S. Austin Allibone, comp. Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay. 1880.
When I look upon the tombs of the great, every motion of envy dies in me; when I read the epitaphs of the beautiful, every inordinate I desire goes out; when I meet with the grief of parents upon a tombstone, my heart melts with compassion; when I see the tomb of the parents themselves, I consider the vanity of grieving for those whom we must quickly follow. When I see kings lying by those who deposed them, when I consider rival wits placed side by side, or the holy men that divided the world with their contests and disputes, I reflect with sorrow and astonishment on the little competitions, factions, and debates of mankind. When I read the several dates of the tombs, of some that died yesterday, and some six hundred years ago, I consider that great day when we shall all of us be contemporaries, and make our appearance together.
Joseph Addison: Spectator, No. 26 (Visit to Westminster Abbey).
The truth of it is, there is nothing in history which is so improving to the reader as those accounts which we meet with of the deaths of eminent persons and of their behaviour in that dreadful season. I may also add that there are no parts in history which affect and please the reader in so sensible a manner. The reason I take to be this: there is no other single circumstance in the story of any person, which can possibly be the case of every one who reads it. A battle or a triumph are conjunctures in which not one man in a million is likely to be engaged: but when we see a person at the point of death, we cannot forbear being attentive to everything he says or does, because we are sure that some time or other we shall ourselves be in the same melancholy circumstances. The general, the statesman, or the philosopher, are perhaps characters which we may never act in, but the dying man is one whom, sooner or later, we shall certainly resemble.
This great and learned man was famous for enlivening his ordinary discourses with wit and pleasantry; and, as Erasmus tells him in an epistle dedicatory, acted in all parts of life like a second Democritus.
He died upon a point of religion, and is respected as a martyr by that side for which he suffered. That innocent mirth, which had been so conspicuous in his life, did not forsake him to the last. He maintained the same cheerfulness of heart upon the scaffold which he used to show at his table; and upon laying his head on the block, gave instances of that good humour with which he had always entertained his friends in the most ordinary occurrences. His death was of a piece with his life. There was nothing in it new, forced, or affected. He did not look upon the severing his head from his body as a circumstance that ought to produce any change in the disposition of his mind; and, as he died under a fixed and settled hope of immortality, he thought any unusual degree of sorrow and concern improper on such an occasion as had nothing in it which could deject or terrify him.
The prospect of death is so gloomy and dismal that if it were constantly before our eyes it would embitter all the sweets of life. The gracious Author of our being hath therefore so formed us that we are capable of many pleasing sensations and reflections, and meet with so many amusements and solicitudes, as divert our thoughts from dwelling upon an evil which, by reason of its seeming distance, makes but languid impressions upon the mind. But how distant soever the time of our death may be, since it is certain that we must die, it is necessary to allot some portion of our life to consider the end of it; and it is highly convenient to fix some stated times to meditate upon the final period of our existence here. The principle of self-love, as we are men, will make us inquire what is like to become of us after our dissolution; and our conscience, as we are Christians, will inform us that according to the good or evil of our actions here, we shall be translated to the mansions of eternal bliss or misery. When this is seriously weighed, we must think it madness to be unprepared against the black moment; but when we reflect that perhaps that black moment may be to-night, how watchful ought we to be!
Men sometimes upon the hour of departure do speak and reason above themselves; for then the soul, beginning to be freed from the ligaments of the body, reasons like herself, and discourses in a strain above mortality.
Men, upon the near approach of death, have been roused up into such a lively sense of their guilt, such a passionate degree of concern and remorse, that if ten thousand ghosts had appeared to them they scarce could have had a fuller conviction of their danger.
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.
It is worthy the observing that there is no passion in the mind of man so weak, but it mates 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-occupateth it; nay, we read, after Otho the emperor had slain himself, pity (which is the tenderest of affections) provoked many to die out of mere compassion to their sovereign, and as the truest sort of followers. Nay, Seneca adds, niceness and satiety.
In expectation of a better, I can with patience embrace this life, yet in my best meditations do often desire death. I honour any man that contemns it, nor can I highly love any one that is afraid of it . For a Pagan there may be some motive to be in love with life; but for a Christian to be amazed at death, I see not how he can escape this dilemma, that he is too sensible of this life, or hopeless of the life to come.
The more we sink into the infirmities of age, the nearer we are to immortal youth. All people are young in the other world. That state is an eternal spring, ever fresh and flourishing. Now, to pass from midnight into noon on the sudden; to be decrepit one minute and all spirit and activity the next, must be a desirable change. To call this dying is an abuse of language.
In death itself there can be nothing terrible, for the act of death annihilates sensation; but there are many roads to death, and some of them justly formidable, even to the bravest: but so various are the modes of going out of the world, that to be born may have been a more painful thing than to die, and to live may prove a more troublesome thing than either.
There is nothing, no, nothing, innocent or good, that dies and is forgotten: let us hold to that faith or none. An infant, a prattling child, dying in its cradle will live again in the better thoughts of those who loved it, and play its part, through them, in the redeeming actions of the world, though its body be burnt to ashes, or drowned in the deepest sea. There is not an angel added to the host of heaven but does its blessed work on earth in those that loved it here. Forgotten! oh, if the good deeds of human creatures could be traced to their source, how beautiful would even death appear! for how much charity, mercy, and purified affection would be seen to have their growth in dusty graves!
Oh, it is hard to take to heart the lesson that such deaths will teach; but let no man reject it, for it is one that all must learn, and is a mighty universal truth. When death strikes down the innocent and young, for every fragile form from which he lets the panting spirit free, a hundred virtues rise, in shapes of Mercy, Charity, and Love, to walk the world, and bless it. Of every tear that sorrowing mortals shed on such green graves, some good is born, some gentler nature comes. In the destroyers steps there spring up bright creations that defy his power, and his dark path becomes a way of light to heaven.
Death comes equally to us all, and makes us all equal when he comes. The ashes of an oak in a chimney are no epitaph of that, to tell me how high, or how large, that was; it tells me not what flocks it sheltered while it stood, nor what men it hurt when it fell. The dust of great persons graves is speechless too: it says nothing, it distinguishes nothing. As soon the dust of a wretch whom thou wouldst not, as of a prince whom thou couldst not, look upon, will trouble thine eyes if the wind blow it thither; and when a whirlwind hath blown the dust of the church-yard into the church, and the man sweeps out the dust of the church into the church-yard, who will undertake to sift those again, and to pronounce, This is the patrician, this is the noble flower, and this the yeoman, this the plebeian bran?
A wise man shall not be deprived of pleasure even when death shall summons him; forasmuch as he has attained the delightful end of the best life,departing like a guest full and well satisfied: having received life upon trust, and duly discharged that office, he acquits himself at departing.
Of the great number to whom it has been my painful professional duty to have administered in the last hour of their lives, I have sometimes felt surprised that so few have appeared reluctant to go to the undiscovered country, from whose bourn no traveller returns. Many, we may easily suppose, have manifested this willingness to die from an impatience of suffering, or from that passive indifference which is sometimes the result of debility and bodily exhaustion. But I have seen those who have arrived at a fearless contemplation of the future, from faith in the doctrine which our religion teaches. Such men were not only calm and supported, but cheerful, in the hour of death; and I never quitted such a sick-chamber without a hope that my last end might be like theirs.
An event has taken place which has no parallel in the revolutions of time, the consequences of which have not room to expand themselves within a narrower sphere than an endless duration. An event has occurred the issues of which must forever baffle and elude all finite comprehensions, by concealing themselves in the depths of that abyss, of that eternity, which is the dwelling-place of Deity, where there is sufficient space for the destiny of each, among the innumerable millions of the human race, to develop itself, and without interference or confusion to sustain and carry forward its separate infinity of interest. That there is nothing hyperbolic or extravagant in these conceptions, but that they are the true sayings of God, you may learn from almost every page of the sacred oracles. For what are they, in fact, but a different mode of announcing the doctrine taught us in the following words:What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul; or what shall he give in exchange for his soul?
Robert Hall: Funeral Sermon for the Princess Charlotte.
She is gone! No longer shrinking from the winter wind, or lifting her calm pure forehead to the summers kiss; no longer gazing with her blue and glorious eyes into a far-oft sky; no longer yearning with a holy heart for heaven; no longer toiling painfully along the path, upward and upward, to the everlasting rock on which are based the walls of the city of the Most High; no longer here; she is there; gazing, seeing, knowing, loving, as the blessed only see, and know, and love. Earth has one angel less, and heaven one more, since yesterday. Already, kneeling at the throne, she has received her welcome, and is resting on the bosom of her Saviour. If human love have power to penetrate the veil (and hath it not?) then there are yet living here a few who have the blessedness of knowing that an angel loves them.
It is not strange that that early love of the heart should come back, as it so often does, when the dim eye is brightening with its last light. It is not strange that the freshest fountains the heart has ever known in its wastes should bubble up anew when the life-blood is growing stagnant. It is not strange that a bright memory should come to a flying old man, as the sunshine breaks across the hills at the close of a stormy day; nor that in the light of that ray the very clouds that made the day dark should grow gloriously beautiful.
When the veil of death has been drawn between us and the objects of our regard, how quick-sighted do we become to their merits, and how bitterly do we remember words, or even looks, of unkindness which may have escaped in our intercourse with them! How careful should such thoughts render us in the fulfilment of those offices of affection which may yet lie in our power to perform! for who can tell how soon the moment may arrive when repentance cannot be followed by reparation?
Have wisdom to provide always beforehand, that those evils overtake us not which death unexpected doth use to bring upon careless men; and although it be sudden in itself, nevertheless, in regard of the prepared minds, it may not be sudden.
Let us beg of God that, when the hour of our rest is come, the patterns of our dissolution may be Jacob, Moses, Joshua, and David, who, leisurably ending their lives in peace, prayed for the mercies of God upon their posterity.
The moralist warns us that life is but the antechamber of death; that as, on the first day of life, the foot is planted on the lowest of a range of steps, which man scales painfully, only to arrive at the altar of corporeal death. The chemist comes to proclaim that, from infancy to old age, the quantity of earthy matter continually increases. Earth asserts her supremacy more and more, and calls us more loudly to the dust. In the end a Higher Will interposes, the bond of union is unloosed, the immortal soul wings its flight upward to the Giver of all Being. Earth claims its own, and a little heap of ashes returns to the dust. It was a man. It is now dust; our ashes are scattered abroad to the winds over the surface of the earth. But this dust is not inactive. It rises to walk the earth again; perhaps to aid in peopling the globe with fresh forms of beauty, to assist in the performance of the vital processes of the universe, to take a part in the worlds life. In this sense the words of Goethe are strictly applicable, Death is the parent of life.
It [the grave] buries every errorcovers every defectextinguishes every resentment. From its peaceful bosom spring none but fond regrets and tender recollections. Who can look down upon the grave of an enemy and not feel a compunctious throb that he should have warred with the poor handful of dust that lies mouldering before him?
It was, perhaps, ordained by Providence, to hinder us from tyrannizing over one another, that no individual should be of such importance as to cause, by his retirement or death, any chasm in the world. And Cowley had conversed to little purpose with mankind, if he had never remarked how soon the useful friend, the gay companion, and the favoured lover, when once they are removed from before the sight, give way to the succession of new objects.
Whoever would know how much piety and virtue surpass all external goods might here have seen them weighed against each other, where all that gives motion to the active, and elevation to the eminent, all that sparkles in the eye of hope, and pants in the bosom of suspicion, at once became dust in the balance, without weight and without regard. Riches, authority, and praise lose all their influence when they are considered as riches which to-morrow shall be bestowed upon another, authority which shall this night expire forever, and praise which, however merited, or however sincere, shall, after a few moments, be heard no more.
In those hours of seriousness and wisdom, nothing appeared to raise his spirits, or gladden his heart, but the recollection of acts of goodness; nor to excite his attention, but some opportunity for the exercise of the duties of religion.
When a friend is carried to his grave, we at once find excuses for every weakness, and palliations of every fault; we recollect a thousand endearments which before glided off our minds without impression, a thousand favours unrepaid, a thousand duties unperformed, and wish, vainly wish, for his return, not so much that we may receive as that we may bestow happiness, and recompense that kindness which before we never understood.
There is not, perhaps, to a mind well instructed, a more painful occurrence than the death of one whom we have injured without reparation. Our crime seems now irretrievable; it is indelibly recorded, and the stamp of fate is fixed upon it. We consider, with the most afflictive anguish, the pain which we have given and now cannot alleviate, and the losses which we have caused and now cannot repair.
Death may be said with almost equal propriety to confer as well as to level all distinctions. In consequence of that event, a kind of chemical operation takes place; for those characters which were mixed with the gross particles of vice, by being thrown into the alembic of flattery, are sublimated into the essence of virtue. He who during the performance of his part upon the stage of the world was little if at all applauded, after the close of the drama, is pourtrayed as the favourite of every virtue under heaven.
I know not why we should delay our tokens of respect to those who deserve them until the heart that our sympathy could have gladdened has ceased to beat. As men cannot read the epitaphs inscribed upon the marble that covers them, so the tombs that we erect to virtue often only prove our repentance that we neglected it when with us.
O eloquent, just, and mighty Death! whom none could advise, thou hast persuaded; what none hath dared, thou hast done; and whom all the world hath flattered, thou only hast cast out of the world and despised: thou hast drawn together all the far-fetched greatness, all the pride, cruelty, and ambition of men, and covered all over with these two narrow words, Hic Jacet!
The body being only the covering of the soul, at its dissolution we shall discover the secrets of naturethe darkness shall be dispelled, and our souls irradiated with light and glory; a glory without a shadow, a glory that shall surround us; and from whence we shall look down, and see day and night beneath us: and as now we cannot lift up our eyes towards the sun without dazzling, what shall we do when we behold the divine light in its illustrious original?
Loss of sight is the misery of life, and usually the forerunner of death: when the malefactor comes once to be muffled, and the fatal cloth drawn over his eyes, we know that he is not far from his execution.
From what I have observed, and what I have heard those persons say whose professions lead them to the dying, I am induced to infer that the fear of death is not common, and that where it exists it proceeds rather from a diseased and enfeebled mind than from any principle in our nature. Certain it is that among the poor the approach of dissolution is usually regarded with a quiet and natural composure which it is consolatory to contemplate, and which is as far removed from the dead palsy of unbelief as it is from the delirious raptures of fanaticism. Theirs is a true, unhesitating faith, and they are willing to lay down the burden of a weary life, in the sure and certain hope of a blessed immortality.
This is the first heavy loss which you have ever experienced; hereafter the bitterness of the cup will have passed away, and you will then perceive its wholesomeness. This world is all to us till we suffer some such loss, and every such loss is a transfer of so much of our hearts and hopes to the next; and they who live long enough to see most of their friends go before them feel that they have more to recover by death than to lose by it. This is not the mere speculation of a mind at ease. Almost all who were about me in my childhood have been removed. I have brothers, sisters, friends, father, mother, and child, in another state of existence; and assuredly I regard death with very different feelings from what I should have done if none of my affections were fixed beyond the grave. To dwell upon the circumstances which, in this case, lessen the evil of separation would be idle; at present you acknowledge, and in time you will feel them.
There is a sort of delight, which is alternately mixed with terror and sorrow, in the contemplation of death. The soul has its curiosity more than ordinarily awakened when it turns its thoughts upon the conduct of such who have behaved themselves with an equal, a resigned, a cheerful, a generous or heroic temper in that extremity. We are affected with these respective manners of behaviour, as we secretly believe the part of the dying person imitated by ourselves, or such as we imagine ourselves more particularly capable of. Men of exalted minds march before us like princes, and are to the ordinary race of mankind rather subjects of their admiration than example. However, there are no ideas strike more forcibly upon our imaginations than those which are raised from reflections upon the exits of great and excellent men.
Take away but the pomps of death, the disguises and solemn bugbears, and the actings by candlelight, and proper and fantastic 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.
For the death of the righteous is like the descending of ripe and wholesome fruits from a pleasant and florid tree. Our senses entire, our limbs unbroken, without horrid tortures; after provision made for our children, with a blessing entailed upon posterity, in the presence of our friends, our dearest relatives closing our eyes and binding our feet, leaving a good name behind us.
There is nothing in the world more generally dreaded, and yet less to be feared, than death: indeed, for those unhappy men whose hopes terminate in this life, no wonder if the prospect of another seems terrible and amazing.
How glorious and how dreadful is the difference between the death of a saint and that of a sinner, a soul that is in Christ and a soul that has no interest in him! The death of every sinner has all that real evil and terror in it which it appears to an eye of sense; but a convinced sinner beholds it yet a thousand times more dreadful. When conscience is awakened upon the borders of the grave, it beholds death in its utmost horror, as the curse of the broken law, as the accomplishment of the threatenings of an angry God. A guilty conscience looks on death with all its formidable attendants round it, and espies an endless train of sorrows coming after it. Such a wretch beholds death riding towards him on a pale horse, and hell following at his heels, without all relief or remedy, without a Saviour, and without hope.
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; for, if not, it will not take place after death.
Richard Whately: Annot. on Bacons Essay, Of Death.