Magazine April 20, 2020, Issue

Death and the Coronavirus

The Triumph of Death, from a 1503 edition of Petrarch (Leemage/Corbis via Getty Images)
A meditation for the plague

‘Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully,” wrote Samuel Johnson, whose mind, without fear of hanging, was concentrated on death throughout his life. Johnson concentrated on death with, in a word, “terror.” He thought, mistakenly, that he was not a good enough Christian, and that nothing pleasing awaited after his demise. None of us is to be hanged in a fortnight, either, but, these days, with the plague of the coronavirus upon the land, all our minds are concentrated on death. Turn on the television or

This article appears as “Death and the Virus” in the April 20, 2020, print edition of National Review.

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Joseph Epstein — Mr. Epstein is the author, most recently, of Gallimaufry, a Collection of Essays, Reviews, Bits.

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