Dalrymple’s December contribution to the New English Review is undoubtedly one of his most personal pieces. Opening with an explanation of his declining health and an increasing awareness of the brevity of his life, it soon ventures into what must be the deepest questions humans are capable of addressing:
…the notion of oblivion is a difficult one. Some philosophers have argued that there should be nothing difficult about it because future oblivion will only be the same as that before we were born (or had some semblance of continuous memory), and with that we have no problem. But I do not think this is quite right. The fact that we have existed and do still exist alters everything for us. The only oblivion of which we have actual experience is that of sleep, and we have experience of it only because we wake afterwards: in other words, all our oblivions hitherto have been temporary and capable of being experienced.
When I try to think of my future non-existence, I am nevertheless aware, Descartes-like, that I am thinking about it: therefore I have not imagined my non-existence. I know that to be non-existent is not like being anything, but so long as I imagine oblivion, I am, I exist.