Death – Lachrimae

Sir William Mulock, PC, PC (Can), KCMG,QC
(January 19, 1843 – October 1, 1944) was a Canadian lawyer, businessman, educator, farmer, politician, judge, and philanthropist.

At a luncheon in his honour shortly after his 87th birthday, Mulock described his attitude on growing old:

I’m still at work with my hand to the plough and my face to the future. The shadows of evening …lengthen about me but morning is in my heart…the testimony I bear is this: that the castle of enchantment is not yet behind me, it is before me still and daily I catch glimpses of its battlements and towers. The best of life is always further on. The real lure is hidden from our eyes, somewhere behind the hills of time.

Little did I imagine when I was 14 years old in boarding school at St. Andrew’s College and carrying on with my classmates, shouting “Moo” to Bill Mulock, laughing riotously until becalmed by our Master, that at 73 years of age on Hilton Head Island I would be writing about Mulock and his antecedent Sir William Mulock. We hadn’t then a concern for the future beyond what sweet we’d get at the tuck shop following football practice.

And as I was green and carefree, famous among the barns
About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home,
In the sun that is young once only

Fern Hill by Dylan Thomas

To start at the beginning, Mulock – or “Moo” as we called him – was one of many other boys in my Form from distinguished families among them Scott Marshall, Peter “Gage” Love, Simon Haley and Nicholas “Rock” Glassow. Mulock was one of the few boys who didn’t board at school. Instead he was dispatched each morning by chauffeur in a black limousine.  He lived in nearby Newmarket on a rural estate mansion where Sir William Mulock formerly lived and which I subsequently visited at a “breakfast party” after one of our highland cadet balls.  Sir William’s portrait hung in the front hallway entrance to the mansion. It was always cause for hilarity as we joked about Sir William’s stern look in what to us at the time was nothing but frivolity and joy. As a result of what I later learned about Sir William I suspect he was laughing with us.

Mulock’s use of profanity was said to be the most picturesque in parliament, and he was known for his consumption of Cuban cigars and rye whisky. Just before Prohibition came into force in Ontario in 1916, he had special concrete compartments built in his house into which he stored a lifetime supply of whisky.

But not all was well. Upon leaving St. Andrew’s College a number of us, including Mulock, attended undergraduate studies at Glendon Hall on Bayview Avenue in Toronto.  Time was racing. Before long I was at law school at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia.  My former boarding school colleagues were scattered about the nation, some across the continent, others about the world.  Mulock ended in the financial district of Toronto where many of his family, including distinguished lawyers and politicians, were already notable. And then came the news of his untimely death. He died in his fifties.  I have trouble finding the obituary, so private was the ceremony. Moo was suddenly gone. Another of our undergraduate colleagues had also disappeared off the map – though under tragic circumstances. And as the speed of life mounted yet another of my erstwhile young companions was taken, this time by suicide.

Dealing with death recently with another friend disclosed that sometimes there is relief.  Sometimes the pain of living is intolerable – for both the dying and the living. On balance I would prefer a departure from intolerability than otherwise. But of course we have no choice. Even dying is a gamble! I at least cling for the moment to two propositions: 1) life owes me nothing; and, 2) if I just complete my immediate goals, I’ll be ready to go. My immediate goals are too trifling (or should I say embarrassing) to mention; they’re neither magnanimous nor intellectual.  I am yet firmly rooted in the pleasures of life, or shall I say the “epicurean” posture in order to dignify my hedonism. I take strength in Sir William’s wistful regard of “somewhere behind the hills of time“.


Lachrimæ or seaven teares figured in seaven passionate pavans, with divers other pavans, galliards and allemands, set forth for the lute, viols, or violons, in five parts is a collection of instrumental music composed by John Dowland. It was published by John Windet in 1604.

The title page of Lachrimæ is adorned with a Latin epigram: “Aut Furit, aut Lachrimat, quem non Fortuna beavit” (“He whom Fortune has not blessed either rages or weeps”). Dowland points out in his dedication that there are different types of tears. “The teares which Musicke weeps” can be pleasant; “neither are teares shed always in sorrow but sometime in joy and gladnesse”.