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XLIX. Letters to and from Dr. Johnson, on Suicide.
MR. URBAN, As a very dangerous misconstruction of a passage in a work of the late Dr. Johnson appears to have been made by some persons; and though the Doctor kindly condescended to correct the error, through the same channel that the remark was first intended to be conveyed to him; yet as the misconstruction arising froin a book may long survive the erplanation contained in a newspaper, I beg leave, through your lasting Repository, in justice to the character of a most worthy man, to perpetuate the Doctor's Vindication of him. self, as well as to communicate to the world the steps which led to it. Yours, &c.
Bath, May 4, 1782. CONSCIOUS of the motive from which I write, and trusting that it will readily and clearly appear; I shall leave it to plead my excuse for the trouble I may hereby give you. Without farther preface, therefore, I take the liberty to in.orm you, that, in the Morning Chronicle of Dec: 12 last, a person, in the character of a master of an academy, recommended the “ Beauties of your Writings," a book published last year, to all persons who have the care of youth, as well calculated to convey at once both pleasure and instruction, particularly to young minds. However, he pointed out one passage in it, under the article Death, which, he said, is supposed by some readers to recommend suicide ; but knowing your principles too well to join in this opinion, he hoped you would favor the public, through the channel of the same paper, with an explanation, which might effectually remove so erroneous an idea. The passage is as follows: “ To die, is the fate of man ;, but to die with lingering anguish is generally his folly."
I confess, I bave joined in the wish of the letter-writer, but have not had the pleasure of seeing it gratified. Possibly the letter has not come to your knowledge, and therefore I take this method of acquainting you with it; or probably the passage, when taken with the context, loses its exceptionable appearauçe. I own, I do not recollect my
having met with it in any of your works, though I cannot but suppose it is to be found there, and on that account you may have thought it unnecessary to give it any farther explanation. Whatever may be the cause of your not having taken any notice of the letter, I cannot be satisfied whilst any thing, which has the sanction of your name, even appears, uncontroverted, to recommend suicide; whilst the acknowledged friend of Religion and Virtue is supposed, uncontradicted, to have published any sentiment inconsistent with the Christian Religion. I shall still hope, therefore, that you will not think your time mis-pent by publicly removing this, possibly, "stone of stumbling,” this, as it appears, "rock of offence;" especially as your silence may tend to confirm the opinion of those who understand the passage in this very uofavorable sense; and if you shall think ihis deserving of your private notice, you will thereby confer an honour, as well as an obligation, on, Sir, your obedient humble servant, &c.
To Dr. Johnson, &c.
May 15, 1789. BEING now in the country in a state of recovery, as I hope, from a very oppressive disorder, I cannot neglect the acknowledgement of your Christian lettter. The book called “ Beauties of J-n,” is the production of I know not whom; I never saw it but by casual inspection, and considered myself as utterly disengaged from its consequences, Of the passage you mention I remember some notice in some paper; but knowing that it must be misrepresented, I thought of it no more, nor do I now know where to find it in my own books. I am accustomed to think little of newspapers ; but an opinion so weighty and serious as yours, has determined me to do, what I should, without your seasonable admonition, have omitted ; and I will direct my thought to be shewn in its true state. If I could find the
passage, I would direct you to it. I suppose the tenor is this : “ Acute diseases are the immediate and itfevitable strokes of Heaven; but of them the paiu is short, and the conclusion speedy: chronical disorders, by which we are suspended in tedious torture between life and death, are commonly the effect of our own misconduct and intemperance. To die." &c. This, Sir, you see is all true, and all blameless. I hope, some time in the next week, to have all rectified. My health has been lately much shaken; if you favour this with any answer, it will be a comfort to me to know that I have your prayers. I am, Sir, your most humble servant,
SAMUEL JOHNSON. To the Rev. Mr.
Bath, May 18, 1782. I AM to acknowledge and thank you for your favour of the 15th ; and I am happy to find, that you think the business on which I wrote to you not undeserving your attention. The sentiment as you have prefaced and explained it, as I doubted not would be the case, is quite unexceptionable.
I am glad to find that you are better than you have been, and on the recovery. Indeed, I should be wanting in gratitude, as well as benevolence and charity, if you had not, in return for the great pleasure I have received from your writings, my best wishes and prayers; and particularly, as my last and best, that when the period of the present state of
your existence shall approach, you may have a short and easy passage from this life to that in which good men " rest from their
labours, and their works follow them.” I am, Sir, with great esteem, your obliged and obedient humble servant, &c. To Dr. Johnson, &c. The following appeared in the Morning Chronicle of
May 29, 1789. A correspondent having mentioned, in the Morning Chronicle of Dec. 12, the last clause of the following paragraph, as seeming to favour suicide; we are requested to print the whole passage, that its true meaning may appear, which is not to recommend suicide, but exercise.
6 Exercise cannot secure us from that dissolution to which we are decreed; but while the soul and body continue united, it can make the association pleasing, and give probable hopes that they shall be disjoined by an easy separation. It was a principle among the ancients, that acute diseases are from heaven, and chronical from ourselves; the dart of death indeed falls from heaven, but we poison it by our own misconduct: to die is the fate of man; but to die with lingering anguish is generally his folly." Vide Rambler, vol. II. No. 85.
L. Letters from Addison to Lord Wharton.
Mr. Addison to Lord Wharton.
London, Aug. 24, 1710. THIS morning I had the honour of a visit from Mr. Bertie, who, upon my acquainting him with your Lordship’s concern for his brother's election, declared himself very much obliged to your Lordship; but said, his brother was so tired with sitting in the House, that he would not be in it again upon any consideration. I hear from my Lord Dartmouth's* office, that all the particulars which I had in charge to bis Lordship have been already complied with, except that about prorogning the parliament, which I have desired may be dispatched forth with to your Excellency, in case it be judged necessary.
The privy council is to meet this night, in order (as it was said yesterday) to place iny Lord Peterborough at the head of the Admiralty t, and to deterrnine on the dissolution : but this morning I hear, from very good hands, that there is advice of the Prince of Wales beiog ready to embark with a body of troops at Dunkirk, and that the Admiralty is to attend the privy council upon this occasion.
It is said, the Duke of Queensborough has had intimations of such a designed invasion above a month ago from several parts of Scotland. This report, I believe, comes from Sir George Byng, and is of such a nature that I should be cautious of mentioning it to any body but your Excellency.
Among the prints which I send you by this post, the “ Essay upon Credit” is said to be written by Mr. Harley; and that of “ Bickerstaff detected f,” by Mr. Congreve. Dr. Garth (under whose hands I am at preserit) will not excuse me if I do not present his most humble duty to your Lordship. The Doctor this morning shewed me a copy of verses which he bas inade in praise of the late lord treasurer.
* Then Secretary of State. E.
This did not take place. E.
This pamphlet has beeu sometimes ascribed to Rowe, but more commonly to Yalden. E.
This Epistle to Lord Godolphin' is printed with Garth s Poems. E.
The Lord Islay is lately returned from Scotland; and, it is said, the Duke of Argyle is expected every day from Flanders. I am, with the greatest respect, my Lord, your Lordship's most obedient and most humble servant,
Reports of the Town, transmitted to Lord Wharton, by
Mr. Addison, with the above letter. The reports of the town (as to public affairs) are very va, rious : what I have the honour to write to your Lordship is the talk of the considerable people of the one side : but, as they are none of them in the secret, cannot be entirely depended upon.
The Duke of Queensborough, it is said, will be succeeded * by the Lord Marr, or as others are positive, by the Duke of Shrewsbury. · If the first happen, he is to be lord high steward of the household; if the second, to be lord high chamberlain. The D. of Queensborough declares he has heard nothing of his removal. I was yesterday above an hour in private at his office with the Lord Marr.
Mr. Boyle is to make way for Mr. St. John t.
The D. of Somerset represents himself as actuated by personal piques in what he has done ; and has resolved to adhere to the whiggish principles. It is generally said he is fallen off from the new ministers, and that he has recommended whigs to all bis boroughs.
The Duke of Newcastle is very well with Mr. Harley, for whom, they say, he had formerly a great friendship and esteem.
My Lord Somers is thought to have great personal interest in her Majesty, but not sufficient to support his party : so that he seems to lye-by in expectation of proper opportunities.
Mr. Hampden refused to be a commissioner of the treasury, unless the parliament might be continued ; it was certainly offered him; and as they say, by the Queen herself, who (upon his answer relating to the parliament) told him,
she had not sent for him for his advice on that particular.”
Mr. Benson, a reputed whig, could not withstand the same temptation.
This event did not
* As one of the three principal secretaries of state. take place. E.
+ This conjecture was right. E.