Hannah More.

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bed ; if we were sometimes to imagine to our-
selves this awfhl scene, not only as inevitable,
but as near ; if we accustomed ourselves to see
things now, as we shall then wish we had seen
them. Surely the roost sluggish insensibility
must be roused by figuring to itself the rapid
Approach of death, the nearness of our unalter-

able doom, our instant transition to that state of
unutterable bliss or unimaginable wo to which
death will in a moment consign us. Such a
mental representation would assist us in dissi-
pating the illusion of the senses, would help to
realise what is invisible, and approximate what
we think remote. It would disenchant us from
the world, tear off her painted mask, shrink her
pleasures into their proper dimensions, her con-
cerns into their real value, her enjoyments
into their just compass, her promises into no-

TerriUe as the evil is, if it must, and that at
no distant day, be met, spare not to present it to
your imagination ; not to lacerate your feelings,
but to arm your resolution ; not to excite unpro-
fitable dbtress, but to strengthen your fkith. If
it terrify you at first, draw a little nearer to it
every time. Familiarity will abate the terror.
If you cannot face the image, how will you en-
counter the reality 7

Let us then figure to ourselves the moment
(who can say that moment may not be the next?)
when all we cling to shall elude our grasp ; when
every earthly g<XKl shall be to us as if it had
never been, except in the remembrance of the
use we have made of it ; when our eyes shall
close upon a world of sense, and open on a world
of spirits ; when there shall be no relief for the
fainting body, and no refuse for the parting
soul, except that single refuge to which, per-
bajps, we have never thought of resorting — ^that
refuge which if we have not despised we have
too probably neglected — the everlasting mercies
of God in <;hrist Jesus.

Reader ! whoever you are, who have nep^lected
to remember that to die is the end for which you
were born, know that you have a personal in-
terest in this scene. Turn not away from it in
disdain, however feebly it may have been repre-
sented. You may escape any other evil of life,
but its end you cannot escape. Defer not then
its weightiest concern to its weakest period.
Begm not the preparation when you should be
completing the work. Delay not the business
which demands your best polities to the period
of their debility, probably of their extinction.
Leave not the wotk which requires an age to do,
to be done in a moment, a moment too which
may not be granted. The alternative is tremen-
dous. The difference is that of being saved or
lost It is no light thing to perish !


Edppy Deaths.

Few circumstances contribute more^tallyto
confirm in worldly men that insensibility to
eternal things which was considered in the pre-
ceding chapter, than the boastful accounts we
sometimes hear of the firm and heroic death-
beds of popular but irreligious characters. Many
causes contribute to these happy deaths as thoy
are called. The blind are bold, they do not see
the precipice they despise. — Or perhaps there is
less unwillingness to quit a world which has so
oflen disappointed them, or which they havo

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•uoked to the last dregs. They leave life with
less reluctance, feeling that they have exhausted
all its gratification8. - Or it is a disbelief of the
reality of the state on which they are about to
enter. — Or it is a desire to be released from ex-
cessive pain, a desire naturally felt by those who
calculate their fain rather by what they are
escaping from, than by what they are to receive.
— Or it is equability of temper, or firmness of
nerve, or hardness of mind. — Or it is the arro-
^nt wish to make the last act of Hfe confirm
Its preceding profeesions. — Or it is the vanity
of perpetuaUng their philosophic character. —
Or if some faint ray of lic^ht break in, it is the
pride of not retracting the sentiments which
from pride they have maintained ; — ^The desire
of posthumous renown among their own party ;
ti^ hope to make their disciples stand firm by
their example ; the ambition to give their last
possible blow to revelation— or perhaps the fear
of Expressing doubts which might beget a suspi.
cion that their disbelief was not so sturdy as
they wQuId have it thought Above all, may
they not, as a punishment for their long neglect
of the warning voice of truth, be given up to a
strong delusion to believe the lie they have so
oflen propagated, and reall^r to expect to find in
death that eternal sleep, with which they have
afiected to quiet their own consciences, and l^ve
really weakened the faith of others 7

Every new instance is an additional buttress
on which the sceptical school 4ean for support,
and which they produce as a fVesh triumph.
With equal satisfaction they collect stories of
infirmity, depression, and want of courage in
the dyin^ hour of religious men, whom the na-
ture of t£e disease, timorousness of spirit, pro-
found humility, the sad remembrance of sin,
though long repented of and forgiven, a deep
sense of the awfulness of meeting God in judg-
ment ; — whom some or all of these causes may
occasion to deJMirt in trembling fear : in whom,
though heaviness may endure through the night
of death, yet joy cometh in the rooming of the

It is a maxim of the civil law that definitions
are hazardous. And it cannot be denied that
various descriptions of persons have hazarded
muc^ in their definitions of a ha^ty death, A
ver^,able and justly admired writer, who has
distinguished himself by the most valuable works
on political economy, has recorded as proofb of
the happy death of a no less celebrated contem-
porary, that he cheerfully amused himself in his
last hours with Lucian^ a game iff loAttf, and
some good humoured drollery upon Charon and
his boat

But may we not venture to say, with *one of
the people called Christians,** himself a wit and
philosopher, though of the school of Christ, that
the man who could meet death in such a frame
of mind, * might smile over Babylon in ruins,
esteem the earthquake which destroyed Lisbon
an agreeable occurrence, and congratulate the
hardened Pharaoh on his overthrow in the Red

This eminent historian and philosoper, whoee

•The late excellent Bishop Home. See his letters to
nr Adam smith.

great intellectual powers it is as impossiblB' doI
to admire, as not to lament their unhappy mis.
application, has been eulogized by his firiend, as
coming nearer than almost any other man, to
the perfection o# human nature in his life ; and
has been almost deified for the cool courage and
heroic firmness with which be met death. His
eloquent panegyrist, with as insidious an inaen-
do as has ever been thrown out against revealed
reUgion, goes on to observe, that ' perhaps it is
one of the very worst circumstances against
Christianity, that very few of its proftsK>n were
ever either so moral, so humane, or could so
philosophically gpvern their passions, ms the
sceptical DaVid Hume.'

Yet notwithstanding this rich embalroing of
so noble a compound of ' matter and motion,* we
must be permitted to doubt one of the two things
presented for our admimtion ; we must either
doubt the so much boasted hapfnness of h»
death, or the so much extolled humanity of his
heart We must be permitted to suspect the
soundness of that benevolence which led him to
devote his latest hours to prepare, under the la-
bel of an Essay on Suicide^ a potion for posterity
of so deleterious a quality, that if taken by the
patient, under all the circomstanses in which
he undertakes to prove it innocent, misht have
gone near to efiect the extinction of the whole
human race. For if all rational beings^ accord-
ing to this posthumous prescription, are at liber-
ty to procure their own release from 1i^ * under
pain or sickness, shame or poverty,* how large
a portion of the world would be authorized to
quit it uncalled ! For how many are subject to
the two latter grievances ; from the two former
how few are altogether exempt !*

The energ V of that ambition which eonU con-
centrate the last efiorts of a powerful mind, the
last exertions of a spirit greedy of fame,- into s
project not only for destroying the souls, but for
abridging the lives of his felk>w creatures, leaves
at a cUsgraceful distance the inverted thirst of
glory of the roan, who to immortalise his own
name, set fire to the Temple at Epbesus. Such
a burning zeal to annihilate the eternal hope of
his fellow creatures might be philosophy ; but
surely to authorise them to curtail their moral
existence, which to the infidel who looks for ne
other, must be invaluable, was not philanthropy

But if this death was thought worthy of being
blazoned to the public eye in all the warm and
glowing colours with which afiectioh decorates
panegyric ; the disciples of the same school have
been in general, anxiously solicitous to product
only the more creditable instances of invincible
hardness of heart, while they have laboured to
cast an impenetrable veil over the closing scene
of those among the less infiexible of the fater-
nity, who have established in their departing
moments, any symptoms of doubt, any indioa-

* Another part of the Bimf en SmMd^ has tbit pi^
sage, — ' Whenever pain or sorrow eo for overcome r^
patience, as to make me tired of life, I may conclnik
that T am recalled (Jrom my vtation in the plainest an«.
most express terms.* And a^n—* When I Ml opcr
my own sword, I receive my death equally from the
hands of the Deity, as if it bad proceeded from a lion, a
precipice, or a fyver." And again—' Where is the rrisns
of turning a ftw ounces of Uood fhxn tbek it»«ara«

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Cionfl of distmst, respecting the validity of their
principles: — Principles which they bad long
maintained with so much zeal, and disseminat-
ed with so mncb industry.

In spite of the sedulous anxiety of his satel-
lites to conceal the clouded setting of the great lu-
minary of modem infidelity, from which so many
minor stars have filled their little urns, and then
set up for original lights themselves; in spite
of the pains ti^en — for we must drop metaphor
— to shroud from all eyes, except thoee of the
initiated, the terror and dismay with which the
Philosopher of ^neva met death, met his sum-
moos to appear before that God whose provi-
dence he had ridiculed, that Saviour whose
character and offices he had vilified, — the secret
was betrayed. In spite of the precautions taken
by his associates to bury in congenial darkness
the agonies which in his last hours contradicted
the audacious blasphemies of a laborious life
spent in their propagation, at last like his great
instigator, he htlieved and tremhUd.

Whatever the sage of Femey might be in the
eves of Journalists, of Academicians, of Ency-
dopoedists, of the Royal Author of Berlin, of
Revolutionists in the egg of his own hatching,
of full grown infidels of nis own spawning '; of
a world into which he had been for more than
half a centuij industriously infusing a venom,
the effi9cts of which will be long felt, the ex-
piring phikMopher was no object of veneration
to bis NORSE. — She could have recorded * a tale
to harrow up the soul,' the horrors of which were
sedulously attemptedio be consigned to oblivion.
But for this woman and a fiiw other unbribed
witnesses, his friends would probably have en-
deavoured to edify the world with this addition
to the brilliant catalogue o£ happy dtaik;^

It has been a not uncontmon opinion that the
works of an able and truly pious Christian, by
their happy tendency to awaken the careless
and to convince the unbelieving, may, even for
a^s afler the excellent author is entered into
his eternal vest, by the accession of new con-
verts which they bring to Chrbtianity, con-
tinue to add increasing brightness to the crown
of the already glorified saint If this be true,
how shall imagination presume to conceive,
much less how shall language express, what
must be expected in the contrary case 7 How
shall we dare turn our thoughts to the progres-
sive torments which may be ever heaping on
the heads of those unhappy men of genius, who
have devoted their rare talents to promote vice

* It is a well atteited ftct, that this woman, after his
decesM, being sent (br to attend another person in dy*
ing ciroumstancet. anxiously inquired if the patient was
a centleman ; for that she bad reeentlv been lo dread-
rallv terrified in witnessing the dying horrors of Mons.
de Voltaire, which surpassed all description, that she
had resolved never to attend any other person of that
sex unless she could be assured that he was not a philo-
Mfitficr. Voltaire, indeed, as he was deficient in the
moral tionesty and the other good qualities, which ob>
tained for Mr. Hume the afl^ion prbis friends, wanted
his sincerity. Of all his other vices, hypocrisy was the
eonsummation While he daily dishonoured the Re-
deemer by the invention of unheard of blasphemies:
after he had bound himself by a solemn pledge never to
rest till he had exterminated his vtry name IVom the
face of the earth, lie was not asbained to assist regu-
larly at the awfU commemoration of his death at the
altar «


and infidelity, continue with fiital success to
make successive proselytes through successive
ages — if their works last so long, and thus ac-
cumulate on themselves anguish ever growing
miseries ever multiplying, without hope of any
mitigatbn, without hope of any end !

A more recent instance of the temper and
spirit which the College of Infidelity exhibits
on these occasions is perhaps less generally
known. A person of our own time and country,
o£ high rank and talents, and who ably filled a
great public situation, had imhappily in early
ufe, imbibed principles and habits analogous to
these of a notoriously profligate society of which
he was a member, a society, of which the very
appellation it delighted to distinguish itself
by, is

Oftnoe and torture to the sober ear.

In the near view of death, at an advanced i^
deep remorse and terror took possession of nis
sou! ; but he had no friend about him to whom
he could communicate the state of his mind, or
from whom he could derive eithet counsel
consolation. One day in the absence of his
teudants he raised his exhausted body on his
dying bed, and threw himself on the floor, where
he was fbund in great egony of spirit, with a
prayer-book in his hand. This detection was
at once a subject for ridicule and regret to
his colleagues, and he was contemptuously
spoken of as a pusillanimous deserter from the
gwd cttU9e, The phrase used by them to ex-
press their displeasure at his apostacy is too
ofibnsive to find a place here.* Were we called
upon to decide between the two rival horrors,
we should feel no hesitation in pronouncing this
death a less unhappy one than thoee to which
we have before alluded*

Another well known sceptic, while in perfect
health, took measures by a special order, to
guard against any intrusion in his last sick-
ness, by which he might, even in the event
of deliriimi, betray any doubtfbl apprehension
that there might be an^ hereafter ; or In any
other way be surprised m uttering expressions
of terrorJfed thus exposing the state of his
mind, in &se any such revcuution should take
place, which his heart whispered him might
possibly happen.

But not only in those happy deaths which
close a life of avowed impiety, is there great
room for sospieioo, but even in cases where
without acknowledged infidelity, there has been
a careless lifii; wbMi in such cases we hear of
a sudden death-bed rtlrolution,of much seeming
contrition, succeeded by extraordinary profes-
sions of joy and triumph, we should' be very
cautious of pronouncing on their real state.
Let us rather leave the penitent of a day to that
mercy against which he has been sinning
through a whole life. These * Clinical Converts,'
(to borrow a favourite phrase of the eloquent
bishop Taylor,) may indeed be true penitents;
but how shall we pronounce them to be so ? —
How can we conclude that * they are dead unto
sin* unless they are spared to * live unto righte.

* The writer had this anecdote fVom an acquainunet
of the noble nerson at the time of his death.

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Happily we are not called apon to decide.
He to whose broad eye the fbture and the past
lie open, as he haa been their constant witness,
so will lie be their unerring^ jadffo.*

But the admirers of certain happy death*, do
not even pretend that any such change appeared
in the friends of whom tney make not so much
the panegyric as the apotheosis. They would
even think repentance a derogation nrom the
dignity of their character. They pronounce
them to lia?e been good enough as they were ;
insisting that they have a demand for happiness
upon God, if there be any such Being ; a claim
upon heaven, if there be any such place. They
are satisfied that their friend, aAer a life spent
* without God in the world,* without evidencing
« any marks of a changed heart, without even
dfi&cting any thing like repentance, without in-
timating that there was any call for it, dikd


But nothing is more suspicions than a happy
death, where there has neither been religion in
Ife life nor humility in its close, where its course
flu been without piety, and its termination with-
out repentance.

Others in a still bolder strain, disdaining the
posthumous renown to be oonferred by survi-
vers, of their hating died happily, prudently
secure their own fame, and changing both the
tense and the person usual in monumental in-
scriptions^with prophetic oonfidenoe record on
their own sepulchral marble, that they tkaU die
not only *happ7,* but * «ftATBraL,*— the pre-
science of philosophy thus assuming as certain
what the humble spirit of Christiamty only pre-
sumes to hope.

There is another reason to be assigned for
the charitable error of indiscriminately consign-
ing our departed acquaintance to certain hap-
piness. Affliction, as it is a tender, so it is a
misleading feeling; especially in minds na-
turally sof\, and but slightly tinctured with re-
ligion. Tho death of a friend awakens the
kmdest feelings of the heart But by exciting
true sorrow, it often excites false charity. Grief
naturally soflens every fault, bve as naturally
heightens every virtue. It is right and kind
to consign error to oblivion, but not to immor-
tality. Charity indeed we owe to the dead as
well as to the living, but not that erroneous
eharity by which truth is violated, and unde-
served commendation lavished on those whom
truth could no longer injure. To calumniate
the dead is even worse than to violate the rights
of sepulture ; not to vindicate calumniated worth,
when it can no longer vindicate itself, is a
crime next to that of attacking it ;t but on the

» ♦ The primitive church carried their incredulity of
the appearances of repentance 80 (hr ai to require not
only years of sorrow for nn, but perseverance in piety,
before they would admit of&nders to their communion ;
and as a test of their sincerity, required the uniform
practice of those virtues most opposite to their former
iriccs Were this made the criterion now, we should
not so often hear such flaming accounts of converts, so
exuUinply reported, before time has been allowed to try
their !»tabiliiy. More especially we should not hear of
so many tnnmphanl relations of deathbed converts, in
Whom the gympioms must frequently be too eqfti vocal

riS^L !''® Po««ive decision of human wisdom.
iJhmpnVwhiT'"""" •"«*«"ce of that disinterested at-
tachment uhich survives the grave of its object and pi-

dead, charity, though weU understood, is oAsii
mistakingly exercised. •

If we were called upon to collect the greatest
quantity of hyperbole-«-lli]sehood might be too
harsh a term — ^in the lecst given time and space,
we should do well to searcii for it in those sacred
edifices expressly consecrated to truth. There
we should see the ample mass of canonising
kindness which fills their mural decorations,
expressed in all those flattering records inscrib.
ed by every variety of motive to ever^ variety
of claim. In addition to what is dedicated to
real merit by real sorrow, we .should hear of
tears which were never shed, grief which was
never felt, praise which was never earned ; we
should see what is raised by the decent demands
of connexion, by tender, but undiscemin^ friend-
ship, by poetic licence, by ek)quent gratitode for
testamentary favours.

It is an amiable though not a correct feeling
in human nature, that, fancying we have not
done justice to certain characters during their
lives, we run into the error of suppooed com-
pensation by over estimating them afler their

On account of neighbourhood, affinity, long
acquaintance, or some pleasing qualities, we
may have entertained a kindness for many per-
sons, of whose state however, while they lived,
we could not with the utmost stretch of charity
think favourably. If their sickness has been
long and severe, our compassion having been
kept by that circumstance in a state of continued
excitement, though we lament their death, yet
we feel thankful that their suffering is at an end.
Forgetting our former opinion, ami the course
of lira on which it was framed, we fall into all
the common-place of consolation, — *• Ood is mer-
ciful — we trust that they are at rest — what a
happy release they have had !* — Nay, it is well
if we do not go so far as to entertain a kind of
vague belief that thoir better qualities joined to
their sufferings have, on the whole, ensured
their felicity.

Thus at once losing sight of that worJ of God
which cannot lie, of our former regrets on their
subject, losing the remembrance of their defec
tive principles and thoughtless conduct ; without
any reasonable ground for altering our opinion,
any pretence for entertaining a better hope — we
assume that they are happy. We reason as if
we believed that the suffering of the body had
purchased the salvation of the soul, as if it had
rendered any doubt almost criminal. We »eem

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to make ourtehes easy on the fSUieflt ground
imaginable, not because we believe their hearts
were changed, but because they are now beyond
all possibiCty of change.

But surely the mere oireumstanoe of death
will not have rendered them fit for that heaven
for which we before ftared they were unfit Far
be it from us, indeed, blind and sinful as we are,
to pass sentence upon themt to pass sentence
upon an^. We dare not venture to pronounce
what may have passed between God and their
souls, even at the last hour. We know that in-
finite mercy is not restricted to times or seasons;
to an early or a late repentance : we know not
but in that little interval their peace was made,
their pardon muted, through the atoning bk)od,
and powerful intercession of their Redeemer.
Nor should we too scrupulously pry into the
state of others, never, indeed, except to benefit
them or ourselves ; we should rather imitate the
ezamplojof Christ, who at once gave an admira-
ble lesson of meekness and charitable judgment,
when avoiding an answer which might have
led to fruitless discussion, he gave a reproof un-
der the shape of an ezhortatfon. In reply to the
inquiry, *• Are there few that be saved,* he thus
chocked vain curiosity — * Strive (yon) to enter
in at the strait irate.* On another occasion, in
the same spirit, he corrected inqusitiveness, not
by an answer, but by an interrogation and a
precept — * What is tuit to thee 7 Follow thou

But where there is string ground to appre-
hend that the contrary nuy have been the case,
it is very dangerous to pronounce peremptorily
on the safbty of the dead. Because if we allow
ourselves to be fuDy persuaded that the^ are en-
tered upon a state of happiness, it wiQ natu-
rally and fiitally tempt us to lower our own
standard. If we are ready to oondude that they
' are now in a state of glory whose principles we
believed to be incorrect, whose practice, to say
the least of it, we know to have been negligent,
who, without our indulging a censorious or a

Online LibraryHannah MoreThe complete works of Hannah More → online text (page 119 of 135)