The Works of Francis Bacon, Volume 1/Essays/Of Death

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II. OF DEATH.[1]

Men fear death, as children fear to go into the dark; and as that natural fear in children is increased with tales, so is the other. Certainly, the contemplation of death, as the wages of sin, and passage to another world, is holy and religious; but the fear of it, as a tribute due unto nature, is weak. Yet in religious meditations, there is sometimes mixture of vanity and of superstition. You shall read in some of the friars' books of mortification, that a man should think with himself, what the pain is, if he have but his finger's end pressed or tortured; and thereby imagine what the pains of death are, when the whole body is corrupted and dissolved; when many times death passeth with less pain than the torture of a limb: for the most vital parts are not the quickest of sense. And by him that spake only as a philosopher, and natural man, it was well said, "Pompa mortis magis terret, quam mors ipsa." Groans, and convulsions, and a discoloured face, and friends weeping, and blacks, and obsequies, and the like, show death terrible. It is worthy the observing, that there is no passion in the mind of man so weak, but it mates and masters the fear of death; and therefore death is no such terrible enemy when a man hath so many attendants about him that can win the combat of him. Revenge triumphs over death; love slights it; honour aspireth to it; grief flieth to it; fear pre-occupateth it: nay, we read, after Otho the emperor had slain himself, pity (which is the tenderest of affections) provoked many to die out of mere compassion to their sovereign, and as the truest sort of followers. Nay, Seneca adds, niceness and satiety: "Cogita quamdiu eadem feceris; mori velle, non tantum fortis, aut miser, sed etiam fastidiosus potest." A man would die, though he were neither valiant nor miserable, only upon a weariness to do the same thing so oft and over and over. It is no less worthy to observe, how little alteration in good spirits the approach of death make: for they appear to be the same men till the last instant. Augustus Cæsar died in a compliment: "Livia, conjugii nostra memor, vive et vale." Tiberius in dissimulation, as Tacitus saith of him, "Jam Tiberium vires et corpus, non dissimulatio, deserebant:" Vespasian in a jest, sitting upon the stool, "Ut puto Deus fio:" Galba with a sentence, "Feri, si ex re sit populi Romani," holding forth his neck: Septimus Severus in despatch, "Adeste, si quid mihi restat agendum," and the like. Certainly the Stoics bestowed too much cost upon death, and by their great preparations made it appear more fearful. Better, saith he, "qui finem vitæ extremum inter munera ponat naturæ." It is as natural to die as to be born; and to a little infant, perhaps, the one is as painful as the other. He that dies in an earnest pursuit, is like one that is wounded in hot blood; who, for the time, scarce feels the hurt; and therefore a mind fixed and bent upon somewhat that is good, doth avert the dolours of death; but, above all, believe it, the sweetest canticle is, "Nunc dimittis" when a man hath obtained worthy ends and expectations. Death hath this also, that it openeth the good fame, and extinguisheth envy. "Extinctus amabitur idem."

This work was published before January 1, 1924, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.

 
  1. See note A, at the end of the Essays.