Dr Johnson’s first sentence reminds us that the Catholic church was still regarded with suspicion in England in the 1740s, even if there was a growing degree of toleration. But he seizes a part of the monastic vocation in this paragraph, as well as presenting us with the mystery of death and dying. Right now, I would quit this life with reluctance, but I hope that I will be able to say my Nunc dimittis when the time comes. Meanwhile, free me from the tyranny of caprice, my own and other people’s!
“I do not wonder that, where the monastick life is permitted, every order finds votaries, and every monastery inhabitants. Men will submit to any rule, by which they may be exempted from the tyranny of caprice and of chance. They are glad to supply by external authority their own want of constancy and resolution, and court the government of others, when long experience has convinced them of their own inability to govern themselves. If I were to visit Italy, my curiosity would be more attracted by convents than by palaces: though I am afraid that I should find expectation in both places equally disappointed, and life in both places supported with impatience and quitted with reluctance. That it must be so soon quitted, is a powerful remedy against impatience; but what shall free us from reluctance? Those who have endeavoured to teach us to die well, have taught few to die willingly: yet I cannot but hope that a good life might end at last in a contented death. ‘
From “Life of Johnson, Volume 1 1709-1765” by James Boswell.