Lambert Daniel 17701809 The exemplary fat man of the nineteenth century

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B y profession a jailer, Lambert came to represent the freakish nature of fat. The novelist George Meredith described London as the Daniel Lambert of cities, and the sociologist Herbert Spencer used the phrase a Daniel Lambert of learning. A wax model of Lambert found its way to America and was shown in the Mix Museum in New Haven in 1813 and later in P.T. Barnum's famous American Museum. Lambert had been displayed as a wonder of nature along with giants and dwarfs much against his own desires (Ritvo 1997: 148-9). He was huge, and yet the contemporary literature stressed that he neither drank nor ate "more than one dish at a meal," and after his death he was remember as a man of great "temperance" (Clarke 1981: 3). Other than his size, he was deemed to be of "perfect health: his breathing was free, his sleep undisturbed, and all of the functions of his body in excellent order" (Bondeson 2000: 243). In other words, he was huge but healthy and happy.

His early death (at the time he measured 5 feet, i inch in height and weighed 739 pounds) was bemoaned by fashionable London that had made him one of the sights that had to be visited when you were on the town. When he died, his body had to be removed from the room in which he was staying by demolishing a wall! As his body weight increased, he went on a perpetual diet, without any decrease in his rate of weight gain. Lambert functions here as an exemplar of great size but also of a social status that is attributable to his "freakish" character. Lambert was one of the "case studies" of obesity of the time and created much interest in obesity as part of the world of medical freakishness.

Indeed, Dr. T. Coe's earlier i75i letter to the Royal Society about Mr. Edward Bright, the "fat man at Malden in Essex," has a certain breathless quality about it. Bright was "so extremely fat, and of such an uncommon bulk and weight, that I believe there to be very few, if any, such instances to be found in any country, or upon record in any books" (Coe 1751-2: 188). According to Coe, Bright was descended from a lineage of "remarkably fat" people. Extremely fat as a child, he grew in size and weight over the years until at his death at thirty when he weighted more than 6i6 pounds at 5 feet 9 inches. He was "the gazing-stock and admiration of all people" (Coe 1751-2: 189). He ate "remarkably" and drank much beer, a gallon a day (Coe 1751-2: 191). Those about him saw his "life as a burthen, and death as a happy release" (Coe 1751-2: 192). No respite could have been had by diet or therapy.

William Harvey, one of the noted British obesity specialists turned to the study of obesity in i872, spurred on, he wrote, by William Banting's success (Harvey 1872: vi). Harvey stressed that the new scientific advances in "physiology and animal chemistry" have meant that one could treat obesity as a disease. To that point, he cited the case of Daniel Lambert, the fattest man on record to that time, who died in 1809 at the age of forty weighing 739 pounds. It was suggested there seemed to have been no attempt to "arrest the progress of the disease" in Lambert's case (Harvey 1872: viii). More insights, Harvey opined, could now have "cured" Lambert.

See also Banting

References and Further Reading

Bondeson, Jan (2000) The Two-Headed Boy and Other

Medical Marvels, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. Clarke, David T.D. (1981) Daniel Lambert, Leicester: Leicestershire Museums, Art Galleries and Records Service.

Coe, T. (1751-2) "A Letter ... Concerning Mr. Bright, the Fat Man at Malden in Essex," The Royal Society: Philosophical Transactions 47: 188-9. Harvey, William (1872) On Corpulence in Relation to Disease: with Some Remarks on Diet, London: Henry Renshaw.

Ritvo, Harriet (1997) The Platypus and the Mermaid and Other Figments of the Classifying Imagination, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

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