A Curious Miscellany of Items Philosophical, Historical, and Literary

Manus haec inimica tyrannis.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Of the Many Doors to Death

Sept. 27, 1755

My Dear Mr. Avenger,

To your first Query, whether the Word “enow”, in your quoted Passage from my Lord SHAFTESBURY is to be taken to mean “enough”, I answer in the Affirmative. As to your other Question, whether it truly be current English, I aver that, altho’ it was acceptable Usage in the Age of our Queen Anne, along with ’em for them, yet now it is but little heard in polite Society, and is confin’d largely to the Speech of Rusticks and the Realm of Market Billingsgate.

To the turn to the Conceit contain’d in his Lordship’s Words:

     “But tho’ there are Doors enow to go out of Life, etc.” [Characteristicks of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times (1711), Vol. I, p. 179 – Ed.]

If Life may be reckon’d as a sort of Market Town in which we are all Visitors, and which hath its Limits or Bounds, separating it from the neighbouring Countryside, then of this Town, it may very well be said, that tho’ there is but one Road leading into it, many are the Roads that take us out of it. The Image may be taken in a double Sense: First, as a simple Statement of natural Fact, that indeed we are vented into this breathing World but by one maternal Passage and usher’d out of it by any one of many; and, Second, that since there are so many Passages out of this same bustling World, ‘tis an easy Matter, if one chooses, to take one of them whenever he hath grown tir’d of the Spectacle. I cannot, of course, as a decent Christian Man, approve of this latter Sentiment, however patently true is the former.

The Conceit is an ancient one, and is not original to his Lordship. Indeed, this noble Author hath taken it from the Story, which he recounts, of Araspas and Panthea in XENOPHON, where the former remarks that “tho’ there are ten thousand possible Ways of getting rid of Life, few do so” [Xenophon, Cyropædia, 5.1.13 – Ed.]. From thence, the Conceit seems to have become a stock Favourite with the Stoick Philosophers. We find EPICTETUS advising that “one ought to remember and hold fast to this, that the Door stands open.” [Epictetus, Discourses, I.25 – Ed.]. In a similar Vein was SENECA’s Observation that,

     Eripere vitam nemo non homini potest,
     At nemo mortem; mille ad hanc aditus patent.

[“Anyone can rob a man of life, but no one his death; a thousand doors open on to it.” Seneca, Phoenissae, l. 152 – Ed.]

From the Stoicks, the Sentiment seems to have pass’d into the Works of the ancient Poets:

     Noctes atque dies patet atri Janua Ditis.
[“The Gates of Death are open night and day.” Virgil, Æneid, 6.127  – Ed.]

                                               adeo tot fata, quot illa
     nocte patent vigiles te praetereunte fenestrae.

[“As you pass by at night, there are precisely as many causes of death as there are open windows watching you.” Juvenal, Satires, III.274-275. For “Death”, the original has fata, “fates” – Ed.].

Thus much for the Ancients. Among the Moderns, the Conceit was taken up by old MONTAIGNE, who wrote of Nature that “she has ordained only one Entry into Life, and a hundred thousand Exits” [Michel de Montaigne, Essays, “A Custom of the Island of Cea” – Ed.]. Among our English Dramatick Authors, ‘twas MASSINGER who observ’d that “Death hath a thousand Doors to let out Life” [Philip Massinger, A Very Woman (c. 1622), V.iv – Ed.], from whom WEBSTER seems to have taken his Hint:

     I know Death hath ten thousand several Doors
     For Men, to take their Exits.

[John Webster, The Dutchesse of Malfy (1623), IV.ii.215-216 – Ed.].

Among our moral Authors, “Man hath but one Entrance into the World,” said a notable Divine from an Age or two past,  “but a thousand ways to pass from thence” [see Jeremy Taylor, Discourses on Various Subjects (1807), Vol. II, Sermon XVI, p. 279 – Ed.]. Mr. ADDISON said much the same Thing: “Some of our Quaint Moralists have pleased themselves with an Observation, that there is but one Way of coming into the World, but a thousand to go out of it” [Joseph Addison, Guardian No. 136 (17 August 1713) – Ed.]. Since so various are the Passages opening unto Death’s midnight Kingdom, Dr. BROWNE was grateful that ‘tis only necessary to pass through one of them: “Considering the Doors that lead to Death I do thank my God that we can die but once” [Sir Thomas Browne, Religio Medici (1643), Pt. I, §44 – Ed.].

Indeed, the Observation  may be apply’d to other Things than to the Beginnings and Endings of Men: for ‘twas said by Dean SWIFT, that “Books, like Men their Authors, have no more than one Way of coming into the World, but there are ten Thousand to go out of it, and return no more” [Jonathan Swift, A Tale of a Tub (1710), p. 9 – Ed.]. And I my self once apply’d it to the getting and spending of an Household: for tho’ the ways by which Money may come into a Family are few, yet limitless are the possible Outlays that a Family may make, if, for Example, the Mistress of the House be Vain or the Master a Prodigal.

Amongst our English Poets, SIDNEY in his Arcadia seems to have been fond of this Notion: “Yet the house of Death had so many doores, as she would easilie flie into it, if euer she founde her honor endaungered.” [Sir Philip Sidney, The Countesse of Pembrokes Arcadia (1590), Bk. III, ch. iii, p. 256 – Ed.]. And again, of two Knights in Combat, he says of one that he had “made many windowes” in the other’s Armour “for Death to come in at” [Ibid. Bk. III, ch. xvi – Ed.]. And let us not forget our great national Poet in the Epick Kind,

                                           Death thou hast seen
     In his first shape on man; but many shapes
     Of Death, and many are the wayes that lead
     To his grim Cave, all dismal; yet to sense
     More terrible at th’ entrance then within.

                                          — Milton, Par. Lost, Bk. XI, 466-470.

Again, whether Death be got at thro’ Doors or Windows, or by Roads and other Passages, ‘tis plain Fact that Nature is as generous and inventive in giving us new ways to die as Men are in finding new Villanies to practice upon one another. And when Nature and Man are combin’d in their Invention, they beget every Kind of monstrous Death, as attested by the many Diseases consequent upon Vice, as well as the Pillow over the Sleeper’s unsuspecting Face, the Dagger in the Dark, Poison

     Livida materno fervent adipata veneno.
     Mordeat ante aliquis quidquid porrexerit illa
     quae peperit, timidus praegustet pocula papas.

                                                                     — Juv. Sat. VI

[“Those pastries are steaming darkly with maternal poison. Get someone else to taste first anything that’s offered to you by the woman who bore you. Get your terrified tutor to drink from the cup before you.” Juvenal, Satires, 6.631-633 – Ed.].

What all these Authors abovemention’d have really to teach us is that, as there is but one Door into Life and many more of them unto Death, so it wou’d seem that the Ways of expressing the same are equally various.

I am, my Friend, ever your
        Humble Servant,
            Jos. Darlington, Esq.
            Darlington Close,
            Horton-cum-Studley, Ox.