The eighteenth-century German philosopher Immanuel Kant, native of the Prussian town of Königsberg and a towering figure in Western thought, was in life a rather diminutive man. His writing reveals that he rued his stature, his “flat and narrow chest” in particular. Yet his negative opinion of it appears to have rested on concerns of well-being rather than personal vanity: A chest as slight as his, he wrote, accommodated but “little movement for the heart and lungs.” Similarly cramped must have been his stomach, for it often troubled him. Such complaints notwithstanding, Kant would frequently put to friends the question, “Is it possible to conceive a human being with more perfect health than myself?” Though the question may be thought to mask a boast, it’s likely Kant really sought validation of his daily habits, which were as regular as they were salubrious.
Of the various vegetable hawkers, meat sellers, poulterers and pastry vendors crying up their wares the morning of June 23, 1626, the loudest outburst issued from a fishmonger. Her shout was not, however, one solicitous of traffic but expressive of surprise; for in the stomach of one cod, sliced, salted and ready for sale, she spied a prodigy so arresting as to bring the shoppers of the great Cambridge market stampeding to her stall: a small book wrapped in sail cloth.