The Art of Preserving Health
John Armstrong (1708/9-1779)
The Art of Preserving Health: A Poem (London: A. Millar, 1744)
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John Armstrong graduated from the College of Edinburgh in 1732 with a medical degree, but his true calling was poetry. The Art of Preserving Health was his second blank-verse treatise on health topics. It was reprinted many times in England and the United States until well into the nineteenth century. David Hume is said to have praised it as “truly classical; the most Augustan thing we have in English.”
The poem is divided into four books, each dedicated to an aspect of health: air, diet, exercise and the passions. Like many other physicians of his time, Armstrong believed that one’s humors should determine one’s diet. Even so, his advice holds true today:
So heav’n has form’d us to the general taste
Of all its gifts; so custom has improv’d
This bent of nature; that few simple foods
Of all that earth, air, or ocean yield,
But by excess offend.
In other words, Armstrong advises his readers to eat a varied diet and to practice moderation.