Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. IV. Eighteenth Century
The Passengers to Hades
By Henry Fielding (17071754)
From A Journey from this World to the Next
IT was very dark when we set out from the inn, nor could we see any more than if every soul of us had been alive. We had travelled a good way before any one offered to open his mouth; indeed, most of the company were fast asleep, but, as I could not close my own eyes, and perceived the spirit who sat opposite to me to be likewise awake, I began to make overtures of conversation, by complaining how dark it was. And extremely cold too, answered my fellow-traveller; though I thank God, as I have no body, I feel no inconvenience from it: but you will believe, sir, that this frosty air must seem very sharp to one just issued forth out of an oven; for such was the inflamed habitation I am lately departed from.How did you come to your end, sir? said I. I was murdered, sir, answered the gentleman. I am surprised then, replied I, that you did not divert yourself by walking up and down and playing some merry tricks with the murderer.O sir, returned he, I had not that privilege, I was lawfully put to death. In short, a physician set me on fire, by giving me medicines to throw out my distemper. I died of a hot regimen, as they call it, in the smallpox.
One of the spirits at that word started up and cried out, the smallpox! bless me! I hope I am not in company with that distemper, which I have all my life with such caution avoided, and have so happily escaped hitherto! This fright set all the passengers who were awake into a loud laughter; and the gentleman, recollecting himself, with some confusion, and not without blushing, asked pardon, crying, I protest I dreamt I was alive.Perhaps, sir, said I, you died of that distemper, which therefore made so strong an impression on you.No, sir, answered he, I never had it in my life; but the continual and dreadful apprehension it kept me so long under cannot, I see, be so immediately eradicated. You must know, sir, I avoided coming to London for thirty years together, for fear of the smallpox, till the most urgent business brought me thither about five days ago. I was so dreadfully afraid of this disease that I refused the second night of my arrival to sup with a friend whose wife had recovered of it several months before, and the same evening got a surfeit by eating too many mussels, which brought me into this good company.
I will lay a wager, cried the spirit who sat next him, there is not one in the coach able to guess my distemper. I desired the favour of him to acquaint us with it, if it was so uncommon. Why, sir, said he, I died of honour.Of honour, sir! repeated I, with some surprise. Yes, sir, answered the spirit, of honour, for I was killed in a duel.
For my part, said a fair spirit, I was inoculated last summer, and had the good fortune to escape with a very few marks in my face. I esteemed myself now perfectly happy, as I imagined I had no restraint to a full enjoyment of the diversions of the town; but within a few days after my coming up I caught cold by overdancing myself at a ball, and last night died of a violent fever.
After a short silence which now ensued, the fair spirit who spoke last, it being now daylight, addressed herself to a female who sat next her, and asked her to what chance they owed the happiness of her company. She answered, she apprehended to a consumption, but the physicians were not agreed concerning her distemper, for she left two of them in a very hot dispute about it when she came out of her body. And pray, madam, said the same spirit to the sixth passenger, how came you to leave the other world? But that female spirit, screwing up her mouth, answered, she wondered at the curiosity of some people; that perhaps persons had already heard some reports of her death, which were far from being true; that, whatever was the occasion of it, she was glad at being delivered from a world in which she had no pleasure, and where there was nothing but nonsense and impertinence; particularly among her own sex, whose loose conduct she had long been entirely ashamed of.