grey hair upon our heads is Death's finger laid upon our brow; the first failure in our agility or our sensational acuteness is Death's message to us."
The following is a nineteenth-century version of the parable by the headmaster of one of our public schools:
"Death, says the story, and a certain man once made a bargain, the man stipulating that Death should send him so many warnings before he came. And one day, years thereafter, to his great amazement the King of Terrors stood before him. He had broken the bargain, so said the man, while he clung eagerly to life. Death, he alleged, had sent him no warnings.
"'No warnings!' was the answer; his eyes were dim, and his ears dull of hearing, his gums were toothless, and on his bent and palsied head his grey locks were all but gone, these, the Heralds of Deaths had come to him, but their voices had been unnoticed."
It is worth noting that both Dr. Jessop and Dr. Percival refer only to one messenger—old age—leaving out the fact that the sickness and death of others are equally "Heralds of Death."
Grey hairs, as one of Death's messengers, is referred to in the Anwâr-i-Sahailî, of which there is a French translation by David Sahid, of Ispahan, under the title of Livre des Lumières ou la conduite des Royes, composé par le sage Pilpay (Paris, 1644).
I give the passage from Eastwick's translation (p. 72):
"When the changing watch of age strikes the drum of deep distress
The heart grows cold to joyous things, to mirth and happiness,
The white hair comes, its message gives from Fate and terror's king.
And the crooked hack and stooping form Death's salutation bring."
In the Mahâdeva-jâtaka (No. 9, I. 173) we read: "These grey hairs that have come upon my head are Death's messengers appearing to me." (See Dhammapada, v. 235.)
Death's messengers in Päli is Deva-dûtâ = Yama-dûtâ = Maccu-dûtâ.
- See Dr. Jessop's Norwich School Sermons, 1864, p. 169.
- Some Helps for School Life, by J. Percival, M.A., LL.D., 1880, pp. 121, 122.