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The Ethics of Diet - A Catena
by Howard Williams M.A., 1883

Leonardi Lessio 1554-1623 [also known as Lessii or Lessius]
(text from the Appendix to the 1st edition, 1883)

Born at Brechten, a town in Brabant, of influential family, this noted Hygeist, at a very early age, exhibited so exceptional a disposition as to be known among his school-fellows as the "prophet." His ardour for learning was so intense as to cause him to forget the hours of meals, and to reduce his time for sleep to the shortest period possible. Having obtained a scholarship at the Arras College in Louvain, Lession pursued the course of studies there with the greatest success, and by his fellow-students was proclaimed "prince of philologers." At the age of seventeen he entered the Society of Jesus. Two years later he was elected Chair of Philosophy at Douai. In 1585 he accepted the Professorship of Theology at Louvain.

So extraordinary were the respect and veneration which he had attracted in his Order and from all who had access to him, that not only did his death cause the greatest regret, but (as we are assured) his friends contended among themselves for possession of every possible relic and memento "of one who had composed so admirable works." He was interred before the high altar of the church of his college in Louvain. Held in high honour during life, after his death so rare an ornament of his Church was signally eulogised by the Pope, Urbano VIII.; and he was even believed to have worked miracles. His praises are expecially recorded in a book entitled De Vitâ et Moribus R. P. Leonardi Lessii - reprinted at Paris, 1644.

Principal writings: De Justiâ et de Jure Actionum Humanarum, &c. (reprinted seven times). Many of the propositions, it seems eventually came under the censure of the Theological Daculty, the Bisops, and the Pontiffs.

Quœ Fides et Religio sit Capessenda, Consultatio. Anvers, 1610. In the estimation of S. François de Sales, a work "not so much that of Lessio as of an Angel of the Judgement (Ange du Grand Conseil).

Hygiasticon (Anvers, 1613-14, 8vo); it is superfluous to remark, his really valuable work. It was translated from the latin into French by Sebastian Hardy, with the title of Le Vrai Régime de Vivre pour la Conservation de Corps et de l'Ame. Paris, 1646. Another editor, La Bonnodière, added notes, republishing it under the title of De la Sobriété et de Ses Avantages. Paris 1701.

"Lession," writes the author of the article in the Biographie Universelle, "having been condemned by the physicians to have no more tha two years longer to live, himself studied the principles of Hygeine, was struck by the example of Cornaro, resolved to imitate him, and found himself so well from such imitation that he translated his book (Della Vita Sobria), joining to it the results of his own experience, to which he owed the prolongation og his life by forty years." For the rest, he was a man of extensive erudition; and Justus Lipsius celebrates, in some fine verse, the variety of his talents. (See Biog. Universelle Ancienne et Moderne. À Paris, chez Michand, 1819).

The Hygiasticon is prefaced by testimonials from three eminent physicians, setting forth their concurrence in the principles of the author. The English translation (1634) has prefixed to it addresses, in verse, to him; one of which is by Cranshaw, the friend of Cowley, and a Dialogue bewteen Glutton and Echo, also in verse. Affixed to this edition are an English version of Cornaro, by George Herbert, and a translation of an anonymous treatise by another Italian writer - That a Spare Diet is better than a splendid and Sumptuous One : A Paradox.

In his chap. v. "Of the Advantages which a Sober Diet brings to the Body, and first, That it freeth almost from all Diseases" - Lession promises the adherents of it, that in the first place :-

"It doth free a man and preserve him from almost all maner of diseases. Fot it rids him of catarrhs, coughs, wheezings, dizziness, and pain in the head and stomach. It drives away apoplexies, lethargies, falling-sickness, and other ill-affections of the brain. It cures the gout in the feet and in the hands; the sciatica and diseases in the joints. It also prevents crudity (indigestion), the parent of all diseases. In a word, it so tempers the humours. and maintains them in an equal proportion, that they hurt not any way, either in quantity or quality. And this both reasonand experience do confirm. For we see that those who keep themselves to a sober course of diet are very seldom, or rather never, molested with dieases; and if at any time they happen to be oppressed with sickness, they do bear it much better, and sooner recover than those others whose bodies are full frought with ill-humours.

"I know very many who, though they be weak by natural constitution, and well grown in years, and continually busied in employments of the mind, nevertheless by the help of this temperance, live in health, and have passed the greater part of their lives, which have been many years long, without any notable sickness. . . .

"The self-same comes to pass in wounds, bruises, puttings out of joint, and breaking of bones; in regard that there is either no flux at all of ill-humours, or, at least, very little of that part affected. . . . Furthermore an abstinent diet doth arm and fortify against the plague; for the venom thereof is much better resisted if the body be clear and free - whereof Sokrates brought to pass that he himself was never sick of the plague, which ofttimes greatly wasted the city of Athens, where he lived, as Laertus writeth. The third commodity of the diet is that, although it doth not cure such diseases as are incurable in their own nature, yet it doth so much mitigate and allay them as that they are easily borne, and do not much hinder the functions of the mind. This is seen by daily experience."

Lession proceeds to descant upon the other benefits of the reformed regimen - such as that it prolongs life (other things being equal) to extreme ols age, produces cheerfulness, activity, memory, and the like. (1)


    1. "Hygisticon : Onthe Right Course of Preserving Life and Health unto Extreme Old Age : together with Soundness and Integrity of the Senses, Judgement and Memory. Written in Latin by Leonard Lessius, and now done into English. The second edition. Printed by the printers to the Universitie of Cambridge, 1634." Lessio, like his master Cornaro, Haller, and many other advocates of a reformed diet, was influenced not at all by humanitarian, but by health reasons only.


Howard Williams, The Ethics of Diet - index