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
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