|Choicest gift of Heaven
Written by Barbara
(10/17/2005 12:16 a.m.)
It really struck me as I was reading and came to this exchange between Anne and Mrs. Smith:
What instances must pass before [nurses or people attending in a sick chamber] of ardent, disinterested, self-denying attachment, of heroism, fortitude, patience, resignation; of all the conflicts and all the sacrifices that ennoble us most. A sick chamber may often furnish the worth of volumes."
"Yes," said Mrs. Smith more doubtingly, "sometimes it may, though I fear its lessons are not often in the elevated style you describe. Here and there, human nature may be great in times of trial; but, generally speaking, it is its weakness and not its strength that appears in a sick-chamber: it is selfishness and impatience, rather than generosity and fortitude, that one hears of.
I could only think as I read this, and the part before about how she appreciated her nurse's care and how upbeat Mrs. Smith was, all things considered, Jane Austen must have been battling her own illness at the time she was writing. In a way, I felt that JA put some of her own words into Mrs. Smith's.
Jane wrote this to a friend on May 29 1817
I have been out once in the sedan-chair, and am to repeat it, and will only say further that my dearest sister, my tender, watchful, indefatigable nurse, has not been made ill by her exertions. As to what I owe her, and to the anxious affection of all my beloved family on this occasion, I cn only cry over it, and pray to God to bless them more and more.
...But I am getting too near complaint. It has been the appointment of God, howver secondary causes may have operated...
Did Jane herself not seem to have that same 'choicest gift of Heaven' she described for Mrs. Smith: "A submissive spirit might be patient, a strong understanding would supply resolution, but here was something more; here was that elasticity of mind, that disposition to be comforted, that power of turning readily from evil to good, and of finding employment which carried her out of herself, which was from nature alone."