Born in England in 1770, in his youth Daniel Lambert taught swimming, and apprenticed as an engraver, but then took over his father’s post as jailer on a nobleman’s estate. Apparently, he treated the prisoners decently, and would even testify on their behalf. Lambert’s real aptitude and expertise were with the animals, mainly dogs and horses, employed in the sports pursued by the monied gentry.
He said he didn’t drink, but it is possible that in those days, they thought of beer as something akin to water, and only considered the consumption of hard liquor as “drinking.” He also claimed to eat sparingly, but somehow just got fatter and fatter until he was the largest human in recorded history.
Working out constantly, he fought the weight. He could lift and carry 560 pounds. He once went on a seven-mile hike with several normal-weight gentlemen who tired long before he did. Even when gigantic, he continued to teach swimming, but had to give up hunting because no horse could hold him.
A change of scene
Broke and unemployable, Lambert moved to London and morphed into a tourist attraction. Each day as many as 400 people, some of whom traveled remarkable distances for the privilege, paid an admission fee to lay eyes on him. But his fans were not just the common people.
Anyone who wanted to matter in the social scene rushed to befriend Daniel Lambert. Appreciating his knowledge of sports and animal husbandry, the “in crowd” of wealthy people who owned country houses flocked to him. Of course, he had to dress the part of a gentleman, despite the fact that six average gentlemen could have fit into one pair of his pants. The tailoring was expensive, and a full outfit would cost him well over $2,000 in today’s money.
Other days, other ways
It was, as they say, a different time. Obesity did not carry stigma or shame; it was just another way to be noteworthy and stand out from the crowd. Somewhat like the Michelin Man in more recent days, his name became a byword, a synonym for “huge.” Numerous eating and drinking establishments were christened in his honor. Almost 100 years later, the prodigious Château de Chambord was called by a writer “the Daniel Lambert among châteaux.”
In those days, Madame Tussaud’s wax museum was a popular London attraction, and to be depicted there meant that a person was really Somebody — which he was. England has a mythological character called John Bull, roughly equivalent to America’s Uncle Sam. Some people, including cartoonists, envisioned John Bull as looking a lot like Lambert. In two of the vintage political cartoons shown on this page, he appears as the embodiment of the spirit of Britain, as opposed to Napoleon Bonaparte, the military and political leader of France. The middle picture is an oil painting.
(To be continued…)