Chapter XXII The pilgrim finds himself among the newsmongers
Newsmongers are amazed by many things
Approaching the gate, I caught sight to the left of the square of a large group of people.
“Why, we must not pass these men unnoticed!” Mr. Ubiquitous exclaimed.
“What are they doing?” I inquired.
“Come and see!” he rejoined. We mingled with them and they, standing by twos or threes, gesticulated with their fingers, or shook their heads, or clapped their hands, or scratched themselves behind their ears. Finally some of them cried aloud for joy, while others burst out weeping.
“What is going on here?” I inquired;
“are they acting a comedy?” —
“No, indeed!” replied my interpreter;
“do not mistake this for a play. They are dealing with real matters, at which they amazed, amused, or angered, as the case may be.” —
“I should like to know,” said I,
“what amazes, amuses, or angers them.” Then I perceived that they had some whistles, and leaning close to one another’s ear, they blew them: when the sound was pleasant, they were glad; when it was shrill, they were troubled.
Whistles have divers sounds
2 But one thing particularly puzzled me: the sound of the identical whistle gladdened some so greatly that they could not refrain from dancing for joy, while it so pained others that they stopped up their ears and ran away; or listening to it, burst out into lamentations and bitter tears.
“Is not it odd that the same whistle should sound so sweetly to some and so sourly to others?” I said.
“The difference is not in sound but in hearing,” my interpreter answered.
“For as patients are affected differently by the same, according to their disease, so in this case. It depends on the inner disposition and inclination to the thing how one is affected by the external sound, whether sweet or bitter.”
The limping messenger
“But where do they get those whistles?” I inquired.
“They are brought from everywhere,” he answered;
“do you not see the dealers?” So I looked about and behold! persons walking or riding who were specially appointed to distribute the whistles. Many rode swift horses, and there were many people who bought from them; others walked on foot, or hopped on crutches: and the wise folk bought from these men, saying that their goods were more reliable.
The delight of news
4 Not only did I watch them, but I even stopped occasionally to listen to them; and felt a certain pleasure in hearing so many different voices coming from all directions. But what displeased me was the fact that some were immoderately given to the practice of buying all the whistles they could get, and after blowing each in turn a while, of throwing them away. Moreover, there were men of different classes who seldom stayed home, but were constantly watching in the square, keeping their ears open, not to miss the faintest whistle.
Vanity of newsmongering
5 I became very displeased with the business when I perceived the futility of it. For often a sad sound was given out, and all grew mournful; but shortly thereatter another sound came, and the fright was turned into laughter. Again, the sound of a particular whistle was so pleasant that all were filled with delight and joy; but suddenly it ceased or was changed into a shrill noise: hence those who had given credence to it were disappointed as having hoped or feared in vain, since all went up in smoke. It was, consequently, amusing to see that they were people so light-minded as to allow themselves to be duped by every gust of wind. Therefore I praised those who paid no attention to these follies but attended to their own business.
Discomfort both from news and without it
6 But then I perceievd another disadvantage: namely, that when some paid no attention to what was being whistld, they sometimes came to grief on that account. Finally, I observed that the handling of those whistles was dangerous in many ways. For since the sounds affected different ears differently, quarrels and fights often resulted as happened to me. For having come upon a particularly fine and clear-sounding whistle, I passed it on to my friend; but others, snatching it away, threw it on the ground and stamped upon it, scolding me for spreading gossip; seeing them so heated in their anger, I was obliged to run away. Meanwhile, as my guides were cheering me with promises of the Castle of Fortune, we proceeded thither.