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ESSAY II. OF DEATH.
MEN fear death as children fear to go into the dark; and as that natural fear in children is increased with tales, so is the other. Certainly, the contemplation of death, as the wages of sin, and passage to another world, is holy and religious; but the fear of it, as a tribute due unto nature, is weak. Yet in religious meditations there is sometimes mixture of vanity and of superstition. You shall read in some of the friars' books of mortification, that a man should think with himself what the pain is, if he have but his finger's end pressed, or tortured, and thereby imagine what the pains of death are when the whole body is corrupted and dissolved; when many times death passeth with less pain than the torture of a limb—for the most vital parts are not the quickest of sense: and by him that spake only as a philosopher and natural man, it was well said, 'Pompa mortis magis terret quam mors ipsa.'' Groans, and convulsions, and a discoloured face, and friends weeping, and blacks, and obsequies, and the like, show death terrible.
It is worthy the observing, that there is no passion in the mind of manrso weak, but it mates2 and masters the fear of death; and therefore death is no such terrible enemy when a man hath so many attendants about him that can win the combat of him. Revenge triumphs over death: love slights it; honour aspireth to it; grief flieth to it; fear pre-occupateth3 it; nay, we read, after Otho the Emperor had slain himself, pity (which is the tenderest of affections) proyoked1 manyto die out of mere compassion to their sovereign, and as the truest sort of followers. Nay, Seneca adds, niceness and satiety: 'Cogita quamdiu eadem feceris; mori velle, non tan tum fortis, aut miser, sed etiam fastidiosus potest.'2 'A man would die, though he were neither valiant nor miserable, only upon a weariness to do the same thing so oft over and over.' It is no less worthy to observe, how little alteration in good spirits the approaches of death make; for they appear to be the same men to the last instant. Augustus Caesar died in a compliment: 'Livia, conjugii nostri memor vive, et vale.'3 Tiberius in dissimulation, as Tacitus saith of him, 'Jam Tiberium vires et corpus, non dissimulatio, deserebant:'4 Vespasian in a jest, sitting upon the stool, 'Ut puto Deus fio:' Galba with a sentence, 'Feri, si ex re sit populi Romani,'5 holding forth his neck: Septimus Severus in dispatch, 'Adeste, si quid mihi restat agendum,'6 and the like. Certainly the Stoics bestowed too much cost upon death, and by their great preparations made it appear more fearful. Better, saith he, 'qui finem vitas extremum inter munera ponat naturae.'7 It is as natural to die as to be born: and to a little infant, perhaps, the one is as painful as the other. He that dies in an earnest pursuit, is like one that is wounded in hot blood; who, for the time, scarce feels the hurt; and therefore a mind fixed and bent upon somewhat that is good, doth avert the dolours8 of death: but, above all, believe it, the sweetest canticle is, 'Nunc dimittis,'9 when a man hath obtained worthy ends and expectations. Death hath this also, that it openeth the gate to good fame, and extinguisheth envy: 'Extinctus amabitur idem.'10
1 • The pomp of death is more terrible than death itself.' Probably suggested by a letter of Seneca to Lucilius, 24.
2 Mate. To subdue; vanquish.; overpower.
'The Frenchman he hath so mated And their courage abated, That they are but half men.'—Skelton. 'My sense she has mated.'—Sluikespere. So to give check-mate.
3 Prcoccupatc. To anticipate.
'To provide so tenderly by preoccupation,
1 Provoke. To eicite; to move (to exertion or feeling of any kind, not, as now, merely to anger). 'Your zeal hath provoksd very many.'—2 Cor. ix. 2.
• Ad Lueil. 77.
''Livia, mindful of our wedlock, live, and ferewell.'—Suet. Ann. Vit. c. 100.
* 'His powers and bodily strength had abandoned Tiberius, but not his dissimulation.'—Annal. vi. 50.
''Strike, if it be for the benefit of the Roman people.'—Tacit. Wst. i. 41.
6 'Hnsb-'fi, if anything remains for me to do.'—Dio Cos. 76, ad Jin.
'< • He who accounts the close of life among the boons of nature.'—Juv, Sal, }$j.
'He drew the dolours from the wounded part.'—Pope's Homer. ''Now lettest thou thy servant depart.'— Luke ii. 2y. » • The same man shall be beloved wben dead.'
ANTITHETA ON DEATH.
'Non invenias inter humanos affectum 'Prsestat ad omnia, ctiam ad virtu
tam pusillum, qui si intendatur paulo tem, curriculum longum, quam breve, vehementiua, non mortis metum supcret. 'In all things, even in virtue, a 1-muj
'There is no human passion so sreat race is more conducive to success than a and contemptible, that it may not easily short one. he so heightened as to overcome the fear
of death,' 'Absque spatiis vitae majoribus, nee
perficere datur, nee perdiacere, nee pcenitere.
'It is only in a long life Vial time is afforded us to complete anything., to learn anything thoroughly, or to reform
'There is no passion in the mind of man so weak, but it mates and masters tlte fear of death.'
Of all the instances that can be given of recklessness of life, there is none that comes near that of the workmen employed in what is called dry-pointing; the grinding of needles and of table-forks. The fine steel-dust which they breathe brings on a painful disease of which they are almost sure to die before forty. And yet not only are men tempted by high wages to engage in this employment, but they resist to the utmost all the contrivances devised for diminishing the danger; through fear that this would cause more workmen to offer themselves, and thus lower wages!
The case of sailors, soldiers, miners, and others who engage in hazardous employments, is nothing in comparison of this; because people of a sanguine temper hope to escape the dangers. But the dry-pointers have to encounter, not the risk, but the certainty, of an early and painful death. The thing would seem incredible, if it were not so fully attested. All this proves that avarice overcomes the fear of death. And so may vanity: witness the many women who wear tight dresses, and will even employ washes for the complexion which they know to be highly dangerous and even destructive to their health.
Still more strange is what is reported, on good authority, of the Chinese. It is said to happen not unfrequently, that a man under sentence of death will hire another to take his place; who, for a sum of no great amount, will submit to death, and that, by torture (according to the barbarous practice of the country), for the sake of securing a provision for his family, and also (what the Chinese make a great point of) a handsome burial-place for himself I
'Certainly the contemplation of death, as the wages of sin and the passage to another world, is holy and religious.'
It is when considered as the passage to another world that the contemplation of death becomes holy and religious;—that is, calculated to promote a state of preparedness for our setting out on this great voyage,—our departure from this world to enter the other. It is manifest that those who are engrossed with the things that pertain to this life alone; who are devoted to worldly pleasure, to worldly gain, honour, or power, are certainly not preparing themselves for the passage into another: while it is equally manifest that the change of heart, of desires, wishes, tastes, thoughts, dispositions, which constitutes a meetness for entrance into a happy, holy, heavenly state,—the hope of which can indeed 'mate and master the fear of death,'— must take place here on earth; not after death.
There is a remarkable phenomenon connected with insect life which has often occurred to my mind while meditating on the subject of preparedness for a future state, as presenting a curious analogy.
Most persons know that every butterfly (the Greek name for which, it is remarkable, is the same that signifies also the Soul, —Psyche) comes from a grub or caterpillar; in the language of naturalists called a larva. The last name (which signifies literally a mask) was introduced by Linnaeus, because the eaterpillar is a kind of outward covering, or disguise, of the future butterfly within. For, it has been ascertained by curious microscopic examination, that a distinct butterfly, only undeveloped and not full:grown, is contained within the body of the caterpillar; that this latter has its own organs of digestion, respiration, &c., suitable to its larva-life, quite distinct from, and independent of, the future butterfly which it encloses. When the proper period arrives, and the life of the insect, in this its first stage, is to close, it becomes what is called a pupa, enclosed in a chrysalis or cocoon (often composed of silk; as is that of the silkworm which supplies us that important article), and lies torpid for a time within this natural coffin, from which it issues, at the proper period, as a perfect butterfly.
But sometimes this process is marred. There is a numerous tribe of insects well known to naturalists, called Ichneumonflies; which in their larva-state are parasitical; that is, inhabit, and feed on, other larvae. The ichneumon-fly, being provided with a long sharp sting, which is in fact an ovipositor (egglayer), pierces with this the body of the caterpillar in several places, and deposits her eggs, which are there hatched, and feed, as grubs (larva?), on the inward parts of their victim. A most wonderful circumstance connected with this process is, that a caterpillar which has been thus attacked goes on feeding, and apparently thriving quite as well, during the whole of its larva-life, as those that have escaped. For, by a wonderful provision of instinct, the ichneumon-grubs within do not injure any of the organs of the larva, but feed only on the future butterfly enclosed within it. And consequently, it is hardly possible to distinguish a caterpillar which has these enemies within it from those that are untouched.—But when the period arrives for the close of the larva-life, the difference appears. You may often observe the common cabbage-caterpillars retiring, to undergo their change, into some sheltered spot,—such as the walls of a summer-house; and some of them—those that have escaped the parasites,—assuming the pupa-state, from which they emerge, butterflies. Of the unfortunate caterpillar that has been preyed upon, nothing remains but an empty skin. The hidden butterfly has been secretly consumed.
Now is there not something analogous to this wonderful phenomenon, in the condition of some of our race ?—may not a man have a kind of secret enemy within his own bosom, destroying his soul,—Psyche,—though without interfering with his well-being during the present stage of his existence; and whose presence may never be detected till the time arrives when the last great change should take place?