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Salve, magna parens frugum, Staffordia tellus,
More decisive testimonies of his affectionate sensibility are exhibited in the following work, where he bewails the successive depredations of death on his relations and friends; whose virtues, thus mournfully suggested to his recollection, he seldom omits to recite, with ardent wishes for their acquittal at the throne of mercy. In praying, however, with restriction”, for these regretted tenants of the grave, he indeed conformed to a practice, which, though it has been retained by other learned members of our church, her Liturgy no longer admits, and many, who adhere to her communion, avowedly disapprove. That such prayers are, or may be, efficacious, they who sincerely offer them must believe. But may not a belief in their efficacy, so far as it prevails, be attended with danger to those who entertain it? May it not incline them to carelessness; and promote a neglect of repentance by inducing a persuasion, that, without it, pardon may be obtained through these vicarious intercessions? Indeed the doctrine (I speak with deference to the great names that have espoused it) seems inconsistent with some principles generally allowed among us. If, where the tree falleth, there it shall be; if, as Protestants maintain, our state at the close of life is to be the measure of our final sentence; then prayers for the dead, being visibly fruitless, can be regarded only as the vain oblations of superstition. But of all superstitions, this perhaps is one of the least unamiable, and most incident to a good mind. If our sensations of kindness be intense, those whom we have revered and loved during life, death, which removes them from sight, cannot wholly exclude from our concern. The fondness, kindled by intercourse, will still glow from memory, and prompt us to wish, perhaps to pray, that the valued dead, to whose felicity our friendship can no longer minister, may find acceptance with Him, who giveth us, and them, richly all things to enjoy. It is true, for the reason just mentioned, such evidences of our surviving affection may be thought ill-judged; but surely they are generous; and some natural tenderness is due even to a superstition, which thus originates in piety and benevolence. We see our author, in one place”, purposing with seriousness to remember his brother's dream; in anotherit owning his embarrassment from needless stipulations; and, on many occasions, noting, with
* Our author informs us, that his prayers for deceased friends were offered up, on several occasions as far as might be lawful for him; and once (p. 522), with Preface of Permission: whence it should seem that he had some doubt concerning the lawfulness of such prayers, though it does not appear that he ever discontinued the use of them. It is also observable, that in his reflections on the death of his Wife (p. 545), and again of Mr. Thrale (p. 556), he wishes that the Almighty not may have, but may have had, mercy on them; evidently supposing their sentence to have been already passed in the Divine Mind. This supposition, indeed, may seem not very consistent with his recommending them to the Divine Mercy afterwards. It proves, however, that he had no belief in a state of Purgatory, and consequently no reason for praying for the dead, that could impeach the sincerity of his profession as a Protestant.
a circumstantial minuteness, the process of his religious fasts. But these peculiarities, if they betray some tincture of the propensity already observed, prove, for the most part, the pious tenour of his thoughts. They indicate a mind ardently zealous to please God, and anxious to evince its alacrity in his service, by a scrupulous observance of more than enjoined duties. But however the soundness of his principles might, in general, be apparent, he seems to have lived with a perpetual conviction that his conduct was defective; lamenting past neglects, forming purposes of future diligence, and constantly acknowledging their failure in the event. It was natural for him, who possessed such powers of usefulness, to consider the waste of his time as a peculiar delinquency; with which, however, he appears to have been far less frequently, and less culpably chargeable, than his own tender sense of duty disposed him to apprehend. That he meritoriously redeemed many days and years from indolence, is evinced by the number and excellence of his works; nor can we doubt that his literary exertions would have been still more frequent, had not morbid melancholy, which, as he informs us”, was the infirmity of his life, repressed them. To the prevalence of this infirmity, we may certainly ascribe that anxious fear, which seized him on the approach of his dissolution, and which his friends, who knew his integrity, observed with equal astonishment and concern. But the strength of religion at length prevailed against the frailty of nature; and his foreboding dread of the Divine Justice by degrees subsided into a pious trust and humble hope in the Divine Mercy.
* P. 53.5.
He is now gone to await his eternal sentence ; and as his life exhibited an illustrious example, so his death suggests an interesting admonition. It concerns us to reflect, that however many may find it impossible to rival his intellectual excellence, yet to imitate his virtues is both possible and necessary to all; that the current of time now hastens to plunge us in that gulph of Death, where we have so lately seen him absorbed, where there is no more place of repentance, and whence, according to our innocence or guilt, we shall rise to an immortality of Bliss or Torment.
IslingtoN, August 6, 1785.
THE FOURTH EDITION.
To this Edition is added [at p. 474] a Prayer now in my possession in Dr. Johnson's own hand-writing, in which he expressly supposes that Providence may permit him to enjoy the good effects of his Wife's attention and ministration by appearance, impulses, or dreams. It is well known that he admitted the credibility of apparitions: and in his Rasselas", he maintains it, in the person of Imlac, by the following acute train of reasoning:
“That the dead are seen no more, said Imlac, I will not undertake to maintain, against the concurrent and unvaried testimony of all ages and of all nations. There is no people, rude or learned, among whom apparitions of the dead are not related and believed. This opinion, which perhaps prevails as far as human nature is diffused, could become universal only by its truth; those that never heard of one another, would not have agreed in a tale which
* Vol. V. Chap. xxxi.