« Prev Section IV. Remedies Againt Impatience, by Way of… Next »


Remedies against Impatience, by way of Consideration.

As it happens concerning death, so it is in sickness, which is death's handmaid. It hath the fate to suffer calumny and reproach, and hath a name worse than its nature.

1. For there is no sickness so great but children endure it, and have natural strengths to bear them out quite through the calamity, what period soever nature hath allotted it. Indeed they make no reflections upon their sufferings, and complain of sickness with an uneasy sigh or a natural groan, but consider not what the sorrows of sickness mean; and so bear it by a direct sufferance, and as a piller bears the weight of a roof. But, then, why cannot we bear it so too? For this which we all a reflection upon, or a considering of our sickness, is nothing but a perfect instrument of trouble, and consequently a temptation to impatience. It serves no end of nature; it may be avoided, and we may consider it only as an expression of God's anger, and an emissary or procurator of repentance. But all other considering it,6767Praetulerim — delirus inersque videri, Dum mea delectent mala me, vel denique fallant, Quani sapere et ringi.—Horat. lib. ii. ep. 2. except where it serves the purposes of medicine and art, is nothing but, under the colour of reason, and unreasonable device to heighten the sickness and increase the torment. But, then, as children want this act of reflex perception or reasonable sense whereby they should be able to support it. For certain it is, reason was as well given us to harden our spirits, and stiffen them in passions and sad accidents, as to make us bending and apt for action; and if in men God hath heightened the faculties of apprehension, he hath increased the auxiliaries of reasonable strengths; that God's rod and God's staff might go together, and the beam of God's countenance may as well refresh us with its light as scorch us with its heat. For poor children that endure so much have not inward supports and refreshments to bear them through it; they never heard the sayings of old men, nor have been taught the principles of severe philosophy, nor are assisted with the results of a long experience, nor know they how to turn a sickness into virtue, and a fever into a reward; nor have they any sense of favours, the remembrance of which may alleviate their burden; and yet nature hath in them teeth and nails enough to scratch and fight against the sickness, and by such aids as God is pleased to give them they wade through the storm and murmur not. And besides this, yet, although infants have not such brisk perceptions upon the stock of reason, they have a more tender feelings upon the accounts of sense, and their flesh is as uneasy by their natural softness and weak shoulders as ours by too forward apprehensions. Therefore bear up; either you, or I, or some man wiser, and many a woman weaker than us both, or the very children, have endured worse evil than this that is upon thee now.

That sorrow is hugely tolerable which gives its smart but by instants and smallest proportions of time. No man at once feels the sickness of a week or of a whole day, but the smart of an instant; and still every portion of a minute feels but its proper share; and the last groan ended all the sorrow of its peculiar burden. And what minute can that be which can pretend to be intolerable? and the next minute is but the same as the last, and the pain flows like the drops of a river, or the little shreds of time; and if we do but take care of the present minute, it cannot seem a great charge or a great burden; but that care will secure our duty, if we still but secure the present minute.

3. If we consider how much men can suffer if they list, and how much they do suffer for greater and little causes, and that no causes are greater than the proper causes of patience in sickness, (that is necessity and religion,) we cannot, without huge shame to our nature, to our persons, and to our manners, complain of this tax and impost of nature. This experience added something to the old philosophy. When the gladiators were exposed naked to each other's short swords, and were to cut each other's souls away in portions of flesh, as it their forms had been as divisible as the life of worms, they did not sigh or groan - it was a shame to decline the blow but according to the just measures of art. The women that saw the wound shriek out; and he that receives it holds his peace. he did not only stand bravely, but would also fall so; and, when he was down, scorned to shirk his head when the insolent conqueror came to lift it from his shoulders; and yet this man, in his first design, only aimed at liberty, and the reputation of a good fencer; and when he sunk down he saw he could only receive the honour of a bold man, the noise of which he shall never hear when his ashes are crammed in his narrow urn. And what can we complain of the weakness of our strengths or the pressures of diseases, when we see a poor soldier stand in a breach almost starved with cold and hunger, and his cold apt to be relieved only by the heats of anger, a fever, or a fired musket, and his hunger slackened by a greater pain and a huge fear? This man shall stand in his arms and wounds, patiens luminis alque solis, pale and faint, weary and watchful; and at night shall have a bullet pulled out of his flesh, and shivers from his bones, and endure his mouth to be sewed up from a violent rent to its own demension; and all this for a man whom he never saw, or, if he did, was not noted by him; but one that shall condemn him to the gallows if he runs from all this misery. It is seldom that God sends such calamities upon men as men bring upon themselves and suffer willingly. But that which is most considerable is, that any passion and violence upon the spirit of man makes him able to suffer huge calamities with a certain constancy and an unwearied patience. Scipio Africanus was wont to commend that saying in Xenophon, That the same labours of warfare were easier far to a general than to a common soldier; because he was supported by the huge appetites of honour, which made his hard marches nothing but stepping forward and reaching at a triumph. Did not the lady of Sabinus, for others' interest, bear twins privately and without groaning? Are not the labours and cares, the spare diet and the waking nights, of covetous and adulterous, of ambitious and revengeful persons, greater sorrows and of more smart than a fever, or the short pains of child-birth? What will not tender women suffer to hide their shame? And if vice and passion, lust and inferior appetites, can supply to the tenderest persons strengths more than enough for the sufferance of the greatest natural violences, can we suppose that honesty and religion and the grace of God are more nice, tender, and effeminate?

4. Sickness is the more tolerable, because it cures very many evils, and takes away the sense of all the cross fortunes which amaze the spirits of some men, and transports them certainly beyond all the limits of patience. Here all losses and disgraces, domestic cares and public evils, the apprehensions of pity and a sociable calamity, the fears of want and the troubles of ambition, lie down and rest upon the sick man's pillow. One fit of the stone takes away from the fancies of men all relations to the world and secular interests: at least they are made dull and flat, without sharpness and edge.

And he that shall observe the infinite variety of troubles which afflict some busy persons and almost all men in very busy times, will think it not much amiss, that those huge numbers were reduced to certainty, to method and an order; and there is no better compendium for this than that they be reduced to one. And a sick man seem so unconcerned in the things of the world, that although this separation be done with violence, yet it is no otherwise than all noble contentions are, and all honours are purchased, and all virtues are acquired, and all vices mortified, and all appetites chastised, and all rewards obtained; there is infallibly to all these a difficulty and a sharpness annexed, without which there could be no proportion between a work and a reward. To this add that sickness does not take off the sense of secular troubles and worldly cares from us, by employing all the perceptions and apprehensions of men; by filling all faculties with sorrow, and leaving no room for the lesser instances of troubles, as little rivers are swallowed up in the sea; but sickness is a messenger of God, sent with purposes of abstraction and separation, with a secret power and a proper efficacy to draw us off from unprofitable and useless sorrows: and this is effected partly by reason that it represents the uselessness of the things of this world, and that there is a portion of this life in which honours and things of the world cannot serve us to many purposes; partly by preparing us to death, and telling us that a man shall descend thither, whence this world cannot redeem us, and where the goods of this world cannot serve us.

5. And yet, after all this, sickness leaves in us appetites so strong, and apprehensions so sensible, and delights so many, and good things in so great a degree that a healthless body and a sad disease do seldom make men weary of this world, but still they would fain find an excuse to live.6868Debilem facito manu, debilem pede, coxa, lubricos quate dentes; vita dum superest, bene est. Hanc milhi, vel acutam, si das, sustineo crueem.—Sen. Ep. x.1. The gout, the stone, and the tooth-ache, the sciatica, sore eyes, and an aching head, are evils indeed; but such which, rather than die, most men are willing to suffer; and Mecaenas added also a wish rather to be crucified than to die, and though his wish was low, timorous, and base, yet we find the same desires in most men, dressed up with better circumstances. It was a cruel mercy in Tamerland, who commanded all the leprous persons to be put to death, as we knock some beasts quickly on their head to put them out of pain, and lest they should live miserably; the poor men would rather have endured another leprosy, and have more willingly taken two diseases than one death. Therefore Caesar wondered that the old crazed soldier begged leave he might kill himself, and asked him, “Dost thou think then to be more alive than now thou art?” We do not die suddenly, but we descend to death by steps and slow passages; and therefore men (so long as they are sick) are unwilling to proceed and go forward in the finishing of that sad employment. Between a disease and death there are many degrees, and all those are like the reserves of evil things, the declining of every one of which is justly reckoned amongst those good things which alleviate the sickness and make it tolerable. Never account that sickness intolerable in which thou hadst rather remain than die: and yet if thou hadst rather die than suffer it, the worst of it that can be said is this, that this sickness is worse than death; that is, it is worse than that which is the best of all evils, and the end of all troubles; and then you have said no great harm against it.

6. Remember that thou art under a supervening necessity. Nothing is intolerable that is necessary; and therefore when men are to suffer a sharp incission, or what they are pleased to call intolerable, tie the man down to it, and he endures it.6969cerno equidem gemina constratos morte Phillippos, Thessaliaeque rogos, et fun eta gentis Iberae. Now God hath bound this sickness upon thee by the condition of nature; for every flower must wither and droop; it is also bound upon thee by special providence, and with a design to try thee, and with purposes to reward and to crown thee. These cords thou canst not break; and therefore lie thou down gently, and suffer the hand of God to do what he please, that at least thou mayst swallow an advantage which the care and severe mercies of God force down thy throat.

7. Remember that all men have passed this way; the bravest, the wisest, and the best men have been subject to sickness and sad diseases; and it is esteemed a prodigy that a man should live to a long age and not be sick; and it is recorded for a wonder concerning Xenophilus the musician, that he lived to one hundred and six years of age in a perfect and continual health. No story tells the like of a prince, or a great or a wise person;7070Rara est in nobilitate senectus. unless we have a mind to believe the tales concerning Nestor and the Euhoean Sybil, or reckon Cyrus of Persia, or Masinissa the Mauritanian, to be rivals of old age, or that Argantonius the Tartesian king did really outstrip that age, according as his story tells, reporting him to have reigned eighty years,7171Cicero de Senect. and to have lived one hundred and twenty. Old age and healthful bodies are seldom made the appendages to great fortunes; and under so great and so universal precedents,7272Ferre quam sortem patiuntur omnes, nemo recusat. so common fate of men, he that will not suffer his portion deserves to be something else than a man, but nothing that is better.

8. We find in story that many Gentiles, who walked by no light but that of reason, opinion, and human examples, did bear their sickness nobly, and with great contempt of pain, and with huge interests of virtue. When Pompey came from Syria, and called at Rhodes, to see Posidonins the philosopher, he found him hugely afflicted with the gout, and expressed his sorrow that he could not hear his lectures, from which by this pain he must needs be hindered. Posidonius told him, “But you may hear me for all this;” and he discoursed excellently in the midst of his tortures, even then when the torches were put to his feet,7373Tusc. 1l ii. Cum faces doloris admoverentur. “That nothing was good but what was honest,” and therefore “nothing could be an evil if it were not criminal;” and summed up his lectures with this saying, “O pain, in vain dost thou attempt me, for I will never confess thee to be an evil, as long as I can honestly bear thee.” And when Pompey himself was desperately sick at Naples, the Neapolitans wore crowns and triumphed, and the men of Puteoli came to congratulate his sickness, not because they loved him not, but because it was the custom of their country to have better opinions of sickness than we have. The boys of Sparta would, at their alters, endure whipping till their very entrails saw the light through their torn flesh; and some of them to death, without crying or complaint. Caesar would drink his portions of rhubarb rudely mixed, and unfitly allayed, with little sippings, and taking the horrow of the medicine, spreading the loathsomeness of his physic so, that all the parts of his tongue and palate might have an entire share; and when C. Marius suffered the veins of his leg to be cut out for the curing his gout, and yet shrunk not, he declared not only the rudeness of their physic, but the strength of a man's spirit, if it be contracted and united by the aids of reason or religion, by resolution or any accidental harshness, against a violent disease.

9. All impatience, howsoever expressed, is perfectly useless to all purposes of ease, but hugely effective to the multiplying the trouble; and the impatience and vexation is another, but the sharper disease of the two: it does mischief by itself, and mischief by the disease. For men grieve themselves as much as they please;7474Tantum doluerunt, quantum doloribus se inserueruent.—St. August. Virg. 1. viii. v. 4. Ceu rore seges viret, Sic crescunt riguis tristia fletibus; Urget lacryma lacrymam, Faecundusque sui se numerat dolor and when, by impatience, they put themselves into the retune of sorrows, they become solemn mourners. For so I have seen the rays of the sun or moon dash upon a brazen vessel, whose lips kissed the face of those waters that lodged within its bosom; but being turned back, and sent off with its smooth pretences or rougher waftings, it wandered about the room, and beat upon the roof, and still doubled its heat and motion. So is a sickness and a sorrow, entertained by an unquiet and a discontented man, turned back either with anger or with excuses; but then the pain passes from the stomach to the liver, and from the liver to the heart, and from the heart to the head, and from feeling to consideration, from thence to sorrow, and at last ends in impatience and useless murmur; and all the way the man was impotent and weak, but the sickness was doubled, and grew imperious and tyrannical over the soul and body. Masuriun Sabinus tells that the image of the goddess Angerona was, with a muffler upon her mouth, placed upon the altar of Volupia, to represent that those persons who bear their sicknesses and sorrows without murmurs shall certainly pass from sorrow to pleasure, and the ease and honours of felicity; but they that with spite and indignation bite the burning coal, or shake the yoke upon their necks, gall their spirits, and fret the skin, and hurt nothing but themselves.

10. Remember that this sickness is but for a short time: if it be sharp, it will not last long; if it be long, it will be easy and very tolerable. And although St. Eadsine, archbishop of Canterbury, had twelve years of sickness, yet all that while he ruled his church prudently, gave example of many virtues, and, after his death, was enrolled in the calendar of saints who had finished their course prosperously. Nothing is more unreasonable than to entangle our spirits in wildness and amazement, like a partridge fluttering in a net which she breaks not, though she breaks her wings.

« Prev Section IV. Remedies Againt Impatience, by Way of… Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection