1725
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Vision.

The Plain Dealer Nos. 112-113 (Friday 16 April, Monday 19 April 1725).

Aaron Hill


The figure of Caution leads the Dreamer on an excursion to the underworld, where the ill effects of drunkenness are laid bare in the description of a series of stately houses: "the Fury that administer'd the Liquor had a Power of recovering them, by representing their past Actions, in a Glass, that serv'd them instead of Memory. — When they had suffer'd the full Pangs of Sobriety, and pain'd their Observation with what they might have been, and what they were; the Fury drench'd them afresh, with the Intoxicating Tide of Torture." The essay is presumably the work of Aaron Hill.

The style in which "The Vision" is written owes more to Lucian (and Addison) than to Spenser, though the way in which the moral is delivered, and some of the details, do recall Guyon's adventures in the second book of the Faerie Queene. The Mansion of Magnificence resembles Thomson's Castle of Indolence, begun about ten years later. Also notable are the reflections on probability in the final paragraphs; like critics since, Hill (if he is the author) is fascinated at the prospect that such visionary scenes might have something like a real existence: "When the Fury was just going to restore them to their Senses again, that they might perform over the same Exercise, (which they do, it seems, every Hour, just as strange Sights are shewn in Fairs, or as Drunken Men renew their waking-Debauches, after a little Interval of Sleep, in their Life-times) I left them."

Alcohol abuse is the subject of one of the longer Spenserian allegories published in the eighteenth-century, Hugh Boyd's The Woodman's Tale (ca. 1780; published 1805).

Walter Graham: "The Plain Dealer (March 23, 1724-May 7, 1725) of Aaron Hill and William Bond was announced as a periodical of select essays on several curious subjects and polite literature. Richard Savage was a contributor to this undertaking, if not a partner in it, and the three men, with the possible aid of Edward Young, seem to have written all the essays. Hill was undoubtedly the best of the group, and it is likely that the prosperity of the Plain Dealer was most pronounced during the periods which Hill's pen was employed, the individual quality of his papers giving the periodical a deservedly higher standing than nine-tenths of such serials. The main purpose of the Plain Dealer was social rather than political" English Literary Periodicals (1930) 103.




I am, though a great Lover of Trade, a declar'd Enemy to the Company of Vintners; and profess, that my Indignation daily rises against them more and more, in proportion as they daily deviate from their first laudable Institution. Taverns were intended, at their primitive Erection, as publick Refectories, where Men, whose Business called them Abroad from their Families, and single Gentlemen, who had no Families at all, might resort for a chearful and necessary Refreshment. So that Taverns stood in this Town for much the same End, as Inns are commodiously situated up and down the Country: But, by the Life they are now converted to, Men are not refresh'd there, but debauch'd, and taken off from the Pursuit of their Business.

I was led into this Subject, on the Eve of a late drunken Holiday, when, returning Home in a melancholy Disposition, at a later Hour than usual, I was unexpectedly saluted with an unlucky Piece of News, that a Kinsman, who, notwithstanding all that a famous Predecessor of mine had wittily remark'd, in Ridicule of that silly Practice, wou'd try to drive himself Home on the Coach-box; when he was scarce able to get into the Coach, without the Help of its proper Driver; had, by the Way, got so dangerous a Fall, that he was thrown almost out of the World: And just as I was plung'd into a profound Meditation on this ill Accident, Word was brought me, That Literatus and Urbanus, two Bosom Intimates, having drunk together, to Excess, the latter lost his Civility, and the former his Wits, so far, as to push on a Dispute about a mere Trifle, till one of them was killed, and his Friend, and Murderer, left behind to imbitter his surviving Days with a Remorse, which the other's Death was preferable to. — I was lost in the startling Thought, how dreadful it must be, to drop out of Temporary into an Eternal Existence, in so deplorable, and unprepar'd a State! Which brought immediately to my Remembrance, what the old King says to Hamlet in the Tragedy,

Thus was I—
Cut off, ev'n in the Blossoms of my Sin,
No Reck'ning made but sent to my Account,
With all my Imperfections on my Head,
Oh Horrible! most Horrible!

This sensible and moving Complaint, so awfully placed in the Mouth of a Ghost, strikes a considerate Auditor with Terror, and leaves him warn'd and astonish'd: But, there is a Scene in a Comedy, call'd The Lying Lovers, that comes more immediately to this Subject, of a Gentleman's Stabbing his Friend in the Fury of his Drunkenness; and which, if it had been read or heard with Attention, by Urbanus, would, probably, have prevented his own becoming a too real Example of this unhappy Truth, That a Man, who, in the present Moment, is Master of the strongest Reason, Possessor of the greatest Honor, and adorn'd with the finest Sentiments of Religion, Friendship and Humanity, may, in two or three Hours drinking, be push'd forward, by the Rage of Wine, to act unheard-of Brutalities, in direct Opposition to the Impulse of all his Virtues. I recommend this useful Scene to the Perusal of those indanger'd in their Cups, and yet dare rashly addict themselves to an habitual Intemperance.

The Fatigue of so melancholy a Meditation, cast me into a disorder'd kind of Sleep, in which it furnish'd me (as Shakspear says) with "the Stuff of which Dreams are made." My Imagination, working busily upon the Traces of my waking Thoughts, brought me into the Company of a Hoary and Venerable Matron, whose Eyes were so piercing bright, that they seem'd to have increas'd by Age, their Faculty of Penetration. She told me, That her Name was CAUTION, and bidding me follow her, she conducted me, as the Prophetess did Aeneas, into one of the Regions of the nether World, where the Shades of all those, who depart this Life, in the Guilt of their Debauches, are doom'd to inhabit.

I found myself, without being able to describe the Method of my speedy Conveyance thither, in a vast Place like an Island, incompass'd with a Moat of Liquid Fire, where different Crowds of People, were under the Torment of being forced to drink, every Moment, till they were deprived of their Senses, and betray'd into Extravagancies, which never failed to fill their Hearts with Pain, and Remorse, for some enormous Transgression or other, committed by their them when so disorder'd. — Then the Fury that administer'd the Liquor had a Power of recovering them, by representing their past Actions, in a Glass, that serv'd them instead of Memory. — When they had suffer'd the full Pangs of Sobriety, and pain'd their Observation with what they might have been, and what they were; the Fury drench'd them afresh, with the Intoxicating Tide of Torture; and this was the Repetition of a Life, whose Circle compos'd a Round of Misery, that never was to know an End. Each Crowd was thus attended, by some Deputy of internal Vengeance.

The first, I took Notice of, was a Company of Gentlemen, who, before they began to drink, were of robust Make of Body; they had Sanguine Complexions, and carried Health in their whole Appearance: Before these, a Devil, in the Dress of a Drawer, had placed a vast Barrel of Liquor, of which when each had got his Dose, the Effects of the Poison began to work differently upon these poor Patients, that seem'd lately in a State so florid. Some, that were of the most gigantick Size, like Father Dominick in the Spanish Fryer, sunk two Yards and a Half in the Wetting. Others again, who were thin Men, were bloated by Dropsies, into the Dimensions which the former had shrunk from. — They, who just before, had Vigour enough to out-voice their own Hunting-Horns, were, by a Dose or two of that strange, alternative Liquor, brought to squeak like those Pipes, which the Boys make of an Oat-straw. — They, who used to leap Five-bar-Gates, Quickset Hedges, and Park-Palings, could not wag a Hand, or a Foot, without crying out of the Gout, or the Rheumatism: These had been called in the World, COUNTRY 'SQUIRES, and were active Men in the Time, at the Hunting down of a Fox, or crying up of a Burgess. — But it was dismal to behold, what Faces they made now, when the Fury shew'd them their own Figures, in the startling Glass of Reflection!

But I was transported in the next Place I came to, and flatter'd my Imagination, that I was got out of the infernal Regions, into those, which were form'd for Delight, and, by the Ancients, called The Elysian Fields. I was led into a noble Edifice, adorn'd with the most magnificent Furniture, Gildings, Sculptures, Paintings, Glass-Sconces, with Hundreds of Wax Tapers, lighted in them; the Roofs echoed and resounded with the finest Musick, that cou'd arise from the most elegant Variety of the sweetest Instruments. Here was an Assembly of the most active and fine-shap'd Gentlemen, together a Set of the most seemingly modest and beautiful Women, that ever my Eyes beheld; — when, immediately, two Devils in Masquerade, appeared to the Company, with the most complaisant and inviting Airs imaginable. — One of them led the Gentlemen to a luxurious Table, adorn'd with Crystals, replenished with the strongest and richest Wines of all Growths and Climates, and dealt Glasses round with Profusion: The other, which was a She Devil, conducted the Ladies, like Manner, to another Table, richly ornamented with Silver Equipages, and Vales of the finest China, which were filled, as she pretended, with Liquors, that promoted Sobriety, but had really so different an Effect, that the Fumes and Vapours arising from their Brimmers, forced me to remove to a greater Distance.

This Drinking Scene being finished, the Word was given to Mask and Dance; — But, instead of forming a regular Motion, the whole Company, Male and Female, without Distinction of Sex, Age or Condition, fell, jumbled, into one promiscuous Heap; upon which ensued horrid Outcries, and a confus'd Clash of Swords, from Men, who were murdering one another, about Daughters, Wives and Sisters; So that in a Moment, methought, like the shifting of a Scene in Dr. Faustus, this fine Apartment was chang'd into an Hospital, distinguish'd into little Closets, like Cells. — In these unhappy little Cells, were Ladies under a Course of Torment, (a Fury always holding before their Eyes, a Picture of their departed Beauty:) I took Notice of One, whose Picture represented the smoothest, Satten Skin, with the finest Tincture imaginable, while the blubbering Original was melting away in Tears, with Cheeks swell'd into Carbuncles, and spotted over with purple Pimples: Another, whose Portrait display'd a Loveliness, almost Angelical, was staring on it with bloodshot Eyes, and a Face, so distorted with Convulsions, that she look'd, methought, more frightful than the Fury, that attended her. — I begg'd of CAUTION to let me retreat from this melancholy Mansion, because it fill'd me with more Horror than I was able to support, to see the Effects of such seeming Pleasantry, producing Despair and real Misery; and such alluring Beauty, betray'd into such hideous and frightful Deformity.

CAUTION was so obliging, as to grant my Petition in Part; but told me, That as I must carry Warning with me, when I return'd to the upper Regions, she was under a Necessity of conducting me to several other Places. This made it impossible for me to hasten out of my Dream, and will not, I hope, expose me to the Censure, which we old People sometimes lie under, of being tedious in our Story-telling, and talking rather by Rule than by Measure. — In short, I find I must Dream, till I come to the End of my next Paper. . . .

I was as much deceiv'd in the next Place, that Old Mother CAUTION convey'd me to, as I had been in the last. — A magnificent Square open'd to my View, whose four Sides were form'd by the finest Architecture. Those Stately Palaces, my Guide told me, were inhabited by Persons of the highest Rank and Fortune, and who were reckon'd to have the most delicate Taste of Living. She carry'd me into one, that appear'd the noblest in the Quadrangle; and, there, from a Window towards the Garden, which is situated on an Eminence, that borders on delicious Fields, and commands an opening Extent of Country, she shew'd me, by the Help of a Prospective Glass, a Dozen fair Manor-Towns, all surrounded by a pleasant Variety of Hills and Dales, Plains and Woods, Green Meadows and Corn Fields, richly waving with a promis'd Harvest: Gardens, Groves, and sweet Parterres, with Fish Ponds and Canals that glitter'd thro' the Trees; All which, she said, was but a small Portion of the Earth, enjoy'd by this Son of Fortune, who was Master of that fine Place we stood in. — This House had been, it seems, every Day, in the Afternoon, and every Night, and all the Night long, crowded from Top to Bottom, with People of all Sexes, Ages, and Countries; who, provided they had the Merit of wanting nothing, were welcome to partake of all the Abundance of this Place; where nothing appear'd, but what was noble and delightful. The Earth, from Pole to Pole, was ransack'd (as were the Air and Water) to supply this House with Delicacies.

But the Owner (who gloried in his Hospitality, without esteeming any one of his Guests, but in proportion as he profess'd an Admiration of this Ostentatious Magnificence of Living) valued himself most upon the Variety of his tasteful Wines, which Merchants, from all Quarters of the World, were Hourly emptying in upon him. — They were distinguish'd by such different Names, that it would require as much Study, as would make a Scholar in any other Science, to Register, and do Justice to their Titles, Colours, Tastes, and the happy Places which produc'd them. Different Companies in every Apartment, had their Signals, and gave Fire together; and, by their Number, it was reckon'd, That every leading Glass, that was turn'd up by the gay Master, pour'd out about a Tun, including Servants Computations, by way of Perquisite, and Emolument.

CAUTION, at the Sound of every Health, bid me view the Manors from the Garden Window; and I perceiv'd a Man in a Black Gown, presenting a Roll of Parchment to another, who was a jolly kind of Fellow, and Steward, it seems, to the Landlord, arm'd with a Letter of Attorney, to sign what Deeds he should find necessary. — No sooner was this Parchment return'd to the Man in Black, but immediately the Prospect shorten'd, by the Length of one whole Village, which, vanishing from our Sight, left us no other Land Mark, where it stood, but a vast and fruitful Crab Tree. — The Healths went round so frequently, and so merrily, that the Villages and Manor-Towns, disappear'd like Mists, in a Sunny Morning; till at last, the Gentleman in Black, with a Train of frightful Monsters at his Heels, enter'd fiercely the Mansion-House, whence all the Company ran hastily away; and the louder the Master call'd after them, so much the faster they continued running.

As soon as we were got into the Square (alas! fuit Ilium!) I mean the Spot, where the Square had stood; all the Palaces, were vanish'd; and turn'd, methought, into an Orchard of Crab-Trees; with whose Fruit, a Croud of fine Gentlemen, who were running away in their Shirts, were pelted without Mercy, by red Furies, to whose Favourites (a Number of Vintners and lucky Gamesters) they had, but just before, transferr'd their Birth-right.

It is impossible to express the Anguish, the Despair, of these unlanded Gentlemen; some tore down Branches, and, accusing one another for the Seduction of ill Example, form'd a Battle with dismember'd Crab-Trees; others hang'd themselves among the Boughs, at the Approach of ill-look'd Ruffians, who surrounded them in their new Orchard.

The next was an Assembly of Men of Wit; consisting of a Poet, an Orator, a Philosopher, a Mathematician, a Divine, a Military Officer, the fine Gentlemen who entertain'd them all, and an Eunuch, who sung in the Opera. — The Poet recited a Hymn to Bacchus of his own Composing — The Orator, with great Gracefulness harangu'd upon the Force of Eloquence, which he attributed to the Warmth of Wine — The Philosopher set Cato's Virtue before them, as held steady, by the Strength of Drinking. — The Divine averr'd, That, Solomon said, Wine made the Face of a Man to SHINE, and prov'd it very soberly, by shewing its Effects upon his own illuminated Countenance. — The Mathematician produc'd a Pun, and said, He lov'd a full Gage, because it was the Perfection of Measure: and to measure exactly, was the Duty of his Profession. — The Officer commended Wine, as a great Inflamer of Courage; and quoted a Dutch Author, in Defence of the Use of Drinking in Times of War: and the faithful Service of Auxiliary Brandy. — The fine Gentleman expatiated on the Advantage to be reap'd by entertaining such polite Company, when assembled over a Bottle; and ordered the Fury that attended them to put round the Glass; at which the Eunuch began to sing, and the whole Company clapp'd their Hands, and roar'd out Encore, and Bravo.

No sooner had the Glass gone round, but the Orator propos'd Method to be the Foundation of Argument; and insisted, that All should talk in their Turns; which, as soon as any began to do, he broke in upon his own Rule; and gallop'd, with a bawling Voice, through Divisions and Subdivisions, till he had disunited the whole Company. — The Poet, thought he had equal Right to the Use of his Tongue, and rose to assert it, in an exorbitant Manner, just as he found he had lost the Use of it. — The Philosopher cried out, in vain, That Men must labour to subdue their Passions, and, to convince them how easy it was, fell into so violent a one himself, that he knock'd down the poor Poet, with a Club, called Argumentum Baccilinum; For, says he, there is no other Way of disputing against those who deny first Principles; — The Divine, seeing a Philosopher turn Murderer, and talk, at the same Time, of Principles, thunder'd out Anathemas against Disputing at all, where the Business, they met for, was Drinking. — The Mathematician was uttering Problems, and tracing out a Globe upon the Table, with his Fingers dipt in the Liquor that the Scufflers had spilt upon it; and the fine-bred Gentleman to assist the Depth of his important Designs, was pouring more Wine, to that which was spilt already, lest he might want a Supply of Liquor; But just as the Figure was upon the Point of being finished, the Officer swore it made dull Company, and rubb'd it out with his Sleeve: The Mathematician seeing his Globe defac'd, cried The World was at an End; to which the Philosopher and Divine agreeing, and the rest of the Company denying it, they fell all together by the Ears, and squeezed the Eunuch to Death, while he was trying the Influence of his Musick against Madness.

When the Fury was just going to restore them to their Senses again, that they might perform over the same Exercise, (which they do, it seems, every Hour, just as strange Sights are shewn in Fairs, or as Drunken Men renew their waking-Debauches, after a little Interval of Sleep, in their Life-times) I left them, with a pungent Regret, that there should be in Liquor, such a Power of turning of Strength into Weakness, Health into Sickness, Beauty into Deformity, Riches into Poverty, Friendship into Murder, Wisdom into Folly, and Wit into Madness!

I wak'd with no small Wonder at this sleeping Ramble of my Imagination: But turning over a Collection of Old News-Papers, bound up in Volumes, from the Restoration, gradually downward, I found them fill'd with Yearly Proofs, that Men act the very same Follies, waking in this World, that I had been Dreaming were done in the other.

There I found Accounts of Men of great Estates, dead in a Prison, from the Effects of Drinking: — Quarrels every jot as fantastical as any I have been describing — There were Accounts of Men casting Lots, in their Liquor, which should be hang'd, and which the Hangman; — Here were fine Histories of others, who, in a ridiculous Bravado, had drank the Health of the Devil, in a Punch-bowl season'd with Opium, and launch'd down, while the Humour was on 'em, to pay a Visit to their grateful Patron. — I look'd back as far as the Time, when certain wild Beasts, called Mohocks, had broke loose, here in London; and I found that it was no new Thing for Generals, and Common Soldiers, Lords, Watchmen, and Drawers, Counts, Cobblers and Hackney-Coachmen, to engage in no unequal Matches together, and fight with all the Triumph of Drunkenness; nay, what is more, I found all this as duly repeated here, as I dreamt it to be in the Lower Regions.

While I was thus poring over my News Papers, and reflecting, that the Life of Man, tallied exactly (as to its Extravagance) with the Dreams of his disorder'd Fancy, I heard a noise in the Street, as if all Barbican were in an Uproar, and looking out of my Window, I saw Men with gilded Staves, and an Air of exerted Magistracy, knocking down a Set of roaring little Heroes, with Leeks in their Hats. — Inquiring into the Matter, I was told, by an Arch-Wag (smiling, as if he derided my Ignorance) That it was nothing, but a few Welshmen; who were got loyally Drunk, and did sober People a Mischief, in Honour of the good Saint, their Patron.

I resolv'd then (as extravagant as my Thoughts seem'd to me before, and perfectly remov'd out of Nature) to pen them down; since I found, such Persons did really exist, as I had believ'd, Imagination could only shadow, in the preposterous Inconsistence of a Dream. — It may, thought I, be of Use, to shew Men, who are addicted to this Vice, their Pictures, plac'd in the fullest Point of Absurdity: And, since most of them take Hell to be a Dream, it is natural enough to expect, that a Dream of Hell may divert them.


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