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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 4

Of Death

Of Death.

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. Yet in religious meditations there is sometimes mixture of vanity and of superstition. You shall read in some of the friars' books of mortification, that a man should think with himself what the pain is, if he have but his finger's end pressed, or tortured, and thereby imagine what the pains of death are when the whole body is corrupted and dissolved; when many times death passeth with less pain than the torture of a limb—for the most vital parts are not the quickest of sense: and by him that spake only as a philosopher and natural man, it was well said, "Pompa mortis magis terret, quam mors ipsa"—["The pageantry of death is more terrible than death itself."] Groans, and convulsions, and a discoloured face, and friends weeping, and blacks, and obsequies, and the like, show death terrible. 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-occupieth 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: "Cogita quamdiu eadem feceris; mori velle, non tantum fortis, aut miser, sed etiam fastidiosus potest." "A man would die, though he were neither valiant nor miserable, only upon a weariness to do the same thing so oft over and over." It is no less worthy to observe, how little alteration in good spirits the approaches of death make; for they appear to be the same men till the last instant. Augustus Caesar died in a compliment: "Livia, conjugii nostri memor, vive et vale"—["Mindful of our union, Livia, live and be happy."]—Tiberius in dissimulation, as Tacitus saith of him, "Jam Tiberium vires et corpus, non dissimulatio, deserebant"—["When the body and strength of Tiberius had wasted away, he still retained his dissimulation."]—Vespasian, page break in a jest, sitting upon the stool, "Ut puto Deus fio"*—["As I think, I become a God."]—Galba with a sentence, "Feri, si ex re sit populi Romani"—["Strike, if it be for the interests of the Roman people,"] holding forth his neck—Septimus Severus in dispatch, "Adeste, si quid mihi restat agendum"—["Come quickly, if there remains any thing else for me to do,"]—and the like. Certainly the Stoics bestowed too much cost upon death, and by their great preparations made it appear more fearful. Better, saith he, "to regard the close of life as one of the duties merely of nature"—("Qui finem vitæ extremum inter munera ponat naturæ.") It is as natural to die as to be born; and to a little infant, perhaps, the one is as painful as the other. He that dies in an earnest pursuit, is like one that is wounded in hot blood, who, for the time, scarce feels the hurt; and therefore a mind fixed and bent upon somewhat that is good, doth avert the dolours of death: but, above all, believe it, the sweetest canticle is, "Nune dimittis," when a man hath obtained worthy ends and expectations. Death hath this also, that it openeth the gate to good fame, and extinguished envy: "Extinctus amabitur idem"—["The same person (who was envied while alive) shall be loved when dead."]

* [The point of this saying is untranslateable, depending, as it does, upon the resemblance between the words puto and puteo, the first of which signifies I think, while the latter has an obscene meaning.]