From The Essays of Montaigne
Let us evermore, amidst our jollity and feasting, set the remembrance of our frail condition before our eyes, never suffering ourselves to be so far transported with our delights, but that we have some intervals of reflecting upon, and considering how many several ways this jollity of ours tends to death, and with how many dangers it threatens it. The Egyptians were wont to do after this manner, who in the height of their feasting and mirth, caused a dried skeleton of a man to be brought into the room to serve for a memento to their guests:
"Omnem crede diem tibi diluxisse supremum
Grata superveniet, quae non sperabitur, hora."
["Think each day when past is thy last; the next day, as unexpected,
will be the more welcome."—Hor., Ep., i. 4, 13.]
Where death waits for us is uncertain; let us look for him everywhere. The premeditation of death is the premeditation of liberty; he who has learned to die has unlearned to serve. There is nothing evil in life for him who rightly comprehends that the privation of life is no evil: to know, how to die delivers us from all subjection and constraint. Paulus Emilius answered him whom the miserable King of Macedon, his prisoner, sent to entreat him that he would not lead him in his triumph, "Let him make that request to himself."—[ Plutarch, Life of Paulus Aemilius, c. 17; Cicero, Tusc., v. 40.]
In truth, in all things, if nature do not help a little, it is very hard for art and industry to perform anything to purpose. I am in my own nature not melancholic, but meditative; and there is nothing I have more continually entertained myself withal than imaginations of death, even in the most wanton time of my age:
"Jucundum quum aetas florida ver ageret."
["When my florid age rejoiced in pleasant spring."