Rags of Light

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Vanity Fair improvements...

Many passengers stop to take their pleasure or make their profit in the Fair, instead of going onward to the Celestial City. Indeed, such are the charms of the place that people often affirm it to be the true and only heaven; stoutly contending that there is no other, that those who seek further are mere dreamers, and that, if the fabled brightness of the Celestial City lay but a bare mile beyond the gates of Vanity, they would not be fools enough to go thither. Without subscribing to these perhaps exaggerated encomiums, I can truly say that my abode in the city was mainly agreeable, and my intercourse with the inhabitants productive of much amusement and instruction.

Being naturally of a serious turn, my attention was directed to the solid advantages derivable from a residence here, rather than to the effervescent pleasures which are the grand object with too many visitants. The Christian reader, if he have had no accounts of the city later than Bunyan’s time, will be surprised to hear that almost every street has its church, and that the reverend clergy are nowhere held in higher respect than at Vanity Fair. And well do they deserve such honorable estimation; for the maxims of wisdom and virtue which fall from their lips come from as deep a spiritual source, and tend to as lofty a religious aim, as those of the sagest philosophers of old.

– Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Celestial Railroad

I was glad to stumble on this little satire, in which Hawthorne imagines a modernized (1843) pilgrimage by railway along the route taken by Pilgrim in Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. Rather than leaving their burdens at the foot of the Cross, up-to-date “pilgrims” can stow their burdens in the luggage compartment and take them along. It’s interesting that Hawthorne was rather fiercely satirizing his own Transcendentalist allegiances. The streets of Vanity Fair are now supplied with churches…