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THE HALL OF FANTASY.
It has happened to me, on various occasions, to find myself in a certain edifice which would appear to have some of the characteristics of a public exchange. Its interior is a spacious hall, with a pavement of white marble. Overhead is a lofty dome, supported by long rows of pillars of fantastic architecture, the idea of which was probably taken from the Moorish ruins of the Alhambra, or perhaps from some enchanted edifice in the Arabian tales. The windows of this hall have a breadth and grandeur of design and an elaborateness of workmanship that have nowhere been equalled except in the Gothic cathedrals of the old world. Like their prototypes, too, they admit the light of heaven only through stained and pictured glass, thus filling the hall with many-colored radiance and painting its marble floor with beautiful or grotesque designs ; so that its inmates breathe, as it were, a visionary atmosphere, and tread upon the fantasies of poetic minds. These peculiarities, combining a wilder mixture of styles than even an American architect usually recognizes as allowable, - Grecian, Gothic, Oriental, and nondescript, — cause the whole edifice to give the impression of a dream, which might be dissipated and shattered to fragments by merely stamping the foot upon the pave. ment. Yet, with such modifications and repairs as successive ages demand, the Hall of Fantasy is likely to endure longer than the most substantial structure that ever cumbered the earth.
It is not at all times that one can gain admittance into this edifice, although most persons enter it at some period or other of their lives ; if not in their waking moments, then by the universal passport of a dream. At my last visit I wandered thither unawares while my mind was busy with an idle tale, and was startled by the throng of people who seemed suddenly to rise up around me.
6 Bless me! Where am I?” cried I, with but a dim recognition of the place..
“ You are in a spot,” said a friend who chanced to be near at hand," which occupies in the world of fancy the same position which the Bourse, the Rialto, and the Exchange do in the commercial world. All who have affairs in that mystic region, which lies above, below, or beyond the actual, may here meet and talk over the business of their dreams."
“ It is a noble hall,” observed l.
“ Yes,” he replied. “ Yet we see but a small portion of the edifice. In its upper stories are said to be apartments where the inhabitants of earth may hold converse with those of the moon; and beneath our feet are gloomy cells, which communicate with the infernal regions, and where monsters and chimeras are kept in confinement and fed with all unwholesome
In niches and on pedestals around about the hall stood the statues or busts of men who in every age have been
rulers and demigods in the realms of imagination and its kindred regions. The grand old countenance of Homer; the shrunken and decrepit form but vivid face of Æsop; the dark presence of Dante ; the wild Ariosto ; Rabelais' smile of deep-wrought mirth; the profound, pathetic humor of Cervantes ; the all-glorious Shakspeare ; Spenser, meet guest for an allegoric structure ; the severe divinity of Milton; and Bunyan, moulded of homeliest clay, but instinct with celestial fire, were those that chiefly attracted my eye. Fielding, Richardson, and Scott occupied conspicuous pedestals. In an obscure and shadowy niche was deposited the bust of our countryman, the author of Arthur Mervyn.
“Besides these indestructible memorials of real genius,” remarked my companion, “ each century has erected statues of its own ephemeral favorites in wood.”
"I observe a few crumbling relics of such," said I. “ But ever and anon, I suppose, Oblivion comes with her huge broom and sweeps them all from the marble floor. But such will never be the fate of this fine statue of Goethe.”
“ Nor of that next to it - Emanuel Swedenborg," said he. "Were ever two men of transcendent imagi. nation more unlike ?”
In the centre of the hall springs an ornamental fountain, the water of which continually throws itself into new shapes and snatches the most diversified hues from the stained atmosphere around. It is impossible to conceive what a strange vivacity is imparted to the scene by the magic dance of this fountain, with its endless transformations, in which the imaginative beholder may discern what form he will. The water is supposed by
some to flow from the same source as the Castalian spring, and is extolled by others as uniting the virtues of the Fountain of Youth with those of many other enchanted wells long celebrated in tale and song. Having never tasted it, I can bear no testimony to its quality.
“Did you ever drink this water?" I inquired of my friend.
“A few sips now and then,” answered he. “But there are men here who make it their constant beverage — or, at least, have the credit of doing so. In some instances it is known to have intoxicating qualities.” “ Pray let us look at these water drinkers,” said I.
So we passed among the fantastic pillars till we came to a spot where a number of persans were clustered together in the light of one of the great stained windows, which seemed to glorify the whole group as well as the marble that they trod on. Most of them were men of broad foreheads, meditative countenances, and thoughtful, inward eyes; yet it required but a trifle to summon up mirth, peeping out from the very midst of grave and lofty musings. Some strode about, or leaned against the pillars of the hall, alone and in silence; their faces wore a rapt expression, as if sweet music were in the air around them or as if their inmost souls were about to float away in song. One or two, perhaps, stole a glance at the bystanders, to watch if their poetic absorption were observed. Others stood talking in groups, with a liveliness of expression, a ready smile, and a light, intellectual laughter, which showed how rapidly the shafts of wit were glancing to and fro among them.
A few held higher converse, which caused their calm and melancholy souls to beam moonlight from their eyes. As I lingered near them, — for I felt an inward attraction towards these men, as if the sympathy of feeling, if not of genius, had united me to their order, my friend mentioned several of their names. The world has likewise heard those names ; with some it has been familiar for years; and others are daily making their way deeper into the universal heart.
“ Thank Heaven,” observed I to my companion, as we passed to another part of the hall, “ we have done with this techy, wayward, shy, proud, unreasonable set of laurel gatherers. I love them in their works, but have little desire to meet them elsewhere.”
“ You have adopted an old prejudice, I see,” replied my friend, who was familiar with most of these worthies, being himself a student of poetry, and not without the poetic flame. “But, so far as my experience goes, men of genius are fairly gifted with the social qualities; and in this age there appears to be a fellow-feeling among them which had not heretofore been developed. As men, they ask nothing better than to be on equal terms with their fellow-men; and as authors, they have thrown aside their proverbial jealousy, and acknowledge a generous brotherhood.”
“ The world does not think so," answered I. “An author is received in general society pretty much as we honest citizens are in the Hall of Fantasy. We gaze at him as if he had no business among us, and question whether he is fit for any of our pursuits.”
“ Then it is a very foolish question,” said he. “ Now, here are a class of men whom we may daily meet on