I thought today was Blue Monday. It isn't, which means that next Monday is going to be even less pleasant than this one. January - without the promise of Christmas to work towards - is always hard, and has been more so for me over the past four years. February is, despite the fact that it is that bit closer to spring and the lifting of winter's gloom, the month that I associate with my own mental health deteriorating (I think it might have been called a nervous breakdown in the past), and with needless and hopeless death and grief. I can't read the awful majesty of the Burial of the Dead, not without tears, even now. The preface - which I had not remembered when looking it up and therefore took me quite by surprise when writing this - is utterly, thoroughly miserable. I wrote once before about the effect on me of a section in a German film about Martin Luther where they discussed the burial of a suicide in consecrated ground. Give-or-take, I was devastated by the tiny and unappreciated kindness that was allowing him to be buried in the churchyard. Apologies, then, if it has the same effect on you, dear reader: "Here is to be noted, that the Office ensuing is not to be used for any that die unbaptized, or excommunicate, or have laid violent hands upon themselves." Those last seven words are like a scythe, sweeping and knocking me down. I had not realised when I started writing this that it would turn quite so sad. I am baptized, as many of my generation are, but I am neither a churchgoer nor a metaphysical believer in the afterlife. I don't know why I should care - as I seem to, regardless of my irreligious beliefs - about what Christians say about suicides, but it turns out that I (still) do. It seems so cruel to deny those people for whom life was so wrong that they thought they might suffer less by ending it the promise of peace, and doubly cruel on those left behind.
"We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by Faith, and not for our own works or deservings: Wherefore, that we are justified by Faith only is a most wholesome Doctrine, and very full of comfort."
And what if my faith says that God will forgive me, whatever my sins? Isn't that the point of the New Testament? Perhaps. My view of God is of course tempered by the one key point that whatever His properties, existence isn't one of them...
So, instead, some of book IV:
Blackaller strolls over, holding Strelley’s sword and poniard. Behind him, one of his men carries the great broadsword that Strelley faced in anger just half-an-hour previously.
“These are yours,” Blackaller says with a laugh. “I didn’t know you had it in you.”
“Nor did I,” Strelley hisses.
“Seems like you’ve missed your chance to die, Edward Strelley. I thought you were done for.” Blackaller’s tone is light, almost jovial.
Strelley struggles to focus himself on Blackaller. Fletcher once again leaves off the sewing, anticipating Strelley speaking.
“I seem to be finding it difficult to get myself killed.” Strelley says, forcing a smile. “Must try harder.”
“Not today, my friend,” Blackaller says. “Today, we celebrate.”
“With what?” Fletcher asks. “Dead rats?”
Blackaller frowns at him. “If we must.” And he disappears off, whistling a jaunty tune, as Fletcher carries on his work of patching up his friend.
“See, Edward?” Fletcher says as Blackaller recedes, “God keeps you alive. Must be for something.”
“Just wish I knew what.” Strelley manages to speak the words, then he heaves and vomits copiously, just missing Fletcher’s feet.
When to the sessions of sweet silent thought