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once when Azraël was passing by Solomon he gazed intently upon a man with whom Solomon was conversing. Solomon told his companion that it was the Angel of Death who was looking at him, and the man replied, 'He seems to want me: order the wind to carry me from hence into India ;' when this was done Azraël approached Solomon and said, 'I looked earnestly at that man from wonder, for I was commanded to take his soul in India.'1
Azraël was often represented as presenting to the lips a cup of poison. It is probable that this image arose from the ancient ordeal by poison, whereby draughts, however manipulated beforehand with reference to the results, were popularly held to be divinely mingled for retributive or beneficent effects. “Cup' thus became among Semitic tribes a symbol of Fate. The 'cup of consolation,' 'cup of wrath,' cup, of trembling,' which we read of in the Old Testament; the 'cup of blessing,' and 'cup of devils,' spoken of by Paul, have this significance. The cup of Nestor, ornamented with the dove (Iliad, xi. 632), was probably a 'cup of blessing,' and Mr. Schliemann has found several of the same kind at Mycenæ. The symbol was repeatedly used by Christ, — Let this cup pass from me,' •The cup that my Father hath given me to drink shall I not drink it,' 'Are ye able to drink of the cup that I drink of,'—and the familiar association of Azraël's cup is expressed in the phrase 'taste of death.'
One of the most pleasing modifications of the belief in the Angel of Death is that found by Lepsius ? among the Mohammedan negroes of Kordofan. Osraîn (Azraël), it is said, receives the souls of the dead, and leads the good to their reward, the bad to punishment. “He lives in a tree, el segerat mohana (the tree of fulfilling), which has as many
Sale’s ‘ Koran' (ed. 1836). See pp. 4, 339, 475.
2 • Discoveries,' &c., p. 223.
DEATH AND THE COBBLER.
leaves as there are inhabitants in the world. On each leaf is a name, and when a child is born a new one grows. If any one becomes ill his leaf fades, and should he be destined to die, Osraîn breaks it off. Formerly he used to come visibly to those whom he was going to carry away, and thus put them in great terror. Since the prophet's time, however, he has become invisible ; for when he came to fetch Mohammed's soul he told him that it was not good that by his visible appearance he should frighten mankind. They might then easily die of terror, before praying; for he himself, although a courageous and spirited man, was somewhat perturbed at his appearance, Therefore the prophet begged God to make Osraîn invisible, which prayer was granted.' Mr. Mackenzie adds on this that, among the Moravian Jews, at new moon a branch is held in its light, and the name of a person pronounced: his face will appear between the horns of the moon, and should he be destined to die the leaves will fade.
Mr. John Ruskin has been very severe upon the Italians for the humour with which they introduce Death as a person of their masque. "When I was in Venice in 1850, he says, 'the most popular piece of the coinic opera was “Death and the Cobbler," in which the point of the plot was the success of a village cobbler as a physician, in consequence of the appearance of Death to him beside the bed of every patient who was not to recover; and the most applauded scene in it was one in which the physician, insolent in success, and swollen with luxury, was himself taken down into the abode of Death, and thrown into an agony of terror by being shown lives of men, under the form of wasting lamps, and his own ready to expire.' On which he expresses the opinion that 'this endurance of fearful images is partly associated with indecency, partly
THE DANCE OF DEATH.
with general fatuity and weakness of mind.'? But may it not rather be the healthy reaction from morbid images of terror, with which a purely natural and inevitable event has so long been invested by priests, and portrayed in such popular pictures as 'The Dance of Death ?' The mocking laughter with which the skeletons beset the knight in our picture (Fig. 20), from the wall of La Chaise Dieu, Auvergne,
Fig. 20.—THE KNIGHT AND DEATH.
marks the priestly terrorism, which could not fail to be vulgarised even more by the frivolous. In 1424 there was a masquerade of the Dance of Death in the Cemetery of the Innocents at Paris, attended by the Duke of Bedford and the Duke of Burgundy, just returned from battle. It may have been the last outcome in the west of Kali's dance over the slain; but it is fortunate when Fanaticism has no worse outcome than Folly. The Skeleton Death
1 'Modern Painters,' Part V. xix.
has the advantage over earlier forms of suggesting the naturalness of death. It is more scientific. The gradual discovery by the people that death is not caused by sin has largely dissipated its horrors in regions where the ignorance and impostures of priestcraft are of daily observation; and although the reaction may not be expressed with good taste, there would seem to be in it a certain vigour of nature, reasserting itself in simplicity.
In the northern world we are all too sombre in the matter. It is the ages of superstition which have moulded our brains, and too generally given to our natural love of life the unnatural counterpart of a terror of death. What has been artificially bred into us can be cultivated out of us. There are indeed deaths corresponding to the two Angels-the death that comes by lingering disease and pain, and that which comes by old age. There are indeed Azraëls in our cities who poison the food and drink of the people, and mingle death in the cup of water; and of them there should be increasing horror until the gentler angel abides with us, and death by old age becomes normal. The departure from life being a natural condition of entering upon it, it is melancholy indeed that it should be ideally confused with the pains and sorrows often attending it. It is fabled that Menippus the Cynic, travelling through Hades, knew which were the kings there by their howling louder than the rest. They howled loudest because they had parted from most pleasures on earth. But all the happy and young have more reason to lament untimely death than kings. The only tragedy of Death is the ruin of living Love. Mr. Watts, in his great picture of Love and Death (Grosvenor Gallery, 1877), revealed the real horror. Not that skeleton which has its right time and place, not the winged demon (called angel), who has no right time or place, is here, but a huge, hard, heartless DEATH AS FRIEND.
form, as of man half-blocked out of marble; a terrible emblem of the remorseless force that embodies the incompleteness and ignorance of mankind—a force that steadily crushes hearts where intellects are devoting their energies to alien worlds. Poor Love has little enough science; his puny arm stretched out to resist the colossal form is weak as the prayers of agonised parents and lovers directed against never-swerving laws; he is almost exhausted; his lustrous wings are broken and torn in the struggle; the dove at his feet crouches mateless; the rose that climbed on his door is prostrate; over his shoulder the beam-like arm has set the stony hand against the door where the rose of joy must fall.
The aged when they die do but follow the treasures that have gone before. One by one the old friends have left them, the sweet ties parted, and the powers to enjoy and help become feeble. When of the garden that once bloomed around them memory alone is left, friendly is death to scatter also the leaves of that last rose where the loved ones are sleeping. This is the real office of death. Nay, even when it comes to the young and happy it is not Death but Disease that is the real enemy; in disease there is almost no compensation at all but learning its art of war; but Death is Nature's pity for helpless pain ; where love and knowledge can do no more it comes as a release from sufferings which were sheer torture if prolonged. The presence of death is recognised oftenest by the cessation of pain. Superstition has done few heavier wrongs to humanity than by the mysterious terrors with which it has invested that change which, to the simpler ages, was pictured as the gentle river Lethe, flowing from the abode of sleep, from which the shades drank oblivion alike of their woes and of the joys from which they were torn.