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Meditation VII


THERE is more fear, therefore more cause. If the physician desire help, the burden grows great: there is a growth of the disease then; but there must be an autumn too; but whether an autumn of the disease or me, it is not my part to choose; but if it be of me, it is of both; my disease cannot survive me, I may overlive it. Howsoever, his desiring of others argues his candour, and his ingenuity; if the danger be great, he justifies his proceedings, and he disguises nothing that calls in witnesses; and if the danger be not great, he is not ambitious, that is so ready to divide the thanks and the honour of that work which he begun alone, with others. It diminishes not the dignity of a monarch that he derive part of his care upon others; God hath not made many suns, but he hath made many bodies that receive and give light. The Romans began with one king; they came to two consuls; they returned in extremities to one dictator: whether in one or many, the sovereignty is the same in all states and the danger is not the more, and the providence is the more, where there are more physicians; as the state is the happier where businesses are carried by more counsels than can be in one breast, how large soever. Diseases themselves hold consultations, and conspire how they may multiply, and join with one another, and exalt one another's force so; and shall we not call physicians to consultations? Death is in an old man's door, he appears and tells him so, and death is at a young man's back, and says nothing; age is a sickness, and youth is an ambush; and we need so many physicians as may make up a watch, and spy every inconvenience. There is scarce any thing that hath not killed somebody; a hair, a feather hath done it; nay, that which is our best antidote against it hath done it; the best cordial hath been deadly poison. Men have died of joy, and almost forbidden their friends to weep for them, when they have seen them die laughing. Even that tyrant, Dionysius (I think the same that suffered so much after), who could not die of that sorrow, of that high fall, from a king to a wretched private man, died of so poor a joy as to be declared by the people at a theatre that he was a good poet. We say often that a man may live of a little; but, alas, of how much less may a man die? And therefore the more assistants the better. Who comes to a day of hearing, in a cause of any importance, with one advocate? In our funerals we ourselves have no interest; there we cannot advise, we cannot direct; and though some nations (the Egyptians in particular) built themselves better tombs than houses because they were to dwell longer in them, yet amongst ourselves, the greatest man of style whom we have had, the Conqueror, was left, as soon as his soul left him, not only without persons to assist at his grave but without a grave. Who will keep us then we know not; as long as we can, let us admit as much help as we can; another and another physician is not another and another indication and symptom of death, but another and another assistant, and proctor of life: nor do they so much feed the imagination with apprehension of danger, as the understanding with comfort. Let not one bring learning, another diligence, another religion, but every one bring all; and as many ingredients enter into a receipt, so may many men make the receipt. But why do I exercise my meditation so long upon this, of having plentiful help in time of need? Is not my meditation rather to be inclined another way, to condole and commiserate their distress who have none? How many are sicker (perchance) than I, and laid in their woful straw at home (if that corner be a home), and have no more hope of help, though they die, than of preferment, though they live! Nor do more expect to see a physician then, than to be an officer after; of whom, the first that takes knowledge, is the sexton that buries them, who buries them in oblivion too! For they do but fill up the number of the dead in the bill, but we shall never hear their names, till we read them in the book of life with our own. How many are sicker (perchance) than I, and thrown into hospitals, where (as a fish left upon the sand must stay the tide) they must stay the physician's hour of visiting, and then can be but visited! How many are sicker (perchance) than all we, and have not this hospital to cover them, not this straw to lie in, to die in, but have their gravestone under them, and breathe out their souls in the ears and in the eyes of passengers, harder than their bed, the flint of the street? that taste of no part of our physic, but a sparing diet, to whom ordinary porridge would be julep enough, the refuse of our servants bezoar enough, and the offscouring of our kitchen tables cordial enough. O my soul, when thou art not enough awake to bless thy God enough for his plentiful mercy in affording thee many helpers, remember how many lack them, and help them to them or to those other things which they lack as much as them.

John Donne