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Death and Mourning
146. After-life; Death
Of a Jamaica gentleman, then lately dead -- "He will not, whither
he is now gone (said Johnson), find much difference, I believe,
either in the climate or the company."
234. After-life; Damnation; Death;
I mentioned to Dr. Johnson, that David Hume's persisting in his
infidelity, when he was dying, shocked me much. Johnson:
"Why should it shock you, Sir? Hume owned he had never read the
New Testament with attention. Here then was a man, who had been
at no pains to inquire into the truth of
religion, and had
continually turned his mind the other way. It was not to be
expected that the prospect of death would alter his way of
thinking, unless God should send an angel to set him right." I
said, I had no reason to believe that the thought of annihilation
gave Hume no pain. Johnson: "It was not so, Sir. He had
a vanity in being thought easy. It is more probable that he
should assume an appearance of ease, than that so very probable a
thing should be, as a man not afraid of going (as, in spite of
his delusive theory, he cannot be sure but he may go,) into an
unknown state, and not being uneasy at leaving all he knew. And
you are to consider, that upon his own principle of annihilation
he had no motive to speak the truth."
"Sir, you are to consider the intention of punishment in a future
state. We have no reason to be sure that we shall then be no
longer liable to offend against God. We do not know that even
the angels are quite in a state of security; nay we know that
some of them have fallen. It may, therefore, perhaps be
necessary, in order to preserve both men and angels in a state of
rectitude, that they should have continually before them the
punishment of those who have deviated from it; but we may hope
that by some other means a fall from rectitude may be prevented.
Some of the texts of Scripture upon this subject are, as you
observe, indeed strong; but they may admit of a mitigated
275. After-life; Death;
I expressed a horrour at the thought of death. Mrs.
Knowles: "Nay, thou should'st not have a horrour for what is
the gate of life." Johnson (standing upon the hearth
rolling about, with a serious, solemn, and somewhat gloomy air,)
"No rational man can die without uneasy apprehension." Mrs.
Knowles: "The Scriptures tell us, 'The righteous shall have
hope in his death.'" Johnson: "Yes, Madam; that
is, he shall not have despair. But, consider, his hope of
salvation must be founded on the terms on which it is promised
that the mediation of our Saviour shall be applied to us,
--namely, obedience; and where obedience has failed, then, as
suppletory to it, repentance. But what man can say that his
obedience has been such, as he would approve in another, or even
in himself upon close examination, or that his repentance has not
been such as to require being repented of? No man can be sure
that his obedience and repentance will obtain salvation."
Mrs. Knowles: "But divine intimation of acceptance may be
made to the soul." Johnson: "Madam, it may; but I
should not think the better of a man who should tell me on his
death-bed he was sure of salvation. A man cannot be sure himself
that he has divine intimation of acceptance; much less can he
make others sure that he has it." Boswell: "Then, Sir,
we must be contented to acknowledge that death is a terrible
thing." Johnson: "Yes, Sir, I have made no approaches to
a state which can look on it as not terrible." Mrs.
Knowles (seeming to enjoy a pleasing serenity in the
persuasion of benignant divine light,) "Does not St. Paul say, 'I
have fought the good fight of faith, I have finished my course;
henceforth is laid up for me a crown of life'?" Johnson:
"Yes, Madam; but here was a man inspired, a man who had been
converted by supernatural interposition." Boswell: "In
prospect death is dreadful; but in fact we find that people die
easy." Johnson: "Why, Sir, most people have not
thought much of the matter, so cannot say much, and
it is supposed they die easy. Few believe it certain they are
then to die; and those who do, set themselves to behave with
resolution, as a man does who is going to be hanged. He is not
the less unwilling to be hanged."
Boswell: "Is not the expression in the Burial-service,
'in the sure and certain hope of a blessed
resurrection,' too strong to be used indiscriminately, and
indeed, sometimes when those over whose bodies it is said, have
been notoriously profane?" Johnson: "It is sure and
certain hope, Sir; not belief."
289. After-life; Mortality
"Let us, my dear, pray for one another, and consider our
sufferings as notices mercifully given us to prepare ourselves
for another state.
"I live now in a melancholy way. My old friend Mr. Levet is
dead, who lived with me in the house, and was useful and
companionable; Mrs. Desmoulins is gone away; and Mrs. Williams
is so much decayed , that she can add little to another's
gratifications. The world passes away, and we are passing with
it; but there is, doubtless, another world, which will endure
for ever. Let us fit ourselves for it."
Johnson: Letter to Lucy Porter
294. After-life; Friendship
I observed, that the death of our friends might be a consolation
against the fear of our own dissolution, because we might have
more friends in the other world than this. He perhaps felt this
as a reflection upon his apprehension as to death; and said,
with heat, "How can a man know where his departed friends
are, or whether they will be his friends in the other world? How
many friendships have you known formed upon principles of virtue?
Most friendships are formed by caprice or by chance, mere
confederacies in vice or leagues in folly."
Dr. Johnson surprised [Mr. Henderson] not a little, by
acknowledging with a look of horrour, that he was much oppressed
by the fear of death. The amiable Dr. Adams suggested that God
was infinitely good. Johnson: "That he is infinitely
good, as far as the perfection of his nature will allow, I
certainly believe; but it is necessary for good upon the whole,
that individuals should be punished. As to an individual,
therefore, he is not infinitely good; and as I cannot be
sure that I have fulfilled the conditions on which
salvation is granted, I am afraid I may be one of those who shall
be damned" (looking dismally). Dr. Adams: "What do you
mean by damned?" Johnson: (passionately and loudly)
"Sent to Hell, Sir, and punished everlastingly." Dr.
Adams: "I don't believe that doctrine." Johnson:
"Hold, Sir; do you believe that some will be punished at all?"
Dr. Adams: "Being excluded from Heaven will be a
punishment; yet there may be no great positive suffering."
Johnson: "Well, Sir; but if you admit any degree of
punishment, there is an end of your argument for infinite
goodness simply considered; for, infinite goodness would inflict
no punishment whatever. There is not infinite goodness
physically considered; morally there is." Boswell: "But
may not a man attain to such a degree of hope as not to be uneasy
from the fear of death?" Johnson: "A man may have such a
degree of hope as to keep him quiet. You see I am not quiet,
from the vehemence with which I talk; but I do not despair."
Mrs. Adams: You seem, Sir, to forget the merits of our
Redeemer." Johnson: "Madam, I do not forget the merits
of my Redeemer; but my Redeemer has said that he will set some
on his right hand and some on his left." He was in gloomy
agitation, and said, "I'll have no more on't."
320. After-life; Mortality
"You know I never thought confidence with respect to futurity any
part of the character of a brave, a wise, or a good man. Bravery
has no place where it can avail nothing, Wisdom impresses
strongly the consciousness of those faults, of which it is itself
perhaps an aggravation; and Goodness always wishing to be
better, and imputing every deficience to criminal negligence, and
every fault to voluntary corruption, never dares to suppose the
conditions of forgiveness fulfilled, not what is wanting in the
virtue supplied by Penitence.
This is the state of the best; but what must be the condition of
him whose heart will not suffer him to rank himself among the
best, or among the good? Such must be his dread of the
approaching trial, as will leave him little attention to the
opinion of those whom he is leaving forever; and the serenity
that is not felt, it can be of no virtue to feign."
Johnson: Letter to Hester Thrale [Piozzi]
346. After-life; Death
"No wise man will be contented to die, if he thinks he is to go
into a state of punishment. Nay, no wise man will be contented
to die, if he thinks he is to fall into annihilation: for
however unhappy any man's existence may be, he yet would rather
have it, than not exist at all. No, there is no rational
principle by which a man can die contented, but a trust in the
mercy of God, through the merits of Jesus Christ."
Boswell: Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides
"They who look but little into futurity, have, perhaps, the
quickest sensation of the present."
Johnson: Taxation No Tyranny
499. After-life; Contemplation;
"Pleasure, in itself harmless, may become mischievous by
endearing us to a state which we know to be transient and
probatory, and withdrawing our thoughts from that of which every
hour brings us nearer to the beginning, and of which no length of
time will bring us to the end. Mortification is not virtuous in
itself, nor has any other use but that it disengages us from
allurements of sense. In the state of future perfection, to
which we all aspire, there will be pleasure without danger, and
security without restraint."
Johnson: Rasselas [Imlac]
Note: If you haven't read it yet, please read this note of caution regarding quotes from
502. After-Life; Mortality;
"To me ... the choice of life is become less important; I hope
hereafter to think only on the choice of eternity."
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515. After-Life; Contemplation; Piety;
Religion; Retreat; Temptation
...it appears, upon a philosophical estimate, that, supposing
the mind, at any certain time, in an equipoise between the
pleasures of this life and the hopes of futurity, present objects
falling more frequently into the scale would in time
preponderate, and that our regard for an invisible state would
grow every moment weaker, till at last it would lose all its
activity, and become absolutely without effect.
To prevent this dreadful event, the balance is put into our own
hands, and we have power to transfer the weight to either side.
The motives to a life of holiness are infinite, not less than the
favour or anger of Omnipotence, not less than eternity of
happiness or misery. But these can only influence our conduct as
they gain our attention, which the business or diversions of the
world are always calling off by contrary attractions.
The great art of piety, and the end for which all the arts of
religion seem to be instituted, is the perpetual renovation of
the motives to virtue, by a voluntary employment of our mind in
the contemplation of its excellence, its importance, and its
necessity, which, in proportion as they are more frequently and
more willingly resolved, gain a more forcible and permanent
influence, till in time they become the reigning ideas, the
standing principles of action, and the test by which every thing
proposed to the judgment is rejected or approved.
To facilitate this change of our affections it is necessary that
we weaken the temptations of the world, by retiring at certain
seasons from it; for its influence arising only from its
presence is much lessened when it becomes the object of solitary
meditation. A constant residence amidst noise and pleasure
inevitably obliterates the impressions of piety, and a frequent
abstraction of ourselves into a state where this life, like the
next, operates only upon the reason, will reinstate religion in
its just authority, even without those irradiations from above,
the hope of which I have no intention to withdraw from the
sincere and the diligent.
Johnson: Rambler #7 (April 10, 1750)
874. After-life; Death
Milton has judiciously represented the father of mankind
as seized with horror and astonishment at the sight of death,
exhibited to him on the mount of vision; for surely nothing can
so much disturb the passions or perplex the intellects of man as
the disruption of his union with visible nature; a separation
from all that has hitherto delighted or engaged him; a change
not only of the place but the manner of his being; an entrance
into a state not simply which he knows not, but which perhaps he
has not faculties to know; an immediate and perceptible
communication with the Supreme Being, and, what is above all
distressing and alarming, the final sentence and unalterable
Johnson: Rambler #78 (December 15, 1750)
"The miseries of life may, perhaps, afford some proof of a future
state, compared as well with the mercy as the justice of God.
It is scarcely to be imagined that Infinite Benevolence would
create a being capable of enjoying so much more than is here to
be enjoyed, and qualified by nature to prolong pain by
remembrance, and anticipate it by terrour, if he was not designed
for something nobler and better than a state, in which he is
to be importuned by desires that never can be satisfied, to
feel many evils which he shall never feel: there will surely
come a time, when every capacity of happiness shall be filled,
and none shall be wretched but by his own fault."
Johnson: Adventurer #120 (December 29, 1753)
"We know little of the state of departed souls, because such
knowledge is not necessary to a good life. Reason deserts us at
the brink of the grave, and can give us no further intelligence.
Revelation is not wholly silent. There is joy in the angels
of Heaven over one sinner that repenteth; and surely this joy
is not incommunicable to souls disentangled from the body, and
made like angels."
Johnson: Idler #41 (January 27, 1759)
1,700. After-Life; Faith;
Writing on the death of a parent:
"Surely there is no man who, thus afflicted, does not seek
succour in the gospel, which has brought life and
immortality to light. The precepts of Epicurus, who teaches
us to endure what the laws of the universe make necessary,
may silence but not content us. The dictates of Zeno, who
commands us to look with indifference on external things, may
dispose us to look with indifference on external things, may
dispose us to conceal our sorrow, but cannot assuage it. Real
alleviation of the loss of friends, and rational tranquillity in
the prospect of our own dissolution, can be received only by the
promises of Him in whose hands are life and death, and from the
assurance of another and better state, in which all tears will be
wiped from the eyes, and the whole soul shall be filled with joy.
Philosophy may infuse stubbornness, but Religion only can give
Johnson: Idler #41 (January 27, 1759)