Зображення сторінки


A PRETTY severe fit of indisposition which, under the name of a nervous fever, has made a prisoner of me for some weeks past, and is but slowly leaving me, has reduced me to an incapacity of reflecting upon any topic foreign to itself. Expect no healthy conclusions from me this month, reader; I can offer you only sick men's dreams.

And truly the whole state of sickness is such ; for what else is it but a magnificent dream for a man to lie abed, and draw daylight curtains about him; and, shutting out the sun, to induce a total oblivion of all the works which are going on under it? 'To become insensible to all the operations of life, except the beatings of one feeble pulse ? If there be a regal solitude, it is a sick-bed.

How the patient lords it there; what caprices he acts without control ! how kinglike he sways his pillow-tumbling, and tossing, and shifting, and lowering, and thumping, and flatting, and moulding it to the ever-varying requisitions of his throbbing temples.

He changes sides oftener than a politician. Now he lies full length, then half length, obliquely, transversely, head and feet quite across the bed; and none accuses him of tergiversation. Within the four curtains he is absolute. They are his Mare Clausum.

How sickness enlarges the dimensions of a man's self to himself! he is his own exclusive object. Supreme selfishness is inculcated upon him as his only duty. "Tis the two tables of the law to him. He has nothing to think of but how to get well. What passes out of doors, or within them, so he hear not the jarring of them, affects him not.

A little while ago he was greatly concerned in the event of a lawsuit, which was to be the making or the marring of his dearest friend. He was to be seen trudging about upon

this man's errand to fifty quarters of the town at once, jogging this witness, refreshing that solicitor. The cause was to come on yesterday. He is absolutely as indifferent to the decision, as if it were a question to be tried at Peking. Peradventure, from some whispering going on about the house, not intended for his hearing, he picks up enough to make him understand that things went cross-grained in the court yesterday, and his friend is ruined. But the word “friend" and the word “ruin" disturb him no more than so much jargon. He is not to think of anything but how to get better.

What a world of foreign cares are merged in that absorbing consideration !

He has put on the strong armour of sickness, he is wrapped in the callous hide of suffering; he keeps his sympathy, like some curious vintage, under trusty lock and key, for his own use only.

He lies pitying himself, honing and moaning to himself; he yearneth over himself; his bowels are even melted within him, to think what he suffers ; he is not ashamed to weep over himself.

He is for ever plotting how to do some good to himself; studying little stratagems and artificial alleviations.

He makes the most of himself; dividing himself, by an allowable fiction, into as many distinct individuals as he hath sore and sorrowing members. Sometimes he meditates—as of a thing apart from him—upon his poor aching head, and that dull pain which, dozing or waking, lay in it all the past night like a log, or palpable substance of pain, not to be removed without opening the very scull, as it seemed, to take it thence. Or he pities his long, clammy, attenuated fingers. He compassionates himself all over; and his bed is a very discipline of humanity and tender heart.

He is his own sympathizer; and instinctively feels that none can so well perform that office for him. He cares for tew spectators to his tragedy. Only that punctual face of the old nurse pleases him, that announces his broths and his cordials. He likes it because it is so unmoved, and because he can pour forth his feverish ejaculations before it as unreservedly as to his bedpost.

To the world's business he is dead. He understands not what the callings and occupations of mortals are ; only he has a glimmering conceit of some such thing, when the doctor makes his daily call: and even in the lines of that busy face he reads no multiplicity of patients, but solely conceives of himself as the sick man. To what other uneasy couch the good man is hastening, when he slips out of his chamber, folding up his thin douceur eo carefully for fear of rustlingis no speculation which he can at present entertain. He thinks only of the regular return of the same phenomenon at the same hour to-morrow.

Household rumours touch him not. Some faint murmur, indicative of life going on within the house, sooths him, while he knows not distinctly what it is. He is not to know inything, not to think of anything. Servants gliding up or down the distant staircase, treading as upon velvet, gently keep his ear awake, so long as he troubles not himself further than with some feeble guess at their errands. Exacior knowledge would be a burden to him : he can just endure the pressure of conjecture. He


his eye faintly at the dull stroke of the muffled knocker, and closes it again without asking, “Who was it ?" He is flattered by a general notion that inquiries are making after him, but he cares not to know the name of the inquirer. In the general stillness and awful hush of the house, he lies in state, and feels his sovereignty.

To be sick is to enjoy monarchal prerogatives. Compare the silent tread, and quiet ministry, almost by the eye only, with which he is served—with the careless demeanour, the unceremonious goings in and out (slapping of doors, or leaving them open) of the very same attendants, when he is getting a little better-and you will confess, that from the bed of sickness (throne let me rather call it) to the elbow-chair of convalescence, is a fall from dignity, amounting to a deposition.

How convalescence shrinks a man back to his pristine stature! where is now the space which he occ.ipied so lately in his own, in the family's eye ?

The scene of his regalities, his sick-room, which was his presence-chamber, where he lay and acted his despotic fan. cies--how is it reduced to a common bedroom ! The trimness of the very bed has something petty and unmeaning about it. It is made every day. How unlike to that wavy, many-furrowed, oceanic surface which it presented so short a time since, when to make it was a service not to be thought of at oftener than three or four day revolutions, when the patient was with pain and grief to be lifted for a little while out of it, to submit to the encroachments of unwelcome neatness, and decencies which his shaken frame deprecated; then to be lifted into it again, for another three or four days' respite, to flounder it out of shape again, while every fresh furrow was an historical record of some shifting posture, some uneasy turning, some seeking for a little ease; and the shrunken skin scarce told a truer story than the crumpled coverlet.

Hushed are those mysterious sighs—those groans--so much more awful, while we knew not from what caverns of vast hidden suffering they proceeded. The Lernean pangs are quenched. The riddle of sickness is solved; and Philoc: tetes is become an ordinary personage.

Perhaps some relic of the sick man's dream of greatness survives in the still lingering visitations of the medical at tendant. But how is he too changed with everything else


Can this be he-this man of news--of chat-of anecdote of everything but physic-can this be he, who so lately came between the patient and his cruel enemy, as on some solemn embassy from Nature, erecting herself into a high mediating

Pshaw! 'tis some old woman. Farewell with him all that male sickness pompous-the spell that hushed the household—the desert-like stillness felt throughout its inmost chambers—the mute attendance-the inquiry by looks—the still softer delicacies of self-attention-the sole and single eye of distemper alonely fixed upon itself-world-thoughts excluded—the man a world unto himself-his own theatre

“What a speck is he dwindled into ” In this flat swamp of convalescence, left by the ebb of sickness, yet far enough from the terra firma of established health, your note, dear editor, reached me, requesting—an article. In Articulo Mortis, thought I; but it is something hard —and the quibble, wretched as it was, relieved me.

The summons, unseasonable as it appeared, seemed to link me on again to the petty businesses of life, which I had lose sight of; a gentle call to activity, however trivial; a wholesome weaning from that preposterous dream of self-absorption--the puffy state of sickness—in which I confess to have lain se long, insensible to the magazines and monarchies of the world alike; to its laws, and to its literature. The hypochondriac flatus is subsiding; the acres which in imagination I had spread over- for the sick man swells in the sole contemplation of his single sufferings, till he becomes a Tityus to himself—are wasting to a span; and for the giant of self-importance which I was so lately, you have me once again in my natural pretensions—the lean and meager figure of your insignificant essayist.


So far from the position holding true, that great wit (or genius, in our modern way of speaking) has a necessary alliance with insanity, the greatest wits, on the contrary, will ever be found to be the sanest writers. It is impossible for the mind to conceive of a mad Shakspeare. The greatness of wit, by which the poetic talent is here chiefly to be under

stood, manifests itself in the admirable balance of all the faculties. Madness is the disproportionate straining or excess of any one of them “So strong a wit,” says Cowley, speaking of a poetical friend,

“ Did Nature to him frame,
As all things but his judgment overcame;
His judgment like the heavenly moon did show,

Tempering that mighty sea below.” The ground of the mistake is, that men, finding in the raptures of the higher poetry a condition of exaltation to which they have no parallel in their own experience, besides the spurious resemblance of it in dreams and fevers, impute a state of dreaminess and fever to the poet. But the true poet dreams being awake. He is not possessed by his subject, but has dominion over it. In the groves of Eden he walks familiar as in his native paths. He ascends the empyrean heaven, and is not intoxicated. He treads the burning marl without dismay; he wins his flight without self-loss through realms of chaos “and old night.” Or if, abandoning himself to that severer chaos of a “human mind untuned,” he is content a while to be mad with Lear, or to hate mankind (a sort of madness) with Timon, neither is that madness nor this misanthropy so unchecked but that never letting the reins of reason wholly go, while most he seems to do so—he has his better genius still whispering at his ear, with the good servant Kent suggesting saner counsels, or with the honest steward Flavius recommending kindlier resolutions. Where he seems most to recede from humanity, he will be found the truest to it. From beyond the scope of Nature if he summon possible existences, he subjugates them to the law of her consistency. He is beautifully loyal to that sovereign directress, even when he appears most to betray and desert her. His ideal tribes submit to policy; his very monsters are tamed to his hand, even as that wild sea-brood, shepherded by Proteus. He tames, and he clothes them with attributes of flesh and blood, till they wonder at themselves, like Indian islanders forced to submit to European vesture. Caliban, the Witches, are as true to the laws of their own nature (ours with a difference) as Othello, Hamlet, and Macbeth. Herein the great and the little wits are differenced ; that if the latter wander ever so little from nature or actual existence, they lose themselves, and their readers. Their phantoms are lawless; their visions nightmares. They do not create, which implies shaping and consistency. Their imaginations are not active--for to be active is to call something into act and form--but passive, as men in sick dreams. For the

« НазадПродовжити »