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20 Mar 2021
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Rev James Peddie
(1758 – 1845)


Published in "The Spectator," September 1, 1711.

The Vision of Mirza
Joseph Addison

Omnem, quæ nunc obducta tuenti
Mortales hebetat visus tibi, et humida circum
Caligat, nubem eripiam.
– Virgil
, "Æneid," ii. 604.

("Every cloud which now drawn before thee dulls thy mortal vision and sends mists around thee, I shall snatch away.")


WHEN I was at Grand Cairo, I picked up several oriental manuscripts, which I have still by me. Among others I met with one entitled "The Visions of Mirza," which I have read over with great pleasure. I intend to give it to the public when I have no other entertainment for them, and shall begin with the first vision, which I have translated word for word, as follows:–

"On the fifth day of the moon, which according to the custom of my forefathers I always keep holy, after having washed myself and offered up my morning devotions, I ascended the high hills of Baghdad, in order to pass the rest of the day in meditation and prayer. As I was here airing myself on the tops of the mountains, I fell into a profound contemplation on the vanity of human life, and passing from one thought to another,'Surely,' said I,'man is but a shadow, and life a dream.' Whilst I was thus musing, I cast my eyes towards the summit of a rock that was not far from me, where I discovered one in the habit of a shepherd, with a little musical instrument in his hand. As I looked upon him he applied it to his lips, and began to play upon it. The sound of it was exceeding sweet, and wrought into a variety of tunes that were inexpressibly melodious and altogether different from anything I had ever heard. They put me in mind of those heavenly airs that are played to the departed souls of good men upon their first arrival in Paradise, to wear out the impressions of the last agonies, and qualify them for the pleasures of that happy place. My heart melted away in secret raptures.

"I had often been told that the rock before me was the haunt of a genius; and that several had been entertained with music who had passed by it, but never heard that the musician had before made himself visible. When he had raised my thoughts by those transporting airs which he played, to taste the pleasures of his conversation, as I looked upon him like one astonished, he beckoned to me, and by the waving of his hand directed me to approach the place where he sat. I drew near with that reverence which is due to a superior nature; and as my heart was entirely subdued by the captivating strains I had heard, I fell down at his feet and wept. The genius smiled upon me with a look of compassion and affability that familiarized him to my imagination, and at once dispelled all the fears and apprehensions with which I approached him. He lifted me from the ground, and taking me by the hand,'Mirza,' said he,'I have heard thee in thy soliloquies; follow me.'

"He then led me to the highest pinnacle of the rock, and placing me on the top of it,'Cast thy eyes eastward,' said he'and tell me what thou seest.''I see,' said I,'a huge valley and a prodigious tide of water rolling through it.''The valley that thou seest,' said he,'is the Vale of Misery, and the tide of water that thou seest is part of the great tide of eternity.' What is the reason,' said I, 'that the tide I see rises out of a thick mist at one end, and again loses itself in a thick mist at the other?''What thou seest,' said he,'is that portion of eternity which is called time, measured out by the sun, and reaching from the beginning of the world to its consummation. Examine now,' said he,'this sea that is thus bounded by darkness at both ends, and tell me what thou discoverest in it.''I see a bridge,' said I,'standing in the midst of the tide.''The bridge thou seest,' said he,'is human life; consider it attentively.' Upon a more leisurely survey of it I found that it consisted of more than threescore and ten entire arches, with several broken arches, which, added to those that were entire, made up the number to about a hundred. As I was counting the arches, the genius told me that this bridge consisted at first of a thousand arches; but that a great flood swept away the rest, and left the bridge in the ruinous condition I now beheld it.'But tell me further,' said he,'what thou discoverest on it.''I see multitudes of people passing over it,' said I,'and a black cloud hanging on each end of it.' As I looked more attentively, I saw several of the passengers dropping through the bridge into the great tide that flowed underneath it; and upon further examination, perceived there were innumerable trap-doors that lay concealed in the bridge, which the passengers no sooner trod upon, but they fell through them into the tide and immediately disappeared. These hidden pitfalls were set very thick at the entrance of the bridge, so that throngs of people no sooner broke through the cloud, but many of them fell into them. They grew thinner towards the middle, but multiplied and lay closer together towards the end of the arches that were entire.

"There were indeed some persons, but their number was very small, that continued a kind of hobbling march on the broken arches, but fell through one after another, being quite tired and spent with so long a walk.

"I passed some time in the contemplation of this wonderful structure, and the great variety of objects which it presented. My heart was filled with a deep melancholy to see several dropping unexpectedly in the midst of mirth and jollity, and catching at everything that stood by them to save themselves. Some were looking up towards the heavens in a thoughtful posture, and in the midst of a speculation stumbled and fell out of sight. Multitudes were very busy in the pursuit of bubbles that glittered in their eyes and danced before them, but often when they thought themselves within the reach of them their footing failed and down they sunk. In this confusion of objects, I observed some with scimitars in their hands, and others with urinals, who ran to and fro upon the bridge, thrusting several persons on trap-doors which did not seem to lie in their way, and which they might have escaped had they not been thus forced upon them.

"The genius, seeing me indulge myself on this melancholy prospect, told me I had dwelt long enough upon it, "Take thine eyes off the bridge,' said he,'and tell me if thou seest anything thou dost not comprehend.' Upon looking up,'What mean,' said I,'those great flights of birds that are perpetually hovering about the bridge, and settling up it from time to time? I see vultures, harpies, ravens, cormorants, and among many other feathered creatures several little winged boys that perch in great numbers upon the middle arches,''These,' said the genius,'are Envy, Avarice, Superstition, Despair, Love, with the like cares and passions that infest human life.'

"I here fetched a deep sigh.'Alas,' said I,'man was made in vain: how is he given away to misery and mortality, tortured in life, and swallowed up in death! The genius being moved with compassion towards me, bid me quit so uncomfortable a prospect.'Look no more,' said he,'on man in the first stage of his existence, in his setting out for eternity; but cast thine eye on that thick mist into which the tide bears the several generations of mortals that fall into it.' I directed my sight as I was ordered, and (whether or no the good genius strengthened it with any supernatural force, or dissipated part of the mist that was before too thick for eye to penetrate) I saw the valley opening at the farther end, and spreading forth into an immense ocean that had a huge rock of adamant running through the midst of it, and dividing it into two equal parts. The clouds still rested on one half of it, insomuch that I could discover nothing in it; but the other appeared to me a vast ocean planted with innumerable islands, that were covered with fruits and flowers, and interwoven with a thousand little shining seas that ran among them. I could see persons dressed in glorious habits with garlands upon their heads, passing among the trees, lying down by the sides of fountains, or resting on beds of flowers; and could hear a confused harmony of singing birds, falling waters, human voices, and musical instruments. Gladness grew in me upon the discovery of so delightful a scene. I wished for the wings of an eagle that I might fly away to those happy seats; but the genius told me there was no passage to them except through the gates of death that I saw opening every moment upon the bridge.'The islands,' said he,'that lie so fresh and green before thee, and with which the whole face of the ocean appears spotted as far as thou canst see, are more in number than the sands on the seashore; there are myriads of islands behind those which thou here discoverest, reaching farther than thine eye, or even thine imagination can extend itself. These are the mansions of good men after death, who, according to the degree and kinds of virtue in which they excelled, are distributed amount these several islands, which abound with pleasures of different kinds and degrees suitable to the relishes and perfections of those who are settled in them; every island is a paradise accommodated to its respective inhabitants. Are not these, O Mirza, habitations worth contending for? Does life appear miserable that gives thee opportunities of earning such a reward? Is death to be feared that will convey thee to so happy an existence? Think not man was made in vain who has such an eternity reserved for him.' I gazed with inexpressible pleasure on these happy islands. At length, said I,'Show me now, I beseech thee, the secrets that lie hid under those dark clouds which cover the ocean on the other side of the rock of adamant.' The genius making me no answer, I turned me about to address myself to him a second time, but I found that he had left me; I then turned again to the vision which I had been so long contemplating; but, instead of the rolling tide, the arched bridge, and the happy islands, I saw nothing but the long valley of Baghdad, with oxen, sheep, and camels grazing upon the sides of it."

The end of the first vision of Mirza.


Published in "Universal Magazine" 95 (July 1794) 12-15.

The Second Vision of Mirza.

A sequel, signed "O," to Joseph Addison's famous "Vision of Mirza" first published in 1711 in Spectator No. 160. This anonymous essay is based on the plan of the Choice of Hercules. Mirza beholds contrasting views of the Region of Despair and the Happy Isles, and is encouraged to pursue his religious vocation by the figure of Hope. The attempt here to capture something of the Moslem character is typical of a growing interest in cultural differences, even as the moral is universalized.

The Vision of Mirza, versified from the Spectator (1753) was reviewed by the Monthly Review with the comment "It may be sufficient to say of this performance, that Mr. Addison's original is not rendered less agreeable by this version of it" 9 (1753) 478.

ENCOURAGED by the appearance of the benevolent genius, who had placed before me the reward that awaits the virtuous, and animated by the hope of receiving farther instruction, I performed every duty of a good mussulman with a scrupulous exactness, that might render me still more worthy of the honour that had been conferred on me.

At the end of the month Ramaden, which I had kept sacred by fasting, according to the strict injunctions of the prophet, I ascended once more the mountains of Bagdat, in the hope that my unknown friend would again condescend to visit an unworthy but devout worshipper of Allah, and of his prophet: I was not deceived in this expectation. Having lain down on the brow of an eminence, that commanded a prospect of the city, and of the plain, I began to meditate on the scenes that had formerly past before me. While I was thus employed, my senses were again ravished by celestial music, of which the sweetness arising from an exquisite modulation, conveyed a delight that surpasses description. It descended gradually from the higher region; and ceasing at the moment when it reached the place where I reclined, the heavenly musician again flood before me. He was not now clad in the dress of a shepherd, although his countenance displayed its former benignity. My eyes were dazzled by his resplendent wings, that sparkled as he moved with innumerable dies, the combination of which almost overpowered mortality. A crown glittered on his forehead, and a white robe, edged with gold, falling down to his feet, heightened the majesty of his aspect and deportment.

"Mirzah," said the genius, with a look of ineffable complacency, "thy oblation of a pure heart, and thy attention to the duties of religion, are acceptable to the great Allah. Carry thine eyes from me to the prospect before thee, and tell me what thou seest?" – "I see," answered I, turning my eyes toward the tomb of the prophet, "the long valley, the tide, the bridge crowded with passengers, the rock of adamant dividing an immense ocean into two equal parts, and the black clouds that rest upon the opposite sides of it."

"Look," said my conductor, "more closely upon the clouds on the left side: of the mass of adamant." I gazed intently upon the object toward which my sight was directed; when, the clouds being dispersed, I saw that the ocean was bounded by a chain of inaccessible rocks, whose summits were exceeded in height only by the stupendous pile of adamant that overlooked the prospect. – "These precipices," said he, "are the boundaries of an immense territory, that is surrounded on all sides by an interminable ocean, and is called the Region of Despair. Thou canst not yet discover the inhabitants, who have no means of escape from it. But look now upon the space between these barriers and the bridge, and tell me what thou discoverest?" – "I see," said I, "the birds that rested in great numbers upon the middle arches, taking flight toward these rocks, over which they mount successively, and are no longer beheld." – "These," said he, "are the beings who drew the unwary passengers into pitfalls, which they might have avoided by care and circumspection. They now follow them into the Region of Despair, in order to heighten their punishment."

I gazed, while he was yet speaking, upon my benevolent guide; and having perceived nothing in his countenance, that should prevent me from making another request: "Let me now," said I, "behold the inhabitants of the gloomy mansion before me, and be the witness of the horrors of their destiny, that I may be deterred from vice as much as by the view of its punishments, as I have been incited to practise virtue by the contemplation of its reward."

The genius looking upon me, while I pronounced these words, with a mixture of pity and severity, raised me from the ground, and upon recovering my sight, of which the rapidity of his flight had deprived me for a moment, I perceived that I was placed upon the summit of the adamantine mass, that divided the ocean into two equal parts. I remained during some time motionless with astonishment, upon the place to which I was raised; but reviving at the instant when my benevolent instructor touched my forehead with his hand, I turned my eyes upon the left side, and found, that the precipices no longer obstructed my view of the mansions which they inclosed.

I no sooner began to contemplate the scenes that now opened upon me, than I repented of the request I had made to survey them. I beheld a wide, and, in all appearance, an unbounded region, filled with inhabitants, upon whose faces, as they passed and repassed before me, I could observe strongly impressed, traces of rage, compunction, remorse, and dismay. They were followed by beings who held bows in their hands ready bent, from which they discharged envenomed arrows at the miserable objects of their vengeance, who, as soon as they felt the point, sunk into the earth.

I recoiled, with unutterable horror, from this scene of complicated misery, which a superior power compelled me to behold. The genius (who had been offended at my request to witness the destiny of those victims of divine displeasure) looked sternly upon me: "Brother of the worm," said he, "why didst thou conceive thyself to be able to witness the punishment of the children of darkness? I will farther chastise thee by granting thy request." – While he spoke, the ground upon which I gazed was cleft asunder; and I beheld under it, by the light blue and livid flame, a region that had hitherto been concealed: I perceived, that they who inhabited this dismal mansion, were tossed about in perpetual agitation by waves of liquid fire, that appeared to rise and fall successively, as those of an ocean disturbed by earthquakes, or vexed by storms. I saw that beings of gigantic magnitude, and of horrible aspect, occupied the higher part of this abyss; and while I listened to what passed below, methought I heard the sound of the scourge, the clanking of chains, the raving of frenzy, and the shrieking of pain. An universal wail, that indicated the exclusion of hope, overpowered my senses. I fell motionless at the feet of my conductor, who immediately raised me up, and smiling upon me with his usual complacency: "Thou hast seen," said he, "O Mirzah, a land of which thou wilt never become an inhabitant. It is the abode of despair; an abode into which those are received, who fall by the fiery arrows that are launched at them in the upper region. Before I leave thee, (said my benevolent friend, with an eye, to which pity gave the mildest expression) let me raise thy dejected heart, by a display that may wear out the impressions of what thou hast seen."

While he was yet speaking, I perceived that the clouds on the right side of the rock were again dispelled; and that the happy isles, the meandering rivulets, the little shining seas, encircling meadows that were overspread with verdure, and enamelled with flowers the bowers impregnated with fragrance; the zephyrs that played among the branches; and the persons, crowned with garlands, and arrayed in white robes, who reclined in the luxury of enjoyment under their shade, again captivated my sight, and struck a ravishment to my heart, that cannot be uttered. – Whether the delight I now felt was heightened by the lessened distance, at which I beheld its objects; or whether it was improved by comparison with the scenes that I had so lately contemplated, I cannot determine; but the air, methought, was milder and more exhilarating; the voices sweeter and more musical; the inhabitants more enchantingly beautiful; and the concert of all more exquisitely harmonious, than at the time of my former enjoyment. – "Ah," cried I, in a transport of which I could no longer suppress the language, "if I cannot be immediately translated into those glorious and happy regions, be not again offended at the wishes which thou had stirred up in the heart of a reptile of the dust! Let me have a token of remembrance, whereby I may he supported in my journey through the vale of misery, in the prospect of arriving, at the happy abodes beyond it." "Mirzah, said the genius, "I am now about to leave thee, until we shall meet together in yonder scenes of felicity! In the mean time, receive from me what thou wishest to obtain; cast thine eye again upon the bridge."

I turned, as I was directed, and beheld, among the winged train that hung over the arches, a female of distinguished beauty and elegance, who seemed to be present in all parts at once. She appeared to consider the passengers indiscriminately as her children; and hovering over them, sometimes directed their course by the waving of her hand, and sometimes illuminated their path by the splendour of her eye. I felt an emotion, while I gazed upon this amiable friend of men, which I cannot describe. It was a sensation of delight, that rouzed all the powers of my mind into the most vigorous activity; I felt as if I had received wings, fitted to bear me into whatever region I might choose to, direct my flight. My happiness at this moment would have been complete, had it not been chastised by a secret distrust and apprehension, which, while it tempered the sallies of transport, excited me to strenuous efforts, and rendered the task delightful, which had formerly been undertaken with reluctance, and accomplished with pain. While I was thus employed, I imagined that the being upon whom I looked with admiration, turned her eye toward me; and that she beheld me with a smile that ravished my heart. The bloom of spring was on her cheek, and the radiance of morning sparkled in her eyes. While I yet gazed upon her with ineffable delight, she spread her wings, and alighted in an instant at my side. Nature was re-animated at her approach; Gladness sported in her train; and Happiness seemed to be the handmaid of her will. I drew nearer, methought, to the land of rejoicing; and judged myself already to be a member of the society of the blessed.

Before I had time to speak, my divine companion raised me with one hand, and pointing with the other to the objects that were in sight, addressed to me the following words:

"I, O Mirzah, am the being by whom nature is prevented from languishing in her operations. My name is Hope. I am originally a daughter of Paradise, from which I voluntarily descended to the vale of misery, in order to alleviate the afflictions of men, and to conduct yonder passengers to the happy land, which thou beholdest in prospect. – Yonder (she continued, with an elevated voice, and an erected hand) are the abodes to which the tide of eternity will convey the virtuous! Look upon them under the influence, and with the animation of Hope! I will be the companion of thy journey to the region of felicity, in common with the other children of Virtue. In no peril or difficulty, shall mine eye cease to enlighten thy path, or the influence of my counsel be withheld from thy request. My present form will indeed be dissolved, at the time when the tide that rolls under yonder bridge shall have swallowed up its remaining arches; but rising from it with superior splendour and beauty, I will accompany into the mansions of the blessed, the spirits whom I have animated in their journey, and will share with them the enjoyment of a reward, that will no longer be the object of desire."

My spirit was now on the wing to depart: "Ah!" I exclaimed, "why am I not at this moment translated to the mansions of the happy? Merciful powers, let me not sojourn again in the vale of misery! Bear, O bear me, over the little stream that parts me from the happy isles! The inhabitants already beckon me to approach, and tune their harps to welcome my arrival."

While I spoke, I was again raised from the ground; but when I looked around, in the expectation of being united to the sons and daughters of paradise, I found myself in the streets of Bagdat, among a concourse of the devout worshippers of Allah, who were going to perform, at the mosque, their evening devotions.