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No. 195 [from The Spectator]
by [?]

Nature delights in the most plain and simple Diet. Every Animal, but Man, keeps to one Dish. Herbs are the Food of this Species, Fish of that, and Flesh of a Third. Man falls upon every thing that comes in his Way, not the smallest Fruit or Excrescence of the Earth, scarce a Berry or a Mushroom, can escape him.

It is impossible to lay down any determinate Rule for Temperance, because what is Luxury in one may be Temperance in another; but there are few that have lived any time in the World, who are not Judges of their own Constitutions, so far as to know what Kinds and what Proportions of Food do best agree with them. Were I to consider my Readers as my Patients, and to prescribe such a Kind of Temperance as is accommodated to all Persons, and such as is particularly suitable to our Climate and Way of Living, I would copy the following Rules of a very eminent Physician. Make your whole Repast out of one Dish. If you indulge in a second, avoid drinking any thing Strong, till you have finished your Meal; [at [3]] the same time abstain from all Sauces, or at least such as are not the most plain and simple. A Man could not be well guilty of Gluttony, if he stuck to these few obvious and easy Rules. In the first Case there would be no Variety of Tastes to sollicit his Palate, and occasion Excess; nor in the second any artificial Provocatives to relieve Satiety, and create a false Appetite. Were I to prescribe a Rule for Drinking, it should be form’d upon a Saying quoted by Sir William Temple; [4] The first Glass for my self, the second for my Friends, the third for good Humour, and the fourth for mine Enemies. But because it is impossible for one who lives in the World to diet himself always in so Philosophical a manner, I think every Man should have his Days of Abstinence, according as his Constitution will permit. These are great Reliefs to Nature, as they qualifie her for struggling with Hunger and Thirst, whenever any Distemper or Duty of Life may put her upon such Difficulties; and at the same time give her an Opportunity of extricating her self from her Oppressions, and recovering the several Tones and Springs of her distended Vessels. Besides that Abstinence well timed often kills a Sickness in Embryo, and destroys the first Seeds of an Indisposition. It is observed by two or three Ancient Authors, [5] that Socrates, notwithstanding he lived in Athens during that great Plague, which has made so much Noise through all Ages, and has been celebrated at different Times by such eminent Hands; I say, notwithstanding that he lived in the time of this devouring Pestilence, he never caught the least Infection, which those Writers unanimously ascribe to that uninterrupted Temperance which he always observed.

And here I cannot but mention an Observation which I have often made, upon reading the Lives of the Philosophers, and comparing them with any Series of Kings or great Men of the same number. If we consider these Ancient Sages, a great Part of whose Philosophy consisted in a temperate and abstemious Course of Life, one would think the Life of a Philosopher and the Life of a Man were of two different Dates. For we find that the Generality of these wise Men were nearer an hundred than sixty Years of Age at the Time of their respective Deaths. But the most remarkable Instance of the Efficacy of Temperance towards the procuring of long Life, is what we meet with in a little Book published by Lewis Cornare the Venetian; which I the rather mention, because it is of undoubted Credit, as the late Venetian Ambassador, who was of the same Family, attested more than once in Conversation, when he resided in England. Cornaro, who was the Author of the little Treatise I am mentioning, was of an Infirm Constitution, till about forty, when by obstinately persisting in an exact Course of Temperance, he recovered a perfect State of Health; insomuch that at fourscore he published his Book, which has been translated into English upon the Title of [Sure and certain Methods [6]] of attaining a long and healthy Life. He lived to give a 3rd or 4th Edition of it, and after having passed his hundredth Year, died without Pain or Agony, and like one who falls asleep. The Treatise I mention has been taken notice of by several Eminent Authors, and is written with such a Spirit of Chearfulness, Religion, and good Sense, as are the natural Concomitants of Temperance and Sobriety. The Mixture of the old Man in it is rather a Recommendation than a Discredit to it.

Having designed this Paper as the Sequel to that upon Exercise, I have not here considered Temperance as it is a Moral Virtue, which I shall make the Subject of a future Speculation, but only as it is the Means of Health.


[Footnote 1: ‘The History of the Greek King and Douban the Physician’ told by the Fisherman to the Genie in the story of ‘the Fisherman.’]

[Footnote 2: Diog. Laert., ‘Lives of the Philosophers’, Bk. vi. ch. 2.]

[Footnote 3: and at]

[Footnote 4: Sir William Temple does not quote as a saying, but says himself, near the end of his ‘Essay upon Health and Long Life of Government of Diet and Exercise’,

‘In both which, all excess is to be avoided, especially in the common use of wine: Whereof the first Glass may pass for Health, the second for good Humour, the third for our Friends; but the fourth is for our Enemies.’]

[Footnote 5: Diogenes Laertius in ‘Life of Socrates’; AElian in ‘Var. Hist.’ Bk. xiii.]

[Footnote 6: The Sure Way]