Henry Fielding's nightmare vision of the pursuit of wealth is one of the better eighteenth century allegories. In the first installment, a series of travellers brutishly make their way to Wealth's golden palace; the second describes their unhappiness upon their arrival, and the fearsome Cave of Poverty.
The Goddess of Wealth, modeled on Spenser's Philotime, remains a virgin because none are able to enjoy her. Fielding was in dire financial straits when he wrote this allegory, and it is poignant to note that Christopher Smart, more impoverished still, later reprinted it in his Universal Visitor (1756) without acknowledgement and with the identifying passages stripped away; it was reprinted again in 1766 in the British Magazine.
In addition to describing his "admiration" for Spenser in the number for 13 December, Fielding (or his collaborator James Ralph; essays in the Champion were anonymous) mentions Spenser in a catalogue of London poets, 24 November 1739, and expresses admiration for the engravings in John Hughes's edition of Spenser's Works, 15 May 1740.
Nathan Drake: "The Champion was published thrice a week, on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, and consists of ninety-four numbers, the first of which is dated November 15th, 1739, and the last June 19th, 1740. The first edition in its collected form, which is that in my possession, was printed in 1741, in two volumes duodecimo, and the work has undergone, I believe, three impressions. An advertisement prefixed to the first volume informs us, that 'several persons having been concerned in writing the Champion, and it not being reasonable that any one should be answerable for the rest, it has been thought proper to signify to the reader, that all the papers distinguished with a C, or an L, are the work of one hand.' The numbers thus distinguished were the composition of Fielding, and stamp a considerable value on the production, which, with the exception of the Freethinker, is superior to any that we have noticed since the close of the eighth volume of the Spectator. A great portion of the Champion is employed on the follies, vices, amusements, and literature of the age; and the remainder is occupied by political wit and discussion uniformly directed against the administration of Walpole; to every paper, indeed, is annexed what is termed an 'Index to the Times,' consisting of news miscellaneous and political, and frequently charged with the most sarcastic irony" Essays Illustrative of the Rambler (1809-10) 1:85-86.
Quevedo calls a covetous rich Man, one who knows where a Treasure is hid. A Sentiment, which, I think, sets this Person in a most just and ridiculous Light. If there be any Vice, which carries with it a more especial Mark of Madness than all the rest, it is this. The Devil may be said to deal with the covetous Man, as Dr. Smith tells us, he does with the Swearer, to cheat him of his Soul without giving him any Thing for it.
Plautus, and from him several modern Writers have exposed this covetous Man with great Extravagance and Redundancy of Humour; nor do I know any Character, which is received both on the French and English Stage, with so general a Satisfaction. The Spectators always shewing a very visible Pleasure in all the Disappointments which he meets with through the whole Comedy.
Mr. Nehemiah Vinegar hath communicated to me a Dream, or Vision, of his, which, he imagines to have been occasioned by being a Spectator the other Night at the Comedy of the Miser, and which I shall give the Public without any farther Preface.
Methought, says he, I was conveyed into a large Plain, at the upper End of which stood a huge, old Fabric of the Gothic Kind: Its Outside seemed all of pure Gold, and by the Reflection of the Sun-beams made the most charming Appearance I ever beheld. As I stood some Time still, admiring this stupendous Structure, which seemed capable of receiving an infinite Number of Inhabitants, I observed several Passengers pass by me in all manner of Vehicles, and some on Foot, who all made directly to it. Most of the Foot Passengers were heavy laden, and some were scarce able to stand under their Burthen. They seemed also to shew great Apprehension of one another, scarce two being in Company together, and often looking round them with great Caution, least any one approached too near them. My Curiosity encreasing to know whither all those Persons could be going, I took an Opportunity of joining one, whose Countenance appeared less forbidding than the rest, and asked him the Name of the Place, which he and so many others were approaching. Instead of returning me a direct Answer, he replied with a piteous Tone, "Ah! Sir, I am afraid I never shall get thither: I am not the Man the World takes me for. Before the South-Sea indeed I had some Hopes, but that gave me such a pull back, that I am afraid I never shall recover it. I have been travelling Night and Day ever since, and yet am not so far as I was before that curst Year." As I saw he was mending his Pace, and desired to leave me, I turned about from him, and found myself overtaken by a grave, old Gentleman, whose Journey was considerably retarded by a well-dressed, young Fellow of about five and twenty; this latter was continually pulling him by the Sleeve, and desiring him to stop, for that he had gone enough of all Conscience: To which the other answered, "That he should be undone, he could not support him; that if it had not been for lugging him along, he should have been at the Palace long since; that he had sometimes dragged him father back in a Day, than he had been able to recover in a Month." I had just Time to recollect the Faces of both, and knew them to be a very rich Citizen and his Son — when I beheld a jolly plain-dressed Man with a Pack on his Shoulders, which almost bent him to the Ground. He was followed by a very comely Personage in Embroidery, who bowed to him every three Steps, and begged that he might ease him of that Burthen, which he promised to deliver to him again at the Palace Gate: This, however, the other refused; and I heard him say, "My Lord, this Burthen is not so heavy as you imagine, nor is it my own, wherefore I can by no means trust it from my Shoulders, to which it is indeed so fast sowed that it will be difficult to separate them." This Couple had no sooner past me, than there came up a Coach and Pair, in which was a tall, thin Man of a very meagre Aspect, who seemed in great Haste, and was continually calling to his Coachman to drive a Pair of Skeleton Horses as fast as he could. He had scarce reached me, when he was overtaken by a very beautiful young Lady on Horseback, who stopped his Coach, and talked to him sometime. I was near enough to hear several amorous Expressions, and a frequent Repetition of the Words "Settlement" and "honourable Design." At last, the young Lady alighted from her Horse, and got into the Coach, which was immediately ordered to turn about, and I observed drove back with much greater Preciptancy than it had advanced, so that it was soon out of Sight. I now resolved to lose no more Time, but to hasten to the Palace: In my Way thither I overtook several, and was overtaken by others; I could hear, as I passed, frequent Mutterings of the Words Poverty, Undone; nor must I omit several melancholy Objects which appear'd on the Road, such as Racks and Gibbets, on which were bestowed the Bodies of several Malefactors. I saw too several, who by over-travelling, without allowing themselves Time sufficiently to refresh themselves, fainted on the Journey, whose Burthens were immediately taken up by others. Some of whom carried on towards the Palace, and others hurried them back again over the Plain. For which Purposes, it was common enough to see an elderly Person followed by half a dozen People, who all waited to take up the Burthen, when he who carried it sunk under it; and sometimes I observed them quarrelling and disputing to whom it belonged; which Contests were rarely decided, till the whole was torn to Pieces. These Pieces were usually gathered up by two grave Men in black Gowns, with green Bags in their Hands, who drove each of them a very large Cart, into which they loaded all the Fragments. These Gentlemen would often wrangle very severely on those Occasions, and dispute into whose Cart the said Fragments should be put; but I observed them always very good Friends at the End of the Contest, and overheard an Agreement between them to make an equal Division of the Booty. Amongst the Multitude of my fellow Travellers, I too particular Notice of a very complaisant Person, who bowed, smiled, and whispered to very one he passed by; upon which I saw several Persons take from their own Burthens, and heap on him, till he became as heavy laden as any on the Road, tho' at first he became as heavy laden as any on the Road, tho' at first his Sack appeared quite empty. I was surprized to hear him tell a very ugly Fellow just before me, "That he was the most agreeable Figure he had ever seen, and that he knew a young Lady who was enamoured with his Person to the last Degree." Upon his passing by me without taking any Notice, tho' he had been particularly civil to every one else: I was a little piqued, till I considered it might possibly happen from my being the only Person there without a Pack on my Back. I had scarce taken my Eyes from this Object, when I beheld a Man in a full bottom'd Wig, who travelled with great Speed, and overthrew great Numbers of People as he passed, several of whom were unable to rise again, I was curious to enquire who this Person was; and was informed that he was a Physician in great Vogue.
As I now approached very near to the Palace, I observed the Crowd to thicken on me, which I at first wondered at, but soon perceived it was occasion'd by a great Number of Persons who were denied Entrance at the Palace Gates; where I was informed no one could be admitted 'till his Burthen became of such a particular Weight. It is impossible to describe the Dejection which appeared in the Faces of those who were repelled; some few of these I observed to turn back again, others to go off a little to a Road which they told me led to the Castle of Content: but the far greatest Part immediately applied themselves to filling up their Bags by all Manner of Means till they became Weight.
Upon my Arrival at the Gates of the Palace, which I was now told, was the Palace of Wealth, I was asked by the Porter in a hoarse Voice, what was the Name of him who had the Impudence to attempt entring there, without a Packet on his Shoulders; to which I confidently answered, that my Name was Nehemiah Vinegar. "How Sir," said the Porter, a little mollified, "a Relation to Capt. Hercules Vinegar?" To which I had no sooner answered in the Affirmative, but the Doors were thrown wide open, and I was not a little pleased to find the Respect which is every where paid to the important Name of my formidable Son.
At my first Entrance into this vast Palace, which was so beautiful and resplendent without, I found myself in a vast large Hall, whose Walls were all over adorn'd with the richest Ornaments in Sculpture, Paintings, precious Stones, Gold, and Silver; in short, every Thing noble, rich, and magnificent; at the upper End of which sat, on a Throne infinitely more glorious than those of the richest Monarchs of the East, a very beautiful young Lady, whose Person was set off with all the Nicety of Art, and a vast Profusion of shining Ornaments. As I attempted to approach the Throne, I was interrupted by one of her Guards, who told me that none was ever suffered to come beyond those Steps, to which I was then advanced, that the beautiful Person whom I behold was the Goddess of Wealth, that I might feast my Eyes as long as I pleas'd at that Distance; but that the Goddess, who was a pure Virgin, and had never been enjoy'd by any, never admitted the greatest of her Votaries to approach nearer. As I was admiring the profound Solemnity of the Place, the great Distance at which the Deity kept all her Attendance, I observed several of those, whom I had before seen without the Palace, to enter the Hall, and having paid their Respects to the Goddess, to pass on to other Apartments. My Curiosity soon persuaded me to follow them, and they led me into a vast Gallery, which surrounded a huge Pit so vastly deep, that it almost made me giddy to look to the Bottom: This, as I afterwards found, was the Cave of Poverty. There were very high and strong Rails, which prevented any Possibility of the Spectator's falling from the Gallery to the Bottom of the Cave, and yet I observed a great Tremor and Paleness to seize every one who durst venture to cast their Eyes downwards; notwithstanding which, it was very remarkable, that not one of the Company could prevail on himself to abstain from surveying the Abyss. I had not been here long, when I perceived an old Gentleman, whose Face I thought I had somewhere seen before, to raise himself with great Agility to the Top of the Rail, whence endeavouring to lay hold on something a little out of his Reach, it gave Way, and he tumbled down backwards into the Cave. Not long after, I saw a very grave Man, standing on the Top of the Rail, attempting to lift others up, whose Packs he had before receiv'd, tumbling down into the Cave, and pulling all those whom he had laid his Hands on down with him: Upon this I heard several mutter to themselves, "Ay, ay, I warrant he will not hurt himself, we shall see him soon again;" and indeed, I soon perceiv'd they were in the right, for I shortly after found him in the Gallery, looking much fresher and plumper than before; tho' the same did not, as I saw, happen to any of those whom he pull'd down with him. This made me instantly conceive, that there was some very easy Way of Ascent from the Bottom of this deep Cave to the Gallery whereon I stood. But I was soon delivered from this Error, and informed, that from the Bottom of the Cave it was almost impossible for any one to ascend again, but that there was a resting Place in the Descent, from whence issued a Pair of private Stairs up to the Gallery; that the Gentleman I had observ'd to fall, had a very particular Knack of lighting on this Place, this being the third Time he had perform'd in this Manner; and that he was so far from being hurt, that he grew visibly more lusty from each Fall. This Feat of Agility, they inform'd me, was call'd "Breaking." I had scarce taken my eyes from this Object, when one whom I had before observ'd to look with great Horror in the Cave, fell backwards into the Gallery and expir'd, as I was afterwards told, with mere Dread of tumbling down. I likewise learnt this to be no uncommon Fate here, and indeed I heard, with great Contempt of their extreme Cowardice, the Lamentations which the far greater Part of the Company continually made of their Apprehension, of Falling, where there was not the least Danger. Several told me, "O! Sir, if I could but get to that Place of Safety yonder, I should be easy, I should be content." Some of them ventured and enjoy'd their Wish, but were still as uneasy and terrified as before, still climbing to Places which appear'd to them of greater Safety; some of these fell back into the Gallery, and others into the Cave. While I stood thus amazed with the great Magnificence and Beauty of the Building, and the meagre Aspects and wretched Appearances of its Inhabitants, most of whom were little better dress'd than Beggars; I was alarmed with a very loud Laugh ascending from the Cave, upon which casting my Eyes downwards, I could just perceive, by the dim Light of a very small Candle, several Persons dancing to the Sound of a scraping Fiddle; and not far from them, a Set of the merriest Countenances I had every seen, sitting round a Table, and feeding, as appear'd, very heartily on some Dish, which I could not at that great Distance distinguish. I could, however, very plainly discern there was no more than one Dish on the Table. This Sight, together with the tedious Time, as it seemed to me, which I had spent in no very agreeable Company, made me ask one who stood near me, if he could procure any Thing to eat. He answer'd, that he would have been glad of my Company to Dinner, but that he had at that Time nothing worth asking me to; his Family being so very small, that they were two Days in consuming one joint of Meat, and that he was to make his Repast on the Relicts of Yesterday. Upon my afterwards applying to a Second and a Third, I received Excuses of much the same Nature; my Hunger at length growing very powerful, I endeavoured to lay hold on a small Piece of Bread, which I saw in a Window near me, when the Owner caught it from me with such Violence, that the Surprize waked me, and deliver'd me from a Place which appear'd to me the most miserable I had ever been in.
As soon as I came to myself, I could not avoid some Reflections on my Vision, which may possibly arise in the Minds of most of my Readers. It appear'd to me, that Wealth is of all worldly Blessings the most imaginary; that Avarice is at once the greatest Tyrant, and the greatest Object of Compassion; and that the Acquisition of over-grown Fortunes, seldom brings the Acquirer more, than the Care of preserving them, and the Fear of losing them.