But when the fourteenth night was come, as we were driven up and down in Adria…
If "'tis double death to die in sight of shore," as Shakespeare says, it is also, or nearly, double death to die in the dark. Some would almost say, Surely the bitterness of death is past, if light be vouchsafed to the dying, and so the shadows flee away. Well can they understand a pregnant symbolism in that incident of patriarchal days, when a deep sleep fell upon Abram as the sun was going down; and, lo! a horror of a great darkness fell upon him. With something of a shuddering sympathy can they connect the fact that, on the day whence all Good Fridays take their name, there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour, with that other fact that about the ninth hour there was heard a wailing cry, whose echo reverberates through all space and time, "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani!" Ever memorable in classical lore is the supplication of the Greek warrior in Homer, not to die in the dark. Let him see his foe and see his end, however imminent, however inevitable. Frequent in historical narrative are instances like that of Labedoyere, who, when brought out to be shot, refused to have his eyes bandaged, and looking straight at the levelled muskets, exclaimed in a loud voice, "Fire! my friends." Marshal Ney, a week or two later, also refused to have his eyes bandaged. "For five-and-twenty years," he said, "I have been accustomed to face the balls of the enemy." Then taking off his hat with his left hand, and placing his right upon his heart, he too said in a loud voice, fronting the soldiers, "My comrades, fire on me." Murat fell in a like manner, after a like request — but gazing to the last on a medallion which contained portraits of his wife and children. Dr. Croly applied the Homeric prayer of Ajax to an incident in the long war with France, when twenty-seven thousand British were eager, under Abercrombie and the Duke of York, to attack the French lines, and at the first tap of the drum a general cheer was given from all the columns. But the day, we read, had scarcely broke when a dense fog fell suddenly upon the whole horizon, and rendered movement almost impossible. "Nothing could exceed the vexation of the army at this impediment, and if our soldiers had ever heard of Homer there would have been many a repetition of his warrior's prayer, that 'live or die, it might be in the light of day.'" It has been observed of a certain railway catastrophe, where the crash and collision occurred in a tunnel — in that very place which nobody, even on ordinary occasions, passes through without a slight shudder and an undefined dread of some such disaster as the one in question — that "Ajax's prayer has been muttered by many who never heard of Ajax; and if we are to die, it is at least mitigation of the hour of fate when it overtakes us in daylight." In tracing, psychologically, the development within us of the sense of awe, Professor Newman attributes to the gloom of night more universally, perhaps, than to any other phenomenon, the first awakening of an uneasy sense of vastness. A young child, as he says, accustomed to survey the narrow limits of a lighted room, wakes in the night, and is frightened at the dim vacancy. "No nurse's tales about spectres are needed to make the darkness awful." "Nor," he adds, "is it from fear of any human or material enemy: it is the negation, the unknown, the unlimited, which excites and alarms; and sometimes the more if mingled with glimpses of light." The last words audible of Goethe were, "More light!" The final darkness grew apace, in the words of his ablest biographer, and he whose eternal longings had been for more light, gave a parting cry for it as he was passing under the shadow of death.
(F. Jacox, B. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: But when the fourteenth night was come, as we were driven up and down in Adria, about midnight the shipmen deemed that they drew near to some country;