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Au monde tant immonde
"Donc mon Dieu je te prie,
"Par ta bénéficence
O mon Dieu, ma défense
Dont je n'ay plus d'envie
The Count de Maistre, describing the death of young Eugene de Costa, who was mortally wounded in an engagement with the French in Italy, supplies an instance of this happy death in youth. "Eugene," says he, "in his last hours heard read the acts of the martyrs under Decius and Diocletian.
He felt animated, exalted, enchanted by that intrepid piety; for whatever bore the character of heroism made his generous heart beat to its last hour. He saw the final moment approach without fear; his tender piety, his pure conscience, his lively faith constantly sustained him. He doubted not but that on departing from this life he was to fly away to the abode of eternal felicity. He wished to all who surrounded him the happiness that he was going to enjoy. He prayed for his relations, named them all, and pitied only them*." In general the outlines alone of such scenes can be but faintly sketched: "nought but an angel's pencil, dipped in the infinite conceptions of Heaven, can add the glowing tint and complete the loveliness of the picture." But such outlines are invaluable. We all must die; and these have taught us how.
But again, the central principles which are united in Catholi cism are found to sweeten the approach of death by a partial restoration of man's nature to a state of harmony that may be called original, so far as being after the accident of death's introduction a state in accordance with the Creator's will. Asgill, from his study of the Scriptures, was convinced that death was not a necessity, and that men might pass to the next world without enduring it: he wrote a book to prove this proposition, and he says that "the Bible now contains two famous records of the resurrection that never came to Paul's hands," and so he argued against the necessity of dying. With such madness, it is to be hoped, we have nothing to do; but we may take note of that
* Lettres, tom. ii. Discours à la Marquise de Costa.
weak fancy that from every object draws arguments for fearing death, causing men to dread their own shadows; and even when knowing them to be such, still to discourse and act as if they thought that they may come leering after them to steal away the substance. It is a fact which few men of reflection will be disposed to question, that, heavy as are the evils incident to us all by nature, those of the imagination which come to us from what may be termed the sphere of the unnatural are the greatest and the most difficult to endure; and it is no less true that many persons, as if not content with the former, seem to take a strange and unaccountable pleasure in seeking to multiply and aggravate the latter. Terror of an ill is sometimes greater in the expectation than the ill itself. Death, for instance, though it had been originally foreign to nature, is nevertheless as it occurs to it no doubt a very different thing from that monster which weak men have fancied, and which the imagination misdirected, and even the understanding wrongly biassed by views mistaken perhaps for those of religion, represent it to be. "Do not make death horrid to me," says Manuel in the Court Secret. Painters as well as preachers are sometimes to blame in this respect. Those spectral riders on white horses; those ghastly skeletons with scythe and hour-glass; those reapers whose name is death; those dances of death which even poetry has accepted, are not among the best models which we have inherited from the middle ages. When one hears certain orators, too, declaiming upon death, eloquent, if you will, in their way, there is occasion to wish that they would not transform into a hideous and terrific thing of itself that which used to be represented as a beautiful youth leaning on an inverted torch in the attitude of repose, his wings folded and his feet crossed; or as a butterfly escaped from its chrysalis, to signify the soul freed from the body, and fluttering in the fresh air of heaven. Certainly it is curious, as Hazlitt observes, that we who boast so much of our knowledge of the immortality of the soul, and of the glad hopes of an after-life, should take such pains to make the image of death melancholy, while Gentiles should do the reverse, and associate it with emblems that ought to belong rather to us. One might suppose that there would be no harm in trying to divest death of all needless unpleasant associations, and adding to it all the pleasant ones which it will allow. But the contrary is what we do, for we seem to spare no pains to add to its repulsive horrors; and in this respect it is not alone some of the philosophers, as Lord Bacon complains, but it is to be feared many pious persons, who are guilty; for there are men, though indeed not great artists, resembling in one respect Leonardo da Vinci, who laboured constantly, not
content with his darkest shadows, to discover the ground tone of others still darker, seeking a black that should produce a deeper shadow, and be yet darker than all other known blacks, until he finally produced that totally dark shade, in which there is absolutely no light left. In the same manner, by dint of prescribing lugubrious formulas, and various modes of preserving men against the fear of death, there is a gloomy and horrible ground tone produced respecting it in many minds, such as perhaps neither nature nor Catholicism free from the mixture of mere human suggestions would require or sanction. It is related of Malherbe, that but an hour before his death, a certain priest speaking to him of the felicity of the life beyond the grave, and expressing himself in vulgar language, he interrupted him, exclaiming, “Say no more of it; your style will disgust me with it." Had the same rhetorician touched on the menacing side of the subject, perhaps the utility resulting to the hearer would not have been different; and after all, though no doubt the thought might with less chance of offending the serious be otherwise expressed, there seems to be much justice in the remonstrance that occurred lately in a London popular publication, which demanded
"Why should the preacher ever rave
Of sorrow, death, and 'dust to dust ?'
But why be sad before we must ?"
"The world," says an English author, "is most unquestionably happier upon the whole than otherwise; or light, and air, and the face of nature would be different from what they are. By cultivating agreeable thoughts, then, we tend, like bodies in philosophy, to the greater mass of sensations rather than to the less."
"For other things mild Heav'n a time ordains,
And disapproves that care, though wise in show,
And when God sends a cheerful hour, refrains."
Sound sense, which never is at variance with any truth, will avoid conjuring up adventitious terrors, or adding gravity to what is already grave enough; for as Irene says in the Lost Lady,
66 Why should
you labour your disquiet?—
Might dissipate, till Heaven had made your mind
Mortality, one may think, needs not tributes day after day to enhance her dread and her forebodings; as it is,
"She wears a coronal of flowers faded
There is enough of death in the world without our calling in the aid of things that nature seems intended should be kept out of sight, to increase by artificial means the sense of its presence. Without this raking into its bowels, the earth doth bear quite enough of bitter fruits, enough of chilly droppings, enough of fear and shadowy grief, to keep the soul within the bounds that nature wishes. Some very grave persons seem in fact to enter their protest against the Author of nature for presenting us with agreeable images of life, rather than with a ceaseless spectacle of dissolution. They seem eager, like Lucian, to represent all men as fearing death alike, saying that however, like Socrates, the man may seem bold and manly when death is far from him, no sooner does he draw near its mouth and see Cerberus, but he cries like an infant, and proves that his courage was all acted —καὶ οὐκ ἀληθῶς κατεφρόνει τοῦ πράγματος. Painting thus over and over an image to terrify our nature, they seem, at least to others, as far as regards present happiness, to experience the fate of that Fivizzano, who died from too fixedly regarding his own painting of Death, on whom the following epigram was composed :
"Me veram pictor divinus mente recepit.
Dumque opere in facto defigit lumina pictor,
Viva igitur sum mors, non mortua mortis imago
When men are for keeping every thing beautiful and cheerful in the background, and for bringing forward what is loathsome, and evidently designed by the Creator for concealment, it might be well to remind them, that however nervously they may feel drawn towards fearful images, it is one result of central principles to bring us all back to unperverted nature, and to ward off the delusions, whatever be their source or form, which interpose between it and human thoughts.
In the first place, Catholicism, besides supplying argumentative proof from sources peculiarly its own, restores to man in all its freshness that certain instinct or natural sense of immortality which belongs to him in every age of the world, and which only a kind of perverse civilization, opposed to revelation as well as to
the progress of human happiness, can obscure. When this sense is revived and confirmed, death certainly assumes, as we have lately seen, a different character. What is there in deaths like those we have lately observed to make us look forward with anguish, or to plunge into all sorts of gloominess and bad taste? And besides, as all great changes affect the mind with apprehension, the wisdom of having one's thoughts continually and practically centred upon what awaits us, even under this change of aspect, seems very questionable. We see how the sense of immortality operated with the Gentile philosophers, whose example so far assuredly need not be fled from. With what simplicity and ease does Socrates allude to his own approaching death, saying, "It seems I am to leave to-day, since the Athenians order it ;" and then adding, Ah, my dear Simmias! be assured that one who loves wisdom will hasten with great pleasure to that place where alone he can enjoy what he loves. Whenever you see a man sorry to die, it is a sure mark that he is a man who does not love wisdom, but the body; and whoever so loves the body, loves honours or vices, or riches and honours both. Therefore what is called valour belongs essentially to lovers of wisdom *." "A life which can be lost is not a happy life," says Cicero, and man feels that he was created for happiThese symptoms of leaving, then, the perishable life are not so formidable.
"Methinks they show like to those eastern streaks
That warn us hence before the morning breaks." Nature and experience teach, with the primitive Indian traditions, that nothing is lost in nature; that whatever dies returns under a different form. "All things," says Krishna, "that have a beginning are subject to death; and things subject to death experience regeneration." "The secret of heaven indeed,” as a living author says, "is kept from age to age. No angel has ever hinted to human ears the scenery and circumstances of the newly-parted soul. But it is certain," as he adds, "that it must tally with what is best in nature. It must not be inferior in tone to the already known works of the Artist who sculptures the globes of the firmament and writes the moral law. It must be fresher than rainbows, stabler than mountains, agreeing with flowers, with tides, and the rising and setting of autumnal stars." So the poet, animated with such hopes, exclaims
"Qu'importe que la vie, inégale ici-bas
Pour l'homme et pour la femme
Se dérobe et soit prête à rompre sous vos pas?