Fear of annihilation, or of the loss of identity, which is the same thing, I take to be one of the remaining terrors in European minds meditating on death. Of all the imagined forms of survival, only one is obviously more horrible than the night of nothing, and that is the state in which Beethoven twangs a banjo and Gladstone utters the political forecasts of a distinguished journalist. It may be that my affection for the “narrow ego” is too violent, but, for myself, I do not find M. Maeterlinck’s consolations more genuinely consoling than other philosophy. On the second and far more poignant terror that still survives in the very nature of death, he hardly touches. I mean the severance of love, the disappearance of the beloved. “No, no, no life,” cries Lear:
“Why should a dog, a horse, a rat,
And thou no breath at all? Thou’lt come no more,
Never, never, never, never, never!”
It is the cry of all mankind when love is thus slit in twain; nor is sorrow comforted because coral is made of love’s bones, or violets spring from his flesh, and the vanished self is possibly absorbed into the felicity of an infinite and everlasting azure.
What a fuss they make, proclaiming the secret of long life! We must stay abed till noon, they say; we must take life slowly and comfortably; we must avoid worry, live moderately, drink wine, smoke cigars, and read the Times. Yes; there is one who, in a letter to the Times, boasted his grandfather sustained life for a hundred and one years by reading all the leading and special articles of that paper; his father got to eighty-eight on the same diet; himself follows their footsteps on fare that is new every morning. Another writer has subscribed to the Times for sixty-seven years, and now is ninety-two on the strength of it. Avoid worry, fret not yourself because of evildoers, let not indignation lacerate your heart, take the sensible and solid view of things, read the Times, and you will surpass the Psalmist’s limit of threescore years and ten.
What a picture of beneficent comfort it calls up! The breakfast-room furniture fit to outlast the Pyramids, the maroon leather of deep armchairs, the marble clock ticking to half-past nine beneath the bronze figure with the scythe and hourglass, the boots set to warm upon the hearthrug, the crisp bacon sizzling gently beneath its silver cover, the pleasant wife murmuring gently behind the silver urn, the paper set beside the master’s plate. Isaiah knew not of such regimen, else he would not have cried that all flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof as the flower of the field.