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SCENE-THE BANKS OF THE RIVER STYX.
MERCURY, CHARON, and a MATERIALIST.
Char. BRING him along, Mercury, bring him along. Merc. Why, so I would, but he denies my authority. I have found him a terrible plague; he says, forsooth, that we have no business with him, and that he is a MaHow do you call yourself, Mr. — ?
Mat. A Materialist, Sir, and I maintain that your infernal judge has nothing to do with me.
Merc. What, you are at equivocation, are you? Well, but if he has nothing to do with you, that is with your body, he has something to do with your soul, your immortal part.
Mat. Soul! I have no soul, Sir.
Merc. No soul! why what the plague! Charon, do you hear the fellow ?—but that quirk will not serve you
Mat. Yes, Sir, I repeat it—no soul, and I can prove it to you in the most philosophical manner.
Char. Prithee, let us hear him, Mercury. I like a little philosophy now and then; I am partly a philosopher myself.
Merc. Wonderful! Why, who can have made you a philosopher, Charon? I should never have suspected that.
Char. Where is the wonder, Mercury? I must, indeed, be insensible, if, after the infinite number of souls that I have ferried over the river, and the variety of characters that have presented themselves from Megapenthes to Mycillus,* they should yet pass to the
* Megapenthes, a tyrant; and Mycillus, a cobbler.-See Lucian.
dominions of Pluto, without awakening the powers of reflection in my breast.
Merc. Cry you mercy, old gentleman; I shall henceforth honour you as you deserve. (Aside.) Marry, 'tis marvellous strange for a boatman to turn philosopher.
Char. Well, Sir, as it will be some time before we shall get our complement of passengers, my friend Mercury and I, in the mean time, will be glad to hear you on the matter in question. What have you to say?
Merc. (aside.) His friend Mercury! mighty familiar, I must confess; but this comes through ferrying over his betters.
Mat. Well, as many sins, you say, as a man is guilty of in his life, so often, in a manner imperceptible, is he stigmatized in his soul.
Merc. I do and that you will be cited before the judges, Æacus and Rhadamanthus, to whom you will be produced in a state of nature, that they may discover how many offences you have been guilty of, by numbering your brands and marks.*
Mat. But did you never meet with, or hear of a man like me,-one without a soul?
Merc. I have certainly met with many men who live as though they had none.
Char. Yes, 'faith, and there are not a few, who when dead appear to have none. I have carried over the river many a gay and fashionable fellow who would never pay me my demand, though it is only a paltry obolus.
Merc. Ever thine eye on the mark, Charon; always taking care of the main chance.
Char. Aye! think not that you will ever find me exclaiming with that old fool Virgil, as in contempt of money
What bands of faith can impious lucre hold!
No, marry, I know the power of riches too well,-pecuniæ obediunt omnia. There is scarcely a poet in the Elysian
* See Plato's Gorgias.
Fields who is not in my debt. Why, 'twas but the other day the great Horace borrowed a brace of minæ of me, in order to pay his tailor, who would no longer be put off with excuses.
Merc. Alas! we all know that poetry and poverty are inseparable.
Char. I have had a plaguy hard time of it of late; half of my passengers were poets. They have nothing left to buy food, and then, forsooth, they must go and hang themselves; I have carried over three or four hundred of these geniuses within the last six months, but not a halfpenny was to be found among them all. Merc. So they pay you, I suppose, with a song.
Char. Yes, 'faith, and some of their songs are as doleful ditties as ever were heard.-There is a terrible howling with many, particularly those who have been
starved to death.
Mat. Starved to death! Is it possible that you should ever meet with such ?
Char. Very possible, I give you my word; it was the fate of more than a third of my yesterday's cargo.
Mat. Merciful Heaven! and yet we call ourselves men! Char. I remember that my gentlemen were pretty free in their censures of their patrons. "Not a true Mæcenas," cried one, "to be found!" "Where, alas! shall genius hide its head?" exclaimed another; but, for my part, I cannot imagine what they would have. Can they seriously expect that men will foolishly relinquish their pleasures, forego their favourite amusements, give up their horses and hounds, for a rhyme?
Mat. Well, but is there nothing due from us on the score of humanity? We may despise the rhymester as much as we please, but it is surely incumbent on those on whom Heaven has showered its favours to think a little about the man.
Merc. An odd doctrine this! I have heard the ancients of our Elysium talking thus; but it is very extraordinary in a modern.
Char. Aye, and a modern too who talks of being without a soul!
Mat. But not without a heart, remember that.
Merc. I perceive that you are one of those old-fashioned fellows who bear in mind the homo sum of Terence, and other such pretty maxims. Mat. You are very right;
Teach me to feel another's woe,
has ever been included in my prayers. It is a sentence that should be imprinted on our memories ;-a sentence never to be erased! and never, at least, shall it be blotted from mine.
Char. It is a lucky circumstance that there are not many like yourself, for in such a case I should be very scant of passengers, I believe.
Mat. Well, but as you find it so very difficult to get your money from them, there would, methinks, be little reason to repine at their scarcity.
Char. True, there is something in that; but, one way or other, I generally contrive to get my fare; sometimes I oblige them to borrow the money;-that is nothing new to a poet, you know, he can do it with a tolerable grace. But come, you were pleased to assert that you are without a soul, and even to affirm that you could easily prove it: we are ready to listen to your argu
Mat. I have not leisure for it at present; if, however, you will take the trouble of looking into the works of some of our modern and fashionable philosophers, you will presently be convinced that what is usually denominated soul is nothing more than matter; endued with a thinking faculty, but perishable with the animal body,
Merc. Well, but if the soul were mortal and perishable as the body, how would you be able, dead as you now are, to hold discourse with Charon and myself, or even to reason on any subject? Whatever may have
been your sentiments when living, you must surely acknowledge the absurdity of such an opinion now.
Mat. I have so long been accustomed to question the truth of every thing, that you must not look to me for a decisive answer on the matter. You tell me, indeed, that I am dead,—that my body is wholly exanimate ;— but prithee how do you mean to prove it?
Merc. You are very incredulous and hard to convince. If, however, I shall introduce you to your old acquaintance; those with whom you had been used to live in intimacy when on earth, and whom you may well remember to have seen entombed; assuredly, when you are introduced to these your former associates, you will then acknowledge that you have passed to another world.
Mat. I will: and shall then believe in the existence of that spirit, or soul, which I have heard so much about; till that time, however, you must pardon my incredulity and want of faith.
Char. Well, after all, a Materialist seems to be a very happy fellow; he has never any fears; death is by no means a bug-bear to him.
Mat. None in the least: he repeats, with honest Mr. Shandy, "when I am, death is not; and when death is, I am not." In other words, that there is nothing to be looked for beyond the grave.
Merc. Come, come, we must hear no more of this language; you will think differently in a little; the boat is ready, so prithee let us get on board.