Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Umbrageous Ham

So I read John Armstrong's The Art of Preserving Health: a Poem. In four books (1744). According to Adam Budd [John Armstrong's "The Art of Preserving Health": Eighteenth-Century Sensibility in Practice (Ashgate 2011), 45] ‘The Art of Preserving Health received serious consideration from physicians as well as critics’; and was cited in contemporary medical textbooks as well as noted in literary journals. And I can see its appeal; the verse is lively, if stilted in that uniquely eighteenth-century way. Of course, its medical philosophy is fundamentally flawed: Armstrong believes not in germs but in miasma. The first book, 'Air', lauds fresh air as a panacea, when plagues 'rise from the putrid watry element … and all the breathless winds’. He also seems to think that direct sunlight is actively harmful to health -- in too sunny climes ‘the air may be too dry’. Hot sun ‘too fast imbibes the attenuated lymph … the lungs grow rigid, and with toil essay/Their flexible vibrations’. Good health, Armstrong argues, therefore depends upon living in a place both properly airy and nicely shaded, which leads him to his splendid peroration to shadowy pork:
See where enthron’d in adamantine state,
Proud of her bards, imperial Windsor sits;
There chuse thy seat, in some aspiring grove
Fast by the slowly-winding Thames; or where
Broader she laves fair Richmond’s green retreats,
(Richmond that sees an hundred villas rise
Rural or gay) O! from the summer’s rage
O! wrap me in the friendly gloom that hides
Umbrageous Ham! [1:108]

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