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course; henceforth is laid up for me a crown of life?"" JOHNSON. “ Yes, Madam; but here was a man inspired, a man who had been converted by supernatural interposition." 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." Miss SEWARD. “ There is one mode of the fear of death, which is certainly absurd; and that is the dread of annihilation, which is only a pleasing sleep without a dream.” JOHNSON. “ It is neither pleasing nor sleep; it is nothing. Now, mere existence is so much better than nothing, that one would rather exist even in pain, than not exist.” BOSWELL. “If annihilation be nothing, then existing in pain is not a comparative state, but is a positive evil, which I cannot think we should choose. I must be allowed to differ here, and it would lessen the hope of a future state founded on the argument, that the Supreme Being, who is good as he is great, will hereafter compensate for our present sufferings in this life. For if existence, such as we have it here, be comparatively a good, we have no reason to
(1) See antè, Vol. VI. p. 294., where Paoli assumes that they are thinking of something else, –
- a very unsatisfactory expla.
complain, though no more of it should be given to
But if our only state of existence were in this world, then we might with some reason complain that we are so dissatisfied with our enjoyments compared with our desires." JOHNSON. “ The lady confounds annihilation, which is nothing, with the apprehension of it, which is dreadful. It is in the apprehension of it that the horror of annihilation consists.”
Of John Wesley he said, “ He can talk well on any subject." Boswell. “Pray, Sir, what has he made of his story of a ghost ?" Johnson. “Why, Sir, he believes it ; but not on sufficient authority. He did not take time enough to examine the girl. It was at Newcastle where the ghost was said to have appeared to a young woman several times, mentioning something about the right to an old house ; advising application to be made to an attorney, which was done ; and at the same time, saying the attorney would do nothing, which proved to be the fact. • This,' says John, “is a proof that a ghost knows our thoughts. Now" (laughing), " it is not necess
essary to know our thoughts, to tell that an attorney will sometimes do nothing. Charles Wesley, who is a more stationary man, does not believe the story. I am sorry that John did not take more pains to enquire into the evidence for it.” Miss SEWARD (with an incredulous smile). “What Sir! about a ghost !” JOHNSON (with solemn vehemence). “ Yes, Madam; this is a question which, after five thousand years, is yet undecided ;
a question, whether in theology or philosophy, one of the most important that can come before the human understanding."
Mrs. Knowles mentioned, as a proselyte to Quakerism, Miss
(1), a young lady well known to Dr. Johnson, for whom he had shown 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 amiable 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 (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.
(1) Jane Harry. She was the illegitimate daughter, by a mulatto woman, of what Miss Seward calls (Lett. i. 97.) a planter in the East Indies, but, in truth, of a West Indian, who sent her over to England for her education. At the friend's house where she resided Mrs. Knowles was a frequent visiter; and by degrees she converted this inexperienced, and probably not very wise, young creature to Quakerism. Miss Seward, with more than her usual inaccuracy, has made a romantic history of this lady; and, amongst other fables, states that she sacrificed a fortune of 100,000l. by her conscientious conversion. Mr. Markland has been so kind as to put into my hands evidence from a highly respectable member of the father's family, which proves that Jane Harry's fortune was but 1000l. ; and so little was her father displeased at her conversion, that he rather approved of it, and gave her 10001. more. So vanishes another of Miss Seward's romances. - - C.
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 Ptolemaic systems.” Mrs. KNOWLES. 6. She had the New Testament before her.” JOHNSON. “ Madam, she could not understand the New Testament, the most difficult book in the world, for which the study of a life is required.” Mrs. KNOWLES. “ It is clear as to essentials." Johnson. “ But not as to controversial points. The heathens were easily converted, because they had nothing to give up; but we ought not, without very strong conviction indeed, to desert the religion in which we have been educated. That is the religion given you, the religion in which it may be said Providence has placed you. If you live conscientiously in that religion, you may be safe. But error is dangerous indeed, if you err when you choose a religion for yourself.” MRS. KNOWLES. “Must we, then, go by implicit faith ?” Johnson. “ Why, Madam, the greatest part of our knowledge is implicit faith; and as to religion, have we heard all that a disciple of Confucius, all that a Mahometan, can say for himself ?” He then rose again into passion, and attacked the young proselyte in the severest terms of reproach, so that both the ladies seemed to be much shocked.
We remained together till it was pretty late. Notwithstanding occasional explosions of violence, we were all delighted upon the whole with Johnson, I compared him at this time to a warm West Indian climate, where you have a bright sun, quick regetation, luxuriant foliage, luscious fruits ; but where the same heat sometimes produces thunder, lightning, and earthquakes in a terrible degree. (')
(1) Mrs. Knowles, not satisfied with the fame of her needlework, the “sutile pictures” mentioned by Johnson, in which she has indeed displayed much dexterity, nay, with the fame of rean soning better than women generally do, as I have fairly shown her to have done, communicated to me a dialogue of considerable length, which, after many years had elapsed, she wrote down as having passed between Dr. Johnson and her at this interview. As I had not the least recollection of it, and did not find the smallest trace of it in my “record” taken at the time, I could not, in consistency with my firm regard to authenticity, insert it in my work. It has, however, been published in “ The Gentleman's Magazine” for June, 1791 [v. lxi. p. 500.]. It chiefly relates to the principles of the sect called Quakers; and no doubt the lady appears to have greatly the advantage of Dr. Johnson in argument, as well as expression. From what I have now stated, and from the internal evidence of the paper itself, any one who may have the curiosity to peruse it will judge whether it was wrong in me to reject it, however willing to gratify Mrs. Knowles. — B.
Mrs. Knowles, to her own account of this conversation was desirous of adding Miss Seward's testimony; and Miss Seward, who had by this time become exceedingly hostile to Johnson's memory, and was a great admirer of Mrs. Knowles, was not unwilling to gratify her. She accordingly communicated to Mrs. Knowles her notes of the conversation (Lett. v. i. 97.), which, it may be fairly presumed, were not too partial to John
But they, nevertheless, did not satisfy the fair disputant, who, as Miss Seward complains (Lett. ii. 179.), was “ curiously dissatisfied with them, because they did not contain all that had passed, and as exhibiting her in a poor eclipsed light ;” and it is amusing to observe, that except on the words - odious wench" at the outset, in which all three accounts agree, and the words “ I never desire to meet fools anywhere,” with which the ladies agree that the conversation ended there is little accordance between them. Had they been content to say that the violence of Johnson was a disagreeable contrast to the quiet reasoning of the fair Quaker, they would probably have said no more than the truth; but when they affect to give the precise dialogue in the very words of the speakers, and yet do not agree in almost any one expression or sentiment, — when neither preserve a word of what Mr. Boswell reports, — and when both (but particularly Mrs. Knowles) attribute to Johnson the poorest and feeblest