supreme Power touched with the repentance of the Race against which it was so justly incensed, signified by the Mouth of the Sage who at that time governed us (for we have existed during four revolutions on ye surface of ye Earth) his intention of mitigating their punishment and commanded us to deliver them from ye great deep and to receive them as a subordinate race of Animals destined for our Service. We obeyed and diving into the Abyss burst with a full blaze of Light into those abodes of Darkness. We shuddered at the melancholy prospects of the dull boundless Waters interspersed with numberless Rocks covered with Wretches who appeared at first sight petrified. An agony of despair, sat on their features, at the first glance we caught of them; but no sooner did the Rays of our light dissipate the Gloom, than wild extravagant Joy restored them to motion. At first they scarce knew how to stand erect, they had forgot their former movements. At every step they stumbled and fell into the Attitude they had preserved for so long a time. Their speech was indistinct, many hours elapsed before they could [56] form an articulate Sound; but it was with satisfaction we have heard their first ejaculations tend to praise their deliverance and ye justness of their fall. What a Scene of gratitude ensued. The joy they discovered at finding their punishment finite exceeds my expression. In a moment we communicated to them to follow us into the Caverns we inhabit. There we assigned them various tasks, such as collecting Oil from the Leviathans that are found in our Subterraneous Ocean, hollowing Galleries in the Rocks and pruning the exuberant Vegetation of Cristals which otherwise would overgrow the open Space of our Caves. Sometimes we employ them in weaving purple textures of great delicacy and often they are exercised in a variety of occupations in which you will shortly see them busied. All those innumerable lights which sparkle thro’ out our grottos are are tended by the Dwarfs who still execute their employments with some share of chearfulness and alacrity; but these qualities are not so remarkable in them as in their Ancestors. In proportion as their agility increased, their Breasts swelled with Pride and many of them were vain enough to imagine themselves, in a manner necessary to our existence. This notion rendered the little Race disobedient to our orders and we were obliged to inflict punishments to controul their moody dispositions. On this account we imprisoned the most refractory in Rocks of Ice, where many remain congealed for ages visible & appalling examples to the rest. In elder times they were allowed the liberty of visiting the Caves, bordering the surface of the Earth, to which they always retained an affection, that descended from one Generation to another, owing to the tradition they possess of their once inhabiting those pleasant Regions. From hence springs that inveterate hatred they entertain to your Species whom they regard as the Usurpers of their Empires; for Ambition is not yet extinct in their Minds. This malevolence towards Mankind occasioned them frequently to manifest their malignant intentions by decoying avaricious Mortals with the hopes of treasure, into deep pits and Chasms in which they found their Destruction. They have been known, after practising an infinity of illusions to strangle unhappy Men who have listened to their insinuations; for they would often appear to an enterprising Miner and [57] affecting as much as in their power the gestures of Mankind beckon him and point to a Rock as if they meant to discouver a rich Vein and when they had invieghled him from his Companions, wreaked their vengeance with a ferocity that roused our Indignation and forced us to abridge their Limits and confine them to the Central Valleys. The Inhabitants of the North whose Mines and Grots near the Pole communicate with our world were chiefly liable to these fallacious apparitions and have recorded the pranks & cruelties of certain ill favoured Gnomes as they stile them, who had been often seen issuing from the fissures of the Rocks with a Ghastly Smile tinctured with malice. A Sudden Clangor which echoed thro’ all the Arches of the Cavern interrupted my Guide in this part of his narration upon my Enquiring the Cause of the tremendous Sound he answered The Sanctuary has opened & thou art permitted to descend the Slopes of eternal Ice which lead to its entrance.»
As I felt most eager to attain the mysterious goal to which I had so long aspired we shot along the Cavern with still more than our usual Rapidity between the Multitudes of Forms that divided to give us passage. In a moment we reached the extremity of the Cave where the perspective ended and here I was startled at the sight of a Steep of smooth Ice apparently bottomless, reflecting a clear blueish Light. Terminga smiling at my perplexity made me observe with what Facility the Beings like himself descended this dreaded Slope and desired me to remember the Cataract I had passed before. The recollection of this circumstance cleared my doubts and without any farther hesitation I committed myself to the polished Ice and at the next instant found myself at the foot of the Precipice, whose summit where I stood trembling the moment before, was now scarcely distinguishable on account of its distance. – When I possessed myself enough to look around I cast my eyes [58] on four stately Arches at which the shining Beings disappeared and then next on four Majestic figures who stood on the right of every Arch with Scepters in their hands, commanding the numbers that went thro’ them. As my Guides guessed my Wishes as soon almost as I conceived them they shortly informed me that these were Beings like themselves of an order superior to the Multitudes that vanished at their command and that these multitudes consisted of the Guardian Genii of mankind and of all the Inhabitants of the surface of the Earth as long as it had existed. The Arches they told me communicated with the four quarters of the Globe and that each Being was hastening to direct the newborn Denizens of those parts; but let us proceed continued they. –
We soon left the Arches and all the glitter of the Forms behind for entering a long narrow Alley formed by two huge Rocks of purple Spar, we arrived, I am scarcely sensible how, in a place vast and infinitely spacious visible by a mild solemn Light which proceeded from a Fire burning at a great distance. I looked about and behold I was left alone! I cast my eyes on high; all was immensity I listened; but could hear no Sound. I wished to advance & tho’ I skimmed along with the ease and lightness I had been accustomed to found no bounds to the Space. In vain did I continue moving forwards with the most astonishing rapidity the Fire still retreated and seemed as distant as ever. Again my apprehensions and doubts began to grow powerful and I said within myself – Where is this Sanctuary, this initiation so long proposed as the reward of all my fatigues? Why does it fly like a delusive Meteor? Thro’ what Space am I roving? And still why should Moisasour [59] delude me? These perplexities are thrown in my way as trials. Doubtless it must be so. – Whilst I made this reflection I found that I had ascended imperceptibly several hundred Terraces that extended on each side out of sight. – From their summit I beheld with infinite satisfaction that I was nearer the Fire and pursuing my Course with redoubled hope I continued moving forwards till at last I began to distinguish some objects that resembled Edifices of wonderful Size and Majesty. Upon my approaching still nearer, they seemed to surround something that had the appearance of a vast body of water richly glowing with the Rays of the setting Sun, in the midst of which was the Fire that had directed my progress. When I approached within about a thousand Paces, methought I discerned a Figure that moved on the surface which as I advanced appeared like one traversing the expanse. What could this mean? I still moved on and to my great surprize found the imagined Lake a smooth plate of yellow Metal of a deeper yellow hue and more gorgeous colour than any gold I had ever seen. I ventured upon it and every moment fell into ejaculations of surprize upon surveying the wonderful structure of the Towers upon ye Brink of this refulgent pavement. Most of them are formed of the same glorious Metal; but fashioned into such pillars and carved with such Art as you can never conceive or form an Idea of. Their Architecture differing so totally from anything in your world as not to afford me expressions to convey a description. – The Central Fire, suddenly sent forth such bright flames as threw the Edifices into a blaze of Light and dazzled me, so much that I veiled my Face with my Robe to screen me from the Glories that overpowered my Senses. Whilst I remained in this attitude I heard a Voice hailing me from afar off. It was reverberated with a sound that made me tremble. I looked up and the good Moisasour stood before me. – Thrice happy! – arrived at the end of thy Wishes, render thanks to the power to whom thou owest thy perseverance and magnanimity, whose protection [60] has so often shielded thee from the horrors of despair. I obeyed. – Kneel down (continued he) and let me touch thy Eyes with a juice that will enable them to bear the Lustre of this sacred Fire. – I performed his Commands. Now (said he) Behold the Sanctuary thou hast aspired to enter! Behold what never was discovered to mortal View! Gaze at the Abode of Purity and Wisdom, old as the Creation, unshaken by four dreadful Revolutions, fixed by the supreme power, immoveable! – unalterable! – I lifted up my Eyes with Reverence and a certain Sensation of awe that thrilled thro’ all my Veins. At the first moment I could distinguish nothing above the Towers, the next I thought I perceived something like the base of Columns great beyond conception. Soon I was confirmed in this notion for I viewed thousands that seemed to rise all around me, gradually as my sense of Sight increased in perfection. – I ventured to explore what lay …….. beyond & saw one vast object growing out of another till Space itself seemed to be filled. – My first Ideas were those of grandeur and immensity the next were perfect harmony and proportion; but what Language can furnish a term a name for ye whole. – Was it a Palace, a Temple? No – None that Imperial power ever raised or Religion dedicated, could convey the feeblest idea of the astonishing Solemnity, extension and harmony of this sublime Sanctuary, where burns the Central Fire, where lie the eternal Records of the World and where resides the Being to whom is delegated its government.
Moisasour from whom none of my sentiments were disguised finding I was in a tone of Mind sufficiently elevated to comprehend the History of his existence began his wonderful Narration. –
»Be not alarmed when I tell thee I am an Angel of the Most high and one of those who were persuaded to doubt his omnipotence. In the first


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

Pages 1-30 ::: Pages 31-60 ::: Pages 61-87