LETTER 424: MR BELFORD TO ROBERT LOVELACE

Wedn. Three o’clock.

I will proceed where I left off in my last.

 

 

As soon as I had seen Mowbray mounted, I went to attend upon poor Belton, whom I found in dreadful agonies, in which he awoke, as he generally does.

 

 

The doctor came in presently after; and I was concerned at the scene that passed between them.

 

 

It opened with the dying man’s asking him, with melancholy earnestness, If nothing, if nothing at all, could be done for him?

 

 

The doctor shook his head, and told him, he doubted not.

 

 

I cannot die, said the poor man; I cannot think of dying. I am very desirous of living a little longer, if I could but be free from these horrible pains in my stomach and head. Can you give me nothing to make me pass one week, but one week, in tolerable ease, that I may die like a man? —If I must die!

 

 

But, doctor, I am yet a young man: in the prime of my years—Youth is a good subject for a physician to work upon: Can you do nothing, nothing at all for me, doctor?

 

 

Alas, Sir, replied his physician, you have been long in a bad way. I fear, I fear, nothing in physic can help you.

 

 

He was then out of all patience: What, then, is your art, Sir? —I have been a passive machine for a whole twelvemonth, to be wrought upon at the pleasure of you people of the faculty. I verily believe, had I not taken such doses of nasty stuff, I had been now a well man— But who the plague would regard Physicians, whose art is to cheat us with hopes, while they help to destroy us? And who, not one of you, know any thing but byguess?

 

 

Sir, continued he fiercely, (and with more strength of voice, and coherence, than he had shewn for several hours before) if you give me over, I giveyou over—The only honest and certain part of the art of healing is Surgery. A good Surgeon is worth a thousand of you. I have been in Surgeon’s hands often, and have always found reason to depend upon their skill: But your art, Sir, what is it?— but to dawb, dawb, dawb; load, load, load; plaister, plaister, plaister; till ye utterly destroy the appetite first, and the constitution afterwards, which you are called-in to help. I had a companion once—My dear Belford, thou knewest honest Blomer—as pretty a physician he would have made, as any in England, had he kept himself from excess in wine and women; and he always used to say, there was nothing at all but pick-pocket parade in the Physicians art; and that the best guesser was the best physician; and I used to believe him too: And yet, fond of life, and fearful of death, what do we do, when we are taken ill, but call ye in ? And what do ye do, when called in, but nurse our distempers, till from pigmies you make giants of them? —And then ye come creeping with solemn faces, when ye are ashamed to prescribe, or when the stomach won’t bear its natural food, by reason of your  poisonous potions, Alas! I am afraid physic can do no more for him ! —Nor need it, when it has brought to the brink of the grave, the poor wretch who placed all his reliance in your cursed slops, and the flattering hopes you gave him.

 

 

The doctor was out of countenance; but said, If we could make mortal men immortal, and would not, all this might be just.

 

 

I blamed the poor man; yet excused him to the physician. To die, dear doctor, when, like my poor friend, we are so desirous of life, is a melancholy thing. We are apt to hope too much, not considering that the seeds of death are sown in us when we begin to live, and grow up, till, like rampant weeds, they choak the tender flower of life; which declines in us, as those weeds flourish. We ought therefore to begin early to study what our constitutions will bear, in order to root out, by temperance, the weeds which the soil is most apt to produce; or, at least, to keep them down as they rise; and not, when the flower or plant is withered at the root, and the weed in its full vigour, expect that the medical art will restore the one, or destroy the other; when that other, as I hinted, has been rooting itself in the habit from the time of our birth.

 

 

This speech, Bob, thou wilt call a prettiness ; or a White Bear ;—but the allegory is just; and thou hast not quite cured me of the Metaphorical.

 

 

Very true, said the doctor, you have brought a good metaphor to illustrate the thing. I am sorry I can do nothing, for the gentleman; and can only recommend patience, and a better frame of mind.

 

 

Well, Sir, said the poor angry man, vexed at the doctor, but more at death; you will perhaps recommend the next in succession to the physician, when he can do no more; and, I suppose, will send your brother to pray by me for those virtues which you wish me.

 

 

It seems the physician’s brother is a clergyman in the neighbourhood.

 

 

I was greatly concerned to see the gentleman thus treated; and so I told poor Belton when he was gone: But he continued impatient, and would not be denied, he said, the liberty of talking to a man, who had taken so many guineas of him for doing nothing, or worse than  nothing, and never declined one, though he knew all the time he could do him no good.

 

 

It seems, the gentleman, though rich, is noted for being greedy after sees; and poor Belton went on, raving at the extravagant fees of English physicians, compared with those of the most eminent foreign ones. But, poor man! he, like the Turks, who judge of a general by his success, (out of patience to think he must die) would have worshipped the doctor, and not grudged three times the sum, could he have given him hopes of recovery.

 

 

But nevertheless, I must needs say, that gentlemen of the faculty should be more moderate in their fees, or take more pains to deserve them: for, generally, they only come into a room, feel the sick man’s pulse, ask the nurse a few questions, inspect the patient’s tongue, and perhaps his water; then sit down, look plaguy wise; and write . The golden fee finds the ready hand, and they hurry away, as if the sick man’s room were infectious. So to the next they troll, and to the next, if men of great practice; valuing themselves upon the number of visits they make in a morning, and the little time they make them in. They go to dinner, and unload their pockets; and sally out again to refill them. And thus, in a little time, they raise vast estates; for, as Ratcliffe said, when first told of a great loss which befel him, It was only going up and down a hundred pair of stairs to fetch it up.

 

 

Mrs. Sambre (Belton’s sister) had several times proposed to him a minister to pray by him; but the poor man could not, he said, bear the thoughts of one; for that he should certainly die in an hour or two after: And he was willing to hope still, against all probability, that he might recover; and was often asking his sister, if she had not seen people as bad as he was, who, almost to a miracle, when every body gave them over, had got up again?

 

 

She, shaking her head, told him, she had: But, once saying, that their disorders were of an acute kind, and such as had a crisis in them, he called hersmall-hopes, and Job’s comforter ; and bid her say nothing, if she could not say more to the purpose, and what was fitter for a sick man to hear.And yet, poor fellow! he has no hopes himself, as is plain by his desponding terrors; one of which he fell  into, and a very dreadful one, soon after the doctor went.

Wednesday, 9 o’clock at night.

The poor man has been in convulsions, terrible convulsions! for an hour past. O Lord! Lovelace, death is a shocking thing! By my faith, it is! —I wish thou wert present on this occasion. It is not merely the concern a man has for his friend; but, as death is the common lot, we see, in hisagonies, how it will be one day with ourselves. I am all over as if cold water were poured down my back, or as if I had a strong ague fit upon me. I was obliged to come away. And I write, hardly knowing what. —I wish thou wert here.

 

Though I left him, because I could stay no longer, I can’t be easy by myself, but must go to him again.

Eleven o’clock.

Poor Belton! —Drawing on apace! Yet was he sensible when I went in: Too sensible, poor man! He has something upon his mind to reveal, he tells me, that is the worst action of his life; worse than ever you or I knew of him, he says. It must be then very bad!

 

 

He ordered every body out; but was seized with another convulsion-fit, before he could reveal it: And in it he lies struggling between life and death. But I’ll go in again.

One o’clock in the morning.

All now must soon be over with him: Poor! poor fellow! He has given me some hints of what he wanted to say; but all incoherent, interrupted by dying hiccoughs and convulsions.

 

 

Bad enough it must be, heaven knows! by what I can gather. Alas! Lovelace, I fear, I fear, he came too soon into his uncle’s estate.

 

 

If a man were to live always, he might have some temptation to do base things, in order to procure to himself, as it would then be, everlasting ease, plenty or affluence: But, for the sake of ten, twenty, thirty years of poor life, to be a villain—can that be worth while? with a conscience stinging him all the time too! And when he comes to wind up all, such agonizing reflections upon his past guilt! All then appearing as nothing! What he most valued, most disgustful! and not one thing to think of, as the poor fellow says twenty and twenty times over, but what is attended with anguish and reproach!

 

 

To hear the poor man wish he had never been born! To hear him pray to be nothing after death! Good God! how shocking!

 

 

By his incoherent hints, I am afraid ’tis very bad with him. No pardon, no mercy, he repeats, can lie for him!

 

 

I hope I shall make a proper use of this lesson. Laugh at me if thou wilt, but never, never more, will I take the liberties I have taken; but whenever I am tempted, will think of Belton’s dying agonies, and what my own may be.

Thursday, three in the morning.

He is now at the last gasp—Rattles in the throat: Has a new convulsion every minute almost: What horror is he in! His eyes look like breath-stained glass! They roll ghastly no more; are quite set: His face distorted, and drawn out, by his sinking jaws, and erected staring eyebrows, with his lengthened furrowed forehead, to double its usual length, as it seems. It is not, it cannot be, the face of Belton, thy Belton, and my Belton, whom we have beheld with so much delight over the social bottle, comparing notes, that one day may be brought against us, and make us groan, as they very lately did him — that is to say, while he had strength to groan; for now his voice is not to be heard; all inward, lost; not so much as speaking by his eyes: Yet, strange! how can it be? the bed rocking under him like a cradle!

For o’clock.

 

 


Alas! he’s gone! That groan, that dreadful groan,
Was the last farewel of the parting mind!
The struggling soul has bid a long adieu
To its late mansion—Fled!—Ah! whither fled?

 

 

Now is all indeed over! —Poor, poor Belton! By this time thou knowest if thy crimes were above the size of God’s mercies! Now are every one’s cares and attendance at an end! Now do we, thy friends, poor Belton! know the worst of thee, as to this life! Thou art released from insufferable tortures, both of body and mind! May those tortures, and thy repentance, expiate for thy offences, and mayst thou be happy to all eternity!

 

 

We are told, that God desires not the death, the spiritual death, of a sinner: And ’tis certain, that thou didst deeply repent! I hope therefore, as thou wert not cut off in the midst of thy sins by the sword of injured friendship, which more than once thou hadst braved, (the dreadfullest of all deaths, next to Suicide, because it gives no opportunity for repentance) that this is a merciful earnest that thy penitence is accepted; and that thy long illness, and dreadful agonies in the last stages of it, will be thy only punishment.

 

 

I wish indeed, I heartily wish, we could have seen one ray of comfort darting in upon his benighted mind, before he departed. But all, alas! to the very last gasp, was horror and confusion. And my only fear arises from this, That, till within the four last days of his life, he could not be brought to think he should die, though in a visible decline for months; and, in that presumption, was too little inclined to set about a serious preparation for a journey, which he hoped he should not be obliged to take; and when he began to apprehend that he could not put it off, his impatience, and terror, and apprehension, shewed too little of that reliance and resignation, which afford the most comfortable reflections to the friends of the dying as well as to the dying themselves.

 

 

But we must leave poor Belton to that mercy, which we have all so much need of; and, for my own part, do you, Lovelace, and the rest of the fraternity, as ye will) I am resolved, I will endeavour to begin to repent of my follies, while my health is sound, my intellects untouched, and while it is in my power to make some atonement, as near to restitution as is possible, to those I have wronged or missed. And do ye outwardly, and from a point of false bravery, make as light as ye will of my resolution, as ye are none of ye of the class of abandoned and stupid sots who endeavour to disbelieve the future existence which ye are afraid of, I am sure you will justify me, in your hearts, if not by your practices ; and one day you will wish you had joined with me in the same resolution, and will confess there is more good sense in it, than now perhaps you will own.

Seven o’clock, Thursday morning.

You are very earnest, by your last letter (just given me) to hear again from me, before you set out for Berks. I  will therefore close with a few words upon the only subject in your letter, which I can at present touch upon, and this is the letter you give me a copy of from the lady.

 

 

Want of rest, and the sad scene I have before my eyes, have rendered me altogether incapable of accounting for it in any shape. You are in ecstasies upon it. You have reason to be so, if it be as you think. Nor would I rob you of your joy: But I must say, that I am amazed at it.

 

 

Surely Lovelace this surprizing letter cannot be a forgery of thy own, in order to carry on some view, and to impose upon me. Yet by the style of it, it cannot; tho’ thou art a perfect Proteus too.

 

 

 

I will not, however, and another word, after I have desired the return of this, and have told you, that I am,

Your true Friend and Well-wisher,
J. Belford .

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