Regimens and their readers in eighteenth-century England

2014-11-04T17:22:23Z (GMT) by David C. Gentilcore
In 1763 a forty-four-year-old miller in the Essex town of Billericay decided he had had enough of his obesity. The sense of suffocation Thomas Wood felt after eating only added to his head and stomach aches, disturbed sleep, vertigo, constant thirst, rheumatism, gout and epileptic fits. A local clergyman recommended an ‘exact regimen’. He advised Wood to read ‘Cornaro’s book’, which would ‘suggest to him a salutary course of living’. The simple advice of Alvise Cornaro—to embrace sobriety and avoid excess—evidently retained its appeal, despite being written two hundred years earlier. Wood became so enthused by the book’s contents that he immediately gave up his fatty meats, which ‘he ate voraciously three times a day’, his butter, cheese and large amounts of strong ale, in favour of a strict diet. Within a few years Wood was restored to perfect health, in body and spirit: enough to feature in an article of the London College of Physicians’ Medical Transactions, signed by reliable witnesses. To achieve this, Wood did not give up on physicians—indeed one of the signatories of the article was his doctor, Benjamin Pugh—but the go-it-alone philosophy struck a chord with eighteenth-century eaters, determined to reduce and regulate their intake of food and drink.

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