This is that dismal conquest we all deplore, that makes us so often cry, O Adam, quid fecisti? [“What have you done?”]. I thank God I have not those strait ligaments, or narrow obligations to the world, as to dote on life, or be convulsed and tremble at the name of death. Not that I am insensible of the dread and horror thereof; or, by raking into the bowels of the deceased, continual sight of anatomies, skeletons, or cadaverous relicks, like vespilloes, or gravemakers, I am become stupid, or have forgot the apprehension of mortality; but that, marshalling all the horrors, and contemplating the extremities thereof, I find not anything therein able to daunt the courage of a man, much less a well-resolved Christian; and therefore am not angry at the error of our first parents, or unwilling to bear a part of this common fate, and, like the best of them, to die; that is, to cease to breathe, to take a farewell of the elements; to be a kind of nothing for a moment; to be within one instant of a spirit. When I take a full view and circle of myself without this reasonable moderator, and equal piece of justice, death, I do conceive myself the miserablest person extant. Were there not another life that I hope for, all the vanities of this world should not entreat a moment’s breath from me. Could the devil work my belief to imagine I could never die, I would not outlive that very thought. I have so abject a conceit of this common way of existence, this retaining to the sun and elements, I cannot think this is to be a man, or to live according to the dignity of humanity. In expectation of a better, I can with patience embrace this life; yet, in my best meditations, do often defy death. I honour any man that contemns it; nor can I highly love any that is afraid of it: this makes me naturally love a soldier, and honour those tattered and contemptible regiments, that will die at the command of a sergeant. For a pagan there may be some motives to be in love with life; but, for a Christian to be amazed at death, I see not how he can escape this dilemma—that he is too sensible of this life, or hopeless of the life to come.
Browne, Thomas. “Of death.” 1642. Quotidiana. Ed. Patrick Madden. 25 Jan 2008. 10 Dec 2013 <http://essays.quotidiana.org/browne/death/>.
Patrick Madden's New Book
Quotidiana site founder Patrick Madden has just published a book of his own personal essays, including pieces formerly published in the Best American Spiritual Writing and Best Creative Nonfiction anthologies.
If you enjoy the classical essays on this site, you'll enjoy these contemporary ruminations as well. Soon there'll be a web page here with further information, but for now, you can find out more (and perhaps purchase a copy) at Amazon.com.
"Patrick Madden is an essayist of verve, passion, wit, and dependable moral compass. Quotidiana drew me in powerfully, from page to page and from pleasure to pleasure." —Ian Frazier
The votaries of fame may acquire a sort of insensibility to death and its consequences. But he alone whose peace is made with God, can walk with composure through the gloomy valley of the shadow of death, and fear no evil.
To die is only to be as we were before we were born; yet no one feels any remorse, or regret, or repugnance, in contemplating this last idea.
Quotidiana is an online anthology of "classical" essays, from antiquity to the early twentieth century. All essays and images are in the public domain. Commentaries are copyrighted, but may be used with proper attribution. Special thanks to the BYU College of Humanities and English Department for funding, and to Joey Franklin and Lara Burton, for tireless research assisting.