|Affections of the Sight
|Sympathies and Antipathies
|The Archeus of Van Helmont
|Rise and Progress of Medicine
|Medicine of the Chinese
|Experiments on Living Animals
CURIOSITIES OF MEDICAL EXPERIENCE.
Various are the opinions concerning the cause of excessive corpulence. By some it is attributed to too great an activity in the digestive functions, producing a rapid assimilation of our food; by others, to the predominance of the liver: while indolence and apathy, such as is commonly observed in the wealthy monastic orders, are considered as occasioning a laxity of fibre favourable to this embonpoint. Boileau has thus described one of these fat lazy prelates, who
Muni d’un déjeûner,
Dormant d’un léger somme, attendait le dîner.
La jeunesse en sa fleur brille sur son visage;
Son menton sur son sein descend à triple étage;
Et son corps ramassé, dans sa courte grosseur,
Fait gémir les coussins sous sa molle épaisseur.
It is certain that exercise, anxiety of mind, want of sleep, and spare food, are circumstances opposed to fatness. This fact is illustrated by Shakspeare, when Cæsar says to Antony,
Let me have men about me that are fat,—
Sleek-headed men, and such as sleep o’ nights;
Yon Cassius has a lean and hungry look,
He thinks too much: such men are dangerous.
Antony and Dolabella were both men of some corpulence. The Roman ladies dreaded above all things too voluminous a development of the bosom: to prevent it they were in the habit of applying to their breasts the raw flesh of a fish called Angel. Hippocrates has maintained that obesity was an obstacle to conception. This assertion which was partaken by other medical writers, may, in some measure account for the dread of corpulence. Strange indeed have been the fancies on this subject amongst various nations.
Fat is a fluid similar to vegetable oils, inodorous, and lighter than water; besides the elements common to water, to oils, and wax, it contains carbon, hydrogen, and sebacic acid, which is pretty similar to the acetic. Human fat, like that of other animals, has been frequently employed for various purposes. A story is told of an Irish tallowchandler, who, during the invasion of Cromwell’s army, made candles with the fat of Englishmen, which were remarkable for their good quality; but when the times became more tranquil, his goods were of an inferior kind, and when one of his customers complained of his candles falling off, he apologised by saying, “I am sorry to inform you that the times are so bad that I have been short of Englishmen for a long time.”
Obesity may be considered a serious evil, and has exposed corpulent persons to many désagrémens. The ancients held fat people in sovereign contempt. Some of the Gentoos enter their dwellings by a hole in the roof; and any fat person who cannot get through it, they consider as an excommunicated offender who has not been able to rid himself of his sins. An Eastern prince had an officer to regulate the size of his subjects, and who dieted the unwieldy ones to reduce them to a proper volume. In China this calamity is considered a blessing, a man’s intellectual qualities are esteemed in the ratio of corporeal bulk.
There are cases on record among ourselves where unwieldiness led to estimation. The corpulent antiquarian Grose was requested by his butcher to tell all his friends that he bought his meat from him; and the paviers of Cambridge used to say, “God bless you, sir!” to a huge professor when he walked over their work. Fatness has often been the butt of jocularity. Dr. Stafford, who was enormously fat, was honoured with this epitaph:
Take heed, O good traveller, and do not tread hard,
For here lies Dr. Stafford, in all this church-yard.
And the following lines were inscribed on the tomb of a corpulent chandler:
Here lies in earth an honest fellow,
Who died by fat and lived by tallow.
Dr. Beddoes was so uncomfortably stout that