Monday, 2 November 2015

Charles' Cold - Telling It Like It Was/Is - Joan Lennon


Here is William Hazlitt's portrait of Charles Lamb, painted in 1804.  And here is Charles' not-in-the-least over-the-top description of the common cold, in a letter to a friend in 1824 -

Do you know what it is to succumb under an insurmountable day-mare,—"a whoreson lethargy," Falstaff calls it,—an indisposition to do anything, or to be anything,—a total deadness and distaste,—a suspension of vitality,—an indifference to locality,—a numb, soporifical, good-for-nothingness,—an ossification all over,—an oyster-like insensibility to the passing events,—a mind-stupor,—a brawny defiance to the needles of a thrusting-in conscience...


Oh Charles - we do know - we do -


This has been for many weeks my lot, and my excuse; my fingers drag heavily over this paper, and to my thinking it is three-and-twenty furlongs from here to the end of this demi-sheet. I have not a thing to say; nothing is of more importance than another; I am flatter than a denial or a pancake; emptier than Judge Parke's wig when the head is in it; duller than a country stage when the actors are off it; a cipher, an o! I acknowledge life at all, only by an occasional convulsional cough, and a permanent phlegmatic pain in the chest... 


Your words touch me - tell more of the details of your discomfort - 


I am weary of the world; life is weary of me. My day is gone into twilight, and I don't think it worth the expense of candles. My wick hath a thief in it, but I can't muster courage to snuff it. I inhale suffocation; I can't distinguish veal from mutton; nothing interests me... If you told me the world will be at an end to-morrow, I should just say, "Will it?" I have not volition enough left to dot my i's, much less to comb my eyebrows; my eyes are set in my head; my brains are gone out to see a poor relation in Moorfields, and they did not say when they'd come back again; my skull is a Grub-street attic to let—not so much as a joint-stool or a crack'd jordan left in it; my hand writes, not I, from habit, as chickens run about a little, when their heads are off...


I do so know what you mean -


O for a vigorous fit of gout, cholic, toothache,—an earwig in my auditory, a fly in my visual organs; pain is life—the sharper, the more evidence of life; but this apathy, this death! Did you ever have an obstinate cold,—a six or seven weeks' unintermitting chill and suspension of hope, fear, conscience, and everything? Yet do I try all I can to cure it; I try wine, and spirits, and smoking, and snuff in unsparing quantities, but they all only seem to make me worse, instead of better. I sleep in a damp room, but it does me no good; I come home late o'nights, but do not find any visible amendment! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?


Be brave, dear Charles - someday this will all be a thing of the dim and distant past. Someday ...



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11 comments:

Ms. said...

Dear sister sufferer.......I too have the killer cold/flu/plague and have had it most of October, despite myriad home remedies, several spurts of seeming escape only to be dragged back into a different stage of it. It's November and still unwell, I may give up and stagger to the clinic downtown begging for any Rx relief tomorrow if I find the strength to do the public transport thing. You have my sympathy and assurance that, as all things pass, this too will be a memory only some day (soon I hope)

Joan Lennon said...

Oh Ms.! That sounds awful. I'm not in the same boat as you and Charles at this very moment but know that I have been/will be again! Can you get snuff on prescription?

Maureen said...

Charles! The reality! The wonderful extravagance, so exactly accurate ... Thanks for finding this!

Elizabeth Hopkinson said...

Charles and Ms - me too. Since late September. Though I must say, Charles, your "remedies" are terrible! Not surprised you feel worse.

Sue Purkiss said...

Charles - you don't think you're over-dramatising just a teeny tiny bit?

Mary Hoffman said...

He is not! Those of us whose colds last two weeks at least and often lead to chest infections, bronchitis or even pneumonia long to be the sort of person who just "has the sniffles" for a few days and thinks we must be exaggerating.

Pippa Goodhart said...

Man flu.

Penny Dolan said...

Thanks for this gem of extravagant complaining, Joan. I do hope he enjoyed the writing of it, which suggests to me that he must have been getting better.

I'm inclined to Pippa's "man flu" viewpoint, but must say that Charles Lamb looks very fine in that portrait, and not at all as I'd imagined him.

Katherine Langrish said...

Excellent description of my current state of health...

And yes, Penny - I'd no idea Lamb looked like that! Like a Renaissance gentleman.

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