John Armstrong Poems >>
The Art Of Preserving Health. Book II

DIET.

Enough of Air. A desart subject now,
Rougher and wilder, rises to my sight.
A barren waste, where not a garland grows
To bind the Muse's brow; not ev'n a proud
Stupendous solitude frowns o'er the heath,
To rouse a noble horror in the soul:
But rugged paths fatigue, and error leads
Thro' endless labyrinths the devious feet.
Farewel, etherial fields! the humbler arts
Of life; the Table and the homely Gods
Demand my song. Elysian gales adieu!

The blood, the fountain whence the spirits flow,
The generous stream that waters every part,
And motion, vigour, and warm life conveys
To every particle that moves or lives;
This vital fluid, thro' unnumber'd tubes
Pour'd by the heart, and to the heart again
Refunded; scourg'd for ever round and round;
Enrag'd with heat and toil, at last forgets
Its balmy nature; virulent and thin
It grows; and now, but that a thousand gates
Are open to its flight, it would destroy
The parts it cherish'd and repair'd before.
Besides, the flexible and tender tubes
Melt in the mildest most nectareous tide
That ripening nature rolls; as in the stream
Its crumbling banks; but what the vital force
Of plastic fluids hourly batters down,
That very force, those plastic particles
Rebuild: So mutable the state of man.
For this the watchful appetite was giv'n,
Daily with fresh materials to repair
This unavoidable expence of life,
This necessary waste of flesh and blood.
Hence the concoctive powers, with various art,
Subdue the cruder aliments to chyle;
The chyle to blood; the foamy purple tide
To liquors, which thro' finer arteries
To different parts their winding course pursue;
To try new changes, and new forms put on,
Or for the public, or some private use.

Nothing so foreign but th' athletic hind
Can labour into blood. The hungry meal
Alone he fears, or aliments too thin;
By violent powers too easily subdu'd,
Too soon expell'd. His daily labour thaws,
To friendly chyle, the most rebellious mass
That salt can harden, or the smoke of years;
Nor does his gorge the luscious bacon rue,
Nor that which Cestria sends, tenacious paste
Of solid milk. But ye of softer clay,
Infirm and delicate! and ye who waste
With pale and bloated sloth the tedious day!
Avoid the stubborn aliment, avoid
The full repast; and let sagacious age
Grow wiser, lesson'd by the dropping teeth.

Half subtiliz'd to chyle, the liquid food
Readiest obeys th' assimilating powers;
And soon the tender vegetable mass
Relents; and soon the young of those that tread
The stedfast earth, or cleave the green abyss,
Or pathless sky. And if the Steer must fall,
In youth and sanguine vigour let him die;
Nor stay till rigid age, or heavy ails,
Absolve him ill--requited from the yoke.
Some with high forage, and luxuriant ease,
Indulge the veteran Ox; but wiser thou,
From the bald mountain or the barren downs,
Expect the flocks by frugal nature fed;
A race of purer blood, with exercise
Resin'd and scanty fare: For, old or young,
The stall'd are never healthy; nor the cramm'd.
Not all the culinary arts can tame,
To wholesome food, the abominable growth
Of rest and gluttony; the prudent taste
Rejects like bane such loathsome lusciousness.
The languid stomach curses even the pure
Delicious fat, and all the race of oil:
For more the oily aliments relax
Its feeble tone; and with the eager lymph
(Fond to incorporate with all it meets)
Coily they mix, and shun with slippery wiles
The woo'd embrace. Th' irresoluble oil,
So gentle late and blandishing, in floods
Of rancid bile o'erflows: What tumults hence,
What horrors rise, were nauseous to relate.
Chuse leaner viands, ye whose jovial make
Too fast the gummy nutriment imbibes:
Chuse sober meals; and rouse to active life
Your cumbrous clay; nor on th' infeebling down,
Irresolute, protract the morning hours.
But let the man whose bones are thinly clad,
With chearful ease and succulent repast
Improve his habit if he can; for each
Extreme departs from perfect sanity.

I could relate what table this demands
Or that complexion; what the various powers
Of various foods: But fifty years would roll,
And fifty more before the tale were done.
Besides there often lurks some nameless, strange,
Peculiar thing; nor on the skin display'd,
Felt in the pulse, nor in the habit seen;
Which finds a poison in the food that most
The temp'rature affects. There are, whose blood
Impetuous rages thro' the turgid veins,
Who better bear the fiery fruits of Ind
Than the moist Melon, or pale Cucumber.
Of chilly nature others fly the board
Supply'd with slaughter, and the vernal powers
For cooler, kinder, sustenance implore.
Some even the generous nutriment detest
Which, in the shell, the sleeping embryo rears.
Some, more unhappy still, repent the gifts
Of Pales; soft, delicious and benign:
The balmy quintessence of every flower,
And every grateful herb that decks the spring;
The fost'ring dew of tender sprouting life;
The best refection of declining age;
The kind restorative of those who lie
Half dead and panting, from the doubtful strife
Of nature struggling in the grasp of death.
Try all the bounties of this fertile globe,
There is not such a salutary food
As suits with every stomach. But (except,
Amid the mingled mass of fish and fowl,
And boil'd and bak'd, you hesitate by which
You sunk oppress'd, or whether not by all
Taught by experience soon you may discern
What pleases, what offends. Avoid the cates
That lull the sicken'd appetite too long;
Or heave with fev'rish flushings all the face,
Burn in the palms, and parch the roughning tongue;
Or much diminish or too much increase
Th' expence, which nature's wise oeconomy,
Without or waste or avarice, maintains.
Such cates abjur'd, let prouling hunger loose,
And bid the curious palate roam at will;
They scarce can err amid the various stores
That burst the teeming entrails of the world.

Led by sagacious taste, the ruthless king
Of beasts on blood and slaughter only lives;
The Tiger, form'd alike to cruel meals,
Would at the manger starve: Of milder seeds
The generous horse to herbage and to grain
Confines his wish; tho' fabling Greece resound
The Thracian steeds with human carnage wild.
Prompted by instinct's never--erring power,
Each creature knows its proper aliment;
But man, th' inhabitant of ev'ry clime,
With all the commoners of nature feeds.
Directed, bounded, by this power within,
Their cravings are well--aim'd: Voluptuous Man
Is by superior faculties misled;
Misled from pleasure even in quest of joy.
Sated with nature's boons, what thousands seek,
With dishes tortur'd from their native taste,
And mad variety, to spur beyond
Its wiser will the jaded appetite!
Is this for pleasure? Learn a juster taste;
And know that temperance is true luxury.
Or is it pride? Pursue some nobler aim.
Dismiss your parasites, who praise for hire;
And earn the fair esteem of honest men,
Whose praise is fame. Form'd of such clay as yours,
The sick, the needy, shiver at your gates.
Even modest want may bless your hand unseen,
Tho' hush'd in patient wretchedness at home.
Is there no virgin, grac'd with every charm
But that which binds the mercenary vow?
No youth of genius, whose neglected bloom
Unfoster'd sickens in the barren shade;
No worthy man, by fortune's random blows,
Or by a heart too generous and humane,
Constrain'd to leave his happy natal seat,
And sigh for wants more bitter than his own?
There are, while human miseries abound,
A thousand ways to waste superfluous wealth,
Without one fool or flatterer at your board,
Without one hour of sickness or disgust.

But other ills th' ambiguous feast pursue,
Besides provoking the lascivious taste.
Such various foods, th' harmless each alone,
Each other violate; and oft we see
What strife is brew'd, and what pernicious bane,
From combinations of innoxious things.
Th' unbounded taste I mean not to confine
To hermit's diet needlesly severe.
But would you long the sweets of health enjoy,
Or husband pleasure; at one impious meal
Exhaust not half the bounties of the year,
Of every realm. It matters not mean while
How much to--morrow differ from to--day;
So far indulge: 'tis fit, besides, that man,
To change obnoxious, be to change innur'd.
But stay the curious appetite, and taste
With caution fruits you never tried before.
For want of use the kindest aliment
Sometimes offends; while custom tames the rage
Of poison to mild amity with life.

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, or air, or ocean yield,
But by excess offend. Beyond the sense
Of light refection, at the genial board
Indulge not often; nor protract the feast
To dull satiety; till soft and slow
A drowzy death creeps on, th' expansive soul
Oppress'd, and smother'd the celestial fire.
The stomach, urg'd beyond its active tone,
Hardly to nutrimental chyle subdues
The softest food: unfinish'd and deprav'd,
The chyle, in all its future wanderings, owns
Its turbid fountain; not by purer streams
So to be clear'd, but foulness will remain.
To sparkling wine what ferment can exalt
Th' unripen'd grape? Or what mechanic skill
From the crude ore can spin the ductile gold?

Gross riot treasures up a wealthy fund
Of plagues: but more immedicable ills
Attend the lean extreme. For physic knows
How to disburden the too tumid veins,
Even how to ripen the half--labour'd blood:
But to unlock the elemental tubes,
Collaps'd and shrunk with long inanity,
And with balsamic nutriment repair
The dried and worn--out habit, were to bid
Old age grow green, and wear a second spring;
Or the tall ash, long ravish'd from the soil,
Thro' wither'd veins imbibe the vernal dew.
When hunger calls, obey; nor often wait
Till hunger sharpen to corrosive pain:
For the keen appetite will feast beyond
What nature well can bear; and one extreme
Ne'er without danger meets its own reverse.
Too greedily th' exhausted veins absorb
The recent chyle, and load enfeebled powers
Oft to th' extinction of the vital flame.
To the pale cities, by the firm--set siege
And famine humbled, may this verse be borne;
And hear, ye hardiest sons that Albion breeds
Long toss'd and famish'd on the wintry main;
The war shook off, or hospitable shore
Attain'd, with temperance bear the shock of joy;
Nor crown with festive rites th' auspicious day:
Such feast might prove more fatal than the waves,
Than war or famine. While the vital fire
Burns feebly, heap not the green fuel on;
But prudently foment the wandering spark
With what the soonest feeds its kindred touch:
Be frugal ev'n of that: a little give
At first; that kindled, add a little more;
Till, by deliberate nourishing, the flame
Reviv'd, with all its wonted vigour glows.

But tho' the two (the full and the jejune)
Extremes have each their vice; it much avails
Ever with gentle tide to ebb and flow
From this to that: So nature learns to bear
Whatever chance or headlong appetite
May bring. Besides, a meagre day subdues
The cruder clods by sloth or luxury
Collected, and unloads the wheels of life.
Sometimes a coy aversion to the feast
Comes on, while yet no blacker omen lours;
Then is a time to shun the tempting board,
Were it your natal or your nuptial day.
Perhaps a fast so seasonable starves
The latent seeds of woe, which rooted once
Might cost you labour. But the day return'd
Of festal luxury, the wise indulge
Most in the tender vegetable breed:
Then chiefly when the summer beams inflame
The brazen heavens; or angry Sirius sheds
A feverish taint thro' the still gulph of air.
The moist cool viands then, and flowing cup
From the fresh dairy--virgin's liberal hand,
Will save your head from harm, tho' round the world
The dreaded Causos roll his wasteful fires.
Pale humid winter loves the generous board,
The meal more copious, and a warmer fare;
And longs with old wood and old wine to chear
His quaking heart. The seasons which divide
Th' empires of heat and cold; by neither claim'd,
Influenc'd by both; a middle regimen
Impose. Thro' autumn's languishing domain
Descending, nature by degrees invites
To glowing luxury. But from the depth
Of winter when th' invigorated year
Emerges; when Favonius flush'd with love,
Toyful and young, in every breeze descends
More warm and wanton on his kindling bride;
Then, shepherds, then begin to spare your flocks;
And learn, with wise humanity, to check
The lust of blood. Now pregnant earth commits
A various offspring to th' indulgent sky:
Now bounteous nature feeds with lavish hand
The prone creation; yields what once suffic'd
Their dainty sovereign, when the world was young;
Ere yet the barbarous thirst of blood had seiz'd
The human breast.--Each rolling month matures
The food that suits it most; so does each clime.

Far in the horrid realms of Winter, where
Th' establish'd ocean heaps a monstrous waste
Of shining rocks and mountains to the pole:
There lives a hardy race, whose plainest wants
Relentless earth, their cruel step--mother,
Regards not. On the waste of iron fields,
Untam'd, intractable, no harvests wave:
Pomona hates them, and the clownish God
Who tends the garden. In this frozen world
Such cooling gifts were vain: a fitter meal
Is earn'd with ease; for here the fruitful spawn
Of Ocean swarms, and heaps their genial board
With generous fare and luxury profuse.
These are their bread, the only bread they know;
These, and their willing slave the deer that crops
The shrubby herbage on their meagre hills.
Girt by the burning Zone, not thus the South
Her swarthy sons in either Ind, maintains:
Or thirsty Libya; from whose fervid loins
The lion bursts, and every fiend that roams
Th' affrighted wilderness. The mountain herd,
Adust and dry, no sweet repast affords;
Nor does the tepid main such kinds produce,
So perfect, so delicious, as the shoals
Of icy Zembla. Rashly where the blood
Brews feverish frays; where scarce the tubes sustain
Its tumid fervour and tempestuous course;
Kind nature tempts not to such gifts as these.
But here in livid ripeness melts the Grape:
Here, finish'd by invigorating suns,
Thro' the green shade the golden Orange glows:
Spontaneous here the turgid Melon yields
A generous pulp: the Coco swells on high
With milky riches; and in horrid mail
The crisp Ananas wraps its poignant sweets.
Earth's vaunted progeny: In ruder air
Too coy to flourish, even too proud to live;
Or hardly rais'd by artificial fire
To vapid life. Here with a mother's smile
Glad Amalthea pours her copious horn.
Here buxom Ceres reigns: Th' autumnal sea
In boundless billows fluctuates o'er their plains.
What suits the climate best, what suits the men,
Nature profuses most, and most the taste
Demands. The fountain, edg'd with racy wine
Or acid fruit, bedews their thirsty souls.
The breeze eternal breathing round their limbs
Supports in else intolerable air:
While the cool Palm, the Plaintain, and the grove
That waves on gloomy Lebanon, assuage
The torrid hell that beams upon their heads.

Now come, ye Naiads, to the fountains lead;
Now let me wander thro' your gelid reign.
I burn to view th' enthusiastic wilds
By mortal else untrod. I hear the din
Of waters thund'ring o'er the ruin'd cliffs.
With holy reverence I approach the rocks
Whence glide the streams renown'd in ancient song.
Here from the desart down the rumbling steep
First springs the Nile; here bursts the sounding Po
In angry waves; Euphrates hence devolves
A mighty flood to water half the East;
And there, in Gothic solitude reclin'd,
The chearless Tanais pours his hoary urn.
What solemn twilight! What stupendous shades
Enwrap these infant floods! Thro' every nerve
A sacred horror thrills, a pleasing fear
Glides o'er my frame. The forest deepens round;
And more gigantic still th' impending trees
Stretch their extravagant arms athwart the gloom.
Are these the confines of some fairy world?
A land of Genii? Say, beyond these wilds
What unknown nations? If indeed beyond
Aught habitable lies. And whither leads,
To what strange regions, or of bliss or pain,
That subterraneous way? Propitious maids,
Conduct me, while with fearful steps I tread
This trembling ground. The task remains to sing
Your gifts (so Paeon, so the powers of health
Command) to praise your crystal element:
The chief ingredient in heaven's various works;
Whose flexile genius sparkles in the gem,
Grows firm in oak, and fugitive in wine;
The vehicle, the source, of nutriment
And life, to all that vegetate or live.

O comfortable streams! With eager lips
And trembling hand the languid thirsty quaff
New life in you; fresh vigour fills their veins.
No warmer cups the rural ages knew;
None warmer sought the sires of human kind.
Happy in temperate peace! Their equal days
Felt not th' alternate fits of feverish mirth,
And sick dejection. Still serene and pleas'd
They knew no pains but what the tender soul
With pleasure yields to, and would ne'er forget.
Blest with divine immunity from ails,
Long centuries they liv'd; their only fate
Was ripe old age, and rather sleep than death.
Oh! could those worthies from the world of Gods
Return to visit their degenerate sons,
How would they scorn the joys of modern time,
With all our art and toil improv'd to pain!
Too happy they! But wealth brought luxury,
And luxury on sloth begot disease.

Learn temperance, friends; and hear without disdain
The choice of water. Thus the Coan sage
Opin'd, and thus the learn'd of every School.
What least of foreign principles partakes
Is best: The lightest then; what bears the touch
Of fire the least, and soonest mounts in air;
The most insipid; the most void of smell.
Such the rude mountain from his horrid sides
Pours down; such waters in the sandy vale
For ever boil, alike of winter frosts
And summer's heat secure. The crystal stream,
Through rocks resounding, or for many a mile
O'er the chaf'd pebbles hurl'd, yields wholesome, pure
And mellow draughts; except when winter thaws,
And half the mountains melt into the tide.
Tho' thirst were e'er so resolute, avoid
The sordid lake, and all such drowsy floods
As fill from Lethe Belgia's slow canals;
(With rest corrupt, with vegetation green;
Squalid with generation, and the birth
Of little monsters till the power of fire
Has from prophane embraces disengag'd
The violated lymph. The virgin stream
In boiling wastes its finer soul in air.

Nothing like simple element dilutes
The food, or gives the chyle so soon to flow.
But where the ftomach indolent and cold
Toys with its duty, animate with wine
Th' insipid stream: Tho' golden Ceres yields
A more voluptuous, a more sprightly draught;
Perhaps more active. Wine unmix'd, and all
The gluey floods that from the vex'd abyss
Of fermentation spring; with spirit fraught,
And furious with intoxicating fire;
Retard concoction, and preserve unthaw'd
Th' embodied mass. You see what countless years,
Embalm'd in siery quintescence of wine,
The puny wonders of the reptile world,
The tender rudiments of life, the slim
Unravellings of minute anatomy,
Maintain their texture, and unchang'd remain.

We curse not wine: The vile excess we blame;
More fruitful than th' accumulated board,
Of pain and misery. For the subtle draught
Faster and surer swells the vital tide;
And with more active poison, than the floods
Of grosser crudity convey, pervades
The far remote meanders of our frame.
Ah! sly deceiver! Branded o'er and o'er,
Yet still believ'd! Exulting o'er the wreck
Of sober vows!--But the Parnassian Maids
Another time perhaps shall sing the joys,
The fatal charms, the many woes of wine;
Perhaps its various tribes, and various powers.

Mean time, I would not always dread the bowl,
Nor every trespass shun. The feverish strife,
Rous'd by the rare debauch, subdues, expells
The loitering crudities that burden life;
And, like a torrent full and rapid, clears
Th' obstructed tubes. Besides, this restless world
Is full of chances, which by habit's power
To learn to bear is easier than to shun.
Ah! when ambition, meagre love of gold,
Or sacred country calls, with mellowing wine
To moisten well the thirsty suffrages;
Say how, unseason'd to the midnight frays
Of Comus and his rout, wilt thou contend
With Centaurs long to hardy deeds inur'd?
Then learn to revel; but by slow degrees:
By slow degrees the liberal arts are won;
And Hercules grew strong. But when you smooth
The brows of care, indulge your festive vein
In cups by well--inform'd experience found
The least your bane: and only with your friends.
There are sweet follies; frailties to be seen
By friends alone, and men of generous minds.

Oh! seldom may the fated hours return
Of drinking deep! I would not daily taste,
Except when life declines, even sober cups.
Weak withering age no rigid law forbids,
With frugal nectar, smooth and slow with balm,
The sapless habit daily to bedew,
And give the hesitating wheels of life
Gliblier to play. But youth has better joys:
And is it wise when youth with pleasure flows,
To squander the reliefs of age and pain!

What dextrous thousands just within the goal
Of wild debauch direct their nightly course!
Perhaps no sickly qualms bedim their days,
No morning admonitions shock the head.
But ah! what woes remain! Life rolls apace,
And that incurable disease old age,
In youthful bodies more severely felt,
More sternly active, shakes their blasted prime:
Except kind nature by some hasty blow
Prevent the lingering fates. For know, whate'er
Beyond its natural fervour hurries on
The sanguine tide; whether the frequent bowl,
High--season'd fare, or exercise to toil
Protracted; spurs to its last stage tir'd life,
And sows the temples with untimely snow.
When life is new, the ductile fibres feel
The heart's increasing force; and, day by day,
The growth advances: till the larger tubes,
Acquiring (from their elemental veins, Condens'd to solid chords) a firmer tone,
Sustain, and just sustain, th' impetuous blood.
Here stops the growth. With overbearing pulse
And pressure, still the great destroy the small;
Still with the ruins of the small grow strong.
Life glows mean time, amid the grinding force
Of viscuous fluids and elastic tubes;
Its various functions vigorously are plied
By strong machinery; and in solid health
The Man confirm'd long triumphs o'er disease.
But the full ocean ebbs: There is a point,
By nature fix'd, whence life must downward tend.
For still the beating tide consolidates
The stubborn vessels, more reluctant still
To the weak throbs of th' ill--supported heart.
This languishing, these strength'ning by degrees
To hard unyielding unelastic bone,
Thro' tedious channels the congealing flood
Crawls lazily, and hardly wanders on;
It loiters still: And now it stirs no more.
This is the period few attain; the death
Of nature; thus (so heav'n ordain'd it) life
Destroys itself; and could these laws have chang'd,
Nestor might now the fates of Troy relate;
And Homer live immortal as his song.

What does not fade? The tower that long had stood
The crush of thunder and the warring winds,
Shook by the slow but sure destroyer Time,
Now hangs in doubtful ruins o'er its base.
And flinty pyramids, and walls of brass,
Descend: the Babylonian spires are sunk;
Achaia, Rome, and Egypt moulder down.
Time shakes the stable tyranny of thrones,
And tottering empires rush by their own weight.
This huge rotundity we tread grows old;
And all those worlds that roll around the sun,
The sun himself, shall die; and ancient Night
Again involve the desolate abyss:
Till the great Father thro' the lifeless gloom
Extend his arm to light another world,
And bid new planets roll by other laws.
For thro' the regions of unbounded space,
Where unconfin'd Omnipotence has room,
Being, in various systems, fluctuates still
Between creation and abhorr'd decay:
It ever did; perhaps and ever will.
New worlds are still emerging from the deep;
The old descending, in their turns to rise.