Showing the ill effects of ladies having the vapours.
OUR hero wandered about the streets for two or three hours, till being tired of his peregrination, he took shelter in a handsome house, where the door stood hospitably open to receive him. Here he was soon found by the servants, and the waiting-gentlewoman carried him upstairs, as a beauty, to her mistress, whom she found in a fit, and consequently was obliged to defer the introduction of Pompey, to assist her lady with hartshorn, and other physical restoratives, with which her chamber was plentifully stored.
This lady, by name Mrs. Qualmsick, had the misfortune to be afflicted with that most terrible sickness, which arises only from the imagination of the patient, and which it is no wonder physicians find such a difficulty to cure, as it has neither name, symptoms, or existence. She was, in reality, eaten up with the vapours, by which means her whole life became an uninterrupted series of miseriies, which she had been ingenious enough to invent for herself, because neither nature nor fortune had bestowed any upon her. Her constitution originally was very good and healthy, but she had so many years been endeavouring to destroy it, by the advice and assistance of physicians, that she had now physicked herself into all kinds of imaginary disorders, and was unhealthy from the very pains she took to preserve her health. Her meek-spirited husband possessed an estate of two thousand pounds a year, the far greatest part whereof his indulgent wise lavished away on physicians' and apothecaries' bills; and though she took all pains to render herself unlovely in the eyes of a husband, the good-natured simple man was so enamoured of her sickly charms, that he still adored her as a goddess, and paid a blind obedience to her will in everything. As her 'weak nerves' seldom permitted her to go abroad herself, she kept her onsequious spouse almost constantly confined in her bed-chamber, as a companion to her in her afflictions: and besides the confinement he underwent, he was obliged likewise, at all seasons, to conform himself to the present state of her nerves for, sometimes, the sound of a voice was death to her, and then he was enjoined inviolable silence: at other times she chose to be diverted with a book, and then he was to read Hervey's Meditations among the Tombs: again, at other times, when her imagination was a little more cheerful than usual, she would amuse herself with conjugal dalliances, toy with her husband, stroke his face, and provoke him to treat her with little amorous endearments.
As a reward for this humility, and readiness to comply with her humours, she would do him the favour, every now and then, to take him abroad in her coach, when her physicians prescribed her an airing: though it may be doubted whether he received any great enjoyment of this uncommon favour, as the glasses and canvases were constantly drawn up, while the sick lady lay along like a fat corpse, on one whole seat of the coach, gasping for air, and complaining of the uneasy motion.
As these kinds of distempers are very fantastical, she was often seized with the strangest whims, and would imagine herself converted into all kinds of living creatures, nay, when her frenzy was at the highest, it was not unusual for her to fancy herself a glass-bottle, a tea-pot a hay-rick, or a field of turnips. The furniture of her rooms was likewise altered once a month, to comply with the present sit of vapours: for, sometimes, red was too glaring for her eyes; green put her in mind of willows, and made her melancholic; blue remembered her of her dear sister, who had unfortunately died ten years before in a blue bed; and some such reason was constantly found for banishing every colour in its turn. But a little specimen of her conversation one day with her doctor, and the consequences of it afterwards on her husband, will give the best description of her character.
The gentleman of the Æsculapian art came to attend her one morning, and she began as usual, with informing him of the deplorable state in which he found her. 'O, Doctor,' said she, 'my nerves are so low to-day, that I can hardly fetch my Breath. There is such a damp and oppression upon my spirits, that 'tis impossible for me to live a week longer. Do you think, sir, I can possibly have a week longer?' 'A week longer, Madam!' answered the physician, 'Oh, bless me! Yes, yes, many years, I hope—come, come, Madam, you must not give way to such imaginations. 'Tis the nature of your disorder to be attended with a dejection of spirits—perhaps some external object may have presented itself, that has excited a little fume of melancholy; or perhaps your ladyship may have heard a disagreeable piece of news; or perhaps the haziness of the weather may have cast a kind of a—a kind of a lethargy over the animal spirits, or perhaps mere want of sleep may have lest a tedium on the brain; or a thousand things may have contributed—but you must not be alarmed, you must not be alarmed, Madam! We shall remedy all that; we shall brace up your nerves, and give a new flow to the blood.' 'O doctor,' said she, interrupting him, 'I am afraid you comfort with vain hopes. My blood is quite in a state of stagnation, Doctor; and I believe it will never flow any more—Do feel my pulse, Doctor!' 'Let us see, let us see,' answered the physician, taking hold of her hand, 'Stagnation! Bless us, Madam! No, no, your pulse beats very regularly and floridly, I protest, and your Ladyship will do very well again in time—but you must take time, Madam! That plexus of nerves upon the stomach, which I have often described to you as the seat of your disorder, wants some corroborating help to give them a new springiness and elasticity; and when things are relaxed, you know, Madam, they will be out of order. You see it is the case in all mechanical machines, and of course it must be the same in the human economy; for we are but machines, we are nothing but machines, Madam!' 'O sir,' replied the lady, 'I care not what we are; But do, for heaven's sake, redeem me from the miseries I suffer.' 'I will, Madam,' returned the doctor; 'I'll pawn my honour on your recovery; but you must take time, Madam, your Ladyship must have patience, and not expect miracles to be wrought in a day. Time, time, Madam, conquers everything, and you need not doubt but we shall set you up again—in time. How do you find your appetite? Do you eat, Madam?' 'Not at all, sir, answered the lady, not at all; I have neither stomach, nor appetite, nor strength, nor anything in the world; and I believe verily, I can't live a week longer.—I drank a little chocolate yesterday morning, sir,. And got down a little basin of broth at noon, and eat a pigeon for my dinner, and made a shift to get down another little basin of broth at night-but I can't eat at all, sir; my appetite fails me more and more every day, and I live upon mere nothing.'
Much more of this kind of conversation passed between them, which we will not now stay to relate. When the doctor had taken his leave, the good-natured husband met him at the bottom of the stairs, and very tenderly enquired how he had left his spouse? To this, the son of Æsculapius answered, 'Quite brave, sir; and assured him there was no doubt to be made of her recovery;' adding at the same time, 'If you can persuade her to believe herself well, sir, you will be her best physician.' 'Do you think so, doctor,' said Qualmsick, with a silly smile? 'Sir, I am sure of it,' answered the physician: after which words he flew to his coach, and drove away to the destruction of other patients.
Qualmsick immediately posted upstairs to his wife's apartment to try the effect of his persuasions upon her, little thinking what a dangerous office he was about to undertake. He began with congratulating her on the amendment of her health, and said he was very glad to find from the account her physician had been, giving, that me was in a very fair way of recovery. This extremely surprised her, and weak as she was, she began to put much resentment into her countenance; which Qualmsick observing, proceeded in the following manner. 'Come, come, my dear, you must not deceive us any longer—we know how it is; we know you are well enough, my dear, is you would but fancy yourself so—do but lay aside your vapours and imaginations, and I warrant you will have your health for the future.'
This was the first time that Qualmsick ever presumed to talk in this audacious strain to his wife; which incensed her so much, that she immediately burst out in tears, and fell upon him with all the bitterness of passion. 'Barbarous monster,' cried she, 'how dare you insult over my miseries, when I am just at the point of death? You might as well take a knife and stab me to the heart, you might—brutal, inhuman wretch, thus to ridicule my afflictions!—get out of the room, go, and let me never see your face any more.'
Qualmsick was so astounded at the praemunire he had drawn himself into, that he knew not at first what to think or answer; but when he had a little recovered his wits, which were none of the best, he endeavoured to lay the blame on the physician, and assured his wife, that whatever he had uttered, was by the advice and instigation of her doctor. ''Tis a lie, cried she blubbering, 'tis a horrid lie; the doctor has too much humanity to contradict me, when I tell him I am at the point of death—no; 'tis your own artifice, inhuman monster! You want to get rid of me, barbarian! And this is the method you have taken to murder me. I am going fast enough already, but thou wilt not suffer me to die in peace—get out of the room, cannibal, and never presume to come into my presence any more.'
With this terrible injunction he was obliged to comply, and it was near a fortnight before she admitted him to make his peace; which, however, he did at length, with many protestations of sorrow for his past offence, and repeated assurances of behaving with more humility for the future. The physician, who gave occasion to this dispute, now fell a sacrifice to it, and was immediately discarded for daring to suppose that a lady was well, when he had made such a vehement resolution to be ill.