Tag Archives: sedentary study

On the Dangers of Sitting Too Much

Alexander Bayne (c. 1684—1737) was an amiable and cultured man, and the first professor of Scots law at Edinburgh University. Alas, his zeal for the position brought him physical ailments.  In a letter to a friend in March 1736, apologizing for not writing sooner, he says he has been ill, and continues:

This illness I had first brought upon myself by a life too sedentary, and too hard study. In the year 1721, a profession of the municipal law of Scotland, or what you would call its common law, was erected here; and upon the recommendation of our fifteen judges, the patrons of the university of Edinburgh did me the honour to put me in the chair. So high a recommendation occasioned my making it too much a point of honour to fill this chair with some reputation, especially being the first of my profession in this university. I was in great health and vigour, while I was employed in composing my system of lectures, I studied at the rate of fourteen hours a day for eight months successively, and in the first years of my profession wrote with my own hand above sixteen hundred sheets. I soon felt the bad effects of such intense application of the mind, which, however, I thought were more owing to a circumstance in my way and manner of sitting and writing at a low table, by which the bowels were long in a state of being compressed and put out of their natural situation, than to the constant application of thought; for I found very soon the seat of my distemper to be in the lower region.  By great attention to my diet, which I kept very low, never tasting any liquor, but the pure element, for five years, I recovered my former state of health, and preserved it till this last summer…

Up! And away from the keyboard.

The letter was reprinted in: J. Duncombe, Letters by several eminent persons deceased … with notes explanatory and historical, 2 vols. (1772)

For an earlier letter of Alexander Baynes, see The Sparkler.