or A Cure For Melancholy

Benjamin Disraeli

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University of Adelaide
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Table of Contents

  1. A Philosophical Conversation between a Physician and His Patient.
  2. Containing Some Future Conversation
  3. Containing a Drive in the Park with a Very Charming Lady.

Chapter 1.

A Philosophical Conversation between a Physician and His Patient.

DR. DE SCHULEMBOURG was the most eminent physician in Dresden. He was not only a physician; he was a philosopher. He studied the idiosyncrasy of his patients, and was aware of the fine and secret connection between medicine and morals. One morning Dr. de Schulembourg was summoned to Walstein. The physician looked forward to the interview with his patient with some degree of interest. He had often heard of Walstein, but had never yet met that gentleman, who had only recently returned from his travels, and who had been absent from his country for several years.

When Dr. de Schulembourg arrived at the house of Walstein, he was admitted into a circular hall containing the busts of the Caesars, and ascending a double staircase of noble proportion, was ushered into a magnificent gallery. Copies in marble of the most celebrated ancient statues were ranged on each side of this gallery. Above them were suspended many beautiful Italian and Spanish pictures, and between them were dwarf bookcases full of tall volumes in sumptuous bindings, and crowned with Etruscan vases and rare bronzes. Schulembourg, who was a man of taste, looked around him with great satisfaction. And while he was gazing on a group of diaphanous cherubim, by Murillo, an artist of whom he had heard much and knew little, his arm was gently touched, and turning round, Schulembourg beheld his patient, a man past the prime of youth, but of very distinguished appearance, and with a very frank and graceful manner. ‘I hope you will pardon me, my dear sir, for permitting you to be a moment alone,’ said Walstein, with an ingratiating smile.

‘Solitude, in such a scene, is not very wearisome,’ replied the physician. ‘There are great changes inthis mansion since the time of your father, Mr. Walstein.’

”Tis an attempt to achieve that which we are all sighing for,’ replied Walstein, ‘the Ideal. But for myself, although I assure you not a pococurante, I cannot help thinking there is no slight dash of the commonplace.’

‘Which is a necessary ingredient of all that is excellent,’ replied Schulembourg.

Walstein shrugged his shoulders, and then invited the physician to be seated. ‘I wish to consult you, Dr. Schulembourg,’ he observed, somewhat abruptly. ‘My metaphysical opinions induce me to believe that a physician is the only philosopher. I am perplexed by my own case. I am in excellent health, my appetite is good, my digestion perfect. My temperament I have ever considered to be of a very sanguine character. I have nothing upon my mind. I am in very easy circumstances. Hitherto I have only committed blunders in life and never crimes. Nevertheless, I have, of late, become the victim of a deep and inscrutable melancholy, which I can ascribe to no cause, and can divert by no resource. Can you throw any light upon my dark feelings? Can you remove them?’

‘How long have you experienced them?’ inquired the physician.

‘More or less ever since my return,’ replied Walstein; ‘but most grievously during the last three months.’

‘Are you in love?’ inquired Schulembourg.

‘Certainly not,’ replied Walstein, ‘and I fear I never shall be.’

‘You have been?’ inquired the physician.

‘I have had some fancies, perhaps too many,’ answered the patient; ‘but youth deludes itself. My idea of a heroine has never been realised, and, in all probability, never will be.’

‘Besides an idea of a heroine,’ said Schulembourg, ‘you have also, if I mistake not, an idea of a hero?’

‘Without doubt,’ replied Walstein. ‘I have preconceived for myself a character which I have never achieved.’

‘Yet, if you have never met a heroine nearer your ideal than your hero, why should you complain?’ rejoined Schulembourg.

‘There are moments when my vanity completes my own portrait,’ said Walstein.

‘And there are moments when our imagination completes the portrait of our mistress,’ rejoined Schulembourg.

‘You reason,’ said Walstein. ‘I was myself once fond of reasoning, but the greater my experience, the more I have become convinced that man is not a rational animal. He is only truly good or great when he acts from passion.’

‘Passion is the ship, and reason is the rudder,’ observed Schulembourg.

‘And thus we pass the ocean of life,’ said Walstein. ‘Would that I could discover a new continent of sensation!’

‘Do you mix much in society?’ said the physician.

‘By fits and starts,’ said Walstein. ‘A great deal when I first returned: of late little.’

‘And your distemper has increased in proportion with your solitude?’

‘It would superficially appear so,’ observed Walstein; ‘but I consider my present distemper as not so much the result of solitude, as the reaction of much converse with society. I am gloomy at present from a sense of disappointment of the past.’

‘You are disappointed,’ observed Schulembourg. ‘What, then, did you expect?’

‘I do not know,’ replied Walstein; ‘that is the very thing I wish to discover.’

‘How do you in general pass your time?’ inquired the physician.

‘When I reply in doing nothing, my dear Doctor,’ said Walstein, ‘you will think that you have discovered the cause of my disorder. But perhaps you will only mistake an effect for a cause.’

‘Do you read?’

‘I have lost the faculty of reading: early in life I was a student, but books become insipid when one is rich with the wisdom of a wandering life.’

‘Do you write?’

‘I have tried, but mediocrity disgusts me. In literature a second-rate reputation is no recompense for the evils that authors are heirs to.’

‘Yet, without making your compositions public, you might relieve your own feelings in expressing them. There is a charm in creation.’

‘My sympathies are strong,’ replied Walstein. ‘In an evil hour I might descend from my pedestal; I should compromise my dignity with the herd; I should sink before the first shaft of ridicule.’

‘You did not suffer from this melancholy when travelling?’

‘Occasionally: but the fits were never so profound, and were very evanescent.’

‘Travel is action,’ replied Schulembourg. ‘Believe me, that in action you alone can find a cure.’

‘What is action?’ inquired Walstein. ‘Travel I have exhausted. The world is quiet. There are no wars now, no revolutions. Where can I find a career?’

‘Action,’ replied Schulembourg, ‘is the exercise of our faculties. Do not mistake restlessness for action. Murillo, who passed a long life almost within the walls of his native city, was a man of great action. Witness the convents and the churches that are covered with his exploits. A great student is a great actor, and as great as a marshal or a statesman. You must act, Mr. Walstein, you must act; you must have an object in life; great or slight, still you must have an object. Believe me, it is better to be a mere man of pleasure than a dreamer.’

‘Your advice is profound,’ replied Walstein, ‘and you have struck upon a sympathetic chord. But what am I to do? I have no object.’

‘You are a very ambitious man,’ replied the physician.

‘How know you that?’ said Walstein, somewhat hastily, and slightly blushing.

‘We doctors know many strange things,’ replied Schulembourg, with a smile. ‘Come now, would you like to be prime minister of Saxony?’

‘Prime minister of Oberon!’ said Walstein, laughing; ”tis indeed a great destiny.’

‘Ah! when you have lived longer among us, your views will accommodate themselves to our limited horizon. In the meantime, I will write you a prescription, provided you promise to comply with my directions.’

‘Do not doubt me, my dear Doctor.’

Schulembourg seated himself at the table, and wrote a few lines, which he handed to his patient.

Walstein smiled as he read the prescription.

‘Dr. de Schulembourg requests the honour of the Baron de Walstein’s company at dinner, tomorrow at two o’clock.’

Walstein smiled and looked a little perplexed, but he remembered his promise. ‘I shall, with pleasure, become your guest, Doctor.’

Chapter 2.

Containing Some Future Conversation

WALSTEIN did not forget his engagement with his friendly physician. The house of Schulembourg was the most beautiful mansion in Dresden. It was situated in a delicious garden in the midst of the park, and had been presented to him by a grateful sovereign. It was a Palladian villa, which recalled the Brenda to the recollection of Walstein, with flights of marble steps, airy colonnades, pediments of harmonious proportion, all painted with classic frescoes. Orange trees clustered in groups upon the terrace, perfumed the summer air, rising out of magnificent vases sculptured in high relief; and amid the trees, confined by silver chains were rare birds of radiant plumage, rare birds with prismatic eyes and bold ebon beaks, breasts flooded with crimson, and long tails of violet and green. The declining sun shone brightly in the light blue sky, and threw its lustre upon the fanciful abode, above which, slight and serene, floated the airy crescent of the young white moon.

‘My friend, too, I perceive, is a votary of the Ideal,’ exclaimed Walstein.

The carriage stopped. Walstein mounted the marble steps and was ushered through a hall, wherein was the statue of a single nymph, into an octagonal apartment. Schulembourg himself had not arrived. Two men moved away, as he was announced, from a lady whom they attended. The lady was Madame de Schulembourg, and she came forward, with infinite grace, to apologise for the absence of her husband, and to welcome her guest.

Her appearance was very remarkable. She was young and strangely beautiful. Walstein thought that he had never beheld such lustrous locks of ebon hair shading a countenance of such dazzling purity. Her large and deep blue eyes gleamed through their long black lashes. The expression of her face was singularly joyous. Two wild dimples played like meteors on her soft round cheeks. A pink veil worn over her head was carelessly tied under her chin, and fastened with a white rose of pearls. Her vest and train of white satin did not conceal her sylphlike form and delicate feet. She held forth a little white hand to Walstein, adorned only by a single enormous ruby, and welcomed him with inspiring ease.

‘I do not know whether you are acquainted with your companions, Mr. Walstein,’ said Madame de Schulembourg. Walstein looked around, and recognised the English minister, and had the pleasure of being introduced, for the first time, to a celebrated sculptor.

‘I have heard of your name, not only in Germany,’ said Walstein, addressing the latter gentleman. ‘You have left your fame behind you at Rome. If the Italians are excusably envious, their envy is at least accompanied with admiration.’ The gratified sculptor bowed and slightly blushed. Walstein loved art and artists. He was not one of those frigid, petty souls who are ashamed to evince feeling in society. He felt keenly and expressed himself without reserve. But nature had invested him with a true nobility of manner as well as of mind. He was ever graceful, even when enthusiastic.

‘It is difficult to remember we are in the North,’ said Walstein to Madame Schulembourg, ‘amid these colonnades and orange trees.’

‘It is thus that I console myself for beautiful Italy,’ replied the lady, ‘and, indeed, today the sun favours the design.’

‘You have resided long in Italy?’ inquired Walstein.

‘I was born at Milan,’ replied Madame de Schulembourg, ‘my father commanded a Hungarian regiment in garrison.’

‘I thought that I did not recognise an Italian physiognomy,’ said Walstein, looking somewhat earnestly at the lady.

‘Yet I have a dash of the Lombard blood in me, I assure you,’ replied Madame de Schulembourg, smiling; ‘is it not so, Mr. Revel?’

The Englishman advanced and praised the beauty of the lady’s mother, whom he well knew. Then he asked Walstein when he was at Milan; then they exchanged more words respecting Milanese society; and while they were conversing, the Doctor entered, followed by a servant: ‘I must compensate for keeping you from dinner,’ said their host, ‘by having the pleasure of announcing that it is prepared.’

He welcomed Walstein with warmth. Mr. Revel led Madame to the dining-room. The table was round, and Walstein seated himself at her side.

The repast was light and elegant, unusual characteristics of a German dinner. Madame de Schulembourg conversed with infinite gaiety, but with an ease that showed that to charm was with her no effort. The Englishman was an excellent specimen of his nation, polished and intelligent, without that haughty and graceless reserve which is so painful to a finished man of the world. The host was himself ever animated and cheerful, but calm and clear — and often addressed himself to the artist, who was silent, and, like students in general, constrained. Walstein himself, indeed, was not very talkative, but his manner indicated that he was interested, and when he made an observation it was uttered with facility, and arrested attention by its justness or its novelty. It was an agreeable party.

They had discussed several light topics. At length they diverged to the supernatural. Mr. Revel, as is customary with Englishmen, who are very sceptical, affected for the moment a belief in spirits. With the rest of the society, however, it was no light theme. Madame de Schulembourg avowed her profound credulity. The artist was a decided votary. Schulembourg philosophically accounted for many appearances, but he was a magnetiser, and his explanations were more marvellous than the portents.

‘And you, Mr. Walstein,’ said Madame de Schulembourg, ‘what is your opinion?’

‘I am willing to yield to any faith that distracts my thoughts from the burthen of daily reality,’ replied Walstein.

‘You would just suit Mr. Novalis, then,’ observed Mr. Revel, bowing to the sculptor.

‘Novalis is an astrologer,’ said Madame Schulembourg; ‘I think he would just suit you.’

‘Destiny is a grand subject,’ observed Walstein, ‘and although I am not prepared to say that I believe in fate, I should nevertheless not be surprised to read my fortunes in the stars.’

‘That has been the belief of great spirits,’ observed the sculptor, his countenance brightening with more assurance.

‘It is true,’ replied Walstein, ‘I would rather err with my great namesake and Napoleon than share the orthodoxy of ordinary mortality.’

‘That is a dangerous speech, Baron,’ said Schulembourg.

‘With regard to destiny,’ said Mr. Revel, who was in fact a materialist of the old school, ‘everything depends upon a man’s nature; the ambitious will rise, and the grovelling will crawl — those whose volition is strong will believe in fate, and the weak-minded accounts for the consequences of his own incongruities by execrating chance.’

Schulembourg shook his head. ‘By a man’s nature you mean his structure,’ said the physician, ‘much, doubtless, depends upon structure, but structure is again influenced by structure. All is subservient to sympathy.’

‘It is true,’ replied the sculptor; ‘and what is the influence of the stars on human conduct but sympathy of the highest degree?’

‘I am little accustomed to metaphysical discussions,’ remarked Walstein; ‘this is, indeed, a sorry subject to amuse a fair lady with, Madame de Schulembourg.’

‘On the contrary,’ she replied, ‘the mystical ever delights me.’

‘Yet,’ continued Walstein, ‘perceiving that the discontent and infelicity of man generally increase in an exact ratio with his intelligence and his knowledge, I am often tempted to envy the ignorant and the simple.’

‘A man can only be content,’ replied Schulembourg, ‘when his career is in harmony with his organisation. Man is an animal formed for great physical activity, and this is the reason why the vast majority, in spite of great physical suffering, are content. The sense of existence, under the influence of the action which is necessary to their living, counterbalances all misery. But when a man has a peculiar structure, when he is born with a predisposition, or is, in vulgar language, a man of genius, his content entirely depends upon the predisposition being developed and indulged. And this is philosophical education, that sublime art so ill-comprehended!’

‘I agree with you,’ said Revel, who recollected the nonsense-verses of Eton, and the logic of Christ Church; ‘all the scrapes and unhappiness of my youth, and I assure you they were not inconsiderable, are to be ascribed to the obstinate resolution of my family to make a priest out of a man who wished to be a soldier.’

‘And I was disinherited because I would be a physician,’ replied Schulembourg; ‘but instead of a poor, insignificant baron, I am now a noble in four kingdoms and have the orders of all Europe, and that lady was not ashamed to marry me.’

‘I was a swineherd in the wilds of Pomerania,’ said Novalis, his eyes flashing with enthusiasm. ‘I ran away to Italy, but I broke my poor mother’s heart.’

There was a dead, painful pause, in which Walstein interposed. ‘As for myself, I suppose I have no predisposition, or I have not found it out. Perhaps nature intended me for a swineherd, instead, of a baron. This, however, I do know, that life is an intolerable burthen — at least it would be,’ he added, turning with a smile to his fair hostess, ‘were it not for occasionally meeting some one so inspiring as you.’

‘Come,’ said Madame, rising, ‘the carriages are at the door. Let us take a drive. Mr. Walstein, you shall give me your opinion of my ponies.’

Chapter 3.

Containing a Drive in the Park with a Very Charming Lady.

MADAME DE SCHULEMBOURG’S carriage, drawn by two beautiful Hanoverian ponies, cream in colour, with long manes and tails like floss silk, was followed by a britzka; but despatches called away Mr. Revel, and Novalis stole off to his studio. The doctor, as usual, was engaged. ‘Caroline,’ he said, as he bid his guest adieu, ‘I commend Mr. Walstein to your care. When I return in the evening, do not let me find that our friend has escaped.’

‘I am sure that though unhappy he is not ungallant,’ replied Caroline, with a smile; and she took his offered arm, and ascended her seat.

Swiftly the little ponies scudded along the winding roads. The Corso was as yet but slightly attended. Caroline passed through the wide avenue without stopping, but sometimes recognising with bow and smile a flitting friend. They came to a wilder and woodier part of the park, the road lined on each side with linden trees, and in the distance were vast beds of tall fern, tinged with the first rich hues of autumn.

‘Here, Mr. Walstein,’ said Caroline, ‘with your permission, I shall take my afternoon walk.’ Thus speaking, she stopped the carriage, which she and her companion quitted. Walstein offered her his arm, but she declined it, folding herself up in her shawl.

‘Which do you like best, Mr. Walstein, Constantinople or Dresden?’ said Madame de Schulembourg.

‘At this moment, decidedly Dresden,’ replied her companion.

‘Ah! that is a compliment,’ said Madame de Schulembourg, after a moment’s musing. ‘My dear Mr. Walstein,’ she continued, looking up with an arch expression, ‘never pay me compliments.’

‘You mistake me: it was not a compliment,’ replied Walstein. ‘It was a sincere and becoming tribute of gratitude for three hours of endurable existence.’

‘You know that you are my patient,’ rejoined Madame de Schulembourg. ‘I have orders to cure your melancholy. I am very successful in such complaints.’

‘I have no doubt of it,’ replied Walstein, with a slight bow.

‘If we could but find out the cause!’ continued Caroline. ‘I venture to believe that, after all, it will turn out an affair of the heart. Come, be frank with your physician. Tell me, have you left it captive with a fair Greek of the Isles, or a dark-eyed maiden of the Nile? Is our heroine a captive behind a Spanish jalousie, or in an Italian convent?’

‘Women ever believe that all moods and tempers of man are consequences of their influence,’ replied Walstein, ‘and in general they are right.’

‘But in your case?’

‘Very wrong.’

‘I am determined to find it out,’ said Madame de Schulembourg.

‘I wish to heaven you could,’ said Baron de Walstein.

‘I think a wandering life has spoiled you,’ said Caroline. ‘I think it must be civilisation that you find wearisome.’

‘That would be very sublime,’ replied Walstein. ‘But I assure you, if there be one thing that disgusts me more than another, it is the anticipation of renewed travel! I have seen all that I wish, and more than I ever expected. All that I could experience now would be exertion without excitement, a dreadful doom. If I am not to experience pleasure, let me at least have the refuge of repose. The magic of change of scene is with me exhausted. If I am to live, I do not think that I could be tempted to quit this city; sometimes I think, scarcely even my house.’

‘I see how it is,’ exclaimed Madame de Schulembourg, shaking her head very knowingly, ‘you must marry.’

‘The last resource of feminine fancy!’ exclaimed Walstein, almost laughing. ‘You would lessen my melancholy, I suppose, on the principle of the division of gloom. I can assure you, my dear Madame de Schulembourg,’ he continued, in a very serious tone, ‘that, with my present sensations, I should consider it highly dishonourable to implicate any woman in my destiny.’

‘Ha! ha! ha!’ laughed Madame; ‘I can assure you, my dear Mr. Walstein, that I have a great many very pretty friends who will run the risk. ’Tis the best cure for melancholy, believe me. I was serious myself at times before I married, but you see I have got over my gloom.’

‘You have, indeed,’ said Walstein; ‘and perhaps, were I Doctor de Schulembourg, I might be as gay.’

‘Another compliment! However, I accept it, because it is founded on truth. The fact is, I think you are too much alone.’

‘I have lived in a desert, and now I live in what is called the world,’ replied Walstein. ‘Yet in Arabia I was fairly content, and now I am —— what I shall not describe, because it will only procure me your ridicule.’

‘Nay! not ridicule, Mr. Walstein. Do not think that I do not sympathise with your affliction, because I wish you to be as cheerful as myself. If you were fairly content in Arabia, I shall begin to consider it an affair of climate.’

‘No,’ said Walstein, still very serious, ‘not an affair of climate — certainly not. The truth is, travel is a preparation, and we bear with its yoke as we do with all that is initiatory — with the solace of expectation. But my preparation can lead to nothing, and there appear to be no mysteries in which I am to be initiated.’

‘Then, after all, you want something to do?’

‘No doubt.’

‘What shall it be?’ inquired Madame de Schulembourg, with a thoughtful air.

‘Ah! what shall it be?’ echoed Walstein, in accents of despondence; ‘or, rather, what can it be? What can be more tame, more uninteresting, more unpromising than all around? Where is there a career?’

‘A career!’ exclaimed Caroline. ‘What, you want to set the world in a blaze! I thought you were a poetic dreamer, a listless, superfine speculator of an exhausted world. And all the time you are very ambitious!’

‘I know not what I am,’ replied Walstein; ‘but I feel that my present lot is an intolerable burthen.’

‘But what can you desire? You have wealth, youth, and station, all the accidents of fortune which nature can bestow, and all for which men struggle. Believe me, you are born to enjoy yourself; nor do I see that you require any other career than the duties of your position. Believe me, my dear Mr. Walstein, life is a great business, and quite enough to employ any man’s faculties.’

‘My youth is fast fading, which I don’t regret,’ replied Walstein, ‘for I am not an admirer of youth. As for station, I attribute no magic to it, and wealth I value only because I know from experience its capacity of producing pleasure; were I a beggar tomorrow, I should be haunted by no uneasy sensations. Pardon me, Madame de Schulembourg; your philosophy does not appear to be that of my friend, the Doctor. We were told this afternoon that, to produce happiness, the nature of a being and his career must coincide. Now, what can wealth and station produce of happiness to me, if I have the mind of a bandit, or, perhaps, even of a mechanic?’

‘You must settle all this with Augustus,’ replied Madame de Schulembourg; ‘I am glad, however, to hear you abuse youth. I always tell Sidonia that he makes his heroes too young, which enrages him beyond description. Do you know him?’

‘Only by fame.’

‘He would suit you. He is melancholy too, but only by fits. Would you like to make his acquaintance?’

‘Authors are best known by their writings,’ replied Walstein; ‘I admire his, because, amid much wildness, he is a great reader of the human heart, and I find many echoes in his pages of what I dare only to think and to utter in solitude.’

‘I shall introduce you to him. He is exceedingly vain, and likes to make the acquaintance of an admirer.’

‘I entreat you not,’ replied Walstein, really alarmed. ‘It is precisely because I admire him very much that I never wish to see him. What can the conversation of Sidonia be compared with his writings? His appearance and his manner will only destroy the ideal, in which it is always interesting to indulge.’

‘Well, be not alarmed! He is not now in Dresden. He has been leading a wild life for some time in our Saxon Switzerland, in a state of despair. I am the unhappy nymph who occasions his present desperation,’ continued Madame de Schulembourg, with a smile. ‘Do not think me heartless; all his passion is imagination. Change of scene ever cures him; he has written to me every week — his letters are each time more reasonable. I have no doubt he has by this time relieved his mind in some mad work which will amuse us all very much, and will return again to Dresden quite cool. I delight in Sidonia — he is my especial favourite.’

After some little time the companions reentered the carriage. The public drive was now full of sparkling equipages. Madame de Schulembourg gaily bowed, as she passed along, to many a beautiful friend.

‘Dear girls, come home with us this eve,’ she exclaimed, as she curbed her ponies by the side of an open carriage, and addressed two young ladies who were seated within it with their mother. ‘Let me introduce Mr. Walstein to you-Madame de Man-heim, the Misses de Manheim, otherwise Augusta and Amelia. Ask any of our friends whom you pass. There is Emilius — How do you do? Count Voyna, come home with us, and bring your Bavarian friend.’

‘How is Sidonia, Madame de Schulembourg?’ inquired Augusta.

‘Oh, quite mad. He will not be sane this week. There is his last letter; read it, and return it to me when we meet. Adieu, Madame de Manheim; adieu, dear girls; do not stay long: adieu, adieu.’ So they drove away.

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