by Sir Francis Bacon
Men fear death as children fear to go in the dark; and as that natural fear in children is increased with tales, so is the other. Certainly the contemplation of death as the wages of sin and passage to another world is holy and religious, but the fear of it, as a tribute due unto nature, is weak.
Yet in religious meditations there is sometimes mixture of vanity and of superstition. You shall read in some of the friars' books of mortification that a man should think with himself what the pain is if he have but his finger's end pressed or tortured, and thereby imagine what the pains of death are when the whole body is corrupted and dissolved; when many times death passeth with less pain than the torture of a limb, for the most vital parts are not the quickest of sense.
By him that spake only as a philosopher and natural man [Seneca], it was well said: The trappings of death terrify us more than death itself.
Groans and convulsions and a discoloured face, and friends weeping, and mourning garments and obsequies and the like show death terrible. It is worthy of observing that there is no passion in the mind of man so weak but it mates and masters the fear of death; and therefore death is no such terrible enemy, when a man hath so many attendants about him that can win the combat of it. Revenge triumphs over death, love slights it, honour aspireth to it, grief flieth to it, fear anticipates it.
Nay, we read, after Otho the emperor had slain himself, pity (which is the tenderest of affections) provoked many to die out of mere compassion to their sovereign, and as the truest sort of followers.
Nay, Seneca adds niceness and satiety: Consider how long you have been doing the same things; the desire to die may be felt not only by the brave man or by the wretch, but also by the man wearied with boredom. A man would die, though he were neither valiant nor miserable, only upon a weariness to do the same thing so oft over and over. It is no less worthy to observe how little alteration in good spirits the approaches of death make, for they appear to be the same men till the last instant. Augustus Caesar died in a compliment: Farewell, Livia, remember our married life; Tiberius in dissimulation, as Tacitus says of him: Eventually, bodily strength failed Tiberius, not his powers of dissimulation; Vespasian in a jest, sitting upon the stool: While I'm cleansing/thinking, I'm becoming a god; Galba with a sentence: Strike, if it be for the good of the Roman people, holding forth his neck; Septimus Severus in dispatch: Make haste, if anything remains for me to do; and the like. Certainly the Stoics bestowed too much cost upon death, and by their great preparations made it appear more fearful.
Better saith he [Juvenal] who regards the conclusion of life as one of nature's blessings. It is as natural to die as to be born; and to a little infant, perhaps, the one is as painful as the other. He that dies in an earnest pursuit is like the one that is wounded in hot blood, who for the time scarce feels the hurt; and therefore a mind fixed and bent upon somewhat that is good doth avert the dolours of death. But above all, believe it, the sweetest canticle is Nunc dimittis, when a man hath obtained worthy ends and expectations.
Death hath this also, that it openeth the gate to good fame, and extinguisheth envy: The same man who was envied when he was alive will be loved once he is dead. [Horace].