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capable.” Boswell: “I think, sir, that is a very rational supposition.” Johnson : “Why, yes, sir ; but we do not know it is a true one." Boswell : “Do you think, sir, it is wrong in a man who holds the doctrine of Purgatory to pray for the souls of his deceased friends ?” Johnson: “Why, no, sir." Boswell : “As to our employment in a future state, the sacred writings say little. The Revelation, however, of St. John gives us many ideas, and particularly mentions music.” Johnson : “Why, sir, ideas must be given you by means of something which you know; and as to music, there are some philosophers and divines who have maintained that we shall not be spiritualized to such a degree, but that something of matter, very much refined, will remain. In that case, music may make a part of our future felicity.” 1
The return of my birthday, if I remember it, fills me with thoughts which it seems to be the general care of humanity to escape. I can now look back upon threescore and four years, in which little has been done and little has been enjoyed; a life diversified by misery, spent part in the sluggishness of penury and part under the violence of pain, in gloomy discontent or importunate distress. But perhaps I am better than I should have been if I had been less afflicted. With this I will try to be content.
In proportion as there is less pleasure in retrospective considerations, the mind is more disposed to wander forward into futurity; but at sixty-four, what promises, however liberal, of imaginary good can futurity venture to make ? Yet something will be
1 From the Life, by Boswell (1772).
always promised, and some promises will always be credited. I am hoping and I am praying that I may live better in the time to come, whether long or short, than I have yet lived, and in the solace of that hope endeavour to repose.?
“ The better a man is, the more afraid is he of death, having a clearer view of infinite purity. .. Ah! we must wait till we are in another state of being, to have many things explained to us.” 2
I (Boswell] talked to him of misery being the “ doom of man,” in this life, as displayed in his “Vanity of Human Wishes." Yet I observed that things were done upon the supposition of happiness ; grand houses were built, fine gardens were made, splendid places of public amusement were contrived, and crowded with company.
Johnson : “ Alas, sir, these are only struggles for happiness. When I first entered Ranelagh it gave an expansion and gay sensation to my mind, such as I never experienced anywhere else. But, as Xerxes wept when he viewed his immense army, and considered that not one of that great multitude would be alive a hundred years afterwards, so it went to my heart to consider that there was not one in all that brilliant circle that was not afraid to go home and think, but that the thoughts of each individual there would be distressing when alone." 3
I expressed a horror at the thought of death. Mrs. Knowles : “Nay, thou shouldst not have a horror for what is the gate of life.” Johnson : ...“ No 1 From letter to Mrs. Thrale, September 1773.
2 From Life, by Boswell (1777).
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 of in another, or even in himself upon close examination, or that his repentance has not been such as to require being repented of?
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.” 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.” 1
1 From Life, by Boswell (1778).
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 condition of forgiveness fulfilled, nor what is wanting in the crime 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 for ever; and the serenity that is not felt, it can be no virtue to feign.1
Write to me no more about dying with a grace ; when you feel what I have felt in approaching eternityin fear of soon hearing the sentence of which there is no revocation-you will know the folly; my wish is that you may know it sooner. The distance between the grave and the remotest point of human longevity is but a very little, and of that little no path is certain. You knew all this, and I thought that I knew it too; but I know it now with a new conviction. May that new conviction not be vain ! 2
“ Live well, I conjure you; and you will not feel the compunction at the last which I now feel.” 3
1 From letter to Mrs. Thrale (March 1784).
3 To a lady (on his death-bed).
DAVID HUME (1711-1776) I NOW reckon upon a speedy dissolution. I have
suffered very little pain from my disorder; and, what is more strange, have, notwithstanding the great decline of my person, never suffered a moment's abatement of spirits; insomuch that were I to name the period of my
life which I should most choose to pass over again, I might be tempted to point to this later period. I possess the same ardour as ever in study, and the same gaiety in company; I consider, besides, that a man of sixty-five, by dying, cuts off only a few years of infirmities; and though I see many symptoms of my literary reputation's breaking out at last with additional lustre, I know that I could have but a few years to enjoy it. It is difficult to be more detached from life than I am at present.
By the mere light of reason it seems difficult to prove the Immortality of the Soul; the arguments for it are commonly derived either from metaphysical topics, or moral, or physical.
physical. But in reality it is the Gospel, and the Gospel alone, that has brought life and immortality to light.
I. Metaphysical topics suppose that the soul is immaterial, and that 'tis impossible for thought to belong to a material substance. But just metaphysics teach us that the notion of substance is wholly confused and imperfect, and that we have no other idea of any substance than as an aggregate of
1 From My Own Life (conclusion).