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he has a glimmering conceit of some such thing, when the doctor makes his daily call : and even in the lines on 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 so carefully for fear of rustling—is 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, soothes him, while he knows not distinctly what it is.
He is not to know any thing, not to think of
any thing. 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.
Exacter knowledge would be a burthen to him : he can just endure the pressure of conjecture. He opens 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 occupied 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 fancies—how is it reduced to a common bed-room ! 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 a 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 coverlid.
Hushed are those mysterious sighs—those groans-s0 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 Philoctetes 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 attendant. But how is he too changed with every thing else! Can this be he-this man of news—of chat-of anecdotes--of every thing 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 party ?—Pshaw! 'tis some old woman.
Farewell with him all that made sickness pompousthe spell that hushed the household—the desert-like stillness, felt throughout its inmost chambers —the mute attendance-the enquiry 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, requestingan article. Articulo Mortis, thought I; but it is something hard—and the quibble, wretched as it was, relieved
The summons, unreasonable as it appeared, seemed to link me on again to the petty businesses of life, which I had lost 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 so 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 meagre figure of your insignificant Essayist.
O far from the position holding true, that great wit
(or genius, in our nodern 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 a mad Shakspeare. The greatness of wit, by which the poetic talent is here chiefly to be understood, 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,
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,