On Making an Effort

‘Now really, Fanny, my dear, I shall have to be quite cross with you if you don’t rouse yourself. It’s necessary for you to make an effort. . . . This is a world of effort. . . . Come! Try! I must really scold you if you don’t..’

Thus spoke Miss Louisa Dombey, standing by the bedside of her pale sister-in-law, while that unfortunate lady drew her last fleeting breaths. — Miss Dombey’s example has not been lost upon a heedful generation. Everywhere I note, amid the general relaxation of New-England consciences among the well, a growing tendency to proffer counsels of perfection to the sick. The modern invalid has fallen on evil days. In and out of season he is reminded what a drug on the market he and his once interesting ailments have become. ‘Nobody wants to hear,’ he is delicately reminded, ‘ how many things you are forbidden to eat. Nobody wants a chart of your rheumatism mapped out on his back and shoulders.’ Invalids are expected to be rather witty and sparkling in their conversation. Their friends have not come in to amuse them, — perish the thought! — they have come to be amused.

And when invalids awake in the morning, they must begin the day with cheerful thoughts and speeches. Even when they know they are worse, they must think they are better. They’ll never get well so long as they admit that they are ill. ‘Christian Science is the thing for you!’ ‘Try auto-suggestion.’ ‘I’ll send you the latest bulletin of the New Thought.’

Ten to one, the visitor shrewdly guesses, they don’t really want to get up. They actually like lying in bed, he does believe! The invalid protests in vain, and vainly winces at t he stab of truth in what his robust friend is saying. He really does n’t want to get up. He discovered that on about the fourth day of his illness. He has been privately wondering, for a week or more, why people like being up and dressed, and especially why they dote on going out in the raw cold air. When the doctor says that perhaps he can get up on Friday, he makes a hollow-sounding exclamation of joy, but in reality he would rather put it off for a day or two.

I think of having cards printed for invalids, uniform with Dr, Channing’s ‘Symphony,’ and ‘The Footpath To Peace.’ They shall express with terse elegance the indignant sympathy now burning in my breast. ‘Be True To Your Symptoms’; ‘Don’t Be Bullied Out of An Honest Ailment,’

’Dare to be a sick man.
Dare to stay in bed,’

and (with a new and more literal meaning) ‘Take Your Medicine Like A Man.’

I am in favor of turning over all the counsels of perfection to the well person. Let him make an effort. Let him make a great effort of the imagination, and think how differently from himself must feel the person who is content to dwell within that narrow room or bare white ward. Let him make an effort to take along some black Hamburg grapes, or a bottle of wine. Let him make an effort to vote for housing reform, and employers’ liability. Let her make an effort to join the Consumers’ League. Let her pack a box for the Sunshine Society, or hold a bazaar for the Fresh Air Fund.

Effort is, I think, our only moral property, the only talent we can put out at interest. Virtues that ‘ come natural’ to us are surely entailed on the next generation. For the Atlantic’s readers to be financially honest and law-abiding citizens, is but to dwell in an apartment courteously placed at their disposal for a term of years by the real owner, — the person who first learned not to appropriate a war-club even when no one was looking, and to submit his blood-feud to the decision of the braves in council. It is not thus t hat one can build a mansion for one’s self on the Street of the Many Mansions.

‘There is no effort on my brow,’ cries Nature in Matthew Arnold’s poem, ‘Mortality.’

‘I do not strive, I do not weep;
I rush with the swift spheres
And when I will, I sleep.
Yet that severe, that earnest air,
I saw, I felt it once — but where ?
’T was when the heavenly house I trod.”

Effort is, I think, the conservation policy, the perpetual Arbor Day, of the soul. It is the training-table, the scrub-game, the practice-field, of our big University. It is the camp and drill of the (real) National Guard. In such environment the invalid seems out of place. He seems entitled, rather, to a shaded room, long dozes, oranges, hammocks, and sea-voyages. We may trust the fierce ambition of the newly recovered. They will be in the midst of the scrimmage next week. O spare them a little, that they may recover their strength!

— Excuse me, gentle reader, while I glance through this note which has just been brought to me. It is from the Amalgamated Order of the Shut-In. It seems to be somewhat in the nature of a protest. Is it possible? Yes — they object to the awnings and oranges which we have just been ordering for them. They particularly object to being told off to doze while the Colonel is making speeches in the West, Do I read aright! Yes — they call upon me for an apology!

Epithets are applied to me, in this communication, which I would scorn to repeat. Mollycoddle is the most polite of them. They close by challenging me to a battle of ice-bags and ammonia.

Perhaps these Knights of the Pillow are, after all, the best judges of their own affairs. Perhaps they but accept the order of the universe. Is it, then, always the handicapped who lead the sortie, and the able-bodied who sit ensconced behind the breastworks and look on? St. Paul had a thorn in the flesh. Nelson, dizzy and fainting, won the battle of Trafalgar. Sidney was prostrate when he achieved his immortality.

There is some comfort in all this for you and (especially) for me, gentle reader. We, who have been (unberufen!) such long strangers to illness and to toil, may now cease to vex our consciences over our easy and selfpleasing way of life. What the gods ordain is just! Let us continue to sequestrate fine fruit, and to indulge in naps on summer afternoons. Here is the latest magazine. Will you have a cigar? Hang out the hammock, please, and bring along the palm-leaf fan.