Story type: Essay
Saturday, March 3, 1711. Addison.
‘Quoi quisque fere studio devinctus adhaeret:
Aut quibus in rebus multum sumus ante morati:
Atque in qua ratione fuit contenta magis mens;
In somnis eadem plerumque videmur obire.’
Lucr. L. 4.
In one of my late Rambles, or rather Speculations, I looked into the great Hall where the Bank  is kept, and was not a little pleased to see the Directors, Secretaries, and Clerks, with all the other Members of that wealthy Corporation, ranged in their several Stations, according to the Parts they act in that just and regular Oeconomy. This revived in my Memory the many Discourses which I had both read and heard, concerning the Decay of Publick Credit, with the Methods of restoring it, and which, in my Opinion, have always been defective, because they have always been made with an Eye to separate Interests and Party Principles.
The Thoughts of the Day gave my Mind Employment for the whole Night, so that I fell insensibly into a kind of Methodical Dream, which disposed all my Contemplations into a Vision or Allegory, or what else the Reader shall please to call it.
Methoughts I returned to the Great Hall, where I had been the Morning before, but to my Surprize, instead of the Company that I left there, I saw, towards the Upper-end of the Hall, a beautiful Virgin seated on a Throne of Gold. Her Name (as they told me) was Publick Credit. The Walls, instead of being adorned with Pictures and Maps, were hung with many Acts of Parliament written in Golden Letters. At the Upper end of the Hall was the Magna Charta,  with the Act of Uniformity  on the right Hand, and the Act of Toleration  on the left. At the Lower end of the Hall was the Act of Settlement,  which was placed full in the Eye of the Virgin that sat upon the Throne. Both the Sides of the Hall were covered with such Acts of Parliament as had been made for the Establishment of Publick Funds. The Lady seemed to set an unspeakable Value upon these several Pieces of Furniture, insomuch that she often refreshed her Eye with them, and often smiled with a Secret Pleasure, as she looked upon them; but at the same time showed a very particular Uneasiness, if she saw any thing approaching that might hurt them. She appeared indeed infinitely timorous in all her Behaviour: And, whether it was from the Delicacy of her Constitution, or that she was troubled with the Vapours, as I was afterwards told by one who I found was none of her Well-wishers, she changed Colour, and startled at everything she heard. She was likewise (as I afterwards found) a greater Valetudinarian than any I had ever met with, even in her own Sex, and subject to such Momentary Consumptions, that in the twinkling of an Eye, she would fall away from the most florid Complexion, and the most healthful State of Body, and wither into a Skeleton. Her Recoveries were often as sudden as her Decays, insomuch that she would revive in a Moment out of a wasting Distemper, into a Habit of the highest Health and Vigour.
I had very soon an Opportunity of observing these quick Turns and Changes in her Constitution. There sat at her Feet a Couple of Secretaries, who received every Hour Letters from all Parts of the World; which the one or the other of them was perpetually reading to her; and according to the News she heard, to which she was exceedingly attentive, she changed Colour, and discovered many Symptoms of Health or Sickness.
Behind the Throne was a prodigious Heap of Bags of Mony, which were piled upon one another so high that they touched the Ceiling. The Floor on her right Hand, and on her left, was covered with vast Sums of Gold that rose up in Pyramids on either side of her: But this I did not so much wonder at, when I heard, upon Enquiry, that she had the same Virtue in her Touch, which the Poets tell us a ‘Lydian’ King was formerly possessed of; and that she could convert whatever she pleased into that precious Metal.
After a little Dizziness, and confused Hurry of Thought, which a Man often meets with in a Dream, methoughts the Hall was alarm’d, the Doors flew open, and there entered half a dozen of the most hideous Phantoms that I had ever seen (even in a Dream) before that Time. They came in two by two, though match’d in the most dissociable Manner, and mingled together in a kind of Dance. It would be tedious to describe their Habits and Persons; for which Reason I shall only inform my Reader that the first Couple were Tyranny and Anarchy, the second were Bigotry and Atheism, the third the Genius of a Common-Wealth, and a young Man of about twenty-two Years of Age,  whose Name I could not learn. He had a Sword in his right Hand, which in the Dance he often brandished at the Act of Settlement; and a Citizen, who stood by me, whispered in my Ear, that he saw a Spunge in his left Hand. The Dance of so many jarring Natures put me in mind of the Sun, Moon, and Earth, in the ‘Rehearsal’,  that danced together for no other end but to eclipse one another.
The Reader will easily suppose, by what has been before said, that the Lady on the Throne would have been almost frightened to Distraction, had she seen but any one of these Spectres; what then must have been her Condition when she saw them all in a Body? She fainted and dyed away at the sight.
‘Et neq; jam color est misto candore rubori;
Nec Vigor, et Vires, et quae modo visa placebant;
Nec Corpus remanet …’
Ov. ‘Met.’ Lib. 3.
There was as great a Change in the Hill of Mony Bags, and the Heaps of Mony, the former shrinking, and falling into so many empty Bags, that I now found not above a tenth part of them had been filled with Mony. The rest that took up the same Space, and made the same Figure as the Bags that were really filled with Mony, had been blown up with Air, and called into my Memory the Bags full of Wind, which Homer tells us his Hero received as a present from AEolus. The great Heaps of Gold, on either side of the Throne, now appeared to be only Heaps of Paper, or little Piles of notched Sticks, bound up together in Bundles, like Bath-Faggots.
Whilst I was lamenting this sudden Desolation that had been made before me, the whole Scene vanished: In the Room of the frightful Spectres, there now entered a second Dance of Apparitions very agreeably matched together, and made up of very amiable Phantoms. The first Pair was Liberty, with Monarchy at her right Hand: The Second was Moderation leading in Religion; and the third a Person whom I had never seen,  with the genius of Great Britain. At their first Entrance the Lady reviv’d, the Bags swell’d to their former Bulk, the Piles of Faggots and Heaps of Paper changed into Pyramids of Guineas:  And for my own part I was so transported with Joy, that I awaked, tho’ I must confess I would fain have fallen asleep again to have closed my Vision, if I could have done it.
[Footnote 1: The Bank of England was then only 17 years old. It was founded in 1694, and grew out of a loan of L1,200,000 for the public service, for which the lenders–so low was the public credit–were to have 8 per cent. interest, four thousand a year for expense of management, and a charter for 10 years, afterwards renewed from time to time, as the ‘Governor and Company of the Bank of England.’]
[Footnote 2: Magna Charta Libertatum, the Great Charter of Liberties obtained by the barons of King John, June 16, 1215, not only asserted rights of the subject against despotic power of the king, but included among them right of insurrection against royal authority unlawfully exerted.]
[Footnote 3: The Act of Uniformity, passed May 19, 1662, withheld promotion in the Church from all who had not received episcopal ordination, and required of all clergy assent to the contents of the Prayer Book on pain of being deprived of their spiritual promotion. It forbade all changes in matters of belief otherwise than by the king in Parliament. While it barred the unconstitutional exercise of a dispensing power by the king, and kept the settlement of its faith out of the hands of the clergy and in those of the people, it was so contrived also according to the temper of the majority that it served as a test act for the English Hierarchy, and cast out of the Church, as Nonconformists, those best members of its Puritan clergy, about two thousand in number, whose faith was sincere enough to make them sacrifice their livings to their sense of truth.]
[Footnote 4: The Act of Toleration, with which Addison balances the Act of Uniformity, was passed in the first year of William and Mary, and confirmed in the 10th year of Queen Anne, the year in which this Essay was written. By it all persons dissenting from the Church of England, except Roman Catholics and persons denying the Trinity, were relieved from such acts against Nonconformity as restrained their religious liberty and right of public worship, on condition that they took the oaths of allegiance and supremacy, subscribed a declaration against transubstantiation, and, if dissenting ministers, subscribed also to certain of the Thirty-Nine Articles.]
[Footnote 5: The Act of Settlement was that which, at the Revolution, excluded the Stuarts and settled the succession to the throne of princes who have since governed England upon the principle there laid down, not of divine right, but of an original contract between prince and people, the breaking of which by the prince may lawfully entail forfeiture of the crown.]
[Footnote 6: James Stuart, son of James II, born June 10, 1688, was then in the 23rd year of his age.]
[Footnote 7: The ‘Rehearsal’ was a witty burlesque upon the heroic dramas of Davenant, Dryden, and others, written by George Villiers, duke of Buckingham, the Zimri of Dryden’s ‘Absalom and Achitophel,’ ‘that life of pleasure and that soul of whim,’ who, after running through a fortune of L50,000 a year, died, says Pope, ‘in the worst inn’s worst room.’ His ‘Rehearsal’, written in 1663-4, was first acted in 1671. In the last act the poet Bayes, who is showing and explaining a Rehearsal of his play to Smith and Johnson, introduces an Eclipse which, as he explains, being nothing else but an interposition, etc.
‘Well, Sir, then what do I, but make the earth, sun, and moon, come out upon the stage, and dance the hey’ … ‘Come, come out, eclipse, to the tune of ‘Tom Tyler’.’
‘Luna’: Orbis, O Orbis! Come to me, thou little rogue, Orbis.
[Enter the Earth.]
‘Orb.’ Who calls Terra-firma pray?
[Enter Sol, to the tune of Robin Hood, etc.]
While they dance Bayes cries, mightily taken with his device,
‘Now the Earth’s before the Moon; now the Moon’s before the Sun: there’s the Eclipse again.’
[Footnote 8: The elector of Hanover, who, in 1714, became King George I.]
[Footnote 9: In the year after the foundation of the Bank of England, Mr. Charles Montague,–made in 1700 Baron and by George I., Earl of Halifax, then (in 1695) Chancellor of the Exchequer,–restored the silver currency to a just standard. The process of recoinage caused for a time scarcity of coin and stoppage of trade. The paper of the Bank of England fell to 20 per cent. discount. Montague then collected and paid public debts from taxes imposed for the purpose and invented (in 1696), to relieve the want of currency, the issue of Exchequer bills. Public credit revived, the Bank capital increased, the currency sufficed, and. says Earl Russell in his Essay on the English Government and Constitution,
‘from this time loans were made of a vast increasing amount with great facility, and generally at a low interest, by which the nation were enabled to resist their enemies. The French wondered at the prodigious efforts that were made by so small a power, and the abundance with which money was poured into its treasury… Books were written, projects drawn up, edicts prepared, which were to give to France the same facilities as her rival; every plan that fiscal ingenuity could strike out, every calculation that laborious arithmetic could form, was proposed, and tried, and found wanting; and for this simple reason, that in all their projects drawn up in imitation of England, one little element was omitted, videlicet, her free constitution.’
That is what Addison means by his allegory.]
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