( Originally Published 1884 )
Youth and Old Age.—The Invisible Messenger.—Frederick the Great.—Sir Harry Vane.—Sir Walter Raleigh.—Sir John Moore.--Sir Walter Scott.---Jeremy Taylor on Life.—A Man's True Life.—St. Francis of Assisi.
When darkness gathers over all,
OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES.
This is our life, while we enjoy it. We lose it like the sun, which flies swifter than an arrow; and yet no man perceives that it moves. Is not earth turned to earth; and shall not our sun set like theirs when the night comes?—HENRY SMITH.
THE young man enters life with joy and enthusiasm. The world lies all enamelled before him, as a distant prospect sun-gilt. But time quickly cools his enthusiasm. He can not carry the freshness of the morning through the day and into the night. Youth passes, age matures, and at length he must resign himself to growing old.
But the end is the result of his past life. Words and deeds are irrevocable. They mix themselves up with his character, and descend to futurity. The past is ever present with us. " Every sin," says Jeremy Taylor, " smiles in the first address, and carries light in the face and honey on the lip." When life matures, and the evil-doer ceases not from his ways, he can only look forward to old age with fear and despair.
But good principles, on the other hand, form a suit of armor which no weapon can penetrate. " True religion," says Cecil, " is the life, health, and education of the soul; and whoever truly possesses it is strengthened with peculiar encouragement for every good word and work."
Death comes to all. We each day dig our graves with our teeth. The hour-glass is the emblem of life. It wanes low, to the inevitable last grain, and then there is silence death. Even the monarch walks over the tombs of his forefathers to be crowned; and is after-ward taken over them to his grave.
The old men must give way to the young, and these too for men who are younger than themselves. When time has tugged at us long, we cease to do more than vegetate; we become a burden to ourselves and to others, and, what is worst of all, we get a longing for a still longer life. " When I look at many old men around me," said Perthes, " I am reminded of Frederick the Great's expostulation with his grenadiers, who demur-red at going to certain death, ' What, you dogs! would ye go on living forever?' "
But there are worst things than death, That is not the greatest calamity that can befall a man. Death levels, yet ennobles. Love is greater than death. Duty fulfilled makes death restful; dishonor makes death terrible. " I bless the Lord," said Sir Harry Vane, be-fore his execution on Tower Hill, " that I have not deserted the righteous cause for which I suffer!" When Sir Walter Raleigh was laid on the block he was told by the executioner to lie with his head toward the east. " No matter how the head lies," was his reply, " so that the heart be right."
Sir John Moore was struck down on the field of Corunna, and the doctor arrived to his help. " No, no!" he said. " You cannot be of use to me; go to the soldiers, to whom you may be useful." The last words that Nelson said were, " Thank God, I have done my duty, I have done my duty!" " My dear," said Sir Walter Scott to his son on his death-bed," be a good man; be virtuous, be religious, be a good man. Nothing else can give you comfort when you come to lie here." " Live well !" said the dying Samuel Johnson.
We have only one way into life, and a thousand ways out of it. Birth and death are but the circling of life in itself. God gives us our being, and gives us the custody of the keys of life. We can do, and labor, and love our fellow-creatures, and do our duty to them. " The way to judge of religion," says Jeremy Taylor, " is by doing our duty. Religion is rather a divine life than a divine knowledge. In heaven, indeed, we must first see, and then love; but here, on earth, we must first love, and love will open our eyes as well as our hearts, and we shall then see and perceive and understand."
If we would face the future, we must work on courageously- from day to day. It is in the steadfast hope-of an existence after death, where tears shall be wiped from every eye, that we are enabled to live through the sorrows and troubles of this life. A man's true wealth hereafter is the good he does in this world to his fellow-creatures. When he dies people will say, " What property has he left?" But the angels who examine him will ask, " What good deeds hast thou sent before thee ?"
To everything under the sun there is a last. The last line of a book, the last sermon, the last speech, the last act of a life, the last words at death. " Bring my soul out of prison, that I may give thanks unto Thy name," were the last words of St. Francis of Assisi. Hic facet is the universal epitaph. Then the secrets of all hearts shall be finally revealed at the last day.