compiler of what is seen as the first English dictionary, Johnson suffered from chronic illness from his childhood in Lichfield. When he was two and a half, he contracted scrofula and was taken by his mother in March 1712 to be "touched" by Queen Anne for what was then called the King's Evil (Keynes 1995). This "cure" had as little impact on his future life as did his later recourse to dieting. As Johnson aged, he became corpulent. At this time, some of the older traditions of weight loss, such as the use of the flower "Thrift" (Armeria maritima), were still in use, but it was diet that was the newest fad (Jacquin 1770: I, Table 42).
In his Dictionary of the English Language, Johnson defined diet both in the older sense of "food, provisions for the mouth; victuals" as well as the more modern sense of "food regulated by the rules of medicine, for the prevention or cure of any disease" (Johnson 1819). Johnson, whose odd-looking body was then wracked by innumerable ailments, both inherited and acquired, undertook such a "cure" in September of 1780: "I am now beginning the seventy-second year of my life, with more strength of body and greater vigour of mind than, I think, is common at that age . . . I have been attentive to my diet, and have diminished the bulk of my body" (Johnson 1958: 301).
Johnson's fat was an ailment of his middle age, but according to James Boswell's (1740-95) biography The Life of Samuel Johnson LL.D. (1791), he viewed obesity as purely a product of bad diet: "whatever be the quantity that a man eats, it is plain that if he is too fat, he has eaten more that he should have done" (Boswell 1980: 958). Boswell, however, disagreed with Johnson, stating "you will see one man fat who eats moderately, and another lean who eats a great deal" (1980: 958). This was in response to Johnson who said that he "fasted from the Sunday's dinner to the Tuesday's dinner, without any inconvenience" (Boswell 1980: 958). Boswell noted that this may well have been true, but he also explained that Johnson could "practise abstinence, but not temperance" (Boswell 1980: 1121). Nevertheless, Johnson's recourse to the "cure" of dieting was a typical approach of the first great age of public dieting, the Enlightenment (Rogers i993).
See also Enlightenment Dietetics
References and Further Reading
Boswell, James (1980) Life of Johnson, ed. R.W.
Chapman, Oxford: Oxford University Press. Jacquin, Nicholaus Joseph von (1770) Hortus Botanicus
Vindobonensis, Vienna: Leopold Johann Kaliwoda. Johnson, Samuel (1819) Johnson's Dictionary: Volume 1
A-K, Philadelphia, Pa.: James Maxwell. -(1958) "Diaries, Prayers, and Annals," in E.L.
McAdam, Jr., D. Hyde, and M. Hyde (eds) The Yale Edition of the Works of Samuel Johnson, New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press. Keynes, Milo (1995) "The Miserable Health of Dr.
Samuel Johnson," Journal of Medical Biography 3 (3): 161-9.
Rogers, Pat (1993) "Fat Is a Fictional Issue: The Novel and the Rise of Weight-Watching," in Marie Mulvey Roberts and Roy Porter (eds), Literature and Medicine during the Eighteenth Century, London: Routledge, pp.168-87.
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