Monday, August 13, 2012

Tools of the Trade: "That Disgust of Existence"

We’ve discussed seasickness, and its causes and cures, before here at Triple P.  As it turns out, almost all animals can succumb to seasickness and humans are not often spared.  That includes, it seems, literary lions from days gone by.  Here is a little insight into the miseries suffered by none other than Harriet Beecher Stowe of Uncle Tom’s Cabin fame:

That disgust of existence, which, in half an hour of sailing, begins to come upon you; that strange, mysterious ineffable sensation which steals slowly and inexplicably upon you; which makes every heaving billow, every white-capped wave, the ship, the people, the sight, taste, sound and smell of everything a matter of inexpressible loathing! 

An excellent summation, no doubt.  The great Charles Dickens, however, chose to see the bright side, if you will:

I lay there, all the day long, quite coolly and contentedly; with no sense of weariness, with no desire to get up, or to get better, or take the air; with no curiosity, or care, or regret of any sort or degree, saving that I think I can remember, in the universal indifference, having a kind of lazy joy – of fiendish delight, if anything so lethargic can be dignified with the title – in the fact of my wife being too ill to talk to me. 

That’s one way to get the old ball and chain to shut up, no matter how extreme.  Ernest Shackleton wrote of some of his comrades in Antarctic exploration being “appallingly seasick.”  In particular, the ponies he had brought along on the expedition suffered interminably in high seas.  Creatures of the equine persuasion cannot vomit, so their misery was doubled by a constant nausea that had no release.

Perhaps Hippocrates put it most succinctly when he quipped “Sailing on the sea proves that motion disturbs the body.”  One wonders if it got his wife to clam up for a while as well.

Header: Sunrise on the Bay of Fundi by William Bradford


Undine said...

I really hope Catherine Dickens saw that comment at some point and gave the old boy hell.

Pauline said...

Good point, Undine. I'd like to think that she did.

Timmy! said...

Oh, I'm sure he paid for it, Pauline... Probably many times over. Women never forget those kind of things, if I make a "broad generalization".

I think Harriet Beecher Stowe's description is the most accurate, from my personal experience.

Nice painting, though.

Pauline said...

All I can say is I bet she was glad he was just as miserable as she was.

I've been told that Mrs. Stowe hits the nail on the head, so to speak. My experience with motion sickness at high altitudes tends to mirror her description, too.

The painting is by the incredibly talented, late 19th century artist William Bradford, who masterfully illustrated life at sea off the Atlantic coast in his era.