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By Clark Lawlor (auth.)

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Extra info for Consumption and Literature: The Making of the Romantic Disease

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Beginning by asserting his own medical authority, 30 Consumption and Literature Browne notes that lay persons are often not aware that consumption is fatal, partly because of the fabled spes phthisica or ‘hope of the phthisic’ that, because they feel reasonably well and symptomless, they have hopes of recovery: strange it is, that the common fallacy of consumptive persons, who feel not themselves dying, and therefore still hope to live, should also reach their friends in perfect health and judgement;- that you should be so little acquainted with Plautus’s sick complexion, or that almost an Hippocratical face should not alarm you to higher fears, or rather despair, of his continuation in such an emaciated state, wherein medical predictions fail not, as sometimes in acute diseases, and wherein ‘tis as dangerous to be sentenced by a physician as a judge.

14 Phthisis, a synonym for consumption, is part of a procession of diseases, distinguishing itself by its chronic, inevitably fatal nature and initial lack of obvious symptoms. Garth’s description of phthisis is secular, a manifestation of Augustan thinking cast in terms of a siege metaphor. But Sir Christopher Wyvill’s poem ‘Mors Mea’ (‘My Death’), published half a century earlier in 1647, ponders the matter of how he might die and his preferences for the manner of his going in a religious way.

Here, economic over-consumption is responsible for the medical variety, as the body is unable to digest adequately such new-fangled and sophisticated products, creating a type of blood quality and flow that corrupts the solids – whose job it is to variously direct, retain, alter and separate the fluids. Meat and liquor in particular agitate, accelerate and heat the blood, increasing its corrosive or ‘acrimonious’ properties. The best way to combat these is through a light, vegetarian and milky diet which ‘cools’ the blood back down to a safe state (188, 209).

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