The Art of Preserving Health - A Poem in Four Books/Chapter 4

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THE choice of aliment, the choice of air,
The use of toil and all external things,
Already sung; it now remains to trace
What good what evil from ourselves proceeds:
5And how the subtle principle within
Inspires with health, or mines with strange decay
The passive body. Ye poetic Shades,
That know the secrets of the world unseen,

Assist my song! For, in a doubtful theme
10Engag'd, I wander thro' mysterious ways.

There is, they say, (and I believe there is)
A spark within us of th' immortal fire,
That animates and moulds the grosser frame;
And when the body sinks, escapes to heaven,
15Its native feat; and mixes with the Gods.
Mean while this heavenly particle pervades
The mortal elements, in every nerve
It thrills with pleasure, or grows mad with pain.
And, in its secret conclave, as it feels
20The body's woes and joys, this ruling power
Weilds at its will the dull material world,
And is the body's health or malady.

By its own toil the gross corporeal frame
Fatigues, extenuates, or destroys itself:

25Nor less the labours of the mind corrode
The solid fabric.For by subtle parts,
And viewless atoms, secret Nature moves
The mighty wheels of this stupendous world.
By subtle fluids pour'd thro' subtle tubes
30The natural, vital, functions are perform'd.
By these the stubborn aliments are tam'd;
The toiling heart distributes life and strength;
These the still-crumbling frame rebuild; and these
Are lost in thinking, and dissolve in air.

35But 'tis not Thought (for still the soul's employ 'd)
'Tis painful thinking that corrodes our clay.
All day the vacant eye without fatigue
Strays o'er the heaven and earth; but long intent
On microscopic arts its vigour fails.
40Just so the mind, with various thought amus'd,
Nor aches itself, nor gives the body pain.

But anxious Study, Discontent, and Care,
Love without hope, and Hate without revenge,
And Fear, and Jealousy, fatigue the soul,
45Engross the subtle ministers of life,
And spoil the lab'ring functions of their share.
Hence the lean gloom that Melancholy wears;
The Lover's paleness; and the sallow hue
Of Envy, Jealousy; the meagre stare
50Of sore Revenge: The canker'd body hence
Betrays each fretful motion of the mind.

The strong-built pedant; who both night and day
Feeds on the coarsest fare the schools bestow,
And crudely fattens at gross Burman's stall;
55O'erwhelm'd with phlegm lies in a dropsy drown'd,
Or sinks in lethargy before his time.
With useful studies you, and arts that please
Employ your mind, amuse but not fatigue.

Peace to each drowsy metaphysic sage!
60And ever may the German folio's rest!
Yet some there are, even of elastic parts,
Whom strong and obstinate ambition leads
Thro' all the rugged roads of barren lore,
And gives to relish what their generous taste
65Would else refuse.But may nor thrift of fame
Nor love of knowledge urge you to fatigue
With constant drudgery the liberal soul.
Toy with your books: and, as the various fits
Of humour seize you, from Philosophy
70To Fable shift; from serious Antonine
To Rabelais' ravings, and from prose to song.

While reading pleases, but no longer, read;
And read aloud resounding Homer's strain,
And weild the thunder of Demosthenes.
75The chest so exercis'd improves its strength;

And quick vibrations thro' the bowels drive
The restless blood, which in unactive days
Would loiter else thro' unelastic tubes.
Deem it not trifling while I recommend
80What posture suits: To stand and sit by turns.
As nature prompts, is best. But o'er your leaves
To lean for ever, cramps the vital parts,
And robs the fine machinery of its play.

'Tis the great art of life to manage well
85The restless mind. For ever on pursuit
Of knowledge bent it starves the grosser powers.
Quite unemploy'd, against its own repose
Its turns its fatal edge, and sharper pangs
Than what the body knows embitter life.
90Chiefly where Solitude, sad nurse of care,
To sickly musing gives the pensive mind.
There madness enters; and the dim-ey'd Fiend,

Sour Melancholy, night and day provokes
Her own eternal wound. The sun grows pale;
95A mournful visionary light o'erspreads
The chearful face of nature: earth becomes
A dreary desart, and heaven frowns above.
Then various shapes of curs'd illusion rise;
Whate'er the wretched fears, creating Fear
100Forms out of nothing; and with monsters teems
Unknown in hell. The prostrate soul beneath
A load of huge imagination heaves.
And all the horrors, that the guilty feel,
With anxious flutterings wake the guiltless breast.

105Such phantoms Pride in solitary scenes,
Or Fear, on delicate Self-love creates.
From other cares absolv'd, the busy mind
Finds in yourself a theme to pore upon;
It finds you miserable, or makes you so.

110For while yourself you anxiously explore.
Timorous Self-love, with sick'ning Fancy's aid,
Presents the danger that you dread the most,
And ever galls you in your tender part.
Hence some for love, and some for jealousy,
115For grim religion some, and some for pride,
Have lost their reason: some for fear of want
Want all their lives; and others every day
For fear of dying suffer worse than death.
Ah! from your bosoms banish, if you can,
120Those fatal guests: and first the Demon Fear;
That trembles at impossible events,
Left aged Atlas should resign his load
And heaven's eternal battlements rush down.
Is there an evil worse than fear itself?
125And what avails it that indulgent heaven
From mortal eyes has wrapt the woes to come,
If we, ingenious to torment ourselves,

Grow pale at hideous fictions of our own?
Enjoy the present; nor with needless cares,
130Of what may spring from blind Misfortune's womb,
Appal the surest hour that life bestows.
Serene, and master of yourself, prepare
For what may come; and leave the rest to heaven.

Oft from the body, by long ails mistun'd,
135These evils sprung the most important health,
That of the mind, destroy: And when the mind
They first invade, the conscious body soon
In sympathetic languishment declines.
These chronic passions, while from real woes
140They rise, and yet without the body's fault
Infest the soul, admit one only cure;
Diversion, hurry, and a restless life.
Vain are the consolations of the wise,
In vain your friends would reason down your pain.

145Oh ye whose souls relentless love has tam'd
To soft distress, or friends untimely slain!
Court not the luxury of tender thought:
Nor deem it impious to forget those pains
That hurt the living, nought avail the dead.
150Go, soft enthusiast! quit the cypress groves,
Nor to the rivulet's lonely moanings tune
Your sad complaint. Go, seek the chearful haunts
Of men, and mingle with the bustling croud;
Lay schemes for wealth, or power, or fame,the wish
155Of nobler minds, and push them night and day.
Or join the caravan in quest of scenes
New to your eyes, and shifting every hour;
Beyond the Alps, beyond the Appennines.
Or, more advent'rous, rush into the field
160Where war grows hot; and, raging thro' the sky,
The lofty trumpet swells the maddening soul:

And in the hardy camp and toilsome march
Forget all softer and less manly cares.

But most too passive, when the blood runs low,
165Too weakly indolent to strive with pain,
And bravely by resisting conquer Fate,
Try Circe's arts; and in the tempting bowl
Of poison'd Nectar sweet oblivion drink.
Struck by the powerful charm, the gloom dissolves
170In empty air; Elysium opens round.
A pleasing phrenzy buoys the lighten'd soul,
And sanguine hopes dispel your fleeting care;
And what was difficult, and what was dire,
Yields to your prowess and superior stars:
175The happiest you, of all that e'er were mad,
Or are, or shall be, could this folly last.
But soon your heaven is gone; a heavier gloom

Shuts o'er your head: and, as the thundering stream,
Swoln o'er its banks with sudden mountain rain,
180Sinks from its tumult to a silent brook;
So, when the frantic raptures in your breast
Subside, you languish into mortal man;
You sleep, and waking find yourself undone.
For prodigal of life in one rash night
185You lavish'd more than might support three days.
A heavy morning comes; your cares return
With tenfold rage. An anxious stomach well
May be endur'd; so may the throbbing head:
But such a dim delirium, such a dream,
190Involves you; such a dastardly despair
Unmans your soul, as madd'ning Pentheus felt
When, baited round Citheron's cruel sides,
He saw two suns, and double Thebes ascend.
You curse the sluggish Port; you curse the wretch,
195The felon, with unnatural mixture first

Who dar'd to violate the virgin Wine.
Or on the fugitive Champain you pour
A thousand curses; for to heav'n your soul
It rapt, to plunge you deeper in despair.
200Perhaps you rue even that divinest gift,
The gay, serene, good-natur'd Burgundy,
Or the fresh fragrant vintage of the Rhine:
And wish that heaven from mortals had withheld
The grape, and all intoxicating bowls.

205Besides, it wounds you fore to recollect
What follies in your loose unguarded hour
Escap'd. By one irrevocable word,
Perhaps that meant no harm, you lose a friend.
Or in the rage of wine your hasty hand
210Performs a deed to haunt you to your grave.
Add that your means, your health, your parts decay;

Your friends avoid you; brutishly transform'd
They hardly know you; or if one remains
To wish you well, he wishes you in heaven.
215Despis'd, unwept you fall; who might have left
A sacred, cherish'd, sadly-pleasing name;
A name still to be utter'd with a sigh.
Your last ungraceful scene has quite effac'd
All sense and memory of your former worth.

220How to live happiest; how avoid the pains,
The disappointments, and disgusts of those
Who would in pleasure all their hours employ;
The precepts here of a divine old man
I could recite.Tho' old, he still retain'd
225His manly sense, and energy of mind.
Virtuous and wise he was, but not severe;
He still remember'd that he once was young;
His easy presence check'd no decent joy.

Him even the dissolute admir'd; for he
230A graceful looseness when he pleas 'd put on,
And laughing cou'd instruct. Much had he read.
Much more had seen; he studied from the life.
And in th' original perus'd mankind.

Vers'd in the woes and vanities of life,
235He pitied man: And much he pitied those
Whom falsely-smiling fate has curs'd with means
To dissipate their days in quest of joy.
Our aim is Happiness; 'tis yours, 'tis mine,
He said, 'tis the pursuit of all that live;
240Yet few attain it, if 'twas e'er attain'd.
But they the widest wander from the mark,
Who thro' the flow'ry paths of saunt'ring Joy
Seek this coy Goddess; that from stage to stage
Invites us still, but shifts as we pursue.
245For, not to name the pains that pleasure brings

To counterpoise itself, relentless Fate
Forbids that we thro' gay voluptuous wilds
Should ever roam: And were the Fates more kind
Our narrow luxuries would soon be stale.
250Were these exhaustless, Nature would grow sick.
And, cloy'd with pleasure, squeamishly complain
That all was vanity, and life a dream.
Let nature rest: Be busy for yourself,
And for your friend; be busy even in vain
255Rather than teize her fated appetites.
Who never fasts no banquet e'er enjoys;
Who never toils or watches never sleeps.
Let nature rest: And when the taste of joy
Grows keen, indulge; but shun satiety.

260'Tis not for mortals always to be blest.
But him the least the dull or painful hours
Of life oppress, whom sober Sense conducts

And Virtue, thro' this labyrinth we tread.
Virtue and Sense I mean not to disjoin;
265Virtue and Sense are one; and, trust me, he
Who has not virtue is not truly wise.
Virtue (for meer good-nature is a fool)
Is sense and spirit, with humanity:
'Tis sometimes angry, and its frown confounds;
270'Tis even vindictive, but in vengeance just.
Knaves fain would laugh at it; some great ones dare;
But at his heart the most undaunted son
Of fortune dreads its name and awful charms.
To noblest uses this determines wealth;
275This is the solid pomp of prosperous days;
The peace and shelter of adversity.
And if you pant for glory, build your fame
On this foundation, which the secret shock
Defies of Envy and all-sapping Time.

280The gawdy gloss of Fortune only strikes
The vulgar eye: The suffrage of the wise,
The praise that's worth ambition, is attain'd
By Sense alone, and dignity of mind.

Virtue, the strength and beauty of the soul,
285Is the best gift of heaven: a happiness
That even above the smiles and frowns of fate
Exalts great Nature's favourites: a wealth
That ne'er encumbers, nor to baser hands
Can be transfer'd: it is the only good
290Man justly boasts of, or can call his own.
Riches are oft by guilt and baseness earn'd;
Or dealt by chance, to shield a lucky knave,
Or throw a cruel sun-shine on a fool.
But for one end, one much-neglected use,
295Are riches worth your care: (for Nature's wants
Are few, and without opulence supplied.)

This noble end is, to produce the Soul,
To shew the virtues in their fairest light;
To make Humanity the Minister
300Of bounteous Providence; and teach the Breast
That generous luxury the Gods enjoy.

Thus, in his graver vein, the friendly Sage
Sometimes declaim'd. Of Right and Wrong he taught
Truths as refin'd as ever Athens heard;
305And (strange to tell!) he practis'd what he preach'd.
Skill'd in the Passions, how to check their sway
He knew, as far as Reason can controul
The lawless Powers. But other cares are mine:
Form'd in the school of Pæon, I relate
310What Passions hurt the body, what improve:
Avoid them, or invite them, as you may.

Know then, whatever chearful and serene
Supports the mind, supports the body too.
Hence the most vital movement mortals feel
315Is Hope; the balm and life-blood of the soul.
It pleases, and it lasts. Indulgent heaven
Sent down the kind delusion, thro' the paths
Of rugged life; to lead us patient on;
And make our happiest state no tedious thing.
320Our greatest good, and what we lead can spare,
Is Hope; the last of all our evils, Fear.

But there are Passions grateful to the breast,
And yet no friends to Life; perhaps they please
Or to excess, and dissipate the soul;
325Or while they please, torment. The stubborn Clown,
The ill-tam'd Ruffian, and pale Usurer,
(If Love's omnipotence such hearts can mould)
May safely mellow into love; and grow

Refin'd, humane, and generous, if they can.
330Love in such bosoms never to a fault
Or pains or pleases.But ye finer Souls,
Form'd to soft luxury, and prompt to thrill
With all the tumults, all the joys and pains,
That beauty gives; with caution and reserve
335Indulge the sweet destroyer of repose,
Nor court too much the Queen of charming cares.
For, while the cherish'd poison in your breast
Ferments and maddens; sick with jealousy,
Absence, distrust, or even with anxious joy,
340The wholsome appetites and powers of life
Dissolve in languor.The coy stomach loaths
The genial board: Your chearful days are gone:
The generous bloom that flush'd your cheeks is fled.
To sighs devoted and to tender pains,
345Pensive you sit, or solitary stray,
And waste your youth in musing.Musing first

Toy'd into care your unsuspecting heart:
It found a liking there, a sportful fire,
And that fomented into serious love;
350Which musing daily strengthens and improves
Thro' all the heights of fondness and romance:
And you're undone, the fatal shaft has sped,
If once you doubt whether you love or no.
The body wastes away; th' infected mind,
355Dissolv'd in female tenderness, forgets
Each manly virtue, and grows dead to fame.
Sweet heaven from such intoxicating charms
Defend all worthy breasts! Not that I deem
Love always dangerous, always to be shun'd.
360Love well repaid, and not too weakly sunk
In wanton and unmanly tenderness,
Adds bloom to Health; o'er every virtue sheds
A gay, humane, and amiable grace,
And brightens all the ornaments of man.

365 But fruitless, hopeless, disappointed, rack'd
With jealousy, fatigued with hope and fear,
Too serious, or too languishingly fond,
Unnerves the body and unmans the soul.
And some have died for Love; and some run mad;
370And some with desperate hand themselves have slain.

Some to extinguish, others to prevent,
A mad devotion to one dangerous Fair,
Court all they meet; in hopes to dissipate
The cares of Love amongst: a hundred Brides.
375Th' event is doubtful: for there are who find
A cure in this; there are who find it not.
'Tis no relief, alas! it rather galls
The wound, to those who are sincerely sick.
For while from feverish and tumultuous joys
380The nerves grow languid and the soul subsides;
The tender Fancy smarts with every sting;

And what was Love before is Madness now.
Is health your care, or luxury your aim,
Be temperate still: When Nature bids obey;
385Her wild impatient sallies bear no curb.
But when the prurient habit of delight,
Or loose Imagination, spurs you on
To deeds above your strength, impute it not
To Nature: Nature all compulsion hates.
390Ah! let nor luxury nor vain renown
Urge you to feats you well might sleep without;
To make what should be rapture a fatigue,
A tedious task; nor in the wanton arms
Of twining Laïs melt your manhood down.
395For from the colliquation of soft joys
How chang'd you rise! the ghost of what you was!
Languid, and melancholy, and gaunt, and wan;
Your veins exhausted and your nerves unstrung.
Spoil'd of its balm and sprightly zeft, the blood

400Grows vapid phlegm; along the tender nerves
(To each slight impulse tremblingly awake)
A subtle Fiend that mimics all the plagues
Rapid and restless springs from part to part.
The blooming honours of your youth are fallen;
405Your vigour pines; your vital powers decay;
Diseases haunt you; and untimely Age
Creeps on; unsocial, impotent, and lewd.
Infatuate, impious, epicure! to waste
The stores of pleasure, chearfulness, and health!
410Infatuate all who make delight their trade,
And coy perdition every hour pursue.

Who pines with Love, or in lascivious flames
Consumes, is with his own consent undone:
He chuses to be wretched, to be mad;
415And warn'd proceeds and wilful to his fate.
But there's a Passion, whose tempestuous sway

Tears up each virtue planted in the breast,
And shakes to ruins proud philosophy.
For pale and trembling Anger rushes in,
420With fault'ring speech, and eyes that wildly stare;
Fierce as the Tyger, madder than the seas,
Desperate, and arm'd with more than human strength.
How soon the calm, humane, and polish'd man
Forgets compunction, and starts up a fiend!
425Who pines in Love, or wastes with silent Cares,
Envy, or Ignominy, or tender Grief,
Slowly descends and ling'ring to the shades.
But he whom Anger stings, drops, if he dies,
At once, and rushes apoplectic down;
430Or a fierce fever hurries him to hell.
For, as the Body thro' unnumber'd strings
Reverberates each vibration of the Soul;
As is the Passion, such is still the Pain

The Body feels; or chronic, or acute.
435And oft a sudden storm at once o'erpowers
The Life, or gives your Reason to the winds.
Such fates attend the rash alarm of Fear,
And sudden Grief, and Rage, and sudden Joy.
There are, mean time, to whom the boist'rous fit
440Is Health, and only fills the sails of life.
For where the Mind a torpid winter leads,
Wrapt in a Body corpulent and cold,
And each clogg'd function lazily moves on;
A generous sally spurns th' incumbent load,
445Unlocks the breast, and gives a cordial glow.
But if your wrathful blood is apt to boil,
Or are your nerves too irritably strung;
Wave all Dispute; be cautious if you joke;

Keep Lent for ever; and forswear the Bowl.
450For one rash moment sends you to the shades,
Or shatters every hopeful scheme of life,
And gives to horror all your days to come.
Fate, arm'd with thunder, fire, and every plague
That ruins, tortures, or distracts mankind,
455And makes the happy wretched in an hour,
O'erwhelms you not with woes so horrible
As your own Wrath, nor gives more sudden blows.

While Choler works, good Friend, you may be wrong;
Distrust yourself, and sleep before you fight.
460'Tis not too late to morrow to be brave;
If Honour bids, to morrow kill or die.
But calm advice against a raging fit
Avails too little; and it tries the power

Of all that ever taught in Prose or Song,
465To tame the Fiend that sleeps a gentle Lamb,
And wakes a Lion.Unprovok'd and calm,
You reason well, see as you ought to see,
And wonder at the madness of mankind:
Seiz'd with the common rage, you soon forget
470The speculations of your wiser hours.
Beset with Furies of all deadly shapes,
Fierce and insidious, violent and slow;
With all that urge or lure us on to Fate;
What refuge shall we seek? what arms prepare?
475Where Reason proves too weak, or void of wiles,
To cope with subtle or impetuous Powers,
I would invoke new Passions to your aid:
With Indignation would extinguish Fear,
With Fear or generous Pity vanquish Rage,
480And Love with Pride; and force to force oppose.

There is a Charm: a Power that sways the breast;
Bids every Passion revel or be still;
Inspires with Rage, or all your Cares dissolves;
Can sooth Distraction, and almost Despair.
485That Power is Music: Far beyond the stretch
Of those unmeaning warblers on our stage;
Those clumsy Heroes, those fat-headed Gods,
Who move no Passion justly but Contempt:
Who, like our dancers (light indeed and strong!)
490Do wond'rous feats, but never heard of grace.
The fault is ours; we bear those monstrous arts,
Good Heaven! we praise them: we, with loudest peals,
Applaud the fool that highest lifts his heels;
And, with insipid shew of rapture, die
495Of ideot notes, impertinently long.

But he the Muse's laurel justly shares,
A Poet he, and touch'd with Heaven's own fire;
Who, with bold rage or solemn pomp of founds,
Inflames, exalts, and ravishes the foul;
500Now tender, plaintive, sweet almost to pain,
In Love dissolves you; now in sprightly strains
Breathes a gay rapture thro' your thrilling breast;
Or melts the heart with airs divinely sad;
Or wakes to horror the tremendous strings.
505Such was the bard, whose heavenly strains of old
Appeas'd the fiend of melancholy Saul.
Such was, if old and heathen same say true,
The man who bade the Theban domes ascend,
And tam'd the savage nations with his song;
510And such the Thracian, whose harmonious lyre,
Tun'd to soft woe, made all the mountains weep;
Sooth'd even th' inexorable powers of Hell,

And half redeem'd his lost Eurydice.
Music exalts each Joy, allays each Grief,
515Expells Diseases, softens every Pain,
Subdues the rage of Poison, and the Plague;
And hence the wife of ancient days ador'd
One Power of Physic, Melody, and Song.

The END.