William Beckford:
The Vision
(c. 1777)
Pages 61-87


[61] dawn of my Being I remember to have inhabited with Myriads of Spirits like myself this Planet which was then surrounded by many Moons more luminous than that which at present enlightens the Nights on the Surface of the Globe. – We lived in perfect felicity and enjoyed so extensive a Knowledge as to learn by intuition that great actuating principle of the Universe which governs its innumerable Systems and which to illustrate cost half the Life of one of the sublimest Geniuses that ever enlightened your philosophy – We could discern Truth in every thing and could form some Idea of the One from whom it springs. In this consisted our chief Happiness. – We were not chained down like Mankind to the Earth, but could soar into the Æther and visit the Moons which were dispersed like Islands in those plains of light. In these flights our pleasures were inconceivable we communed with the Spirits of remote Stars and vied with them in happiness and in praising its Source. How godlike our exultations! Our knowledge hourly increasing! our prospects ever expanding. Sometimes we wantoned in Moons that shone on our World amidst Meads of Asphodel and at other times with a consciousness of the true dignity of our Natures turned our thoughts to higher things and such was the subtlety of our Bodies that the Rapidity of Light the instantaneous excursion of thought thro’ immensity may faintly represent the facility, the swiftness with which we darted beyond the Solar system and entered others more glorious and excellent. – The Atmosphere in those happy times was pure as its inhabitants, ever clear, ever vivifying. – Ignorant of Deceit & Falsehood, ideas long after conceived, we were most happily formed for Society and exalted Friendship and delivered ourselves up to the enjoyment of them without Fear or reserve. – Our passion for Knowledge was inordinate it [62] exceeded all Bounds and we impiously dared to pry into Mysteries we were commanded but to revere One of our Order, an Angel of haughty thoughts could not brook this Controul but would penetrate too near the Sacred Source and winged his presumptuous Course, even to the higher Sky which encircles the spirit of all. Nine times a Voice which resounded thro’ the Spheres commanded him to desist. Awed by the Sound he returned to our World and there by skilful persuasion wrought upon us to accompany him, animated our Curiosity and led us within the Space not lawful for us to enter. We heard the Sound again and ye dreadful repetition of the same command. – We shrunk back with amazement. – He animated us to advance again – ah would we had known how to resist! (Here the countenance of Moisasour was troubled and the glory that played round his head dimmed) but hurried by this fatal impulse we advanced and beheld with horror the Firmament change and opening display such an emmanation of insufferable brightness as struck us back blasted with astonishment! We were thus distractedly driven I know not for how long till we fell on the body of a cold dismal planet remote from any Sun. Here we lay whilst this sentence was denounced against us. – Wander for ages – and for your purification exist in the bodies of inferior Creatures. Pass from one State of Being to another by painful Deaths and after this Atonement; hope the return of happiness; for with infinite power exists infinite Mercy.»
From this moment we began our melancholy Course and found ourselves in an eccentric Planet that now shot along amidst Worlds and burning Stars flaming with Light and now retreated into Regions benumbed with Cold and wrapt in Darkness. – In our Wanderings amongst Systems of planets we wished to distinguish our former Habitation and were anxious to view what was once the Seat of our Happiness. At length a kind of instinct pointed it out; but how was it changed as well as ourselves. – Divested of all its Moons except one; no longer beaming with radiance; no longer [63] universally smooth and fertile. All its Cælestial bloom vanished. This Spectacle keenly reminded us of our lost state and it was then we experienced the most exquisite misery. – Whilst we fondly hung over our former abode, trying to discover its new Inhabitants we were suddenly born away from each other and all recollection obliterated. It was at this period we entered the Bodies of Mankind and lived in a state of probation under which we learnt that our World had known three different species of Inhabitants and as many Revolutions since that of which we had been the Cause. Our Destiny was hidden from each other and it was not till long after we discovered how frequently we had met in the Characters we were obliged to assume. What those were I must not disclose. – I see thou art impatient to hear the Fate of the Angel by whose persuasion we dared to disobey. – Tis of a Nature so tremendous – it would curdle thy Blood it would convulse every Nerve in thy frame it would fire thy brain with madness! …. Check then this rash Curiosity and rest happy in thy ignorance.» I acquiesced not without a certain heartfelt satisfaction and he proceeded. »After having indured innumerable trying vicissitudes I was born about three thousand Years ago in the person of the Bramin Padmani whose sanctity is still celebrated at the source of the Ganges. In those Countries I led a long life of two hundred Years a life of penitence and austerity tempered by chearful resignation I reached out health to the Sick and administred consolation to the afflicted. To those who besought instruction I imparted the Light of Truth and passed a long series of toilsome Years in diffusing the Wisdom of the Shasta thro mighty Nations who dwelt in intellectual Darkness. – When my Mortal Frame was almost exausted I retired to a sequestered Island near the issues of the sacred River and there waited with [64] a serenity I had never experienced since my fall the approach of that moment which was to Consign me to a new existance. Thus peaceably I drew to the verge of Dissolution the Ganges faded on my Sight its murmurs were heard no more. – This instant was darkness the next unutterable Light. I found myself traversing the still wilds of Æther clothed in all the splendor of my first Creation. My mind exulting in its original superiority and shall I ever forget that moment when the lives of ages shot like electric Fire into my Memory. A cælestial influence drove me again to the confines of our Planet and whilst I hovered above it a Command issued from the Throne of Power vesting me with its direction and at the same time declaring this my last Trial. Inspiration directed me to this Sanctuary and here I found an interior World of Beings waiting my domination.
- Reflect on that moment when you first saw the mouth of the Cavern which led to our World. Remember when your Ears were struck by a Melody announcing something more than Mortal. ‘Twas then you beheld Nouronihar and myself for the first time. Do you not recollect my discoursing much of the institutions of the Bramins, of their fathoming the depths of Nature and their meditations in hidden Sciences? Did you not imagine you saw me instructing Nouronihar as a Parent and what seemed more extraordinary amongst the Alps in the Character of a Bramin: nay you was convinced I existed, at those moments as one of that order. You saluted me under that appellation and indeed with reason; for I meant to wear the Bramins guise and to dissemble as much as possible the Superiority of my Nature, fearing that you might be overawed with its Majesty. Twas for that cause I divested myself of those beams which at present throw around my Form a supernatural splendor. Twas for that reason also [65] I talked with Nouronihar about the virtues of plants and Minerals, inlarged upon the subject of Pharmacy and told of the wonders wrought by holy Men whom long experience has endued with qualities above the ordinary reach of Humanity. I perceive you have not forgotten by what gradations I rose in your veneration how I alarmed your Curiosity and with what precaution I disclosed the dangers of Initiation; for I was tender of you and affectionately spared the weakness of your Nature; but still firmly adhered to the purpose of making you brave the obstacles which attended your entrance into these Regions. And now since you have confronted ye perils that menaced your progress and have submitted magnanimously to the conditions of initiation I will lead you to yonder Shrines that encircle the Central Fire and will disclose the Volumes they contain; for know whatever has passed since the Allseeing Power suspended this World in the Æther is written therein. Moisasour now advancing a few Steps before me drew towards a Shrine of strange mysterious Form and unimaginable brightness. He stopped suddenly like one entranced and elevating his Eye to the Zenith of the expanse, muttered something as in converse with superior Beings. He then raised his right hand high above his head and caught from some invisible delivery a wondrous Scepter flashing as he turned it with all the varied Rays of the Opal. With one end he struck the barrs of Gold encompassing the Shrine which instantly dropped to make him passage. Then moving onwards with the other he touched some secret Spring. Nine massive folds flew open in the quickest succession and discovered to my astonished Sight the Tables of Adamant, on which were graven in Letters of Light the eternal Records of Truth! Approach said Moisasour and read in the Language [66] of Intuition, ten sacred words expressing the essence and attributes of the Antient of Days. Behold there three single Signs couching all the Truths the Sages of your World have hitherto explored: the knowledge of six thousand Years. Placed just below them see three more containing all they shall ever possess. Tho small and scanty be the Sum think what painful Exertions it has cost them, what Labours! what struggles remain yet behind. – Moisasour next directed my eye to two lucid points, expressing beyond the possibility of Error the true Nature of Virtue and happiness. I demanded the Cause of a perpetual revolution which I observed one of them to make round the other as if by a sort of attraction resembling that of a Planet round its Central Star. This wondrous motion replied the Sage marks the eternal League subsisting betwixt Happiness and Virtue. – Turn now thine Eyes to yonder Table the Register of human Actions. It exhibits a Spectacle perhaps at once the most mortifying and the most astonishing a Mortal can behold. Yes I read already its effects strongly painted in every lineament of thy Visage. Thou shudderest to behold the strange contrast betwixt the records of this World and thy own. – Here stand the Heroes of Mankind their Kings the founders of their Empires whom fear and flattery have magnified into Gods, here they stand reduced to their own size and figure and brought below the level of Man; for here no Characters are blazoned in perfidious Colours, no Crimes extenuated, no Merit concealed: the best the greatest of them, the few whose hearts eer felt the Love of Truth retain not here one half of their historic Stature. Behold on another quarter what a numerous Tribe of philosophers without wisdom of learned Men without knowledge, of good ones without Virtue Tis too much ( ) I can bear no longer this mortifying Spectacle! what is it but the annihilation of all the dignity and worth of my Species! Moisasour seeing the emotion of despair with which I was [67] agitated turned my attention to another Table which was consecrated to very different Objects. Here were presented a List of Names unknown to Heraldry, of those who in the obscurer walks of Life had fulfilled every Duty of their condition and regardless of the Folly, the falsehood or perverseness of Men had persevered thro Life in the even course of Truth and Virtue. Here were Philosophers without the Name, men of profound Learning unmarked by honours or Distinction, of exalted probity uncelebrated till now by any Eulogy but that of their own conscience. This, said Moisasour is all thou art permitted to see and instantly he closed the Shrines. – But mark well added the Sage the true scope of thy initiation. Tis the Knowledge and Government of thyself. Let it sink deep into thy Spirit, Let it remain there indelibly fixed that ye Register of human actions, which thou hast seen, was not copied from Fame or Flattery or from the judgement which one Man passes on another; it is a rigid transcript of what every Man’s Conscience writes in the Register of his own heart. – Be wise. –
Being recovered from ye aweful silence in to which I was struck by the Majestic tone of Moisasour pronouncing these words, I expressed an earnest desire to be admitted to the sight of the other Shrines which yet remain unexplored. »Lead me (cried I) to another World of dangers; Let me be plunged anew into the terrors of Initiation if they do but lead to this last. Repress said Moisasour hastily so daring a curiosity. This last Initiation is Death!
I bowed low and when I raised my eyes from the Ground the whole Scene rolled away as it were by a spontaneous Motion and Moisasour stretching out his hand over me, I was wafted thro’ dark Caverns and boundless Grottos I could hardly distinguish till a chearful Light at a distance revived my Spirits & [68] seemed to promise the neighbourhood of some delightful Region, nor was I disappointed for I shortly emerged into a Plain edged by sloping declivities that lost themselves in a shining Sky thick set with beaming Meteors of a bright golden Lustre reflected in a variety of clear Streams that flowed thro the Meads below. All appeared to me a Heaven! so smiling a Prospect never before had offered itself to my view. Here were Flowers of every colour and Cristals of every hue mixed together and vying with one another in beauty and perfection. Here were Islands level with the Waters in some places green in others overspread with Moss or covered with delicate Corallines. Shoals of Fish glided between them whose scales dazzled the Sight and Birds of a singular and unknown shape, now skimmed along the surface of the Rivers, rose into the Air or fluttered amongst the Shrubs that flourished on the Hillocks around. – No craggy promontories, no bare Rocks were to be seen, not an object presented itself that could remind me of the Center of the Earth, nor indeed could I believe myself in such a situation. – I was almost tempted to imagine I had passed the last Initiation and was transported into those happy Countries, that are the promised Reward of our trials upon Earth. – And how could I think otherwise when the Air I breathed inspired me with such sensations as I had never experienced and when the melody of innumerable Birds mingled with the sound of Waterfalls that gently stole down the smooth Slopes filled me with pleasure and threw such new Life into every nerve that I enjoyed to the utmost of my wishes the Charms of these blooming plains. – The quickness of my Motion contributed greatly to the delight I felt from this animated Scene; for no sooner did my Eye fix on some new Island or Wilderness of Shrubs I had not observed before, than I cut across the Lawns and reached the spot almost as soon as my wishes. If I discovered some unknown Animal grazing afar off or some fair Bird, stalking [69] along the opposite banks of a distant Rivulet, in an instant I crossed the streams however numerous or intricate and satisfied my wishes as soon as I conceived them. – I know not how much time I passed in these enchanted wanderings nor how many moments I spent in plunging myself in the pure Waters and cropping the luxuriant Flowers that floated on the current of the Stream, nor can I tell what minutes glided away whilst I ascended the swelling Hills that encompassed the plain and tried to rise to where their brows blended with the Sky all I know is that I succeeded and found myself amongst shining Clouds, that eternally shifting, varied their hues at every instant and cast new tints upon the tops of the Groves below which shot up here and there between them and were loaded with a luscious Fruitage that fell with the quivering of every Breeze from their branches and were either caught by a sort of Zebras that brouzed on the eminences or were lost in the Vapours that concealed the stalks of the Plants that nourished them beneath. I was so charmed with the singularity of this Region, with the colours of the Sky, the beautiful Flies glancing in the beams and the Droves of Quadrupeds, that one minute stopped to graze in the Spots, illuminated by the brightest Light and ye next concealed themselves in the Clouds for ever fleeting before my Eyes, that I stopped my Course, which till then had never been delayed and sat down on the brink of an Hill, under the Covert of a waving Shrub, whose buds were just expanding to the genial Air, the plain being all extended at my feet. Here I gave a loose to Transport »And am I permitted to witness this Creation of which other Mortals are ignorant.» Whilst my heart leaped within me at these glorious thoughts, the Birds flew around me from every quarter and described a thousand circles above my head. Animals of innumerable Species advanced from under the neighbouring Clouds and seemed to issue from the Sky. In a short space of time the whole plain was in motion. – The Woods sent forth their Inhabitants who all pacing slowly up the acclivities shortly formed the most grand and surprizing Circle around me [70] that ever was beheld. Amongst the Croud, I distinguished some that, with the bulk of the Elephant, joined the form and elegance of the Deer, others that with the Spots of the Leopard blended the majesty of the Lion and promiscuously appeared enormous Reptiles that partook of the shape of the Alligator and who stretching forth their long Necks seemed to do me homage, behind these towered a Race of Ostriches and Camelopards (still more gigantic than those with which we are acquainted) and on every tree that lifted itself above the Vapours, clung variety of Apes who continued removing from branch to branch, weighed down the boughs and strewed the Ground with blossoms. I had not long gazed on this astonishing Spectacle when my attention was called off by another as extraordinary; for the Waters of a little Lake on the summit of one of the Hills grew agitated and shortly after a quantity of Tortoises rose slowly from its Surface and gaining the Bank, moved forwards by degrees to join the throng that encompassed me on every side. No sooner were they assembled than a multitude of Serpents & Snakes, whose Skins glistened with the most vivid colours, rolled themselves majestically along the Turf and twining their mazy folds, round the stems of Areca Trees that grew half way down the hills lifted up their stately Crests and fixed their brilliant Eyes on the Spot where I was seated. – Surely no Mortal ever found himself alive in such a situation; for my part I was divested of all sense of Fear and looked around me with a serene composure, but I was certainly inspired or else the Sight of such an assembly of formidable Beasts, nay the Novelty alone of finding them at once gathered together would have dismayed the boldest Spirit on the Surface of the Earth. What motive could have impelled them to quit their haunts? It could be no other than Curiosity to see a Being, whose forms they were unacquainted with and yet what instinct do they possess, that unanimously they should leave their pastures and advancing in so solemn a manner, place themselves around me in one vast body & with their Eyes, all directed to one point, wait without uttering a sound till I rose up to caress them. – As I lifted myself from the Ground to take a nearer survey of this marvellous Group, I could not help thinking my situation resembled that of the first Man, who according to ancient Tradition was once surrounded by such an Assembly, as silent as gentle, and as respectful as this which attended my [71] approach. – Never shall I forget these moments, when I walked on and passing along the Ranks, roved from one Knot to another till my admiration and perhaps their own was satisfied; but I cannot paint the variety of Species I saw. The idea croud too confusedly into my memory and I must abandon my description. To attempt it would be in vain for ye words of ten Languages could not express the properties and characteristic marks of each Creature. Let it suffice for me to assure you that they surpassed in comeliness all those which your World produces. – No sooner had I ceased examining than the Multitudes began to retire and in a few minutes dispersed all in the most profound Silence so that shortly I was left in entire solitude. The Clouds for some time screened the descending series from my sight; but they shortly appeared again at the feet of the Hills and soon after the deserted Lawns, the Groves, the Islands and the banks of the Rivers were once more enlivened by their Inhabitants and the Birds which before darkened the Meteors above my head were again seen, some on the margin of the Lake, others chasing one another in the Air and the most diminutive hanging in the tubes of the Flowers or playing amongst the aromatic Leaves of the Spice tree. – The Silence they had so long maintained was broken and the bleating of Herds at a distance, the song of Birds and ye voice of strange Animals sounded in every little Valley, which these eminences formed. – I found myself so elastic so free to range wherever my wild Inclinations prompted me with unrestrained facility; that this Circumstance above all others, conspired to fill me with joy and to breathe into my Soul raptures unfelt before. Now I looked above and let my Eyes, rove amongst the Meteors, that like Stars were scattered thro’ the Sky; now I inhaled the freshness of the breezes and now I descended into some of the most retired Valleys, discovered new plants and trees and gathered Fruits whose taste and form I was before ignorant of. Sometimes [72] I followed winding paths that brought me to little concealed Nooks where I found Nests of the most curious construction and often Honey of the most delicious flavour. Another time I would lay me down on the soft herbage by the brink of a bubbling Spring & muse on what Moisasour had discovered to me or else suffer myself to be lulled by its murmurs. – I wonder I was not afraid to give way to Sleep, lest I might awake in your corrupted World and find all this a dream; but every mistrust was vanished. Thus passed I know not how many hours steeped in delights my Breast was possessed with the most perfect Tranquility, I thought no more of past or future, I had almost forgotten that I had ever existed but in these Valleys. My Initiation the sublime Truths I had learned, Nouronihar and all the events that had befallen me were effaced from my memory, till once, as I strayed along the Hills, the vapours suddenly surrounded me and I wandered a long while, without meeting with any Shrub I had been accustomed to, or any living Creature in which I had used to delight. – The idea of Solitude rushed forcibly into my mind and I found in it something discordant to my Nature; this brought on the recollection of Beings, that resembled me in somethings & excelled me in most. I grew uneasy, my wonted vivacity began to desert me and sitting sadly on the Ground I lamented my Condition and cried aloud to Moisasour. But with what confidence (said I within myself) can I address him, whom I have so long neglected & to whom, untill now I have scarce dedicated a Thought! him! to whom I owe my happiness, my knowledge, my preservation! Ah Nouronihar Angel form! Whom in these moments, I recollect once to have been the object of my admiration shall I never more hear thy voice encouraged me to confront Danger and animating me in the pursuit of glory. – Shall I not listen to the history of thy wayward Fortunes and harken to the melody of thy Song! Have I seen thee but [73] to lament thy Loss? Must I waste my time in indolence and consume my hours in a languid repose. – Whilst I uttered these words, a Gust arose, which rent asunder the Clouds and discovered a different Scene, of a remote part of the same plain, characterized by every mark of grandeur; for an expanded Stream smoothly descending from the utmost height of the Horizon formed one of the barriers of this Vale of wonders. Above the falling waters hovered a brilliant Star and Rainbows without number reflected from its rays, arched their magnificent course below. – Amazement absorbed the melancholy into which the loss of Nouronihar had thrown my Mind for a short interval. – Ah (said I) why art thou not here to share my sensations and to prevent the return of those poignant feelings that are already resuming their influence Whilst I paced along in this situation of mind beginning to regard with indifference the most striking object in Nature, some lights which I perceived glancing at the bottom of the great fall attracted my observation. – Immediately I shot down the Hill, traversed a wide extended Lawn and arrived on the banks of a River (that flowed from the Fall) whose opposite Shore (at a great distance) was edged with a number of detached pointed Rocks, most of which bore tufts of Shrubs, covered with white blossoms that hung over the Water and scented the Air with a reviving fragrance. Behind these the Light I had descried from afar shone with great brilliancy. Being resolved to see what occasioned it and willing to divert the dejection of my Spirits by continually shifting the Scene, I flit across the waters, lighted on the rocky shore, which I ascended and pushing thro the thickets of Shrubs discovered in a recess formed by Craggs on one side and mossy Hillocks on the other, seven lucid Beings sitting on the turf and casting around them a multiplicity of Rays. In the midst of this splendid Group, appeared a lovely Figure leaning against a rocky Fragment that bulged out of the moss. I moved on and behold Nouronihar herself – Nouronihar whom I mourned as lost stood before me. Figure to yourself with what alacrity I flew towards her and regardless of the Beings that [74] surrounded me expressed in the wildest and most artless terms, the excessive joy I conceived at being once more restored to all I admired. The Indian lifted up her stately countenance, whose majesty however, was softened by a gentle Langour and casting on me her dark Eyes exclaimed »And art thou returned thou Wanderer? Ah Nouronihar (replied I scarce knowing what I said) forgive this neglect. pardon the hours I have spent in forgetfulness and in roving from Island to Island and from Hill to Hill with little more than sensation. – Where am I – relieve me from this uncertainty and let met not any more be hurried from thy Sight. – Have I not deserved this happiness by the dangers I have set at defiance Surely these last moments that have glided away like the Vision of the Night will not efface the memory of those in which I aspired to Initiation.» Nouronihar could not help smiling at my confusion and at the incoherent manner in which I addressed her, yet I thought I could discern she was not displeased. After a short silence she turned again towards me and with a look of commiseration clasping her hands together cried out »Another Hour and never wouldst thou have seen me more. – If thou hadst suffered any longer a voluptuous indolence to creep into thy veins, if regardless of his former goodness thou hadst allowed the memory of Moisasour to have been banished from thy Mind thou must have been snatched from these delicious Valleys and being cast into a deep sleep would have awakened in the upper World with the bitter recollection of thy lost happiness to prey upon thy mind and punish thy ingratitude such would have been thy melancholy fate if another hour had elapsed! These Beings were assembled to inspect thy Conduct and mark the moment to separate us for ever they were mourning with me thy frailty and Kelani the form that shines on my right hand was calming my inquietude by a relation of the lives of those Mortals over which he had presided he was describing the dangers they had undergone the temptations they resisted and exulting in their present felicity he assured too though wouldst rouze from this fascination and cease fluttering like those Insects from one Grove to another, the Beings disappeared whilst Nouronihar was speaking leaving behind them long tracks of Light which grew fainter and fainter as they entered some Caverns near the Rivers in whose [75] windings they shortly lost themselves. Nouronihar continued for some Moments the most delightful I ever passed describing with all the fire of Oriental imagination the pleasure she received from the noble prospect before her eyes she next led me to the edge of one of the great Rivers opposite the fall, pointed out to me a Labyrinth of Grottos hollowed in the Rocks that served as Bulwarks to the Descending floods, and bade me observe the rich beds of Coural they contained and ye endless variety of aquatic plants that bordered their entrance. She would not allow me to overlook the profusion of glowing Shells and amber that lay scattered upon the Sands and desired me to remark certain purple flowers of a gigantic Size which sprang out of the Crevices of the living Rock. I was charmed with her anxiety that prompted me to pry into all the marvels of the Scene and how was I transported to find a Mortal whose pleasures and fancy had so perfect a Conformity with my own. Think you see me standing with this sublime Indian on the borders of the River I have described – my eyes alternately wandering from her to the Grottos. Represent to yourself the fall of Water on which we gazed, vast, copious, smooth! Imagine you see its streams dividing at the Bottom, some to flow in Rivers thro the plain, others to enter the Grottos, to pour along the glistening minerals that pave these Caverns and rush down precipices whose depths are buried in utter darkness. Suppose you discover innumerable Rills oozing from those steeps that are softened by Moss, see them trickle down, loose themselves in the Sands bubble round the flowers or play with the Slender leaves of the aquatic Vegetation fancy you enjoy the Cool gales that blow from the Grotts refreshing the Warmth of the outward Air and bringing with them the leaves of flowers beautiful beyond Idea & that flourish only on inaccessible pinnacles of Spar that twinkle afar off in the Caves. Suppose yourself attempting to look into them and following and following with your eyes narrow Crannies which alone are trodden by amphibious Animals who brave the eddies which foam amongst the fissures. See! that Clump to which they lead and which appears all shining ore for at this instant a partial gleam of Light has discovered it to me. Is it not covered with their Eggs? But look all is darkness again and that spot is [76] unattainable. Imagine what must have been my delight (and I know you can conceive such things) Imagine I repeat what must have been my extasy to find myself with such a Companion in such a Scene; but I defy you to divine my sensations; they were too exquisite and of a nature so delicate that even if you yourself should comprehend them I should be surprized; but let me conclude you do and proceed with my relation. –
I have been telling how Nouronihar seemed interested in directing my notice to the Objects before us and what satisfaction she received from the transports I discovered at their Sight. After we had continued for some time mutually calling one another to observe whatever we fancied newly to have found out. I asked her from whence this vast Concourse of Waters proceeded. She answered you will scarcely suppose after recollecting your entrance into this World by a Cavern in the Alps, that you had journeyed so far as to be at present standing under that immense Reservoir from whence rise the Copious Springs that form the Sources of the Nile. Yes: do not wonder, you have left the subterraneous Valleys of Europe far behind and are at present treading those of Africa. Only remember the swiftness of your motion, the succession of spacious Vales and Grottos you have passed, with the amazing extent of the Sanctuary, you lately beheld and your astonishment will be justly suspended. Indeed (continued she sighing) if ever our Destiny obliges us to quit these peaceful Countries and revisit those Regions, that are enlightened by the Sun, what will be the amazement of Mortals when we relate our adventures! What will be their incredulity! I know not even whether we shall not ourselves catch their prejudices and fancy, if such folly & weakness exist in us, those glorious Meteors we behold this plain they enlighten with so much magnificence the beneficent Moisasour & all the Beings with whom we have conversed the Children of a fleeting Dream.» Her words affected me I seized her hand and folding it in mine, we seated ourselves on the turf and suffered a gentle melancholy to enter into our Souls, nor could we check some involuntary tears; for the idea of a moment when perhaps we might behold these Grottos [77] for the last time, presented itself to our imagination – Thus we remained in Silence, neither of us willing to change the tone of our minds or prevent the soft effusions of our Sorrows till at length Nouronihar arose and seemed desirous to recover from this languor. She led me about a furlong by the River side till we stopped exactly opposite another Range of Cliffs perforated like the former into variety of Grottos and resisting in the same manner the Current of the great Fall After we had gazed as usual on the varied splendors they disclosed, I turned towards the Indian and demanded why these Caves were desert when every other part of the Plain teemed with Life. They are by no means desolate accept at certain hours when their Inhabitants leave them to seek their pasture in the Islands you have observed whose Shores are crouded with herbs in which they particularly delight but lisen to that strange Murmur near the Summit of the Fall! Hark! what a bellowing! the sound increases» I looked up whilst she was speaking and beheld something clouded the Streams, that were flowing over the highest declivities with unusual agitation. In an Instant, shoals of monstrous fish tumbled impetuously down the Steeps diving into the Rivers below, disappeared almost as soon as I caught sight of them. These were immediately succeeded by a brood of uncouth Creatures, in likeness to young Elephants with the addition of fins, after these ye Tide rolled headlong down a motley Collection of Animals with with loud roarings sought the interior of the Caverns and precipitated themselves with the Streams that poured tumultuously [78] into the fissures. – No sooner were they dispersed than the Waters grew calm and descended with their usual smoothness. – Then followed a very charming Spectacle for under the clear Waves appeared many shapely Animals sliding glibly down and hastening to take possession of those banks, where the Rainbows shone brightest. At the same time I remarked many flying Fish whose transparent wings were tinged with Silver darting before the entrance of the Grots and fluttering round the plants beneath. Now every Stream that fell from above brought with it new multitudes to feed on the plenty of the plain below and shortly after scarce a Shell on the beach or a crevice in ye Rocks, but swarmed with them. Every Cove echoed with their Noise and every hollow Cavern reverberated a Confusion of Sounds. We now distinguished on the Brink of distant fissures, Crocodiles, whose Eyes glared horribly and whose Scales reflecting every feeble Ray of Light, quivered thro’ the gloom of their recluse Abodes and had not Nouronihar regarded them with pleasure rather than fear, I should have been dismayed. She perceived I was uncertain how to look upon them and bade me contemplate them with indifference as no Animal, however terrible in mein, dared attack those protected by Moisasour; but added she my eyes never beheld such numbers before, descending with the floods and I believe they prognosticate the Season of Showers to be drawing near Kelani has informed me that the arrival of such uncommon Shoals denotes the approach of a period when the Meteors will be obscured and the plain deluged with rains. Then strange Monsters will range the Valleys and others will issue from the Gulphs and even from the great Deep too horrible for mortal View. Let us retire then least we should endure this inclement [79] Season and witness such ugly Sights. Let us seek some sequestered Cave, remote from these peopled Grottos and I will recount the tale of my misfortunes and disclose the Secret of my birth. Come let us ascend yonder Steps in the Rock and I will shew the a Grotto hollowed by the Dwarfs some ages ago at the desire of one of the Magi, a revered Sage, whose wisdom entitled him to that initiation thy courage has obtained; but he entered not the Sanctuary nor beheld the Shrines for his heart sunk at the horrors of the Whirlpool & fainted when he saw the phantoms that hover in ye Cavern of Fires, however Moisasour touched with his Skill in Sciences and the purity of his Life, transported him to this Valley and permitted him to converse with the Beings thou hast seen. – These gentle Spirits tended him with affection and conducted him to all the Grottos we behold, shewed him the pleasant Islands and discovered the most delightful Spots they contain and tho’ he had not surmounted all the perils of Initiation they communicated to him the swiftness of their motion and some of the secrets of their Race. Here then he spent his Days in tranquility & before his Soul deserted its human frame, composed many excellent works, which our Beings still meditate with satisfaction; but he never returned to communicate to Mortals the wonders he had seen. – But let us away and reach this Solitude before the Storms descend. Look! the transparence of the Atmosphere begins to be tarnished and the Birds discontinue their Song. – Nouronihar and myself glided away and in a moment reached the Steps that were shaped curiously in the rock. After we had ascended [80] several hundred we found a narrow Path which led thro a thicket of Shrubs towards a green Platform covered with plants bearing a red Fruit, formed not unlike a Pomgranate. We stopped a moment to gather some and then Nouronihar shewed me a wide fissure in the Rock thro’ which she passed and beckoned me to follow her. No sooner were we on the other side than she bade me pursue her steps thro all the mazes of a Wood which covered the sides of dangerous precipices and after conducting me over ledges of rude Marble that lay in our way, she wound her course towards a Promontory which bulged over our heads and ascending by some projections of the Rock, which had escaped my observation arrived at its Summit. I followed immediately after and attained the Spot where she stood. It was wide, fertile and covered with a prodigality of herbs which as I trod on them sent forth an odour which perfumed the Air. On the right of this level space grew several Cocoa Trees of a surprizing height and near them flourished a Grove of palms resembling the Talipot of Ceylon. A ridge of perpendicular Cliffs rose in front, totally overspread by creeping plants, forming a mantle of a thousand hues infinitely superior to the finest Tapestry human ingenuity ever produced. Here were innumerable varieties unknown to our Botanists and blooming with Flowers of which they can conceive no idea. There might however be traced some small resemblance between the Cereus and many of those that twined round these Rocks and I think I may venture to pronounce them originally of the same Species. These were mixed with an infinity of other sorts which interlacing their tender ligaments supported an incredible quantity of Nests [81] sheltered by their blossoms and firmly secured by the Spines to which they adhered. The Birds were all hushed when we arrived and the Animals were seeking a retreat as they seemed like ourselves under some presentiment of the approaching Storms. A herd of Leopards had just retired into their Dens and the Deer were bounding over the platform, we had left far below in search of a secure hiding place, when I said to Nouronihar »See how these Animals are provident of Security. Look how they hasten to their concealments. Does not an universal Stillness prevail in the Groves, what do we hear; but the sound of feet lightly scudding along the Lawns and the rustling of others in the Forests? Have not the Insects hid themselves in the bloom of this herbage and why do not we also desert the open Air and hurry towards the Grotto thou hast promised to discover to me» The Indian made no reply, but smiling on me began to move along by the Cliffs and putting aside the luxuriant tufts of Woodbines and Convolvulus that obstructed her passage disclosed the arched entrance of a Cave. It was total darkness within and the gurgling of a Fountain was faintly echoed by its arches. – Nouronihar still holding up the tendrils of the plants that dangled in the way called me to enter and instantly I threw myself into the Cavern and was just beginning to speak when she interrupted me by saying »and wouldst thou inconsiderately plunge [82] into these Shades rashly forgetting we have no fruits on which to subsist or Light to dispel the horror of this gloom – Yet with thee Nouronihar I should be too happy even in…. Banish such extravagance and let me call the Dwarfs, Moisasour has commanded to obey me. They will instantly minister to our necessities and before a minute has passed rob the Trees of their Treasures and lay them at our feet. – So saying she lifted up her Voice and exclaimed Kerin-aina! Kerin-aina and before she repeated these Words a third time twenty Dwarfs, like those I have described appeared suddenly on the shagged Summits of the Cliffs and answered Nouronihar with a small shrill cry. Upon her waving her hand they cast themselves with a surprizing Leap on the branches of one of the tallest Cocoa Trees and all together embracing the Trunk slid down with inconceivable Facility and presented themselves in a body before me Nouronihar looking on the diminutive Group that were standing with their Arms folded in a posture of humiliation, pointed to the Meteors that were fading away to the lowering Sky, to the Woods and to the Cavern. – No sooner had she made these Signs, than the dwarfs disappeared each by a different way; but shortly they were seen again running along the tops of trees swifter than my Eye could follow them, now collecting Fruit or Flowers and now returning from their expedition loaded with provisions. [83] One bore a Cluster of Cocoa nuts, another huge bundles of various Fruits, a third hastened to the Cavern with branches of aromatic Shrubs and a fourth issued from a Crevice in the Rocks with his hands full of something that cast round it a vivid Light. Now I distinguished a crackling like that of a fire in the Cavern and saw something like Tapers pass to and fro amongst its Shades. Next I heard a noise like the cleaving of Wood and then I listened to the Sound of a huge Stone rolling down a precipice. Presently I heard a murmur in the Grove and immediately after ten other Dwarfs came from behind a Thicket rolling a Stone of so considerable a Size that I am certain twelve Mortals could not have moved it from its place and yet these Creatures put it in Motion with the greatest ease and brought it near the Cavern’s Mouth without hardly any effort. After they had laid down the fragment, the Cavern was filled with a buzzy hum that grew louder and louder till Nouronihar advancing to its entrance said something that made it cease and speedily all the Dwarfs within came out and sought once more, the Peaks from whence they had descended. The ten only remained who had brought the Stone and these retiring respectfully behind the Mass left the open space before the Grotto free. My Indian now presented me her hand and said as she was leading me to the Grotto, »At length we will retire and shelter ourselves in the Abode prepared for our reception. Mark what a Change has been wrought [84] by the Dwarfs. Observe the effects of their Industry. Nouronihar quitted my hand to examine if everything was rightly ordered whilst I was lost in admiration of the alteration that had taken place. Instead of a rugged Cavern covered with Sand and buried in darkness, I beheld a spacious vaulted apartment, hewn in a Rock of yellow Jasper and illuminated by a number of cristal Lamps that hung from the Roof and reflected a sort of Evening Light owing probably to the glowing colour of the sides of the Cavern. At one end a wide Arch discovered an interior Grot of a circular Form, in the midst of which appeared a huge Coffer of some precious wood and round it burnt a row of Tapers of the purest white that diffused an agreeable odour thro’ out all the Cavern. The pavement was intirely covered with Mats of the nicest Workmanship on which some skilful Artist had imitated Fruits and flowers with so much Success that at first sight they could not be distinguished from bunches of real ones, that the Dwarfs had scattered promiscuously about both apartments. A pile of aromatic Wood, neatly cleft was placed by the side of a chearful Fire, fed with the same fewel, and three large baskets heaped with Cocoa Nuts and all the variety of Fruits the Valleys produced stood on the other side. The Fountain I had heard in the Dark trickled from a Nook in the interior Grot and was received in a Cavity on the brink of which were placed a variety of clear crystal Vases some empty others filled with Cinnamon and wild Roses in full bloom. I was admiring the chearful Air of the Cave, the gay appearance of the flowers mixed with the Vases the Lamps and [85] the Tapers when a furious Blast, that had nearly extinguished the Lights called my Attention to the entrance. The Valley was no longer discernable. A thick darkness universally prevailed. Gusts of Wind swept along the Woods, whistled in the clefts of the Rocks and rustled amongst the leaves of the tall Cocoa Trees. Shortly after the Storm began to rattle amongst the Shrubs that covered the Cliffs and the Rain descended with such violence that I hastened to Nouronihar who was separating the different Fruits and said to her »Let me pile up those Branches against the Cavern’s Mouth least the Storm invade our Retirement and injure all the Labours of the Dwarfs. There is no need answered the Indian, as the Dwarfs themselves will provide a remedy. For what purpose was the huge Stone rolled from the Cliffs but to fill the entrance to the Grot and defend us from the Storms; but hark they are rolling it along. In reality the Dwarfs who had retired behind the Stone were actually moving it towards the Grot and before I could reply to Nouronihar had placed it at the entrance so as entirely to close the Aperture. Scarcely was it fixed when the roaring of the Storm grew fainter and fainter. Nothing could be heard but a still Shower. This Tranquility was but of a short continuance for we were soon alarmed by hideous howlings and Screams such as never before had reached my Ears. What in any other Situation would have [86] filled me with apprehensions here conspired to compleat my felicity. I found myself in a fair apartment strangely characterized in all its Circumstances exhibiting all the plenty I could desire and in the interesting Society of the very Person in whom I chiefly delighted. What cared I then for the havock that reigned without, whilst I possessed such Treasures within and those with such perfect Security; for such was the solidity of the fragment that defended the Entrance of a Grot that a Deluge could hardly have injured it. I seemed ready in these moments to spend all my Days within the narrow Limits of this Grotto and my heart was so overjoyed that with eyes o’erflowing with Pleasure I turned to the Indian and exclaimed No – my fondest wishes never rose to such a measure of Happiness! Am I then at length free to deliver myself up solely to thy converse, to listen but to thee to regard with thee the same objects, to tread the same pavement and to share with thyself the security of this happy Cavern. Let Storms rage in the plains, let Torrents roll away the Islands, let Monsters of the great Deep fill the Valley with their Cries! With whom do I exist but with thee and for whom or for what should I mourn? – What can affect us! were that arched Roof to fall on our heads should we not die the same Death and perhaps wander together thro’ other Worlds and admire their prodigies as we have delighted in those of the Plain beneath. Let us then abandon ourselves to our exultations and whilst we quaff the juice of the Cocoa listen to the Tempests and recount those we have passed. – Nouronihar heard my words with reciprocal delight [87] Her dark Eyes sparkled with pleasure: she tripped lightly over the Pavement and snatching a Lute which hung on a branch of Crystal answered me with a Melody inspiring heroic Ideas and calming the more ignoble transports of the Mind. One moment her fingers running rapidly over the strings, awoke the most animating tones. Another Moment they scarcely were seen to move; for bowing over her Lute she seemed to pour forth her whole Soul in melancholy measures that stole into my heart filling it with a delightful sadness. As soon as she saw me dissolved into Softness she breathed a Strain of Fire which wrapt me into such enthusiastic extacies that I seemed to behold the Spirits of the Stars of which she sung, for her Song was of distant Worlds. At length consumed with the fervour of her Sensations she languidly sunk on the Carpet of Flowers and reclining upon me fell into a gentle repose Notwithstanding the profound Silence I observed and the care I took not to disturb her Slumbers she soon awoke and desired me to reach the Baskets and the Cristal Vases. They were placed before her and we refreshed ourselves with the Milk of Cocoas and the juices of a thousand fruits. Our Banquet ended, Nouronihar ran into the interior Grot and opening the Coffer returned with two large Volumes covered with mystic writings which she laid before me and seating herself by them began to explain their Contents. – –


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