Matthews, Brander, ed. (1852–1929). The Oxford Book of American Essays. 1914.
Benjamin Franklin (17061790)
III Dialogue Between Franklin and the Gout
Midnight, 22 October, 1780.
Eh! Oh! eh! What have I done to merit these cruel sufferings?
GOUT.Many things; you have ate and drank too freely, and too much indulged those legs of yours in their indolence.
FRANKLIN.Who is it that accuses me?
GOUT.It is I, even I, the Gout.
FRANKLIN.What! my enemy in person?
GOUT.No, not your enemy.
FRANKLIN.I repeat it, my enemy; for you would not only torment my body to death, but ruin my good name; you reproach me as a glutton and a tippler; now all the world, that knows me, will allow that I am neither the one nor the other.
GOUT.The world may think as it pleases; it is always very complaisant to itself, and sometimes to its friends; but I very well know that the quantity of meat and drink proper for a man, who takes a reasonable degree of exercise, would be too much for another, who never takes any.
FRANKLIN.I take—eh! oh!—as much exercise—eh!—as I can, Madam Gout. You know my sedentary state, and on that account, it would seem, Madam Gout, as if you might spare me a little, seeing it is not altogether my own fault.
FRANKLIN.Oh! eh! oh! Ohhh! As much instruction as you please, Madam Gout, and as many reproaches; but pray, Madam, a truce with your corrections!
GOUT.No, Sir, no,—I will not abate a particle of what is so much for your good,—therefore—
FRANKLIN.Oh! ehhh!—It is not fair to say I take no exercise, when I do very often, going out to dine and returning in my carriage.
GOUT.That, of all imaginable exercises, is the most slight and insignificant, if you allude to the motion of a carriage suspended on springs. By observing the degree of heat obtained by different kinds of motion, we may form an estimate of the quantity of exercise given by each. Thus, for example, if you turn out to walk in winter with cold feet, in an hour’s time you will be in a glow all over; ride on horseback, the same effect will scarcely be perceived by four hours’ round trotting; but if you loll in a carriage, such as you have mentioned, you may travel all day and gladly enter the last inn to warm your feet by a fire. Flatter yourself then no longer, that half an hour’s airing in your carriage deserves the name of exercise. Providence has appointed few to roll in carriages, while he has given to all a pair of legs, which are machines infinitely more commodious and serviceable. Be grateful, then, and make a proper use of yours. Would you know how they forward the circulation of your fluids, in the very action of transporting you from place to place; observe when you walk, that all your weight is alternately thrown from one leg to the other; this occasions a great pressure on the vessels of the foot, and repels their contents; when relieved, by the weight being thrown on the other foot, the vessels of the first are allowed to replenish, and, by a return of this weight, this repulsion again succeeds; thus accelerating the circulation of the blood. The heat produced in any given time depends on the degree of this acceleration; the fluids are shaken, the humors attenuated, the secretions facilitated, and all goes well; the cheeks are ruddy, and health is established. Behold your fair friend at Auteuil; a lady who received from bounteous nature more really useful science than half a dozen such pretenders to philosophy as you have been able to extract from all your books. When she honors you with a visit, it is on foot. She walks all hours of the day, and leaves indolence, and its concomitant maladies, to be endured by her horses. In this, see at once the preservative of her health and personal charms. But when you go to Auteuil, you must have your carriage, though it is no farther from Passy to Auteuil than from Auteuil to Passy.
FRANKLIN.Your reasonings grow very tiresome.
GOUT.I stand corrected. I will be silent and continue my office; take that, and that.
FRANKLIN.Oh! Ohh! Talk on, I pray you.
GOUT.No, no; I have a good number of twinges for you to-night, and you may be sure of some more tomorrow.
FRANKLIN.What, with such a fever! I shall go distracted. Oh! eh! Can no one bear it for me?
GOUT.Ask that of your horses; they have served you faithfully.
FRANKLIN.How can you so cruelly sport with my torments
GOUT.Sport! I am very serious. I have here a list of offenses against your own health distinctly written, and can justify every stroke inflicted on you.
FRANKLIN.Read it then.
GOUT.It is too long a detail; but I will briefly mention some particulars.
FRANKLIN.Proceed. I am all attention.
GOUT.Do you remember how often you have promised yourself, the following morning, a walk in the grove of Boulogne, in the garden de la Muette, or in your own garden, and have violated your promise, alleging, at one time, it was too cold, at another too warm, too windy, too moist, or what else you pleased; when in truth it was too nothing, but your insuperable love of ease?
FRANKLIN.That I confess may have happened occasionally, probably ten times in a year.
GOUT.Your confession is very far short of the truth; the gross amount is one hundred and ninety-nine times.
FRANKLIN.Is it possible?
GOUT.So possible, that it is fact; you may rely on the accuracy of my statement. You know M. Brillon’s gardens, and what fine walks they contain; you know the handsome flight of an hundred steps, which lead from the terrace above to the lawn below. You have been in the practice of visiting this amiable family twice a week, after dinner, and it is a maxim of your own, that “a man may take as much exercise in walking a mile, up and down stairs, as in ten on level ground.” What an opportunity was here for you to have had exercise in both these ways! Did you embrace it, and how often?
FRANKLIN.I cannot immediately answer that question.
GOUT.I will do it for you; not once.
GOUT.Even so. During the summer you went there at six o’ clock. You found the charming lady, with her lovely children and friends, eager to walk with you, and entertain you with their agreeable conversation; and what has been your choice? Why, to sit on the terrace, satisfy yourself with the fine prospect, and passing your eye over the beauties of the garden below, without taking one step to descend and walk about in them. On the contrary, you call for tea and the chess-board; and lo! you are occupied in your seat till nine o’clock, and that besides two hours’ play after dinner; and then, instead of walking home, which would have bestirred you a little, you step into your carriage. How absurd to suppose that all this carelessness can be reconcilable with health, without my interposition!
FRANKLIN.I am convinced now of the justness of Poor Richard’s remark, that “Our debts and our sins are always greater than we think for.”
GOUT.So it is. You philosophers are sages in your maxims, and fools in your conduct.
FRANKLIN.But do you charge among my crimes, that I return in a carriage from M. Brillon’s?
GOUT.Certainly; for, having been seated all the while, you cannot object the fatigue of the day, and cannot want therefore the relief of a carriage.
FRANKLIN.What then would you have me do with my carriage?
GOUT.Burn it if you choose; you would at least get heat out of it once in this way; or, if you dislike that proposal, here’s another for you; observe the poor peasants, who work in the vineyards and grounds about the villages of Passy, Auteuil, Chaillot, etc.; you may find every day among these deserving creatures, four or five old men and women, bent and perhaps crippled by weight of years, and too long and too great labor. After a most fatiguing day, these people have to trudge a mile or two to their smoky huts. Order your coachman to set them down. This is an act that will be good for your soul; and, at the same time, after your visit to the Brillons, if you return on foot, that will be good for your body.
FRANKLIN.Ah! how tiresome you are!
GOUT.Well, then, to my office; it should not be forgotten that I am your physician. There.
FRANKLIN.Ohhh! what a devil of a physician!
GOUT.How ungrateful you are to say so! Is it not I who, in the character of your physician, have saved you from the palsy, dropsy, and apoplexy? one or other of which would have done for you long ago, but for me.
FRANKLIN.I submit, and thank you for the past, but entreat the discontinuance of your visits for the future; for, in my mind, one had better die than be cured so dolefully. Permit me just to hint, that I have also not been unfriendly to you. I never feed physician or quack of any kind, to enter the list against you; if then you do not leave me to my repose, it may be said you are ungrateful too.
GOUT.I can scarcely acknowledge that as any objection. As to quacks, I despise them; they may kill you indeed, but cannot injure me. And, as to regular physicians, they are at last convinced that the gout, in such a subject as you are, is no disease, but a remedy; and wherefore cure a remedy?—but to our business,—there.
FRANKLIN.Oh! oh!—for Heaven’s sake leave me! and I promise faithfully never more to play at chess, but to take exercise daily, and live temperately.
GOUT.I know you too well. You promise fair; but, after a few months of good health, you will return to your old habits; your fine promises will be forgotten like the forms of the last year’s clouds. Let us then finish the account, and I will go. But I leave you with an assurance of visiting you again at a proper time and place; for my object is your good, and you are sensible now that I am your real friend.