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end of preparing.". Vauvenargues objects to the habit of brooding on death, that it involves neglect of the purposes of life. La pensée de la mort nous trompe, he says, car elle nous fait oublier de vivre. (In the same spirit is that other maxim of his: "Pour exécuter de grandes choses il faut vivre comme si on ne devait jamais mourir.") Frederick Schlegel, discussing the vexed question of innate ideas, paradoxically enough rejects all but one-that of death. “I am disposed, and not, I think, without reason,"—thus he discourses in his Philosophy of Life,—“ to assume that man, as at present constituted, does possess one, though only one, species of inborn ideas : viz., an innate idea of death. This, as a false root of life, and a true mental contagion, produces a dead cogitation, and is the origin of all dead and dead-born notions. For this idea of death, whether hereditary or inoculated in the soul, is, as its peculiar but fundamental error, transferred by the mind of man to every object with which it comes in contact.” This snatch of transcendental philosophy, whatever its original scope, is practically applicable to the habit of brooding on death, and so transforming life itself into its image and likeness, and making the grave the stand-point for universal observation. Sometimes this may
be from the fascination of terror--and then, to apply a sentence from Thomas Hood, “the modern treadmill seems a physical type of that condition of mental torture, where the compelled thought strives vainly to overcome one perpetually revolving misery, without respite, and without progress.” Sometimes it may be from that constitutional tendency to melancholy which leads those who have been once and powerfully attracted to the subject by some affecting experience, henceforth to revolve it, ruminate upon it, give themselves up to a cherished contemplation of it, till it colours and informs not only their dreams by night but their day-dreams and waking thoughts. Thus with the poet, who, since ever he looked on the corpse of her that bare him, finds that death and its associations will never from his thoughts :
I saw my mother in her shroud,
As creatures doom'd to fail ! Henceforth pallida Mors hath “paled” for him the once ruddy face of nature, and he views all things in the same light, or twilight rather, of
Why do buds ope, except to die?
the grave :
Let any competent person whatever, it has been remarked, read the Sonnets of Shakspeare, and then, with the impression of them fresh upon him, pass to the plays, and he will inevitably become aware of Shakspeare's personal fondness for themes or trains of thought in this direction.
Death, vicissitude, the march and tramp of generations across life's stage, the rotting of human bodies in the earth- these and all the other forms of the same thought were familiar to Shakspeare to a degree beyond what is to be seen in the case of any other poet.” So alleges David Masson, who accounts it to have been a habit of Shakspeare's mind, when left to its own tendency, ever to indulge by preference in that oldest form of human meditations, which is not yet trite“ Man that is born of a woman is of few days, and full of trouble; he cometh forth as a flower, and is cut down; he fleeth as a shadow, and continueth not.” Indeed it may be said, this critic affirms, that wherever Shakspeare pronounces the words time, age, death, &c., it is with a deep and cutting personal emphasis, quite different from the usual manner of poets in their stereotyped allusions to mortality; “Death had become to him a kind of actual being or fury, morally unamiable, and deserving of reproach,--that churl Death.'
“If we turn to the plays of Shakspeare, we shall find that in them, too, the same morbid sensitiveness to all associations with mortality is continually breaking out. The vividness, for example, with which Juliet describes the interior of a charnel-house, partakes of a spirit of revenge, as if Shakspeare were retaliating, through her, upon an object horrible to himself.
Or hide me nightly in a charnel-house,
With reeky shanks, and yellow chapless skulls.
Thou detestable maw, thou womb of Death,
Thus I enforce thy rotten jaws to ope. So, again, the famous dialogue between brother and sister in “ Measure for Measure," and the churchyard scene in “Hamlet," where the Prince of Denmark suggests a train of fancy which shall trace the noble dust of Alexander till it be found stopping a bung-hole,-a passage which we are called upon to observe, as showing how Shakspeare defends, through Hamlet, his own tendency “ too curiously” to consider death.
The same tendency--same in kind, however varying in degree-is observable in
another dramatist and poet, from John Webster down to Thomas Lovell Beddoes. A contemplative commerce with death-cherished or reluctant—is common to so many natures, and so different. A Swift, for instance, upon whom, in Dr. Johnson's words, “ the thoughts of death rushed," at one time," with such incessant importunity, that they took possession of his mind, when he first waked, for many years together.” A Young, --who, as the elder Disraeli phrases it, " raised about him an artificial emotion of death ;” darkening his sepulchral study, and placing a skull on his table by lamplight. (So when Dr. Donne had his portrait taken, he first wound a sheet over his head and closed his eyes—“ keeping this melancholy picture by his bedside as long as he lived, to remind
him of his mortality.”) It was perhaps in imitation of Young, that Byron, just of age, placed a number of skulls, “highly polished," and
on light stands,” around his sitting-room at Newstead Abbey. “No doubt it is impossible," writes old Montaigne, “but we must feel a sting in such imaginations as these at first; but with often revolving them in a man's mind, and having them frequent in our thoughts, they at last become so familiar as to be no trouble at all.” In such a case a man may come, like Charles Nodier, to disconcert his friends in his last days by an unwelcome obtrusion upon them, of what is now an absorbing topic with himself: 66 aux bonjours affectueux," says Sainte-Beuve, “aux questions empressées, il [Nodier] ne répondait d'abord que par une plainte, une pensée de mort qu'on avait hâte d'étouffer.” Needless panic, as far as he was concerned ; though on their part, and for their sakes, natural enough, as human nature goes (French nature especially).
In a letter to Swift, five years his senior, Lord Boling broke says (and why should not an infidel Bolingbroke have a voice in this “ Medley," which fuses together confusedly voices of every compass, and which, need it once more be premised ? eschews altogether the religious aspects of the theme it affects, and confines itself to the human and psychological ?): “I used to think sometimes formerly of old age and death; enough to prepare my mind; not enough to anticipate sorrow, to dash the joys of youth, and to be all my life a dying. I find the benefit of this practice now, and find it more as I proceed on my journey : little regret when I look backward, little apprehension when I look forward.” Swift had not long before broached the subject to Bolingbroke in these words :
“ When I was of your age I often thought of death, but now, after a dozen years more, it is never out of my mind, and terrifies me less. I conclude that Providence hath ordered our fears to decrease with our spirits.” And in his reply to the same Noble Lord he repeats the intimation : "I was forty-seven years old when I began to think of death, and the reflections upon it now begin when I wake in the morning, and end when I am going to sleep."
Southey, in his forty-first year, writes to Walter Savage Landor : “My disposition is invincibly cheerful, and this alone would make me a happy man, if I were not so from the tenor of my life; yet I doubt whether the strictest Carthusian has the thought of death more habitually in his mind." Thrice five years later he writes to Neville White: “Í thank God for many things, and for nothing more than that he has enabled me to look onward to death with desire rather than with dread.” To his old friend, Grosvenor Bedford, he once wrote, too,- but this passage will better serve to open a chapter on the Calm Anticipation of death, than to close one on morbid or exceptional habits of brooding upon it.
XII. DEATR CALMLY ANTICIPATED :-SOUTHEY AGAIN-SOCRATES BEFORE HIS JUDGES
-SIR WALTER RALEIGH-EARL OF CARLISLE-ABBÉ DE ST. PIERRE-THOMAS GRAY-SOPHIA JOHNSTON - BERTHOLLET — BERZELIUS -Louis XVIII. GEORGE CRABBE-WILHELM VON HUMBOLDT-GOETHE-" In Memoriam."
The sternest sum-total of all worldly misfortunes is Death ; nothing more can lie in the cup of human woe: yet many men, in all ages, have triumphed over Death, and led it captive; converting its physical victory into a moral victory for themselves, into a seal and immortal consecration for all that their past life had achieved. What has been done, may be done again : nay, it is but the degree and not the kind of such heroism that differs in different seasons.-CARLYLE: Escy on Burns.
... And then, for our immortal part, we want
WORDSWORTH: The Brothers. WHEN Southey received intelligence from Grosvenor Bedford of the dangerous illness of their common friend, Peter Elmsley familiar to all familiar with scholarship and the Quarterly Review-his acknowledgment of the heavy news began as follows: “ There are many things worse than death. Indeed, I should think any reasonable person would prefer it to old age, if he did not feel that the prolongation of his life was desirable for the sake of others. If the event be dreaded, the sooner it is over the better; if it be desired, the sooner it comes ; and desired or dreaded it must be. If there were a balloon-diligence to the other world, I think it would always be filled with passengers. You will pot suppose from this that I am weary of life, blest with enjoyments as I am, and full of employment. But if it were possible for me (which it is not) to regard myself alone, I would rather begin my travels in eternity than abide longer in a world in which I have much to do and little to hope."
The tone adopted by Socrates in his defence before the Athenian Dikastery, proves, in the opinion of Grote, his indifference as to an acquittal, or rather his belief that there were good reasons why, at his age and in his circumstances, he should prefer a sentence of condemnation as best for himself. He was constitutionally, we know, of a fearless temperament, and conscience and reflection were sufficiently ascendant within him to silence what Plato calls “the child within us, who trembles before death.” No man, he reminded his judges, knows what death is, yet men fear it as if they knew well that it was the greatest of all evils. For his part, he would never embrace evil certain, in order to escape evil which might for aught he knew be a good. Either death was tantamount to a sound, perpetual, and dreamless sleep-which in his judgment would be no loss, but rather a gain, compared with the present life-or else, if the common myths were true, death would transfer him to a second life in Hades, where he would find all the heroes of the Trojan war, and of the past generally so as to pursue in conjunction with them the business of mutual cross-examination and debate on ethical progress and perfection.* The picture which is presented by the Platonic dialogue called
* Plato, Apol. Socr., c. 32 (See Grote's Hist. of Gr. Part II. ch. 68). VOL. XLIII.
“ Phædon," of the temper and state of mind of Socrates, during the last hours of his life, may well be called one of immortal beauty and interest, exhibiting his serene and even playful equanimity, amidst the uncontrollable emotions of his surrounding friends-the genuine unforced persuasion, governing both his words and his acts, of what he had pronounced before the Dikasts, that the sentence of death was no calamity to him,
The night before his death, Sir Walter Raleigh observed the candle in his cell to burn dimly, and wrote the distich which says that
Cowards fear to die; but courage stout,
Rather than live in snuff, will be put out. His cheerfulness, we are told, was so remarkable, and the calmness with which he confronted the imminent presence of death so assured, that the Dean of Westminster reproved him for seeming levity at such a juncture ; but “Rawleigh gave God thanks that he had never feared death, for it was but an opinion and an imagination; and as for the manner of death, he would rather die so than of a burning fever; and that some might have made shows outwardly, but he felt the joy within.”. Our illustrations are designedly taken from all sorts and conditions of
Be our next summons then to the exit of Clarendon's Lord Carlisle, " surely a man of the greatest expense in his own person, of any in the
age he lived,"—the observed of all observers in court circularities and high life, the very glass of fashion if not the model mould of form—the exemplar (in principle and practice too) of men of pleasure, and the pattern of free fine gentlemen. And what was the manner of his exit ? How did this well-graced actor leave the stage? “ And when he had in his prospect,” says Clarendon " (for he was very sharp-sighted, and saw as far before him as most men), the gathering together of that cloud in Scotland, which shortly after covered both kingdoms, he died with as much tranquillity of mind to all appearance, as used to attend a man of more severe exercise of virtue, and as little apprehensive of death, which he expected many days.”
An Abbé de St. Pierre, dying at eighty-six, is asked by Voltaire, a few days before his death, how he regarded ce passage:
He answers : “ Comme
A Christina of Sweden avows her “extreme aversion to old age,” but death, which, she says, “ I see approaching step by step, does not alarm me. I await it without a wish and without a fear." A poet Gray-nervous and sensitive to a degree-while succumbing under his last short illness, “ told Miss Antrobus he should die; and now and then some short expressions of this kind came from him, but he expressed not the least uneasiness at the thoughts of leaving this world.” Natures the hardiest, the most robust and enjoying, supply equivalent examples. Describing a set of strong-headed, stout-hearted, eccentric Scotch ladies, of a generation bygone, of the old Lady Arniston type, Lord Cockburn, in his " Memorials," says: Though enjoying life, neither she [Suphy Johnston] nor any of those stouthearted women had any horror of death. When Suphy's day was visibly approaching, Dr. Gregory prescribed abstinence from animal food, and recommended spoon-meat, unless she wished to die. Dee, doctor! odd—I'm thinking they've forgotten an auld wife like me up yonder ! However, when he came back next day, the doctor found her at the spoon-meat-supping a haggis. She was remembered.” Trust the Pale