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The recipe to “Make a man” – origins?

Hullo, Geeple. Here’s some ridiculous ‘bonus’ content.

Joanna’s right – this subject is a great demonstration of what happens when I want to find something really specific and can’t stop myself from falling down the rabbit hole. So, I thought I’d add a bit of commentary to my page of notes. I think you’ll enjoy the extracts I managed to dig up. They seem like good supplementary material to Wintersmith.


Here’s the newsgroups post that sent me on a wild goose chase.

One of Daibhid Ceanaideach’s annotations reads:

“‘iron enough to make a nail'”
Google suggests that this originates with Professor C.E.M.
Joad, but my Google-fu doesn’t extend to where he said it. The
last three lines, mentioned by Tiffany later, don’t seem to be

Terry Pratchett replies:

Believe me or not, but I’ve never heard that version. When I was a kid–
and still now — you get / got these ‘The human body contains enough
iron to make a nail’ articles[1], so I dug up a list of ‘ingredients’
and assembled the song from scratch, finding suitable uses that would
work in Tiffany’s world. On the farm, sulphur would be a pest control
and fumigant, for example.

There is in fact not a huge overlap with the only Joad version I can
find on-line, and I doubt if he would have countenanced the last three

[1] An Edwardian version says: “It would take the iron in the blood of
thousand men to make a ploughshare.”

I do believe him, obviously, but that wasn’t going to stop me tracking down the version to which Daibhid referred. I love searching for things like this. Hearing that someone else tried and failed? That’s red-rag-to-a-bull stuff.

C.E.M. Joad

I’d never heard of Prof. Joad, but was immediately fascinated when I googled his name. The wiki preview reads:

Cyril Edwin Mitchinson Joad was an English philosopher, author, teacher and broadcasting personality. He appeared on The Brains Trust, a BBC Radio wartime discussion programme. He popularised philosophy and became a celebrity, before his downfall in a scandal over an unpaid train fare in 1948.

I don’t have time to write about him at length, but I highly recommend reading about him if you haven’t already.

Interest piqued, I had a go at the obvious search terms and found nothing but…

Christian sites

Superficial googling was, indeed, a wash. It turns up sparse and contradicting versions of this quote from Joad, and usually paints him as a dreadful materialist cynic who didn’t take the soul into account when reeling off the ‘ingredients list’. This seemed unlikely.

I was then hindered by a religious book which not only misquoted the man but pointed me to the wrong book. (WHY?!) This took a while to confirm, as some older books on archive.org are hard to search – the OCR gets stuff wrong, and I didn’t know exactly the wording I was after. Still, I feel that I enriched myself. Somewhat.

The Brains Trust

I began a needle-in-a-haystack search through some promising Brains Trust recordings. For example:

I had to give up on this line of enquiry before the 1940s BBC accent settled permanently into my inner monologue.


Finally, and I’m afraid I really can’t remember how, I came across this Faraday Paper by Michael Poole, whose footnotes finally led me to…

A Formula for a Human Being.

The extract below is copied and pasted straight from C.E.M Joad’s Philosophy For Our Times (1940) pp146-147.

Let us now extend our consideration to the whole which is a human being ; for a human being also may be regarded as a collection of parts. There is, for example, a celebrated prescription for the constituents of a human body, quoted by Mr. B. A. Howard in his book The Proper Study of Mankind :

Enough water to fill a ten-gallon barrel ;

enough fat for seven bars of soap ;

carbon for 9,000 lead pencils ;

phosphorus for 2,200 match-heads ;

iron for one medium-sized nail ;

lime enough to whitewash a chicken coop ; and

small quantities of magnesium and sulphur.

Take these ingredients, combine them in the right proportions in the right way and the result, apparently, is a man. This, at least, is one of the things that a man is. There is, in other words, a scientific formula for the production of human bodies as there is for the production of any other commodity. And, if it be objected that the formula applies only to the body, and that the mind has been left out of the recipe, we have only to go to the biologists and geneticists for information as to genus, species, race, initial inheritance, and distribution of chromosomes and genes, and to the psychologists for a statement of inherited disposition, temperament, mental structure and unconscious complexes, and the mind and character can be brought within the bounds of the formula. Now just as, if you know the formula for the ingredients of a chemical compound, you know how the compound will behave in such and such conditions, so, from the standpoint of science, if you know the formula for the ingredients of a man’s bodily and mental constitution, you can tell how a human being will behave in such and such circumstances ; for, directly you take it to pieces and examine the parts, each part as we have seen appears to be completely determined by the others. The human being, then, as science conceives him, is a determined function of the constituents of his body and mind.

As you can see just from this extract, the lazy bloggers did Joad a big disservice. Read more of the surrounding chapters and you’ll realise just how big. The prof was many things, but he was not a caricature of a narrow-minded chemist.

An Interesting Prescription

The extract below is painstakingly typed (copy/paste didn’t go well due to image quality!) from B.A. Howards’ The Proper Study of Mankind (1933), pp17-19.

A Dr T.E. Lawson has recently published an interesting prescription. If you take
Enough water to fill a ten-gallon barrel ;

enough fat for seven bars of soap ;

carbon for 9,000 lead pencils ;

phosphorus for 2,200 match-heads ;

iron for one medium-sized nail ;

lime enough to whitewash a chicken coop ; and

small quantities of magnesium and sulphur

you get, apparently, a Man. That is, indeed, what he is, or one of the things he is: a block of carbon, phosphorus, iron and a few more ingredients, bound together with a liberal dose of water. In individuals the proportions vary– a Mussolini, for instance, would perhaps have more iron; others may contain more soft soap. To make a man, you just mix these things together in the right proportions and in the right way. That’s all.

An attractive theory…

A physicist would put the matter rather differently. He would say that man is, in part, an immense collection of minute electric charges, whirling round in complicated orbits; and that the rest of him, by far the larger part of his bulk, is mere emptiness. The chemist thinks of man as being chiefly water and the physicist thinks of him as chiefly a vacuum; and they are both right. It is true, for instance, that if man’s body were analysed in a chemistry laboratory, something like the above list of products would result. It would be far more difficult, but conceivably possible, to reverse the process, and by assembling these elements in the right way to construct a synthetic man. But there is one good reason why no one is likely to waste his time in attempting it. For the result would be a dead man. No one has yet constructed in a chemistry laboratory any form of life at all. It is only Nature’s laboratory which has produced a living man.

Chemical analysis is a good servant but a bad master. Applied to the human body, it can find out some useful things; it can assist in the study and prevention of disease. But as a method of finding out anything about the essential nature of man it is almost valueless. It is researching in a field where its writ does not run.

We might as well ask the chemist to discover the real nature of a poem. His analysis will deal with the paper on which it is printed and the ink employed; he will find little difference between Blake’s Milton and The Vicar of Bray. Another kind of analysis would be needed to bring out the difference; an analysis of metre, rhythm, style and content. But something would elude even that kind of enquiry. For the value of Milton depends on two things; what Blake was trying to express when he wrote it, and what it evokes in our minds when we read it; and that depends on the whole past history of our minds.

So it is with man. He is certainly a compound of carbon and iron; but he is more than that. He is also a bundle of inherited dispositions; a student; a citizen; an artist; a shipwright; a statesman; and a dreamer. Some people regard him as an enterprising ape; others, a a fallen angel; still others think that both ape and angel are inextricably mixed in him, that he is at once a quarrelsome bit of protoplasm and the Image of God. Externally, he is a member of a complicated human society, eking out his living on the surface of a globe; internally, he is a mass of swarming fears and hopes. In short, he is a living thing. An as such he is in a state of flux; he is evolving; what he was once he is not now; what he is now he will not be a million years hence. This time of entity does not yield up its secrets under chemical analysis.

Flash forward to now…

I’m finally starting this last bit at 22:25 on 17 December 2023. The podcast goes out at midnight. I have created drama. Not purposefully, but let’s lean into it. Can I find a closer-to-primary source than the eloquent B.A. Howard before we all turn into pumpkins?

Right. So. We’re looking for the recipe from a Dr T.E. Lawson.

First I find a reference from the miscellaneous stories in an Australian newspaper – The Grenfell Record and Lachlan District Advertiser, 21 January 1932:


What constitutes a man’s body?

A London paper says that Dr. T. E. Lawson’s prescription for a man aroused some interest.

With these ingredients you get an Einstein or village idiot, according as
you arrange the ingredients. A pugilist, no doubt, will require a little more water, and a jockey a little less fat: but that is the stuff of humanity.

Item No. 3 seems to indicate that man was predestined to authorship.

I don’t have time to find out why the pugilist jibe is funny. I’m sorry. I’ll look later.

I find the same story, almost word-for-word, in The Reflector, an Indiana newspaper, also from 1932. Same again in the Manchester Evening Herald.

I’m starting to think this is a bit of 1930s viral content with no proper source.

Over to the British Newspaper Archive. Searching “Dr T.E. Lawson” throws up too many random entries, so I try the more specifically grim “enough fat for seven bars of soap”.

I don’t have a subscription at the moment, so I’ll take what I can from previews.

… Dr. Thomas Lawson, are all the ingredients of the body of an average man of 10 stone Ten gallons of ivater enough fat for seven bars of soap; carbon for 9,000 lead pencils; phosphorus for 2,200 match heads magnesium for one dose of salts iron for one m …

Ooh. That one, from The Bystander, is dated 1931. We have a first name. We’re closer! It’s now 23:23.

…And this one, from The Grantham Journal, is 1927! OK, fine. I’ll log in. Use up one of my precious free page views.

Oh, bloody hell. This version has a different originator!

The Rev. A. P. Gower-Rees preaching on Sunday at Bolton Parish Church, Bradford, referred to the evolution controversy and, stressing the importance of the soul compared with the body, said : —

“Take the average policeman, height anything from five feet ten inches to six feet, and weighing about 160lb. In that twelve stone you have enough fat to make seven bars of soap, enough magnesium to make a dose of magnesia, enough potassium to fire a boy’s toy cannon, and enough lime to whitewash a hen-coop. With a little sulphur thrown in. So that six feet would cost four bob in a chemist’s shop– though the wholesale price would be about 2s. 3d.”

Rev. A.P. Gower Rees… gotta be this guy, right? The ‘football parson”. Educated in Cambridge, worked up north until he moved to Canada. That’s the fella.

It’s 23:37. If I want to get this formatted to be even slightly legible before midnight I need to stop. Argh. I may resume this search another time — if you have any more luck before then, please let me know!

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