Of Death by 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.
Meaning … Mortals dread death as much as children fear to venture out in darkness. Such fear is in-born, but gets accentuated when we get to hear horrific accounts woven around death, and the perils of darkness.
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.
Meaning … Thinking of death is a normal trait. Thinking about with equanimity is the characteristic of a profoundly wise mind. In the same vein, worrying about the consequences of committing a sinful act is the sign of a noble mind. A holy and religious person has these traits. On the contrary, fearing death as a possible retribution of Nature is not correct. Fearing death can not be a way of acknowledging the supremacy of Nature.
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.
Meaning … Despite adequate awareness among humans about such a folly, prayers, or similar religious practices are often underlined by a sense of futility. A lot of superstition might be intertwined with sermons and prayers. Some religious gurus or preachers ask their followers to inflict a certain minor on themselves to realize how painful inflicting pain or death on others could be to the victims. By doing this, one in impelled to experience remorse for being the cause of others suffering. One can die suffering less pain than when one’s limbs are wounded grievously. A person’s vital parts such as heart, brain, lungs, kidney etc. do not experience as much excruciating pain as a badly hurt or mauled limb.
And by him that spake only as a philosopher, and natural man, it was well said, Pompa mortis magis terret, quam mors ipsa. Groans, and convulsions, and a discolored face, and friends weeping, and blacks, and obsequies, and the like, show death terrible.
Meaning …. The pragmatist Pompa, with his deep understanding of philosophy said, “The thought of approaching death scares humans more than the death itself.” What makes the advent of death more horrifying is the dying man’s wails and groans, and the breast-beating expression of frustrations of his near and dear ones who flock to his side. Such cacophony of sorrowful voices makes death appear much more frightening than it really is.
It is worthy the 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 him.
Meaning ….. Seen from a different angle, a dying man has so many near and dear ones maintaining vigil around him that he does not feel lonely, uncared for or abandoned as he bids adieu to this world. So, death brings salvation from suffering and the ravages of dotage that should bring great relief to the dying person.
Revenge triumphs over death; love slights it; honor aspireth to it; grief flieth to it; fear preoccupateth 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.
Meaning ….. When the popular emperor Otho killed himself, his subjects were devastated with grief. The wave of sympathy for the departed emperor drove some of his subjects to suicide as their burden of sorrow became unbearable. When someone takes revenge and succeeds to kill his victim, he feels he has won. Death is considered to be spiteful to love as it severs the link between the victim and the person whose heart is filled with love. Death is considered as a vindication of Honor. On the other hand, a dying man’s mind is preoccupied with the thoughts of death.
Nay, Seneca adds niceness and satiety: Cogita quamdiu eadem feceris; mori velle, non tantum fortis aut miser, sed etiam fastidiosus potest.
Meaning … Serena, the renowned philosopher said so wisely, “Think of it as long as you do; wanted to die, not only the brave or unhappy, but also it can be monotonous.” In simple language it means that one will be well-advised to think and welcome death as it brings deliverance from the life’s sorrows and sufferings. One’s life can be too monotonous to endure and in such a situation, death brings relief and peace.
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.
Meaning … A man may be leading a placid uneventful life with no thrills or no excitement. It may not be courageous, nor even sorrowful. However, the drudgery and monotony of the mundane life may be too painful to endure over a long period.
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.
Meaning … When a man stands on the doorway to death, he often welcomes it thinking that it would free him from the monotony of leading the same unchanging life day after day, seeing the same faces over and over again.
Augustus Caesar died in a compliment; Livia, conjugii nostri memor, vive et vale. Tiberius in dissimulation; as Tacitus saith of him, Jam Tiberium vires et corpus, non dissimulatio, deserebant. Vespasian in a jest, sitting upon the stool; Ut puto deus fio. Galba with a sentence; Feri, si ex re sit populi Romani; holding forth his neck. Septimius Severus in despatch; Adeste si quid mihi restat agendum. And the like.
Meaning …. Augustus Cæsar diedtriumphantly saying, “Farewell, Livia; and forget not the days of our marriage.” Looking at Augustus Cesar’s defiant words, Tiberius had exclaimed, “His (Ceaser’s) powers of body are gone, but his power to conceal his feelings still remains.” Vespasian in a jest, sitting upon the stool commented, “As I think, I am becoming a god.” Holding forth Caesar’s neck, Galba commanded, “Strike, if it be for the good of Rome.” Septimius Severus said, “Be at hand, if there is anything more for me to do.”
Certainly the Stoics bestowed too much cost upon death, and by their great preparations, made it appear more fearful.
Meaning … The Stoic philosophers attached a lot of importance to death. They made elaborate preparations to usher in death when the time came. Such preparation, however, added to the dread of death.
Better saith he, qui finem vitae extremum inter munera ponat naturae.
Meaning … Wise people used to say, “Who accounts the close of life as one of the benefits of nature.”
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 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 dolors of death.
Meaning … As Tagore had said, “Meetings and partings is the go of the world.” The cycle of birth and death is unbreakable. One has to be born: one has to die. There is no respite from this. For an infant, both the process o9f being born and dying are equally painful. A person frenetically pursuing success is too immersed in his endeavour to feel the pain of any possible hurt or injury. A valiant soldier seldom feels pain when he gets wounded in the process of fighting in the battlefield.
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. – Extinctus amabitur idem.
Meaning .. In conclusion, Bacon extols the virtues of valiantly pursuing and dying for a noble cause. When a man dies while engrossed in his work or in the battlefield, he attains great fame and wins a lot of adulation even from those who loathed and envied him during his lifetime.