John Armstrong Poems >>
The Art Of Preserving Health. Book IV


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
Engag'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,
Its native seat, 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
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 pour'd thro' subtle tubes
The 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.

But '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.
Just so the mind, with various thought amus'd,
Nor akes 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 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
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 drousy metaphysic sage!
And ever may all heavy systems 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
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 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
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 unemploy'd, against its own repose
It turns its fatal edge, and sharper pangs
Than what the body knows embitter life.
Chiefly 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;
A 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
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,
Of 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.
For while yourself you anxiously explore,
Timorous Self--love, with sickning 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 Daemon 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,
Appall 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,
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 tam'd
To soft distress, or friends untimely fal'n!
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 chearful haunts
Of men, and mingle with the bustling croud;
Lay schemes for wealth, or power, or same, 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 advent'rous, rush into the field
Where war grows hot; and, raging thro' the sky,
The lofty trumpet swells the madd'ning 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 pow'rful charm, the gloom dissolves
In 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:
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,
Swoln 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 endur'd; so may the throbbing head:
But such a dim delirium, such a dream,
Involves you; such a dastardly despair
Unmans your soul, as madd'ning Pentheus felt,
When, baited round Cithaeron'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 dar'd to violate the virgin Wine.
Or on the fugitive Champain you pour
A thousand curses; for to heav'n it rapt
Your soul, to plunge you deeper in despair.
Perhaps 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 with--held
The grape, and all intoxicating bowls.

Besides, it wounds you sore to recollect
What follies in your loose unguarded hour
Escap'd. 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.
Despis'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.

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. Tho' old, he still retain'd
His 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
A graceful looseness when he pleas'd put on,
And laughing could 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,
He 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;
Yet 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.
For, 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 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 teize 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, thro' 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 hoblest 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 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,
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 transferr'd.
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,
Are riches worth your care: (for Nature's wants
Are few, and without opulence supply'd.)
This noble end is, to produce the Soul;
To shrew 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 declaim'd. Of Right and Wrong he taught
Truths as refin'd as ever Athens heard;
And (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 Paeon, I relate
What 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
Is 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.
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--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.
Love 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
Indulge 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,
The wholesome 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,
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
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,
Dissolv'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.
Love well repaid, and not too weakly sunk
In wanton and unmanly tenderness,
Adds bloom to Health; o'er ev'ry virtue sheds
A gay, humane, a sweet, and generous grace,
And brightens all the ornaments of man.
But fruitless, hopeless, disappointed, rack'd
With jealousy, fatigu'd 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.
Th' 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 La