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by [?]

Our talk wandered over many things, but here, I do not know why, we were speaking of the taking up of old friendships, and the comfort and delight of those serene and undisturbed relations which one sometimes establishes with a congenial person, which no lapse of time or lack of communication seems to interrupt–the best kind of friendship. There is here no blaming of conditions that may keep the two lives apart; no feverish attempt to keep up the relation, no resentment if mutual intercourse dies away. And then, perhaps, in the shifting of conditions, one’s life is again brought near to the life of one’s friend, and the old easy intercourse is quietly resumed. My companion said that such a relation seemed to him to lie as near to the solution of the question of the preservation of identity after death as any other phenomenon of life. “Supposing,” he said, “that such a friendship as that of which we have spoken is resumed after a break of twenty years. One is in no respect the same person; one looks different, one’s views of life have altered, and physiologists tell us that one’s body has changed perhaps three times over, in the time, so that there is not a particle of our frame that is the same; and yet the emotion, the feeling of the friendship remains, and remains unaltered. If the stuff of our thoughts were to alter as the materials of our body alter, the continuity of such an emotion would be impossible. Of course it is difficult to see how, divested of the body, our perceptions can continue; but almost the only thing we are really conscious of is our own identity, our sharp separation from the mass of phenomena that are not ourselves. And, if an emotion can survive the transmutation of the entire frame, may it not also survive the dissolution of that frame?”

“Could it be thus?” I said. “A ray of light falls through a chink in a shutter; through the ray, as we watch it, floats an infinite array of tiny motes, and it is through the striking of the light upon them that we are aware of the light; but they are never the same. Yet the ray has a seeming identity, though even the very ripples of light that cause it are themselves ever changing, ever renewed. Could not the soul be such a ray, illuminating the atoms that pass through it, and itself a perpetual motion, a constant renewal?”

But the day warned us to descend. The shadows grew longer, and a great pale light of sunset began to gather in the West. We came slowly down through the pastures, till we joined the familiar road again. And at last we parted, in that wistful silence that falls upon the mood when two spirits have achieved a certain nearness of thought, have drawn as close as the strange fence of identity allows. But as I went home, I stood for a moment at the edge of a pleasant grove, an outlying pleasaunce of a great house on the verge of the town. The trees grew straight and tall within it, and all the underwood was full of spring flowers and green ground-plants, expanding to light and warmth; the sky was all full of light, dying away to a calm and liquid green, the colour of peace. Here I encountered another friend, a retiring man of letters, who lives apart from the world in dreams of his own. He is a bright-eyed, eager creature, tall and shadowy, who has but a slight hold upon the world. We talked for a few moments of trivial things, till a chance question of mine drew from him a sad statement of his own health. He had been lately, he said, to a physician, and had been warned that he was in a somewhat precarious condition. I tried to comfort him, but he shook his head; and though he tried to speak lightly and cheerfully, I could see that there was a shadow of doom upon him.