Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 52.djvu/251

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THE FEAR OF DEATH.

from the stomach blunt the fancy of the opposite. It is observable, likewise, that the feeling of pity is often associated with organic weakness, while strong, healthy, and vigorous men are less inclined to it. It is only possible if we are able to realize a lively representation of physical or moral weakness; but men whose entirely healthful and vigorous organization develops feelings of well-being and strength can form only the poorest conceptions of those conditions of feebleness that are in contradiction to the preponderant system of sensations.

These principles explain why the young, well, and vigorous man concerns himself very little about death, although he knows to a certainty that it is inevitable. In a sound body the organs send unprecise and indefinite sensations to the brain, which, however, all together give that feeling of vigor and physical well-being that might be called the general sensation of organic life. According with the psychological phenomenon we have described, this condition of organic sensibility is diametrically opposed to the production of vivid images of death. The thought of death is therefore vague, feeble, and without consistency in the larger number of minds; and it is not competent to call out very strong feelings or excite a terror that will arouse the instincts of preservation that are slumbering in the depths of the consciousness.

The same principle explains why it is that old people generally are the ones who are most afraid of death and do not like to have it spoken of in their presence. Everybody has observed how worried aged persons are and how they protest if sickness or deceased persons are mentioned; that they are extraordinarily pleased when they read in the papers the accounts that are given occasionally of some centenarian living in some remote district; and what extraordinary precautions they take to preserve their health. We might believe that old men are preoccupied with death so much because they feel it near; but other facts demonstrate that the abstract number of probabilities of dying is not an element of the fear of death. Men in some occupations, as sailors or miners, are continually exposed to the danger of death; but they, especially the youth among them, do not take sufficient thought of it to be disturbed or saddened by it. The greater vividness of old men's conceptions of death is most likely a result of the advancing weakness of their organs and physical sensations.

Man has to face not only the abstract thought of death: he often finds himself confronting the real danger of it. What are his conduct and feelings then? A number of curious facts indicate that violent deaths, provided they are not too slow, are easy and free from pain; it might be said that death excites hardly any horror