Leigh Hunt

An earth upon heaven

Somebody, a little while ago, wrote an excellent article in the New Monthly Magazine on “Persons one would wish to have known.” He should write another on “Persons one could wish to have dined with.” There is Rabelais, and Horace, and the Mermaid roysters, and Charles Cotton, and Andrew Marvell, and Sir Richard Steele, cum multis aliis[“with many other matters” an abridged form of “with many other matters which it would just now be to tedious to state” from the Eaton Latin Grammar]: and for the colloquial, if not the festive part, Swift and Pope, and Dr. Johnson, and Burke, and Horne Tooke. What a pity one cannot dine with them all round! People are accused of having earthly notions of heaven. As it is difficult to have any other, we may be pardoned for thinking that we could spend a very pretty thousand years in dining and getting acquainted with all the good fellows on record; and having got used to them, we think we could go very well on, and be content to wait some other thousands for a higher beatitude. Oh, to wear out one of the celestial lives of a triple century’s duration, and exquisitely to grow old, in reciprocating dinners and teas with the immortals of old books! Will Fielding “leave his card” in the next world? Will Berkeley (an angel in a wig and lawn sleeves!) come to ask how Utopia gets on? Will Shakespeare (for the greater the man, the more the good-nature might be expected) know by intuition that one of his readers (knocked up with bliss) is dying to see him at the Angel and Turk’s Head, and come lounging with his hands in his doublet-pockets accordingly?

It is a pity that none of the great geniuses, to whose lot it has fallen to describe a future state, has given us his own notions of heaven. Their accounts are all modified by the national theology; whereas the Apostle himself has told us, that we can have no conception of the blessings intend for us. “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard,” &c. After this, Dante’s shining lights are poor. Milton’s heaven, with the armed youth exercising themselves in military games, is worse. His best Paradise was on earth, and a very pretty heaven he made of it. For our parts, admitting and venerating as we do the notion of a heaven surpassing all human conception, we trust that it is no presumption to hope, that the state mentioned by the Apostle is the final heaven; and that we may ascend and gradually accustom ourselves to the intensity of it, by others of a less superhuman nature. Familiar as we may be both with poetry and calamity, and accustomed to surprises and strange sights of imagination, it is difficult to fancy even the delight of suddenly emerging into a new and boundless state of existence, where everything is marvellous, and opposed to our experience. We could wish to take gently to it; to be loosed not entirely at once. Our song desires to be “a song of degrees.” Earth and its capabilities—are these nothing? Are they to come to nothing? Is there no beautiful realization of the fleeting type that is shown us? No body to this shadow? No quenching to this drought and continued thirst? No arrival at these natural homes and resting-places, which are so heavenly to our imaginations, even though they be built of clay, and are situate in the fields of our infancy? We are becoming graver than we intended; but to return to our proper style :—nothing shall persuade us, for the present, that Paradise Mount, in any pretty village in England, has not another Paradise Mount to correspond, in some less perishing region; that is to say, provided anybody has set his heart upon it:—and that we shall not all be dining, and drinking tea, and complaining of the weather (we mean, for its not being perfectly blissful) three hundred years hence, in some snug interlunar spot, or perhaps in the moon itself, seeing that it is our next visible neighbour, and shrewdly suspected of being hill and dale.

It appears to us, that for a certain term of centuries, Heaven must consist of something of this kind. In a word, we cannot but persuade ourselves, that to realize everything that we have justly desired on earth, will be heaven ;—we mean, for that period: and that afterwards, if we behave ourselves in a proper pre-angelical manner, we shall go to another heaven, still better, where we shall realize all that we desired in our first. Of this latter we can as yet have no conception; but of the former, we think some of the items may be as follows:—

Imprimis—(not because friendship comes before love in point of degree, but because it precedes it, in point of time, as at school we have a male companion before we are old enough to have a female)—Imprimis then, a friend. He will have the same tastes and inclinations as ourselves, with just enough difference to furnish argument without sharpness; and he will be generous, just, entertaining, and no shirker of his nectar. In short, he will be the best friend we have had upon earth. We shall talk together “of afternoons;” and when the Earth begins to rise (a great big moon, looking as happy as we know its inhabitants will be), other friends will join us, not so emphatically our friend as he, but excellent fellows all; and we shall read the poets, and have some sphere-music (if we please), or renew one of our old earthly evenings, picked out of a dozen Christmases.

Item, a mistress. In heaven (not to speak it profanely) we know, upon the best authority, that people are “neither married nor given in marriage;” so that there is nothing illegal in the term. (By the way, there can be no clergymen there, if there are no official duties for them. We do not say, there will be nobody who has been a clergyman. Berkeley would refute that; and a hundred Welsh curates. But they would be no longer in order. They would refuse to call themselves more Reverend than their neighbours.) Item then, a mistress; beautiful, of course,—an angelical expression,—a Peri, or Houri, or whatever shape of perfection you choose to imagine her, and yet retaining the likeness of the woman you loved best on earth; in fact, she herself, but completed; all her good qualities made perfect, and all her defects taken away (with the exception of one or two charming little angelical peccadilloes, which she can only get rid of in a post-future state); good-tempered, laughing, serious, fond of everything about her without detriment to her special fondness for yourself, a great roamer in Elysian fields and forests, but not alone (they go in pairs there, as the jays and turtle-doves do with us); but above all things, true; oh, so true, that you take her word as you would a diamond, nothing being more transparent, or solid, or precious. Between writing some divine poem, and meeting our friends of an evening, we should walk with her, or fly (for we should have wings, of course) like a couple of human bees or doves, extracting delight from every flower, and with delight filling every shade. There is something too good in this to dwell upon; so we spare the fears and hopes of the prudish. We would lay her head upon our heart, and look more pleasure into her eyes than the prudish or the profligate ever so much as fancied.

Item, books. Shakespeare and Spenser should write us new ones! Think of that. We would have another Decameron: and Walter Scott (for he will be there too;—we mean to beg Hume to introduce us) shall write us forty more novels, all as good as the Scotch ones; and Radical as well as Tory shall love him. It is true, we speak professionally, when we mention books.

We think, admitted to that equal sky,
The Arabian Nights must bear us company.

When Gainsborough died, he expired in a painter’s enthusiasm, saying, “We are all going to heaven, and Vandyke is of the party.”—He had a proper foretaste. Virgil had the same light, when he represented the old heroes enjoying in Elysium their favourite earthly pursuits; only one cannot help thinking, with the natural modesty of reformers, that the taste in this our interlunar heaven will be benefited from time to time by the knowledge of new-comers. We cannot well fancy a celestial ancient Briton delighting himself with painting his skin, or a Chinese angel hobbling a mile up the Milky Way in order to show herself to advantage.

For breakfast, we must have a tea beyond anything Chinese. Slaves will certainly not make the sugar; but there will be cows for the milk. One’s landscapes cannot do without cows.

For horses we shall ride a Pegasus, or Ariosto’s Hippogriff, or Sinbad’s Roc. We mean, for our parts, to ride them all, having a passion for fabulous animals. Fable will be no fable then. We shall have just as much of it as we like; and the Utilitarians will be astonished to find how much of that sort of thing will be in request. They will look very odd, by the bye,—those gentlemen, when they first arrive; but will soon get used to the delight, and find there was more of it in their own doctrine than they imagined.

The weather will be extremely fine, but not without such varieties as shall hinder it from being tiresome. April will dress the whole country in diamonds; and there will be enough cold in winter to make a fire pleasant of an evening. The fire will be made of sweet-smelling turf and sunbeams; but it will have a look of coal. If we choose, now and then we shall even have inconveniences.

(1828)

MLA Citation

Hunt, Leigh. “An earth upon heaven.” 1828. Quotidiana. Ed. Patrick Madden. 30 Dec 2007. 28 May 2017 <http://essays.quotidiana.org/hunt/earth_upon_heaven/>.

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