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THE RECOLLECTIONS OF A STUDENT.
The Death of Friends.
DEATH is the tyrant of the imagination. His reign is in solitude and darkness-in tombs and prisons-over weak hearts and seething brains. He lives, without shape or sound, a phantasm, inaccessible to sight or touch,-a ghastly and terrible Apprehension.
The fear of death is common to all. There never was a man of such hardihood of nerve, but he has, at one time or other, shrunk from peril. Death is a certain evil, (if life be a good :)-Philosophy may welcome it, and passion may disregard its approach; but our instinct, which is always true, first commands us to fear. It is not so much the pain of dying, nor even the array of death, (though the pompa mortis' is sufficiently repelling ;)-but it is that tremendous thought -that vast impenetrable gloom, without depth, or breadth, or bound-which no reason can compass and no intellect pry into, that alarms us. Our fancy is ripe with wonders, and it fills up the space
between us and Heaven.
For my own part-I have, I confess, greatly feared Death. Some persons dread annihilation. But, to sleep for ever without a dreamwhat is it, if you feel it not? Let me not be understood as wishing for this state, this negation of being. I only say that it cannot generate the same fears. It is a desert without life, or fear, or hope,— shadowless, soundless. But the grave, in our belief, is populous: it is haunted by some intermediate nature-between flesh and spirit :or if not, what then is it? I throw the question to the theologians.
There is something very sad in the death of friends. We seem to provide for our own mortality, and to make up our minds to die. We are warned by sickness,-fever, and ague, and sleepless nights, and a hundred dull infirmities; but when our friends pass away, we lament them as though we had considered them immortal.
It is wise-I suppose, it is wise that we should attach ourselves to things which are transient; else I should say that 'tis a perilous trust when a man ties his hopes to so frail a thing as woman. They are so gentle, so affectionate, so true in sorrow, so untired and untiring,-but the leaf withers not sooner, the tropic lights fade not more abruptly into darkness. They die and are taken from us; and we weep; and our friends tell us that it is not wise to grieve, for that all which is mortal perisheth. They do not know that
We grieve the more because we grieve in vain!
If our grief could bring back the dead, it would be stormy and loud-— we should disturb the sunny quiet of day-we should startle the dull night from her repose. But our hearts would not grieve as they grieve now, when hope is dead within us.
The few friends of my youth are dead-save only one. vives: but I am reminded often, when I am alone, that she may dienay, that she must die soon, and leave me to younger spirits (there is but one that cares for me)-to hopes which are half disappointed,to friends who have forgotten the merry days we once passed together, -to feverish and gnawing troubles,--and, last, to infirmity,—and old
age and death.It may beguile me awhile from so sad a speculation, if I try to trace upon paper the recollection of friends who are gone. I may raise them, like phantasms, before me-like the ghosts who mocked the murderer of Duncan,-save that they sprang from the future, outstripping the speed of Time,-whereas mine are all from the past.
Come forth, then, whatever ye are-shadows, or substances, or spirits, sublimed or transmuted natures-Ye who have left your clay to wither, and are become the messengers of Heaven, and tread the winds and the star-sown wilderness above us!-Come down, from your stately heights, and stand visible before me! Or if indeed ye live in the grave, or haunt on purgatorial shores, pale tenants of the dim Elysium,-Arise, and be manifest!-Fain would I recall ye for a time, and pourtray ye-your exits,' not your entrances.' I may relieve, perhaps the sad tedium of a wintry hour, or solace a heart that suffers. -I remember, even as a grey-headed man remembers, clearly and more distinctly than the things of yesterday, that which happened long ago. I remember, when I was about four years of age, how I learned to spell, and was sent daily in the servant's hand to a little day-school, to fight my way (amidst a score of other urchins) through the perils of the alphabet. I had no ambition then,-no hatred, no uncharitableness. If these dæmons have possessed me since, they must have been cast down upon me by the malice of my stars.' I had no organs for such things—yet now I can hate almost as strongly as I love, and am as constant to my antipathies as to my affections.
Well, when my fifth was running into my sixth year, and I was busied with parables and scripture history (the only food which nourished my infant mind), I was much noticed by a young person,— a female. I was at that time living with an old relation in H- -shire, and I still preserve the recollection of Miss R's tender condescension towards me. She was a pretty delicate girl, and very amiable; and I became-(yes, it is true, for I remember the strong feelings of that time)--enamoured of her. My love had the fire of passion, but not the clay which drags it downwards; it partook of the innocence of my years while it etherealized me. Whether it was the divinity of beauty that stung me--or rather that lifted me above the darkness and immaturity of childhood, I know not: but my feelings were any thing but childish. By some strong intuition I felt that there was a difference (I knew not what) that called forth an extraordinary and impetuous regard.
She was the first object (save my mother) that I ever attached myself to. I had better have loved a flower,-a weed. For, when I knew her she had the seeds of death within her. Consumption had caught her his sickly hand was upon her, like the canker on the rose, and drew out a perilous, unearthly bloom. The hues and vigour of life were flushing too quickly through her cheek--(yet how pale she was at times!)-She wasted a month in an hour-a year in a month; and at last died in the stormy autumn time, when the breath of summer had left her.
The last time I ever saw her was (as well as I can recollect) in October, or late in September. I was told that Miss R was ill,— was very ill and that perhaps I might not see her again. Death I could
not (of course) comprehend; but I understood perfectly what was a perpetual absence from my pretty friend. Whether I wept, or raved,— or how it was, I know not; but I was taken to visit her. It was a cold day, and the red and brown leaves were plentiful on the trees: and it was afternoon when we arrived at an old-fashioned countryhouse (something better than a farm-house), which stood at some distance from the high road. The sun was near his setting; but the whole of the wide west was illuminated, and threw crimson and scarlet colours on the windows, over which hung a cloud of vine-stalks and changing leaves that dropped by scores on every summons of the blast. There she sate,-in a parlour full of flowers (herself the fairest)—among China roses and glittering ice-plants, and myrtles which no longer blossomed. She was sitting (as I entered) in a large armchair covered with white,-like a faded Flora; and was looking at the sun but she turned her bright and gentle looks on me, and the pink bloom dimpled on her cheek as she smiled and bade me welcome. I have often thought of her since. I look on her, as it seems, even now-through what a waste of years!-I see her cheek, at first like a lily --just tinged, but afterwards deepening into the brightest red, from the agitation perhaps of meeting with visitors. The flowers that were around looked as fragile as herself,-summer companions. But the wild Autumn was around her and them, and the Winter himself was coming. He came,-almost before his time, cold and remorseless, and she shrank-and withered-and died. The rose-blooms and the myrtles lived on, a little longer; but the crimson beauty of her cheeks faded for ever.
The progress from infancy to boyhood is imperceptible. In that long dawn of the mind we take but little heed. The years pass by us, one by one, little distinguishable from each other. But when the intellectual sun of our life is risen, we take due note of joy and sorrow. Our days grow populous with events; and through our nights bright trains of thought run, illuminating the airy future, and dazzling the days we live in. We have the unalloyed fruition of hope; and the best is that the reality is still to come.
I went to a public school when I was between twelve and thirteen years of age, and I carried thither a modest eye and a bashful spirit. I was stored with tales and fictions. I had my share of Latin, had read some history, and a great many novels; and thus equipped I took my seat on the third form at Among the other things which I carried to this place, I forgot to mention a grateful regard for an old relation,—a sort of great uncle, who had always treated me with kindness. He used to place me upon his knee, in the winter evenings, and tell me stories of foreign countries,-of Eastern and Western India ; of buffaloes and serpents; of the crocodile and the tawny lion, and how he bounded through the jungles; and what the elephant with his almost human faculty could do; and how the shark would follow ships by a strange instinct; and how the whale could spout out his cataracts of water ;—and a hundred other marvels which I listened to with a greedy ear. He never failed, either in his kindness or his stories ;-at least towards me. He was a weather-beaten man, could shoot, and hunt, and in his youth had doubled the Cape, and traversed the Indian ocean. But he was doomed to die.
He had been ill when I last saw him, in the Christmas holidays: yet I little thought that the grave was so near him. I was summoned home, one day, to weep and wear mourning; and I went to the house of his widow, where he lay-dead. Oh what a visit was that! It haunted me for years.-The servant said that he-(what he'? was it the dust?) that he lay in the front drawing-room. I shuddered and stopped; but I was assured that he looked just as though he was asleep. Let no one believe such things. There is nothing so unlike sleep as death. It is a poet's lie. The one is a gracious repose,—a vital calm :-the other is a horrid solemnity,-no more like sleep than a mask of plaster; stiff, rigid, white-beyond the whiteness of shrouds or the paleness of stone. All parallels fail. We strain at comparisons in vain.
I went up to see my old friend. There was great silence all about, and the stone steps of the staircase sent out unusual echoes. The door was opened,-slowly, as though we should disturb the corpse. The windows were closed, and there were long wax candles burning at the head and at the feet; and over all a white sheet was carefully thrown. The length-the prodigious length that the body seemed to occupy, at once startled me, and I recoiled. But the servant proceeded, and uncovered the head of the coffin. After an effort I looked-Ah! would to God that I had never looked. There he lay, like a stone. His mouth was bound up, and his eyelids had been pressed down, and his nose was pinched as though by famine. The white death was upon him-the rioter, the ruler of graves. And my old friend was swathed in fine linen, and pure crape was cut and crimped about him,-as though to save him from the worm and the sapping earth. 'Twas poor mockery of his humble state;—and yet perhaps it was meant kindly.-Three days after this he was borne away in a hearse, and I let out my grief
-I scarcely know how it is, but the deaths of children seem to me always less premature than those of elder persons. Not that they are in fact so; but it is because they themselves have little or no relation to maturity. Life seems a race which they have yet to run entirely. They have made no progress towards the goal. They are born,-nothing further. But it seems hard when a man has toiled high up the steep hill of knowledge, that he should be cast, like Sisyphus, downwards in a moment :—that he who has worn the day and wasted the night in gathering the gold of science, should be with all his wealth of learning, all his accumulations-made bankrupt at once. What becomes of all the riches of the soul,-the piles and pyramids of precious thoughts which men heap together? Where is Shakespeare's imagination,-Bacon's learning? Where is the sweet fancy of Sidney,-the airy spirit of Fletcher, and Milton's thought severe ?-Methinks such things should not die and dissipate, when a hair can live for centuries, and a brick of Egypt will last three thousand years!-I am content to believe that the mind of man survives (somewhere or other) his clay.
-I was once present at the death of a little child. I will not pain the reader by pourtraying its agonies; but when its breath was gone-its life-(nothing more than a cloud of smoke!) and it lay like a waxen image before me, I turned my eyes to its moaning mother, and sighed out my few words of comfort. But I am a beggar in grief. I can feel, and
sigh, and look kindly, I think; but I have nothing to give. My tongue deserts me. I know the inutility of too soon comforting. I know that I should weep, were I the loser; and I let the tears have their way. Sometimes, a word or two I can muster: a 'Sigh no more!'-and 'Dear lady, do not grieve !'--but further, I am mute and useless.
To pass from this, to a scene of a darker colour.--It was in Wshire that I heard a medical friend tell of a death-bed which he had witnessed. This I did not see, and it does not therefore perhaps strictly come under the title of this paper: the more especially as the sufferer was almost unknown to me: but let the reader excuse it. The man whom I refer to, was a rich farmer. He was the father of two natural children (females), whom he made do all the drudgery of his house. He was a hard landlord, a bad master, a libertine though a miser, a drunkard, a fighter at fairs and markets; and over his children he used a tyranny which neither tears nor labour could mitigate. But he was stopped in his headlong course. A fierce pain came upon him a fire raged in his vitals. His strong limbs, which no wrestler could twist, and no antagonist lay prostrate, shrank before an unseen foe. Fever encompassed him, and delirium; and in his frightful dreams he called aloud-he shrieked he wept like a child. He prayed for help for ease, for a little respite. It was all in vain. My friend attended this man, and, though used to scenes of death, this terrified even him. He said that the raving of the sufferer was beyond belief, -it was the noise of a great animal, not of man. His eye glared, and he swore perpetually, and said that Satan was in wait for him, and pointed towards a corner of the chamber. When he made an effort, it was like the struggle of the tiger. And then he would listen, and cry that he heard the dull roll of drums, and the stamp of a war-horse, and the sounds of trumpets-calling-calling; and he answered and shrieked that "he was coming."-And he came! . . . "Parce, pre
Most of my own friends have died calmly. One wasted away for months and months; and though death came slowly, he came too soon. I was told that Mr. "wished to live." On the very day on which he died he tried to battle with the great king, to stand up against the coldness and faintness which seized upon him. But he died, notwithstanding, and though quietly, reluctantly. Another friend (a female) died easily and in old age, surviving her faculties. A third met death smiling. A fourth was buried in Italian earth among flowers and odorous herbs. A fifth-the nearest of all-died gradually, and his children came about him, and were sad; but he was resigned to all fortunes, for he believed in a long "hereafter !"And so time passes. So
“ Labuntur anni: nec pietas moram
Rugis et instanti senectæ
Afferet, indomitæque morti.”
-There is something inexpressibly touching in an anecdote which I have heard of a foreign artist. He was an American, and had come hither (he and his young wife) to paint for fame and-a subsistence. They were strangers in England: they had to fight against prejudice and poverty; but their affection for each other solaced them under