Magazine article Nutrition Health Review

The Romantic Death; in the 19th Century, Tuberculosis Was So Prevalent That Poets, Artists and Musicians Glorified the Spirituality of the Disease

Magazine article Nutrition Health Review

The Romantic Death; in the 19th Century, Tuberculosis Was So Prevalent That Poets, Artists and Musicians Glorified the Spirituality of the Disease

Article excerpt

Instead of acute terro, in many observers and victims of the fatal disease the attitude was one of lofty melancholy. Tuberculosis had gained the reputation of being spirutal, a cleanser of base qualities. Its victims wasted away ethereally.

Perhaps the illusion of agraceful ascent from life was enhanced by the literary aura that emanated from some of its victims: Robert Louis Stevenson, the great novelist; Thomas Mann, author of the Magic Mountain, a literary classic that used a sanatorium as its background; HJenry David Thoreau; the Bronte sisters; Elizabeth Barrett Browning; and many other luminaries of the time, including Frederic Chopin, the composer.

At the crest of the Romantic Movement, Rene Dubos, M.D., French-born phsyician and author of twenty scientific books and essays, observed that "to be consumptive was almost a makr of distinction, and the pallor caused by the disease was part of the standard of beauty.

"The Romantic English poet George Gordon Byron longed to achieve this physical appearance. He is reported to have said while looking in a mirror, 'I look pale. I should like to die of consumption . . . because ladies would says . . . how interesting he looks in dying.'"

Dr. Dubos also observed that the taste for looking sickly during that period was reflected in the wan, ethereal heroines found in the pre-Raphaelite paintings of Rossetti, Morris and others and especially in the theatre and opera. …

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