The Pleasures of Life
By Sir John Lubbock

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    “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy
    to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us."–ROMANS
    viii. 18.

But though we have thus a sure and certain hope of progress for the race, still, as far as man is individually concerned, with advancing years we gradually care less and less, for many things which gave us the greatest pleasure in youth. On the other hand, if our time has been well used, if we have warmed both hands wisely “before the fire of life,” we may gain even more than we lose. If our strength becomes less, we feel also the less necessity for exertion. Hope is gradually replaced by memory: and whether this adds to our happiness or not depends on what our life has been.

There are of course some lives which diminish in value as old age advances, in which one pleasure fades after another, and even those which remain gradually lose their zest; but there are others which gain in richness and peace all, and more, than that of which time robs them.

The pleasures of youth may excel in keenness and in zest, but they have at the best a tinge of anxiety and unrest; they cannot have the fulness and depth which may accompany the consolations of age, and are amongst the richest rewards of an unselfish life.

For as with the close of the day, so with that of life; there may be clouds, and yet if the horizon is clear, the evening may be beautiful.

Old age has a rich store of memories. Life is full of

  “Joys too exquisite to last,
  And yet more exquisite when past.” [1]

Swedenborg imagines that in heaven the angels are advancing continually to the spring-time of their youth, so that those who have lived longest are really the youngest; and have we not all had friends who seem to fulfil this idea? who are in reality–that is in mind–as fresh as a child: of whom it may be said with more truth than of Cleopatra that

  “Age cannot wither nor custom stale
  Their infinite variety.”

“When I consider old age,” says Cicero, “I find four causes why it is thought miserable: one, that it calls us away from the transaction of affairs; the second, that it renders the body more feeble; the third, that it deprives us of almost all pleasures; the fourth, that it is not very far from death. Of these causes let us see, if you please, how great and how reasonable each of them is.”

To be released from the absorbing affairs of life, to feel that one has earned a claim to leisure and repose, is surely in itself no evil.

To the second complaint against old age, I have already referred in speaking of Health.

The third is that it has no passions. “O noble privilege of age! if indeed it takes from us that which is in youth our greatest defect.” But the higher feelings of our nature are not necessarily weakened; or rather, they may become all the brighter, being purified from the grosser elements of our lower nature.

Then, indeed, it might be said that “Man is the sun of the world; more than the real sun. The fire of his wonderful heart is the only light and heat worth gauge or measure.” [2]

“Single,” says Manu, “is each man born into the world; single he dies; single he receives the rewards of his good deeds; and single the punishment of his sins. When he dies his body lies like a fallen tree upon the earth, but his virtue accompanies his soul. Wherefore let Man harvest and garner virtue, that so he may have an inseparable companion in that gloom which all must pass through, and which it is so hard to traverse.”

Is it not extraordinary that many men will deliberately take a road which they know is, to say the least, not that of happiness? That they prefer to make others miserable, rather than themselves happy?

Plato, in the Phaedrus, explains this by describing Man as a Composite Being, having three natures, and compares him to a pair of winged horses and a charioteer. “Of the two horses one is noble and of noble origin, the other ignoble and of ignoble origin; and the driving, as might be expected, is no easy matter.” The noble steed endeavors to raise the chariot, but the ignoble one struggles to drag it down.

“Man,” says Shelly, “is an instrument over which a series of external and internal impressions are driven, like the alternations of an ever-changing wind over an Aeolian lyre, which move it by their motion to ever-changing melody.”

Cicero mentions the approach of death as the fourth drawback of old age. To many minds the shadow of the end is ever present, like the coffin in the Egyptian feast, and overclouds all the sunshine of life. But ought we so to regard death?

Shelly’s beautiful lines,

  “Life, like a Dome of many-colored glass,
  Stains the white radiance of Eternity,
  Until death tramples it to fragments,”

contain, as it seems to me at least, a double error. Life need not stain the white radiance of eternity; nor does death necessarily trample it to fragments.

Man has, says Coleridge,

              “Three treasures,–love and light
  And calm thoughts, regular as infants’ breath;
  And three firm friends, more sure than day and night,
  Himself, his Maker, and the Angel Death.”

Death is “the end of all, the remedy of many, the wish of divers men, deserving better of no men than of those to whom she came before she was called.” [3]

It is often assumed that the journey to

  “The undiscovered country from whose bourne
  No traveler returns”

must be one of pain and suffering. But this is not so. Death is often peaceful and almost painless.

Bede during his late illness was translating St. John’s Gospel into Anglo-Saxon, and the morning of his death his secretary, observing his weakness, said, “There remains now only one chapter, and it seems difficult to you to speak.” “It is easy,” said Bede; “take your pen and write as fast as you can,” At the close of the chapter the scribe said, “It is finished,” to which he replied, “Thou hast said the truth, consummatum est.” He then divided his little property among the brethren, having done which he asked to be placed opposite to the place where he usually prayed, said “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost,” and as he pronounced the last words he expired.

Goethe died without any apparent suffering, having just prepared himself to write, and expressed his delight at the return of spring.

We are told of Mozart’s death that “the unfinished requiem lay upon the bed, and his last efforts were to imitate some peculiar instrumental effects, as he breathed out his life in the arms of his wife and their friend Suessmaier.”

Plato died in the act of writing; Lucan while reciting part of his book on the war of Pharsalus; Blake died singing; Wagner in sleep with his head on his wife’s shoulder. Many have passed away in their sleep. Various high medical authorities have expressed their surprise that the dying seldom feel either dismay or regret. And even those who perish by violence, as for instance in battle, feel, it is probable, but little suffering.

But what of the future? There may be said to be now two principal views. There are some who believe indeed in the immortality of the soul, but not of the individual soul: that our life is continued in that of our children would seem indeed to be the natural deduction from the simile of St. Paul, as that of the grain of wheat is carried on in the plant of the following year.

So long indeed as happiness exists it is selfish to dwell too much on our own share in it. Admit that the soul is immortal, but that in the future state of existence there is a break in the continuity of memory, that one does not remember the present life, and from this point of view is not the importance of identity involved in that of continuous memory? But however this may be according to the general view, the soul, though detached from the body, will retain its conscious identity, and will awake from death, as it does from sleep; so that if we cannot affirm that

  “Millions of spiritual creatures walk the Earth,
  Unseen, both when we wake, and when we sleep,” [4]

at any rate they exist somewhere else in space, and we are indeed looking at them when we gaze at the stars, though to our eyes they are as yet invisible.

In neither case, however, can death be regarded as an evil. To wish that youth and strength were unaffected by time might be a different matter.

“But if we are not destined to be immortal, yet it is a desirable thing for a man to expire at his fit time. For, as nature prescribes a boundary to all other things, so does she also to life. Now old age is the consummation of life, just as of a play: from the fatigue of which we ought to escape, especially when satiety is super-added.” [5]

From this point of view, then, we need

  “Weep not for death,
    ’Tis but a fever stilled,
  A pain suppressed,–a fear at rest,
    A solemn hope fulfilled.
  The moonshine on the slumbering deep
  Is scarcely calmer. Wherefore weep?"

  “Weep not for death!
    The fount of tears is sealed,
  Who knows how bright the inward light
    To those closed eyes revealed?
  Who knows what holy love may fill
  The heart that seems so cold and still.”

Many a weary soul will have recurred with comfort to the thought that

  “A few more years shall roll,
    A few more seasons come,
  And we shall be with those that rest
    Asleep within the tomb.

  “A few more struggles here,
    A few more partings o’er,
  A few more toils, a few more tears,
    And we shall weep no more.”

By no one has this, however, been more grandly expressed than by Shelley.

  “Peace, peace! he is not dead, he doth not sleep!
    He hath awakened from the dream of life.
  ’Tis we who, lost in stormy visions, keep
    With phantoms an unprofitable strife,
  He has outsoared the shadows of our night.
    Envy and calumny, and hate and pain,
  And that unrest which men miscall delight,
    Can touch him not and torture not again.
    From the contagion of the world’s slow stain
  He is secure, and now can never mourn
    A heart grown cold, a head grown gray, in vain–”

Most men, however, decline to believe that

  “We are such stuff
  As dreams are made of, and our little life
  Is rounded with a sleep.” [6]

According to the more general view death frees the soul from the encumbrance of the spirit, and summons us to the seat of judgment. In fact,

  “There is no Death! What seems so is transition;
    This life of mortal breath
  Is but a suburb of the life elysian,
    Whose portal we call Death.” [7]

We have bodies, “we are spirits.” “I am a soul,” said Epictetus, “dragging about a corpse.” The body is the mere perishable form of the immortal essence. Plato concluded that if the ways of God are to be justified, there must be a future life.

To the aged in either case death is a release. The Bible dwells most forcibly on the blessing of peace. “My peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you.” Heaven is described as a place where the wicked cease from troubling, and the weary are at rest.

But I suppose every one must have asked himself in what can the pleasures of heaven consist.

                    “For all we know
  Of what the blessed do above
  Is that they sing, and that they love.” [8]

It would indeed accord with few men’s ideal that there should be any “struggle for existence” in heaven. We should then be little better off than we are now. This world is very beautiful, if we could only enjoy it in peace. And yet mere passive existence–mere vegetation–would in itself offer few attractions. It would indeed be almost intolerable.

Again, the anxiety of change seems inconsistent with perfect happiness; and yet a wearisome, interminable monotony, the same thing over and over again forever and ever without relief or variety, suggests dulness rather than bliss.

I feel that to me, said Greg, “God has promised not the heaven of the ascetic temper, or the dogmatic theologian, or of the subtle mystic, or of the stern martyr ready alike to inflict and bear; but a heaven of purified and permanent affections–of a book of knowledge with eternal leaves, and unbounded capacities to read it–of those we love ever round us, never misconceiving us, or being harassed by us–of glorious work to do, and adequate faculties to do it–a world of solved problems, as well as of realized ideals.”

  “For still the doubt came back,–Can God provide
    For the large heart of man what shall not pall,
  Nor through eternal ages’ endless tide
    On tired spirits fall?

  “These make him say,–If God has so arrayed
    A fading world that quickly passes by,
  Such rich provision of delight has made
    For every human eye,

  “What shall the eyes that wait for him survey
    When his own presence gloriously appears
  In worlds that were not founded for a day,
    But for eternal years?” [9]

Here science seems to suggest a possible answer: the solution of problems which have puzzled us here; the acquisition of new ideas; the unrolling the history of the past; the world of animals and plants; the secrets of space; the wonders of the stars and of the regions beyond the stars. To become acquainted with all the beautiful and interesting spots of our own world would indeed be something to look forward to, and our world is but one of many millions. I sometimes wonder as I look away to the stars at night whether it will ever be my privilege as a disembodied spirit to visit and explore them. When we had made the great tour fresh interests would have arisen, and we might well begin again.

Here there is an infinity of interest without anxiety. So that at last the only doubt may be

  “Lest an eternity should not suffice
    To take the measure and the breadth and height
  Of what there is reserved in Paradise
    Its ever-new delight.” [10]

Cicero surely did not exaggerate when he said, “O glorious day! when I shall depart to that divine company and assemblage of spirits, and quit this troubled and polluted scene. For I shall go not only to those great men of whom I have spoken before, but also to my son Cato, than whom never was better man born, nor more distinguished for pious affection; whose body was burned by me, whereas, on the contrary, it was fitting that mine should be burned by him. But his soul not deserting me, but oft looking back, no doubt departed to these regions whither it saw that I myself was destined to come. Which, though a distress to me, I seemed patiently to endure: not that I bore it with indifference, but I comforted myself with the recollection that the separation and distance between us would not continue long. For these reasons, O Scipio (since you said that you with Laelius were accustomed to wonder at this), old age is tolerable to me, and not only not irksome, but even delightful. And if I am wrong in this, that I believe the souls of men to be immortal, I willingly delude myself: nor do I desire that this mistake, in which I take pleasure, should be wrested from me as long as I live; but if I, when dead, shall have no consciousness, as some narrow-minded philosophers imagine, I do not fear lest dead philosophers should ridicule this my delusion.”

Nor can I omit the striking passage in the Apology, when pleading before the people of Athens, Socrates says, “Let us reflect in another way, and we shall see that there is great reason to hope that death is a good; for one of two things–either death is a state of nothingness and utter unconsciousness, or, as men say, there is a change and migration of the soul from this world to another. Now if you suppose that there is no consciousness, but a sleep like the sleep of him who is undisturbed even by the sight of dreams, death will be an unspeakable gain. For if a person were to select the night in which his sleep was undisturbed even by dreams, and were to compare with this the other days and nights of his life, and then were to tell us how many days and nights he had passed in the course of his life better and more pleasantly than this one, I think that any man, I will not say a private man, but even the great king will not find many such days or nights, when compared with the others. Now, if death is like this, I say that to die is gain; for eternity is then only a single night. But if death is the journey to another place, and there, as men say, all the dead are, what good, O my friends and judges, can be greater than this?

“If, indeed, when the pilgrim arrives in the world below, he is delivered from the professors of justice in this world, and finds the true judges, who are said to give judgment there,–Minos, and Rhadamanthus, and Aeacus, and Triptolemus, and other sons of God who were righteous in their own life,–that pilgrimage will be worth making. What would not a man give if he might converse with Orpheus, and Musaeus, and Hesiod, and Homer? Nay, if this be true, let me die again and again. I myself, too, shall have a wonderful interest in there meeting and conversing with Palamedes, and Ajax the son of Telamon, and other heroes of old, who have suffered death through an unjust judgment; and there will be no small pleasure, as I think, in comparing my own sufferings with theirs. Above all, I shall then be able to continue my search into true and false knowledge; as in this world, so also in that; and I shall find out who is wise, and who pretends to be wise, and is not. What would not a man give, O judges, to be able to examine the leader of the great Trojan expedition; or Odysseus or Sisyphus, or numberless others, men and women too! What infinite delight would there be in conversing with them and asking them questions. In another world they do not put a man to death for asking questions; assuredly not. For besides being happier in that world than in this, they will be immortal, if what is said be true.

“Wherefore, O judges, be of good cheer about death, and know of a certainty that no evil can happen to a good man, either in life or after death. He and his are not neglected by the gods; nor has my own approaching end happened by mere chance. But I see clearly that to die and be released was better for me; and therefore the oracle gave no sign. For which reason, also, I am not angry with my condemners, or with my accusers; they have done me no harm, although they did not mean to do me any good; and for this I may gently blame them. The hour of departure has arrived, and we go our ways–I to die and you to live. Which is better God only knows.”

In the Wisdom of Solomon we are promised that–

“The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and there shall no torment touch them.

“In the sight of the unwise they seemed to die; and their departure is taken for misery.

“And their going from us to be utter destruction; but they are in peace.

“For though they be punished in the sight of men, yet is their hope full of immortality.

“And having been a little chastised, they shall be greatly rewarded: for God proved them, and found them worthy for himself.”

And assuredly, if in the hour of death the conscience is at peace, the mind need not be troubled. The future is full of doubt, indeed, but fuller still of hope.

If we are entering upon a rest after the struggles of life,

  “Where the wicked cease from troubling,
  And the weary are at rest,”

that to many a weary soul will be a welcome bourne, and even then we may say,

  “O Death! where is thy sting?
  O Grave! where is thy victory?”

On the other hand, if we are entering on a new sphere of existence, where we may look forward to meet not only those of whom we have heard so often, those whose works we have read and admired, and to whom we owe so much, but those also whom we have loved and lost; when we shall leave behind us the bonds of the flesh and the limitations of our earthly existence; when we shall join the Angels, and Archangels, and all the company of Heaven,–then, indeed, we may cherish a sure and certain hope that the interests and pleasures of this world are as nothing compared to those of the life that awaits us in our Eternal Home.

[1] Montgomery.

[2] Emerson.

[3] Seneca.

[4] Milton.

[5] Cicero.

[6] Shakespeare.

[7] Longfellow.

[8] Waller.

[9] Trench.

[10] Trench.




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