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“Our first recourse in this distressed solitude. is, perhaps for want of habitual piety, to a gloomy acquiescence in necessity. Of two mortal beings, one must lose the other; but surely there is a higher and better comfort to be drawn from the consideration of that Providence which watches over all, and a belief that the living and the dead are equally in the hands of God, who will reunite those whom he has separated, or who sees that it is best not to reunite."
Johnson himself was very much affected by the death of his mother, and sent to Mr. Boswell to come and assist him to compose his mind, which indeed was extremely agitated.--He lamented that all serious and religious conversation was banished from the society of men, though great advantages might be derived from it. All acknowledged, he said, what hardly any body practised, the obligation we were under of making the concerns of eternity the governing principles of our lives. Every man, he observed, at last wishes for retreat: he sees his expectations frustrated in the world, and begins to wean himself from it, and to prepare for everlasting separation.
Mr. B. one day mentioned to him, that he had seen the execution of several convicts at Tyburn, and that none of them seemed to be under
any concern.-" Most of them, Sir. (said. Johnson),
have never thought at all.”—B.“ But is not the fear of death natural to man?"-J. “ So much so, Sir, that the whole of life is but keeping away the thoughts of it." He then, in a low and earnest tone, talked of his meditating upon the awful hour of his own dissolution, and in what manner he should conduct himself upon that occasion: “I know not (said he) whether I should wish to have a friend by me, or have it all between God and myself."
They afterward talked of the melancholy end of a gentleman who had destroyed himself.Johnson observed, “ It was owing to imaginary difficulties in his affairs, which, had he talked with any friend, would soon have vanished.”-B. « Do you think, Sir, that all who commit suicide are mad?"-J.“ Sir, they are often not universally disordered in their intellects, but one passion presses so upon them, that they yield to it, and commit suicide, as a passionate man will stab another.” He added, “I have often thought, that after a man has taken the resolution to kill himself, it is not courage in him to do any thing, however desperate, because he has nothing to fear."--Goldsmith (who was in the room) said, " I don't see that."-J. “ Nay, why should not you see what every one else sees?”-G, “ It is for fear of something that he has resolved to kill himself; and will not that timid disposition re
strain him?”. “ It does not signify that the fear of something made him resolve; it is upon the state of his mind after the resolution is taken that I argue. Suppose a man, either from fear or pride, or conscience, or whatever motive, has resolved to kill himself, when once the resolution is taken he has nothing to fear. He may then go and take the King of Prussia by the nose, at the head of his army. He cannot fear the rack, who is resolved to kill himself. When Eustace Budgel was walking down to the Thames, determined to drown himself, he might, if he pleased, without any apprehension of danger, have turned aside, and first set fire to St. James's palace.”
The subject at another time turning on the belief in ghosts, Johnson said, “Sir, I make a distinction between what a man may experience by the mere strength of his imagination, and what imagination cannot possibly produce. Thus, suppose I should think that I saw a form and heard a voice cry, ? Johnson, you are a very wicked fellow, and unless you repent you will certainly be punished;' my own unworthiness is so deeply impressed upon my mind, that I might imagine I thus saw and heard, and therefore I should not believe that an external communication had been made to me. But if a form should appear, and a voice should tell me that a particular
man had died at a particular place, and a particular hour, a fact which I had no apprehension of, nor any means of knowing, and this fact with all its circumstances should afterwards be unquestionably proved, I should, in that case, be persuaded that I had supernatural intelligence imparted to me.”
Mr. Boswell gives us what he declares to be a true and fair statement of Johnson's way of thinking upon the question whether departed spirits are ever permitted to appear in this world, or in any way to operate upon human life. “ He has (says Mr. B.) been ignorantly misrepresented as weakly credulous upon that subject; and, therefore, though I feel an inclination to disdain and treat with silent contempt so foolish a notion concerning my illustrious friend, yet, as I find it has gained ground, it is necessary to refute it. The real fact then is, that Johnson had a very philosophical mind, and such a rational respect for testimony, as to make him submit his understanding to what was authentically proved, though he could not comprehend why it was so. Being thus disposed, he was willing to inquire into the truth of any relation of supernatural agency, a general belief of which has prevailed in all nations and ages. But so far was he from being the dupe of implicit faith, that
he examined the matter with a jealous attention, and no man was more ready to refute its falsehood when he had discovered it."
Of apparitions he once took occasion to observe,
" A total disbelief of them is adverse to the opinion of the existence of the soul between death and the last day; the question simply is, Whether departed spirits ever have the power of making themselves perceptible to us? A man who thinks he has seen an apparition can only be convinced himself; his authority will not convince another; and his conviction, if rational, must be founded on being told something which cannot be known but by supernatural means.
Johnson mentioned a thing as not unfrequent, namely, the being called, that is, hearing one's namne pronounced by the voice of a known person at a great distance, far beyond the possibility of being reached by any sound uttered by human organs. “An acquaintance (says Mr. B.), on whose veracity I can depend, told me, that walking home one evening to Kilmarnock, he heard himself called from a wood, by the voice of a brother who had gone to America; and the next packet brought accounts of that brother's death.” Mr. Macbean asserted, that this inexplicable calling was a thing very well known.Dr. Johnson said, that one day at Oxford, as he was turning the key of his chamber, he heard his