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This chapter examines the persistence of death, and the related concepts of salvation and the afterlife, in the life and writings of Johnson. As a pious rationalist, death presented a conundrum for Johnson, one that (according to Boswell) pitted his intellectual faculties against illogical, religious fear. It was indeed a source of enduring angst for Johnson, revealed in this chapter by: (1) his holy fear of death, a Christian duty that Johnson believed to be a deeply rational position informed by the uncertainty of salvation; (2) his contemplation of the dead, and his grief over departed loved ones (including his mother, his wife, and Robert Levet); and (3) the various biographical constructions of Johnson’s character when on his own deathbed, finally confronted with his own mortality.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Oxford Handbook of Samuel Johnson
EditorsJack Lynch
Place of PublicationOxford
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9780191836138
ISBN (Print)9780198794660
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • Samuel Johnson
  • eighteenth century
  • death
  • mortality
  • salvation
  • afterlife
  • religion
  • mourning
  • deathbed
  • elegy
  • epitaph


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