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AN ESSAY ON DEATH.*
BY THE LORD CHANCELLOR BACON.
I HAVE often thought upon death, and I find it the least of all evils. All that which is past is as a dream ; and he that hopes or depends upon time coming, dreams waking. So much of our life as we have discovered is already dead; and all those hours which we share, even from the breasts of our mother, until we return to our grand-mother the earth, are part of our dying days; whereof even this is one, and those that succeed are of the same nature, for we die daily; and as others have given place to us, so we must in the end give way to others. Physicians, in the name of death include all sorrow, anguish, disease, calamity, or whatsoever can fall in the life of man, either grievous or unwelcome : but these things are familiar unto us, and we suffer them every hour; therefore we die daily, and I am older since I affirmed it. I know many wise men, that fear to die for the change is bitter, and flesh would refuse to prove it : besides the expectation brings terror, and that exceeds the evil. But I do not believe, that any man fears to be dead, but only the stroke of death : and such are my hopes, that if heaven be pleased, and
nature renew but my lease for twenty-one years more, without asking longer days, I shall be strong enough to acknowledge without mourning that I was begotten mortal. Virtue walks not in the highway, though she go per alta; this is strength and the blood to virtue, to contemn things that be desired, and to neglect that which is feared.
4. Why should man be in love with his fetters, though of gold ? Art thou drowned in security ? Then I say thou art perfectly dead. For though thou movest, yet thy soul is buried within thee, and thy good angel either forsakes his guard or sleeps. There is nothing under heaven, saving a true friend, who cannot be counted within the number of moveables, unto which my heart doth lean. And this dear freedom hath begotten me this peace, that I mourn not for that end which must be, nor spend one wish to have one minute added to the incertain date of my years. It was no mean apprehension of Lucian, who says of Menippus, that in his travels through hell he knew not the kings of the earth from other men, but only by their louder cryings and tears : which was fostered in them through the remorseful memory of the good days they had seen, and the fruitful havings which they so unwillingly left behind them : he that was well seated, looked back at his portion, and was loth to forsake his farm; and others either minding marriages, pleasures, profit, or preferment, desired to be excused from death's banquet : they had made an appointment with earth, looking at the blessings, not the hand that enlarged
them, forgetting how unclothedly they came hither, or with what naked ornaments they were arrayed.
5. But were we servants of the precept given, and observers of the heathens rule “ memento mori,” and not become benighted with this seeming felicity, we should enjoy it as men prepared to lose and not wind up our thoughts upon so perishing a fortune: he that is not slackly strong, as the servants of pleasure, how can he be found unready to quit the veil and false visage of his perfection? The soul having shaken off her flesh, doth then set up for herself, and contemning things that are under, shews what finger hath enforced her ; for the souls of idiots are of the same piece with those of statesmen, but now and then nature is at a fault and this good guest of ours takes soil in an imperfect body, and so is slackened from shewing her wonders ; like an excellent musician, which cannot utter himself upon a defective instrument.
6. But see how I am swerved, and lose my course, touching at the soul, that doth least hold action with death, who hath the surest property in this frail act; his stile is the end of all flesh, and the beginning of incorruption.
This ruler of monuments leads men for the most part out of this world with their heels forward ; in token that he is contrary to life ; which being obtained, sends men headlong into this wretched theatre, where being arrived, their first language is that of mourning. Nor in my own thoughts, can I compare men more fitly to any thing, than to the Indian fig-tree, which being ripened to his full height, is said to decline his branches down to the earth; whereof she conceives again, and they become roots in their own stock.
So man having derived his being from the earth, first lives the life of a tree, drawing his nourishment as a plant, and made ripe for death he tends downwards, and is sowed again in his mother the earth, where he perisheth not, but expects a quickening.
7. So we see death exempts not a man from being, but only presents an alteration ; yet there are some men, I think, that stand otherwise persuaded. Death finds not a worse friend than an alderman, to whose door I never knew him welcome; but he is an importunate guest, and will not be said nay.
And though they themselves shall affirm, that they are not within, yet the answer will not be taken ; and that which heightens their fear is, that they know they are in danger to forfeit their flesh, but are not wise of the payment day: which sickly uncertainty is the occasion that, for the most part, they step out of this world unfurnished for their general account, and being all unprovided, desire yet to hold their gravity, preparing their souls to answer in scarlet.
Thus I gather, that death is unagreeable to most citizens, because they commonly die intestate : this being a rule, that when their will is made, they think themselves nearer a grave than before: now they out of the wisdom of thousands, think to scare destiny from which there is no appeal, by not making a will, or to live longer by protestation of their unwil
lingness to die. They are for the most part well made in this world, accounting their treasure by legions, as men do devils, their fortune looks toward them, and they are willing to anchor at it, and desire, if it be possible, to put the evil day far off from them, and to adjourn their ungrateful and killing period.
No, these are not the men which have bespoken death, or whose looks are assured to entertain a' thought of him.
8. Death arrives gracious only to such as sit in darkness, or lic heavy burned with grief and irons ; to the poor Christian, that sits bound in the galley; to despairful widows, pensive prisoners, and deposed kings: to them whose fortune runs back, and whose spirits mutiny; unto such death is a redeemer, and the grave a place for retiredness and rest.
These wait upon the shore of death, and waft unto him to draw near, wishing above all others to see his star, that they might be led to his place, wooing the remorseless sisters to wind down the watch of their life, and to break them off before the hour.
9. But death is a doleful messenger to an usurer, and fate ultimately cuts their thread: for it is never mentioned by him, but when rumours of war and civil tumults put him in mind thereof.
And when many hands are armed, and the peace of a city in disorder, and the foot of the common soldiers sounds an alarm on his stairs, then perhaps such a one, broken in thoughts of his monies abroad, and cursing the monuments of coin which are in his house, can be content to think of death, and, being