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ASEM; AN EASTERN TALE: Or, The Wisdom of Providence in the Moral
Government of the World.
WHERE Tauris lifts its head above the storm,
and presents nothing to the sight of the dis.. tant traveller, but a prospect of nodding rocks, falling torrents, and all the variety of tremendous nature; on the bleak bosom of this frightful moun' tain, secluded from society, and detesting the ways of men, lived Asem the man-hater.
Asem had spent his youth with men; had shared in their amusements; and had been taught to love his fellow-creatures with the most ardent affection; but, from the tenderness of his disposition, he ex. hausted all his fortune in relieving the wants of the distressed. The petitioner never sued in vain; the weary traveller never passed his door ; he only desisted from doing good when he had no longer the power of relieving.
From a fortune thus spent in benevolence, he expected a grateful return from those he had formerly relieved; and made his application with confidence of redress : the ungrateful world soon grew weary of his importunity; for pity is but a short-lived passion. He soon, therefore, began to view mankind in a very different light from that in which he had before beheld them; he perceived a thousand vices he had never before suspected to exist : wherever he turned, ingratitude, dissimulation, and treachery, contributed to increase his detestation of them. Resolved, therefore, to continne no longer in a world which he hated, and which repaid his
detestation with contempt, he retired to this region of sterility, in order to brood over bis resentment in solitude, and converse with the only honest heart he knew; namely, with his own.
A cave was his only shelter from the inclemency of the weather; fruits, gathered with difficulty from the mountain's side, his only food; and his drink was fetched with danger and toil from the headlong torrent. lp this manner he lived, sequestered from society, passing the hours in meditation, and sometimes exulting that he was able to live independently of his fellow-creatures.
At the foot of the mountain an extensive lake displayed its glassy bosom, reflecting on its broad surface the impending horrors of the mountain. To this capacious mirror he would sometimes de. scend, and, reclining on its steep banks, cast an eager look on the smooth expanse that lay before him. " How beautiful,' he often cried, 'is nature! how lovely, even in her wildest scenes! How finely contrasted is the level plain that lies beneath me, with yon awful pile that hides its tremendous head in clouds! But the beauty of these scenes is no way comparable with their utility; from hence a hundred rivers are supplied, which distribute health and verdure to the various countries through which they flow. Every part of the universe is beautiful, just, and wise; but man, vile man is a solecism innature; the only monster in the creation. Tempests and whirlwinds have their use; but vicious ungrateful man is a blot in the fair page of univer. sal beauty. Why was I born of that detested species, whose vices are almost a reproach to the wisdom of the Divine Creator? Were men entirely free from vice, all would be uniformity, harmony, and order. A world of moral rectitude shonld be
the result of a perfectly moral agent. Why, why, then, O Alla! must I be thus confined in darkness, doubt, and despair?'
Just as he uttered the word despair, he was going to plange into the lake beneath him, at once to satisfy his doubts, and pnt a period to his anxiety; when he perceived a most majestic being walking on the surface of the water, and approaching the bank on which he stood. So unexpected an object at once checked his purpose ; he stopped, contenplated, and fancied he saw something awful and divine in his aspect.
* Son of Adam,' cried the genius, ' stop thy rash purpose; the Father of the Faithful has seen thy jastice, thy integrity, thy miseries; and hath sent me to afford and administer relief. Give me thine hand, and follow, without trembling, wherever I shall lead ; in me behold the genius of conviction, kept by the great prophet, to turn from their errors those who go astray, not from curiosity, but a rectitude of intention. Follow me and be wise.'
Asem immediately descended upon the lake, and his guide conducted him along the surface of the water ; till, coming near the centre of the lake, they both began to sink; the waters closed over their heads; they descended several hundred fathoms, till Asem, just ready to give up his life as inevita. bly lost, found himself with his celestial guide in another world, at the bottom of the waters, where human foot had never trod before. His astonishment was beyond description, when he saw a sun like that he had left, a serene sky over his head, and blooming verdure under his feet.
'1 plainly perceive your amazement,' said the genius ; ' but suspend it for a while. This world was formed by Alla, at the request, and under the
inspection, of our great prophet! who once enter tained the same doubts which filled your mind when I found you, and from the consequence of which you were so lately rescued. The rational inhabitants of this world are formed agreeable to your own ideas : they are absolutely without vice. In other respects it resembles your earth; but differs from it in being wholly inhabited by men who never do wrong. If you find this world more agreeable than that you so lately left, you have free permission to spend the remainder of your days in it; but permit me, for some time, to attend you, that I may silence your doubts, and make you better acquainted with your company and your new habitation.'
• A world without vice! Rational beings without immorality !' cried Asem, in a rapture; ' I thank thee, O Alla, who has at length heard my petitions ; this, this indeed will produce happiness, ecstacy, and ease. O for an immortality, to spend it among men wbo are incapable of ingratitude, injustice, fraud, violence, and a thousand other crimes that render society miserable !
"Cease thine acclamations, replied the genius. • Look around thee; reflect on every object and action before us, and communicate to me the result of thine observations. Lead wherever you think proper, I shall be your attendant and instructor.' Asem and his companion travelled on in silence for some time, the former being entirely lost in astonishment; but, at last, recovering his former se renity, he could not help observing that the face of the country bore a near resemblance to that he had left, except that this subterranean world still seemed to retain its primeval wildness.
Here, cried "Asem, 'I perceive animals of
prey, and others that seem only designed for their subsistence; it is the very same in the world over our heads. But had I been permitted to instruct onr prophet, I would have removed this defect, and formed no voracious or destructive animals, which only prey on the other parts of the creation.'
- Your tenderness for inferior animals, is, I find, remarkable,' said the genius, smiling. But, with regard to meaner creatures, this world exactly resembles the other; and, indeed, for obvious rea. sons : for the earth can support a more considere able number of animals, by their thus becoming food for each other, than if they had lived entirely on her vegetable productions. So that animals of different natures thus formed, instead of lessening their multitude, subsist in the greatest uumber possible. But let us hasten on to the inhabited country before us, and see what that offers for instruction.'
They soon gained the atmost verge of the forest, and entered the country inhabited by men without vice; and Asem anticipated in idea the rational delight he hoped to experience in such an innocent society. But they had scarce left the confines of the wood, when they beheld one of the inhabitants fying with hasty steps, and terror in his countenance, from an army of squirrels that closely pursaed him. 'Heavens!' cried Asem, 'why does he fly?' What can be fear from animals so contemptible ?" He had scarce spoken, when he perceived two dogs pursuing another of the human species, who, with equal terror and haste, attempted to avoid thein. ' This,' cried Asem to bis guide, 'is truly surprising ; nor can I conceive the reason for so strange an action.'—' Every species of animals, replied the genius, ' has of late grown very power