If people living amidst the turmoil of their practical affairs and diversions were occasionally to mix in serious moments of instructive contemplation, to which they are called by the daily display of the vanity of our intentions regarding the fate of their fellow citizens: thereby their pleasures would perhaps be less intoxicating, but their position would take up a calm serenity of the soul, by which accidents are no longer unexpected, and even the gentle melancholy, this tender feeling with which a noble heart swells up if it considers in solitary stillness the contemptibleness of that which, with us, commonly ranks as great and important, would contain more true happiness than the violent merriment of the flippant and the loud laughing of fools.
But thus the greatest crowd of human beings mixes very eagerly in the throng of those who, on the bridge that Providence has built over a piece of the abyss of eternity and that we call life, run after certain bubbles and do not trouble to take caution for the planks, who allow one after another to sink beside each other into the depths whose extent is infinity and by which they themselves, in the midst of their impetuous course, are eventually engulfed. In the portrayal of human life, a certain ancient poet brings forth a stirring breath by describing the newly born human being. The child, he says, at once fills the air with sad whimpers, as befits someone who must enter into a world where so many hardships await him. Only in the sequence of years does this human being connect with the art of making himself miserable the art of hiding it from himself with a blanket that he throws on the sad elements of life, and cultivate a flippant carelessness about the amount of ill that surrounds him and as it were inexorably finally drives him back to a much more painful feeling. Although he dreads death most of all ills, he still seems to pay very little attention to the example of it among his fellow citizens, unless closer ties particularly wake his heedfulness. At a time when a raging war opens the bolts of the dark abyss, so as to allow all affliction to break forth over the human race, one sees very well how the common sight of hardship and death instills a cold-natured indifference into those who have been threatened by both, so that they have little heed for the fate of their brothers. Only when in the quiet stillness of civic life, out of the circle of those who either closely concern us or whom we love, who had as many or more promising hopes as we have, and who have been attached to their intentions and plans with the same zeal as we are, only when these, I say, according to the decision of God, who omnipotently rules over all, are taken in the midst of the course of their endeavors; when death in peaceful stillness nears the sickbed of the infirm; when this giant, before which nature shudders, reaches the sickbed with slow steps, to embrace him in iron arms; only then is the feeling of those who otherwise dampen it with diversions truly awakened. A melancholy feeling speaks out of the interior of the heart that which in an assembly of Romans was once heard with so much applause because it is so in accordance with our common perception: I am a human being, and what befalls human beings can also happen to me.
—Immanuel Kant, in a letter of consolation to the mother of one of his students (“Mr. Johann Friedrich von Funk”) written in June of 1760, translated by Margot Wielgus, Nelli Haase, Patrick Frierson, and Paul Guyer
*italics mine, bolds original