Page images
PDF
EPUB

almost by the eye only, with which he is served with the careless demear 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, manyfurrowed, 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 neat. ness, 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

--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 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 hethis man of news-of chat-of anecdote-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 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-attentionthe 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 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.

SANITY OF TRUE GENIUS.

o 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 a mad Shakspeare. The greatness of wit, by which the poetic talent is here chiefly to be understood, mani. fests itself in the admirable balance of all the facul. ties. Madness is the disproportionate straining or excess of any one of them. “So strong a wit,” says Cowley, speaking of a poetical friend,

"
ndid 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 dreami

ness 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 awhile to be mad with Lear, or to hate mankind (a sort of madness) with Timon, neither is that madness, nor this mis. anthropy, 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

« PreviousContinue »