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V

THE PANGS OF DEATH MUST  BE ATTRIBUTED TO MAN ALONE

IN point of fact, whereas the sicknesses belong to nature or to life, the agony, which seems peculiar to death, is wholly in the hands of men. Now what we most dread is the awful struggle at the end and especially the hateful moment of rupture which we shall perhaps see approaching during long hours of helplessness and which suddenly hurls us, disarmed, abandoned and stripped, into an unknown that is the home of the only invincible terrors which the human soul has ever felt.

It is twice unjust to impute the torments of that moment to death. We shall see presently in what manner a man of to-day, if he would remain faithful to his ideas, should picture to himself the unknown into which death flings us. Let us confine ourselves here to the last struggle. As science progresses, it prolongs the agony which is the most dreadful moment and the sharpest peak of human pain and horror, for the witnesses, at least; for, often, the sensibility of him who, in Bossuet's phrase, is "at bay with death," is already greatly blunted and perceives no more than the distant murmur of the sufferings which he seems to be enduring. All the doctors consider it their first duty to protract as long as possible even the most excruciating convulsions of the most hopeless agony. Who has not, at a bedside, twenty times wished and not once dared to throw himself at their feet and implore them to show mercy? They are filled with so great a certainty and the duty which they obey leaves so little room for the least doubt that pity and reason, blinded by tears, curb their revolt and shrink back before a law which all recognize and revere as the highest law of human conscience.


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