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It has been said
“Great wits to madness nearly are allied.' It is curious that he who wrote the saying (Dryden) was a very sound wit to the end of his life ; while his wife, who was of a weak understanding, became insane. An excellent writer (Wordsworth) has written an idle couplet about the insanity of poets :
"We poets in our youth begin in gladness;
But thereof come in the end despondency and madness.” If he did not mean madness in the ordinary sense, he should not have written this line. If he did, he ought not to have fallen, in the teeth of his information, into so vulgar an error. There are very few instances of insane poets, or of insane great understandings of any sort. Bacon, Milton, Newton, Shakspeare, Cervantes, &c., were all of minds as sound as they were great. So it has been with the infinite majority of literary men of all countries. If Tasso and a few others were exceptions, they were but exceptions, and the derangement in these eminent men has very doubtful characters about it, and is sometimes made a question. It may be pretty safely affirmed, at least, upon an examination of it, that, had they not been the clever men they were, it would have been much worse and less equivocal. Collins, whose case was, after all, one of inanition, rather than insanity, had been a free liver, and seems to have been hurt by having a fortune left him. Cowper was weak-bodied, and beset by Methodists. Swift's body was full of bad humours. He himself attributed his disordered system to the effects of a surfeit of fruit on his stomach, and in his last illness he used to break out in enormous biles and blisters. This was a violent effort of nature to help and purify the current of his blood,—the main object in all such cases. Dr Johnson, who was subject to mists of melancholy, used to fancy he should go mad; but he never did.
Exercise, conversation, cheerful society, amusements of all
sorts, or a kind, patient, and gradual helping of the bodily health, till the mind be capable of amusement (for it should never foolishly be told “not to think” of melancholy things, without having something done for it to mend the bodily health) ---these are the cures, the only cures, and, in our opinion, the almost infallible cures, of nervous disorders, however excessive. Above all, the patient should be told that there has often been an end to that torment of one haunting idea, which is, indeed, a great and venerable suffering. Many persons have got over it in a week, a few weeks, or a month, some in a few months, some not for years; but they have got over it at last. There is a remarkable instance of this in the life of our great King Alfred. He was seized, says his contemporary biographer, with such a strange illness while sitting at table in the twenty-fifth year (we think) of his age, that he shrieked aloud ; and for twenty years afterwards this illness so preyed upon him, that the relief of one hour was embittered by what he dreaded would come the next. His disorder is conjectured by some to have been an internal cancer; by others, with more probability, the black bile, or melancholy. The physicians of those times knew nothing about it; and the people showed at once their ignorance, and their admiration of the king, by saying that the devil had caused it out of jealousy. It was probably produced by anxiety for the state of his country ; but the same thing which wounded him might have helped to keep him up, for he had plenty of business to attend to, and fought with his own hand in fifty-six pitched battles. Now, exactly twenty years after, in the forty-fifth year of his age (if our former recollection is right), this disorder totally left him, and his great heart was where it ought to be, in a heaven of health and calmness.
[Note.--In the “Autobiography” of Leigh Hunt will be found a curious account of a nervous disorder from which he himself suffered at various periods, and which probably suggested the foregoing essay. (See Chapters VIII. and XV., together with some references in other places).-E. 0.]
MISTS AND FOGS.
HE world never feels so cheerless as when it is undergoing
mists and fogs. As long as there are objects to look at,
it is hard if we cannot find something to entertain our thoughts; but when the world itself is shut out from our observation,—when the same mists that shut it out come clinging round about us with cold, and when we think what the poor are likely to suffer from the approaching winter,--we seem to feel, not only that we are dreary, but that we ought to be so.
And so we ought, as far as our own dreariness will the more excite us to relieve that of others. Sympathy is our first duty, let it come either in the shape of pain or pleasure. But when we have done our duty to others; when we have refused, as much as in us lies, to take our own pleasures till we have done what we can to share them with others, whether by a fortunate power to bestow, or by other personal helping, less fortunate, but sometimes more noble, or even by nothing but the dissemination of instructive and cheerful thoughts,--smiles which even a poverty-stricken hand may sometimes sow in the warm earth of humanity,—then we have the fullest right to gather enjoyment from all we can; and then also, because we have the fullest right, we have the greatest power.
And yet, at the same time, when we speak of right, we are struck with the inconclusiveness which is to be found in decisions apparently the kindest as well as most useful. Who shall say what is the greater right which any one human being, under all the circumstances which modify his character, has beyond any other, to be made happy? However, there seems a great difference between man and man in the actual amount of their enjoyments; and if the great silence of Nature keeps us in ignorance of the reason (for superstition does but perplex the matter, instead of unfolding it), it is a comforting reflection, not only that the general yearning of things is towards happiness, but that happiness is produced in proportion as the yearning is general and sympathetic; in other words, in proportion as it tends to the greatest sum of happiness.
Behold one of the advantages of fogs and mists! If the southern nations, with their sunshine and clear air, are more joyous than we are, and have a greater but vaguer instinct to make others partake of their pleasure, our greater share of melancholy sets us upon scheming how to turn that instinct of humanity to the best account. It is thus that England, though slow to enjoy, has of old been quick to relieve,---has had the chief hand in giving those great lifts to the world in knowledge and liberty, for which the sunny Italian was too idle and contented.
It is from the same cause that our great poets (with one exception, perhaps, as to grandeur of invention) are greater than those of Italy. They have seen the dark as well as the bright side of things; and their knowledge of both gives to their writings a depth of charity, as well as imagination, pre-eminently human. All the things that can be said for human nature, as well as about its passions and imaginings, are to be found perhaps in Shakspeare, and in Shakspeare only; but his contemporaries had a good share of the same gentle spirit of arbitration.
On the other hand, where the English do not cultivate the more genial part of experience, they are likely to err more than most nations : for pain, when it does not turn into knowledge, is apt to turn into sullenness and malignity. Its reliefs also become of the grossest and most selfish nature ; and nothing can be more disgustingly pitiable than a gross, arrogant Englishman, who in the plenitude of his egotism talks against vanity, and, in the midst of the most selfish and sordid vices,-moneyscraping, or gormandising, or drinking, or cock-fighting,—thinks himself entitled to despise other nations, whose vices are rather the excesses of sympathy.
Such a man is not worthy of his very fogs; for even they have their bright sides, and help to increase the comforts of our houses. And now, then, to say something of their merits and treatment.
Fogs and mists, being nothing but vapours which the cold air will not suffer to evaporate, must have body enough to present a gorgeous aspect next the sun. To the eye of an eagle, or whatever other eyes there may be to look down upon them, they must appear like masses of cloudy gold. In fact, they are but clouds unrisen. The city of London, at the time we are writing this article, is literally a city in the clouds. Its inhabitants walk through the same airy heaps which at other times float far over their heads in the sky, or minister with glorious faces to the setting sun.
We do not say that any one can “hold a fire in his hand" by thinking on a fine sunset ; or that sheer imagination of any sort can make it a very agreeable thing to feel as if one's body were wrapped round with cold wet paper ; much less to flounder through gutters, or run against posts. But the mind can often help itself with agreeable images against disagreeable ones; or pitch itself round to the best sides and aspects of them. The solid and fiery ball of the sun, stuck, as it were, in the thick, foggy atmosphere; the moon just winning her way through it into beams; nay, the very candles and gas-lights in the shop windows of a misty evening,-all have, in our eyes, their agreeable varieties of contrast to the surrounding haze. We have even halted, of a dreary autumnal evening, at that open part of the Strand by St Clement's, and seen the church, which is a poor structure of itself, take an aspect of ghastly