« AnteriorContinuar »
MEN GREAT IN THEIR DYING
Quos ille timorum Marimus haud urget lethi metus : inde ruendi In ferrum mens prona viris, animæque capaces Mortis
LUCAN. Thrice happy they beneath their northern skies, Who that worst fear, the fear of death, despise! Hence they no cares for this frail being feel, But rush undaunted on the point steel, Provoke approaching fate, and bravely scorn Το spare that life which must so soon return.
I AM very much pleased with a consolatory letter of
Phalaris, to one who had lost a son that was a young man of great merit. The thought with which be comforts the afflicted father is, to the best of my memory, as follows: That he should consider death had set a kind of seal upon his son's character, and placed him out of the reach of vice and infamy: that while he lived he was still within the possibility of falling away from virtue, and losing the fame of wbich he was possessed. Death only closes a man's reputation, and determines it as good or bad.
This, among other motives, may be one reason why we are naturally averse to the launching out into a man's praise till his bead is laid in the dust. Whilst he is capable of changing, we may be forced to retract our opinions. He may forfeit the esteem we have conceived of him, and some time or other appear to us under a different light from what he does at present. In short, as the life of any man cannot be call. ed happy or unhappy, so neither can it be pronounced vicious or virtuous, before the conclusion of it.
It was upon this consideration that Epaminondas,
being asked whether Chabrias, Iphicrates, or he himself, deserved most to be esteemed? you must first see us die, said he, before that question can be answered. /
As there is not a more melancholy consideration to a good man than his being obnoxious to such a change, so there is nothing more glorious than to keep up an uniformity in his actions, and preserve the beauty of his character to the last.
The end of a man's life is often compared to the winding up of a well-written play, where the princi. pal persons still act in character, whatever the fate is which they undergo. There is scarce a great person in the Grecian or Roman history, whose death has not heen remarked upon by some writer or other, and censured or applauded according to the genius or prin. ciples of the person wbo has descanted on it. Mon. sieur de St. Evremont is very particular in setting forth the constancy and courage of Petronius Arbiter duriug his last moments, and thinks he discovers in them a greater firmness of mind and resolution than in the death of Seneca, Cato, or Socrates. There is no question but this polite author's affectation of ap. pearing singular in his remarks, and making discoveries which had escaped the observation of others, threw him into this course of reflection. It was Pe tronius's merit, that he died in the same gaiety of tem. per in which
lived; but as his life was altogether loose and dissolute, the indifference which he showed at the close of it is to be looked upon as a piece of na. tural carelessness and levity, rather than fortitude. The resolution of Socrates proceeded from very different motives, the consciousness of a well-spent life, and the prospect of a happy eternity. If the inge. nious author above-mentioned was so pleased with gaiety of humour in a dying man, be might have found a much nobler instance of it in our countryman Sir Thomas More.
This great and learned man was famous for enliven
ing 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 bis table; and, upon laying his head on the block, gave instances of that good humour with which he bad always entertained his friends in the most ordinary occorrences. 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 bis 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.
There is no great danger of imitation from this ex ample: men's natural fears will be a sufficient guard against it. I shall only observe, that what was philo. sophy in this extraordinary man would be a phrensy in one who does not resemble him as well in the cheer fulness of his temper, as in the sanctity of his life and manners.
I shall conclude this paper with the instance of a person who seems to me to have shown more intrepidity and greatness of soul in his dying moments, than what we meet with among any of the most celebrated Greeks and Romans. I met with this instance in the History of the Revolutions in Portugal, written by the Abbot de Vertot.
When Don Sebastian, King of Portngal, had invaded the territories of Muley Moluc, Emperor of Morocco, in order to dethrone him, and set his crown upon the head of his nephew, Moluc was wearing away with a distemper which he himself knew was incurable.
However, he prepared for the reception of so formi. dable an enemy. He was indeed so far spent with his sickness, that he did not expect to live out the whole day, when the last decisive battle was given; but knowing the fatal consequences that would happen to bis children and people, in case he should die before he put an end to that war, be commanded his principal officers, that, if he died during the engagement, they should conceal his death from the army, and that they should ride up to the litter, in which his corpse was carried, under pretence of receiving orders from him as usual. Before the battle begun, he was carried through all the ranks of his army in an open litter, as they stood drawn up in array, encouraging them to fight valiantly in defence of their religion and country. Finding afterwards the battle to go against him, though he was very near his last agonies, he threw himself out of his litter, rallied his army, and led them on to the charge; which afterwards ended in a complete victory on the side of the Moors. He had no sooner brought bis men to the engagement, but, finding himself utterly spent, he was again replaced iu his litter; where, lay. ing his finger on his mouth, to enjoin secresy to his officers, who stood about him, he died a few moments after in that posture.
A QUAKER IN A STAGE-COACH.
Qui, aut tempus quid postulet non videt, aut plura loquitur, aut se ostentat, aut eorum qui. buscum est rationem non habet, is ineptus esse dicitur.
That man is guilty of impertinence, who considers
not the circumstances of time, or engrosses the conversation, or makes himself the subject of his discourse, or pays no regard to the company he is in.
HAVING notified to my good friend Sir that I
should set out for London the next day, his horses were ready at the appointed hour in the evening; and, attended by one of his grooms, I arrived at the county town at twilight, in order to be ready for the stagecoach the day following. As soon as we arrived at the inn, the servant, who waited upon me, inquired of the chamberlain in my hearing what company he had for the coach? The fellow answered, Mrs. Betty Arable the great fortune, and the widow her mother; a recruiting officer, who took a place because they were to go; young Squire Quickset her cousin, that her mother wished her to be married to; and Ephraim the Quaker, her guardian. I observed by what he had said, that according to his office he dealt much in intelligence; and doubled not but there was some foundation for his reports of the company. The next morning at day-break we were all called; and I, who know iny own natural shyness, and endeavour to be as little liable to be disputed with as possible, dressed immediately, that I might make no one wait. The first preparation for our setting out was, that the captain's balf-pike was placed near the coachman, and a drum bebind the coach. In the mean time the drummer, the captain's equipage, was very loud, that none of the