The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D.

by James Boswell

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"It Matters Not How A Man Dies, But How He Lives"

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Context: Once when Boswell and Johnson were alone, Boswell introduced into the conversation the subject of death, which he knew Johnson abhorred. Johnson strenuously denied that any sensible person could be unafraid of death: if one pointed a pistol at a dying man, he would be terror-stricken. Although Johnson had, in his poem The Vanity of Human Wishes, written that death was a retreat from the world to a happier existence, he very much disliked the idea of passing on to that joyful state. The trouble is that a man has to give up everything he has to achieve it. In answer to Boswell's query as to whether we cannot fortify our minds against the idea of death, Johnson exclaimed that the important thing was not how a man dies but how he lives:

. . . To my question, whether we might not fortify our minds for the approach of death, he answered, in a passion, "No, Sir, let it alone. It matters not how a man dies, but how he lives. The act of dying is not of importance, it lasts so short a time." He added (with an earnest look), "A man knows it must be so, and submits. It will do him no good to whine."

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