Banting, William (DNB00)


BANTING, WILLIAM (1797–1878), writer on corpulence, was an undertaker and furnisher of funerals in St. James's Street, London. He was somewhat short in stature (5 feet 5 inches), and with advancing years suffered great personal inconvenience from his increasing fatness. Before sixty years of age he found himself unable to stoop to tie his shoe, ‘or attend to the little offices which humanity requires, without considerable pain and difficulty.’ He was compelled to go downstairs slowly backwards, to avoid the jar of increased weight on the ankle-joints, and with every exertion ‘puffed and blowed in a way that was very unseemly and disagreeable.’ He took counsel with the medical faculty, and was advised to engage in active bodily exercise. He walked long distances, rowed in a boat for hours together, and performed other athletic feats. But all this served but to improve his appetite and add to the weight of his body. On 26 Aug. 1862 he, being in the sixty-sixth year of his age, weighed 202 pounds, or fourteen stone six pounds, an amount which he found unbearable. After trying fifty Turkish baths and ‘gallons of physic’ without the slightest benefit, he consulted Mr. William Harvey for deafness. Mr. Harvey, believing that obesity was the source of the mischief, cut off the supply of bread, butter, milk, sugar, beer, soup, potatoes, and beans, and in their place ordered a diet, the details of which, mainly flesh meat, fish, and dry toast, are given in Tanner's ‘Practice of Medicine’ (i. 148). The result of this treatment was a gradual reduction of forty-six pounds in weight, with better health at the end of several weeks than had been enjoyed for the previous twenty years. The delight at being so much relieved by means so simple induced Banting to write and publish a pamphlet entitled ‘A Letter on Corpulence, addressed to the Public,’ 1863. Written in plain, sensible language, the tract on the ‘parasite corpulence’ at once gained the attention of the public. Edition followed edition in quick succession. ‘To bant’ became a household phrase, and thousands of people adopted the course which the word involves. The Germans have recognised the impression made by the pamphlet in the word ‘Bantingeur,’ which appears in the ‘Conversations-Lexikon.’

Banting died at his house on the Terrace, Kensington, 16 March 1878.

[Blackwood's Mag. xcvi. 607; Tanner's Practice of Medicine; Convers.-Lexikon.]

R. H.