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" One of the most conceited dogs that I ever met with,” replied the King. “ He thinks he is a great genius, and perhaps he has some little talent for the extravagant." “ Are there any critics in hell ?”
Myriads. They abound about the marshes of Cocytus, where they croak furiously. They are all to a man against our author."
“ That speaks more to his credit than his own self-opinion,” rejoined Ixion.
“ A nous moutons !” exclaimed Tantalus ; “ I was about to observe that I am curious to learn for what reason our friend Sisyphus was doomed to his late terrible exertions ?”
“For the simplest in the world,” replied the object of the inquiry“ because I was not a hypocrite. No one ever lead a pleasanter life than myself, and no one was more popular in society. I was considered, as they phrased it, the most long-headed prince of my time, and was in truth a finished man of the world. I had not an acquaintance whom I had not taken in, and gods and men alike favoured me. In an unlucky moment, however, I offended the infernal deities, and it was then suddenly discovered that I was the most abandoned character of my age. You know the rest.' You seem,
” exclaimed Tantalus,“ to be relating my own history ; for I myself led a reckless career with impunity, until some of the gods did me the honour of dining with me, and were dissatisfied with the repast. I am convinced myself that provided a man frequent the temples, and observe with strictness the sacred festivals, such is the force of public opinion, that there is no crime which he may not commit without hazard."
“ Long live hypocrisy !” exclaimed Ixion. “ It is not my forte. But if I began life anew, I would be more observant in
sacrifices." “ Who could have anticipated this wonderful revolution !" claimed Sisyphus, stretching himself.
“ I wonder what will occur next! Perhaps we shall be all released."
You say truly,” said Ixion. “I am very grateful to our reforming Queen; but I have no idea of stopping here. This cursed wheel indeed no longer whirls; but I confess my expectations will be very much disappointed if I cannot free myself from these adamantine bonds that fix me to its orb.
“ And one cannot drink water for ever," said Tantalus.
“D-n all half-measures," said Ixion. “We must proceed in this system of amelioration.”
“ Without doubt,” responded his companion.
“ The Queen must have a party," continued the audacious lover of Juno. “ The Fates and the Furies never can be conciliated. It is evident to me that she must fall unless she unbinds these chains of mine.”
-“ And grants me full liberty of egress and regress,” exclaimed Sisyphus.
“ And me a bottle of the finest golden wine of Lydia," said Tantalus.
III. The infernal honey-moon was over. A cloud appeared in the hitherto serene heaven of the royal lovers. Proserpine became very unwell. A
mysterious languor pervaded her frame; her accustomed hilarity deserted her. She gave up her daily rides; she never quitted the palace, scarcely her chamber. All day long she remained lying on a sofa, and whenever Pluto endeavoured to console her, she went into hysterics. His Majesty was quite miserable, and the Fates and the Furies began to hold up their heads. The two court physicians could throw no light upon the complaint, which baffled all their remedies. These indeed were not numerous, for the two physicians possessed each only one idea. With one, every complaint was nervous ; the other traced everything to bile. The name of the first was Dr. Blue-Devil ; and of the other Dr. Blue-Pill. They were most eminent men.
Her Majesty getting worse every day, Pluto, in despair, determined to send for Æsculapius. It was a long way to send for a physician; but then he was the most fashionable one in the world. He cared not how far he travelled to visit a patient, because he was paid by the mile; and it was calculated that his fee for quitting earth, and attending the Queen of Hell, would allow him to leave off business.
What a wise physician was Æsculapius! Physic was his abhorrence. He never was known in the whole course of his practice ever to have prescribed a single drug. He was a very handsome man, with a flowing beard curiously perfumed, and a robe of the choicest purple. He twirled a cane of agate round which was twined a serpent of precious stones, the gift of Juno, and he rode in a chariot drawn by horses of the Sun. When he visited Proserpine, he neither examined her tongue nor felt her pulse, but gave her an account of a fancy ball which he had attended, the last evening he passed on terra firma. His details were so interesting, that the Queen soon felt much better. The next day he renewed his visit, and gave her an account of a new singer that had appeared at Ephesus. The effect of this recital was so satisfactory, that a bulletin in the evening announced that the Queen was convalescent. The third day Æsculapius took his departure, having previously enjoined change of scene for her Majesty, and a visit to the Elysian Fields !
IV. “Heh, heh!” shrieked Tisiphone. .“ Hah, hah!” squeaked Megæra. “ Hoh, hoh !” moaned Alecto.
“ Now or never," said the infernal sisters. “ There is a decided reaction. The moment she embarks unquestionably we will flare up." So they ran off to the Fates.
“ We must be prudent,” said Clotho.
I wish the re-action were more decided,” said Atropos; “ but it is a great thing that they are going to be parted, for the King must remain."
The opposition party, although aiming at the same result, was therefore evidently divided as to the means by which it was to be obtained. The sanguine Furies were for fighting it out at once, and talked bravely of the strong conservative spirit only dormant in Tartarus. Even the Radicals themselves are dissatisfied : Tantalus is no longer contented with water, or Ixion with repose. But the circumspect Fates felt that a false step at present could never be regained. They talked, therefore, of
watching events. Both divisions, however, agreed that the royal embarkation was to be the signal for renewed intrigues and renovated exertions.
V. When Proserpine was assured that she must be parted for a time from Pluto, she was inconsolable. They passed the night in sorrowful embraces. She vowed that she could not live a day without him, and that she certainly should die before she reached the first post. The mighty heart of the King of Hades was torn to pieces with contending emotions. In the agony of his overwhelming passion the security of his realm seemed of secondary importance compared with the happiness of his wife. Fear and hatred of the Parcæ and the Eumenides equalled, however, in the breast of Proserpine her affection for her husband. The consciousness that his absence would be a signal for a revolution, and that the crown of Tartarus might be lost to her expected offspring, animated her with a spirit of heroism. She reconciled herself to the terrible separation, on condition that Pluto wrote to her every day.
“ Adieu! my best, my only beloved !” ejaculated the unhappy Queen; “ do not forget me for a moment; and let nothing in the world induce you to speak to any of those horrid people. I know them; I know exactly what they will be at: the moment I am gone, they will commence their intrigues for the restoration of the reign of doom and torture. Don't listen to them, my Pluto. Sooner than have recourse to them, seek assistance from their former victims.”
“ Calm yourself, my Proserpine. Anticipate no evil. I shall be firm; do not doubt me. I will cling with tenacity to that juste milieu under which we have hitherto so eminently prospered. Neither the Parcæ and the Eumenides, nor Ixion and his friends shall advance a point. I will keep each faction in awe by the bugbear of the other's supremacy. Trust me, I am a profound politician."
It was determined that the progress of Proserpine to the Elysian Fields should be celebrated with a pomp and magnificence becoming her exalted station. The day of her departure was proclaimed as a high festival in Hell. Tiresias, absent on a secret mission, had been summoned back by Pluto, and appointed to attend her Majesty during her journey and her visit, for Pluto had the greatest confidence in his discretion. Besides, as her Majesty had not at present the advantage of any female society, it was necessary that she should be amused; and Tiresias, though old, ugly, and blind, was a wit as well as a philosopher, the most distinguished diplomatist of his age, and considered the best company in Hades.
An immense crowd was assembled round the gates of the palace on the morn of the royal departure. With what anxious curiosity did they watch those huge brazen portals! Every precaution was taken for the accommodation of the public. The streets were lined with troops of extraordinary stature, whose nodding plumes prevented the multitude from catching a glimpse of anything that passed, and who cracked the sculls of the populace with their scimitars if they attempted in the slightest degree to break the line. Moreover, there were seats erected which any one might occupy at a very reasonable rate ; but the lord steward, who had the disposal of the tickets, purchased them all for himself, and then resold them to his fellow-subjects at an enormous price.
At length the hinges of the gigantic portals gave an ominous creak, and, amid the huzzas of men and the shrieks of women, the procession commenced.
First came the infernal band. It consisted of five hundred performers all mounted on different animals. Never was such a melodious blast! Fifty trumpeters mounted on zebras of all possible stripes and tints, and working away at huge ramshorus with their cheeks like pumpkins. Then there were bassoons mounted on bears, clarionets on camelopards, oboes on unicorns, and troops of musicians on elephants playing on real serpents, whose prismatic bodies indulged in the most extaordinary convolutions imaginable, and whose arrowy tongues glittered with superb agitation at the exquisite sounds which they unintentionally delivered. Animals there were, too, now unknown and forgotten; but I must not forget the fellow who beat the kettledrums, mounted on an enormous mammoth, and the din of whose reverberating blows would have deadened the thunder of Olympus.
This enchanting harmony preceded the regiment of Proserpine's own guards glowing in adamantine armour and mounted on coal-black steeds. Their helmets were quite awful, and surmounted by plumes plucked from the wings of the Harpies, which were alone enough to terrify an earthly host. It was droll to observe this troop of gigantic heroes commanded by infants, who, however, were arrayed in a similar costume, though, of course, on a smaller scale. But such was the admirable discipline of the infernal forces that, though lions to their enemies, they were lambs to their friends; and on the present occasion their colonel was carried in a cradle.
After these came twelve most worshipful baboons in most venerable wigs. They were clothed with scarlet robes lined with ermine, and ornamented with gold chains, and mounted on the most obstinate and inflexible mules in Tartarus. These were the Judges. Each was provided with a pannier of choice cobnuts, which he cracked with great gravity, throwing the shells to the multitude, -an infernal ceremony there held emblematic of their profession.
The Lord Chancellor came next in a very grand car. Although his wig was even longer than those of his fellow functionaries, his manners and the rest of his costume afforded a very strange contrast to them. Apparently never was such a droll lively fellow. His dress was something between that of Harlequin and Scaramouch. He amused himself by keeping in the air four brazen balls at the same time, swallowing daggers, spitting fire, eating yards of pink ribbon, which re-appeared, after being well-digested, through his nose, and turning sugar into salt. It is unnecessary to add after this, that he was the most popular Lord Chancellor that had ever held the seals, and was received with loud and enthusiastic cheers, which apparently repaid him for all his exertions. Nothwithstanding his numerous and curious occupations, I should not omit to add that his Lordship, nevertheless, found time to lead by the nose a most meek and milk-white jackass that immediately followed him, and which, in spite of the remarkable length of its ears, seemed the object of great veneration. There was evidently some mystery about this
animal difficult to penetrate. Among other characteristics it was said at different seasons to be distinguished by different titles: for sometimes it was styled “ The Public,” at others “ Opinion,” and occasionally was saluted as the King's Conscience.”
Now came a numerous company of Priests, in flowing and funereal robes, bearing banners, inscribed with the various titles of their Queen; on some was inscribed Hecate, on others Juno Inferna, on others Theogamia, Libera on some, on others Cotytto. Those that bore banners were crowned with wreaths of narcissus, and mounted on bulls blacker than night, and of a most severe and melancholy aspect. Others walked by their side, bearing branches of cypress.
And here I must stop to notice a droll characteristic of the priestly economy of Hades. To be a good pedestrian was considered an essential virtue of an infernal clergyman; but to be mounted on a black bull was the highest distinction of the craft. It followed, therefore, that, originally, promotion to such a seat was the natural reward of any priest who had distinguished himself in the humbler career of a good walker ; but in process of time, as even infernal as well as human institutions are alike liable to corruption, the black bulls became too often occupied by the halt and the crippled, the feeble and the paralytic, who used their influence at Court to become thus exempted from the performance of the severer duties of which they were incapable. This violation of the priestly constitution excited at first great murmurs among the abler but less influential brethren. But the murmurs of the weak prove only the tyranny of the strong; and so completely in the course of time do institutions depart from their original character, that the imbecile riders of the black bulls now avowedly defended their position on the very grounds which originally should have unseated them, and openly maintained that it was very evident that the stout were intended to walk, and the feeble to be carried.
The priests were followed by fifty dark chariots, drawn by blue satyrs. Herein was the wardrobe of the Queen and her Majesty's cooks.
Tiresias came next, in a basalt chariot, yoked to royal steeds. He was attended by Manto, who shared his confidence, and who some said was his daughter, and others his niece. Venerable seer! Who could behold that flowing beard and the thin grey hairs of that lofty and wrinkled brow without being filled with sensations of awe and affection ? A smile of bland benignity played upon his passionless and reverend countenance. Fortunate the Monarch who is blessed with such a counsellor! Who could have supposed that all this time Tiresias was concocting an epigram on Pluto!
The Queen! The Queen!
Upon a superb throne, placed upon an immense car, and drawn by twelve coal-black steeds, four abreast, reposed the royal daughter of Ceres. Her rich dark hair was braided off her high pale forehead, and fell in voluptuous clusters over her back. A tiara sculptured out of a single brilliant, and which darted a flash like lightning on the surrounding multitude, was placed somewhat negligently on the right side of her head; but no jewels broke the entrancing swell of her swan-like neck, or were dimmed by the lustre of her ravishing arms. How fair was the Queen of Hell! How thrilling the solemn lustre of her violet eye! A