A Wanderer in the Sprit Lands, by Franchezzo (A. Farnese), , at sacred-texts.com
"Dead! Dead!" I wildly cried. "Oh, no, surely no! For the dead feel nothing more; they turn to dust; they moulder to decay, and all is gone, all is lost to them; they have no more consciousness of anything, unless, indeed, my boasted philosophy of life has been all wrong, all false, and the soul of the dead still lives even though the body decays."
The priests of my own church had taught me so, but I had scorned them as fools, blind and knavish, who for their own ends taught that men lived again and could only get to heaven through a gate, of which they held the keys, keys that turned only for gold and at the bidding of those who were paid to say masses for the departed soul--priests who made dupes of silly frightened women and weak-minded men, who, yielding to the terror inspired by their awful tales of hell and purgatory, gave themselves, bodies and souls, to purchase the illusive privilege they promised. I would have none of them. My knowledge of these priests and the inner hidden lives of many of them had been too great for me to listen to their idle tales, their empty promises of a pardon they could not give, and I had said I would face death when it came, with the courage of those who know only that for them it must mean total extinction; for if these priests were wrong, who was right? Who could tell us anything of the future, or if there were any God at all? Not the living, for they but theorize and guess, and not the dead, for none came back from them to tell; and now I stood beside this grave--my own grave--and heard my beloved call me dead and strew flowers upon it.
As I looked the solid mound grew transparent before my eyes, and I saw down to the coffin with my own name and the date of my death upon it; and through the coffin I saw the white still form I knew as myself lying within. I saw to my horror that this body had already begun to decay and become a loathsome thing to look upon. Its beauty was gone, its features none would recognize; and I stood there, conscious, looking down upon it and then at myself. I felt each limb, traced out with my hands each familiar feature of my face, and knew I was dead, and yet I lived. If this were death, then those priests must have been right after all. The dead lived--but where? In what state? Was this darkness hell? For me they would have found no other place. I was so lost, so beyond the pale of their church that for me they would not have found a place even in purgatory.
I had cast off all ties to their church. I had so scorned it, deeming that a church which knew of, and yet tolerated, the shameful and ambitious lives of many of its most honored dignitaries had no claim to call itself a spiritual guide for anyone. There were good men in the church; true, but there was also this mass of shameless evil ones whose lives were common talk, common matter of ridicule; yet the church that claimed to be the example to all men and to hold all truth, did not cast out these men of disgraceful lives. No, she advanced them to yet higher posts of honor. None who have lived in my native land and seen the terrible abuses of power in her church will wonder that a nation should rise and seek to cast off such a yoke. Those who can recall the social and political condition of Italy in the earlier half of this century, and the part the church of Rome played in helping the oppressor to rivet the fetters with which she was bound, and who know how her domestic life was honeycombed with spies--priests as well as laymen--till a man feared to whisper his true sentiments to his nearest and dearest lest she should betray him to the priest and he again to the government--how the dungeons were crowded with unhappy men, yea, even with mere lads guilty of no crime save love of their native land and hatred of its oppressors--those, I say, who know all this will not wonder at the fierce indignation and burning passion which smouldered in the breast of Italia's sons, and burst at last into a conflagration which consumed man's faith in God and in his so-called Vicar upon earth, and like a mountain torrent that has burst its bounds, swept away men's hopes of immortality, if only through submission to the decrees of the church it was to be obtained. Such, then, had been my attitude of revolt and scorn towards the church in which I had been baptized, and that church could have no place within her pale for me. If her anathemas could send a soul to hell surely I must be there.
And yet as I thought thus I looked again upon my beloved, and I thought she could never have come to hell even to look for me. She seemed mortal enough, and if she knelt by my grave surely I must be still upon earth. Did the dead then never leave the earth at all, but hover near the scenes of their earthly lives? With such and many similar thoughts crowding through my brain I strove to get nearer to her I so loved, but found I could not. An invisible barrier seemed to surround her and keep me back. I could move on either side of her as I pleased--nearer or farther--but her I could not touch. Vain were all my efforts. Then I spoke; I called to her by name. I told her that I was there; that I was still conscious, still the same, though I was dead; and she never seemed to hear--she never saw me. She still wept sadly and silently; still tenderly touched the flowers, murmuring to herself that I had so loved flowers, surely I would know that she had put them there for me. Again and again I spoke to her as loudly as I could, but she heard me not. She was deaf to my voice. She only moved uneasily and passed her hand over her head as one in a dream, and then slowly and sadly she went away.
I strove with all my might to follow her. In vain, I could go but a few yards from the grave and my earthly body, and then I saw why. A chain as of dark silk thread--it seemed no thicker than a spider's web--held me to my body; no power of mine could break it; as I moved it stretched like elastic, but always drew me back again. Worst of all I began now to be conscious of feeling the corruption of that decaying body affecting my spirit, as a limb that has become poisoned affects with suffering the whole body on earth, and a fresh horror filled my soul.
Then a voice as of some majestic being spoke to me in the darkness, and said: "You loved that body more than your soul. Watch it now as it turns to dust and know what it was that you worshipped, and ministered and clung to. Know how perishable it was, how vile it has become, and look upon your spirit body and see how you have starved and cramped and neglected it for the sake of the enjoyments of the earthly body. Behold how poor and repulsive and deformed your earthly life has made your soul, which is immortal and divine and to endure forever."
And I looked and beheld myself. As in a mirror held up before me, I saw myself. Oh, horror! It was beyond doubt myself, but, oh! so awfully changed, so vile, so full of baseness did I appear; so repulsive in every feature--even my figure was deformed--I shrank back in horror at my appearance, and prayed that the earth might open before my feet and hide me from all eyes for evermore. Ah! never again would I call upon my love, never more desire that she should see me. Better, far better, that she should think of me as dead and gone from her forever; better that she should have only the memory of me as I had been in earthly life than ever know how awful was the change, how horrible a thing was my real self.
Alas! Alas! My despair, my anguish was extreme, and I called out wildly and struck myself and tore my hair in wild and passionate horror of myself, and then my passion exhausted me and I sank senseless and unconscious of all once more.
Again I waked, and again it was the presence of my love that awaked me. She had brought more flowers, and she murmured more soft tender thoughts of me as she laid them on my grave. But I did not seek now to make her see me. No, I shrank back and sought to hide myself, and my heart grew hard even to her, and I said: "Rather let her weep for the one who has gone than know that he still lives," so I let her go. And as soon as she was gone, I called frantically to her to come back, to come back in any way, to any knowledge of my awful position, rather than leave me in that place to see her no more. She did not hear, but she felt my call, and afar off I saw her stop and half turn round as though to return, then she passed on again and left me. Twice, three times she came again, and each time when she came I felt the same shrinking from approaching her, and each time when she left I felt the same wild longing to bring her back and keep her near me. But I called to her no more for I knew the dead call in vain, the living hear them not. And to all the world I was dead, and only to myself and to my awful fate was I alive. Ah! now I knew death was no endless sleep, no calm oblivion. Better, far better had it been so, and in my despair I prayed that this total oblivion might be granted to me, and as I prayed I knew it never could, for man is an immortal soul, and for good or evil, weal or woe, lives on eternally. His earthly form decays and turns to dust, but the spirit, which is the true man, knows no decay, no oblivion.
Each day--for I felt that days were passing over me--my mind awoke more and more, and I saw clearer and clearer the events of my life pass in a long procession before me--dim at first, then by degrees growing stronger and clearer, and I bowed my head in anguish, helpless, hopeless anguish, for I felt it must be too late now to undo one single act.