Diet and Exercise: Countering Melancholy the Eighteenth-Century Way
Medical understanding of melancholy was transformed in the century following Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy. The discovery of how the nervous system worked meant that black bile was no longer seen as the source of melancholy. Even Jane Austen’s Mrs Bennet knew if was all about your nerves. Who was most likely to suffer? Society doctor, George Cheyne, reassured anxious patients that it was an affliction of society’s elite, a by-product of luxurious living. Importantly, melancholy, according to Cheyne, was quite distinct from madness. But what were sufferers supposed to do to alleviate symptoms? Georgian medicine’s recommendation of diet and exercise might sound remarkably modern, but in fact it was an age-old remedy.
About the speaker
Dr Jane Darcy works on eighteenth- and nineteenth-century literature, with a special interest in the history of medicine. Her book, Melancholy and Literary Biography, 1640-1816, was published by Palgrave in 2013. She teaches in the Department of Comparative Literature at King’s College London, and has an honorary lectureship in the English Department at University College London. She is currently working on a book about the history of the English seaside.
Image: Elise Pacquette Warriner, The Deadly Blue, c.1993 (detail)