The Art of Preserving Health - A Poem in Four Books/Chapter 1

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Daughter of Pæon, queen of every joy,
Hygeia[1]; whose indulgent smile sustains
The various race luxuriant nature pours,
And on th' immortal essences bestows
5Immortal youth; auspicious, O descend!
Thou, chearful guardian of the rolling year,
Whether thou wanton'st on the western gale,

Or shak'st the rigid pinions of the north,
Diffusest life and vigour thro' the tracts
10Of air, thro' earth, and ocean's deep domain.
When thro' the blue serenity of heav'n
Thy power approaches, all the wasteful host
Of pain and sickness, squallid and deform'd,
Confounded sink into the loathsom gloom,
15Where in deep Erebus involv'd the fiends
Grow more profane. Whatever shapes of death,
Shook from the hideous chambers of the globe,
Swarm thro' the shuddering air: whatever plagues
Or meagre famine breeds, or with slow wings
20Rise from the putrid watry element,
The damp waste forest, motionless and rank,
That smothers earth and all the breathless winds.
Or the vile carnage of th' inhuman field;
Whatever baneful breathes the rotten south;
25Whatever ills th' extremes or sudden change

Of cold and hot, or moist and dry produce;
They fly thy pure effulgence: they, and all
The secret poisons of avenging heaven,
And all the pale tribes halting in the train
30Of vice and heedless pleasure: or if aught
The comet's glare amid the burning sky,
Mournful eclipse, or planets ill-combin'd,
Portend disastrous to the vital world;
Thy salutary power averts their rage,
35Averts the general bane: and but for thee
Nature would sicken, nature soon would die.

Without thy chearful active energy
No rapture swells the breast, no poet sings,
No more the maids of Helicon delight.
40Come then with me, O Goddess heavenly-gay!
Begin the song; and let it sweetly flow,
And let it wisely teach thy wholesom laws:

"How best the fickle fabric to support
"Of mortal man; in healthful body how
45"A healthful mind the longest to maintain."
'Tis hard, in such a strife of rules, to chuse
The best, and those of most extensive use;
Harder in clear and animated song
Dry philosophic precepts to convey.
50Yet with thy aid the secret wilds I trace
Of nature, and with daring steps proceed
Thro' paths the muses never trod before.
Nor should I wander doubtful of my way.
Had I the lights of that sagacious mind
55Which taught to check the pestilential fire,
And quel the dreaded Python of the Nile.
O Thou belov'd by all the graceful arts,
Thou long the fav'rite of the healing powers,
Indulge, O Mead! a well-design'd essay,

60Howe'er imperfect: and permit that I
My little knowledge with my country share,
Till you the rich Asclepian stores unlock,
And with new graces dignify the theme.

YE who amid this feverish world would wear
65A body free of pain, of cares a mind;
Fly the rank city, shun its turbid air;
Breathe not the chaos of eternal smoke
And volatile corruption, from the dead,
The dying, sickning, and the living world
70Exhal'd, to fully heaven's transparent dome
With dim mortality. It is not air
That from a thousand lungs reeks back to thine,
Sated with exhalations rank and fell,
The spoil of dunghills, and the putrid thaw
75Of nature; when from shape and texture she
Relapses into fighting elements:

It is not air, but floats a nauseous mass
Of all obscene, corrupt, offensive things.
Much moisture hurts; but here a sordid bath,
80With oily rancor fraught, relaxes more
The solid frame than simple moisture can.
Besides, immur'd in many a sullen bay
That never felt the freshness of the breeze,
This slumbring deep remains, and ranker grows
85With sickly rest: and (tho' the lungs abhor
To drink the dun fuliginous abyss)
Did not the acid vigour of the mine,
Roll'd from so many thundring chimneys, tame
The putrid salts that overswarm the sky;
90This caustick venom would perhaps corrode
Those tender cells that draw the vital air,
In vain with all their unctuous rills bedew'd;
Or by the drunken venous tubes, that yawn
In countless pores o'er all the pervious skin,

95Imbib'd, would poison the balsamic blood,
And rouse the heart to every fever's rage.
While yet you breathe, away! the rural wilds
Invite; the mountains call you, and the vales,
The woods, the dreams, and each ambrosial breeze
100That fans the ever undulating sky;
A kindly sky! whose soft'ring power regales
Man, beast, and all the vegetable reign.
Find then some woodland scene where nature smiles
Benign, where all her honest children thrive.
105To us there wants not many a happy feat;
Look round the smiling land, such numbers rise
We hardly fix, bewilder'd in our choice.
See where enthron'd in adamantine state,
Proud of her bards, imperial Windsor sits;
110There chuse thy seat, in some aspiring grove
Fail by the slowly-winding Thames; or where
Broader she laves fair Richmond's green retreats,

(Richmond that sees an hundred villas rise
Rural or gay.) O! from the summer's rage
115O! wrap me in the friendly gloom that hides
Umbrageous Ham! But if the busy town
Attract thee still to toil for power or gold,
Sweetly thou mayst thy vacant hours possess
In Hampstead, courted by the weftern wind;
120Or Greenwich, waving o'er the winding flood;
Or lose the world amid the sylvan wilds
Of Dulwich, yet by barbarous arts unspoil'd.
Green rise the Kentish hills in chearful air;
But on the marshy plains that Essex spreads
125Build not, nor rest too long thy wandering feet.
For on a rustic throne of dewy turf,
With baneful fogs her aching temples bound,
Quartana there presides; meagre fiend
Begot by Eurus, when his brutal force
130Compress'd the slothful Naiad of the fens.

From such a mixture sprung this fitful pest,
With feverish blasts subdues the sick'ning land:
Cold tremors come, and mighty love of rest,
Convulsive yawnings, lassitude, and pains
135That sting the burden'd brows, fatigue the loins,
And rack the joints, and every torpid limb;
Then parching heat succeeds, till copious sweats
O'erflow; a short relief from former ills.
Beneath repeated shocks the wretches pine;
140The vigour sinks, the habit melts away;
The chearful, pure and animated bloom
Dies from the face, with squalid atrophy
Devour'd, in sallow melancholy clad.
And oft the sorceress, in her fated wrath,
145Resigns them to the furies of her train;
The bloated Hydrops, and the yellow fiend
Ting'd with her own accumulated gall.

In quest of sites, avoid the mournful plain
Where osiers thrive, and trees that love the lake;
150Where many lazy muddy rivers flow:
Nor for the wealth that all the Indies roll
Fix near the marshy margin of the main.
For from the humid soil, and watry reign,
Eternal vapours rise; the spungy air
155For ever weeps; or, turgid with the weight
Of waters, pours a sounding deluge down.
Skies such as these let every mortal shun
Who dreads the dropsy, palsy, or the gout,
Tertian, corrosive scurvy, or moist catarrh;
160Or any other injury that grows
From raw-spun fibres idle and unstrung,
Skin ill-perspiring, and the purple flood
In languid eddies loitering into phlegm.

Yet not alone from humid skies we pine;
165For air may be too dry. The subtle heaven,
That winnows into dust the blasted downs,
Bare and extended wide without a stream,
Too fast imbibes th' attenuated lymph
Which, by the surface, from the blood exhales.
170The lungs grow rigid, and with toil essay
Their flexible vibrations; or inflam'd,
Their tender ever-moving structure thaws.
Spoil'd of its limpid vehicle, the blood
A mass of lees remains, a drossy tide
175That flow as Lethe wanders thro' the veins,
Unactive in the services of life,
Unfit to lead its pitchy current thro'
The secret mazy channels of the brain.
The melancholic fiend, (that worst despair
180Of physic) hence the rust-complexion'd man
Pursues, whose blood is dry, whose fibres gain

Too stretch'd a tone: And hence in climes adust
So sudden tumults seize the trembling nerves,
And burning fevers glow with double rage.
185Fly, if you can, these violent extremes
Of air; the wholesome is nor moist nor dry.
But as the power of chusing is deny'd
To half mankind, a further task ensues;
How best to mitigate these fell extreams,
190How breathe unhurt the withering element,
Or hazy atmosphere: Tho' custom moulds
To every clime the soft Promethean clay;
And he who first the fogs of Essex breath'd
(So kind is native air) may in the fens
195Of Essex from inveterate ills revive
At pure Montpelier or Bermuda caught.
But if the raw and oozy heaven offend,
Correct the soil, and dry the sources up

Of watry exhalation; wide and deep
200Conduct your trenches thro' the spouting bog;
Solicitous, with all your winding arts,
Betray th' unwilling lake into the stream;
And weed the forest, and invoke the winds
To break the toils where strangled vapours lie;
205Or thro' the thickets send the crackling flames.
Mean time, at home with chearful fires dispel
The humid air: And let your table smoke
With solid roast or bak'd; or what the herds
Of tamer breed supply; or what the wilds
210Yield to the toilsom pleasures of the chase.
Generous your wine, the boast of rip'ning years,
But frugal be your cups; the languid frame,
Vapid and sunk from yesterday's debauch,
Shrinks from the cold embrace of watry heavens.
215But neither these, nor all Apollo's arts,
Disarm the dangers of the dropping sky,

Unless with exercise and manly toil
You brace your nerves, and spur the lagging blood.
The fat'ning clime let all the sons of ease
220Avoid; if indolence would wish to live.
Go, yawn and loiter out the long slow year
In fairer skies. If droughty regions parch
The skin and lungs, and bake the thick'ning blood;
Deep in the waving forest chuse your seat,
225Where fuming trees refresh the thirsty air;
And wake the fountains from their secret beds,
And into lakes dilate the running stream.
Here spread your gardens wide; and let the cool,
The moist relaxing vegetable store
230Prevail in each repast: Your food supplied
By bleeding life, be gently wasted down,
By soft decoction and a mellowing heat,
To liquid balm; or, if the solid mass
You chuse, tormented in the boiling wave;

235That thro' the thirsty channels of the blood
A smooth diluted chyle may ever flow.
The fragrant dairy from its cool recess
Its nectar acid or benign will pour
To drown your thirst; or let the mantling bowl
240Of keen Sherbet the fickle taste relieve.
For with the viscous blood the simple stream
Will hardly mingle; and fermented cups
Oft dissipate more moisture than they give.
Yet when pale seasons rise, or winter rolls
245His horrors o'er the world, thou may'st indulge
In feasts more genial, and impatient broach
The mellow cask. Then too the scourging air
Provokes to keener toils than sultry droughts
Allow. But rarely we such skies blaspheme.
250Steep'd in continual rains, or with raw fogs
Bedew'd, our seasons droop; incumbent still
A ponderous heaven o'erwhelms the sinking soul.

Lab'ring with storms in heapy mountains rise
Th' imbattled clouds, as if the Stygian shades
255Had left the dungeon of eternal night,
Till black with thunder all the south descends.
Scarce in a showerless day the heavens indulge
Our melting clime; except the baleful east
Withers the tender spring, and sourly checks
260The fancy of the year. Our fathers talk
Of summers, balmy airs, and skies serene.
Good heaven! for what unexpiated crimes
This dismal change! The brooding elements
Do they, your powerful ministers of wrath,
265Prepare some fierce exterminating plague?
Or is it fix'd in the Decrees above
That lofty Albion melt into the main?
Indulgent nature! O dissolve this gloom!
Bind in eternal adamant the winds
270That drown or wither: Give the genial west

To breathe, and in its turn the sprightly north:
And may once more the circling seasons rule
The year; not mix in every monstrous day.

Mean time, the moist malignity to shun
275Of burthen'd skies; mark where the dry champain
Swells into chearful hills; where Marjoram
And Thyme, the love of bees, perfume the air;
And where the[2] Cynorrhodon with the rose
For fragrance vies; for in the thirsty soil
280Most fragrant breathe the aromatic tribes.
There bid thy roofs high on the basking steep
Ascend, there light thy hospitable fires.
And let them see the winter morn arise,
The summer evening blushing in the west;
285While with umbrageous oaks the ridge behind
O'erhung, defends you from the blust'ring north,

And bleak affliction of the peevish east.
O! when the growling winds contend, and all
The sounding forest fluctuates in the storm,
290To sink in warm repose, and hear the din
Howl o'er the steady battlements, delights
Above the luxury of vulgar sleep.
The murmuring rivulet, and the hoarser strain
Of waters rushing o'er the slippery rocks,
295Will nightly lull you to ambrosial rest.
To please the fancy is no trifling good,
Where health is studied; for whatever moves
The mind with calm delight, promotes the just
And natural movements of th' harmonious frame,
300Besides, the sportive brook for ever shakes
The trembling air; that floats from hill to hill,
From vale to mountain, with incessant change
Of purest element, refreshing still
Your airy seat, and uninfected Gods.

305Chiefly for this I praise the man who builds
High on the breezy ridge, whose lofty sides
Th' etherial deep with endless billows laves.
His purer mansion nor contagious years
Shall reach, nor deadly putrid airs annoy.

310But may no fogs, from lake or fenny plain,
Involve my hill. And wheresoe'er you build;
Whether on sun-burnt Epsom, or the plains
Wash'd by the silent Lee; in Chelsea low,
Or high Blackheath with wintry winds assail'd;
315Dry be your house: but airy more than warm.
Else every breath of ruder wind will strike
Your tender body thro' with rapid pains;
Fierce coughs will teize you, hoarseness bind your voice,
Or moist Gravedo load your aching brows.
320These to defy, and all the fates that dwell

In cloister'd air tainted with steaming life,
Let lofty ceilings grace your ample rooms;
And still at azure noontide may your dome
At every window drink the liquid sky.
325Need we the sunny situation here,
And theatres open to the south, commend?
Here, where the morning's misty breath infests
More than the torrid noon? How sickly grow,
How pale, the plants in those ill-fated vales
330That, circled round with the gigantic heap
Of mountains, never felt, nor ever hope
To feel, the genial vigor of the sun!
While on the neighbouring hill the rose inflames
The verdant spring; in virgin beauty blows
335The tender lily, languishingly sweet;
O'er every hedge the wanton woodbine roves,
And autumn ripens in the summer's ray.

Nor less the warmer living tribes demand
The fost'ring fun: whose energy divine
340Dwells not in mortal fire; whose generous heat
Glows thro' the mass of grosser elements,
And kindles into life the pond'rous spheres.
Chear'd by thy kind invigorating warmth,
We court thy beams, great majesty of day!
345If not the soul, the regent of this world,
First born of heaven, and only less than God!

  1. Hygeia the goddess of health, was, according to the genealogy of the heathen deities, the daughter of Esculapius; who, as well as Apollo, was distinguished by the name of Pæon.
  2. The wild rose, or that which grows upon the wild briar.