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No. 349 [from The Spectator]
by [?]

No. 349
Thursday, April 10, 1712. Addison.

Quos ille timorum
Maximus haud urget lethi metus: inde ruendi
In ferrum mens prona viris, animaeque capaces


I am very much pleased with a Consolatory Letter of Phalaris, to one who had lost a Son that was a young Man of great Merit. The Thought with which he comforts the afflicted Father, is, to the best of my Memory, as follows; That he should consider Death had set a kind of Seal upon his Sons Character, and placed him out of the Reach of Vice and Infamy: That while he liv’d he was still within the Possibility of falling away from Virtue, and losing the Fame of which he was possessed. Death only closes a Man’s Reputation, and determines it as good or bad.

This, among other Motives, may be one Reason why we are naturally averse to the launching out into a Man’s Praise till his Head is laid in the Dust. Whilst he is capable of changing, we may be forced to retract our Opinions. He may forfeit the Esteem we have conceived of him, and some time or other appear to us under a different Light from what he does at present. In short, as the Life of any Man cannot be call’d happy or unhappy, so neither can it be pronounced vicious or virtuous, before the Conclusion of it.

It was upon this consideration that Epaminondas, being asked whether Chabrias, Iphicrates, or he himself, deserved most to be esteemed? You must first see us die, said he, before that Question can be answered. [1]

As there is not a more melancholy Consideration to a good Man than his being obnoxious to such a Change, so there is nothing more glorious than to keep up an Uniformity in his Actions, and preserve the Beauty of his Character to the last.

The End of a Man’s Life is often compared to the winding up of a well-written Play, where the principal Persons still act in Character, whatever the Fate is which they undergo. There is scarce a great Person in the Grecian or Roman History, whose Death has not been remarked upon by some Writer or other, and censured or applauded according to the Genius or Principles of the Person who has descanted on it. Monsieur de St. Evremont is very particular in setting forth the Constancy and Courage of Petronius Arbiter during his last Moments, and thinks he discovers in them a greater Firmness of Mind and Resolution than in the Death of Seneca, Cato, or Socrates. There is no question but this polite Authors Affectation of appearing singular in his Remarks, and making Discoveries which had escaped the Observation of others, threw him into this course of Reflection. It was Petronius’s Merit, that he died in the same Gaiety of Temper in which he lived; but as his Life was altogether loose and dissolute, the Indifference which he showed at the Close of it is to be looked upon as a piece of natural Carelessness and Levity, rather than Fortitude. The Resolution of Socrates proceeded from very different Motives, the Consciousness of a well-spent Life, and the prospect of a happy Eternity. If the ingenious Author above mentioned was so pleased with Gaiety of Humour in a dying Man, he might have found a much nobler Instance of it in our Countryman Sir Thomas More.

This great and learned Man was famous for enlivening his ordinary Discourses with Wit and Pleasantry; and, as Erasmus tells him in an Epistle Dedicatory, acted in all parts of Life like a second Democritus.

He died upon a Point of Religion, and is respected as a Martyr by that Side for which he suffer’d. The innocent Mirth which had been so conspicuous in his Life, did not forsake him to the last: He maintain’d the same Chearfulness of Heart upon the Scaffold, which he used to shew at his Table; and upon laying his Head on the Block, gave Instances of that Good-Humour with which he had always entertained his Friends in the most ordinary Occurrences. His Death was of a piece with his Life. There was nothing in it new, forced, or affected. He did not look upon the severing of his Head from his Body as a Circumstance that ought to produce any Change in the Disposition of his Mind; and as he died under a fixed and settled Hope of Immortality, he thought any unusual degree of Sorrow and Concern improper on such an Occasion, as had nothing in it which could deject or terrify him.