Thursday, March 24, 2005

The Robe

Lloyd C. Douglas's novel The Robe can be found online at Project Gutenberg. A passage from Chapter VIII:

Although Demetrius's chief concern was to beguile his master's roving mind, he himself was finding food for reflection. Never before had he found opportunity for so much uninterrupted reading. He was particularly absorbed by the writings of Lucretius. Here, he thought, was a wise man.

'Ever read Lucretius, sir?' he asked, one afternoon, after an hour's silence between them.

Marcellus slowly turned his head and deliberated the question.

'Indifferently,' he replied, at length.

'Lucretius thinks it is the fear of death that makes men miserable,' went on Demetrius. 'He's for abolishing that fear.'

'A good idea,' agreed Marcellus, languidly. After a long wait, he asked, 'How does he propose to do it?'

'By assuming that there is no future life,' explained Demetrius.

'That would do it,' drawled Marcellus, 'provided the assumption would stay where you had put it.'

'You mean, sir, that the assumption might drag its anchor in a gale?'

Marcellus smiled wanly at the seagoing metaphor, and nodded. After a meditative interval, he said:

'For some men, Demetrius, the fear of death might be palliated by the belief that nothing more dreadful could possibly happen to them than had already happened--in their present existence. Perhaps Lucretius has no warrant for saying that all men fear death. Some have even sought death. As for me, I am not conscious of that fear; let death bring what it will. . . . But does Lucretius have aught to say to the man who fears life?'

Demetrius was sorry he had introduced the conversation, but felt he should not abandon it abruptly; assuredly not at this dismaying juncture.

'Lucretius concedes that all life is difficult, but becoming less so as men grow out of savagery to civilization.' Demetrius tried to make this observation sound optimistic. Marcellus chuckled bitterly.

'"As men grow out of savagery," eh? What makes him think men are growing out of savagery?' He made an impatient gesture, throwing the idea away with a toss of his hand. 'Lucretius knew very little about what was going on in the world. Lived like a mole in a burrow. Lived on his own fat like a bear in winter. Went wrong in his head at forty, and died. "Growing out of savagery"? Nonsense! Nothing that ever went on in the jungle can compare with the bestiality of our life to-day!' Marcellus's voice had mounted from a monologic mutter to a high-tensioned harangue. '"Growing out of savagery"!' he shouted. 'You know better than that! You were out there!'

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