is health necessary? Is civilization dangerous to our health? …
But whatever the effects of civilization upon health, there has always been a sizable group of people- sick or well- who cannot bring themselves to care about good health. These are the chronically lazy, who, while their betters are suiting up to run, yoga, cycle etc. , they burrow under the covers for another hour’s sleep; the dietetically indolent, who don’t mind that sauce bearnaise isn’t good for them and who wouldn’t dream of reading the nutritional information on a package of Lucky Charms; the emaciated, bookish souls who invent excuses to sit in on a bench while everyone else is plying street hockey.
Well, among the movers and shakers of the world they will find they have company, particularly- to choose a ripe category- among the literary. Think of Samuel Johnson, who though relatively sober himself, passed much of his time with friends who were drunkards. An ill-formed child who grew to be an ill-formed man, the victim of scrofula in early infancy, shaken all his life by strange nervous tics, Sam Johnson probably never knew what it meant to feel well. Yet he was perfectly capable of putting out a bi-weekly journal, written chiefly by himself, while he toiled away on his dictionary and formulated plans for future works.
And of course, Balzac.Overweight, overworked, a sure candidate for heart disease. His daily round began about midnight when he arose, after six hour,s sleep, and started to write- often for fifteen hours at a stretch. One of his unhygienic habits was drinking coffee, made in a concentration as thick as soup according to his biographer Andre Maurois, who, quoting Balzac, wrote, “taken on an empty stomach coffee causes inflammation, griping and other ill-effects, and then the mind is aroused, ideas pour out like regiments of the Grande Armee.” He died of heart failure at fifty-one, but then, so has many another person without Balzac’s dependence on stimulants, and without writing The Human Comedy.