Artabanzanus/Epilogue

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EPILOGUE.

Now that the book is completed, a brief analysis of it may be given, with a few hints concerning the author's leading purpose. It was in a time of tedious recovery from serious illness, and while I lay in a perfectly helpless state, that the principal details of this work passed through my mind. When I found myself restored to health I made a prolonged stay at the scene of the strange opening, and stranger close, of the story. The exuberance of imagination which some may find in my work is at least excused by illustrious examples such as have been set by Virgil, Dante, Milton, or as may be found in the 'Pilgrim's Progress,' 'Vathek,' 'King Solomon's Mines,' and works of a similar class.

The Demon of the under-world has often been personified, and his appearance has been graphically described. In the Book of Job he is presented to us as a being capable of going to and fro on the earth, and walking up and down in it; and the experience of poor Job testifies that he did not exercise himself in that way—which to us appears harmless and even commendable—for nothing. It is dreadful to reflect that, but for a merciful restraining influence, we are all at the mercy of this being. The great author of 'The Talisman' addresses some such potent individual, and asks;

'Say, hast thou feeling, sense, and form,
Thunder thy voice, thy garments storm,
As eastern magi say;
With sentient soul of hate and wrath,
And wings to sweep thy deadly path,
And fangs to tear thy prey?"

I have not given wings to my Demon, but presented him with a handsome balloon, worked by powerful machinery, and guided by a clever and obedient driver. I have not, it is to be hoped, blackened the character of the master in describing the characteristics of the servant; if so, the former will be more indebted to a great many whiter and fairer followers than they seem to be at all aware of; and I am not without some anxiety lest I should have dealt with him too severely, for we read that the archangel Michael, when contending with him for the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, 'The Lord rebuke thee.' The question therefore arises. Was it my duty, or my mission, to paint him as I have done, even supposing him to be the sole author of all the evil that is in the world? Many will say that, as I have thrown so much ridicule upon him, I cannot myself believe in his existence. In his existence as a spiritual power I certainly do believe; but I believe that every human being, however weak and humble he may be, can successfully resist him; for there is another, and an infinitely superior, Power always ready to help those who can firmly resolve to try that resistance.

The description of Hades on which I have ventured is not half so shocking as I might have made it, if I had been guided by precedents of a very eminent kind. It has been, and is, known, on paper, and by oral tradition, under such names as the 'Infernal Regions,' the 'Pit of Acheron,' the 'Shades of Tartarus,' the 'Valley of the Shadow of Death,' and 'Hell.' Dante has painted it in extraordinary and almost unimaginable colours, with vivid and revolting horrors, which one would think no human being could have possibly conceived. Milton has peopled it with billions of fallen angels, who are condemned to live amongst rocks of ice and lakes of fire, with fearful monsters and leviathans to bear them company. It is a pity that Shakespeare has not given us an extended view, according to his ideas, of the gloomy world. I forget what Homer says on the prolific subject, but remember Ford's particular vision:

'There is a place in a black and hollow vault,
Where day is never seen; there shines no sun,
But flaming horror of consuming fires;
A lightless sulphur, choked with smoky fogs
Of an infected darkness; in this place
Dwell many thousand thousand sundry sorts
Of never-dying deaths; there damned souls
Roar without pity; there are gluttons fed
On toads and adders; there is burning oil
Poured down the drunkard's throat; the usurer
Is forced to sup whole draughts of molten gold;
There is the murderer for ever stabbed,
Yet can he never die; there lies the wanton
On racks of burning steel, while in his soul
He feels the torment of his raging lust;
There stand those wretched things
Who have dreamed out whole years in lawless sheets
And secret incests, cursing one another.'

The extremity of vindictiveness defeats itself: excessive tyranny begets the spirit of revolt. Surely a God of infinite mercy would not suffer such horrors to continue for ever; and hence men, because they are told that they do continue for ever, become deists and atheists, and will not believe in the existence of things which are altogether beyond their comprehension.

If the introduction of a character like Bellagranda into my otherwise unsullied romance requires any apology, I am quite willing to make it. She, like a great many more of a similar stamp, has found her way into multitudes of stories and histories; and I do not see why she should be rigidly excluded from mine. We can hardly take up a newspaper without finding, either in the Divorce Court or out of it, something about her and her wayward and wanton proceedings. I have taken care, however, not to exhibit her in an offensive or revolting manner, as was often done shamelessly by authors of the old school, when Fielding and Smollet favoured the world with their choice productions. She is, perhaps, as a personification of a very large class—her homicidal and other outrageous tendencies of course always excepted—the most powerful and irresistible instrument of temptation at the command of her powerful parent, the King of Demons. I shall not insult her sex by throwing upon her side the whole of the blame. God knows, and we all know, what heavy burdens of guilt the majority of men have to bear. If Potiphar's wives are not scarce, Josephs are very few and far between.

The readers of history, particularly of Josephus, Froissart, and Gibbon, will fully appreciate my attempted description of the grand review and bloody battle. I have seen many fascinating and imposing reviews, but an actual battle only with a historical glance. In our riper years these oft-repeated pictures of our darkest world become burdens on the brain; and it is hard to say what kind of creatures we should be now if there had never been any war to disturb the even tenor of our lives.

I now take leave of my book, and, after the fashion of the illustrious 'Childe Harold,' bid my readers 'Farewell.' Every reader must make his own applications. I may be accused of taking upon myself to deal severely with some of the follies and vices of mankind: but I have also dealt with their better and nobler qualities, by presenting Julius Winborne's constancy and hatred of wickedness, and Helen St. Clair's purity and elevation of soul. I have not in any case descended to the perfidy and meanness of satirizing any living person. The dead are happily free from all shafts of enmity or sarcasm.

The characters of the kind, liberal, charitable, and sincerely religious people by whom we are surrounded, and to whom many allusions have been made in this work, shine like Stars of Victory in contrast with the meanness, hardness, and sordid selfishness of many of their unblessed fellow-creatures.

THE END.

Elliot Stock, 62, Paternoster Row, London.