An antiepidemiologist

In the British Medical Journal Dalrymple seems amused by a Robert Louis Stevenson tract that argues against worries over health:
Virginibus Puerisque, written in a discursive style not much in fashion nowadays, might be called, among other things, an antiepidemiological text. Its whole spirit is antithetical to that of our times, with our narrow, double entry bookkeeping attitude to life. For example, Stevenson recommends that no woman should marry a teetotaller or a non-smoker, because drinking and smoking imply an ability to enjoy effortless pleasure, a precondition of married contentment. (I do not say that Stevenson is right, I report only what he says.)
He writes an apology for idlers, claiming that “extreme busyness is a symptom of deficient vitality,” whereas “a faculty for idleness implies a catholic appetite and a strong sense of personal identity.” The most important things in life are not taught formally: something that I should suggest medical educators remember, were they not likely to turn the necessity for informal learning into a course with multiple choice questions at the end of it.
But it is in the essay “Aes Triplex” (“triple brass”; that is to say, a strong defence) that he poses his challenge most strongly to the epidemiological philosophy. “It is better,” he says, “to lose health like a spendthrift than to waste it like a miser. It is better to live and be done with it, than to die daily in the sick-room.” This is not a man speaking who is and has always been at the peak of health and cannot imagine what it is to be ill; it is a man speaking who for years has hardly known a day’s respite from his symptoms.
Stevenson’s view of life is romantic, not precautionary: “For surely the love of living is stronger in an Alpine climber roping over a peril, or a hunter riding merrily at a stiff fence, than in a creature who lives upon a diet and walks a measured distance in the interest of his constitution.”
One of his most famous poems (lines from which are inscribed on his tomb in Samoa) starts: “Under the wide and starry sky, / Dig the grave and let me lie. / Glad did I live and gladly die . . .”

3 thoughts on “An antiepidemiologist

  1. Louise

    “Its whole spirit is antithetical to that of our times, with our narrow, double entry bookkeeping attitude to life.”

    No, no, no, Theo sweetie, that would be YOUR double-entry book keeping attitude to life. And maybe a few of your imaginary friends.

  2. Jaxon

    Hi Louise, could you please elaborate on what TD means by double entry book keeping? Maybe it’s obvious, but I struggle with the idea… sincerely though, you might have a point, I’m curious.


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