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I lead workshops at the British Library, on literature, language, art, history, and the culture of the book. Author of Discovering Words, Discovering Words in the Kitchen, Evolving English Explored, Team Talk - sporting words & their origins, Trench Talk - the Language of the First World War (with Peter Doyle); How to Cure the Plague; The Finishing Touch. As an artist I work in performance, public engagement, and intervention using drawing, curating, text, changing things and embroidery.

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Friday, 4 January 2013

How to put on a little weight, where necessary


from Artificial EmbellishmentsThomas Jeamson, 1665

To make the body or any part thereof plump and fat, that was before too lean

In a contrary extreme to corpulency are those breathing skeletons that carry Lent in their face as a Christmas feast, and look so meagerly that their confessors, since they have nothing left but skin and bones, dare not for fear of a solecism enjoin them penance to mortify the flesh. No part about them thrives so well as their bones, and these look as elastic as if they had eaten up the flesh and were ready to leap off the skin to fall upon others. Truly, Ladies, such leanness is a ravenous guest, and will keep you bare to maintain him; if you have a mind to be rid of his company, observe these prescriptions following, and I dare engage he shall not long disturb you.

Let your chamber in the summer time be kept something cool and moist with violets, lilies, or the like fresh flowers; before you eat, chafe the body till it look red, then walk and stir about some housewife’s employment. When you eat take nothing that is salt or sharp, bitter or too hot, but let your meats be sweet and of good nourishment, such as fresh eggs, mutton, veal, capon, and for three hours after meat take your recreation in dancing, singing, discoursing, etc. use some baths twice a month, and in the mornings this electuary:

Sweet almonds, pistachio nuts, white poppyseed, butter and sugar; beat these up into the form of an electuary [medicinal paste]; take thereof morning and evening the quantity of a walnut; it quickly fattens and gives a good complexion.

The idea of ‘elasticity’ was of something that would spontaneously expand, so the image is of the bones expanding from eating the flesh, and then leaping off to consume flesh elsewhere; bizarre, and quite disturbing, as is the next offered recipe for putting on flesh:

Take twelve or thirteen lizards or newts, cut off their heads and tails, boil them and let the water stand to cool; take off the grease, mix it with wheat flour, feed a hen therewith till she be fat, then kill her and eat her; this often used will make you exceeding fat. Keep it for a rare and true secret.

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