Tales of humour and romance/The Death of an Angel

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THE


DEATH OF AN ANGEL,


BY


JEAN PAUL RICHTER.




There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in thy philosophy.

Shakespeare.


THE


DEATH OF AN ANGEL.




Along with the angel of the last hour, to whom we give the harsh name of Death, there comes another, the tenderest and most benevolent of spirits, who gently lifts the sinking soul of man, and transports it in his fostering hands unhurt, from its cold receptacle on earth into its warm abode in heaven. His brother is the angel of the first hour, who kisses man twice,—first, when he begins this life, and again, when he awakens to the joys of immortality, and enters smiling into the other life, as he came weeping into this.

Whilst the angel of the last hour was employed on fields of battle steeped in blood and tears, gathering souls trembling on the brink of life, his compassionate eye melted in sorrow, and he said, "I will for once die like a human being, and experience the last pang, that I may learn to mitigate it, when I release an immortal spirit from the bonds of life.

The innumerable host of angelic beings who live in celestial love, encircled the compassionate angel, and promised to surround him in the moment of his dissolution with their luminous beams, that he might know it was death he had suffered; and his brother, whose kiss opens our stiffened lips, as the breath of morn expands the ice-cold flowers, embraced him, and said: "When I kiss thee again, my brother, then thou shalt have died Earth, and shalt be once more with us in Heaven!"

Moved with compassion, the angel descended upon a field of battle, where all had died, save a blooming youth whose blood-Stained bosom still gently heaved. Beside the hero there was no one but his betrothed—he could no longer feel her burning tears, and her cry of anguish fell upon his ear undistinguished from the distant battle-shout around.

The angel quickly discovered the dying warrior, and approaching in the form of his lover, inhaled with a warm kiss the afflicted soul from his gory bosom—he gave the soul to his brother, who kissed him for the second time, and forthwith it smiled above.

The angel of the last hour, sprang like a flash of lightning into the empty form, pervaded the body, and caused the warm stream of life again to circulate from the re-invigorated heart. But how changed was he by the transformation!—His perception was lost in the whirlpool of the nervous fluid—his once rapid thoughts now waded sluggishly through the atmosphere of the brain,—the soft moist vapour, which formerly cast its autumnal colouring over all objects was dried up, and their colours now came burning and painful to the eye, through the parched atmosphere. All his feelings became gloomy, and more contracted within himself, and seemed to him as the instinct of animals appears to us,—hunger gnawed him—thirst burnt him, and pain tore him. His bleeding and distracted bosom heaved, and his first breath was a sigh for the heaven he had lost. "Is this," thought he, "the death of mortals?" But as he saw not the promised token of death—no angel to receive him—no heaven shining around him, he found that this was not the death of mortals, but their life.

In the evening the earthly powers of the angel were exhausted, and his head seemed to be crushed beneath the weight of the globe—for sleep had dispatched her messengers; the figures of imagination exchanged their sunshine for a smoky flame, the images impressed upon the brain during the day, were magnified to a colossal size; and confounded with each other, whilst a world of bounding and ungovernable thoughts had taken possession of his soul—for the god of dreams had sent his fairies. At length the winding-sheet of sleep was folded double around him, and he sank in the embrace of night, torpid and solitary, like us poor mortals. But then celestial Dream, thou flewest before his soul with thy thousand mirrors; in each mirror thou showedst him a circle of angels, and a radiant heaven; and his terrestrial frame with all its pains, seemed to leave him unencumbered. "Alas!" said he with vain delight, "my falling asleep was my departure from life." But when he again awoke, with a heart oppressed, and full of the sluggish tide of human blood, and looked upon the earth and upon the night, then said he, that was not death, but only its image, although I saw the starry heavens, and the angelic hosts."

The bride of the departed hero observed not that an angel dwelt in the breast of her lover. She loved the noble receptacle of the departed soul, and still affectionately held the band of him who was far removed from her. But the angel returned the feelings of her deluded heart with human affection; proud of his present form, he wished not to die before her, that she taught love him long enough to forgive him one day in heaven, for having caused her to press at once to her bosom an angel and a lover.

But she died first,—past sorrow had weighed down the head of this flower too far, and it broke and fell lovely to the grave. Alas! she departed before the weeping angel, not like the sun which plunges proudly before admiring nature into the ocean, raising its ruddy waves to heaven, but like the still moon which sinks at midnight, surrounded by a pale mist silvered by its own beams.

Death sent as a precursor his gentler sister Insensibilty. She touched the heart of the bride, and her warm countenance froze,—the flowers of her cheek shrunk—the pale snow of winter beneath which the spring of Eternity buds, covered her brow and her hands. The swelling eye of the angel melted into a burning tear—and while he thought his heart had burst forth in the form of that drop of water—like a pearl from the brittle shell-fish,—the bride moved, awaking from her last mental aberration, once more raised up her eyes, clasped him to her heart, and while she kissed him, said. "Now I am with thee my brother"—expired.—The angel imagined his heavenly brother had given him the sign of the kiss of death, but instead of a beaming heaven, a melancholy gloom surrounded him, and he sighed that this was not Death, but only human sorrow for the sufferings of another.

"O ye afflicted mortals." cried he, "how do ye outlive your afflictions, and how do you submit to the weary length of life, when the circle of your youthful companions is broken, and at last lies in ruins around you; when the graves of your friends rise behind you, like steps conducting to your own, and when old age is silent and vapid, like the evening which follows a deadly conflict. O ye poor mortals! how can your hearts bear it?"

The body of the ascended hero placed the mild angel amid human hardships—amid human injustice. He was surrounded by the thorny girdle of allied governments,—that girdle which holds in its stinging grasp whole quarters of the globe, and which the mighty and the powerful never cease to tighten. He saw the claws of crowned vultures tearing at their now featherless prey, which he heard struggling with wearied wing beneath their cruel grasp. He beheld the whole earth surrounded by the entertwining folds of the gigantic serpents of vicious passions, which thrust and hid their poisonous heads deep in the human breast. Through his tender heart which heretofore had ever been placed amongst affectionate and loving angels, the burning sting of hatred shot; and his soul the very sanctuary of love was terrified at its inward dissolution: "alas" said he, "human death is indeed painful."—But it was not death, for no angel appeared.

In a few days he became weary of that life, which we bear for half a century, and longed to return to bis lost Heaven. The evening sun attracted his congenial soul. His shattered and wounded breast exhausted him with pain. He went out with the glow of evening upon his pale cheek, to the church-yard, that green background of life, where the material forms of those lovely souls which he had once released, had been successively deposited. He placed himself with sorrowful longing upon the yet naked grave of his departed bride, and gazed at the setting sun. He looked too at his own afflicted frame, and thought, thou too wouldst have been lying here, distracted bosom, no longer causing pain, had I not raised thee from death. Here he reflected upon the sad life of man, and the palpitations of his own wounded bosom showed him the sorrows with which man purchases his virtue and his death; sorrows which he rejoiced to have spared the noble soul whose body he animated. Human virtue deeply affected him, and he wept from his ceaseless love for man, who, amid the urgent cravings of his own necessities, under the lowering clouds which overshadow and darken the paths of life, turns not away his eye from the high day-star of duty, but stretches forth his generous arm through the darkness, towards every mourning fellow creature, round whom nothing but hope glimmers, like the sun sinking in the old world to rise in the new.—Delight opened his wounds, and his blood (the tears of the soul,) flowed from his heart upon the well-loved grave; the sinking body dropped softly towards the object of its affection. The sun, seen through his tears of joy, appeared to float in an ocean of rosy light. Distant echo-tones, like those of the earth when it speeds its way through æther, played through the moist and glowing mist; then a dark cloud, like a sudden night laden with sleep, flitted before the angel, and now the beams of Heaven arose and encompassed him, and thousands of celestial beings shone around him. "Art thou there again, delusive dream?" said he;—but the angel of the first hour, came to him through the radiant light, and gave him the sign of the kiss, and said, "That was Death, thou eternal Brother and friend of Heaven," and the Hero and his bride softly repeated the joyful words.