Page images
PDF
EPUB

days since; his passions are becalmed with the storm, his accounts cast up, his cares at an end, his voyage done, and his gains are the strange events of death.

Of all the evils of the world which are reproached with an evil character, death the most innocent of its accusation.t

+ To the same effect Bishop Taylor says, in another part of his Holy Dying,—Take away but the pomps of death, the disguises, and solemn bug-bears, and the actings by candlelight, and proper and phantastick ceremonies, the minstrels and the noise-makers, the women and the weepers, the swoonings and the shriekings, the nurses and the physicians, the dark room and the ministers, the kindred and the watches, and then to die is easy, ready, and quitted from its troublesome circumstances. It is the same harmless thing that a poor shepherd suffered yesterday, or a maid-servant to-day; and at the same time in which you die, in that

very night a thousand creatures die with you, some wise men and many fools ; and the wisdom of the first will not quit him, and the folly of the latter does not make him unable to die.' And in an essay ascribed (erroneously,) I think, to Lord Bacon, he says, “I have often thought of death, and I find it the least of all evils. But in the same essay the author says, • Death arrives gracious only to such as sit in darkness, or lie heavy burthened with grief and irons; to the poor Christian that sits bound in the galley; to despairful widows, pensive prisoners, and deposed kings : to them whose fortune runs back, and whose spirits mutiny ; unto such death is a redeemer, and the grave a place for retiredness and rest. These wait upon the shore of death, and waft unto him to draw near, wishing above all others to see his star, that they might be led to his place, wooing the remorseless sisters to wind down the watch of their life, and to break them off before the hour.'

One of the sweetest of our modern poets says,

IMMODERATE GRIEF.

SOLEMN and appointed mournings are good expressions of our dearness to the departed soul, and of his worth, and our value of him ; and it hath its praise in nature, and in manners, and

And hark! the nightingale begins its song,
Most musical, most melancholy' bird !
A melancholy bird? Oh, idle thought!

In nature there is nothing melancholy. So sings the sweet poet. Are these the mere fancies of the brain, illusions of the imagination, or does philosophy echo what the poet sings ? Let us try this by seeing whether in death, which is as natural as life, there is not something melancholy? Is there nothing melancholy in a death-bed; in the agony and last contentions of the soul; the reluctancies and unwillingnesses of the body; the forehead washed with a new baptism, besmeared with a cold sweat, tenacious and clammy, apt to make it cleave to the roof of the coffin ; the nose cold and undiscerning ; the eyes dim as a sullied mirror; the feet cold; the hands stiff? How many of us have contemplated with admiration the graceful motion of the female form ; the eye sparkling with intelligence; the countenance enlivened by wit, or animated or soothed by feeling? Is there nothing sad in the consciousness that in a few short years, perhaps in the next moment, sensation and motion will cease ; the body lose its warmth, the eyes their lustre, and the lips and cheeks become livid ? Is there nothing melancholy in the consciousness that these are but preludes to other changes? Will the poet still say,

Oh, idle thought!
In nature there is nothing melancholy?
And will philosophy echo what the poet sings?

public customs. Something is to be given to custom, something to fame, to nature, and to civilities, and to the honour of the deceased friends ; for that man is esteemed to die miserable, for whom no friend or relative sheds a tear, or pays

It certainly is true that this is no new song of the poets. Bacon (whether truly or not is the question) says,-Knowledge mitigates the fear of death; for, if a man be deeply imbued with the contemplation of mortality and the corruptible nature of all things, he will easily concur with Epictetus, who went forth one day, and saw a woman weeping for her pitcher of earth that was broken; and went forth the next day, and saw a woman weeping for her son that was dead ; and therefore said, “Heri vidi fragilem frangi; hodie vidi mortalem mori. And therefore Virgil did excellently and profoundly couple the knowledge of causes and the conquest of all fears as concomitant :

Felix, qui potuit rerum cognoscere causas,
Atque metus omnes et inexorabile fatum

Subjecit pedibus, strepitumque Acherontis avari!
If any of my readers is desirous to discover the portion of
truth and of error which these opinions of poets and philoso-
phers' contain, it is necessary to proceed with caution, and
separately to examine the different causes which compose the
painful associations with which death is accompanied : con-
sisting, as it does, of a complication of terrors, aiding each
other, and becoming formidable by their united operation, let
him read Tucker's valuable Essay on Death, in vol. vii, of his
admirable work on the Light of Nature; and let him remem-
ber that Lord Bacon, in his Doctrine of all the Motions in
Nature, says,

* The political motion is that by which the parts of a body are restrained from their own immediate appetites or tendencies, to unite in such a state as may preserve the existence of the whole body. Thus the spirit, which exists in all living bodies, keeps all the parts in due subjection; when it escapes, the body decomposes, or the similar

1

a solemn sigh. Some showers sprinkled upon my grave would do well and comely,

But that which is to be faulted in this particular is, when the grief is immoderate and unreasonable : and Paula Romana deserved to have felt the weight of St. Hierom's severe reproof,

1626;

parts unite—as metals rust, fluids turn sour: and in animals, when the spirit which held the parts together escapes,

all things are dissolved and return to their own natures or principles : the oily parts to themselves, the aqueous to them. selves, &c. upon which necessarily ensues that confusion of parts, observable in putrefaction.' So true it is, that in nature all is beauty! that notwithstanding our partial views, and distressing associations, the forms of death, misshapen as we suppose them, are but the tendencies to union in similar natures.

In this spirit was the inscription written which is now on the monument of Lord Bacon. He died in the

year and, according to his wish, is buried in the same grave with his mother. Near to him lies his faithful secretary; and although only a few letters of his name, scarcely legible, can now be traced, he will ever be remembered for his affectionate attachment to bis master and friend. Upon the monument which he raised to Lord Bacon, who appears, sitting in deep but tranquil thought, he has inscribed this epitaph :FRANCISCUS BACON BARO DE VERULAM S: ALBANI VICmes

SEU NOTORIBUS TITULIS
SCIENTIARUM LUMEN, FACUNDIÆ LEX

SIC SEDEBAT :

QUI POSTQUAM OMNJA NATURALIS SAPIENTIA

ET CIVILIS ARCANA EVOLVISSET

NATURÆ DECRETUM EXPLEVIT

COMPOSITA SOLVANTUR. Is not decomposition, in the sight of omniscience, as beautiful as union?

when at the death of every of her children she almost wept herself into her grave.*

And it hath been observed, that those greater and stormy passions do so spend the whole stock of grief, that they presently admit a comfort and contrary affection; while a sorrow that is even and temperate goes on to its period with expectation and the distances of a just time. The Ephesian woman that the soldier told of in Petronius was the talk of all the town, and the rarest example of a dear affection to her husband. She descended with the corpse into the vault, and there being attended with her maiden, resolved to weep to death, or die with famine or a distempered sorrow : from which resolution, nor his nor her friends, nor the reverence of the principal citizens, who used the intreaties of their charity

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

* Ought we in our grief for the loss of each other, to murmur at the order of nature, at the dispensations of Providence, or ought we to remember that

They are not lost
Who leave their parents for the calm of heaven.

I know well
That they who love their friends most tenderly
Still bear their loss the best. There is in love
A consecrated power, that seems to wake
Only at the touch of death from its repose,
In the profoundest depths of thinking souls,
Superior to the outward signs of grief,
Sighing or tears,—when these have past away,
It rises calm and beautiful, like the moon,
Saddening the solemn night, yet with that sadness
Mingling the breath of undisturbed peace.

CITY OF THE PLAGUE.

« PreviousContinue »