John Armstrong (poet)

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For the poet and journalist (1771-1797), see John Armstrong (journalist/poet).
John Armstrong
Dr. John Armstrong by Sir Joshua Reynolds (c. 1767), courtesy Figge Art Museum, Davenport, USA
Born 1709
Died 1779 (aged 69–70)
Nationality Scottish
Occupation poet, physician
Notable work The Art of Preserving Health (1744)

Dr. John Armstrong (1709–1779) was a physician, poet, and satirist. He was the son of the minister of Castleton, Roxburghshire, Scotland and earned his MD at the renowned University of Edinburgh (being the first to graduate 'with distinction' in 1732) before establishing a practice in London.

He is remembered as the friend of James Thomson, David Mallet, and other literary celebrities of the time, and as the author of a poem on The Art of Preserving Health, which appeared in 1744, and in which a somewhat unpromising subject for poetic treatment is gracefully and ingeniously handled. His other works, consisting of some poems and prose essays, and a drama, The Forced Marriage, are forgotten, with the exception of "The Oeconomy of Love and the four stanzas at the end of the first part of Thomson's Castle of Indolence, describing the diseases incident to sloth, which he contributed.

The "Oeconomy Of Love" has been described as an eighteenth-century guide to sex and is particularly interesting in that the lines:

"To shed thy blossoms thro' the desert air, And sow thy perish'd offspring in the winds"

are thought to be a possible inspiration for the more famous lines by Thomas Gray contained in his "Elegy Written in a Country Church-Yard" as follows:

"Full many a flower is born to blush unseen, And waste its sweetness on the desert air"

However John Armstrong's use of floral metaphor in the "Oeconomy of Love" refers to the unnecessary shedding of semen whilst the author cautions young men against sexual practices that he condemns in his role as poet and physician.


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