— Diane Setterfield , The Thirteenth Tale
I wonder if I've been changed in the night. Let me think. Was I the same when I got up this morning? I almost think I can remember feeling a little different. But if I'm not the same, the next question is 'Who in the world am I?' Ah, that's the great puzzle!
How strange! This bed on which I shall lie has been slept on by more than one dying man, but today it does not repel me! Who knows what corpses have lain on it and for how long? But is a corpse any worse than I? A corpse too knows nothing of its father, mother or sisters or Titus. Nor has a corpse a sweetheart. A corpse, too, is pale, like me. A corpse is cold, just as I am cold and indifferent to everything. A corpse has ceased to live, and I too have had enough of life…. Why do we live on through this wretched life which only devours us and serves to turn us into corpses? The clocks in the Stuttgart belfries strike the midnight hour. Oh how many people have become corpses at this moment! Mothers have been torn from their children, children from their mothers - how many plans have come to nothing, how much sorrow has sprung from these depths, and how much relief!… Virtue and vice have come in the end to the same thing! It seems that to die is man’s finest action - and what might be his worst? To be born, since that is the exact opposite of his best deed. It is therefore right of me to be angry that I was ever born into this world! Why was I not prevented from remaining in a world where I am utterly useless? What good can my existence bring to anyone? … But wait, wait! What’s this? Tears? How long it is since they flowed! How is this, seeing that an arid melancholy has held me for so long in its grip? How good it feels - and sorrowful. Sad but kindly tears! What a strange emotion! Sad but blessed. It is not good for one to be sad, and yet how pleasant it is - a strange state…
If you have ever seen the play Peter Pan you will remember how the pirate chief was always making his dying speech because he was afraid that possibly when the time came for him to die he might not have time to get it off his chest. It is much the same with me, and so, although I am not at this moment dying, I shall be doing so one of these days and I want to send you a parting word of goodbye.
Remember, it is the last you will ever hear from me, so think it over.
I have had a most happy life and I want each one of you to have as happy a life too.
I believe that God put us in this jolly world to be happy and enjoy life. Happiness doesn't come from being rich, nor merely from being successful in your career, nor by self-indulgence. One step towards happiness is to make yourself healthy and strong while you are a boy, so that you can be useful and so can enjoy life when you are a man.
Nature study will show you how full of beautiful and wonderful things God has made the world for you to enjoy. Be contented with what you have got and make the best of it. Look on the bright side of things instead of the gloomy one.
But the real way to get happiness is by giving out happiness to other people. Try and leave this world a little better than you found it and when your turn come to die, you can die happy in feeling that at any rate you have not wasted your time but have done your best. "Be Prepared" in this way, to live happy and to die happy - stick to your Scout promise always - even after you have ceased to be a boy - and God help you do it.
And what of Nature itself, you say – that callous and cruel engine, red in tooth and fang? Well, it is not so much of an engine as you think. As for "red in tooth and fang," whenever I hear the phrase or its intellectual echoes I know that some passer-by has been getting life from books.