« PreviousContinue »
“ You have evidence enough; good evidence, which needs not such support.” JOHNSON. “I like to
I have more.”
Mr. Henderson, with whom I had sauntered in the venerable walks of Merton College, and found him a very learned and pious man, supped with us. Dr. Johnson surprised him 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 à 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.”_If what has now been stated should be urged by the enemies of Christianity, as if its influence on the mind were not benignant, let it be remembered, that Johnson's temperament was melancholy, of which such direful apprehensions of futurity are often common effect. We shall presently see, that when he approached nearer to his awful change, his mind became tranquil, and he exhibited as much fortitude as becomes a thinking man in that situation.
From the subject of death we passed to discourse of life, whether it was upon the whole more happy or miserable. Johnson was decidedly for the balance of misery': in confirmation of which I maintained that no man would choose to lead over again the life which he had experienced. Johnson acceded to that opinion in the strongest terms. This is an inquiry often made; and its being a subject of disquisition is a proof that much misery presses upon human feelings; for those who are conscious of a felicity of existence would never hesitate to accept of a repetition of it. I have met with very few who would. I have heard Mr. Burke make use of a very ingenious and plausible argument on this subject :
'Every man,” said he, “would lead his life over again; for every man is willing to go on and take
1 an addition to his life, which, as he grows older, he
[Here followed a very long note, or rather dissertation, by the Reverend Mr. Churton, on the subject of Johnson's opinion of the misery of human life, which the editor has thought will be read most conveniently in the Appendix. En]
has no reason to think will be better, or even so good as what has preceded.” I imagine, however, the truth is that there is a deceitful hope that the next part of life will be free from the pains, and anxieties, and sorrows, which we have already felt. We are for wise purposes “Condemned to Hope's delusive mine,” as Johnson finely says; and I
also quote the celebrated lines of Dryden, equally philosophical and poetical :
6 When I consider life, 't is all a cheat,
Yet, fool'd with hope, men favour the deceit ;
It was observed to Dr. Johnson, that it seemed strange that he, who has so often delighted his company by his lively and brilliant conversation, should say he was miserable. JOHNSON. “ Alas! it is all outside; I may be cracking my joke, and cursing the sun. Sun, how I hate thy beams !” I knew not well what to think of this declaration; whether to hold it as a genuine picture of his mind”, or as the effect of his persuading himself contrary to fact, that the position which he had assumed as to human unhappiness was true. We may apply to him a sentence in Mr. Greville's “Maxims, Characters, and Reflections 3;" a book which is entitled to much more praise than it has received : “ Aristarchus is
· Aurengzebe, Act iv. Scene 1.-BoswELL.
2 Yet there is no doubt that a man may appear very gay in company, who is sad at heart. His merriment is like the sound of drums and trumpets in a battle, to drown the groans of the wounded and dying.-BOSWELL.
3 Page 139.-- BOSWELL.
charming; how full of knowledge, of sense, of sentiment. You get him with difficulty to your supper ;
. and after having delighted every body and himself for a few hours, he is obliged to return home; he is finishing his treatise, to prove that unhappiness is the portion of man.”
On Sunday, 13th June, our philosopher was calm at breakfast. There was something exceedingly pleasing in our leading a college life, without restraint and with superiour elegance, in consequence of our living in the master's house, and having the company of ladies.
Mrs. Kennicott related, in his presence, a lively saying of Dr. Johnson to Miss Hannah More, who had expressed a wonder that the poet who had written “Paradise Lost,” should write such poor sonnets : “ Milton, madam, was a genius that could cut a Colossus from a rock, but could not carve heads upon cherry-stones.”
We talked of the casuistical question, “ Whether it was allowable at any time to depart from truth?” JOHNSON. “ The general rule is, that truth should never be violated, because it is of the utmost importance to the comfort of life that we should have a full security by mutual faith; and occasional inconveniences should be willingly suffered, that we may preserve it. There must, however, be some exceptions. If, for instance, a murderer should ask you which way a man is gone, you may tell him what is not true, because you are under a previous obligation not to betray a man to a murderer.” BosWELL, “Supposing the person who wrote Junius were asked whether he was the authour, might he deny it?” JOHNSON. “I don't know what to say to this. If you were sure that he wrote Junius, would you, if he denied it, think as well of him afterwards ? Yet it may be urged that what a man has no right to ask, you may refuse to communicate; and there is no other effectual mode of preserving a secret and an important secret, the discovery of which may be very hurtful to you, but a flat denial; for if you are silent, or hesitate, or evade, it will be held equivalent to a confession. But stay, sir, here is another case. Supposing the authour had told me confidentially that he had written Junius, and I were asked if he had, I should hold myself at liberty to deny it, as being under a previous promise, express or implied, to conceal it'. Now what I ought to do for the authour, may I not do for myself? But I deny the lawfulness of telling a lie to a sick man, for fear of alarming him”. You have no business with consequences; you are to tell the truth. Besides, you are not sure what effect your telling him that he is in danger may have. It may bring his distemper to a crisis, and that may cure him. Of all lying, I have the greatest abhorrence of this, because I believe it has been frequently practised on myself.”
I cannot help thinking that there is much weight in the opinion of those who have held that truth, as an eternal and immutable principle, ought upon no account whatever to be violated, from supposed previous or superiour obligations, of which every man being to judge for himself, there is great danger that we too often, from partial motives, persuade ourselves that they exist; and probably whatever extraordinary
[See ante, vol. iv. p. 246.-Ed.] 2 (A very eminent physician of the present day (1831) is reported to have publicly stated, that “ he always kept in view his duty to preserve a patient's life as long as possible, and that for that reason he did not communicate to the patient himself the extent of danger that impended over him.”-J. H. MARK
[Warburton says “ where the terror of such a sentence may impede the doctor's endeavours to save, the pronouncing it would be very indiscreet." -Lett. to Hurd, p. 392.-Ed.]