Page images
PDF
EPUB

but for the cultivation of a rational, happy, infectious religion, health is a semi-divine influence. George Combe * has pointed out a remarkable contradiction between the experience and the theory of Hannah More. In her journal in 1794 she says :-“ Confined this week with four days' headach-an unprofitable time-thoughts wandering-little communion with God. I see, by every fresh trial, that the time of sickness is seldom the season for religious improvement. This great work should be done in health, or it will seldom be done well.” This passage is full of sound sense ; but it contradicts her previous assertion, that "nervous headachs and low fevers are wonderfully wholesome for moral health.” Rousseau has expressed the truth in an epigram as true as it is paradoxical, when he says, " The stronger the body, the more it obeys; the weaker the body, the more it commands."

Those who have inherited a sound constitution and who enjoy robust health, who are free from pain and unconscious of nervousness, may easily have a good temper, and that good-nature which approaches to virtue and yet cannot be deemed virtuous. It would be a great mistake, therefore, if they assumed to be meritorious, when they are only healthy.

Ignorance is the great hindrance both to popular and individual health. Could science devise a more effectual propagation of the plague than ignorance has done? When an Osmanlee dies, it is usual to cut up one of his dresses, and to send a small piece of it to each of his

: * “Constitution of Man,” p. 46.

friends as a memorial-a fatal present.* Tuis folly strikes us more because it is a foreign custom, but we have the same essential ignorance at home. We have illventilated rooms, uncleansed cisterns, ill-drained towns, excessive drinking, adulterated food, the infectious removed in public conveyances, the dead detained in small dwellings,-all in violation of the elementary laws of health. These abuses cannot last in an enlightened country. The spread of physiological knowledge is surely reaching those classes from whom our legislators are elected, and therefore we may look forward hopefully to a philanthropic legislation, which shall first improve the sanitary condition of the public, and, by consequence, of the individual. Then in due season, the number of homes will be vastly multiplied in which there will be heard the twin-voices of joy and health.

* “Eothen," p. 44.

CHAPTER XVI.

TEMPER.

Every one who is conversant both with morals and with science will see that there must be a rectification of the boundaries of ethics. Writers who have treated mental science without reference to the body are as unphilosophical as those who should discuss agriculture without reference to the soil; for does it make no difference whether seed is sown in a clay, chalky, or sandy soil? Does it make no difference as to fertility and vegetation ? The soil exerts a vast influence, but yet not a greater influence than does the body upon the soul enveloped within it. If the body is diseased or healthy, flabby or firmly knit, languid or vigorous, the soul partakes, and often to a high degree, of the peculiar constitution. Now the limits of ethics must be enlarged, so as to include physiology; and from this extension no mental quality will derive so much advantage as temper—a genuine hybrid, which has a physical as well as a moral origin.

There are discoveries to be made in morals as well as in science. Are there no discoveries on the subject of temper? Certainly there are. The milk which the child sucks renders it either placid or irritable : in a word, produces its temper. The infant of an ill-fed, ill-conditioned, and ill-tempered woman will be peevish and fretful; the infant of a well-fed, healthy, and happy woman will be quiet and cheerful.*

Whatever affects health affects temper,—not only the nutriment, but the natural constitution itself, or a predominance of nervousness, or an over-exertion of any

of our faculties. The name of Dr. Baillie is inscribed in the roll of our eminent physicians. During many years, he was in the habit of devoting sixteen hours of each day to business : he often paid visits to his patients until a late hour at night. His physical frame was not so strong as his resolution, and the sword began to wear out the sheath. An irritability of mind involuntarily contended against his natural kindness of heart. He frequently came to his own table after a day of fatigue, and held

up his hands to the family circle eager to welcome him home, saying, “Don't speak to me; then presently, after a glass of wine, and when the transitory cloud had cleared away from his brow, with a smile of affection, he would look round, and exclaim, You may speak to me now.” †

The life of another physician, Gooch, supplies us with another illustration. The uneasy sensation of bodily dis

» and

* An eccentric old physician, to whom Cambridge owes Caius College, reverted in his last sickness to the nourishment of infant life ; and a medical brother has preserved the moral result of the experiment. As the story is interesting, but might be distasteful to some, the reader is merely referred to “ Lives of Brit. Phys.,” p. 29.

+ " Lives of Brit. Phys.,” p. 242.

order made him incapable of enjoying anything, as he said, for more than a moment. It had an influence upon his literary taste, so that few books which he read gave him pleasure ; and there were still fewer people whose conversation he could tolerate for more than a short time. Ill-health made him painfully fastidious.*

Doubtless, then, the true way to improve temper is to improve health ; but even where the natural constitution is unfavourable, intellectual, moral, and spiritual influences may modify or overcome the irritable disposition. It would have enhanced the value of Macaulay's sketch of the Lord Keeper Somers, if he could have explained the facts which he narrates.

His good temper and his good breeding never failed.

His gesture, his look, his tones, were expressive of benevolence. His humanity was the more remarkable, because he had received from nature a body such as is generally found united with a peevish and irritable mind. His life was one long malady ; his nerves were weak; his complexion was livid; his face was prematurely wrinkled. Yet his enemies could not pretend that he had ever once, during a long and troubled public life, been goaded, even by sudden provocation, into vehemence inconsistent with the mild dignity of his character.

The best of men are, like Moses, liable on occasions to speak “unadvisedly with their lips." Yea, the entire absence of anger would be a defect. How," it was asked, can Charilaus be a good man, who is not angry even with the bad ?” | If a good man must sometimes

* " Lives of Brit. Phys.,” p. 332. + “ Hist. of Eng.,” vii. 72.

I Plut. Lyc., v.

« PreviousContinue »