The World

The World

Francisco Gómez de Quevedo y Santibáñez Villegas (14 September 1580 – 8 September 1645) was a Spanish nobleman, politician and writer of the Baroque era. He was one of the most prominent Spanish poets of the age.

”The world itself is the city of Hypocrisy. It is in this city, that interest, ambition, pleasure, vengeance, anger, and all other evil passions conceal themselves,” so asserts Francisco Gómez de Quevedo y Santibáñez Villegas in a vision.

What follows is Fifth Night in the Visions of Quevedo, translated from the Spanish.
— Orly




If a man of genius, or one only of ordinary discernment, could view the interior of the world, he would feel indignant at himself even for living with so much degradation; he could not prevent himself from pitying or despising those who are attached to it, and who allow themselves to be deceived by its seductions and artifices.  There is hardly a person who speaks as he thinks; one never sees the intention of the actor; honesty and knavery have often an air of resemblance; truth and hypocrisy appear like sisters of the same father; civility and curiosity assume the same colours; friendship and interest are with difficulty distinguished.

These reflections occurred to me while walking in my garden; I entered into a summer house, favourable for meditation, and inclined to slumber by the coolness of the shade, and the murmur of a neighbouring rill, fell asleep.  During my repose, I fancied myself in the midst of a great city, called Hypocrisy.  They informed me that it was the capital of the internal world, and bore the same relation to it, that Rome did to the external world, in the time of the emperors.  It was here the king of the internal world usually resided; he was called Self Love; and although he had this appellation, which is, for the most part, in rather bad odour, he was dear to his subjects, who made it their chiefest glory to imitate him, and had no other object than the honour of their sovereign.  The two principal ministers of this king, were Interest and Ambition: the governor of the city was Pleasure.  The guards of his majesty were designated by the names of other human passions; the gentlemen of his court were lackeys, well accoutred; the farmers of the revenue called themselves ministers of finance: the lawyers, counsellors of the king: the thieves, judges of police: the grooms of the stable, equeries of the king: the mountebanks, physicians: the bankers, masters of accounts: the clerks of the church, abbots: the clerks of the palace, secretaries: the students, doctors.  There, tailors wear velvet and gold lace; coblers are cordwainers to the king; gaming houses, academies: discreditable places, houses of good society: pimps, convenient people: coquettes, ladies of honour: women of pleasure, devotees: black girls, handsome brunettes: in fine, coquetry is friendship: usury, economy: deceit, wisdom, or prudence: malice, wit: cowardice, equanimity of temper: temerity, valour: parasites are amiable people: slanderers, free people: and in like manner of others; for in this country we perceive every thing to be contrary to that we see in the external world.

As I promenaded the streets of this city, I met an old man, who inquired of me if I was a stranger.

“Yes, I am,” said I.

“That is very apparent, from the surprise you testify at the novelties of this city; but if you choose, I will show you things that will astonish you much more: come into my house.”

Having accepted this courteous invitation, he preceded me without ceremony, observing, that this was the custom in France.

“Oh, signor,” said I, “it is no more than justice, that you should be free in your own house; and I know that it is the French humour, not to accord precedence upon such occasions: because he who first enters, escapes closing the gate upon the inside.”

We found in the chamber of this old man, two young friars, preparing to go abroad.  They assured us, they could not remain any longer, because their superior had ordered them to be present at a funeral procession, to get their wax taper, and customary gratuity.

“What admirable charity in these people,” said I, “who go to a funeral, not to pray, but to gain.”

Soon after, hearing a chanting, we looked from the window to learn the cause.  We saw a funeral procession, in which were arranged many priests and religious, with a long file of relations.  It was a woman whom they carried to the grave; the husband was almost mad; and I said to my old friend, “My God! this man is extremely afflicted!”

“Do you believe that?” answered he: “listen to what he says, when he arrives opposite.”

In fact, when he came near the house, I heard him say, “I am not so very unhappy after all! she has wasted the half of my fortune: she has been sick in bed at my expense these last six months; and her obsequies will cost me a thousand crowns!  Ah, Lord!” cried he in a loud voice, “why is she dead? and why did you not take me first? or rather, good Lord, why did you not take her before she had dissipated my money?”  At length, reverting to a more pleasant theme, “I must,” said he, “marry Lucilla: she having been a serving girl, will not be fond of ostentation; she knows nothing about luxuries, since she cannot even read.  To be sure, being young and inexperienced, she made a misstep; but the remembrance of her fault will make her wary.  Of the two maids my wife kept, I shall discharge one; so in three or four years I shall save the expense of this burial.”  “I gain by this chance,” said a relation of the deceased, who came next: “I gain ten thousand crowns, because she died intestate.”  “This pest of a woman,” said a maid servant who followed, “never failed to take advantage of every opportunity, and yet entertained an extreme jealousy of my master and me.”

“Zounds!” said I to the old man, “these people are very sincere!”

“The things you see here,” observed he, “are those which are concealed in the external world; but if now, you have any curiosity to know with what occupations widows beguile the time, after the death of their husbands, step with me a couple of paces and you shall see.”

I directly consented; the object appearing well worth the trouble.  There was at the distance of three or four doors from this chamber a grand apartment, the entrance of which was hung with black, and the stair-case covered with the same material.  We went in, and after traversing a long hall, garnished in the same manner, entered into a little room, the tapestry of which was black velvet; the bed of beautiful red damask, covered with black crape, with silver fringe.  In it reposed a young lady of the most conspicuous loveliness, one of the fairest I have ever beheld.  I offered her my condolences upon the death of her husband, whom my old friend had informed me was a gentleman of the sword, and a loyal subject of the king—Self-love.  She answered, smiling in the most affable manner, that she was highly sensible of my politeness, and that she felt very happy that the death of her husband had procured her the pleasure of my acquaintance.

“Oh!” exclaimed I, to myself, “what affliction! but let us examine a little farther.”

I approached the bed, and sat down upon a sofa near by: we conversed upon many things indifferently, and at length came upon the adventures of young widows.  At this period of the conversation, raising herself up to take her handkerchief, she exposed to my view, with a beautiful shoulder, a neck fairer than moonlight.  Just as this sight had inspired me with love, I heard a man snore, who was upon the other side of the bed.  She drew the curtain, and gave the gallant a slight cuff, saying, “you are very impertinent to sleep thus near a lady in bed.”  The other awaking, was going to revenge himself upon the lady for her slight buffet.

“No, no,” said I, “do not; I should rather be punished myself.”

Both of them then began to turn their raillery upon me.  Perceiving this, I left the chamber, beckoning the old man to follow.  I was greatly scandalized at such conduct, and my companion did nothing but laugh.  What people you have here! amiable widows!

Some hours afterwards, I accidentally met in the street, the beau whom I parted with at the widow’s.

“It is thus,” said this man, accosting me, “that widows console themselves, and redeem the time they may have lost with a cross, jealous, or avaricious husband.”

“You understand these matters well,” answered I; “and madam will soon forget her loss.”

Conferring thus together, we became familiar: he was anxious to learn my name, and told me his own, which was Joy.

“I am not astonished,” said I, “the beauty listened to you.  A quarter of an hour spent in your society, will abundantly recompense her for the sad and weary years passed with a jealous spouse.”

When the old man saw us thus pleased with each other, he said he would leave me in the company of this honest person, and that he should expect me at his house to supper, after the play, to which we had determined to go.

At the theatre we saw comedies about equivalent to our tragedies; and, in fact, of so close a resemblance, that one might almost fancy them the same.  The story of the one I saw was this:—Two young persons met at the house of a mutual friend, to concert measures to gain the consent of their parents to their marriage: their degree was not equal; the girl was nobly born, and an heiress; the young man poor, and the son of a merchant.  They both promised to put in requisition every possible method that could be devised, to vanquish the opposition of the old folks upon whom they depended.  The young man said he would make himself an advocate, and afterwards a counsellor in parliament; the expence of which he could easily defray in one year after his marriage, with the help of his wife’s dowry.  The girl, on her part, promised not to refuse him any token of affection; and agreeable to their plan, she was to inform her mother, that she was pregnant by Signor Virodeno; for thus was her lover called.  In order to the furtherance of this design, they instigated their friend to pretend to betray them, and to apprise the parents of both parties of what was passing.  The parents hastened to the spot; the lovers came promptly from the chamber; they both heaped reproaches upon their daughter, and as the mother was about to strike her, she declared herself pregnant.  “Unhappy wretch,” exclaimed her mother, “you will always be a grief to me; you will bring dishonour upon the family: I will strangle you on the spot.”  “Stop,” said her husband, “you will only expose yourself to be hanged: we must think rather now to conceal this disgrace.”  “No, no,” said the mother; “let me stab her to death with this knife.”  She would have executed her resolution, had not her more discreet husband disarmed her, saying, “recollect yourself, madam; you were in the same situation when I married you; and if your mother had killed you, you would not to-day have made all this uproar.”  But as she continued to give way to fresh paroxysms of indignation, her husband enforced his reasons with some wholesome correction.  He subsequently conferred with the parents of the lover, who promised to do every thing for the advancement of their son, in consideration of the rank of the young lady’s family, with whom they would not be at variance.  The company then gave a loose to mirth; they found out the young couple were well matched; they busied themselves in preparations for the nuptials, and sent to apprise the young man, who had taken refuge at the house of the governor of the city.  He came, accompanied by the proper officers; the marriage was celebrated; nothing was wanting at the feast, and they parted on the best of terms.  All this scene was in such perfect keeping, that the young espoused were married p. 95at the house of the maternal father-in-law, who himself did the honours of friendship.  Thus they conclude marriages and other matters: so that there, one can see the minds of people, and the purpose of every man’s action.

At the palace it is the same; everything is laid open; the advocates plead not, but pro honorario; the solicitors think of nothing but prolonging the suits by those incidents they themselves devise; and the judges, for the purpose of enhancing their fees, deliver a hundred judgments, when one would answer.  As a specimen of their method, take the following decree:

“Having taken into consideration the petition of Signor Thief, solicitor to the lord Stupid, the court do order, that the parties have day in court, for the space of four years, that the fees may absorb the sum of three hundred pounds, which must be expended in this suit.  Done at our court of the palace of hypocrisy, at the winter term of the current year.  Pecunia, President.”

What I have related of the palace, is to exemplify the spirit that reigns in this city; the same influence governs the court, the army, the treasury, and the theatre.  There were in a box adjoining ours, at the latter place, two men, who discoursed concerning the sale of certain merchandize.  The seller said, “I wish you to give fifty thousand livres, for what cost me thirty; but I wish to make a thousand crowns profit.”  The other was not willing to give more than a hundred pistoles.  At last they agreed upon the thousand crowns, upon condition that the seller, who was a steward, should give to the purchaser the titles to the rents of certain farms, without the knowledge of his lord, and upon which event the purchaser was also to give a feast.  After the play, I went to seek my old friend; upon meeting him, he informed me that the king, Self-love, was fallen ill; and that on account of his indisposition, the whole city prepared to testify their gratitude.

“How,” said I, “can you think of diversions, when the father of the country lies sick?”

“Yes,” said he, “it becomes us to rejoice; it would be hypocrisy to do otherwise, when we have a prospect of changing our master.”

“In the world of which I am an inhabitant,” rejoined I, “we feel the most lively sorrow, if our prince falls sick; and our religion commands us to offer up prayers for his health.”

“And we,” answered the good man, “are taught to rejoice; for we have no other policy than interest, and to which your religion is opposed.”

“If Self-love should die,” said I, “you would perhaps be governed by a less popular king.  Pleasure, who aspires to the crown, Interest, nor either of the other princes of the blood, would exercise a dominion so happy and sweet.  These princes are naturally proud, cruel, and vindictive: in the place of which, Self-love is often, nay, almost always solicitous for the preservation of his subjects.”

The conversation turned upon this topic, for some time.  The old man, contrary to the usual spirit of aged people, was desirous that Pleasure should succeed to the throne.  As for myself, I maintained that the nation would be less happy, under such a sway.  After our soup, he wanted to carry me to see the fireworks, and the ball the governor gave upon the occasion.  I refused to go; these things seeming to me very ridiculous, on account of the cause that elicited them.  The old man was much offended at my refusal; he told me that I was a sour, dissatisfied man, and an enemy to the general joy.  I replied, that he was an old fool, and that if he molested me any more, I would throw him out of the window, and put his family to the sword.

At this moment we heard the cry of fire in the house; and the common danger caused us to forego our quarrel.  The uproar was caused by a servant girl, who, because her mistress refused, from some cause or other, to pay her wages, had set fire to the house, from motives of revenge.  They pretended to extinguish it in a very curious manner, which was, by throwing on light stuffs, soaked in oil.  I dreamt that a great sheet of flame suddenly enveloped me: I awoke on the instant, crying that I was in a house environed: and thinking the noise I heard came from the flame,—I cried, “fire!”  A servant that was seeking me in the garden, ran, upon hearing me, and told me that some one waited to see me.  When I had finished my business with this person, my dream caused me much reflection; the more I thought upon it, the closer seemed the resemblance to what is taking place in the world: in fact, it is Self-love that reigns, and these are the passions that govern us; and whoever could see the heart and soul of men, would find them arrant hypocrites.  The world itself is the city of Hypocrisy.  It is in this city, that interest, ambition, pleasure, vengeance, anger, and all other evil passions conceal themselves.  The more I examine, the more clearly these truths appear:—That whosoever could disabuse himself for a single moment, would be so, for the remainder of his life: and he who really desires to know himself and the world, would learn from observation, more than he has an idea of.  The world is, of all things, the most difficult to understand, and that which one ought to know the best.  There is no person who distrusts himself; consequently, there is no one who realizes, that it is deceptive, filled with self-love, attached to its own interests, seeking its own gratifications, vain, unquiet, restless, presumptuous, vindictive, pure outwardly, criminal within, lovely and fair in appearance—deserving, at bottom, of hatred and contempt: and what is still more incomprehensible about this same world, is, there is hardly an individual who doth not love it; they lose by this love, and they know of a surety, that it is to this attachment they must attribute their losses: meanwhile, it pleases all: they seek after it; they wish to serve it; they abandon to it all which they hold most dear.  Some sacrifice to it their honour for pleasure; others their lives for glory; and some surrender their repose for the poor ambition of fortune.  But it was for us, the world was created; and that is really the victim one ought to sacrifice, to preserve his honour, to enjoy eternal pleasures, to acquire true glory, and amass treasures, that neither rust nor envy can spoil.—Think not, my dear reader, what I have here presented to you, a dream, a vision; it is more real than you imagine.



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