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"Your comfortable words are like honey. They relish in your mouth that's whole; but in mine that's wounded they go down as if the sting of the bee were in them." See, on the other hand, they who come from shrift, and though it be in a sick chamber, how often is it, like Juliet, "with merry look." To Goethe even these very solemn rites seemed beautiful; they lead him to remark how the whole life of man is sanctified and made one by the Catholic sacraments; "and so," he concludes, "through a brilliant circle of holy acts, the beauty of which we have only briefly hinted at, the cradle and the grave, however far asunder they may chance to be, are bound in one continuous circle." Besides, even the necessity of such things in all cases seems to exist only in a mere popular and unfounded idea arising from a certain horror inspired by the thought of departing without some distinctive sign of Christianity being made, as when one died unhousel'd, unanel'd," as poets say. Alphonso Antonio de Sarasa, in his treatise on the art of always rejoicing, says expressly that we should acquiesce in death both as to the manner and circumstances, as well as to the time, and that death without the sacraments should be accepted with cheerfulness as the will of God; and St. Gertrude being asked if such a death would not distress her, "Truly," she replied, "I should be far more distressed were I in the least matter to be unwilling to conform to the will of God." It seems clear that the early anachorites frequently died thus, left the world unseen, and had known, too, that they would so fade away, while they took no steps to avoid that contingency. As for other accessaries to a pious end, no thraldom is imposed on any one. Even the ancient monks felt free to indulge their particular fancy in regard to the manner of departing. St. Benedict would die standing; so he was sustained erect in the arms of his disciples till he expired.
In fine, the central principles combined in Catholicism, always in accordance with what is innocent and good in nature, seem to leave in free action all the natural remedies which exist against the fear of death, and in consequence of that sanction to change in many cases the view which men would otherwise have taken of what the philosopher called the most terrible of all terrible things.
It is a great thing to have sanctioned by the highest authority that one can conceive, and consecrated, as it were, so as to be more secure against every danger arising from a sophistical use of reason, all the heroic forces which exist in human nature. "The effeminate clinging to life as such, as a general or abstract idea, is," says Hazlitt, "the effect of a highly civilized and artificial state of society. If we look into the old histories and
Ars semper Gaud. xv. p. 1.
romances before the belles-lettres neutralized human affairs, and reduced passion to a state of mental equivocation, we find the heroes and heroines not setting their lives at a pin's fee.' There is at least more of imagination in such a state of things, more vigour of feeling and promptitude to act, than in our lingering, languid, protracted attachment to life for its own poor sake. It is perhaps also better, as well as more heroical, to strike at some daring or darling object, and if we fail in that, to take the consequences manfully, than to renew the lease of a tedious, spiritless, charmless existence. Was there not a spirit of martyrdom, as well as a spice of reckless energy, in this bold defiance of death? Had not religion something to do with it; the implicit belief in a future life, which rendered this of less value, and embodied something beyond it to the imagination; so that the rough soldier, the fervent lover, the valorous knight, could afford to throw away the present venture, and take a leap into the arms of futurity, which the modern sceptic shrinks back from, with all his boasted reason and vain philosophy, weaker than a woman! I cannot help thinking so." Undoubtedly the fostering of certain natural resources against the fear of death is one result of central principles; for when we have passed through all the labyrinthine roads of human life, we find at the end, terminating at the centre in Catholicism, an exit also which leads out into free nature, so that man on embracing supernatural truth becomes then truly natural and heroic. But in the natural sphere exist many principles that dispel the apprehension of death. "Man," says a living writer, "was meant to be not the slave but the master of circumstances; and in proportion as he recovers his humanity, in every sense of that great obsolete word-in proportion as he gets back the spirit of manliness, which is self-sacrifice, affection, loyalty to an idea beyond himself, a God above himself, so far will he rise above circumstances, and wield them at his will" Central principles, by restoring him to nature, impart the true, manly character; and therefore, for the sake of honour, rightly understood, and for the sake of love, to confine our observations to only these two instances, he braves and despises death. Honour, love, manhood, these are things more important, in reference to meeting death, than many acquisitions of the head, which occupy men in schools. St. Anselm said with his last breath, "I should have wished before I died to write down my ideas on the origin of evil; for I have made researches which will now be lost." Noble and affecting sentence, no doubt! but perhaps it may be allowable to suggest that it indicates also, as we before observed, a danger to which the mere literary and philosophic character is more liable than the unbookish and unpre
tending one which we now have in view. Who needs to be told that it is a sentiment of nature which Alanus Magnus expresses, when he says, Non ut diu vivas curandum est, sed ut satis bene? Diu vivere pertinet ad eventum, satis bene ad animum *”
"Life's but a word, a shadow, a melting dream,
When Thierry says to Ordelia, preparing to die for her husband and her country, "Dare you venture for a poor barren praise you never shall hear to part with the sweet hopes of offspring?" she replies,
"With all but Heaven
And yet die full of children: he that reads me
And those chaste dames that keep my memory,
Some one, in another of our ancient plays, exclaims, "We should adore thee, death, if constant virtue, not enforcement, built thy spacious temples." Yet there actually are occasions when men feel practically that it would be a happy and glorious thing to die, and need no force to urge them. The Cid heard in a vision that he was to conquer and to die within thirty days, and the news so delighted him that he leaped from his bed in a rapture of pleasure, and rendered thanks to God for the favour which was granted to him. This is what the Spaniards sing in the popular chant beginning "Estando en Valencia el Cid." To choose luxuriously to lie a-bed, and purge away one's spirit and send one's soul out in sugar-sops and syrups, when a noble cause might justify another mode of dying, would not be manly. Men will consider that an early death would have been to many, in regard to honourable memory and to all good, the greatest of benefits. An instance familiar to the old chivalry is alluded to in the ancient romance of the Infants of Lara, beginning
"Ay Dios, que buen caballero
Fue Don Rodrigo de Lara."
Ah! what a good knight was Don Rodrigo de Lara, who defeated five thousand Moors with the three hundred men he led on! If he had died then, what renown he would have left! He would not have slain his nephews, the seven infants of Lara, and he would not have sold their heads to the Moor! There is even, at certain epochs of the world, a noble affection for the memory of those generations that have immediately preceded * Sum, de Arte Prædicatoria, c. xi.
them on the road of the tombs, which has been found to impress some men so powerfully, that, to use the poet's words,
"Their conceit was nearer death than their powers."
This seems to have been the case with Chateaubriand and the Count de Maistre, as it was with so many illustrious persons in the sixteenth century, in whose sense it was happiness to die. It is an Homeric consolation, as may be witnessed in the line,
κάτθανε καὶ Πάτροκλος, ὅπερ σέο πολλὸν ἀμείνων *.
It is at all times familiar to those who have had loved companions, and who can sometimes say with the Breton minstrel, "I have not a brother on earth; in heaven I do not say that I am without one." It is soon needed in the school of the world;
"Men drop so fast, ere life's mid stage we tread,
It would almost seem that there is even a mysterious bond which sometimes draws friends after each other to the next world. William of Newbury mentions an instance, saying, "Three memorable men, and in their life most dear friends to each other, departed from this life at nearly the same time, namely, Pope Eugene, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, and Henry, archbishop of York+."
But if the sentiment of honour, of admiration, and of friendship be thus efficacious in changing the mere natural view of death, what shall we say of that of love, whose works are more than of a mortal temper?
"O for the gentleness of old romance,
The simple plaining of a minstrel's song!
It has been well observed, that "all which has been written in song or told in story of love and its effects, falls far short of its reality; that its evils and its blessings, its impotence and its power, its weakness and its strength, will continue for ever the theme of nature and of art, as it may often be in fact, in its results at least, 'the story without an end that angels throng to hear.' A compound feeling, as all belonging to our nature is, arising from the depths of misery, and fed with the grossest Rer. Ang. i. 26.
* xxi. 107.
food, descending from heaven, and yielding the most direct and evident manifestation of a divine and self-sacrificing spirit, it is at once the tyrant and the slave, being happier as the latter than as the former, since the perfection of love is obedience." Some there are disposed to condemn or ridicule those who are living witnesses of this power. But, as an admirable writer says, "in vain they moralize; in vain they teach us it is a delusion; in vain they dissect its inspiring sentiment, and would mortify us into misery by its degrading analysis. The lover glances with contempt at a cold-blooded philosophy; nature assures him that the emotion which he feels is beautiful, and he answers, Canst thou deprive the sun of its heat because its ray may be decomposed ? or does the diamond blaze with less splendour because thou canst analyze its effulgence? Love is, in truth, a magnificent, sublime, divine sentiment. The man who loves and is loved becomes a transformed being. The accidents of earth touch him not. Revolutions of empire, mutations of opinion, are to him but the clouds and meteors of a stormy sky. The schemes and struggles of mankind are, in his thinking, but the anxieties of pigmies. Nothing can subdue him. He does not mingle in the paths of callous bustle, or hold himself responsible to the airy impostures before which other men bow down. Loss of fortune he laughs at. Love can illumine the dismal garret, and shed a ray of enchanting light over the close and busy city *." Love can conquer circumstance, "that unspiritual god," for equality is no rule in love's grammar; that sole unhappiness, to marry blood, is left to princes. Where love comes yoked with love, the best equality, without the level of estate or person, it renders golden the very things that we should otherwise fly from with disgust. It makes us adore poverty, and court all its circumstances, content with the hardest, humblest lot. For when the magic of love is present, all is bright and beauteous, and the meanest thing most dear.
""Tis the ambition of the elf
To have all childish as himself,"
and therefore it is content with what suffices to the young.
"And as, in cloudy days, we see the sun
so love invests with a dream-like beauty the humblest lodging, the poorest court or alley. Names the most obscure, cited to inspire contempt, as when the comic imitator of Scott composed