But an even greater shock, so to speak, awaited me upstairs.

Against the rear wall in one room stood a contraption that looked like it belonged more in Dr. Frankenstein's laboratory than in the Reverend Wesley's study--his "personal electric-shock machine." He'd turn the crank on this crude device to generate a current of electricity through a metal rod, against which he'd press either his tongue, forehead, or an ailing body part--a burn or a sore tooth, for example. In the postscript to "Primitive Physic," Wesley wrote that of all his cures, "one, I must aver from personal knowledge, grounded on a thousand experiments, to be far superior to all other medicines I have known; I mean Electricity."

Wesley claimed electricity was "the nearest [to a] universal medicine of any yet known in the world" and maintained it could cure almost 50 ailments, from deafness and leprosy to stomachaches and even "feet violently disordered." When his brother, Charles, the famous composer of more than 6,000 hymns, lay on his deathbed, John "earnestly advised him to be electrified. Not shocked but only filled with electric fire." Understandably, Charles never roused himself long enough to undergo his brother's cure.

I only refrain from criticizing Wesley for his superstitions about electric shock because I share his preoccupations utterly. I'm with him when he fell sick in 1753 and, convinced he would die any day of "consumption" at age 51, composed his own epitaph "to prevent vile panegyric." He went on to live another 38 years.

"Perhaps the regularity of his life, and the fact that he took regular exercise, helped him age gracefully," observed James Rogers, driving the stake further into me, a guy whose life is about as regular as flash flooding in the Mojave desert. To which Betsy added, in a tone that made me want to hire a housekeeper, "He looked wonderful, too. His step was firm and his appearance, to within a few years of his death, was vigorous and muscular. His face was one of the finest I have ever seen--a clear, smooth forehead, an aquiline nose; an eye the brightest and most piercing that can be conceived; and a freshness of complexion scarcely even to be found at his years and expressive of the most perfect health."

Gee, maybe I'll search eBay for an electric-shock machine.

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