« 이전계속 »
weak as to promise himself, with confidence, that he shall live even till night? In fact, young people are more exposed to mortal accidents than even the aged: they are also not only more liable to natural diseases, but, as they are generally attacked by them in a more violent manner, are obliged to obtain their cure, if they happen to recover, by a more painful course of medical operations. Hence it is that there are but few among mankind who arrive at old age; and this (to remark it by the way) will suggest a reason why the affairs of the world are no better conducted : for age brings along with it experience, discretion, and judgment, without which no wellformed government could have been established, or can be maintained. But, not to wander from the point under our present consideration, why should death be deemed an evil peculiarly impending on old age, when daily experience proves that it is common to every other period of human life?
It will be replied, perhaps, that youth may at least entertain the hope of enjoying many additional years, whereas an old man cannot rationally encourage so pleasing an expectation. But, admitting that the young may indulge this expectation with the highest reason, still the advantage evidently lies on the side of the old, as the latter is in possession of that length of life which the former can only hope to attain. Length of life, did I say? What is there in the utmost extent of human duration that can properly be called long? In my own opinion, no portion of time can justly be deemed long that will necessarily have an end ; since the longest, when once it is elapsed, leaves not a trace behind ; and nothing valuable remains with us but the conscious satisfaction of having employed it well. Thus, hours and days, months and years, glide imperceptibly away; the past never to return, the future involved in impenetrable obscurity! But, whatever the extent of our present duration may prove, a wise and good man ought to be contented with the allotted measure; remembering that it is in life as on the stage, where it is not necessary, in order to be approved, that the actor's part should continue to the conclusion of the drama : it is sufficient, in whatever scene he shall make his final exit, that he supports the character assigned him with deserved applause.
Every event agreeable to the course of nature ought to be looked on as a real good; and surely none can be more natural than for an old man to die. It is true, youth likewise stands exposed to the same dissolution ; but it is a dissolution contrary to Nature's evident intentions, and in direct opposition to her strongest efforts. In the latter instance, the privation of life may be resembled to a fire forcibly extinguished by a deluge of water; in the former, to a fire spontaneously and gradually going out from a total consumption of its fuel. Or, to have recourse to another illustration : as fruit, before it is ripe, cannot without some degree of force be separated from the stalk, but drops of itself when perfectly mature, so the dis union of the soul and body is effected in the young by dint of violence, but is wrought in the old by a mere fullness and completion of years. This ripeness for death I perceive in myself with much satisfaction; and I look forward to my dissolution as to a secure haven, where I shall at length find a happy repose from the fatigues of a long voyage.
The distaste with which, in passing through the several stages of our present being, we leave behind us the respective enjoyments peculiar to each, must necessarily, I should think, in the close of its latest period, render life itself no longer desirable. Infancy and youth, manhood and old age, have each of them their peculiar and appropriate pursuits: but does youth regret the toys of infancy, or manhood lament that it has no longer a taste for the amusements of youth? The season of manhood has also its suitable objects, that are exchanged for others in old age; and these too, like all the preceding, become languid and insipid in their turn. Now, when this state of absolute satiety is at length arrived; when we have enjoyed the satisfactions peculiar to old age, till we have no longer any relish remaining for them ; it is then that death may justly be considered as a mature and seasonable event.
The nearer death advances towards me, the more clearly I seem to discern its real nature. The soul, during her confinement within this prison of the body, is doomed by fate to undergo a severe penance : for her native seat is in heaven; and it is with reluctance that she is forced down from those celestial mansions into these lower regions, where all is foreign and repugnant to her divine nature. But the gods, I am persuaded, have thus widely disseminated immortal spirits, and clothed them with human bodies, that there might be a race of intelligent creatures, not only to have dominion over this our earth, but to contemplate the host of heaven, and imitate in their moral conduct the same beautiful order and uniformity, so conspicuous in those splendid orbs. This opinion I am induced to embrace, not only as agreeable to the best deductions of reason, but in just deference also to the authority of the noblest and most distinguished philosophers.
When I consider the faculties with which the human mind is endued ; its amazing celerity ; its wonderful power in recollecting past events, and sagacity in discerning future, together with its numberless discoveries in the several arts and sciences — I feel a conscious conviction that this active, comprehensive principle cannot possibly be of a mortal nature. And as this unceasing activity of the soul derives its energy from its own intrinsic and essential powers, without receiving it from any foreign or external impulse, it necessarily follows (as it is absurd to suppose the soul would desert itself) that its activity must continue forever.
Tell me, my friends, whence it is that those men who have made the greatest advances in true wisdom and genuine philosophy are observed to meet death with the most perfect equanimity, while the ignorant and unimproved part of our species generally see its approach with the utmost discomposure and reluctance? Is it not because, the more enlightened the mind is, and the farther it extends its view, the more clearly it discerns in the hour of its dissolution (what narrow and vulgar souls are too shortsighted to discover) that it is taking its flight into some happier region? For my own part, I feel myself transported with the most ardent impatience to join the society of my two departed friends, your illustrious fathers, whose characters I greatly respected, and whose persons I sincerely loved. Nor is this my earnest wish confined to those excellent persons alone with whom I was formerly connected : I ardently wish to visit also those celebrated worthies of whose honorable conduct I have heard and read much, or whose virtues I have myself commemorated in some of my writings. To this glorious assembly I am speedily advancing: and I would not be turned back in my journey, even on the assured condition that my youth, like that of Pelias, should again be restored. The sincere truth is, if some divinity would confer on m grant of my life, and replace me once more in the cradle, I would utterly, and without the least hesitation, reject the offer: having well-nigh finished my race, I have no inclination to return to the goal. For what has life to recommend it? or rather, indeed, to what evils does it not expose us ? But admit
a new one.
that its satisfactions are many; yet surely there is a time when we have had a sufficient measure of its enjoyments, and may well depart contented with our share of the feast.
For I mean not, in imitation of some very considerable philosophers, to represent the condition of human nature as a subject of just lamentation : on the contrary, I am far from regretting that life was bestowed on me, as I have the satisfaction to think that I have employed it in such a manner as not to have lived in vain. In short, I consider this world as a place which Nature never designed for my permanent abode ; and I look upon my departure out of it, not as being driven from my habitation, but as leaving my inn.
O glorious day! when I shall retire from this low and sordid scene, to associate with the divine assembly of departed spirits; and not with those only whom I just now mentioned, but with my dear Cato, that best of sons and most valuable of men! It was my sad fate to lay his body on the funeral pile, when by the course of nature I had reason to hope he would have performed the same last office to mine. His soul, however, did not desert me, but still looked back on me in its flight to those happy mansions, to which he was assured I should one day follow him. If I seemed to bear his death with fortitude, it was by no means that I did not most sensibly feel the loss I had sustained : it was because I supported myself with the consoling reflection that we could not long be separated.
Thus to think, and thus to act, has enabled me, Scipio, to bear
up under a load of years with that ease and complacency which both you and Lælius have so frequently, it seems, remarked with admiration; as, indeed, it has rendered my old age not only no inconvenient state to me, but even an agreeable
And, after all, should this my firm persuasion of the soul's immortality prove to be a mere delusion, it is at least a pleasing delusion, and I will cherish it to my latest breath. I have the satisfaction in the mean time to be assured that if death should utterly extinguish my existence, as some minute philosophers assert, the groundless hope I entertained of an after life in some better state cannot expose me to the derision of these wonderful sages when they and I shall be no more. At all events, and even admitting that our expectations of immortality are utterly vain, there is a certain period, nevertheless, when death would be a consummation most earnestly to be desired:
for Nature has appointed to the days of man, as to all things else, their proper limits, beyond which they are no longer of any value. In fine, old age may be considered as the last scene in the great drama of life ; and one would not, surely, wish to lengthen out his part till he sank down sated with repetition and exhausted with fatigue.
Look once more, ere we leave this specular mount,