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Full text of "Selected Essays Of Robert Louis Stevenson"

XIV
A CHRISTMAS SERMON

BY the time this paper appears, I shall have been
talking for twelve months;l and it is thought I should
take my leave in a formal and seasonable manner. Vale-
dictory eloquence is rare, and death-bed sayings have
not often hit the mark of the occasion, Charles Second,
wit and sceptic, a man whose life had been one long lesson
in human incredulity, an easy-going comrade, a manoeuv-
ring king—remembered and embodied all Ms wit and
scepticism along with more than his usual good humour
in the famous ' I am afraid, gentlemen, I am an uncon-
scionable time a-dying.'

An unconscionable time a-dying—there is the picture
(' I am afraid, gentlemen/) of your life and of mine.
The sands run out, and the hours are 'numbered and
imputed/ and the days go by; and when the last of these
finds us, we have been a long time dying, and what else ?
The very length is something, if we reach that hour of
separation undishonoured; and to have lived at all is
doubtless (in the soldierly expression) to have served,
There is a tale in Tacitus of how the veterans mutinied in
the German wilderness; of how they mobbed Germanicus,
clamouring to go home; and of how, seizing their general's
hand, these old, war-worn exiles passed his finger along
their toothless gums. Sunt lacrymcB rerun : this was the
most eloquent of the songs of Simeon. And when a man
has lived to a fair age, he bears his marks of service. He

1 i.e. in the pages of Scribner's Magazine (1888)*
95