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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
A Friend
By Xavier de Maistre (1763–1852)
From the ‘Journey round My Room’

I HAD a friend. Death took him from me. He was snatched away at the beginning of his career, at the moment when his friendship had become a pressing need to my heart. We supported one another in the hard toil of war. We had but one pipe between us. We drank out of the same cup. We slept beneath the same tent. And amid our sad trials, the spot where we lived together became to us a new fatherland. I had seen him exposed to all the perils of a disastrous war. Death seemed to spare us to each other. His deadly missiles were exhausted around my friend a thousand times over without reaching him, but this was but to make his loss more painful to me. The tumult of war, and the enthusiasm which possesses the soul at the sight of danger, might have prevented his sighs from piercing my heart, while his death would have been useful to his country and damaging to the enemy. Had he died thus, I should have mourned him less. But to lose him amid the joys of our winter-quarters; to see him die at the moment when he seemed full of health, and when our intimacy was rendered closer by rest and tranquillity,—ah, this was a blow from which I can never recover!  1
  But his memory lives in my heart, and there alone. He is forgotten by those who surrounded him and who have replaced him. And this makes his loss the more sad to me.  2
  Nature, in like manner indifferent to the fate of individuals, dons her green spring robe, and decks herself in all her beauty near the cemetery where he rests. The trees cover themselves with foliage, and intertwine their branches; the birds warble under the leafy sprays; the insects hum among the blossoms: everything breathes joy in this abode of death.  3
  And in the evening, when the moon shines in the sky, and I am meditating in this sad place, I hear the grasshopper, hidden in the grass that covers the silent grave of my friend, merrily pursuing his unwearied song. The unobserved destruction of human beings, as well as all their misfortunes, are counted for nothing in the grand total of events.  4
  The death of an affectionate man who breathes his last surrounded by his afflicted friends, and that of a butterfly killed in a flower’s cup by the chill air of morning, are but two similar epochs in the course of nature. Man is but a phantom, a shadow, a mere vapor that melts into the air.  5
  But daybreak begins to whiten the sky. The gloomy thoughts that troubled me vanish with the darkness, and hope awakens again in my heart. No! He who thus suffuses the east with light has not made it to shine upon my eyes only to plunge me into the night of annihilation. He who has spread out that vast horizon, who raised those lofty mountains whose icy tops the sun is even now gilding, is also he who made my heart to beat and my mind to think.  6
  No! My friend is not annihilated. Whatever may be the barrier that separates us, I shall see him again. My hopes are based on no mere syllogism. The flight of an insect suffices to persuade me. And often the prospect of the surrounding country, the perfume of the air, and an indescribable charm which is spread around me, so raise my thoughts, that an invincible proof of immortality forces itself upon my soul, and fills it to the full.  7

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