Pantagruel’s discourse of the decease of heroic souls; and of the dreadful prodigies that happened before the death of the late Lord de Langey.
I would not, continued Pantagruel, have missed the storm that hath thus disordered us, were I also to have missed the relation of these things told us by this good Macrobius. Neither am I unwilling to believe what he said of a comet that appears in the sky some days before such a decease. For some of those souls are so noble, so precious, and so heroic that heaven gives us notice of their departing some days before it happens. And as a prudent physician, seeing by some symptoms that his patient draws towards his end, some days before gives notice of it to his wife, children, kindred, and friends, that, in that little time he hath yet to live, they may admonish him to settle all things in his family, to tutor and instruct his children as much as he can, recommend his relict to his friends in her widowhood, and declare what he knows to be necessary about a provision for the orphans; that he may not be surprised by death without making his will, and may take care of his soul and family; in the same manner the heavens, as it were joyful for the approaching reception of those blessed souls, seem to make bonfires by those comets and blazing meteors, which they at the same time kindly design should prognosticate to us here that in a few days one of those venerable souls is to leave her body and this terrestrial globe. Not altogether unlike this was what was formerly done at Athens by the judges of the Areopagus. For when they gave their verdict to cast or clear the culprits that were tried before them, they used certain notes according to the substance of the sentences; by Theta signifying condemnation to death; by T, absolution; by A, ampliation or a demur, when the case was not sufficiently examined. Thus having publicly set up those letters, they eased the relations and friends of the prisoners, and such others as desired to know their doom, of their doubts. Likewise by these comets, as in ethereal characters, the heavens silently say to us, Make haste, mortals, if you would know or learn of the blessed souls anything concerning the public good or your private interest; for their catastrophe is near, which being past, you will vainly wish for them afterwards.
The good-natured heavens still do more; and that mankind may be declared unworthy of the enjoyment of those renowned souls, they fright and astonish us with prodigies, monsters, and other foreboding signs that thwart the order of nature.