Nonfiction > Henry Craik, ed. > English Prose > Vol. V. Nineteenth Century
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Henry Craik, ed.  English Prose.  1916.
Vol. V. Nineteenth Century
 
England’s Forgotten Worthies
By James Anthony Froude (1818–1894)
 
From Short Studies

Death of John Davis

AS the fool dieth, so dieth the wise, and there is no difference; it was the chance of the sea, and the ill reward of a humane action—a melancholy end for such a man—like the end of a warrior, not dying Epaminondas-like on the field of victory, but cut off in some poor brawl or ambuscade. But so it was with all these men. They were cut off in the flower of their days, and few of them laid their bones in the sepulchres of their fathers. They knew the service which they had chosen, and they did not ask the wages for which they had not laboured. Life with them was no summer holiday, but a holy sacrifice offered up to duty, and what their Master sent was welcome. Beautiful is old age, beautiful as the slow-dropping mellow autumn of a rich glorious summer. In the old man, Nature has fulfilled her work; she loads him with her blessings; she fills him with the fruits of a well-spent life; and, surrounded by his children and his children’s children, she rocks him softly away to a grave, to which he is followed with blessings. God forbid we should not call it beautiful. It is beautiful, but not the most beautiful. There is another life, hard, rough, and thorny, trodden with bleeding feet and aching brow; the life of which the cross is the symbol; a battle which no peace follows, this side the grave; which the grave gapes to finish, before the victory is won; and—strange that it should be so—this is the highest life of man. Look back along the great names of history; there is none whose life has been other than this. They to whom it has been given to do the really highest work in this earth—whoever they are, Jew or Gentile, Pagan or Christian, warriors, legislators, philosophers, priests, poets, kings, slaves—one and all, their fate has been the same—the same bitter cup has been given to them to drink. And so it was with the servants of England in the sixteenth century. Their life was a long battle, either with the elements or with men; and it was enough for them to fulfil their work, and to pass away in the hour when God had nothing more to bid them do. They did not complain, and why should we complain for them? Peaceful life was not what they desired, and an honourable death had no terrors for them. Theirs was the old Grecian spirit, and the great heart of the Theban poet lived again in them:
        [Greek].
  1
  “Seeing,” in Gibert’s own brave words, “that death is inevitable, and the fame of virtue is immortal; wherefore in this behalf mutare vel timere sperno.”  2
 
 
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