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and it is clearly better to abstain altogether, than by taking a little to endanger the taking much. If a departure from this system is at any time allowable, it is when the body is undergoing extraordinary fatigue. A few additional glasses of wine may at such times be admitted, and, unless the frame be heated, they operate as a salutary cordial. This is the true use of wine. Happy had it been for our species if no other had been discovered!
These are the opinions I gave you eighteen months ago (not perhaps so distinctly) respecting your plan of life. You have not conformed to them exactly, but, to do you justice, you have adhered to them in a degree which I did not expect, and which is certainly not very common. Some experience we have of course had of this plan. What language does it speak ?
You had the gout formerly four or five times in the year, and, when actual pain was not upon you, were distressed with flatulence, acidity, weakness of bowels, and oppression of spirits. And these symptoms you had at a time when you led a tolerably sober life; that is, such a life as most gentlemen in Liverpool lead now.
Since you have adopted a more strict regimen, your appetite and digestion have been good, your stomach and bowels strong and regular,
you have felt your limbs light and active, and have had a complete intermission of the gout for fourteen months; and though you are now suffering under another attack, yet this has been perfectly regular, and would most probably have been extremely slight, but for your expedition to P
, and your jollity there. You have, it is true, lost some weight, but you are still fat enough, and the flesh that is gone was only an incumbrance, -- a load weighing down your spirit to the earth. Some of the ladies, you tell me, say your face looks for all the world like that of
To be serious. - It requires not the wisdom of a Merlin to draw the proper inference from experience like yours.
Go on in your plan of regimen. Be even more steady than before. Life is at best uncertain ; the dangers that beset us are of various kinds. Live as you please, no man can insure you a year, a month, or a day. And if you should be soon called off the stage, (which, by the by is as unlikely in your case as in that of any man of your age,) there are some people will say you ought to have lived more freely. Nay, if you die in the course of the next twenty years, which the Insurance Offices will tell
you is an equal chance, or even in the next forty, which I believe is three to one in
your favour, there are good-natured friends that will
say that water-drinking was your ruin. But it will signify little to you what they say. When once you are fairly at rest, their babbling will not disturb your repose.
It has often struck me that we are too much. the slaves of example. Few seem to understand the necessity of choosing a line of conduct for themselves. We pass through life too much like a file of soldiers, taking the word of command from the right-hand man, and marching exactly in the step of our fellows. By these means, all constitutions are treated alike, and many a man falls in the ranks, exhausted and motionless, who might have prolonged his march much farther, had his exertions been proportioned to his strength.
If we were disposed to allegorise on this subject, I think we might find a figure more appropriate. Instead of a march, let us consider life (as it has often been considered) as a voyage, a voyage across an unknown sea. Here, every man pushes his bark off shore, knowing that it must at last sink under him, and that he must be thrown up, dead and naked, on the opposite coast. But as we are all desirous of performing as much of this yoyage as possible on the surface, and as different barks are of different size and
strength, we should each of us consider the trim of the vessel under us, that we may carry no more canvass than she is able to bear. If we neglect this, we shall run the hazard of oversetting in every squall; or if we escape this danger, our ship may strain under the press of sail, her seams may open, the leaks increase, and we may find her foundering before half the voyage is performed. With every care, there are dangers which lurk unseen,
shoals on which we may run aground, and rocks on which we may strike and perish. These lie thick in the beginning of our voyage, and many, alas ! find them before they are well off shore !* Our difficulties are the greater because we have not the clear light of day to steer by, but only the dim lustre of a wintry night. But, after all, he will in general make the longest track across the ocean, whose sails are trimmed with most skill and prudence, and who, amidst the storms that beset him, keeps coolly on his watch, the helm of fortitude in his hand, and the star of reason in his eye!
I am always, dear Sir,
* My own sweet children pressed on me at that moment. (Note by Dr. Currie to the copy of this letter which he had kept. – ED.)
To Miss Anne Duncan, Lochrutton.
Liverpool, May 18. 1790. MY DEAR Aunt, Amidst the various delinquencies of which I have been guilty, there is not one with which my conscience more frequently upbraids me than my inattention towards you. My obligations to you are now nearly of thirty-four years standing; and though they are not all fresh on my memory, yet many of them are; and instances of your kindness mingle themselves with the earliest impressions that remain on my mind.
I can remember that you gave me a half-penny to put in the first breeches' pocket I ever had. I can remember, too, that once, when we were walking from Gretney together, and a shower of rain came on, you took off your own scarlet cardinal, and put it round me, leaving yourself exposed. Truth to say, I neither understood the kindness, nor received it as I ought. We had to come past Kirkpatrick School, and the boys were playing on the green, never minding the rain; and as we came by, they a' cried oot, “ Ae! look