* * * * *
Allan told me that for some years past, feeling himself disengaged from every personal tie, but not alienated from human sympathies, it had been his taste, his humor he called it, to spend a great portion of his time in hospitals and lazar-houses.
He had found a wayward pleasure, he refused to name it a virtue, in tending a description of people, who had long ceased to expect kindness or friendliness from mankind, but were content to accept the reluctant services, which the oftentimes unfeeling instruments and servants of these well-meant institutions deal out to the poor sick people under their care.
It is not medicine, it is not broths and coarse meats, served up at a stated hour with all the hard formalities of a prison—it is not the scanty dole of a bed to die on—which dying man requires from his species.
Looks, attentions, consolations,—in a word, sympathies, are what a man most needs in this awful close of mortal sufferings. A kind look, a smile, a drop of cold water to the parched lip—for these things a man shall bless you in death.
And these better things than cordials did Allan love to administer—to stay by a bedside the whole day, when something disgusting in a patient’s distemper has kept the very nurses at a distance—to sit by, while the poor wretch got a little sleep—and be there to smile upon him when he awoke—to slip a guinea, now and then, into the hands of a nurse or attendant—these things have been to Allan as privileges, for which he was content to live; choice marks, and circumstances, of his Maker’s goodness to him.
And I do not know whether occupations of this kind be not a spring of purer and nobler delight (certainly instances of a more disinterested virtue) than arises from what are called Friendships of Sentiment.
Between two persons of liberal education, like opinions, and common feelings, oftentimes subsists a Variety of Sentiment, which disposes each to look upon the other as the only being in the universe worthy of friendship, or capable of understanding it,—themselves they consider as the solitary receptacles of all that is delicate in feeling, or stable in attachment: when the odds are, that under every green hill, and in every crowded street, people of equal worth are to be found, who do more good in their generation, and make less noise in the doing of it.
It was in consequence of these benevolent propensities, I have been describing, that Allan oftentimes discovered considerable inclinations in favor of my way of life, which I have before mentioned as being that of a surgeon. He would frequently attend me on my visits to patients; and I began to think that he had serious intentions of making my profession his study.
He was present with me at a scene—a, death-bed scene—I shudder when I do but think of it.