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
And truly the whole state of sickness is such; for what else is it
but a magnificent dream for a man to lie a-bed, and draw day-light
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
If there be a regal solitude, it is a sick bed. How the patient
lords, it there! what caprices he acts without controul! how king
like 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 halflength, 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
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
law-suit, 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 Pekin. 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 any thing but how to get better.
What a world of foreign cares are merged in that absorbing
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 he 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 sympathiser; and instinctively feels that none
can so well perform that office for him. He cares for few 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 bed-post.
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 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 mad, 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 -- 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 he --
this 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 desart-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 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
afflatus 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.