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No. 133 [from The Spectator]
by [?]

No. 133
Thursday, August 2, 1711.

‘Quis Desiderio sit pudor aut modus

Tam Chari capitis?’

Hor.

There is a sort of Delight, which is alternately mixed with Terror and Sorrow, in the Contemplation of Death. The Soul has its Curiosity more than ordinarily awakened, when it turns its Thoughts upon the Conduct of such who have behaved themselves with an Equal, a Resigned, a Chearful, a Generous or Heroick Temper in that Extremity.

We are affected with these respective Manners of Behaviour, as we secretly believe the Part of the Dying Person imitable by our selves, or such as we imagine our selves more particularly capable of.

Men of exalted Minds march before us like Princes, and are, to the Ordinary Race of Mankind, rather Subjects for their Admiration than Example. However, there are no Ideas strike more forcibly upon our Imaginations; than those which are raised from Reflections upon the Exits of great and excellent Men. Innocent Men who have suffered as Criminals, tho’ they were Benefactors to Human Society, seem to be Persons of the highest Distinction, among the vastly greater Number of Human Race, the Dead. When the Iniquity of the Times brought Socrates to his Execution, how great and wonderful is it to behold him, unsupported by any thing but the Testimony of his own Conscience and Conjectures of Hereafter, receive the Poison with an Air of Mirth and good Humour, and as if going on an agreeable Journey bespeak some Deity to make it fortunate.

When Phocion’s good Actions had met with the like Reward from his Country, and he was led to Death with many others of his Friends, they bewailing their Fate, he walking composedly towards the Place of Execution, how gracefully does he support his Illustrious Character to the very last Instant. One of the Rabble spitting at him as he passed, with his usual Authority he called to know if no one was ready to teach this Fellow how to behave himself. When a Poor-spirited Creature that died at the same time for his Crimes bemoaned himself unmanfully, he rebuked him with this Question, Is it no Consolation to such a Man as thou art to die with Phocion? At the Instant when he was to die, they asked him what commands he had for his Son, he answered, To forget this Injury of the Athenians. Niocles, his Friend, under the same Sentence, desired he might drink the Potion before him: Phocion said, because he never had denied him any thing he would not even this, the most difficult Request he had ever made.

These Instances [1] were very noble and great, and the Reflections of those Sublime Spirits had made Death to them what it is really intended to be by the Author of Nature, a Relief from a various Being ever subject to Sorrows and Difficulties.

Epaminondas, the Theban General, having received in Fight a mortal Stab with a Sword, which was left in his Body, lay in that Posture ’till he had Intelligence that his Troops [had] obtained the Victory, and then permitted it to be drawn [out], at which Instant he expressed himself in this manner,

This is not the end of my Life, my Fellow-Soldiers; it is now your Epaminondas is born, who dies in so much Glory.

It were an endless Labour to collect the Accounts with which all Ages have filled the World of Noble and Heroick Minds that have resigned this Being, as if the Termination of Life were but an ordinary Occurrence of it.

This common-place way of Thinking I fell into from an awkward Endeavour to throw off a real and fresh Affliction, by turning over Books in a melancholy Mood; but it is not easy to remove Griefs which touch the Heart, by applying Remedies which only entertain the Imagination. As therefore this Paper is to consist of any thing which concerns Human Life, I cannot help letting the present Subject regard what has been the last Object of my Eyes, tho’ an Entertainment of Sorrow.