Suddenly he finds himself transported into a bleak and barren land where the shades flit to and fro. He is straightway surrounded by them, and, on giving his name as the “Sleeping Bard,” a shadowy claimant to that name sets upon him and belabours him most unmercifully until Merlin bid him desist. Taliesin then interviews him, and an ancient manikin, “Someone” by name, tells him his tale of woe. After that he is taken into the presence of the King of Terrors himself, who, seated on a throne with Fate and Time on either hand, deals out their doom to the prisoners as they come before him. Four fiddlers, a King from the neighbourhood of Rome with a papal dispensation to pass right through to Paradise, a drunkard and a harlot, and lastly seven corrupt recorders, are condemned to the land of Despair.
Another group of seven prisoners have just been brought to the bar, when a letter comes from Lucifer concerning them; he requests that Death should let these seven return to the world or else keep them within his own realm—they were far too dangerous to be allowed to enter Hell. Death hesitates, but, urged by Fate, he indites his answer, refusing to comply with Lucifer’s request. The seven are then called and Death bids his hosts hasten to convey them beyond his limits. The Bard sees them hurled over the verge beneath the Court of Justice and his spirit so strives within him at the sight that the bonds of Sleep are sundered and his soul returns to its wonted functions.
III. THE VISION OF HELL.
The Bard is sauntering, one April morning, on the banks of the Severn, when his previous visions recur to his mind and he resolves to write them as a warning to others, and while at this work he falls asleep, and the Angel once more appears and bears him aloft into space. They reach the confines of Eternity and descend through Chaos for myriads of miles. A troop of lost beings are swept past them towards the shores of a death-like river—the river of the Evil One. After passing through its waters, the Bard witnesses the tortures the damned suffer at the hands of the devils, and visits their various prisons and cells. Here is the prison of Woe-that-I-had-not, of Too-late-a-repentance and of the Procrastinators. There the Slanderers, Backbiters, and other envious cowards are tormented in a deep and dark dungeon. He hears much laughter among the devils and turning round finds that the cause of their merriment are two noblemen who have just arrived and are claiming the respect due to their rank. Further on is a crowd of harlots calling down imprecations upon those that ruined them; and in a huge cavern are lawyers, doctors, stewards and other such rogues. The Princesses of the City of Destruction bring batches of their subjects as gifts to their sire.
A parliament is summoned and Lucifer addresses his princes, calling upon them to do their utmost to destroy the rest of mankind. Moloch makes his reply, reciting all that he has done, when Lucifer in rage starts off to do the work himself, but is drawn back by an invisible hand. He speaks again, exhorting them to greater activity and cruelty. Justice brings three prisoners to Hell and returning causes such a rush of fiery whirlwinds that all the infernal lords are swept away into the Uttermost Hell.