Is dying gainful? This question by the community at large has been answered in the affirmative. Thousands have looked forward with a thrill of fear to that period when the soul should make its final exit from the body; not in all cases, that they feared for the future, or that they had any very strong attachments for life, but it was the sepulchral chill of that breeze which swept over them from the land of shadows, that fearful death agony forcing the cold sweat from every pore in the body, that appalling struggle with a power, whose grasp is the freezing grasp of death, a struggle in which the silver cord drawn to its utmost tension, breaks, which made death appear so terrible. And yet death is not painful. It comes in truth like a welcome sleep to a weary traveller. When dying commences, pain ceases, and the change is like that produced in an atmosphere laden with the narcotic exhalations of poppies in which the senses, while a feeling almost of delight pervades the system, are gradually overpowered. As death creeps on, the strength declines, a torpor steals over the nervous system, and notwithstanding there may be physical indications of pain, such as contortions of the countenance, and spasms of the limbs, suffering does not in reality exist. A few years since I was standing by the side of a patient, whose case I had watched with unusual interest, and who had for several days been so near death, that every visit I made I trembled lest I should find her a corpse. Starting from a torpor in which she had been for some time, her breath came in hurried gasps, the countenance was distorted, the limbs convulsed, the body writhed, so that it was almost impossible to hold her in the bed. Her friends believing that she was dying, burst into tears, but were somewhat 20 quieted when I told them there was no immediate danger. She has since told me that during this period she had no control over these convulsions, yet was entirely free from pain excepting that occasioned by the agony of her friends. She retained even after her recovery an almost vivid recollection of every thing which occurred during this period. We should suppose that the so-called agony could never be more formidable than where the brain is the last to yield, and the patient retains his consciousness to the last. Yet persons thus situated generally say there are few things in life less painful than the close. William Hunter said: " If I had strength enough to hold a pen I would write how easy and delightful it is to die." The observation very commonly is heard from lips soon to be cold in death. "If this be dying, it is a pleasant thing to die." "I thought that dying had been more difficult, said Louis XIV." In those who retain their consciousness to the last, an agreeable disappointment seems to pervade the minds of all. The stream instead of growing turbulent, loses itself in a gentle placid current.
There are but very few diseases more painful than asthma, before the sensibility is blunted and the strength enfeebled, and in this disease we should naturally suppose the patient would fight vehemently for life. Dr. Campbell, the well-known Scotch professor had an attack which well nigh carried him off a few months before he finally succumbed to the disease. A cordial gave him speedy and unexpected relief, and his first words were those of astonishment at the sad countenances of his friends, because he said his own mind was in such a state at the crisis of the attack from the. expectation of immediate dissolution, that there was no other way to describe his feelings than by saying he was in rapture. If physical agony had existed, it would not have been so entirely subdued by mental ecstacy.
Persons who have been rescued from drowning, have invariably said, that after the first struggle was over, the sensation was of the most pleasant character. A gentleman once stated to me who was rescued at the last moment, that as he sunk for the last time all consciousness of danger gave place to sensations of pleasure. At first he wondered whether his friends would be successful in rescuing him, hoping they would not, then as languor gradually crept over him, he watched the changes of light and shadow until complete insensibility took place. When being resuscitated, however, he suffered the most intense tortures; as the machinery of the system resumed its play, every nerve was full of the most exquisite pain. The account given by a distinguished British naval officer of his own case is familiar to all. While in the water he said every event of his life flashed like lightning across his mind. There was also an absence of pain. Intense cold, instead of being attended after the first few moments with pain, brings on a stupor, which quickly passes into the sleep of death. In hanging, where the victim has been cut down at the last moment all agree, that the uneasiness is quite momentary, that a pleasurable feeling immediately succeeds, that colors of various hues start up before the sight, and that these having been gazed on for a trivial space, all is oblivion. As we have already said, unless the stage of agony is crossed at a stride, disease stupefies when it is about to kill. As the disease has been painful, so generally is dying entirely the reverse.