Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE ART OF PRESERVING HEALTH: BOOK 4. THE PASSIONS, by JOHN ARMSTRONG



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THE ART OF PRESERVING HEALTH: BOOK 4. THE PASSIONS, by            
First Line: The choice of aliment, the choice of air
Last Line: One power of physic, melody, and song.
Subject(s): Health; Medicine; Physicians; Drugs, Prescription; Doctors


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:
And how the subtle principle within
Inspires with health, or mines with strange decay
The passive body. Ye poetic shades,
Who know the secrets of the world unseen,
Assist my song! For, in a doubtful theme
Engaged, I wander through mysterious ways.

There is, they say, (and I believe there is)
A spark within us of the immortal fire,
That animates and moulds the grosser frame;
And when the body sinks, escapes to heaven,
Its native seat, and mixes with the gods.
Meanwhile 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
The body's woes and joys, this ruling power
Wields 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.
Nor 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 poured through subtle tubes
The natural, vital, functions are performed.
By these the stubborn aliments are tamed;
The toiling heart distributes life and strength;
These the still-crumbling frame rebuild; and these
Are lost in thinking, and dissolve in air.

But 'tis not thought, (for still the soul's employed)
'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.
Just so the mind, with various thought amused,
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,
Engross the subtle ministers of life,
And spoil the labouring 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
Of 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;
O'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!
And ever may all heavy systems rest!
Yet some there are, even of elastic parts,
Whom strong and obstinate ambition leads
Through all the rugged roads of barren lore,
And gives to relish what their generous taste
Would else refuse. But may nor thirst 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
To 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 wield the thunder of Demosthenes.
The chest so exercised improves its strength;
And quick vibrations through the bowels drive
The restless blood, which in unactive days
Would loiter else through unelastic tubes.
Deem it not trifling while I recommend
What 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
The restless mind. For ever on pursuit
Of knowledge bent, it starves the grosser powers:
Quite unemployed, against its own repose
It turns its fatal edge, and sharper pangs
Than what the body knows imbitter life.
Chiefly where solitude, sad nurse of care,
To sickly musing gives the pensive mind,
There madness enters; and the dim-eyed fiend,
Sour melancholy, night and day provokes
Her own eternal wound. The sun grows pale;
A mournful visionary light o'erspreads
The cheerful face of nature: earth becomes
A dreary desert, and heaven frowns above.
Then various shapes of curs'd illusion rise:
Whate'er the wretched fears, creating fear
Forms 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 murderer feels
With anxious flutterings wake the guiltless breast.

Such phantoms pride in solitary scenes,
Or fear, on delicate self-love creates.
From other cares absolved, the busy mind
Finds in yourself a theme to pore upon;
It finds you miserable, or makes you so.
For while yourself you anxiously explore,
Timorous self-love, with sickening 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,
For 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,
Those fatal guests: and first the demon fear,
That trembles at impossible events,
Lest aged Atlas should resign his load,
And heaven's eternal battlements rush down.
Is there an evil worse than fear itself?
And 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,
Of 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 mistuned,
These 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
They 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.
O ye, whose souls relentless love has tamed
To soft distress, or friends untimely fallen!
Court not the luxury of tender thought;
Nor deem it impious to forget those pains
That hurt the living, nought avail the dead.
Go, soft enthusiast! quit the cypress groves,
Nor to the rivulet's lonely moanings tune
Your sad complaint. Go, seek the cheerful haunts
Of men, and mingle with the bustling crowd;
Lay schemes for wealth, or power, or fame, the wish
Of 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 Apennines.
Or more adventurous, rush into the field
Where war grows hot; and, raging through 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,
Too 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 swill.
Struck by the powerful charm, the gloom dissolves
In empty air; Elysium opens round,
A pleasing frenzy 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:
The 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 thund'ring stream,
Swollen o'er its banks with sudden mountain rain,
Sinks 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
You lavish'd more than might support three days.
A heavy morning comes; your cares return
With tenfold rage. An anxious stomach well
May be endured; so may the throbbing head:
But such a dim delirium, such a dream,
Involves you; such a dastardly despair
Unmans your soul, as maddening Pentheus felt,
When, baited round Cithæron's cruel sides,
He saw two suns, and double Thebes ascend.
You curse the sluggish port; you curse the wretch,
The felon, with unnatural mixture first
Who dared to violate the virgin wine.
Or on the fugitive champaign you pour
A thousand curses; for to heaven it rapt
Your soul, to plunge you deeper in despair.
Perhaps you rue even that divinest gift,
The gay, serene, good-natured Burgundy,
Or the fresh fragrant vintage of the Rhine:
And wish that heaven from mortals had withheld
The grape, and all intoxicating bowls.

Besides, it wounds you sore to recollect
What follies in your loose unguarded hour
Escaped. For one irrevocable word,
Perhaps that meant no harm, you lose a friend.
Or in the rage of wine your hasty hand
Performs a deed to haunt you to the 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.
Despised, unwept you fall; who might have left
A sacred, cherished, sadly-pleasing name;
A name still to be uttered with a sigh.
Your last ungraceful scene has quite effaced
All sense and memory of your former worth.

How 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. Though old, he still retained
His manly sense, and energy of mind.
Virtuous and wise he was, but not severe;
He still remembered that he once was young;
His easy presence checked no decent joy,
Him even the dissolute admired; for he
A graceful looseness when he pleased put on,
And laughing could instruct. Much had he read,
Much more had seen; he studied from the life,
And in the original perused mankind.

Versed in the woes and vanities of life,
He pitied man: and much he pitied those
Whom falsely smiling fate has cursed 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;
Yet few attain it, if 'twas e'er attain'd,
But they the widest wander from the mark,
Who through the flowery paths of sauntering joy
Seek this coy goddess; that from stage to stage
Invites us still, but shifts as we pursue.
For, not to name the pains that pleasure brings
To counterpoise itself, relentless fate
Forbids that we through gay voluptuous wilds,
Should ever roam: and were the fates more kind,
Our narrow luxuries would soon grow stale,
Were these exhaustless, Nature would grow sick,
And, cloy'd with pleasure, squeamishly complain
That all is vanity, and life a dream.
Let nature rest: be busy for yourself,
And for your friend; be busy even in vain
Rather than teaze her sated 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.

''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, through this labyrinth we tread.
Virtue and sense I mean not to disjoin;
Virtue and sense are one: and, trust me, still
A faithless heart betrays the head unsound.
Virtue (for mere good-nature is a fool)
Is sense and spirit, with humanity:
'Tis sometimes angry, and its frown confounds;
'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;
This 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.
The gaudy gloss of fortune only strikes
The vulgar eye: the suffrage of the wise,
The praise that's worth ambition, is attained
By sense alone, and dignity of mind.

'Virtue, the strength and beauty of the soul,
Is 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 can be transferred.
Riches are oft by guilt and baseness earned;
Or dealt by chance, to shield a lucky knave,
Or throw a cruel sunshine on a fool.
But for one end, one much neglected use,
Are riches worth your care: (for Nature's wants
Are few, and without opulence supplied.)
This noble end is, to produce the soul;
To show the virtues in their fairest light;
To make humanity the minister
Of bounteous providence; and teach the breast
That generous luxury the gods enjoy.'

Thus, in his graver vein, the friendly sage
Sometimes declaimed. Of right and wrong he taught
Truths as refined as ever Athens heard;
And (strange to tell!) he practised what he preached.
Skilled in the passions, how to check their sway
He knew, as far as reason can control
The lawless powers. But other cares are mine:
Formed in the school of Pæon, I relate
What passions hurt the body, what improve:
Avoid them, or invite them, as you may.

Know then, whatever cheerful and serene
Supports the mind, supports the body too.
Hence, the most vital movement mortals feel
Is hope; the balm and life-blood of the soul.
It pleases, and it lasts. Indulgent heaven
Sent down the kind delusion, through the paths
Of rugged life to lead us patient on,
And make our happiest state no tedious thing.
Our greatest good, and what we least 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;
Or while they please, torment. The stubborn clown,
The ill-tamed ruffian, and pale usurer,
(If love's omnipotence such hearts can mould)
May safely mellow into love; and grow
Refined, humane, and generous, if they can.
Love in such bosoms never to a fault
Or pains or pleases. But, ye finer souls,
Formed to soft luxury, and prompt to thrill
With all the tumults, all the joys and pains,
That beauty gives; with caution and reserve
Indulge the sweet destroyer of repose,
Nor court too much the queen of charming cares,
For, while the cherished poison in your breast
Ferments and maddens; sick with jealousy,
Absence, distrust, or even with anxious joy,
The wholesome appetites and powers of life
Dissolve in languor. The coy stomach loathes
The genial board: your cheerful days are gone;
The generous bloom that flushed your cheeks is fled.
To sighs devoted and to tender pains,
Pensive 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;
Which musing daily strengthens and improves
Through 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; the infected mind,
Dissolved 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 shunned.
Love well repaid, and not too weakly sunk
In wanton and unmanly tenderness,
Adds bloom to health; o'er every virtue sheds
A gay, humane, a sweet, and generous grace,
And brightens all the ornaments of man.
But fruitless, hopeless, disappointed, racked
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;
And some with desperate hands 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 an hundred brides.
The 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
The 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;
Her 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.
Ah! 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.
For from the colliquation of soft joys
How changed you rise! the ghost of what you was!
Languid, and melancholy, and gaunt, and wan;
Your veins exhausted, and your nerves unstrung.
Spoiled of its balm and sprightly zest, the blood
Grows 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;
Your 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, cheerfulness, and health!
Infatuate 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 chooses to be wretched, to be mad;
And warned, 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,
With faltering speech, and eyes that wildly stare;
Fierce as the tiger, madder than the seas,
Desperate, and armed with more than human strength.
How soon the calm, humane, and polished man
Forgets compunction, and starts up a fiend!
Who pines in love, or wastes with silent cares,
Envy, or ignominy, or tender grief,
Slowly descends, and lingering, to the shades.
But he whom anger stings, drops, if he dies,
At once, and rushes apoplectic down;
Or a fierce fever hurries him to hell.
For, as the body through unnumbered strings
Reverberates each vibration of the soul;
As is the passion, such is still the pain
The body feels: or chronic, or acute.
And 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, meantime, to whom the boisterous fit
Is 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 the incumbent load,
Unlocks 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.
For 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, armed with thunder, fire, and every plague,
That ruins, tortures, or distracts mankind,
And 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.
'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 braves the power
Of all that ever taught in prose or song,
To tame the fiend that sleeps a gentle lamb,
And wakes a lion. Unprovoked and calm,
You reason well; see as you ought to see,
And wonder at the madness of mankind:
Seized with the common rage, you soon forget
The 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?
Where 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,
And 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 soothe distraction, and almost despair.
That 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!)
Do wondrous 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 show of rapture, die
Of idiot notes impertinently long.
But he the Muse's laurel justly shares,
A poet he, and touched with Heaven's own fire,
Who, with bold rage or solemn pomp of sounds,
Inflames, exalts, and ravishes the soul;
Now tender, plaintive, sweet almost to pain,
In love dissolves you; now in sprightly strains
Breathes a gay rapture through your thrilling breast;
Or melts the heart with airs divinely sad;
Or wakes to horror the tremendous strings.
Such was the bard, whose heavenly strains of old
Appeased the fiend of melancholy Saul.
Such was, if old and heathen fame say true,
The man who bade the Theban domes ascend,
And tamed the savage nations with his song;
And such the Thracian, whose melodious lyre,
Tuned to soft woe, made all the mountains weep;
Soothed even the inexorable powers of hell,
And half redeemed his lost Eurydice.
Music exalts each joy, allays each grief,
Expels diseases, softens every pain,
Subdues the rage of poison, and the plague;
And hence the wise of ancient days adored
One power of physic, melody, and song.





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