MD and I are still in the throes of our recent move. As I was unpacking another of the innumerable boxes still unpacked I came across a little pamphlet, a magazine more like, printed in 1760. It isn’t a reprint, it is an actual, honest-to-God, yellowed, crumbly issue of The London Magazine for May, 1760. It is in a plastic wrapper and is in remarkable condition. And I have no idea when or where I got it. In fact, I didn’t even know I had it until it emerged from a box of books.
I carefully took it out of the wrapper and paged through it, which was a remarkable experience. The London Magazine was the 1760 equivalent of Time or Newsweek. It was a magazine of current events, at least those current in 1760. For example, I found myself reading about the French and Indian War (it wasn’t called that then, of course; it was referred to as “the present war.”) in a piece written as said war was taking place.
Immediately after the article on the “present war” I came upon an article written about the causes and cure of corpulency (obesity) written by one of the leading physicians of the day. I’m sure that this article inspired me to purchase this little jewel some time in the distant past, but I just can’t remember actually doing it.
This article was so intriguing and written in such a quaint fashion that I decided that as a treat for all my faithful readers I would type the thing in its entirety. It wasn’t an easy task, but I persevered.
Before I get to my modern typed version, however, I want to show you what I had to deal with. In 1760 the letter ‘s’ was sometimes written as a ‘s’ and sometimes as an ‘f.’ In a blatant plea for sympathy for all my typing efforts, here is what a paragraph looked like in the original. Bear in mind that you are reading it in modern, clean type on a screen. I had to read it on yellowed, faded paper with not particularly good type impressions. It’s a wonder I didn’t go blind.
The fitteft foap for this purpofe is that from Alican in Spain, as being not only more cleanly and lefs difagreeable, but much more eafily diffolved in water than the home-made Caftile foap.
As you read this article think about some of the books and articles you’ve read on weight-loss in current times. Some things never change.
I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. (Note: all punctualtion, italics, spelling, grammar, etc. is exactly as published in 1760.)
Extracts from A Discouse on the Nature, Causes, and Cures, of Corpulency. Illustrated be a remarkable Case, read before the Royal Society, November 1757: and now first published, by Malcolm Flemyng, M.D.
Dr. Flemyng defines corpulency to be a too great accumulation of animal oil or fat, more or less over the whole body; but chiefly immediately under the skin, in the interstices of the muscles; and within the cavity of the abdomen or lower belly.
As for the cause of it, it may be occasioned, he says, either by the introduction of too much oil into the habit, through the channels of nourishment, whereby there is so much the greater chance of its being retained in too great a quantityâ€”or by the over-laxity, or, perhaps, original over-largeness, of the cells in which it is reposited, disposing them to admit, and retain, an over-proportion of itâ€”or by such a temperament of the blood, as renders it liable to part too easily with its oily particles, and let them be strained off in too great plenty by the secretory vesselsâ€”or lastly, by a deficient evacuation or expulsion, of oil already taken in and separated from the blood, and laid up in its cells.
With regard to the cure, the diet of corpulent persons ought to be moderate in quantity, and lean and plain, rather than rich and palatable.
Cold bathing (proper diet and exercise being supposed to go along with it) bids farewell to answer the second cause of corpulency: But it ought never to be used without great caution. There is scarce any remedy that is more generally, and more dangerously misapplied, than cold bathing.
The removal of the third cause of corpulency is to be attempted by with-holding, or at least diminishing, by a spare and plain diet, the daily fresh supplies of oily matter to the blood; that the solids, by whose action and energy the union, and as it were cohesion of the principles of the blood, is effected, may not have more work to do than enough: And, by exciting the action of the solids, by exercise, particularly friction of dry rubbing of the surface of the body, chiefly the trunk; for corpulent persons can scarcely use any other with remarkable effect.
The best way to remove the cause of corpulency assigned to the fourth and last place is to promote and increase the common natural excretions; to wit, urine, faeces, sweat, and insensible perspiration, which, in a healthy state, are always more or less charged with animal oil.
No great stress is to be laid on the insensible perspiration in our climate, mare than what friction may effect.
Frequent purging would no doubt be a speedy and effectual means of reducing corpulency; but it is dangerous to proceed far this way by art. What is most advisable in this respect is, to use such a diet and manner of living, as may prevent costiveness [constipation]. Walking, in a general way, promotes the evacuation per anum. Riding, as well as a sedentary life, encourages costiveness.
The fastest way of raising sweat is by increased muscular motion, as walking hard, playing at tennis, exercising some laborious mechanic deployment, or the like. The next fastest way, is by moist heat; as in a bagnio.
The excretion of urine may be promoted by a variety of diuretics, with less shock to the constitution, than that by sweat, or stools. But that diuretics may be employed to the best advantage, it is requisite to chuse such as, besides increasing the quantity of urine, may at the same time render the animal oil more miscible with the watery vehicle of the blood, than otherwise it would be.
Now soap hath that quality in a singularly eminent degree; and is withal so safe, that it may be taken in large quantities every day for years together; in a word, it is the true remedy for corpulency where it is curable.
It is no small additional recommendation of this remedy, that it is highly proper for relieving complaints, and curing diseases arising from corpulency, even independently on diminishing it; such as, amongst the chronic tribe, short-windedness; lethargy, &cc. of the acute kind, bastard peripneumonies, which are more difficult to cure in very fat persons than others: And, in general, whatever disorders may be owing to viscidity of juices, a never failing attendant on plenitude and defect of motion.
The fittest soap for this purpose is that from Alicant in Spain, as being not only more cleanly and less disagreeable, but much more easily dissolved in water, than the home-made Castile soap.
As to the manner of exhibiting it, the properest time is at night when going to bed. A drachm [1/8 of a fluid ounce]may be tried for the first four or five days; and if that create no remarkable disorder, the quantity should be increased to two , three, and, in very stubborn cases, to four drachms; which last dose, needs not in any case to be exceeded. It may be taken either in the form of a bolus, with any palatable syrup; or in the shape of pills; or dissolved in a gill [5 fluid ounces] or more of soft water.
To explain and illustrate what he had advanced, the author subjoins the following case.
“A judicious and experienced physician, in his younger days had been very active, and used much exercise, both on foot and on horseback; and for many years seemed as little liable to extreme corpulency as most people. By insensible degrees, as he diminished his daily labours, fatness stole upon him, and kept increasing; insomuch that, when I met with him about six years ago, I found him in the greatest distress through mere corpulency, of any person not exceeding middle age, I ever knew. He was then about forty-five. He was obliged to ride from house to house to visit his patients in the town where he practiced, being quite unable to walk an hundred yards at a stretch; and was in no small degree lethargic. In other respects, he seemed pretty clear of any remarkable disease, except gout, of which he had fest some, not very violent, attacks. I warmly recommended the inward use of soap, in order to reduce his corpulency, as the only safe and effectual remedy in his case, and a remedy which he might continue to use the longest; I enforced my advice by the reasonings above urged, of which he was too good a judge not to perceive their full cogency. Accordingly, he weighted twenty stone and eleven pounds [291 pounds], jockey weight [fully dressed], a vast load for him to bear, who is little above middle figure, and withal small boned. He took every night at bed-time, a quarter of an ounce of common home-made Castille soap, dissolved in a quarter of a pint of soft water. In about two or three months time, he began to feel more freedom, and an increase of activity, which encouraged him to persevere. And that he did with such success, that in August, 1756, (as he informs me in a letter now lying before me) his bulk was reduced two whole stone weight [28 pounds]; and he could walk a mile with pleasure. He had continued the use of the soap all the time between June, 1754, and August, 1756, with very short interruptions, in the manner and quantity above-mentioned; it operated remarkably by urine, without ever producing the least troublesome effect. And now, while I am sending these pages to the press (April, 1760) I am certainly informed that he is hearty and well. He used no other method or medicine all the while, to which the extraordinary change in his favour, can with any colour of reason be imputed.”
There you have it straight from the weight-loss guru of the mid 1700s. Reduce your fat intake and drink soap, and you’ll be on your way to a cleaner, slimmer, fitter you.