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The end of a man's life is often compared to the winding up of a well-written play, where the principal persons still act in character, whatever the fate is which they undergo. There is scarce a great person in the Grecian or Roman history, whose death has not been remarked upon by some writer or other, and censured or applauded according to the genius or principles of the person who has descanted on it. Monsieur de St. Evremont is very particular in setting forth the constancy and courage of Petronius Arbiter during his last moments, and thinks he discovers in them a greater firmness of mind and resolution than in the death of Seneca, Cato, or Socrates. There is no question but this polite author's affectation of appearing singular in his remarks, and making discoveries which had escaped the observation of others, threw him into this course of reflection. It was Petronius's merit, that he died in the same gaiety of temper in which he lived; but as his life was altogether loose and dissolute, the indifference which he shewed at the close of it is to be looked upon as a piece of natural carelessness and levity, rather than fortitude. The resolution of Socrates proceeded from very different motives, the consciousness of a well spent life, and the prospect of a happy eternity. If the ingenious author above-mentioned was so pleased with gaiety of humour in a dying man, he might have found a much nobler instance of it in our countryman, Sir Thomas More.
This great and learned man was famous for enlivening his ordinary discourses with wit and pleasantry; and, as Erasmus tells him in an epistle dedicatory, acted in all parts of life like a second Democritus.
He died upon a point of religion, and is respected as a martyr by that side for which he suffered. That in. nocent mirth which had been so conspicuous in his life, did not forsake him to the last: he maintained the same cheerfulness of heart upon the scaffold, which he used to shew at his table; and upon laying his head on the block, gave instances of that good humour with which he had always entertained his friends in the most
ordinary occurrences. His death was of a piece with his life. There was nothing in it new, forced, or affected. He did not look upon the severing of his head from his body as a circumstance that ought to produce any change in the disposition of his mind; and as he died under a fixed and settled hope of immortality, he thought any unusual degree of sorrow and concern improper on such an occasion, as had nothing in it which could deject or terrify him.
There is no great danger of imitation from this example. Men's natural fears will be a sufficient guard against it. I shall only observe, that what was philosophy in this extraordinary man, would be frenzy in one who does not resemble him as well in the cheerfulness of his temper, as in the sanctity of his life and manners.
I shall conclude this paper with the instance of a person who seems to me to have shewn more intrepidity and greatness of soul in his dying moments, than what we meet with among any of the most celebrated Greeks and Romans. I meet with this instance in the history of the revolutions in Portugal, written by the Abbot de Vertot.
When Don Sebastian, king of Portugal, had invaded the territories of Muly Moluc, Emperor of Morocco, in order to dethrone him, and set his crown upon the head of his nephew, Moluc was wearing away with a distemper which he himself knew was incurable. However, he prepared for the reception of so formidable an enemy. He was indeed so far spent with his sickness, that he did not expect to live out the whole day when the last decisive battle was given; but knowing the fatal consequences that would happen to his children and people, in case he should die before he put an end to the war, he commanded his principal officers, that if he died during the engagement, they should conceal his death from the army, and that they should ride up to the litter in which his corpse was carried, under pretence of receiving orders from him as usual. Before battle begun he was carried through all the ranks of his army in an open
litter, as they stood drawn up in array, encouraging them to fight valiantly in defence of their religion and country. Finding afterwards the battle to go against him, though he was very near his last agonies, he threw himself out of his litter, rallied his army, and led them on to the charge; which afterwards ended in a compleat victory on the side of the Moors. He had no sooner brought his men to the engagement, but finding himself utterly spent, he was again replaced in his litter, where, laying his finger on his mouth, to enjoin secrecy to his officers, who stood about him, he died a few moments after in that posture.
No. 355. THURSDAY, APRIL 17.
Non ego mordaci distrinri carmine quenquam.
I HAVE been very often tempted to write invectives upon those who have detracted from my works, or spoken in derogation of my person ; but I look upon it as a particular happiness, that I have always hindered my resentments from proceeding to this extremity. I once had gone through half a satire, but found so many motions of humanity rising in me towards the persons whom I had severely treated, that I threw it into the fire without ever finishing it. I have been angry enough to make several little epigrams and lampoons; and after having admired them a day or two, have likewise committed them to the flames. These I look upon as so many sacrifices to humanity, and have received much greater satisfaction from the suppressing such performances, than I could have done from any reputation they might have procured me, or from any mortification they might have given my enemies, in case I had made them public. If a man has any talent in writing, it
* From the suppressing] Dele the, or add of after suppressing.
shews a good mind to forbear answering calumnies and reproaches in the same spirit of bitterness with which they are offered: but when a man has been at some pains in making suitable returns to an enemy, and has the instruments of revenge in his hands, to let drop his wrath, and stifle his resentments, seems to have something in it great and heroical. There is a particular merit in such a way of forgiving an enemys and the more violent and unprovoked the offence has been, the greater still is the merit of him who thus forgives it.
I never met with a consideration that is more finely spun, and what has better pleased me, than one in Epictetus, which places an enemy in a new light, and gives us a view of him altogether different from that in which we are used to regard him. The sense of it is as follows : · Does a man reproach thee for being proud or ill-natured, envious or conceited, ignorant or detracting ? consider with thyself whether his reproaches are true; if they are not, consider that thou art not the person whom he reproaches, but that he reviles an imaginary being, and perhaps loves what thou really art, though he hates what thou appearest to be. If his reproaches are true, if thou art the envious ill-natured man he takes thee for, give thyself another turn, become mild, affable, and obliging, and his reproaches of thee naturally cease: his reproaches may indeed continue, but thou art no longer the person whom he reproaches.'
I often apply this rule to myself; and when I hear of a satirical speech or writing that is aimed at me, I examine my own heart, whether I deserve it or not. If I bring in a verdict against myself, I endeavour to rectify my conduct for the future in those particulars which have drawn the censure upon me; but if the whole invective be grounded upon a falsehood, I trouble myself no further about it, and look upon my name at the head of it to signify no more than one of those fictitious names made use of by an author to introduce an imaginary character. Why should a man be sensible of the sting of a reproach, who is a stranger to the guilt that is implied in it? or subject himself to the penalty, when
he knows he has never committed the crime? This is a piece of fortitude, which every one owes to his own innocence, and without which it is impossible for a man of any merit or figure to live at peace with himself in a country that abounds with wit and liberty.
The famous Monsieur Balzac, in a letter to the chancellor of France, who had prevented the publication of a book against him, has the following words, which are a lively picture of the greatness of mind so visible in the works of that author. If it was a new thing, it may be I should not be displeased with the suppression of the first libel that should abuse me; but since there are enough of them to make a small library, I am secretly pleased to see the number increased, and take delight in raising a heap of stones that envy has cast at me without doing me any harm.'
The author here alludes to those monuments of the eastern nations, which were mountains of stones raised upon the dead body by travellers, that used to cast every one his stone upon it as they passed by. It is certain that no monument is so glorious as one which is thus raised by the hands of envy. For my part, I admire an author for such a temper of mind as enables him to bear an undeserved reproach without resentment, more than for all the wit of any the finest satirical reply.
Thus far I thought necessary to explain myself in relation to those who have animadverted on this paper, and to shew the reasons why I have not thought fit to return them any formal answer. I must further add, that the work would have been of very little use to the public, had it been filled with personal reflections and debates; for which reason I have never once turned out of my way to observe those little cavils which have been made against it by envy or ignorance. The common fry of scribblers, who have no other way of being taken notice of but by attacking what has gained some reputation in the world, would have furnished me with business enough, had they found me disposed to enter the lists with them.
I shall conclude with the fable of Boccalini's traveller,