Monday, March 9, 2009

Samuel Johnson on the Fear of Death

We spoke of death. Mr. Johnson gave us a short discourse worth any sermon, saying that the reflections of some men as to dying easily were idle talk, were partial views. I mentioned Hawthornden's Cypress Grove, where it is said that the world is just a show; and how unreasonable is it for a man to wish to continue in the show-room after he has seen it. Let him go cheerfully out and give place to other spectators. "Yes," said Mr. Johnson. "If he's sure he's to be well after he goes out of it. But if he is to grow blind after he goes out of the show-room and never to see anything again; or if he does not know whither he is to go next, a man will not go cheerfully out of a showroom. 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 bad any man's existence may be, every man would rather have it than not exist at all. No, there is no rational principle by which a man can be contented, but a trust in the mercy of God, through the merits of Jesus Christ." All this delivered with manly eloquence in a boat on the sea, upon a fine autumn Sunday morning, while every one listened with a comfortable air of satisfaction and complacency, had a most pleasing effect upon my mind.

James Boswell, Tour To the Hebrides, 12 Sept. 1773


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