Page images
PDF
EPUB

Allegory IV.-The Strait Gate, and the Broad Way

Now I had another vision of what was passing in the Valley of Tears. Methought I saw again the same kind of travellers whom I had seen in the former part, and they were wandering at large through the same vast wilderness. At first setting out on his journey, each traveller had a lamp so fixed in his bosom, that it seemed to make a part of himself, but as this natural light did not prove to be sufficient to direct them in the right way, the king of the country, in pity to their wanderings and their blindness, out of his gracious condescension, promised to give these poor way-faring people an additional supply of light from his own Royal Treasury. But as he did not choose to lavish his favors where there seemed no disposition to receive them, he would not bestow any of his oil on such as did not think it worth asking for. Ask and ye shall have, was the rule he laid down for them. Many were prevented from asking through pride, for they thought they had light enough already, preferring the feeble glimmerings of their own lamp to all the light in the king's treasury. Yet it was observed of those who rejected it, as thinking they had enough, that hardly any acted up to what even their own light showed them. Others were deterred from asking, because they were told that it not only pointed out the dangers and difficulties of the road, but by a certain reflecting power, it turned inward on themselves, and revealed to them ugly sights in their own hearts, to which they rather chose to be blind; for those travellers chose darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. Now it was remarkable that these

two properties were inseparable, and that the lamp would be of little outward use, except to those who used it as an internal reflector. A threat and a promise also never failed to accompany the offer of this light from the king, a promise that to those who improved what they had, more should be given, and a threat, that from those who did not use it wisely, should be taken away even what they had.

I observed that when the road was very dangerous, when terrors and difficulties and death beset the faithful travellers, then on their fervent importunity, the king voluntarily gave large and bountiful supplies of light, such as in common seasons never could have been expected; always proportioning the quantity given to the necessity of the case ; as their day was, such was their light and strength.

Though many chose to depend entirely on their own lamp, yet it was obser ved that this light was apt to go out if left to itself. It was easily blown out by those violent gusts which were perpetually howling through the wilderness, and indeed it was the natural tendency of that unwholsome atmosphere to extinguish it, just as you have seen a candle go out when exposed to the vapours and foul air of a damp room. It was a melancholy sight to see multitudes of travellers heedlessly pacing on, boasting that they had light enough, and despising the offer of more. But what astonished me most of all was, to see many, and some of them too, accounted men of first rate wit, actually busy in blowing out their own light, because, while any spark of it remained, it only served to torment them, and point out things which they did not wish to see. And having once blown out their own light, they were not easy till they had blown out that of their neighbor's also; so that a good part of the wilderness seemed to exhibit a sort of universal blindman's buff, each endeavoring to catch his neighbor, while his own voluntary blindness exposed him to be caught himself, so that each was actually falling into the snare he was laying for another, till at length, as selfishness is the natural consequence of blindness, “catch he that catch can,” became the general cry throughout the wilderness.

Now I saw in my vision that there were some others who were busy in strewing the most gaudy flowers over the numerous bogs, precipices, and pitfalls, with which the wilderness abounded, and thus making danger and death look so gay, that poor thoughtless creatures seemed to delight in their own destruction. Those pit-falls did not appear deep or dangerous, because over them were raised gay edifices with alluring names, in which were singing men and singing women, and dancing, and feasting, and gambling, and drinking, and jollity, and mad

But though the scenery was gay, the footing was unsound. The floors were full of holes, through which the unthinking merry-makers were continually sinking. Some tumbled through in the middle of a song, many at the end of a feast, and though there was many a cup of intoxication wreathed with flowers, yet there was always poison at the bottom. But what most surprised me was, that though no day passed over their heads in which some of those merry-makers did not drop through, yet their loss made little impression on those who were left. Nay, instead of being awakened to more circumspection and self-denial, by the continual dropping off of those about them, several of them seemed to borrow from thence an argument of a direct contrary tendency,

ness.

and the very shortness of the time was only urged as a reason to use it more sedulously for indulgence in sensual delights. Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die. Let us crown ourselves with rosebuds before they are withered. With these, and a thousand other such little mottos, the gay garlands of the wilderness were decorated. Some admired poets were set to work to put the most corrupt sentiments into the most harmonious tunes; these were sung without scruple, chiefly, indeed, by the looser sons of riot, but not seldom also by the more orderly daughters of sobriety, who were not ashamed to sing to the sound of instruments, sentiments so corrupt and immoral, that they would have blushed to speak or read them; but the music seemed to sanctify the corruption, especially such as was connected with love or drinking.

Now I observed that all the travellers who had so much as a spark of light left, seemed every now and then, as they moved onwards, to cast an eye, though with very different degrees of attention, towards the happy land, which they were told lay at the end of their journey; but as they could not see very far forward, and as they knew there was a dark and shadowy valley which must needs be crossed before they could attain to the happy land, they tried to turn their attention from it as much as they could. The truth is, they were not sufficiently apt to consult a map which the king had given them, and which pointed out the road to the happy land so clearly, that the way-faring men, though simple, could not crr.

This map also defined very correctly the boundaries of the happy land from the land of misery, both of which lay on the other side of the dark and shadowy valley; but so many beacons and light-houses

were erected, so many clear and explicit directions furnished for avoiding the one country, and attaining the other, that it was not the king's fault, if even one single traveller got wrong. But I am inclined to think, that in spite of the map, and the king's word, and his offers of assistance to get them thither, the travellers in general did not heartily and truly believe after all, that there was any such country as the happy land; or at least, the paltry and transient pleasures of the wilderness so besotted them, the thoughts of the dark and shadowy valley so frightened them, that they thought they should be more comfortable by banishing all thought and fore

cast.

Now I also saw in my dream, that there were two roads through the wilderness, one of which every traveller must needs take. The first was narrow and difficult, and rough, but it was infallibly safe. It did not admit the traveller to stray either to the right hand or the left, yet it was far from being destitute of real comforts or sober pleasures. The other was a broad and tempting way, abounding with luxurious fruits and gaudy flowers to tempt the eye, and please the appetite. To forget this dark valley, through which every traveller was well assured he must one day pass, seemed indeed the object of general desire. To this grand end, all that human ingenuity could invent, was industriously set to work The travellers read, and they wrote, and they painted, and they sung, and they danced, and they drank as they went along, not so much because they all cared for these things, or had any real joy in them, as because this restless activity served to divert their attention from ever being fixed on the dark and shadowy valley.

« PreviousContinue »