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Full text of "Selected Essays Of Robert Louis Stevenson"

IV
AES TRIPLEX

THE changes wrought by death are in themselves so
sharp and final, and so terrible and melancholy in their
consequences, that the thing stands alone in man's experi-
ence, and has no parallel upon earth. It outdoes all other
accidents because it is the last of them. Sometimes it
leaps suddenly upon its victims, like a Thug; sometimes it
lays a regular siege and creeps upon their citadel during a
score of years. And when the business is done, there is
sore havoc made in other people's lives, and a pin knocked
out by which many subsidiary friendships hung together.
There are empty chairs, solitary walks, and single beds at
night. Again, in taking away our friends, death does not
take them away utterly, but leaves behind a mocking,
tragical, and soon intolerable residue, which must be
hurriedly concealed. Hence a whole chapter of sights and
customs striking to the mind, from the pyramids of Egypt
to the gibbets and dule trees of mediaeval Europe. The
poorest persons have a bit of pageant going towards the
tomb ; memorial stones are set up over the least memor-
able ; and, in order to preserve some show of respect for
what remains of our old loves and friendships, we must
accompany it with much grimly ludicrous ceremonial, and
the hired undertaker parades before the door. AH this,
and much more of the same sort, accompanied by the
eloquence of poets, has gone a great way to put humanity
in error; nay, in many philosophies the error has been
embodied and laid down with every circumstance of logic;
although in real life the bustle and swiftness, in leaving
people little time to think, have not left them time enough
to go dangerously wrong in practice.

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