Monday, August 19, 2013

farts considered

My buddy Charles emails me a link to The Royal Academy of Farting, a webpage that shows a letter written by Benjamin Franklin to the Royal Academy of Brussels in 1781. I suppose that, after the Revolutionary War, many of our country's forefathers had the time and leisure to meditate on matters gastric. Franklin's missive is hilarious, especially if read aloud. Consider this passage:

It is universally well known, That in digesting our common Food, there is created or produced in the Bowels of human Creatures, a great Quantity of Wind.

That the permitting [of] this Air to escape and mix with the Atmosphere, is usually offensive to the Company, from the fetid Smell that accompanies it.

That all well-bred People therefore, to avoid giving such Offence, forcibly restrain the Efforts of Nature to discharge that Wind.

That so retain’d contrary to Nature, it not only gives frequently great present Pain, but occasions future Diseases, such as habitual Cholics, Ruptures, Tympanies, &c. often destructive of the Constitution, & sometimes of Life itself.

Were it not for the odiously offensive Smell accompanying such Escapes, polite People would probably be under no more Restraint in discharging such Wind in Company, than they are in spitting, or in blowing their Noses.

My Prize Question therefore should be, To discover some Drug wholesome & not disagreable, to be mix’d with our common Food, or Sauces, that shall render the natural Discharges of Wind from our Bodies, not only inoffensive, but agreable as Perfumes.

That this is not a chimerical Project, and altogether impossible, may appear from these Considerations. That we already have some Knowledge of Means capable of Varying that Smell. He that dines on stale Flesh, especially with much Addition of Onions, shall be able to afford a Stink that no Company can tolerate; while he that has lived for some Time on Vegetables only, shall have that Breath so pure as to be insensible to the most delicate Noses; and if he can manage so as to avoid the Report, he may any where give Vent to his Griefs, unnoticed.


Even centuries later, I don't think we've reached a point where we can render farts pleasant to the nose, but we've come close to minimizing the need to fart with products like Beano.

I'd love to know how Brussels reacted to Franklin's scientific challenge. Do you suppose those distinguished scientists read his correspondence aloud to much guffawing (and perhaps an accidental fart or two)?

A French-speaking coworker, back sometime around 1999 or thereabouts, gave me a reprint of a hilarious 18th-century document titled "De la manière de chier," or "On the way of shitting." (Some would translate "chier" as "to crap," but "to shit" also works fine in this context.) I wonder where that document went. Probably packed up somewhere. Ah—here's the writeup:

...ce bel adage, connu de tout le monde, et fondé sur l'expérience et sur la raison : Chacun trouve que son étron à [sic] l'odeur bonne.


Elle [cette opinion] est conforme au cours ordinaire de nos sentiments et de nos passions, suivant lequel, tout ce qui vient de nous, nous est toujours cher. Car enfin, Messieurs, qu'est-ce qu'un étron ? C'est notre ouvrage, c'est le fruit de nos entrailles, c'est un enfant malheureux que nous allons abandonner pour toujours.

...this beautiful adage, known to all and based on experience and reason: each person thinks his own turd smells good.


[This thesis] dovetails with the ordinary courses of our feelings and passions, according to which all that comes from us is always dear to us. Because in the end, Sirs, what is a turd? It is our work; it is the fruit of our loins; it is an unfortunate child that we are going to abandon forever.

Translation trivia: the phrase "le fruit de [mes] entrailles" is normally translated into its English equivalent, "fruit of [my] loins," a reference to children. The word entrailles obviously means guts or entrails, but "fruit of my entrails" is too literal a translation and fails to capture the parent/child sense the author intends.


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