Tissot, as some may know, wrote many books designed for “mass” consumption (well, for the minority mass that could read, that is). These books, ranging from his well-known treatise on onanism and influential Avis au peuple sur sa santé to works on the diseases particular to people of fashion and intellectuals (and an unpublished treatise on women’s health), all promoted similar moral values. Health, according to Tissot, could be more simply understood as a state of equilibrium, or balance. The healthy body was the balanced body. It was a body shaped by a balanced diet (he specifically mentions concerns about excessive consumption of coffee, chocolate, cream, wine, rich meats and sweets) and balanced behaviour. Health, he counseled, was the state that conformed most closely to “nature” (in the Rousseauist sense).

The ill person challenged nature at every turn. Driven by lust, ambition, luxury, desire, jealousy and fear, he suffered from irregularity and excessive sensibility. His internal systems were fundamentally disordered, corrupted, confused, and deprived. Tissot paints this image vividly in the following excerpt:

The man of fashion, disturbed by business, projects, pleasures, disappointments, and the regrets of the day, heated by food and drinks, goes to bed with trembled nerves, agitated pulse, a stomach laboring with the load and acrimony of his food, the vessels full, or juices which inflame them, indisposition, anxiety, the fever accompanies him to bed, and for al ong time keeps him waking; if he closes his eyes, his slumbers are short, uneasy, agitating, troubled with frightful dreams, and sudden startings; instead of the labourer’s morning briskness, he wakes with palpitations, feverish, languid, dry, his mouth out of order, his urine hot, low spirited heavy, ill tempered, his strength impaired, his nerves irritated and lax, his blood thick and inflamed; every night reduces his health and fortifies the seed of some disease. (Samuel-Auguste Tissot, On the Disorders of People of Fashion, 38)

Looking at the admonitions of doctors today, we might say, ruefully (while nursing an extra large espresso, eyeing a delectable creamy treat and planning a dinner of roast lamb, buttery potatoes, flourless chocolate cake and a new Australian wine), that not much has changed.

Drinking Chocolate

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