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    The Celestial Railroad

    By Mark Roth on May 11, 2010 at 10:44 am

    The Slough of Despond

    Our coach rattled out of the city, and, at a short distance from its outskirts, passed over a bridge of elegant construction, but somewhat too slight, as I imagined, to sustain any considerable weight. On both sides lay an extensive quagmire, which could not have been more disagreeable either to sight or smell had all the kennels of the earth emptied their pollution there.

    “This,” remarked Mr. Smooth-it-Away, “is the famous Slough of Despond–a disgrace to all the neighborhood, and the greater that it might so easily be converted into firm ground.”

    “I have understood,” said I, “that efforts have been made for that purpose from time immemorial. Bunyan mentions that above twenty cartloads of wholesome instructions had been thrown in here without effect.”

    “Very probably! And what effect could be anticipated from such unsubstantial stuff?” cried Mr. Smooth-it-Away. “You observe this convenient bridge? We obtained a sufficient foundation for it by throwing into the slough some editions of books of morality, volumes of French philosophy and German rationalism, tracts, sermons and essays of modern clergymen, extracts from Plato, Confucius, and various Hindu sages, together with a few ingenious commentaries upon texts of Scripture–all of which, by some scientific process, have been converted into a mass like granite. The whole bog might be filled up with similar matter.”

    It really seemed to me, however, that the bridge vibrated and heaved up and in a very formidable manner; and, in spite of Mr. Smooth-it-Away’s testimony to the solidity of its foundation, I should be loath to cross it in a crowded omnibus, especially if each passenger were encumbered with as heavy luggage as that gentleman and myself.

    The Station House

    Nevertheless, we got over without accident, and soon found ourselves at the station house. This very neat and spacious edifice is erected on the site of the little wicket gate that formerly, as all old pilgrims will recollect, stood directly across the highway, and by its inconvenient narrowness was a great objection to the traveler of liberal mind and expansive stomach.

    The reader of John Bunyan will be glad to know that Christian’s old friend Evangelist, who was accustomed to supply each pilgrim with a mystic roll, now presides at the ticket office. Some malicious person, it is true, deny the identity of this reputable character with the Evangelist of old times, and even pretend to bring competent evidences of an imposture. Without involving myself into a dispute, I shall merely observe that, as far as my experience goes, the square pieces of pasteboard now delivered to passengers are much more convenient and useful along the road than the antique roll of parchment. Whether they will be as readily received at the gate of the Celestial City, I decline giving an opinion.

    A large number of passengers were already at the station house awaiting the departure of the cars. By the aspect and demeanor of these persons, it is easy to judge that the feelings of the community had undergone a very favorable change in reference to the celestial pilgrimage. It would have done Bunyan’s heart good to see it. Instead of a lonely and ragged man with a huge burden on his back, plodding along sorrowfully on foot, while the whole city hooted after him, here were parties of the first gentry and most respectable people in the neighborhood setting forth towards the Celestial City as cheerfully as if the pilgrimage were merely a summer tour. Among the gentlemen were characters of deserved eminence–magistrates, politicians, and men of wealth by whose example religion could not but be greatly recommended to their meaner brethren. In the ladies’ apartment, too, I rejoiced to distinguish some of those flowers of fashionable society who are so well fitted to adorn the most elevated circles of the Celestial City.

    There was much pleasant conversation about the news of the day, topics of business, politics or the lighter matters of amusement, while religion, though indubitably the main thing at heart, was thrown tastefully into the background. Even an infidel would have heard little or nothing to shock his sensibility.

    Excerpted from: The Celestial Railroad

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