Page:Littell's Living Age - Volume 134.djvu/381

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375
THE RIDDLE OF DEATH.

course, to regard anything which could be so noticed as anything more, or as if it could constitute an argument for belief in a future life, would be foolish in the extreme, seeing the great obscurity and the evanescent nature of all such phenomena. Our faith in immortality must be built on altogether different ground, if it is to be of any value as a part of our religion, or of our philosophy. But, assuming that we are individually already convinced that the quasi-universal creed of the human race is not erroneous, and that "the soul of a man never dies," we may not unreasonably turn to the solemn scene of dissolution, and ask, Whether there does not sometimes occur, under one or two perhaps of its hundred forms, some incidents which point in the direction of the great Fact, which we believe to be actually in process of realization? According to our common conviction, there is a moment of time, when the Man whom we have known in his garb of flesh, casts it aside, actually, so to speak, before our eyes, and "this mortal puts on immortality." As in Blanco White's beautiful sonnet he is, like Adam, watching his first sunset, and trembling to lose sight of the world, and the question to be solved is, Whether darkness has enshrouded him, or whether

Hesperus with the hosts of Heaven came,
And lo! Creation widened in his view?
and he may have asked himself, —
Who would have thought such darkness lay concealed
Within thy beams, O Sun? or deemed,
While flower, and leaf, and insect stood revealed,
That to such countless orbs thou mad'st us blind?

and Life, like Light, had been only a deception and a veil.

We have walked in company with our brother, perchance for years, through the "wilderness of this world," over its arid plains of toil, and through its sweet valleys of love and pleasure; and then we have begun to climb the awful Andes which have always loomed before us at our journey's end, their summits against the sky, and beyond them — the Undiscovered Land. Onward, a little before us, as chance may decide, our companion perhaps mounts the last acclivity, and we see him slowly approach the mountain's crown, while our lagging steps yet linger on the slopes below. Sometimes, ere he reach the hilltop, he is enveloped in cloud, and then we see him no more; but again, sometimes, he remains in the full sunlight, and, though distant from us, and beyond the reach of our voice, it is yet possible for us to watch his attitude and motions. Now we see him nearing the summit. A few steps more, and there must break on his vision whatever there may be of the unknown World beyond — a howling wilderness, or a great Pacific of joy. Does he seem, as that view bursts on him — whatsoever it maybe — does he seem to be inspired with hope, or cast down with despair? Do his arms drop in consternation, or does he lift them aloft with one glad gesture of rapture, ere he descend the further slope, and is lost to our sight forever?

It appears to me that we may, though with much diffidence, answer this question as regards some of our comrades in life's journey, who have gone before us, and of whom the last glimpse has been one full of strange, mysterious, but most joyful promise. Let us inquire into the matter calmly, making due allowance both for natural exaggeration of mourning friends, who recall the most affecting scenes, and also for the probable presence of cerebral disturbance and spectral illusion at the moment of physical dissolution.

Of course, it is quite possible that the natural law of death may be that the departed always sink into a state of unconsciousness, and rather dip beneath a Lethe than leap a Rubicon. It is likewise possible that the faculties of a disembodied soul, whatever they may be, may need time and use, like those of an infant, before they can be practically employed. But there is also at least a possibility that consciousness is not always lost, but is continuous through the passage from one life to another, and that it expands, rather than closes, at the moment when the bonds of the flesh are broken, and the man enters into possession of his higher powers and vaster faculties symbolled by the beautiful old emblem of Psyche's emancipated butterfly quitting the shell of the chrysalis.[1] In this latter case there is a

  1. There is an insect, the Lunar Sphinx Moth, which exhibits, in its first stage, not only the usual prevision for its security while in the helpless chrysalis state, but a singular foresight of its own requirements when it shall have become a winged moth. Having made, by eating its way upward through the pith of a willow, an appropriate hiding-place, it finds itself with its head in a position in which, were it to become a moth, it could never push itself down, and escape at the aperture below. The little creature accordingly, before it goes to sleep, laboriously turns round, and places its head near the entrance, where, as a moth, it will make its happy exit into the fields of air. There seems something curiously akin in the unaccountable foresight of this insect, of a state of existence it has never