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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 19.djvu/409

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THE PHENOMENA OF DEATH.

come times in the life of every individual, that might be termed periods of self-consciousness, during which the mind brushes aside the more vulgar affairs of life, and grapples with the awe-inspiring mysteries of death. As these phenomena are considered one after another in their manifold aspects, the mind, owing to the association of ideas, becomes involved in such an intricate labyrinth of thought, that, after wandering here and there, vainly endeavoring to solve the problem of death, it gives it up as a hopeless conundrum.

It is our purpose to discuss, as briefly as possible, some of the most important aspects of dissolution.

Addison said that there was nothing in history more imposing than, nothing so pleasing and affecting as, the accounts of the behavior of eminent persons in their dying hours; and Montaigne remarks, while speculating on death, that of all the passages in the annals of mankind those which attracted and delighted him most were the words and gestures of dying men. "If I were a maker of books," he continues, "I would compile a register with comments of various deaths, for he who should teach men to die would teach them to live." There are three elements presented in this fear of death: First, the extinction of life's pleasures, interests, and hopes, to which the mind looks forward with a degree of apprehension, proportionate to the amount of happiness they are capable of affording. With the young and vigorous the loss of these animal enjoyments is contemplated with extreme misery; hence the custom, among the early Greeks, of bearing the lifeless body of youth to the funeral-pyre at the break of mom, "lest the sun should behold so sad a sight as the young dead." Second, the dread of the unknown future, also depending upon the nervous temperament. And, lastly, comes a fear more powerful than either, which is the dread of pain, inherent in nature. From time immemorial the actual moment of dissolution has been supposed to be accompanied by a throe of anguish known as the "death-agony." This is believed to occur at that moment when the spiritual and physical forces that have been so intimately blended for many years are torn asunder, the one to molder and decay, the other to take upon itself that new life beyond the ken of man.

This last element properly belongs to the physiologist, and as such we propose to consider it. Sir Francis Bacon, in one of his essays, published for the first time in the year 1577, gave to the world the following profound thought: "It is as natural to die as to be born, and to the little infant, perhaps, the one is as painful as the other." In profundity of thought and depth of research Bacon stepped in advance of his contemporaries, and lived in the future. Thus we find that, contrary to the generally received opinion of even this latter day, Nature evidently designed that the end of man should be as painless as his beginning.

At birth the babe undergoes an ordeal that, were be conscious.