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healthy and the happy cannot see it. There are too many bright objects between them and the grave. What we take for courage is often mere obtuseness of mind or strength of nerve. A fit of sickness or meditation works a wondrous change. Perhaps no human being ever looked death in the face without a shudder. The hero who marches up to the cannon's mouth, beholds not the King of Terrors on his path. Through the din and smoke of the mortal strife, he is drawn onward by the glittering eye of Fame, that wins him to destruction, as the deadly serpent is said to fascinate its prey. He that would die boldly and proudly in the presence of assembled thousands would shrink aghast from an unseen struggle with the last dread enemy of man. A desire for death, or even an indifference to life, is a moral disease, and is not consistent with our nature, in which the principle of self-preservation is so deeply planted. The fear of the grave may indeed be easily evaded, but never entirely overcome.
The thirst of glory, and the consolations of religion do not make us friendly with death on its own account; but render us proof against its terrors by filling our minds with more congenial images, and by presenting us with glimpses of a paradise beyond the gloomy gratings of the tomb. And yet if we philosophically contemplate the relations of life and death, our horror of annihilation seems utterly unreasonable. It is as natural to die as it is to live." In fact, life itself is “ a daily death.” As far as yesterday is concerned, we are already dead. Literally speaking, we exist but in the present. In a few brief years both mind and body undergo as complete a revolution as the change from animal to vegetable existence. We are at last no more the same beings, than echoes are original sounds. We bear but a faint resemblance to our former selves. Had we dropped into the grave in our dawn of life, our childhood would not have been more unequivocally dead than it now is. Our youth must also die, and next our manhood, and when old age, says Montaigne, is carried to the tomb, it is but an addition
al death. Why,” he continues, “ should we so dread the last ? Our death is a part of the life of the universe” which exists by incessant change. Nothing is stationary, and change is a partial annihilation. We do but ake room for other existences. Our bodies either turn into masses of animal life, or give vitality to green herbs and flowers. We look upon the death of our childhood without fear and trembling. We do not lament that we were dead a century ago, and why should we grieve because a century hence we shall be in the same condition. We are shocked that the heavens should shine as brightly and men live as joyously after our decease, as during our brief sojourn upon earth. But it was the same before our birth. No sign or change in nature heralded our advent. Of how little importance is the greatest individual to the world, and yet of how much importance is the humblest to himself !
It seems one of the many strange anomalies of the human mind, that it should be so eager to anticipate the future, and yet shrink back with such repugnance from that consummation to which our progress so inevitably leads. We hurry forward as if the end of life were all that we could desire. The vast number and the sociality of our fellow travellers make us forget the goal of our pilgrimage. If any single individual were to feel that he alone in the countless crowd were doomed to certain death, at a fixed period, however remote, he would look forward with a feel. ing too horrible for words to paint. The uncertainty of each man's allotted time, and the community of our fate, make us less thoughtful and more contented. Though it is not precisely as the poet has observed, that
“ All men think all men mortal but themselves,"
yet each individual believes in his own good fortune, and trusts to enjoy a longer lease of life than most of his associates. He always flatters himself that he shall be the last called to the dread
account. He has so often escaped before, that he quells every fresh alarm with the hope of similar success. The idea of death, as I have already explained, is received with so much difficulty by those who are conscious of the strong impregnation of life through their whole system, that the most trivial objects may call off their attention from the subject. Such is the power of a happy imagination and a healthy frame.
Were we embarked on a voyage to a hostile foreign shore, and knew ourselves condemned to be stripped, tortured, and hung by savage hands, we should think the longest passage too short, and curse the swiftness of our vessel. A few pleasant islands in our course would not drive away the anticipation of the last port. But as we travel towards the narrow house to lie down in darkness and corruption, we are impatient of a moment’s delay, and the great object in life seems to be to shorten its duration. It is a happy thing, however, that the mind is thus strangely constituted, and that we are able to close our eyes against unpleasing prospects, and turn away our thoughts from the end of all things.
There is no period of the life of man so interesting as its close. A birth occasions less excitement than a death. A new-born human being is rarely an object of particular interest to any portion of mankind, except to those who have introduced him to the world; but the lowliest spirit that ever wore human clay is dignified in the eyes of all men at the final hour. Even the poor fleshly frame which once perhaps afforded food for merriment, or a mark for scorn's poisoned arrows, is then regarded with a profound and mysterious reverence. We enter the death-chamber of the rudest peasant with a slow and solemn step, as if we trod upon holy ground. A too abrupt or a too easy manner would seem a sacrilege. We stand near his simple coffin in religious silence, or speak in whispers, as if fearful of disturbing his awful slumber. All ordinary and familiar sounds are like a mockery of the eternal sleeper. His cold clay is hallowed. The mightiest of earthly potentates would approach him with respect. As he lies in his silent state there is a strange power in his fixed and pallid lineaments. He is the representative of the majesty of death.
The golden portals of palaces fly open at the approach of the King of Terrors, as freely as the shepherd's wicker gate. Neither massy battlements, nor valorous guards, nor the power of the state, nor the prayers of the priesthood, nor the ingenuity of art, nor the magic of beauty, nor the might of genius, nor the holiness of virtue, can protect the domestic hearth from that general and relentless foe. His silent footstep giveth no warning. We know not when he may steal upon us. This uncertainty is an additional horror. We know when the trees are to wither and the flowers are to fade. We prepare for the approach of winter. But death has no stated season. He comes in youth and in age, in sickness and in health. He casts no shade before him. This mighty and mysterious visitor from an unknown world is more terrible than the simoom of the desert.
He blasts the greenest landscape of life at a single breath. Like a dread magician, he enters invisibly our most secret haunts, and strikes us to the ground with his unseen wand.
When the sense of our mortality comes heavily upon the heart, what a pitiful delusion is human life! We look around us in this busy scene, and echo the exclamation of the preacher that “all is vanity!” At such a moment a film is removed from our mental vision, a change comes over the spirit of our dream,” and that which lately seemed serious and important, we discover to be vain and idle ; while all that once charmed or amused us becomes a mournful mockery. We
gaze with pity and with wonder upon those who are still labouring under the same delusion from which we ourselves have awaked; their laughter seems hysterical, and their merriment hollow. The feeling in some degree resembles, though it greatly exceeds it in intensity, the effect of closing
the ears to the music of a ball room and watching the movements of the dancers. It is recorded of an impassioned Italian poet that he could never look upon such a scene, even with its musical accompaniments, without laughing and shuddering at the same moment. With a similarly blended sentiment of the ludicrous and the sad do we gaze upon Life's giddy whirl, when the golden mist of enchantment evaporates from the scene.
But to return to the consideration of my more immediate subject ;-let me not conclude without hailing the New Year, with a somewhat kinder greeting than it has yet received. I may look upon it with the same affection as the old one, but it is not wholly unattractive. The thirst for novelty makes every New Year a welcome visitor to most men. It suggests fresh plans and inspires fresh hopes. Life and the world seem adapted to our impatience of stillness and monotony. The ever-flitting forms and hues of external nature, the endless variety of human faces and human character, and the phantasmagorial progression of events, are all ministrant to our taste for change. If I cannot on the whole be so enthusiastic in my welcome to the present year as in my farewell to the past one, let it be remembered that should I live another season its aspect and character will be changed, and like its predecessor, it will be hailed at parting with a thoughtful sigh.