Isaac Disraeli.

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posterous a name as of a benevolence, was a malevolence"
And Mr. Grimstone observed, that " They have granted a
benevolence, but the nature of the thing agrees not with the
name." The nature indeed had so entirely changed from
the name, that when James I. had tried to warm the hearts

♦ Daines Barrington, in " Observations on the Statutes," gives the
marginal note of Buck as the toords of the duke ; they certainly served his
purpose to amuse, better than the veracious ones; but we expect from a
grave antiquary inviolable authenticity. The duke is made by Barrington
a, sort of wit, but the pithy quaintness is Buck's.

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of his " benevolent " people, he got little money, and lost a
great deal of love." " Subsidies," that is, grants made by
parliament, observes Arthur Wilson, a dispassionate his-
torian, " get more of the people's money, but exactions en-
slave the mind."

When benevolences had become a grievance, to diminish
the odium they invented more inviting phrases. The sub-
ject was cautiously informed that the sums demanded were
only loans ; or he was honoured by a letter under the Privy
Seal ; a bond which the king engaged to repay at a definite
period ; but privy sekls at length got to be hawked about to
persons coming out of church. " Privy seals," says a manu-
script letter, " are flying thick and threefold in sight of all
the world, which might surely have been better performed in
delivering them to every man privately at home." The gen-
eral loan, which in fact was a forced loan, was one of the most
crying grievances under Charles I. Ingenious in the destruc-
tion of his own popularity, the king contrived a new mode
of '^secret instructions to commissioners,"* They were to
find out persons who could bear the largest rates. How the
commissioners were to acquire this secret and inquisitorial
knowledge appears in the bungling contrivance. It is one of
their orders that after a number of inquiries have been put
to a person, concerning others who had spoken against loan-
money, and what arguments they had used, this person was
to be charged in his majesty's name, and upon his allegiance,
not to disclose to any other the answer he had given. A
striking instance of that fatuity of the human mind, when a
weak government is trying to do what it knows not how to
perform: it was seeking to obtain a secret purpose by the
most open and general means : a self-destroying principle !

Our ancestors were children in finance ; their simplicity
has been too often described as tyranny ! but from my soul
do I believe, on this obscure subject of taxation, that old

* These " Private Instructions to the Commissioners for the General
Loan " may be found in Rush worth, i. 418:

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Burleigh's advice to Elizabeth includes more than all the
squabbling pamphlets of our political economists, — "Wm



Montaigne was fond of reading minute accounts of the
deaths of remarkable persons ; and, in the simplicity of his
heart, old Montaigne wished to be learned enough to form a
collection of these deaths^ to observe "their words, their
actions, and what sort of countenance they put upon it** He
seems to have been a little over curious about deaths, in ref-
erence, no doubt, to his own, in which he was certainly
deceived ; for we are told that he did not die as he had prom-
ised himself,— expiring in the adoration of the mass ; or, as
his preceptor Buchanan would have called it, in " the act of
rank idolatry."

I have been told of a privately printed volume, under the
singular title of " The Book of Death," where an amateur
has compiled the pious memorials of many of our eminent
men in their last moments : and it may form a companion-
piece to the little volume on " Les grands hommes qui sont
morts en plaisantant." This work, I fear, must be monot-
onous; the deaths of the righteous must resemble each
other; the learned and the eloquent can only receive in
silence that hope which awaits " the covenant of the grave."
But this volume will not establish any decisive principle;
since the just and the religious have not always encountered
death with indifference, nor even in a fit composure of mind.

The functions of the mind are connected with those of the
body. On a death-bed a fortnight's disease may reduce the
firmest to a most wretched state ; while, on the contrary, the
soul struggles, as it were in torture, in a robust frame. Nani,
vhe Venetian historian, has curiously described the death of

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Innocent the Tenth, who was a character unblemished by
vices, and who died at an advanced age, with too robust a
constitution. Dofo lunga e terribile agonia^ eon dolore e con
pena, seperandosi Vanima da quel corpo robusto, egli spiro
ai sette di Grenuaro, nel ottantesimo primo de suoi anno.
" After a long and terrible agony, with great bodily pain and
difficulty, his soul separated itself from that robust frame,
and expired in his eighty-first year."

Some have composed sermons on death, while they passed
many years of anxiety, approaching to madness, in con-
templating their own. The certainty of an immediate
separation from all our human sympathies may, even on a
death-bed, suddenly disorder the imagination. The great
physician of our times told me of a general, who had often
faced the cannon's mouth, drop(»ng down in terror, when in-
formed by him that his disease was rapid and fatal. Some
have died of the strong imagination of death. There is a
print of a knight brought on the scaffold to suffer ; he viewed
the headsman ; he was bHnded, and knelt down to receive
the stroke. Having passed through the whole ceremony of
a criminal execution, accompanied by all its disgrace, it was
ordered that his life should be spared. Instead of the stroke
from the sword, they poured cold water over his neck.
After this operation the knight remained motionless; they
discovered that he had expired in the very imagination of
death ! Such are among the many causes which may affect
the mind in the hour of its last trial. The habitual associa-
tions of the natural character are most likely to prevail,
though not always. The intrepid Marshal Biron disgraced
his exit by womanish tears and raging imbecility ; the vir-
tuous Erasmus, with miserable groans, was heard crying out,
Domine ! Domine ! foe finem ! fac finem ! Bayle having
prepared his proof for the printer, pointed to where it lay,
when dying. The last words which Lord Chesterfield was
heard to speak were, when the valet, opening the curtains of
the bed, announced Mr. Dayroles, " Give Dayroles a chair ! **

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" This good breeding," observed the late Dr. Warren, his
physician, " only quits him with his life." The last words of
Nelson were, "Tell Collingwood to bring the fleet to an
anchor." The tranquil grandeur which cast a new majesty
over Charles the First on the scaffold, appeared when he
declared, " I fear not death ! Death is not terrible to me ! "
And the characteristic pleasantry of Sir Thomas More ex-
hilarated his last moments, when, observing the weakness of
the scaffold, he said, in mounting it, " I pray you, see me up
safe, and for my coming down, let me shift for myself!**
Sir Walter Rawleigh passed a similar jest when going to the

My ingenious friend Dr. Sherwen has furnished me with
the following anecdotes of death: — In one of the bloody
battles fought by the Duke d'Enghien, two French noblemen
were left wounded among the dead on the field of battle.
One complained loudly of his pains ; the other, after long
silence, thus offered him consolation : " My friend, whoever
you are, remember that our God died on the cross, our king
on the scaffold ; and if you have strength to look at him who
now speaks to you, you will see that both his legs are shot

At the murder of the Duke d'Enghien, the royal victim,
looking at the soldiers, who had pointed their fusees, said,
" Grenadiers ! ** lower your arms, otherwise you will miss, or
only wound me ! " To two of them who proposed to tie a
handkerchief over his eyes, he said, " A loyal soldier who
has been so often exposed to fire and sword, can see the
approach of death with naked eyes and without fear."

After a similar caution on the part of Sir George Lisle,
or Sir Charles Lucas, when murdered in nearly the same
manner at Colchester, by the soldiers of Fairfax, the loyal
hero, in answer to their assertions and assurances that they
would take care not to miss him, nobly replied, " You have
Dfl«n missed me when I have been nearer to you in the
field of battle."

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When the governor of Cadiz, the Marquis de Solano, was
murdered by the enraged and mistaken citizens, to one of his
murderers, who had run a pike through his back, he cahnlj
turned round and said, " Coward, to strike there ! Come
round — if you dare face — and destroy me I "

Abemethy, in his Physiological Lectures, has ingeniously
observed, that " Shakspeare has represented Mercutio con-
tinuing to jest, though conscious that he was mortally
wounded ; the expiring Hotspur thinking of nothing but
honour; and the dying Falstaff still cracking his jests upon
Bardolph's nose. If such facts were duly attended to, they
would prompt us to make a more liberal allowance for each
other's conduct, under certain circumstances, than we are
accustomed to do." The truth seems to be, that whenever
the functions of the mind are not disturbed by *' the nervous
functions of the digestive organs," the personal character
predominates even in death, and its habitual associations exist
to its last moments. Many religious persons may have died
without showing in their last moments any of those exterior
acts, or employing those fervent expressions, which the col-
lector of " The Book of Death " would only deign to chron-
icle ; their hope is not gathered in their last hour.

Yet many have delighted to taste of death long before
they have died, and have placed before their eyes all the
furniture of mortality. The horrors of a charnel-house is
the scene of their pleasure. The " Midnight Meditations "
of Quarles preceded Young's " Night Thoughts " by a cen-
tury, and both these poets loved preternatural terror.

" If I must die, I'll snatch at every thing

That may hut mind ma of my latest hreath;
Death's-heads, Graves, Knells, Blacks,* Tombs, all
these shall hring
Into my soul such useful thoughts ofdeaihf
That this sahle king of fears
Shall not catch me unawares." — Quables.

* Blacks was the term for mourning in James the First and Charles the
First's time.

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But it may be doubful whether the thoughts of death are
useful, whenever they put a man out of the possession of hia
faculties. Young pursued the scheme of Quarles : he raised
about him an artificial emotion of death : he darkened his
sepulchral study, placing a skull on his table by lamp-light ;
as Dr. Donne had his portrait taken, first winding a sheet
over his head and closing his eyes ; keeping this melancholy
picture by his bed-side as long as he lived, to remind him of
his mortality. Young, even in his garden, had his conceits
of death : at the end of an avenue was viewed a seat of an
admirable chiaro-oscuro, which, when approached, presented
only a painted surface, with an inscription, alluding to the
deception of the things of this world. To be looking at
" the mirror which flatters not ; " to discover ourselves only
as a skeleton with the horrid life of corruption about us, has
been among those penitential inventions, which have often
ended in shaking the innocent by the pangs which are only
natural to the damned. Without adverting to those numer-
ous testimonies, the diaries of fanatics, I shall offer a picture
of an accomplished and innocent lady, in a curious and un-
affected transcript she has left of a mind of great sensibility,
where the preternatural terror of death might perhaps have
hastened the premature one she suffered.

From the " Reliquiae Gethinianae," * I quote some of
Lady Glethin's ideas on " Death." — " The very thoughts of
death disturb one's reason; and though a man may have
many excellent qualities, yet he may have the weakness of
not commanding his sentiments. Nothing is worse for one's
health than to be in fear of death. There are some so wise
as neither to hate nor fear it; but for my part I have an
aversion for it ; and with reason ; for it is a rash inconsider-
ate thing, that always comes before it is looked for ; always
comes unseasonably, parts friends, ruins beauty, laughs at
youth and draws a dark veil over all the pleasures of life.—

* My discovery of the nature of this rare volume, of what is original
ind what collected, will be found in a previous article.

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Tbis dreadful evil is but the evil of a moment, and what we
cannot by anj means avoid ; and it is that which makes it so
terrible to me ; for were it uncertain, hope might diminish
some part of the fear ; but when I think I must die, and that
I may die every moment, and that too a thousand several
ways, I am in such a fright as you cannot imagine. I see
dangers where, perhaps, there never were any. I am per-
suaded 'tis happy to be somewhat dull of apprehension in
this case ; and yet the best way to cure the pensiveness of
the thoughts of death is to think of it as little as possible."
She proceeds by enumerating the terrors of the fearful, who
" cannot enjoy themselves in the pleasantest places, and al-
though they are neither on sea, river, or creek, but in good
health in their chamber, yet are they so well instructed with
the fear of dying^ that they do not measure it only by the
present dangers that wait on us. — Then is it not best to sub-
mit to God ? But some people cannot do it as they would ;
and though they are not destitute of reason but perceive
they are to blame, yet at the same time that their reason
condemns them, their imagination makes their hearts feel
what it pleases."

Such is the picture of an ingenious and a religious mind,
drawn by an amiable woman, who, it is evident, lived always
in the fear of death. The Gothic skeleton was ever haunt-
ing her imagination. In Dr. Johnson the same horror was
suggested by the thoughts of death. When Boswell once in
conversation persecuted Johnson on this subject, whether we
might not fortify our minds for the approach of death ; he
answered in a passion, " No, sir ! let it alone ! It matters
not how a man dies, but how he lives ! The art of dying is
not of importance, it lasts so short a time ! " But when Bos-
well persisted in the conversation, Johnson was thrown into
such a state of agitation, that he thundered out '^ Give us no
more of this ! " and, further, sternly told the trembling and
too curious philosopher, " Don't let us meet to-morrow ! "

It may be a question whether those who by their prepara-*

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toiy conduct have appeared to show the greatest indifference
for death, have not rather betrayed the most curious art to
disguise its terrors. Some have invented a mode of escap-
ing from life in the midst of convivial enjoyment A mortu-
ary preparation of this kind has been recorded of an amiable
man, Moncriff, the author of " Histoire des Chats " and
" L*Art de Plaire," by his literary friend La Place, who
was an actor in, as well as the historian of, the singular nar-
rative. One morning La Place received a note from Mon-
criff, requesting that " he would immediately select for him a
dozen volumes most likely to amuse, and of a nature to with-
draw the reader from being occupied by melancholy thoughts."
La Place was startled at the unusual request, and flew to
his old friend, whom he found deeply engaged in being meas-
ured for a new peruke, and a taffety robe-de-chambre, ear-
nestly enjoining the utmost expedition. " Shut the door ! "
— said Moncriff, observing the surprise of his friend. "And
now that we are aJone, I confide my secret : on rising this
morning, my valet in dressing me showed me on this leg this
dark spot — ^from that moment I knew I was ' condemned to
death ; ' but I had presence of mind enough not to betray
myself." " Can a head so well organized as yours imagine
that such a trifle is a sentence of death ? " — ^" Don't speak so
loud, my friend ! or rather deign to listen a moment At my
age it is fatal ! The system from which I have derived the
felicity of a long life has been, that whenever any evil, moral
or physical, happens to us, if there is a remedy, all must be
sacrificed to deliver us from it — ^but in a contrary case, I do
not choose to wrestle with destiny and to begin complaints,
endless as useless ! All that I request of you, my friend, is
to assist me to pass away the few days which remain for me,
free from all cares, of which otherwise they might be too sus-
ceptible. But do not think," he added with warmth, " that
I mean to elude the religious duties of a citizen, which so
many of late affect to contemn. The good and virtuous cu-
rate of my parish is coming here under a pretext of an an-

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nual contribution, and I have even ordered my physician, on
whose confidence I can rely. Here is a list of ten or twelve
persons, friends beloved ! who are mostly known to you. I
shall write to them this evening, to tell them of my condem-
nation ; but if they wish me to live, they will do me the fav-
our to assemble here at five in the evening, where they may
be certain of finding all those objects of amusement, which I
shall study to discover suitable to their tastes. And you,
my old friend, with my doctor, are two on whom I most de-

La Place was strongly afiected by this appeal — neither
Socrates, nor Cato, nor Seneca looked more serenely on the
approach of death.

" Familiarize yourself early with death ! " said the good
old man with a smile — "It is only dreadful for those who
dread it!"

During ten days after this singular conversation, the whole
of Moncriff *s remaining life, his apartment was open to his
friends, of whom several were ladies ; all kinds of games
were played till nine o'clock ; and that the sorrows of the
host might not disturb his guests, he played the chouette at
his favourite game of picquet ; a supper, seasoned by the
wit of the master, concluded at eleven. On the tenth night,
in taking leave of his friend, Moncriff whispered to him,
" Adieu, my friend I to-morrow morning I shall return your
books ! " He died, as he foresaw, the following day.

I have sometimes thought that we might form a history of
this fear of death, by tracing the first appearances of the
SKELETON which haunts our funereal imagination. In the
modem history of mankind, we might discover some very
strong contrasts in the notion of death entertained by men at
various epochs. The following article will supply a sketch
of this kind.

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Euthanasia ! Euthanasia ! an easy death ! was the excla-
mation of Augustus ; it was what Antoninus Pius enjoyed ;
and it is that for which every wise man will pray, said Lord
Orrery, when perhaps he was contemplating the close of
Swift's life.

The ancients contemplated death without terror, and met
it with indifference. It was the only divinity to which they
never sacrificed, convinced that no human being could turn
aside its stroke. They raised altars to Fever, to Misfortune,
to all the evils of life ; for these might change ! But though
they did not court the presence of death in any shape, they
acknowledged its tranquillity; and in the beautiftil fables
of their allegorical religion. Death was the daughter of Night,
and the sister of Sleep ; and ever the friend of the unhappy !
To the eternal sleep of death they dedicated their sepulchral
monuments — ^temali somno I* If the full light of reve-
lation had not yet broken on them, it can hardly be denied
that they had some glimpses and a dawn of the life to come,
from the many allegorical inventions which describe the
transmigration of the soul. A butterfly on the extremity of
an extinguished lamp, held up by the messenger of the gods,
intently gazing above, implied a dedication of that soul;
Love, with a melancholy air, his legs crossed, leaning on an
inverted torch, the flame thus naturally extinguishing itself,
elegantly denoted the cessation of human life ; a rose sculp-
tured on a sarcophagus, or the emblems of epicurean life
traced on it, in a skull wreathed by a chaplet of flowers, such
as they wore at their convivial meetings, a flask of wine, a
patera, and the small bones used as dice : all these symbols
were indirect allusions to death, veiling its painful recollec-
tions. They did not pollute their imagination with the con-
tents of a charnel-house. The sarcophagi of the ancients
* Montfaucon, L' Antiquity Expliqu^e, I. 862.

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rather recall to us the remembrance of the activity of life ;
for they are sculptured with battles or games, in basso
relievo ; a sort of tender homage paid to the dead, observes
Mad. de Stael, with her peculiar refinement of thinking.

It would seem that the Romans had even an aversion to
mention " death in express terms, for they disguised its very
name by some periphrasis, such as discessit e vita, " he has
departed from life ; " and they did not say that their friend
had died, but that he had lived ; vixit ! In the old Latin
chronicles, and even in the Fo^dera and other documents of
the middle ages, we find the same delicacy about using the
fatal word Death, especially when applied to kings and great
people. " Transire a Sceculo — Vitam suam mutare — Si
quid de eo humanitus coniigerit, Sfc." 1 am indebted to Mr.
Merivale for this remark. Even among a people less re-
fined, the obtrusive idea of death has been studiously
avoided : we are told that when the Emperor of Morocco in-
quires after any one who has recently died, it is against
etiquette to mention the word " death ; " the answer is, ^' his
destiny is closed ! " But this tenderness is only reserved for
"the elect" of the Mussulmen. A Jew's death is at once
plainly expressed : " He is dead, sir ! asking your pardon
for mentioning such a contemptible wretch ! " i. e. a Jew I A
Christian's is described by " The infidel is dead ! " or, " The
cuckold is dead ! "

The ancient artists have so rarely attempted to personify
Death, that we have not discovered a single revolting image
of this nature in all the works of antiquity.* — To conceal its
deformity to the eye, as well as to elude its suggestion to
the mind, seems to have been an universal feeling, and it

* A representation of Death by a skeleton appears among the Egjrp-
tians: a custom more singular than barbarous prevailed, of inclosing a
skeleton of beautiful workmanship in a small coffin, which the bearer
carried round at their entertainments ; observing, " after death you will
resemble this figure: drink, then! and be happy; ** a symbol of Death in
a convivial party was not designed to excite terrific or gloomy ideas, but a
recollection of the brevity of human life.

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accorded with a fundamental principle of ancient art ; that
of never permitting violent passion to produce in its repre-
sentation distortion of form. This may be observed in the
Laocoon, where the mouth only opens sufficiently to indicate
the suppressed agony of superior humanity, without express-
ing the loud cry of vulgar suffering. Pausanias considered
as a personification of death a female figure, whose teeth and
nails, long and crooked, were engraven on a coffin of cedar,
which inclosed the body of Cypselus ; this female was un-
questionably only one of the ParctB^ or the Fates, " watchfiil
to cut the thread of hfe." Hesiod describes Atropos indeed
as having sharp teeth, and long nails, waiting to tear and
devour the dead ; but this image was of a barbarous era.
Catullus ventured to personify the Sister Destinies as three
Crones ; " but in general," Winkelmann observes, " they are
portrayed as beautiful virgins, with winged heads, one of
whom is always in the attitude of writing on a scroll."

Online LibraryIsaac DisraeliCuriosities of literature → online text (page 8 of 43)