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SECT. 2. On Friendship,
8. Improvement of time recommended.
CHAPTER III.-DESCRIPTIVE PIECES.
THE ENGLISH READER.
PIECES IN PROSE.
Religion the foundation of content. An Allegory. OMAR, the hermit of the mountain Aubukabis, which rises in the east of Mecca, and overlooks the city, found one evening a man sitting pensive 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 steadfastly on Omar ; but such 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 confusion; and bowed himself to the ground. " Son of affliction," said Omar, art thou, and what is thy distress ?” My name," replied the stranger, " is Hassan, and I am a native of this city. The angel of adversity has laid his hand upon me, and the wretch whom thine eye compassionates thou canst not deliver." * To deliver thee,” said Omar, “ belongs to him only from whom we should 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 sustain.' Hassan fixed his eyes upon the ground, and remained some time silent; then fetching a deep sigh, he looked up at the hermit, and thus complied with his request.
" It is now six years since our mighty lord the caliph Al
malic, whose memory be blessed, first came privately to worship in the temple of the holy city. The blessing which he petitioned of the prophet, as the prophet's vicegerent, be was diligent to dispense. In the intervals of his devotion, therefore, he went about the city relieving distress and restraining oppression ; the widow siniled under his protection, and the weakness of age and infancy was sustained by his bounty. I, who dreaded no evil but sickness, and expected no good beyond the reward of my labour, was singing 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 hastened to receive him with such hospitality as was in my power; and my cheerfulness was rather increased than restrained by his presence. After he had accepted some coffee, he asked me many questions, and though by my answers 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 suspected that he had son knowledge of me, and therefore inquired his country and his
Hassan,” said he, “ I have raised thy curiosity, and it shall be satisfied : he who now talks with thee, is Almalic, the sovereign of the faithful, whose seat is the throne of Medina, and whose commission is from above." These words struck me dumb with astonishment, though I had some doubt of their truth : but Almalic throwing back his garment, discovered the peculiarity of his vest, and put the royal signet upon his finger. I then started up,
and about to prostrate myself before him, but he prevented me : “ Hassan," said he, os forbear: thou art greater than 1 ; and from thee I have at once derived humility and wisdom.” I answered, “ Mock not thy servant, who is but a worm before thée ; life and death are in thy hand, and happiness and misery are the daughters of thy will.” “ Hassan,” he replied, “ I can no otherwise give life and happiness, than by not taking them away : thou art thyself beyond the reach of my bounty ; and possessed of felicity which I can neither communicate nor obtain. My influence over others, fills my bosom with perpetual solicitude and anxiety ; and yet my influence over others extends only to their vices, whether I would reward or punish. By the bow-string, I can repress violence and fraud ; and by the delegation of power, transfer the insatiable wishes of avarice and ambition from
one object to another: but with respect to virtue, I am im. potent; if I could reward it, I would reward it in thee. Thou art content, and hast therefore neither avarice nor ambition. To exalt thee, would destroy the simplicity of thy life, and diminish that happiness which I have no power either to increase or to continue.” He then rose up, and commanding me not to disclose his secret, departed.
“ As soon as I recovered from the confusion and astonishment in which the caliph left me, I began to regret that my behaviour had intercepted his bounty; and accused that cheerfulness of folly which was the concomitant of poverty and labour. I now repined at the obscurity of my station, which my former insensibility had perpetuated. I neglected my labour, because I despised the reward; I spent the day in idleness, forming romantic projects to recover the advantages which I had lost : and at night, instead of losing myself in that sweet and refreshing sleep, from which I used to rise with new health, cheerfulness, and vigour, I dreamed of splendid habits and a numerous retinue, of gardens, palaces, feasting, and pleasures ; and waked only to regret the illusions that had vanished. My health was at length impaired by the inquietude of my mind ; I sold all my moveables for subsistence; and reserved only a mattress, upon which I sometimes lay from one night to another.
“ In the first moon of the following year, the caliph came again to Mecca, with the same secrecy, and for the same purposes.
He was willing once more to see the man, whom he considered as deriving felicity from himself. But he found me, not singing at my work, ruddy with health, vivid with cheerfulness; but pale and dejected, sitting on the ground, and chewing opium, which contributed to substitute the phantoms of imagination for the realities of greatness. 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 address the caliph; yet I was confounded at his presence, and, throwing myself at his feet, I laid my hand upon my head, and was speechless. “Hassan,” said he, " what canst thou have lost, whose wealth was the labour of thine own hand; and what can have made thee sad, the spring of whose joy was in thy own bosom? 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 presumption of his servant,