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Sunday, November 11, 2012

Power of Spleen

"The rich, as they have more sensibility, are operated upon with greater violence by this disorder.  Different from the poor, instead of becoming more insolent, they grow totally unfit for opposition.  A general here, who would have faced a culverin when well, if the fit be on him, shall hardly find courage to snuff a candle.  An admiral, who could have opposed a broadside without shrinking, shall sit whole nights in his chamber, mobbed up in double nightcaps, shuddering at the intrusive breeze, and distinguishable from his wife only by his black beard and heavy eyebrows.

In the country, this disorder mostly attacks the fair sex;  in town it is most unfavorable to the men.  A lady who has pined whole years amidst cooing doves and complaining nightingales, in rural retirement, shall resume all her vivacity in one night at a city gaming-table;  her husband, who roared, hunted, and got drunk at home, hall grow splenetic in town in proportion to his wife's good humour.  Upon their arrival in London, they exchange their disorders.  In consequence of her parties and excursions, he puts on the furred cap and scarlet stomacher, and perfectly resembles an Indian husband, who, when his wife is safely delivered, permits her to transact business abroad, while he undergoes all the formality of keeping his bed, and receiving all the condolence in her place.

But those who reside constantly in town, owe this disorder mostly to the influence of the weather.  It is impossible to describe what a variety of transmutations an east wind shall produce;  it has been known to change a lady of fashion into a parlour couch;  an alderman into a plate of custards;  and a dispenser of justice into a rat-trap.  Even philosophers themselves are not exempt from its influence;  it has often converted a poet into a coral and bells, and a patriot senator into a dumb waiter.

Some days ago I went to visit the Man in Black, and entered his house with that cheerfulness which the certainty of a favorable reception always inspires.  Upon opening the door of his apartment, I found him with the most rueful face imaginable, in a morning gown and flannel nightcap, earnestly employed in learning to blow the German flute.  Struck with the absurdity of a man in the decline of life thus blowing away all his constitution and spirits, even without the consolation of being musical, I ventured to ask what could induce him to attempt learning so difficult an instrument so late in life?  To this he made no reply, but groaning, and still holding the flute to his lips, continued to gaze at me for some moments very angrily, and then proceeded to practise his gamut as before.  After having produced a variety of the most hideous tones in nature, at last turning to me, he demanded, whether I did not think he had made a surprising progress in two days?  "You see," continues he, "I have got the ambusheer already;  and as for fingering, my master tells me, I shall have that in a few lessons more."  I was so much astonished with this instance of inverted ambition, that I knew not what to reply;  but soon discerned the cause of all his absurdities:  my friend was under a metamorphosis by the power of spleen, and flute-blowing was unluckily become his adventitious passion." The Citizen of the World, Letter Ninety, by Oliver Goldsmith

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