Art thou in health, my friend? Bad health, or an improper course of life must have impelled you, surely, to espouse, — I shall not say such principles, for they are not worthy of such a title, -but the “probabilities” of a blank so fearful in your future history. But you may be ready to ask, “What has bad health to do with my opinions?” I know not that I can give you a better answer than in the language of a character somewhat similar to yourself, but just emerging into a happier belief. In a letter to a friend, he says: “I will just speak another reflection. The ingenious Dr. C. reckons all gloomy wrong-headedness, and spurious free-thinking, as so many symptoms of bodily disease; and, I think, says, ‘The human organs in some nervous distempers may, perhaps, be rendered fit for the actuation of demons,’ and advises religion as an excellent remedy. Nor is this unlikely to be my own case; for a nervous disease, of some years’ standing, rose to its height in _____, and I was attacked in proportion by irreligious opinions. The medicinal part of his advice, a vegetable diet, at last cured my dreadful bodily distemper. It is, then, natural to think the spiritual part of his advice equally good. And shall I neglect it, because I am now in health? God forbid!”

“Annihilation!” But what is that? Do you properly understand the term, think you? Have you a right conception of all its appalling import? Is it not to be reduced to nothing, — forever nothing? — as if you had never been? — a deprivation, an utter extinction of being? — a loss of existence throughout eternity? ETERNITY! Unmeaning word! — you have, it seems, discarded it quite from your vocabulary. But do you find it quite so easy a thing to expel it from your understanding, or to blot it from your memory? I will venture to assert, it lives there still, and bids defiance to all the exorcisms of infidelity to banish it thence; it abides there still, with a sense of all that it implies.

I am not willing to allow that “Christian enthusiasts” are the only persons who “are constantly poring over eternity.” There are few, perhaps, who think more about this important term than a certain class of infidels. The difference between them and those you call enthusiasts is, the former are necessitated to dwell upon the darkest and most terrifying aspect of the question. I think we may rather say:

“Atheists are dark enthusiasts, indeed,
Whose fire enkindles like the smoking weed;
Lightless and dull the clouded fancy burns,
Wild hopes and fears still flashing out by turns.
Averse to heaven, amid the horrid gleam,
They trace annihilation’s monstrous theme;
On gloomy depths of nothingness to pore,
Till all be none, and being be no more.”

It is, certainly, a dread alternative for the mind to be in a “state of poise” between an eternity of misery, or annihilation. You have, it seems, renounced the former, while you retain the latter as the most tolerable of the two. Your predicament quite resembles that of one of your fraternity, some two or three hundred years ago, well expressed thus:

“When death’s dread form appears, she feareth not
An utter quenching, or extinguishment;
She would be glad to meet with such a lot,
That so she might all future ill prevent.”

Annihilation! Death’s last moment ushers in a blank which is to be everlasting — eternal!” for, although you profess to have excluded from your thoughts an eternity of existence, you do not seem shy of the term when applied in a state of nonexistence. But it expresses your meaning, doubtless, better and more strongly than any other word in our language. I wonder, however, why you venture to use it so freely, as you hazard “being tilted over” by it unto the other side of the question. Depend upon it, the word is contagious; therefore be advised, use it sparingly. Annihilation! — Consider! The sun shall rise and set; the moon shall present her varied face to the earth; nature shall change her dress through the seasons of countless years thunders shall roll through the heavens, and the lightnings flash; science shall continue its march, achieving its wonders, and triumphing gloriously over all the difficulties of materialism; history shall continue its annals, while generation succeeds to generation, as the leaves of the forest in the revolving year. Your own particular circle of friends and acquaintances shall have disappeared from among men; the house in which you live must be occupied by others; and the trade, if you have one, in which you are engaged, shall be “carried on” by strangers unknown and unborn. Cities, now in existence, shall have ceased to exist; their very site be no longer known; while others shall lift their shining pinnacles and lofty domes in the sunshine. The mightiest empires which now throw their ample shades over millions of subjects shall have passed away, — their names may be lost, or dropped, as apocryphal, from the pages of history; and other empires, whose names are not yet recorded among the nations of the earth, shall be swaying their scepters over unnumbered millions: But where shall you be? I mean, by you, that thinking intelligent mind, which, through organs perishable as the grass of the field, is perusing this letter, and judging of its contents. Where, what shall you be? Be! according to your sentiments, you shall have no being, — extinguished as the “vital spark of heavenly flame,” swallowed up and lost in eternal oblivion. How can you dwell upon a prospect so bleak and comfortless, without a chilly horror creeping over your frame? “Is annihilation,” inquires one, “so small a matter, that a reasonable man can look upon it with complacency?”

“That must be our cure,
To be no more — sad cure! for who would lose,
Though full of pain, this intellectual being
Those thoughts that wander through eternity,
To perish rather, swallowed up and lost
In the wide womb of uncreated night,
Devoid of sense and motion?”

Which horn of the following dilemma are you inclined to take? “If your system be true, you have a bleak and comfortless lot but, if false, forever miserable will be your fate, because you are making no preparation for it.” What reply could you make to the following inquiry and conclusion? “Who among us could be cheerful while he entertained the thought of not being at all after death, which must be the atheist’s lot, if his system be true; or, of being forever miserable, which will be his case, if his system should be false? On a person of this cast, it should seem needless to inflict any other punishment than that of leaving him to the horrors of his gloomy imagination, till he feel himself to want those joys and comforts of which he hath labored to deprive others.” The Sheffield bard has, I think, well described the bleak and lonely feelings associated, at a certain period of human life, with the opinions alluded to by the above writer. I shall give you the passage to which I refer; requesting you only to observe how ingeniously he lets in at the close, a flood of heavenly light upon the drooping and cheerless mind; would to God it may irradiate yours also!

“So I pass.
The world grows darker, lonelier, and more silent,
As I go down into the vale of years;
For the grave’s shadows lengthen in advance,
And the grave’s loneliness appalls my spirit,
And the grave’s silence sinks into my heart,
Till I forget existence in the thought
Of unexistence, buried for a while
In thy still sepulcher of my own mind,
Itself imperishable: ah! that word,
Like the archangel’s trumpet, wakes me up
To deathless resurrection. Heaven and earth
Shall pass away, but that which thinks within me
Must think forever; that which feels must feel:
I am, and I can never cease to be.”