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Agrescitque medendo.”—ÆNEID. One half of mankind appear to be constantly devising means for throwing away their lives, whilst another, and far from inconsiderable portion, are occupied in endeavours to prolong their mortal leases. Here we soe the fame extinguished by carelessness, there it burns faint from constant fanning. The former class seem to suppose that they bear a charmed life, that the better part of Kehama's curse is upon thein, that heat will not injure, nor cold chill, nor water drown them; and that, like Major Longbow himself, they cannot die if they would. The latter, on the contrary, love “ the pomp, pride, and circumstance" of sickness, and have a strong natural taste for physic, flannel, and barley-water: they weigh their meat, drop their wine, feel their pulse till it flutters, are hourly examiners of the tints of their longues, know every symptomatic shade of red, white, and brown, and consider those as the best-employed moments of their existence in which they are sipping water-gruel, taking alteratives, or promoting gentle perspiration. These unfortunate creatures, if asked how they live, might answer, like the victims of the Mal-aria, “ We die;" for they eat, speak, and act as if they saw the sword of Damocles constantly suspended above their heads. We allude not, of course, to those who are really ill, and to whom care and caution are duties, but to that tolerably large class of invalids who, if they did not think of their ailments, would have no ailments to think about. “ When the head's roul, the body's delicate,” and food for the mind would in some cases be more beneficial than physic for the body. Single women without lovers, and married ones without children, if they have not a party to prepare for, a flounce to embroider, or a new novel to read, are sometimes obliged to lie on a sofa, do nothing, and think of their nerves. It has been said, " Te felice, o pastorella, che non sai che cosa è amore.” But I would translate this as follows:
“ Blest above her sex the lady
Who knows nothing about nerves." The less these sensitive cobwebs are thought about, the better it is for the peace of their owners : ignorance of them may, indeed, be called a blissful ignorance.
In our climate, intellectual discipline and exertion are particularly required, in order to counteract the effects of the varying pressure of the atmosphere. This will, in a few hours, increase from one hundred weight to half a ton, and what can become of the head which has only a vacuum to oppose to so enormous a pressure? The busy may complain of the day, but have no time to think of its effects; while the idle remark every slight sensation in their frames, smell to ether, drink camphor julap, and threaten themselves with fever, asthma, or apoplexy.
“ Et je sais même sur ce fait
Bon nombre d'hommes qui sont femmes.” One might as well be in an apothecary's shop or a dissecting-room as in company with one of these malades imaginaires : so much chewing of magnesia and ipecacuanha lozenges, so strong a smell of peppermint and ether, so much said about the various secretions and operations
of the human body. They talk of bile till their hearers are sick ; praise rhubarb, camomile, and asafætida, as if nastiness were the pledge of wholesomeness ; are always qualmish or feverish; have a strange throbbing in their temples, or an alarming palpitation of the heart, and perhaps make one feel their pulse, or look down their throat in search of an ulcer or an elongated uvula. They would think it a disgrace to say they were well, and apparently would reverse the Italian proverb, “Chi ha la sanità è ricco e non lo sa." The society of a real invalid is much more agreeable than that of one of these fanciful people. The former describes the symptoms and treatment of but one complaint, but the latter cannot condescend to have less than a complication of disorders. A Fezzan proverb says, “Give a Morzoukowi your finger, he will beg first the elbow, and then the shoulder-bone as keepsakes;” and of a hypochondriacal patient one may with truth affirm, “ Grant him a cold in the head, and he will make you pity him for pleurisy or peripneumony.” In real illness, too, there is often a resignation and reserve, a sort of shrinking from pity and disclosure ; while the fanciful draw on your compassion till you are wearied, and describe circumstances and effects till minuteness excites disgust. Strange, indeed, it is that any should voluntarily clothe themselves with infirmity! Alas! there is enough in a sick chamber to lower the pride of the proudest, the vanity of the most vain. Terrible is the tax there paid to the mortal part of man. There the mind quails under the power of the dust it tries to despise; there delicacy suffers martyrdom, energy faints, fortitude is overcome, genius extinguished, temper lost. There strength and independence are propped on pillows and fed by another's band ; there heroism learns to weep, and patience to complain ; the philosopher is surprised at the superiority of opium to reasoning; the Christian starts at his own unwilling murmurs. There all that once pleased becomes wearisome; the imagination loathes music, mirth, and feasting; the memory flies from scenes of wild joy and laughter, of splendour, gaiety, and show, and lingers round those calm resting places which once perhaps seemed dull and cheerless; there lessons are learned in an hour, which a long life had failed to teach.
I went lately to see a friend in Northamptonshire, with whom I had been at college. We had not met for many years, but, being in his neighbourhood, I wrote to announce my intention of paying him a visit. I received a friendly reply, in which Mr. B. requested me to spend a few days with him, begged me to excuse the habits and hours of an invalid, and informed me that he dined at two o'clock. At Oxford he was gay, stout, and healthy, and I was grieved at the sad change which his letter indicated. I arrived at his house about one, and was shewn into a drawing-room, full of the insignia of sickness : sofas, foot-stools, easy-chairs, in more than customary profusion; a few phials and pill-boxes on the mantelpiece; a wine-glass and spoon, a tea-pot, a baked apple, and some orange-chips ranged on a small table, and a red silk night-cap on one of the cushions of the sofa, which stood near this collection of invalid necessaries. The only things that appeared inconsistent with the general style of the apartment, were some battledores and shuttlecocks, a skipping-rope, and a pair of dumbbells which I observed in one corner of the room. On a cabinet lay a few books, which I found to be Buchan's Medicine, a Dispensatory, “Sir J. Sinclair on Health and Longevity," a wellthumbed volume called “ Peptic Precepts," "The Diary of an Invalid," of which only a few pages were cut, and two or three devotional publications of a rather melancholy cast. I began to suspect the nature of my friend's complaint; and just as I was murmuring Seneca's reflection, that “Retirement and leisure without letters are death,” the door opened, and Mr. B. entered the room. In person he was little altered, but the expression of his countenance was totally changed. There were lines of discontent on his forehead, wrinkles of complaint on the upper part of his nose, and constant self-compassion had drawn down the corners of his mouth. His voice, too, as I found when he spoke, had acquired those tiresome, whining tones which usually accompany beggary and hypochondriasis. The first compliments paid, I inquired after his health, he shook his head, and with a smile of melancholy resignation replied, “ Moriturus te salutat," (a dying man salutes you.) I ventured to rally bim on lowness of spirits, and to compliment him on his looks, but my remarks seemed to fret him exceedingly, and to exasperate his ailments. He threw himself languidly on a chair, took out a vinaigrette, said he was heated by the agitation my arrival had occasioned, that his pulse was much accelerated, that no one knew what he suffered but himself, that nothing could be more deceitful than outward appearance, that at that very moment his heart was palpitating in the most alarming manner, that he believed he had an enlargement of the heart, or water on the chest. To all this there was no reply to be made but expressions of pity and condolence; these seemed to soothe his temper, but to lower his spirits. Every minute produced a fresh complaint ; his liver was ulcerated, his lungs inflamed, he had a determination of blood to the head ; life was only preserved by his own incessant care and the constant attention of his physician, but nothing could repair the natural weakness of his constitution, increased as this had been by the sad life he had led at college.
As I had always considered him a remarkably regular man, I could not help asking what he meant by “a sad life.' • What do I mean, Sir?" replied my friend. “Did I not drink beer at my meals ? Did I ever masticate my food properly, ever assist the gastric juice? Had I ever even heard of the gastric juice? Why I have frequently drunk strong coffee without milk, wine after cream, custard after fish! I am often surprised how my wretched constitution resisted such indiscretion."
“ But, my dear Sir," replied I, “ if so strict a regimen were universally necessary, the nation would be extinct ere long."
“You might all live longer, if you would," said Mr. B. “ Galen lived to one hundred and forty years, by nursing a delicate constitution. But I am a particular instance, and ought not to regulate myself by common rules. Perhaps you are not aware, my dear Sir, of the misfortune to which I allude; perhaps you do not know that I was a seven-months' child, which is, in my opinion, little better than an abortion.”
The solemnity with which the latter part of this speech was uttered, and the contrast between the tall strong-built man before me, and the image which his words had called up, proved almost too much for my gravity: fortunately the ringing of a bell drew off my friend's attention; it was a signal for him to take two or three pills; and I left him in the interesting employment, while I repaired to my room to dress for dinner.
Our meal was a transaction of considerable length, as Mr. B. was the most deliberate eater I ever dined with; and he seemed to think no time or pains should be spared where the interests of the gastric juice were concerned. He was to himself a more strict physician than Sancho's tormentor: he seemed to apprehend poison in every dish, except his half raw mutton-chop, and his insipid bread-pudding. Indigestion, like a tremendous phantom, glanced terribly from puff-paste and stewed cucumber; gout was, as it were, personified in a made-dish; flatulency blew its horrors out of the soup-tureen, and jaundice, grim with yellowness, peeped out of the butter-boats. My poor friend drank nothing at dinner, in obedience to Abernethy, and sipped his one glass of wine in conformity with Dr. Kitchener's advice, who, I found, was Mr. B’s oracle at present, and to whose “ Peptic Precepts” he referred on all occasions. He was the author of that inestimable book; his Peristaltic Persuaders it was that I had seen swallowed half an hour before dinner. In obedience to him, too, my friend, immediately after dinner, threw himself on the sofa, and endeavoured, by silence and sleep, to afford leisure to all the energies of his body to assist in the most important office of digestion. While I ate fruit and drank wine, cruelly regardless of troubling my gastric juice, Mr. B. lay in obedient quiescence, unallured by the peaches which, from my plate, "a savoury odour blew;” and it was not till he had devoted three quarters of an hour to this amiable employment, that he sat up and began to play the host, and converse with his guest.
Conversation, however, flagged terribly for some time. In vain I tried politics, literature, science: Mr. B. spoke with languor and indifference on all, and seemed to be more occupied by varying his position every five minutes, in order to promote brisk circulation, than by the state of the nation, the prospects of the Greeks, or “ The Fortunes of Nigel.” He observed, indeed, that the House of Commons was too small, and that the air must be corrupted in half an hour; of any other corruption he thought and cared but little, and the state of the members' lungs seemed a matter of more importance than that of their principles or opinions. When I asked him if he had quite given up our old friends the ancients, he answered in the affirmative, and said there was nothing to be learned from them but the custom of lying down at meals, and that of destroying weakly children, which ought to be adopted in all countries. “ What were their heroes,” continued he, “but fools and madmen? What was Alexander himself but an impudent boy, who would fall asleep under a tree, bathe when he was heated, and drink till he was ill ?” Recollecting that I had seen “ The Diary of
an Invalid” among the books in the drawing-room, I asked if Mr. B. did not find it very amusing. “As to amusing,” he replied with considerable asperity, “ I know not what those may think it, who read for descriptions of churches and pictures; but of this I am certain, that it is the most complete imposition ever published. I am astonished that any respectable bookseller could lend his name to so gross a deceit. Attracted by the title, I sent for it immediately, and was impatient till it arrived. I expected an account of symptoms and treatment, of medical practice abroad, of the effect of climate, modes of living, &c. on a weak constitution; I expected a list of physicians and chemists, directions where to get the best drugs, &c.; in short, I expected. The Diary of an Invalid,' and I found a mere book of travels.”
Against such accusations as these I had nothing to offer in Mr. Matthews's defence; and in order to change the conversation, I asked what sort of society Mr. B.'s neighbourhood afforded.
“ Very bad, Sir, thank God ! very bad, nothing but foxhunters and sportsmen. To this circumstance I owe my life. Pleasant society would divert me from proper attention to my health. I should forget the peculiarities of my constitution, I should forget I was a sevenmonths'child without strength or stamina.” “But, my good friend," replied I, "you must be terribly dull; you ought to marry: a Mrs. B. would amuse you when well, and nurse you when ill.”
“A Mrs. B.” he hastily interrupted, “ would kill me in three months. No, no, Sir, there is not a woman in the world fit to be my wife. I should be obliged to sleep on a feather bed with the curtains drawn round me; I should be made to go out in an east wind, then be brought into a room heated like an oven ; perhaps I should be quizzed out of my flannel waistcoat, and laughed at for putting on this silk cap when I find myself in a perspiration. Then how would it be possible to get my digesting nap after dinner? or how could my weak nerves bear the thoughtless perseverance of a lady's conversation ? No, I am not fit to marry; I am much happier by myself. A wife would be of no use except to play at battledore and shuttlecock with me; and that one of my servants does every morning when the weather will not permit me to take other exercise." “ Upon my honour, Sir," said I,
your life must be particularly dull and uncomfortable: it seems one long act of privation and penance. When did your health first fail you? Ten years ago you seemed as strong and hearty as the best of us.”
“ All deception, all deception. I was young and thoughtless, and disdained to think of illness; but disease was stealing slowly upon me. When I came to this estate, which was soon after I left College, I had forgotten the misfortune of my birth, and the natural weakness of my constitution. But I soon felt a sort of languor creeping upon me. I gave up horse exercise, I felt fatigued if I read only half an hour. I grew rapidly fat, I had a constant nervous yawning, my spirits fell, I slept ill, and a thousand strange sensations came over me in the course of twenty-four hours. I consulted Buchan, and soon discovered that my symptoms were of the most alarming nature. I discovered indications of epilepsy, erysipelas, and water on the brain. I sent immediately for a physician, who was fortunately a remarkably clever man. I tried various medicines, was bled and blistered, but grew worse rather than better. At length my medical attendant pronounced my complaint to be general debility, and to proceed from a constitution naturally delicate and feeble. At once conviction flashed upon me, and I remembered the long-forgotten lessons of the two old aunts with whom I had spent the first twelve years of my life, those kind misjudging creatures who had taken so much pains to rear the weakly baby of their favourite niece. How often did they remind me that I was a seven-months' child, that I was not dressed till I had been born eight days, that I had