The Confirmed Valetudinarian

Bulwer Lytton contributes to the "Keepsake" an essay, characteristic of his earlier rather than of his later style:

Certainly there is truth in the French saying, that there is no ill without something of good. What state more pitiable to the eye of a man of robust health than that of the Confirmed Valetudinarian? Indeed, there is no one who has a more profound pity for himself than your Valetudinarian; and yet he enjoys two of the most essential requisites for a happy life; he is never without an object of interest, and he is perpetually in pursuit of hope.

Our friend Sir George Malsain is a notable case in point: young, well born, rich, not ill educated, and with some ability, they who knew him formerly, in what were called his "gay days," were accustomed to call him "lucky dog," and "enviable fellow." How shallow is the judgment of mortals! Never was a poor man so bored—nothing interested him. His constitution seemed so formed for longevity, and his condition so free from care, that he was likely to have a long time before him:—it is impossible to say how long that time seemed to him. Fortunately, from some accidental cause or other, he woke one morning and found himself ill; and, whether it was the fault of the doctor or himself I cannot pretend to say, but he never got well again. His ailments became chronic; he fell into a poor way. From that time life has assumed to him a new aspect. Always occupied with himself, he is never bored. He may be sick, sad, suffering, but he has found his object in existence—he lives to be cured. His mind is fully occupied; his fancy eternally on the wing. Formerly he had travelled much, but without any pleasure in movement: he might as well have stayed at home. Now, when he travels, it is for an end; it is delightful to witness the cheerful alertness with which he sets about it. He is going down the Rhine;—for its scenery? Pshaw! he never cared a button about scenery; but he has great hopes of the waters at Kreuznach. He is going into Egypt;—to see the Pyramids? Stuff! the climate on the Nile is so good for the mucous membrane! Set him down at the dullest of dull places, and he himself is never dull. The duller the place the better; his physician has the more time to attend to him. When you meet him he smiles on you, and says, poor fellow, "The doctor assures me that in two years I shall be quite set up." He has said the same thing the last twenty years, and will say it the day before his death!...

What a busy, anxious, fidgety creature Ned Worrell was? That iron frame supported all the business of all society! Every man who wanted any thing done, asked Ned Worrell to do it. And do it Ned Worrell did! You remember how feelingly he was wont to sigh,—"Upon my life I'm a perfect slave." But now Ned Worrell has snapped his chain; obstinate dyspepsia, and a prolonged nervous debility, have delivered him from the carks and cares of less privileged mortals. Not Ariel under the bough is more exempt from humanity than Edward Worrell. He is enjoined to be kept in a state of perfect repose, free from agitation, and hermetically shut out from grief. His wife pays his bills, and he is only permitted to see his banker's accounts when the balance in his favor is more than usually cheerful. His eldest daughter, an intelligent young lady, reads his letters, and only presents to him those which are calculated to make a pleasing impression. Call now on your old friend, on a question of life and death, to ask his advice, or request his interference—you may as well call on King Cheops under the Great Pyramid. The whole houseguard of tender females block the way.

"Mr. Worrell is not to be disturbed on any matter of business whatever," they will tell you. "But, my dear ma'am, he is trusted to my marriage settlement; his signature is necessary to a transfer of my wife's fortune from those cursed railway shares. To-morrow they will be down at zero. We shall be ruined!"

"Mr. Worrell is in a sad, nervous way, and can't be disturbed, sir." And the door is shut in your face!

It was after some such occurrence that I took into earnest consideration a certain sentiment of Plato's, which I own I had till then considered very inhuman; for that philosopher is far from being the tender and sensitive gentleman generally believed in by lovers and young ladies. Plato, in his "Republic," blames Herodicus (one of the teachers of that great doctor Hippocrates) for showing to delicate, sickly persons, the means whereby to prolong their valetudinary existence, as Herodicus himself (naturally a very rickety fellow) had contrived to do. Plato accuses this physician of having thereby inflicted a malignant and wanton injury on those poor persons;—nay, not only an injury on them, but on all society. "For," argues this stern, broad-shouldered Athenian, "how can people be virtuous who are always thinking of their own infirmities?" And therefore he opines, that if a sickly person cannot wholly recover health and become robust, the sooner he dies the better for himself and others! The wretch, too, might be base enough to marry, and have children as ailing as their father, and so injure, in perpetuo, the whole human race. Away with him!

But, upon cool and dispassionate reflection, it seemed to me, angry as I was with Ned Worrell, that Plato stretched the point a little too far; and certainly, in the present state of civilization, so sweeping a condemnation of the sickly would go far towards depopulating Europe. Celsus, for instance, classes amongst the delicate or sickly the greater part of the inhabitants of towns, and nearly all literary folks (omnesque pene cupidi literarum). And if we thus made away with the denizens of the towns, it would be attended with a great many inconveniencies as to shopping, &c., be decidedly injurious to house property, and might greatly affect the state of the funds; while, without literary folks, we should be very dull in our healthy country-seats, deprived of newspapers, novels, and "The Keepsake." Wherefore, on the whole, I think Herodicus was right; and that sickly persons should not only be permitted but encouraged to live as long as they can.

That proposition granted, if in this attempt to show that your confirmed Valetudinarian is not so utterly miserable as he is held to be by those who throw physic to the dogs—and that in some points he may be a decided gainer by his physical sufferings—I have not wholly failed—then I say, with the ingenious Author who devoted twenty years to a work "On the Note of the Nightingale,"—"I have not lived in vain!"