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Full text of "Selected Essays Of Robert Louis Stevenson"

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24                          AES TRIPLEX

through it all, like a party for the Derby. Perhaps the
reader remembers one of the humorous devices of the
deified Caligula; how he encouraged a vast concourse of
holiday-makers on to his bridge over Baise bay ; and, when
they were in the height of their enjoyment, turned loose
the Praetorian guards among the company, and had them
tossed into the sea. This is no bad miniature of the
dealings of nature with the transitory race of man. Only,
what a chequered picnic we have of it, even while it lasts,
and into what great waters, not to be crossed by any
swimmer, God's pale Praetorian throws us over in the end !

We live the time that a match flickers, we pop the
cork of a ginger-beer bottle, and the earthquake swallows
us on the instant. Is it not odd, is it not incongruous, is
it not, in the highest sense of human speech, incredible
that we should think so highly of the ginger-beer, and
regard so little the devouring earthquake ? The love of
Life and the fear of Death are two famous phrases that
grow harder to understand the more we think about them.
It is a well-known fact that an immense proportion of
boat accidents would never happen if people held the
sheet in their hands instead of making it fast, and yet,
unless it be some martinet of a professional mariner or
some landsman with shattered nerves, every one of God's
creatures makes it fast. A strange instance of man's
unconcern and brazen boldness in the face of death !

We confound ourselves with metaphysical phrases which
we import into daily talk with noble inappropriateness.
We have no idea of what death is, apart from its circum-
stances and some of its consequences to others ; and
although we have some experience of living, there is not
a man on earth who has flown so high into abstraction as
to have any practical guess at the meaning of the word
life. All literature, from Job and Omar Khayam to
Thomas Carlyle or Walt Whitman, is but an attempt to
look upon the human state with such largeness of view as
shall enable us to rise from the consideration of living
to the definition of life. And our sages give us about the
best satisfaction in their power when they say that it is a
vapour, or a show, or made out of the same stuff with