Friday, March 05, 2004
I knew I had something in mind when I wrote about pain the other day, but I couldn't remember what it was -- probably another sign of encroaching age. Then it came to me: It was a review in the March Harper's magazine of "Flesh in the Age of Reason" by Roy Porter. Critic Terry Eagleton wrote, "Taking the British eighteenth century as his patch, Porter reminds us with a mixture of horror and hilarity of just what a sickly lot the intellectual luminaries of the age actually were. Samuel Johnson, blighted by scrofula, half-blind in one eye and half-deaf in one ear, may have twitched and gesticulated as convulsively as he did because of epilepsy, cerebral palsy, Tourette's symdrome, or St. Vitus's dance. He was certainly afflicated by clinical depression and terrified of death. Ridden with phobias and grotesque compulsions, the great lexicographer made clucking noises, obsessively fingered lampposts, and muttered violently under his breath. ... His biographer, James Boswell, suffered nineteen bouts of the clap. ... He also had a sizable drinking problem, which hastened his death. ... The great historian Edward Gibbon was crippled by gout, as well as afflicted with an enlargement of the scrotum that was embarrassingly visible to others. 'Have you never observed through my inexpressibles a large prominency circa genitalia?' he inquired with exquisite delicacy of a colleague."