Fat Man In Broadway
( Originally Published 1914 )
BRILLAT SAVARIN, like many French gentlemen, fled to the United States to escape the "Terreur" of 1793. He observed, as many other travelers have, the unusual proportion of fat men in New York. Is it a heritage of Dutch ancestry? Or is it due, as Brillat surmised, to the extraordinary amount of pastries, pies, sweets and corn products eaten in that commonwealth? Conjecture runs amok. Walking in Broadway in the first years of the nineteenth century, Brillat-Savarin saw a man a monument, a mountain of a man who might serve as lesson to this later '(and scarce leaner) century; and he wrote :
"The most extraordinary instance of corpulency I have ever seen was that of an inhabitant of New York, whom many _of my readers must have seen sitting in a tavern in Broadway, on an enormous arm-chair with legs strong enough to bear a church. Edward was at least six feet four in height; and, as his fat had swelled him out in every direction, he was over eight feet at least in girth. His fingers were like those of the Roman Emperor who used his wife's bracelets for rings; his arms and thighs were cylindrical, as thick as the waist of an ordinary man; and his feet like those of an elephant, covered with the overlapping fat of the legs. His lower eyelids were kept down by the weight of the fat on his cheeks; but what made him more hideous than anything else was the three round chins of more than a foot long hanging over his breast, so that his face looked like the capital of a truncated pillar.
"He sat thus beside a window of a low room opening on the street, drinking from time to time a glass of ale, of which there was a huge pitcher always near.
"His singular appearance could not fail to attract the attention of the passers-by, but they had to be careful not to remain too long. Edward quickly sent them about their business, calling out, in his deep tones, 'What are you staring at like wild-cats?' 'Go on your way, you lazy body' 'Off with you, you good-for-nothing dogs.' During several conversations I had with him, he assured me he was by no means unhappy and that if death did not come to disturb his plans, he could willingly remain as he was to the end of the world."
Now this little fragment of local history is not without significance. Edward, elephant-footed, girthed like a caisson, was content to remain as he was. He had none of the shame of fatness that stings even the most in-different American to-day. To-day no fat man pretends that he is paunch-proud. He would fain be like other men his height measurably greater than his width.