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LXXXI. Dr. Johnson on the Death of his Wife.
Bath-Row, Worcester, Feb. 14. The following letter of Dr. Johnson to a friend, upon the death of his wife, Mr. Boswell, in his biographical account of that truly great man, supposes to be, and laments as lost.
“ The dreadful shock of separation,” says he, “took place on the 8th. and he (Dr. Johnson) immediately dispatched a letter to his friend the Rev. Dr. Taylor, which, as Taylor told me, expressed grief in the strongest manner he had ever read; so that it is much to be regretted it has not been preserved.”
I cannot help expressing a wish, that Mr. Boswell's sentiments respecting the fate of this letter had been more generally known, as I have no doubt but that he would have received copies of it from various hands. But though it has hitherto eluded his researches, and the discovery of its existence will be made too late to obtain a place in the present edition of its author's life, that distinction, perhaps, may be conferred upon it hereafter in the next. Till it shall be wanting for that, or some other literary purposes, you will oblige me by assigning to it a place in the archives of the Gentleman's Magazine.
To the Rev. Dr. Taylor.
March 17, 1752, 0. S. NOTWITHSTANDING the warnings of philosophers, and the daily examples of losses and misfortunes which life forces upon us, such is the absorption of our thoughts in the business of the present day—such the resignation of our reason to empty hopes of future felicity ;-or such our unwillingness to foresee what we dread, that every calamity comes suddenly upon us, and not only presses us as a burthen, but crushes as a blow.
There are evils which happen out of the common course of nature, against which it is no reproach not to be provided. A fash of lightning intercepts the traveller in his way. The concussion of an earthquake heaps the ruin of cities upon their inhabitants.
But other miseries time brings,
though silently, yet visibly forward, by its own lapse, which yet approach unseen, because we turn our eyes away; and seize us unresisted, because we could not arm ourselves against them, but by setting them before us.
That it is in vain to shrink from what cannot be avoided, and to hide that from ourselves which must sometimes be found, is a truth which we all know, but which all neglect, and perhaps none more than the speculative reasoner, whose thoughts are always from home, whose eye wanders over life, whose fancy dances after meteors of happiness kindled by itself, and who examines every thing rather than his own state.
Nothing is more evident than that the decays of age must terminate in death. Yet there is no man (says Tully) who does not believe that he may yet live another year; and there is none who does not, upon the same principle, hope another year for his parent or his friend; but the fallacy will be in time detected; the last year, the last day, will come; it has come, and is past.- “The life which made my own life pleasant is at an end, and the gates of death are shut upon my prospects.”
The loss of a friend on whom the heart was fixed, to whom every wish and endeavour tended, is a state of desolation in which the mind looks abroad impatient of itself, and finds nothing but emptiness and horror. The blameless life-theartless tenderness--the pious simplicity-the modest resignation--the patient sickness, and the quiet death,ếare remembered only to add value to the loss--to aggravate regret for what cannot be amended to deepen sorrow for what cannot be recalled.
These are the calamities by which providence gradually disengages us from the love of life. Other evils fortitude may repel, or hope may mitigate; but irreparable privation leaves nothing to exercise resolution, or flatter expectation. The dead cannot return, and nothing is left us here but languishment and grief.
Yet such is the course of nature, that whoever lives long must outlive those whom he loves and honours. Such is the condition of our present existence, that life must one time lose its associations, and every inhabitant of the earth must walk downward to the grave alone and unregarded, without any partner of his joy or grief, without any interested wit. ness of his misfortunes or success. Misfortunes indeed he may yet feel, for where is the bottom of the misery of man! But what is success to him who has none to enjoy it?
Happiness is not found in self-contemplation ;-itis perceived only when it is reflected from another.
We know little of the state of departed souls, because such knowledge is not necessary to a good life. Reason deserts us at the brink of the grave, and gives no farther intelligence. Revelation is not wholly silent. “There is joy in the angels of beaven over a sinner that repenteth." And surely this joy is not incommunicable to souls disentangled from the body, and made like angels.
Let the hope, therefore, dictate what revelation does not confute—that the union of souls may still remain; and that we, who are struggling with sin, sorrow, and infirmities, may have our part in the attention and kindness of those wbo have finished their course, and are now receiving their reward.
These are the great occasions which force the mind to take refuge in religion. When we have no help in ourselves, what can remain but that we look up to a higher and greater power? and to what hope may we not raise our eyes and hearts, when we consider that the greatest power is the best?
Surely there is no man who, thus afflicted, does not seek succour in the Gospel, which has brought life and immortality to light! The precepts of Epicurus, which teach us to endure what the laws of the universe make necessary, may silence but not content us. The dictates of Zeno, who commands us to look with indifference on abstract things, may dispose us to conceal our sorrow, but cannot assuage it. Real alleviation of the loss of friends, and rational tranquillity in the prospect of our own dissolution, can be received only from the promise of him in whose hands are life and death, and from the assurances of another and better state, in which all tears will be wiped from our eyes, and the whole soul shall be filled with joy.Philosophy may infuse stubbornness, but religion only can give patience. 1794, Feb.
LXXXII. Dr. Benjamin Franklin to the Earl of Buchan.
Dryburgh Abbey, July 12. THE very long intermission of my correspondence with you, has been owing to my particular engagements in
literature, which have prevented me from contributing to your useful undertaking. Being of opinion, that the wide dissemination and extention of useful knowledge in both sexes, in all ages and ranks, ought to be the primary object of every friend to humanity, I have uniformly, with my illustrious triend the great Washington, been a promoter of cheap and well-digested periodical publications. I have, for three or four years past, furnished a good deal of matter for Dr. Anderson's Journal in Scotland, called the Bee; which, from some difficulties in the circulation of it, has been lately suspended by the Editor. Just attachinent to my own country induced me to give a preference to that Journal ; but now, finding myself disengaged, I chearfully reassume my literary connexion with the Gentleman's Magazine, that truly chaste and respectable Repository of erudite and useful information.
As a beginning, I send you a truly interesting letter of the worthy Dr. Franklin. Nothing in my opinion, can more surely tend to produce peace, industry, and happiness, in Britain, than an interchange of citizens with congenial America ; and whoever discourages that interchange must be considered as no friend to the happiness of either side of the Atlantic, or the interests of humanity at large.
America presents a country founded upon pure principles of Christian charity, and untainted morality, as flowing from that charity, and such as the world never before exhibited. She, therefore, offers to the reflecting and inquisitive mind considerations and hopes that enter deep and far into a happier futurity. I am, Sir, with esteem, your obedient humble servant,
Dr. Benjamin Franklin, Minister Extraordinary and Plenipo
tentiary from the United States of America to France, to the Earl of Buchan.
Passy, March 17, 1783. “I RECEIVED the letter your Lordship did me the honour of writing to me the 18th past : and am much obliged by your kind congratulations on the return of peace, which 'I hope will be lasting. “ With regard to the terms on which lands may
be quired in America, and the manner of beginning new settlements on them, I cannot give better information than may be found in a book lately printed at London, 'under
some such title as “ Letters from a Pennsylvanian Farmer," by Hector St. John. The only encouragements we hold out to strangers are, a good climate, fertile soil, wholesome air and water, plenty of provisions and fuel, good pay for labour, kind neighbours, good laws, and a hearty welcome. The rest depends on a man's own industry and virtue. Lands are cheap, but they must be bought, All settlements are undertaken at private expence; the public contributes nothing but defence and justice. I have long observed of your people, that their sobriety, frugality, industry, and honesty, seldom fail of success in America, and of procuring them a good establishment among us.
“I do not recollect the circumstance you are pleased to mention, of my having saved a citizen at St. Andrew's by giving a turn to his disorder; and I am curious to know what the disorder was, and what the advice I gave which proved so salutary*. With great regard, I have the honour to be, my Lord, your Lordship's most obedient and most Humble servant, 1794, July
LXXXIII. Dr. Doddridge to Bishop Hildesley.
Chelsea, April 22. THROUGH the kindness of my valued relation, Mr. Giberne, the following letter has fortunately been rescued from oblivion. He found it by accident, amongst various other papers that fell to him of Mr. (afterwards Dr.) Mark Hildesley, late bishop of Sodor and Man. At the time when the letter was written, it appears, that Mr. Hildesley was the rector of Holwell in Bedfordshire, a living presented to him by R. Radcliffe, Esq. who had a singular respect for his many amiable and engaging qualities, and always called him Father Hildesley.
The character, both of the excellent prelate and of his most respectable correspondent, Dr. Philip Doddridge, can never fail to be esteemed, so long as piety and sound learning retain their just value in our land.
Theautograph of the letteris inclosed, for your satisfaction;
* It was a fever in which the Earl of Buchan, then Lord Cardross, lay sick at St. Andrew's; and the advice was, not to blister according to the old practice and the opinion of the learned Dr. Thomas Simson, brother of the cele Draivd geometrician at Glasgow. B.