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John Donne's Devotions
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XIX. MEDITATION.

ALL this while the physicians themselves have been patients, patiently attending when they should see any land in this sea, any earth, any cloud, any indication of concoction in these waters. Any disorder of mine, any pretermission of theirs, exalts the disease, accelerates the rages of it; no diligence accelerates the concoction, the maturity of the disease; they must stay till the season of the sickness come; and till it be ripened of itself, and then they may put to their hand to gather it before it fall off, but they cannot hasten the ripening. Why should we look for it in a disease, which is the disorder, the discord, the irregularity, the commotion and rebellion of the body? It were scarce a disease if it could be ordered and made obedient to our times. Why should we look for that in disorder, in a disease, when we cannot have it in nature, who is so regular and so pregnant, so forward to bring her work to perfection and to light? Yet we cannot awake the July flowers in January, nor retard the flowers of the spring to autumn. We cannot bid the fruits come in May, nor the leaves to stick on in December. A woman that is weak cannot put off her ninth month to a tenth for her delivery, and say she will stay till she be stronger; nor a queen cannot hasten it to a seventh, that she may be ready for some other pleasure. Nature (if we look for durable and vigorous effects) will not admit preventions, nor anticipations, nor obligations upon her, for they are precontracts, and she will be left to her liberty. Nature would not be spurred, nor forced to mend her pace; nor power, the power of man, greatness, loves not that kind of violence neither. There are of them that will give, that will do justice, that will pardon, but they have their own seasons for all these, and he that knows not them shall starve before that gift come, and ruin before the justice, and die before the pardon save him. Some tree bears no fruit, except much dung be laid about it; and justice comes not from some till they be richly manured: some trees require much visiting, much watering, much labour; and some men give not their fruits but upon importunity: some trees require incision, and pruning, and lopping; some men must be intimidated and syndicated with commissions, before they will deliver the fruits of justice: some trees require the early and the often access of the sun; some men open not, but upon the favours and letters of court mediation: some trees must be housed and kept within doors; some men lock up, not only their liberality, but their justice and their compassion, till the solicitation of a wife, or a son, or a friend, or a servant, turn the key. Reward is the season of one man, and importunity of another; fear the season of one man, and favour of another; friendship the season of one man, and natural affection of another; and he that knows not their seasons, nor cannot stay them, must lose the fruits: as nature will not, so power and greatness will not be put to change their seasons, and shall we look for this indulgence in a disease, or think to shake it off before it be ripe? All this while, therefore, we are but upon a defensive war, and that is but a doubtful state; especially where they who are besieged do know the best of their defences, and do not know the worst of their enemy’s power; when they cannot mend their works within, and the enemy can increase his numbers without. O how many far more miserable, and far more worthy to be less miserable than I, are besieged with this sickness, and lack their sentinels, their physicians to watch, and lack their munition, their cordials to defend, and perish before the enemy’s weakness might invite them to sally, before the disease show any declination, or admit any way of working upon itself? In me the siege is so far slackened, as that we may come to fight, and so die in the field, if I die, and not in a prison.

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