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The Pleasures of Life by Sir John Lubbock

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We are told of Mozart's death that "the unfinished requiem lay upon the
bed, and his last efforts were to imitate some peculiar instrumental
effects, as he breathed out his life in the arms of his wife and their
friend Suessmaier."

Plato died in the act of writing; Lucan while reciting part of his book on
the war of Pharsalus; Blake died singing; Wagner in sleep with his head on
his wife's shoulder. Many have passed away in their sleep. Various high
medical authorities have expressed their surprise that the dying seldom
feel either dismay or regret. And even those who perish by violence, as
for instance in battle, feel, it is probable, but little suffering.

But what of the future? There may be said to be now two principal views.
There are some who believe indeed in the immortality of the soul, but not
of the individual soul: that our life is continued in that of our children
would seem indeed to be the natural deduction from the simile of St. Paul,
as that of the grain of wheat is carried on in the plant of the following
year.

So long indeed as happiness exists it is selfish to dwell too much on our
own share in it. Admit that the soul is immortal, but that in the future
state of existence there is a break in the continuity of memory, that one
does not remember the present life, and from this point of view is not the
importance of identity involved in that of continuous memory? But however
this may be according to the general view, the soul, though detached from
the body, will retain its conscious identity, and will awake from death,
as it does from sleep; so that if we cannot affirm that

"Millions of spiritual creatures walk the Earth,
Unseen, both when we wake, and when we sleep," [4]

at any rate they exist somewhere else in space, and we are indeed looking
at them when we gaze at the stars, though to our eyes they are as yet
invisible.

In neither case, however, can death be regarded as an evil. To wish that
youth and strength were unaffected by time might be a different matter.

"But if we are not destined to be immortal, yet it is a desirable thing
for a man to expire at his fit time. For, as nature prescribes a boundary
to all other things, so does she also to life. Now old age is the
consummation of life, just as of a play: from the fatigue of which we
ought to escape, especially when satiety is super-added." [5]

From this point of view, then, we need

"Weep not for death,
'Tis but a fever stilled,
A pain suppressed,--a fear at rest,
A solemn hope fulfilled.
The moonshine on the slumbering deep
Is scarcely calmer. Wherefore weep?"

"Weep not for death!
The fount of tears is sealed,
Who knows how bright the inward light
To those closed eyes revealed?
Who knows what holy love may fill
The heart that seems so cold and still."

Many a weary soul will have recurred with comfort to the thought that

"A few more years shall roll,
A few more seasons come,
And we shall be with those that rest
Asleep within the tomb.

"A few more struggles here,
A few more partings o'er,
A few more toils, a few more tears,
And we shall weep no more."

By no one has this, however, been more grandly expressed than by Shelley.

"Peace, peace! he is not dead, he doth not sleep!
He hath awakened from the dream of life.
'Tis we who, lost in stormy visions, keep
With phantoms an unprofitable strife,
He has outsoared the shadows of our night.
Envy and calumny, and hate and pain,
And that unrest which men miscall delight,
Can touch him not and torture not again.
From the contagion of the world's slow stain
He is secure, and now can never mourn
A heart grown cold, a head grown gray, in vain--"

Most men, however, decline to believe that

"We are such stuff
As dreams are made of, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep." [6]

According to the more general view death frees the soul from the
encumbrance of the spirit, and summons us to the seat of judgment. In
fact,

"There is no Death! What seems so is transition;
This life of mortal breath
Is but a suburb of the life elysian,
Whose portal we call Death." [7]

We have bodies, "we are spirits." "I am a soul," said Epictetus, "dragging
about a corpse." The body is the mere perishable form of the immortal
essence. Plato concluded that if the ways of God are to be justified,
there must be a future life.

To the aged in either case death is a release. The Bible dwells most
forcibly on the blessing of peace. "My peace I give unto you: not as the
world giveth, give I unto you." Heaven is described as a place where the
wicked cease from troubling, and the weary are at rest.

But I suppose every one must have asked himself in what can the pleasures
of heaven consist.

"For all we know
Of what the blessed do above
Is that they sing, and that they love." [8]

It would indeed accord with few men's ideal that there should be any
"struggle for existence" in heaven. We should then be little better off
than we are now. This world is very beautiful, if we could only enjoy it
in peace. And yet mere passive existence--mere vegetation--would in itself
offer few attractions. It would indeed be almost intolerable.

Again, the anxiety of change seems inconsistent with perfect happiness;
and yet a wearisome, interminable monotony, the same thing over and over
again forever and ever without relief or variety, suggests dulness rather
than bliss.

I feel that to me, said Greg, "God has promised not the heaven of the
ascetic temper, or the dogmatic theologian, or of the subtle mystic, or of
the stern martyr ready alike to inflict and bear; but a heaven of purified
and permanent affections--of a book of knowledge with eternal leaves, and
unbounded capacities to read it--of those we love ever round us, never
misconceiving us, or being harassed by us--of glorious work to do, and
adequate faculties to do it--a world of solved problems, as well as of
realized ideals."

"For still the doubt came back,--Can God provide
For the large heart of man what shall not pall,
Nor through eternal ages' endless tide
On tired spirits fall?

"These make him say,--If God has so arrayed
A fading world that quickly passes by,
Such rich provision of delight has made
For every human eye,

"What shall the eyes that wait for him survey
When his own presence gloriously appears
In worlds that were not founded for a day,
But for eternal years?" [9]

Here science seems to suggest a possible answer: the solution of problems
which have puzzled us here; the acquisition of new ideas; the unrolling
the history of the past; the world of animals and plants; the secrets of
space; the wonders of the stars and of the regions beyond the stars. To
become acquainted with all the beautiful and interesting spots of our own
world would indeed be something to look forward to, and our world is but
one of many millions. I sometimes wonder as I look away to the stars at
night whether it will ever be my privilege as a disembodied spirit to
visit and explore them. When we had made the great tour fresh interests
would have arisen, and we might well begin again.

Here there is an infinity of interest without anxiety. So that at last the
only doubt may be

"Lest an eternity should not suffice
To take the measure and the breadth and height
Of what there is reserved in Paradise
Its ever-new delight." [10]

Cicero surely did not exaggerate when he said, "O glorious day! when I
shall depart to that divine company and assemblage of spirits, and quit
this troubled and polluted scene. For I shall go not only to those great
men of whom I have spoken before, but also to my son Cato, than whom never
was better man born, nor more distinguished for pious affection; whose
body was burned by me, whereas, on the contrary, it was fitting that mine
should be burned by him. But his soul not deserting me, but oft looking
back, no doubt departed to these regions whither it saw that I myself was
destined to come. Which, though a distress to me, I seemed patiently to
endure: not that I bore it with indifference, but I comforted myself with
the recollection that the separation and distance between us would not
continue long. For these reasons, O Scipio (since you said that you with
Laelius were accustomed to wonder at this), old age is tolerable to me,
and not only not irksome, but even delightful. And if I am wrong in this,
that I believe the souls of men to be immortal, I willingly delude myself:
nor do I desire that this mistake, in which I take pleasure, should be
wrested from me as long as I live; but if I, when dead, shall have no
consciousness, as some narrow-minded philosophers imagine, I do not fear
lest dead philosophers should ridicule this my delusion."

Nor can I omit the striking passage in the _Apology_, when pleading before
the people of Athens, Socrates says, "Let us reflect in another way, and
we shall see that there is great reason to hope that death is a good; for
one of two things--either death is a state of nothingness and utter
unconsciousness, or, as men say, there is a change and migration of the
soul from this world to another. Now if you suppose that there is no
consciousness, but a sleep like the sleep of him who is undisturbed even
by the sight of dreams, death will be an unspeakable gain. For if a person
were to select the night in which his sleep was undisturbed even by
dreams, and were to compare with this the other days and nights of his
life, and then were to tell us how many days and nights he had passed in
the course of his life better and more pleasantly than this one, I think
that any man, I will not say a private man, but even the great king will
not find many such days or nights, when compared with the others. Now, if
death is like this, I say that to die is gain; for eternity is then only a
single night. But if death is the journey to another place, and there, as
men say, all the dead are, what good, O my friends and judges, can be
greater than this?

"If, indeed, when the pilgrim arrives in the world below, he is delivered
from the professors of justice in this world, and finds the true judges,
who are said to give judgment there,--Minos, and Rhadamanthus, and Aeacus,
and Triptolemus, and other sons of God who were righteous in their own
life,--that pilgrimage will be worth making. What would not a man give if
he might converse with Orpheus, and Musaeus, and Hesiod, and Homer? Nay,
if this be true, let me die again and again. I myself, too, shall have a
wonderful interest in there meeting and conversing with Palamedes, and
Ajax the son of Telamon, and other heroes of old, who have suffered death
through an unjust judgment; and there will be no small pleasure, as I
think, in comparing my own sufferings with theirs. Above all, I shall then
be able to continue my search into true and false knowledge; as in this
world, so also in that; and I shall find out who is wise, and who pretends
to be wise, and is not. What would not a man give, O judges, to be able to
examine the leader of the great Trojan expedition; or Odysseus or
Sisyphus, or numberless others, men and women too! What infinite delight
would there be in conversing with them and asking them questions. In
another world they do not put a man to death for asking questions;
assuredly not. For besides being happier in that world than in this, they
will be immortal, if what is said be true.

"Wherefore, O judges, be of good cheer about death, and know of a
certainty that no evil can happen to a good man, either in life or after
death. He and his are not neglected by the gods; nor has my own
approaching end happened by mere chance. But I see clearly that to die and
be released was better for me; and therefore the oracle gave no sign. For
which reason, also, I am not angry with my condemners, or with my
accusers; they have done me no harm, although they did not mean to do me
any good; and for this I may gently blame them. The hour of departure has
arrived, and we go our ways--I to die and you to live. Which is better God
only knows."

In the _Wisdom of Solomon_ we are promised that--

"The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and there shall no
torment touch them.

"In the sight of the unwise they seemed to die; and their departure is
taken for misery.

"And their going from us to be utter destruction; but they are in peace.

"For though they be punished in the sight of men, yet is their hope full
of immortality.

"And having been a little chastised, they shall be greatly rewarded: for
God proved them, and found them worthy for himself."

And assuredly, if in the hour of death the conscience is at peace, the
mind need not be troubled. The future is full of doubt, indeed, but fuller
still of hope.

If we are entering upon a rest after the struggles of life,

"Where the wicked cease from troubling,
And the weary are at rest,"

that to many a weary soul will be a welcome bourne, and even then we may
say,

"O Death! where is thy sting?
O Grave! where is thy victory?"

On the other hand, if we are entering on a new sphere of existence, where
we may look forward to meet not only those of whom we have heard so often,
those whose works we have read and admired, and to whom we owe so much,
but those also whom we have loved and lost; when we shall leave behind us
the bonds of the flesh and the limitations of our earthly existence; when
we shall join the Angels, and Archangels, and all the company of
Heaven,--then, indeed, we may cherish a sure and certain hope that the
interests and pleasures of this world are as nothing compared to those of
the life that awaits us in our Eternal Home.

[1] Montgomery.

[2] Emerson.

[3] Seneca.

[4] Milton.

[5] Cicero.

[6] Shakespeare.

[7] Longfellow.

[8] Waller.

[9] Trench.

[10] Trench.

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