1714
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Spectator 558 [The Mountain of Human Miseries.]

The Spectator No. 558 (23 June 1714).

Joseph Addison


Fancy does make fools of us all: the dreamer imagines that Jove has proclaimed that all human beings can throw down their Griefs and Calamities, which amount to an enormous pile. Alas, but the process is directed by the figure of Fancy, described thus: "There was a certain Lady of a thin airy Shape, who was very active in this Solemnity. She carried a magnifying Glass in one of her Hands, and was cloathed in a loose flowing Robe, embroidered with several Figures of Fiends and Spectres, that discovered themselves in a Thousand chimerical Shapes as her Garment hovered in the Wind. There was something wild and distracted in her Look." The dreamer tartly observes that most of the items deposited consist of bodily deformities and that not a single folly or vice has been added to the heap. The motto of the papers is Horace, Satires I. I. 1-19. The essay is concluded in the next number.

John Aikin compares Addison's treatment of Fancy to that in Spenser's Masque of Cupid: "A representation of this being ["Fancy"], very different in figure, but formed upon a similar conception of character, is given by Addison, in his Vision of the Mountain of Human Miseries.... The employment of this phantom was to aggravate every one's misfortunes or deformities in his own eyes, and to inspire a restless and capricious inclination for change" "Personifications in Poetry" Monthly Magazine 7 (February 1799) 114.

Thomas Frognall Dibdin: "The very name of Addison inspires delight. That charming writer was not only, in himself, one of the most perfect of prose authors, but in the Spectator, (of which he might be called at once the patron and promoter) he set an example of instructing the intellectual public, at certain short periods, with essays, tales, allegories, and criticisms, such as had never before met their eyes. He not only brought a good philological taste into fashion, and placed Milton upon a pedestal from which he can never be pulled down, but gave a pleasing and popular turn to religious studies and duties" Library Companion (1824; 1825) 2:612n.




It is a celebrated Thought of Socrates, that if all the Misfortunes of Mankind were cast into a publick Stock, in order to be equally distributed among the whole Species, those who now think themselves the most unhappy, would prefer the share they are already possess'd of, before that which would fall to them by such a Division. Horace has carried this Thought a great deal further in the Motto of my Paper, which implies that the Hardships or Misfortunes we lie under, are more easy to us than those of any other Person would be, in case we could change Conditions with him.

As I was ruminating on these two Remarks, and seated in my Elbow-Chair, I insensibly fell asleep; when, on a sudden, methought there was a Proclamation made by Jupiter, that every Mortal should bring in his Griefs and Calamities, and throw them together in a Heap. There was a large Plain appointed for this purpose. I took my Stand in the Center of it, and saw with a great deal of Pleasure the whole human Species marching one after another, and throwing down their several Loads, which immediately grew up into a prodigious Mountain that seemed to rise above the Clouds.

There was a certain Lady of a thin airy Shape, who was very active in this Solemnity. She carried a magnifying Glass in one of her Hands, and was cloathed in a loose flowing Robe, embroidered with several Figures of Fiends and Spectres, that discovered themselves in a Thousand chimerical Shapes as her Garment hovered in the Wind. There was something wild and distracted in her Look. Her name was FANCY. She led up every Mortal to the appointed Place, after having very officiously assisted him in making up his Pack, and laying it upon his Shoulders. My Heart melted within me to see my Fellow-Creatures groaning under their respective Burthens, and to consider that prodigious Bulk of human Calamities which lay before me.

There were however several Persons who gave me great Diversion upon this Occasion. I observed one bringing in a Fardel very carefully concealed under an old embroidered Cloak, which, upon his throwing it into the Heap, I discovered to be Poverty. Another, after a great deal of puffing, threw down his Luggage; which, upon examining, I found to be his Wife.

There were Multitudes of Lovers saddled with very whimsical Burthens, composed of Darts and Flames; but, what was very odd, tho' they sighed as if their Hearts would break under these Bundles of Calamities, they could not perswade themselves to cast them into the Heap when they came up to it; but after a few faint efforts, shook their Heads and marched away as heavy loaden as they came. I saw Multitudes of old Women throw down their Wrinkles, and several young ones who stripped themselves of a tawny Skin. There were very great Heaps of red Noses, large Lips and rusty Teeth. The Truth of it is, I was surprized to see the greatest Part of the Mountain made up of bodily Deformities. Observing one advancing towards the Heap with a larger Cargo than ordinary upon his Back, I found upon his near Approach, that it was only a natural Hump, which he disposed of with great joy of Heart among this Collection of humane Miseries. There were likewise Distempers of all Sorts, tho' I could not but observe that there were many more imaginary than real. One little Packet I could not but take Notice of, which was a Complication of all the Diseases incident to human Nature, and was in the Hand of a great many fine People: This was called the Spleen. But what most of all surprized me, was a Remark I made, that there was not a single Vice or Folly thrown into the whole Heap: At which I was very much astonished, having concluded within my self that every one would take this Opportunity of getting rid of his Passions, Prejudices, and Frailties.

I took Notice in particular of a very profligate Fellow, who I did not Question came loaden with his Crimes, but upon searching into his Bundle, I found that instead of throwing his Guilt from him, he had only laid down his Memory. He was followed by another worthless Rogue, who flung away his Modesty instead of his Ignorance.

When the whole Race of Mankind had thus cast their Burthens, the Phantome which had been so busy on this Occasion, seeing me an idle Spectator of what passed, approached towards me. I grew uneasy at her Presence, when of a sudden she held her magnifying Glass full before my Eyes. I no sooner saw my Face in it, but was startled at the Shortness of it, which now appeared to me in its utmost Aggravation. The immoderate Breadth of the Features made me very much out of Humour with my own Countenance, upon which I threw it from me like a Mask. It happened very luckily, that one who stood by me had just before thrown down his Visage, which, it seems, was too long for him. It was indeed extended to a most shameful length; I believe the very Chin was, modestly speaking, as long as my whole Face. We had both of us an Opportunity of mending our selves, and, all the Contributions being now brought in, every Man was at Liberty to exchange his Misfortune for those of another Person. But as there arose many new Incidents in the Sequel of my Vision, I shall reserve them for the Subject of my next Paper.


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