“I Am All Over Phlegm”–A Bad Letter-Writer’s Apology

I’m in the middle of transcribing some 4000 images I took of the Lister MSS. at the Bodleian—a collection of letters and other documents written to and collected by Martin Lister, 17th century physician and eventual member of the Royal Society.

One under-explored aspect of this particular archive (which includes luminaries writing about the circulation of plants and other Matters of Import as well as patients writing to Lister for help) is the way in which the malfunctioning body allows letter-writers to finesse  social gaffes. As someone continually apologizing to friends for falling out of touch because of migraines, I admire how Richard Bulkeley apologizes to Lister for not writing sooner:

“My long silence since the receipt of your last (for which I heartily thank you) has not proceeded from my want of affection or respect nor even from forgetfulness, but from that Languor of spirit that I now lie under, a listlessness, a lentor of mind, for indeed it is a month since I first took in hand to write to you, & have sat to it at least half a score times since. But as the Vulgar speak (& they little know how truly) I am all over phlegm, this Viscous pituita so visible to me both in Excrement urine & its other effects, does likewise so habitate my Brain that I am good for nothing.”*

*Spelling has been modernized.



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