F ounder of Methodism and the author of what was one of the bestselling popular medical handbooks in England from 1750 to 1850 (Gadsby 1996: 17), Wesley noted in 1747 that "nothing conduces more to health, than abstinence and plain food with due labour. For studious persons, about eight ounces of animal food, and twelve of vegetable in twenty-four hours is sufficient" (Wesley 1747: xvii). Diet is central, yet "a due degree of exercise is indispensably necessary to health and long life" (Wesley 1747: xviii).
Wesley's view on diet owed much to his reading of the dietary physician Cheyne as a student at Oxford. His dietetics argued appropriateness of food and quantities for good health. One must "suit the quality and quantity of the food to the strength of our digestion; to take always such a sort and such a measure of food as fits light and easy to the stomach" (Wesley 1747: xviii). But his views also reflected his own theological acceptance of fasting as part of a rejection of the sumptuous foods of modern life. For him, fasting becomes a divinely inspired means by which the individual and the community acknowledge the need for abstemious self-denial to praise God, expiate sin and avert divine wrath. To this he added the benefits to health of fasting, which he borrows from Cheyne's dietetics (Griffiths 2004: 32). For Wesley, fasting is a form of dieting to cure the results of the sin of the "excess of food . . . they have indulged in their sensual appetites, perhaps even impairing their bodily health, certainly to the no small hurt of their soul" (Wesley 1747: 40). Fasting is thus the abstention "from what had wellnigh plunged them in everlasting perdition. They often wholly refrain; always take care to be sparing and temperate in all things" (Wesley 1747: 41). Health is not merely a divine state but it is the absence of the sin of gluttony. It can be achieved through dieting (Wesley 1747: 43).
Wesley also proposed electrotherapy for such maladies. "Electrifying," he argued, "in a proper manner cures" a wide range of illnesses from blindness to wens (Deb-ourgo 2001). This claim led to Wesley's 1759 book of electrical treatments in which he builds on the theoretical work on electricity of Benjamin Franklin (1706-90) and the speculative, medical applications of Richard Lovett, a lay clerk at Worcester Cathedral (Wesley 1771: 29). For Wesley, the intervention in nature through the harnessing of electricity did not "imply any denial of, or distrust in, Divine Providence" (Wesley 1771: 29). Electricity, as the electrician Andrew Crosse is to note a century later, is
"the great principle by which the Almighty puts together, and separates [... it is] the right arm of God" (Cleaveland 1853: 1). Thus, metaphysics trumps the disease of the rational scholar.
See also Cheyne; Electrotherapy; Franklin; Religion and Dieting
References and Further Reading
Cleaveland, C.H. (1853) "Galvanism: Its Application As
Remedial Agent," New York: S.W. Benedict. Debourgo, James (2001) "Electrical Humanitarianism in North America: Dr. T. Gale's Electricity, or Ethereal Fire, Considered (1802)," in Paola Bertucci and Giuliano Pancaldi (eds), Electric Bodies: Episodes in the History of Medical Electricity, Bologna: Universita di Bologna, pp. 117-56. Gadsby, Joseph (1996) Rev. John Wesley MA: Holistic Healing, Electrotherapy and Complementary Medicine, Leicester: Teamprint. Griffiths, R. Marie. (2004) Born Again Bodies: Flesh and Spirit in American Christianity, Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press. Wesley, John (1747) Primitive Physic: or, An Easy and Natural Method of Curing Most Diseases, London: Thomas Trye.
-(1771) The Desideratum: or, Electricity Made Plain and Useful/by a Lover of Mankind, and Common Sense, Bristol: W. Pine.
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