About Me

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I lead workshops at the British Library, on literature, language, art, history, and the culture of the book; and teach the history of printing at other institutions. I research language usage during the First World War, and lead the Languages and the First World War project. 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; and Words and the First World War. As an artist I work in performance, public engagement, and intervention using drawing, curating, text, changing things and embroidery.


Monday, 17 March 2014

Weight-loss, seventeenth-century style

As the days begin to lengthen and the light comes streaming in through the bedroom window, we may find ourselves surprised by the shape that we recognise in the mirror. We recognise it, but it cannot surely be us. But, yes, it is.

Here is a recipe for weight loss from former times:

Body when too fat, how to reduce it to a beautiful form and handsome proportion 

No-one can think it a very pleasing sight to see a soul struggling under a mountainous load of flesh and the body stretched to such proportions as renders it almost out of shape.  And if they were nothing more than the encumbrance, it were sufficient to deter any one from so unwieldy a a magnitude, yet here in too legible characters those that can read conclude Sloth and Voluptuousness occasioned it; for whene’er the carcase swells itself into a bulk too voluminous idleness is there described in Folio. Ladies then be careful to keep your bodies in a due proportion, and if ever they enlarge themselves to extravagant limits, use the directions to reduce them to their former bounds, so you may regain both your credits and your beauties; Bodies of such proportions, must rise early in the morning, be exercised to sweating, be spare in diet, not eating sweet things, but rather salt, sharp or bitter, especially sauces; lie not over soft at night; bleed in the right arm pretty largely in the  Spring, and in the left in Autumn; purge pretty strongly in those seasons; and once a week take some laxatives; and in winter mornings the powder thus composed: Bray aniseeds, fennel agnus castus, caraway, rue and cumin, nutmegs, pepper, mace, ginger, galingale, and smallage, dry’d marjoram, gentian, round-birthwort, of each an equal part, and by drying, beating and sifting, bring it into a powder, and take in a glass of white wine a dram of it half an hour before meals; and to the heart and liver, as you see cause, lay cooling applications, such as the juice of plantaine, shepherds-purse, lettuce, and the like; and if anyparticular part be more corpulent then the rest, take cerus, fullers-earth, and white lead, mix them with the juice of henbane and oil of myrtle, and when the part has been bathed with vinegar, anoint the place, and the success will be evident.

The Ladies Dictionary, 1694

Large parts of this were pinched from Thomas Jeamson’s Artificial Embellishments, 1665, whose cure was as follows:

Rise early in the mornings and use some violent exercise to sweat often; fast much, rise half-satisfied from your meals; let your first course be oily and fat things, so that the appetite may be soon satiated, and the body kept soluble [free from constipation]; the second course sharp, salt and bitter things; eat all your meats [i.e. foods] with vinegar, pepper, mustard, juice of oranges and lemons; sleep at night on a quilt.

Not bad advice; which I intend to follow, starting next week. Or soon after.