THE CELESTIAL RAILROAD
BY NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE.
(Concluded, Part 2)
AT the end of the valley, as John Bunyan mentions, is a cavern, where, in his days, dwelt two cruel giants, Pope and Pagan, who had strewn the ground about their residence with the bones of slaughtered pilgrims. These vile
old troglodytes are no longer there; but into their deserted cave another terrible giant has thrust himself, and makes it his business to seize upon honest travelers, and fat them for his table with plentiful meals of smoke,
mist, moonshine, raw potatoes, and saw dust. He is a German by birth, and is called Giant Transcendentalist; but as to his form, his features, his substance, and his nature generally, it is the chief peculiarity of this
huge miscreant, that neither he for himself, nor anybody for him, has ever been able to describe them. As we rushed by the cavern's mouth, we caught a hasty glimpse of him, looking somewhat like an ill-proportioned
figure, but considerably more like a heap of fog and duskiness. He shouted after us, but in so strange a phraseology, that we knew not what he meant, nor whether to be encouraged or affrighted.
It was late in the
day, when the train thundered into the ancient city of Vanity, where Vanity Fair is still at the height of prosperity, and exhibits an epitome of whatever is brilliant, gay, fascinating beneath the sun.
As I purposed to make a considerable stay here, it gratified me to learn that there is no longer the want of harmony between the towns-people and pilgrims, which impelled the former to such lamentable mistaken measures as the persecution of Christian, and the fiery martyrdom of Faithful. On the contrary, as the new railroad brings with it great trade and a constant influx of strangers, the lord of Vanity Fair is its chief patron, and the capitalists of the city are among the largest stockholders. Many passengers stop to take their pleasure or make their profit in the Fair, instead of going onward to the Celestial City. Indeed, such are the charms of the place, that people often affirm it to be the true and only heaven; stoutly contending that there is no other, that those who seek further are mere dreamers, and that, if the fabled brightness of the Celestial City lay but a bare mile beyond the gates of Vanity, they would not be fools enough to go thither. Without subscribing to these, perhaps exaggerated encomiums, I can truly say, that my abode in the city was mainly agreeable, and my intercourse with the inhabitants productive of much amusement and instruction.
Being naturally of a serious turn, my attention was directed to the solid advantages derivable from a residence here, rather than to the effervescent pleasures, which are the grand objects with too many visitants.
The Christian reader, if he have had no accounts of the city later than Bunyan's time, will be surprised to hear that almost every street has its church, and that the reverend clergy are nowhere held in higher respect than at
Vanity Fair. And well do they deserve such honorable estimation; for the maxims of wisdom and virtue which fall from their lips, come from as deep a spiritual source, and tend to as lofty a religious aim, as those of the
sagest philosophers of old. In justification of this high praise, I need only mention the names of the Rev. Mr. Shallow-deep; the Rev. Mr. Stumble-at-Truth; that fine old clerical character, the Rev. Mr. This-to-day, who
expects shortly to resign his pulpit to the Rev. Mr. That-to-morrow; together with the Rev. Mr. Bewilderment; the Rev. Mr. Clog-the-spirit; and, last and greatest, the Rev. Dr. Wind-of-doctrine.
The labors of these eminent divines are aided by those of innumerable lecturers, who diffuse such a various profundity, in all subjects of human or celestial science, that any man may acquire an omnigenous erudition, without the trouble of even learning to read. Thus literature is etherealized by assuming for its medium the human voice; and knowledge, depositing all its heavier particles - except, doubtless, its gold - becomes exhaled into a sound, which forthwith steals into the ever-open ear of the community.
These ingenious methods constitute a sort of machinery, by which thought and study are done to every person's hand, without his putting himself to the slightest inconvenience in the matter.
There is another species of machine for the wholesale manufacture of individual morality. This excellent result is effected by societies for all manner of virtuous purposes; with which a man has merely to connect himself, throwing, as it were, his quota of virtue into the common stock; and the president and directors will take care that the aggregate amount be well applied. All these, and other wonderful improvements in ethics, religion, and literature, being made plain to my comprehension by the ingenious Mr. Smooth-it-away, inspired me with a vast admiration of Vanity Fair.
It would fill a volume, in an age of pamphlets, were I to record all my observations in this great capital of human business and pleasure. There was an unlimited range of society - the powerful, the wise, the
witty, and the famous in every walk of life - princes, presidents, poets, generals, artists, actors, and philanthropists, all making their own market at the Fair, and deeming no price too exorbitant for such commodities as hit
their fancy. It is well worth one's while, even if he had no idea of buying or selling, to loiter through the bazaars, and observe the various sorts of traffic that were going forward.
Some of the purchasers, I
thought, made very foolish bargains.
For instance, a young man, having inherited a splendid fortune, laid out a considerable portion of it in the purchase of diseases, and finally spent all the rest for a heavy lot of repentance and a suit of rage. There was a sort of stock or scrip, called Conscience, which seemed to be in great demand, and would purchase almost anything. Indeed, few rich commodities were to be obtained without paying a heavy sum in this particular stock, as a man's business was seldom very lucrative unless he knew precisely when and how to throw his hoard of Conscience into the market. Yet as this stock was the only thing of permanent value, whoever parted with it was sure to find himself a loser, in the long run. Thousands sold their happiness for a whim. Gilded chains were in great demand, and purchased with almost any sacrifice. In truth, those who desired, according to the old adage, to sell anything valuable for a song, might find customers all over the Fair; and there were innumerable messes of pottage, piping hot, for such as chose to buy them with their birth-rights. A few articles, however, could not be found genuine at Vanity Fair. If a customer wished to renew his stock of youth, the dealers offered him a set of false teeth and an auburn wig; if he demanded peace of mind, they recommended opium or a brandy bottle.
Tracts of land and golden mansions, situate in the Celestial City, were often exchanged, at very disadvantageous rates, for a few years' lease of small, dismal, inconvenient tenements in Vanity Fair.
day, as I walked the streets of Vanity, my manners and deportment became more and more like those of the inhabitants. The place began to seem like home; the idea of pursuing my travels to the Celestial City was almost
obliterated from my mind.
I was reminded of it, however, by the sight of the same pair of simple pilgrims at whom we had laughed so heartily, when Appolyon puffed smoke and steam into their faces, at the commencement of our journey. There they stood amid the densest bustle of Vanity - the dealers offering them their purple, and fine linen, and jewels; the men of wit and humor gibing at them; a pair of buxom ladies ogling them askance; while the benevolent Mr. Smooth-it-away whispered some of his wisdom at their elbows, and pointed to a newly-erected temple - but there were these worthy simpletons, making the scene look wild and monstrous, merely by their sturdy repudiation of all part in its business or pleasures.
One of them - his name was Stick-to-the-right - perceived in my face, I suppose, a species of sympathy and almost admiration, which to my own great surprise, I could not help feeling for this pragmatic couple. It
prompted him to address me.
"Sir," inquired he, with a sad, yet mild and kindly voice, "do you call yourself a pilgrim?"
"Yes," I replied, "my right to that appellation is
indubitable. I am merely a sojourner here in Vanity Fair, being bound to the Celestial City by the new railroad."
"Alas, friend," rejoined Mr. Stick-to-the-right, "I do assure you, and beseech
you to receive the truth of my words, that that whole concern is a bubble. You may travel on it all your life time, were you to live thousands of years, and yet never get beyond the limits of Vanity Fair!
Yea; though you should deem yourself entering the gates of the Blessed City, it will be nothing but a miserable delusion."
"The Lord of the Celestial City," began the other pilgrim, whose name was Mr.
Go-the-old-way, "has refused, and will ever refuse, to grant an act of incorporation for this railroad; and unless that be obtained, no passenger can ever hope to enter his dominions. Wherefore, every man who buys a
ticket, must lay his account with losing the purchase money - which is the value of his own soul."
"Poh, nonsense!" said Mr. Smooth-it-away, taking my arm and leading me off, "these fellows ought to
be indicted for a libel. If the law stood as it once did in Vanity Fair, we should see them grinning through the iron bars of the prison window."
This incident made a considerable impression on my mind, and
contributed with other circumstances to indispose me to a permanent residence in the city of Vanity; although, of course, I was not simple enough to give up my original plan of gliding along easily and commodiously by
railroad. Still I grew anxious to be gone. There was one strange thing that troubled me; amid the occupations or amusements of the Fair, nothing was more common than for a person - whether at a feast, theatre, or
church, or trafficking for wealth and honors, or whatever he might be doing, and however unseasonable the interruption - suddenly to vanish like a soap-bubble, and be never more seen of his fellows; and so accustomed were the
latter to such little accidents, that they went on with their business, as quietly as if nothing had happened. But it was otherwise with me.
Finally, after a pretty long residence at the Fair, I resumed my journey
towards the Celestial City, still with Mr. Smooth-it-away at my side. At a short distance beyond the suburbs of Vanity, we pass the ancient silver-mine, of which Demas was the first discoverer, and which is now wrought to
great advantage, supplying nearly all the coined currency of the world. A little farther on was the spot where Lot's wife had stood for ages, under the semblance of a pillar of salt.
Curious travelers have carried it away piecemeal. Had all regrets been punished as rigorously as this poor dame's were, my yearning for the relinquished delights of Vanity Fair might have produced a similar change in my own corporeal substance, and left me a warning to future pilgrims.
The next remarkable object was a large edifice, constructed of moss grown stone, but in a modern and airy style of architecture. The engine came to a pause in its vicinity with the usual tremendous shriek.
"This was formerly the castle of the redoubted giant Despair," observed Mr. Smooth-it-away; "but, since his death, Mr. Flimsy-faith has repaired it, and now keeps an excellent house of entertainment here.
It is one of our stopping places."
"It seems but slightly put together," remarked I, looking at the frail, yet ponderous walls.
"I do not envy Mr. Flimsy-Faith his habitation. Some day it will thunder down upon the heads of the occupants."
"We shall escape, at all events," said Mr. Smooth-it-away; for Appolyon is
putting on the steam again."
The road now plunged into a gorge of the Delectable Mountains, and traversed the field where, in former ages, the blind men wandered and stumbled among the tombs. One of these
ancient tomb-stones had been thrust across the track, by some malicious person, and gave the train of cars a terrible jolt.
Far up the rugged side of a mountain, I perceived a rusty iron door, half overgrown with bushes and creeping plants, but with smoke issuing from its crevices.
"Is that," inquired I, "the very door in the
hillside, which the shepherds assured Christian was a by-way to Hell?"
"That was a joke on the part of the shepherds," said Mr. Smooth-it-away, with a smile.
"It is neither more or less than the door of a cavern, which they use as a smoke-house for the preparation of mutton hams."
My recollections of the journey are now, for a little space, dim and confused,
inasmuch as a singular drowsiness here overcame me, owing to the fact that we were passing over the enchanted ground, the air of which encourages a disposition to sleep. I awoke, however, as soon as we crossed the borders
of the pleasant land of Beulah. All the passengers were rubbing their eyes, comparing watches, and congratulating one another on the prospect of arriving so seasonably at the journey's end.
The sweet breezes of this happy clime came refreshingly to our nostrils; we beheld the glimmering gush of silver fountains, overhung by trees of beautiful foliage and delicious fruit, which were propagated by grafts from the celestial gardens. Once, as we dashed on like a hurricane, there was a flutter of wings, and the bright appearance of an angel in the air, speeding forth on some heavenly mission. The engine now announced the close vicinity of the final Station House, by one last and horrible scream, in which there seemed to be distinguishable every kind of wailing and wo, and bitter fierceness and wrath, all mixed up with the wild laughter of a devil or a mad-man. Throughout our journey, at every stopping-place, Apollyon had exercised his ingenuity in screwing the most abominable sounds out of the whistle of the steam-engine; but, in this closing effort he outdid himself, and created an infernal uproar, which, besides disturbing the peaceful inhabitants of Beulah, must have sent its discord even through the celestial gates.
While the horrid clamor was still ringing in our ears, we heard an exulting strain, as if a thousand instruments of music, with height, and depth, and sweetness, in their tones, at once tender and triumphant, were
struck in unison, to greet the approach of some illustrious hero, who had fought the good fight and won a glorious victory, and was come to lay aside his battered arms forever. Looking to ascertain what might be the
occasion of this glad harmony, I perceived, on alighting from the cars, that a multitude of shining ones had assembled on the other side of the river, to welcome two poor pilgrims, who were just emerging from its depths.
They were the same whom Apollyon and ourselves had persecuted with taunts and gibes, and scalding steam, at the commencement of our journey - the same whose unworldly aspect and impressive words had stirred my conscience, amid the wild revellers of Vanity Fair.
"How amazingly well those men have got on!" cried I to Mr. Smooth-it-away. "I wish we were secure of as good a reception."
"Never fear - never fear!" answered my friend.
"Come - make haste; the ferry-boat will be off directly; and in three minutes you will be on the other side of the river. No doubt you will find coaches to carry you up to the city gates."
A steam ferry-boat,
the last improvement on this important route, lay at the river side, puffing, snorting, and emitting all those other disagreeable utterances, which betoken the departure to be immediate.
I hurried on board with the rest of the passengers, most of whom were in great perturbation; some bawling out for their baggage; some tearing their hair and exclaiming that the boat would explode or sink; some already pale with the heaving of the stream; some gazing affrighted at the ugly aspect of the steersman; and some still dizzy with the slumberous influences of the Enchanted Ground. Looking back to the shore, I was amazed to discern Mr. Smooth-it-away waving his hand in token of farewell!
"Don't you go over to the Celestial City?" exclaimed I.
"Oh, no!" answered he, with a queer smile, and that same disagreeable contortion of visage which I had remarked in the inhabitants of
the Dark Valley. "Oh, no! I have come thus far only for the sake of your pleasant company. Good bye! We shall meet again."
And then did my excellent friend, Mr. Smooth-it-away, laugh
outright; in the midst of which cachinnation, a smoke wreath issued from his mouth and nostrils, while a twinkle of livid flame darted out of either eye, proving indubitably, that his heart was all of a red blaze. The
impudent fiend! to deny the existence of Tophet, when he felt its fiery tortures raging within his breast! I rushed to the side of the boat, intending to fling myself on shore. But the wheels, as they began their
revolutions, threw a dash of spray over me, so cold - so deadly cold, with the chill that will never leave those waters, until Death be drowned in his own river; that, with a shiver and a heartquake, I awoke.
Thank Heaven, it was a Dream!