To Helvia, on Consolation I

My best of mothers, I have often felt eager to console you, and have as often checked that impulse.

Many things urged me to make the attempt: in the first place, I thought that if, though I might not be able to restrain your tears, yet that if I could even wipe them away, I should set myself free from all my own sorrows: then I was quite sure that I should rouse you from your grief with more authority if I had first shaken it off myself.

I feared, too, lest fortune, though overcome by me, might nevertheless overcome someone of my family.

Then I endeavoured to crawl and bind up your wounds in the best way I could, holding my hand over my own wound; but then again other considerations occurred to me which held me back: I knew that I must not oppose your grief during its first transports, lest my very attempts at consolation might irritate it, and add fuel to it: for in diseases, also, there is nothing more hurtful than medicine applied too soon.

I waited, therefore, until it exhausted itself by its own violence, and being weakened by time, so that it was able to bear remedies, would allow itself to be handled and touched. Beside this, while turning over all the works which the greatest geniuses have composed, for the purpose of soothing and pacifying grief, I could not find any instance of one who had offered consolation to his relatives, while he himself was being sorrowed over by them.

Thus, the subject being a new one, I hesitated and feared that instead of consoling, I might embitter your grief.

Then here was the thought that a man who had only just raised his head after burying his child, and who wished to console his friends, would require to use new phrases not taken from our common everyday words of comfort: but every sorrow of more than usual magnitude must needs prevent one’s choosing one’s words, seeing that it often prevents one’s using one’s very voice.

However this may be, I will make the attempt, not trusting in my own genius, but because my consolation will be most powerful since it is I who offer it.

You never would deny me anything, and I hope, though all grief is obstinate, that you will surely not refuse me this request, that you will allow me to set bounds to your sorrow.