I remember that in my early youth I was overmuch religious and vigilant, and scrupulously pious and abstinent. One night I sat up in attendance on my father, on whom be God’s mercy, never once closed my eyes during the whole night, and held the precious Koran open on my lap, while the company around us were fast asleep. I said to my father: “Not an individual of these will raise his head that he may perform his genuflections, or ritual of prayer; but they are all so sound asleep, that you might conclude they were dead.” He replied: “O emanation of your father, you had also better have slept than that you should thus calumniate the failings of mankind.—The braggart can discern only his own precious person; he will draw the veil of conceit all around him. Were fortune to bestow upon him God’s all-searching eye, he would find nobody weaker than himself.”
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On one occasion, at the metropolitan mosque of Balbek, I was holding forth, by way of admonition to a congregation cold and dead at heart, and not to be moved from the materialism of this world into the paths of mysticism. I perceived that the spirit of my discourse was making no impression, nor were the sparks of my enthusiasm likely to strike fire into their humid wood. I grew weary of instructing brutes, and of holding up a mirror to an assembly of the blind; but the door of exposition was thrown open, and the chain of argument extended; and in explanation of this text in the Koran—We are nearer to him (God) than the vein of his neck.—I had reached that passage of my sermon where I thus express myself:—“Such a mistress as is closer to me in her affection than I am to myself, but this is marvellous that I am estranged from her. What shall I say, and to whom can I tell it, that she lies on my bosom and I am alienated from her.”
The intoxicating spirit of this discourse ran into my head, and the dregs of the cup still rested in my hand, when a traveller, as passing by, entered the outer circle of the congregation, and its expiring undulation lit upon him. He sent forth such a groan that the others in sympathy with him joined in lamentation, and the rawest of the assembly bubbled in unison. I exclaimed, “Praise be to God! those far off are present in their knowledge, and those near by are distant from their ignorance. If the hearer has not the faculty of comprehending the sermon, expect not the vigor of genius in the preacher. Give a scope to the field of inclination, that the orator may have room to strike the ball of eloquence over it.”
One night in the desert of Mecca, from an excess of drowsiness, I had not a foot to enable me to proceed; and, laying my head on the earth, I gave myself up for lost, and desired the camel-driver to leave me to my fate.—How could the foot of the poor jaded pedestrian go on, now that the Bactrian dromedary got impatient of its burden? While the body of a fat man is getting lean, a lean man must fall the victim of a hardship.