March 5, 2008

Sympathy with the Dead 2

Filed under: Literature, Philosophy — duncan @ 8:32 pm

[More quotes, no comments yet. Smith; Shaxper; Schopenhauer; Shaxper; Schopenhauer; Shaxper; Smith; Shaxper.]

If the injured should perish in the quarrel, we not only sympathise with the real resentment of his friends and relations, but with the imaginary resentment which in fancy we lend to the dead, who is no longer capable of feeling that or any other human sentiment. But as we put ourselves in his situation, as we enter, as it were, into his body, and in our imaginations, in some measure, animate anew the deformed and mangled carcass of the slain, when we bring home in this manner his case to our own bosoms, we feel upon this, as upon many other occasions, an emotion which the person principally concerned is incapable of feeling, and which yet we feel by an illusive sympathy with him…. We feel that resentment which we imagine he ought to feel, and which he would feel, if in his cold and lifeless body there remained any consciousness of what passes upon earth. His blood, we think, calls aloud for vengeance.

HAMLET: Alas, poor ghost!
GHOST: Pity me not, but lend thy serious hearing
To what I shall unfold.
HAMLET: Speak. I am bound to hear.
GHOST: So art thou to revenge, when thou shalt hear.
GHOST: I am thy father’s spirit.

In the first place, of course, he weeps over the fate of the deceased; yet he weeps also when for the deceased death was a desirable deliverance after long, grave, incurable sufferings. In the main, therefore, he is seized with sympathy over the lot of the whole of mankind that is given over to finiteness. In consequence of this, every life, however ambitious and often rich in deeds, must become extinct and nothing.

HAMLET: To what base uses we may return, Horatio! Why may not imagination trace the noble dust of Alexander till ‘a find it stopping a bunghole?
HORATIO: ‘Twere to consider it too curiously to consider so.
HAMLET: No, faith, not a jot. But to follow him thither with modesty enough, and likelihood to lead it; as thus: Alexander died, Alexander was buried, Alexander returneth to dust; the dust is earth; or earth we make loam; and why of that loam whereto he was converted might they not stop a beer barrel?

In this lot of mankind, however, the mourner sees first of all his own lot, and this the more, the more closely he was related to the deceased, and most of all therefore when the deceased was his father.

GHOST: .… If thou didst ever thy dear father love –
GHOST: Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder.
HAMLET: Murder?
GHOST: Murder most foul.

The very ashes of the dead seem to be disturbed at the thought that his injuries are to pass unrevenged. The horrors which are supposed to haunt the bed of the murderer, the ghosts which, superstition imagines, rise from their graves to demand vengeance upon those who brought them to an untimely end, all take their origin from this natural sympathy with the imaginary resentment of the slain. And with regard, at least, to this most dreadful of crimes, Nature, antecedent to all reflections upon the utility of punishment, has in this manner stamped upon the human heart, in the strongest and most indelible characters, an immediate and instinctive approbation of the sacred and necessary law of retaliation.

GHOST: Swear.

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