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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
The Death of Thackeray
By Dr. John Brown (1810–1882)
From ‘Spare Hours’

WE cannot resist here recalling one Sunday evening in December, when he was walking with two friends along the Dean road, to the west of Edinburgh,—one of the noblest outlets to any city. It was a lovely evening,—such a sunset as one never forgets: a rich dark bar of cloud hovered over the sun, going down behind the Highland hills, lying bathed in amethystine bloom; between this cloud and the hills there was a narrow slip of the pure ether, of a tender cowslip color, lucid, and as if it were the very body of heaven in its clearness; every object standing out as if etched upon the sky. The northwest end of Corstorphine Hill, with its trees and rocks, lay in the heart of this pure radiance, and there a wooden crane, used in the quarry below, was so placed as to assume the figure of a cross; there it was, unmistakable, lifted up against the crystalline sky. All three gazed at it silently. As they gazed, he gave utterance in a tremulous, gentle, and rapid voice, to what all were feeling, in the word “CALVARY!” The friends walked on in silence, and then turned to other things. All that evening he was very gentle and serious, speaking, as he seldom did, of divine things,—of death, of sin, of eternity, of salvation; expressing his simple faith in God and in his Savior.  1
  There is a passage at the close of the ‘Roundabout Paper’ No. 23, ‘De Finibus,’ in which a sense of the ebb of life is very marked; the whole paper is like a soliloquy. It opens with a drawing of Mr. Punch, with unusually mild eye, retiring for the night; he is putting out his high-heeled shoes, and before disappearing gives a wistful look into the passage, as if bidding it and all else good-night. He will be in bed, his candle out, and in darkness, in five minutes, and his shoes found next morning at his door, the little potentate all the while in his final sleep. The whole paper is worth the most careful study; it reveals not a little of his real nature, and unfolds very curiously the secret of his work, the vitality and abiding power of his own creations; how he “invented a certain Costigan, out of scraps, heel-taps, odds and ends of characters,” and met the original the other day, without surprise, in a tavern parlor. The following is beautiful: “Years ago I had a quarrel with a certain well-known person (I believed a statement regarding him which his friends imparted to me, and which turned out to be quite incorrect). To his dying day that quarrel was never quite made up. I said to his brother, ‘Why is your brother’s soul still dark against me? It is I who ought to be angry and unforgiving, for I was in the wrong.’” Odisse quem læseris was never better contravened. But what we chiefly refer to now is the profound pensiveness of the following strain, as if written with a presentiment of what was not then very far off:—“Another Finis written; another milestone on this journey from birth to the next world. Sure it is a subject for solemn cogitation. Shall we continue this story-telling business, and be voluble to the end of our age?” “Will it not be presently time, O prattler, to hold your tongue?” And thus he ends:—  2
  “Oh, the sad old pages, the dull old pages; oh, the cares, the ennui, the squabbles, the repetitions, the old conversations over and over again! But now and again a kind thought is recalled, and now and again a dear memory. Yet a few chapters more, and then the last; after which, behold Finis itself comes to an end, and the Infinite begins.”
*        *        *        *        *
  He had been suffering on Sunday from an old and cruel enemy. He fixed with his friend and surgeon to come again on Tuesday, but with that dread of anticipated pain which is a common condition of sensibility and genius, he put him off with a note from “yours unfaithfully, W. M. T.” He went out on Wednesday for a little, and came home at ten. He went to his room, suffering much, but declining his man’s offer to sit with him. He hated to make others suffer. He was heard moving, as if in pain, about twelve, on the eve of—
                  “That happy morn
Wherein the Son of Heaven’s eternal King,
  Of wedded maid and virgin-mother born,
Our great redemption from above did bring.”
Then all was quiet, and then he must have died—in a moment. Next morning his man went in, and opening the windows found his master dead, his arms behind his head, as if he had tried to take one more breath. We think of him as of our Chalmers, found dead in like manner: the same childlike, unspoiled, open face; the same gentle mouth; the same spaciousness and softness of nature; the same look of power. What a thing to think of,—his lying there alone in the dark, in the midst of his own mighty London; his mother and his daughters asleep, and, it may be, dreaming of his goodness. God help them, and us all! What would become of us, stumbling along this our path of life, if we could not, at our utmost need, stay ourselves on Him?
  Long years of sorrow, labor, and pain had killed him before his time. It was found after death how little life he had to live. He looked always fresh, with that abounding silvery hair, and his young, almost infantine face, but he was worn to a shadow, and his hands wasted as if by eighty years. With him it is the end of Ends; finite is over and infinite begun. What we all felt and feel can never be so well expressed as in his own words of sorrow for the early death of Charles Buller:—
  “Who knows the inscrutable design?
  Blest He who took and He who gave!
Why should your mother, Charles, not mine,
  Be weeping at her darling’s grave?
We bow to heaven that willed it so,
  That darkly rules the fate of all,
That sends the respite or the blow,
  That’s free to give or to recall.”

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