Monday, March 26, 2012

A Pleasant Sick Day

I have had a bad cold all week, but it is the sort of sickness that one can enjoy – for a few days at least. Then, however, tedium sets in, and one thinks that maybe this illness is not so fun after all.  The first few days, when I was scheduled to work, were the most pleasant.  There is something wonderful about knowing that you are not at work, and that you are sufficiently ailing to have no guilt about this, but that you are insufficiently ill to be only able to lie there and moan.  These two days, and the one that followed were remarkably productive.  I had a shawl that I had been knitting on sporadically for an entire year.  Actually, it was mindless knitting, from leftover yarn, and I had taken it with me when Becca and I went out for tea or coffee, or to the opera, where we often knitted in the intervals.  I planned to knit on it until I ran out of yarn. I thought it would never be done, but suddenly, the yarn ball was very small.   So I finished it up.  I usually have a novel going, which I read on-line at work whenever I get a break or complete my tasks and charting early.  As being done on time is a rare circumstance for me, I don’t make much progress on my on-line book.  Consequently, I have been reading my current choice, The Wouldbegoods, for a very long time.  In fact, I was shocked to see on my Goodreads account that I started it a year ago! It is my least favorite E. Nesbit novel, and so I was not that compelled to devote myself to it.  So slightly boring, and also slightly long – not a compelling combination.  (I love Five Children and It, and The Railroad Children.) The last time I worked, I read a few pages, and saw that I was very close to the end.  I am getting tired of the Wouldbegoods, and am eager to start something else, so I finished that.  I felt as though I was cheating a little, reading it at home, but it was only a page or two.  I have also been reading The Way of All Flesh for a long time (but not a year!) and my sick days gave me time to finish that.  This one is one of the favorites of my youth, and I had been enjoying it very much.  The problem was - it is my own book, and books which I had ordered from the library just kept coming, taking me by surprise, and demanding that I read them first, lest they become  overdue.  Also, The Way of All Flesh, I have to confess, while delightful, gets off to a rather slow start.  The hero is not even born until nearly page 100.  So, over several months, I had read through his ancestry, birth, and baptism.  Finally, on my sick days, I read the latter three quarters of the book at nearly one go.  This is a most delightful book for those not demanding lots of action. It is the sort of thing that just makes one smile. Most of the action is cerebral, and a little shocking, given when the book was written. As I read it, I was surprised that there was not more of a stir about it in its day (1870’s,) as it was an amusing and somewhat vicious diatribe about Victorian hypocrisy and narrow-mindedness.  I later read that there was no fuss because Samuel Butler didn’t dare publish it during his lifetime.  It wasn’t published until after his death in 1903. 

Here is a little sample.  The hero, Ernest, is a very earnest young Cambridge student, preparing for his ordination as a deacon.  With some friends, he attends a lecture by Mr. Hawke, a dissenting preacher, and, filled with evangelical fervor, he decides to give up all for Christ, including tobacco.  Butler writes:

He had …. locked up his pipes and tobacco, so that he might not be tempted to use them. All day long on the day after Mr. Hawke's sermon he let them lie in his portmanteau bravely; but this was not very difficult, as he had for some time given up smoking till after hall. After hall this day he did not smoke till chapel time, and then went to chapel in self-defence. When he returned he determined to look at the matter from a common sense point of view. On this he saw that, provided tobacco did not injure his health--and he really could not see that it did--it stood much on the same footing as tea or coffee.
Tobacco had nowhere been forbidden in the Bible, but then it had not yet been discovered, and had probably only escaped proscription for this reason. We can conceive of St Paul or even our Lord Himself as drinking a cup of tea, but we cannot imagine either of them as smoking a cigarette or a churchwarden. Ernest could not deny this, and admitted that Paul would almost certainly have condemned tobacco in good round terms if he had known of its existence. Was it not then taking rather a mean advantage of the Apostle to stand on his not having actually forbidden it? On the other hand, it was possible that God knew Paul would have forbidden smoking, and had purposely arranged the discovery of tobacco for a period at which Paul should be no longer living. This might seem rather hard on Paul, considering all he had done for Christianity, but it would be made up to him in other ways.
These reflections satisfied Ernest that on the whole he had better smoke, so he sneaked to his portmanteau and brought out his pipes and tobacco again.

 Ernest and his tobacco
As you can see, the illustrations in my edition are pretty hideous - but better than no illustrations at all.  


Marta said...

Joanna..I think you need to get back into the real world.

This is a strange book but I would probably enjoy it.

Your shawl is lovely. Do you ever do nothing? Even when you are sick you are productive.

Laura said...

A very lovely shawl. We use the term pleasantly confused easily enough now I think 'pleasantly sick' would be a wonderful addition to our reports. Love the excerpt from the book!

Pru said...

How wonderful: "... provided tobacco did not injure his health - and he really could not see that it did". What a difference a century of medical research makes. I loved this passage for a number of reasons, not least being that my father, himself a Churchwarden, also used to smoke a churchwarden.

The shawl is lovely and looks so cozy; it will be the perfect thing to throw around your shoulders the next time you are sick but not too sick. Hope you're feeling better now even if it means a slow-down in productivity.