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The Doctor, from the time that he was certain his death was near, appeared to be perfectly resigned, was seldom or never fretful or out of temper, and often said to his faithful servant, Francis Barber, who gave this account, “Attend, Francis, to the salvation of your soul, which is the object of greatest importance.” He also explained to him passages in the Scripture, and seemed to have pleasure in talking upon religious subjects.
On Monday, the thirteenth of December, 1784, the day on which he died, a Miss Morris, daughter to a particular friend of his, called, and said to Francis, that she begged to be permitted to see the Doctor, that she might earnestly request him to give her his blessing. Francis went into the room, followed by the young lady, and delivered the message. The Doctor turned himself in the bed, and said, "God bless you, my dear!" These were the last words he spoke. His difficulty of breathing increased till about seven o'clock in the evening, when Francis and Mrs. Desmoulins, who were sitting in the room, observing that the noise he made in breathing had ceased, went to the bed side, and found that he was dead.
About two days after his death, the following account was communicated to Mr. Malone, in a letter by the Hon. John Byng:
“I have had a long conversation with Cawston, who sat up with Dr. Johnson, from nine o'clock on Sunday evening, till ten o'clock on Monday morning. And from what I can gather from him, it should seem, that Dr. Johnson was perfectly composed; steady in hope, and resigned to death. At the interval of each hour, they assisted him to sit up in his bed, and move his legs, which were in much pain; when he regularly addressed himself to fervent prayer: and though sometimes his voice failed him, his senses never did during that time. The only sustenance he re. ceived was cyder and water. He said his mind was prepared, and the time to his dissolution seemed long. At six in the morning he enquired the hour, and on being informed, said, that all went on regularly, and he felt he had but a few hours to live.
“ At ten o'clock in the morning, he parted from Cawston, saying, 'You should not detain Mr. Windham's servant.--I thank you: bear my remembrance to your master.'
Cawston says, that no man could appear more collected, more devout, or less terrified at the thoughts of the approaching minute.”
Mr. Boswell one day stated an anxious thought, by which a sincere Christian might be disturbed, even when conscious of having lived a good life, so far as consistent with human infirmity; he might fear that he should, afterwards fall away, and be guilty of such crimes as would render all his former religion vain. Could there be, he asked, upon this awful subject, such a thing as balancing of accounts? Suppose a man who has led a good life for seven years commits
an act of wickedness, and instantly dies; will his former good life have any effect in his favour? “ Sir (said Johnson), if a man has led a good life for seven years, and then is hurried by passion to do what is wrong, and is suddenly carried off, depend upon it he will have the reward of his seven years' good life; God will not take a catch of him. Upon this principle Richard Baxter believes that a suicide may be saved. If (said he) it should be objected, that what I maintain may encourage suicide, I answer, I am not to tell a lie to prevent it.”—B. “ But does not the text say,
As the tree falls, so it must lie?'”—J. “ Yes, Sir; 'as the tree falls: but (after a little pause) that is meant as to the general state of the tree, not what is the effect of a sudden blast." In short (as Mr. B. observes), he interpreted the expression as referring to condition, not to position. The common notion, therefore, seems to be erroneous; and Shenstone's witty remark on Divines trying to give the tree a jerk upon a deathbed, to make it lie favourably, is not wellfounded.
While Johnson and Mr. Boswell stood in calm conference by themselves in a garden, at a pretty late hour, one serene autumn night, looking up to the heavens, the discourse turned on the subject of a future state.-“ Sir (said Johnson), I do not imagine that all things will be made clear
to us immediately after death; but that the ways of Providence will be explained to us very gradually.” Mr. B. asked, whether, although the words of some texts of Scripture seemed strong in support of the dreadful doctrine of an eternity of punishment, we inight not hope that the denunciation was figurative, and would not literally be executed.—Johnson replied, “ 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 interpretation.” He talked upon this awful and delicate question in a gentle tone, and as if afraid to be decisive.
At another time, speaking of the inward light to which some methodists pretended, he said, it was a principle utterly incompatible with social or civil security. “If a man (said he) pretends
to a principle of action of which I can know nothing, nay, not so much as that he has it, but only that he pretends to it; how can I tell what that person may be prompted to do? When a person professes to be governed by a written ascertained law, I can then know where to find him."
Mrs. Knowles once mentioned, as a proselyte to Quakerism, Miss , a young lady well known to Dr. Johnson, for whom he had shewn much affection; while she ever had, and still retained, a great respect for him. Mrs. Knowles at the same time took an opportunity of letting him know, “ that the aniable young creature was sorry at finding that he was offended at her leaving the church of England, and embracing a simpler faith ;” and, in the gentlest and most persuasive manner, solicited his kind indulgence for what was sincerely a matter of conscience. Johnson said (frowning very angrily), “Madam, she is an odious wench. She could not have any proper conviction that it was her duty to change her religion, which is the most important of all subjects, and should be studied with all care, and with all the helps we can get. She knew no more of the Church which she left, and that which she embraced, than she did of the difference between the Copernican and Ptolemaick systems.”—Mrs. KNOWLES. 66 She had the