« ПредишнаНапред »
PIECES IN PROSE.
Religion the foundation of content.
OMAR, the hermit of the mountain Aubukabis, which rifes on the east of Mecca, and overlooks the city, found, one evening, a man fitting penfive and alone. within a few paces of his cell. Omar regarded him with attention, and perceived that his looks were wild and haggard, and that his body was feeble and emaciated. The man also seemed to gaze ftedfastly on Omar; but fuch was the abstraction of his mind, that his eye did not immediately take cognizance of its object. In the moment of recollection, he started as from a dream: he covered his face in confufion, and bowed himself to the ground. "Son of affliction," said Omar, "who art thou, and what is thy diftrefs?" "My name," replied the stranger, "is Haffan, and I am a native of this city. The angel of adverfity has laid his hand upon me, and the wretch whom thine eye compaffionates, thou canft not deliver." "To deliver thee," faid Omar," belongs to HIM, only, from whom we fhould receive with humility both good and evil; yet hide not thy life from me; for the burden which I cannot remove, I may at least enable thee to fuftain." Haffan fixed his eyes upon the ground, and remained fome time filent; then fetching a deep figh, he looked up at the hermit, and thus complied with his requeft.
"It is now fix years fince our mighty lord, the caliph Almalic, whose memory be bleffed, first came privately to worship in the temple of the holy city. The bleffing which he petitioned of the prophet, as the prophet's vicegerent, he was diligent to difpenfe. In the intervals of his devotion, therefore, he went about the city relieving distress, and reftraining oppreffion : the widow fimiled under his protection, and the weaknefs of age and infancy was fuftained by his bounty. I, who dreaded no evil but ficknefs, and expected no good beyond the reward of my labour, was finging at my work, when Almalic entered my dwelling. He looked round with a smile of complacency; perceiving that though it was mean, it was neat ; and though I was poor, I appeared to be content. As his habit was that of a pilgrim, I haftened to receive him with fuch hofpitality as was in my power; and my cheerfulness was rather increafed than reftrained by his prefence. After he had accepted fome coffee, he asked me many questions; and though by my anfwers I always endeavoured to excite him to mirth, yet I perceived that he grew thoughtful, and eyed me with a placid but fixed attention. I fufpected that he had fome knowledge of me, and therefore inquired his country and his name. "Haffan," said he, "I have raised thy curiosity, and it shall be satisfied: he who now talks with thee, is Almalic, the fovereign of the faithful, whofe feat is the throne of Medina, and whose commiffion is from above." These words ftruck me dumb with astonishment, though I had fome doubt of their truth: but Almalic throwing back his garment, discovered the peculiarity of his veft, and put the royal fignet upon his finger. I then ftarted up, and was about to proftrate myself before him, but he prevented me. "Haffan," said he, " forbear: thou art greater than I; and from thee I have at once derived humility and wif dom." I answered, " Mock not thy fervant, who is but a worm before thee: life and death are in thy hand, and happiness and mifery are the daughters of thy will. "Haffan," he replied, "I can no otherwife give life and happiness, than by not taking them away. Thou art thyfelf beyond the reach of my bounty; and poffeffed of felicity which I can neither communicate nor obtain. My influence over others fills my bofom with perpetual folicitude and anxiety; and yet my influence over others extends only to their vices, whether I would reward or punifh. By the bow-ftring, I can reprefs violence and fraud; and by the delegation of
power, I can transfer the insatiable wishes of avarice and ambition from one object to another; but with respect to virtue, I am impotent; if I could reward it, I would reward it in thee. Thou art content, and haft therefore neither avarice nor ambition. To exalt thee would destroy the fimplicity of thy life, and diminish that happiness which I have no power either to increase or to continue."-He then rofe up, and commanding me not to disclose his fecret, departed.
"As foon as I recovered from the confufion and astonishment in which the caliph left me, I began to regret that my behaviour had intercepted his bounty; and accufed that cheerfulness of folly, which was the concomitant of poverty and labour. I now repined at the obfcurity of my station, which my former infenfibility had perpetuated. I neglected my labour, because I defpifed the reward; I fpent the day in idleness, forming romantic projects to recover the advantages which I had loft; and at night, inftead of lofing myfelf in that sweet and refreshing fleep, from which I used to rife with new health, cheerfulness, and vigour, I dreamed of fplendid habits and a numerous retinue, of gardens, palaces, feafting, and pleasures; and waked only to regret the illufions that had vanifhed. My health was at length impaired by the inquietude of my mind; I fold all my moveables for fubfiftence; and referved only a mattress, upon which I fometimes lay from one night to another.
In the first moon of the following year, the caliph came again to Mecca, with the fame fecrefy, and for the fame purposes. He was willing once more to fee the man, whom he confidered as deriving felicity from himself. But he found me, not finging at my work, ruddy with health, vivid with cheerfulness; but pale and dejected, fitting on the ground, and chewing opium, which contributed to substitute the phantoms of imagination for the realities of greatnefs. He entered with a kind of joyful impatience in his countenance, which, the moment he beheld me, was changed to a mixture of wonder and pity. I had often wished for another opportunity to addrefs the caliph; yet I was confounded at his prefence, and, throwing myself at his feet, I laid my hand upon my head, and was speechlefs. "Haffan," faid he, "what can't thou have loft, whofe wealth was the labour of thine own hand; and what can have made thee fad, the fpring of whofe joy was in thy own bofom? What evil hath befallen thee? Speak, and if I can remove it, thou
art happy." I was now encouraged to look up, and I replied, "Let my lord forgive the prefumption of his fervant, who rather than utter a falsehood, would be dumb forever. I am become wretched by the lofs of that which I never poffeffed. Thou haft raised wishes, which indeed I am not worthy thou fhouldft fatisfy; but why should it be thought, that he who was happy in obfcurity and indigence would not have been rendered more happy by eminence and wealth.”
"When I had finished this speech, Almalic flood fome moments in fufpenfe, and I continued proftrate before him. "Haffan," faid he, "I perceive, not with indignation but regret, that I mistook thy character. I now discover avarice and ambition in thy heart, which lay torpid only because their objects were too remote to rouse them. I cannot, therefore, inveft thee with authority, because I would not fubject my people to oppreffion; and because I would not be compelled to punish thee for crimes which I first enabled thee to commit. But, as I have taken from thee that which I cannot restore, I will, at least, gratify the wishes that I excited, lest thy heart accufe me of injuftice, and thou continue ftill a ftranger to thyfelf. Arife, therefore, and follow me." I fprung from the ground, as it were, with the wings of an eagle; I kiffed the hem of his gar ment in an ecstacy of gratitude and joy; and when I went out of my house, my heart leaped as if I had efcaped from the den of a lion. I followed Almalic to the caravanfera in which he lodged; and after he had fulfilled his vows, he took me with him to Medina. He gave me an apartment in the feraglio; I was attended by his own fervants; my provisions were fent from his own table; I received every week a fum from his treasury, which exceeded the most romantic of my expectations. But I foon difcovered, that no dainty was fo tafteful, as the food to which labour procured an appetite; no flumbers fo fweet, as thofe which wearinefs invited; and no time fo well enjoyed, as that in which diligence is expecting its reward. I remembered these enjoyments with regret; and while I was fighing in the midst of fuperfluities which, though they encumbered life, yet I could not give up, they were fuddenly taken away. Almalic, in the midst of the glory of his kingdom, and in the full vigour of his life, expired fuddenly in the bath: fuch thou knoweft was the deftiny which the Almighty had written upon his head.
"His fon Aububekir, who succeeded to the throne, was incensed against me, by fome who regarded me at once with contempt and envy. He fuddenly withdrew my penfion, and commanded that I should be expelled the palace; a command which my enemies executed with fo much rigour, that within twelve hours I found myself in the streets of Medina, indigent and friendless, exposed to hunger and derifion, with all the habits of luxury, and all the sensibili ty of pride. O! let not thy heart despise me, thou whom experience has not taught, that it is mifery to lofe that which it is not happiness to poffefs. O! that for me this leffon had not been written on the tablets of Providence! I have travelled from Medina to Mecca; but I cannot fly from myself. How different are the faces in which I have been placed! The remembrance of both is bitter; for the pleafures of neither can return." Haffan, having thus ended his ftory, fmote his hands together; and, looking up. ward, burst into tears.
Omar, having waited till this agony was paft, went to him, and taking him by the hand, My fon," said he, more is yet in thy power than Almalic could give, or Aububekir take away. The leffon of thy life the prophet has in mercy appointed me to explain.
"Thou waft once content with poverty and labour, only because they were become habitual, and ease and affluence were placed beyond thy hope; for when ease and affluence approached thee, thou waft content with poverty and labour no more. That which then became the object, was alfo the bound of thy hope; and he, whose utmost hope is disappointed, muft inevitably be wretched. if thy fupreme defire had been the delights of Paradise, and thou hadft believed that by the tenor of thy life thefe delights had been secured, as more could not have been given thee, thou wouldst not have regretted that lefs was not offered. The content, which was once enjoyed, was but the lethargy of the foul; and the diftrefs, which is now fuffered, will but quicken it to action. Depart, therefore, and be thankful for all things; put thy truft in Him, who alone can gratify the wifh of reafon, and fatisfy thy foul with good; fix thy hope upon that portion, in comparison of which the world is as the drop of the bucket, and the dust of the balance. Return, my fon, to thy labour; thy food shall be again tasteful, and thy reft fhall be sweet; to thy content also will be added stability, when it depends