Macfadden's Fasting, Hydropathy and Exercise/CHAPTER VII



Hydrotherapy is one of the eldest offspring—perhaps the first-born—of natural hygiene. The desire to relieve the debilitating effects of summer heat by immersion and draughts of cold water is almost as instinctive as the craving for food. And it cannot have been long before the settlers of the higher latitudes noticed the fact that the health-impairing effects of indoor life could be counteracted by the same specific.

A cold bath restored the vigor of the Celtic hunter, emerging dazed from the turf-fumes of his cave-dwelling, and an old Austrian army-officer of my acquaintance was probably not the first toper who contrived to "sober up" at short notice by putting his head under the spout of a horse-pump. In midsummer repeated plunge-baths helped to obviate the risk of dietetic disorders, and as early as A.D. 550 free bathing facilities had come to be included among the principal desiderata of a civilized city. Athens, Corinth, Memphis, Agrigentum, and the great seaport towns of Western Asia had them; in Carthage they were maintained by a public tax and the voluntary contributions of numerous merchant-princes.

Imperial Rome became a Mecca of water-worshipers. Not less than six different aqueducts connected the city with the springs of wooded mountain-ranges — some of them twelve English miles from the corporation limits, and the Grand Thermæ of Caracalla atoned for all the demerits of the eccentric ruler; they formed a series of wall-enclosed artificial lakes, free to all, yet equipped with the conveniences of the most luxurious modern watering-place. The cold-water hall was large enough to accommodate the lovers of aquatic sports, and with its branch-tanks, in fact served the purpose of a swimming school.

Frequent baths were recognized as a main condition of physical welfare, and perhaps for that very reason were neglected by the bigots of an antinatural creed. The self-torturing monks gloried in filth, and Llorente, in his "History of the Inquisition," mentions numerous instances of converts from Mohammedanism incurring suspicion by continuing to practise the daily ablutions of their former faith. One ex-Morisco, a citizen of Cadiz, had a quarrel with a servant-girl, and soon after was arrested and jailed on a charge of apostasy. After being four times arraigned and as often scourged within an inch of his life, he was at last, confronted with his accuser. In her thirst for revenge, the slander-monging slut had denounced him as a backslider and supported her insinuations with the assertion that her former employer was in the habit of locking himself up and taking a bath thrice a week. By sacrificing half his fortune and summoning a dozen medical witnesses, the defendant escaped the stake on a plea of physical necessity; his duties as manager of a woolen mill, he proved, obliged him to avoid cutaneous troubles by extra sanitary precautions, which he otherwise abhorred as practices of benighted misbelievers.

All over the Mediterranean coastlands free public baths were in ruins; but the belief in the concomitance of godliness and dirt does not seem to have been limited to Southern Europe.

"Bathing, being pleasant as well as wholesome," says Henry Buckle, in his description of Scotch kirk-despotism, "was considered a particularly grievous offense; and no man could be allowed to swim on Sunday. It was, in fact, doubtful whether swimming was lawful for a Christian at any time, even on week days, and it was certain that God had on one occasion shown his disproval by taking away the life of a boy while he was indulging in that carnal practice." ("History of Civilization," Vol. II., p. 312.)

"As bathing was a heathenish custom, all public baths were to be destroyed" (by order of the Inquisition) "and even all larger baths in private houses." (Ibid., Vol. II., p. 44.)

That millennium of insanity left its traces in the still far-spread mistrust of our natural instincts, and not before the middle of the eighteenth century a revival of common sense led to the re-establishment of free public baths in several cities of Holland and Southern Europe. Watering-places became fashionable, but the choice of the public favored warm springs, till Squire Priessnitz, a self-educated farmer of Graefenberg, Silesia, called attention to the remedial efficacy of cold-water prescriptions. In his private sanitarium—a mere annex, at first, of a homely farmhouse—he used shower-baths, sponge-baths, sitz-baths, and internal doses of pure water from a cold mountain spring, and proved that for the treatment of debilitating disorders his prescriptions made drugs superfluous.

The theories of the water doctor, as his neighbors called him, were founded on personal experience. Soon after taking charge of a small farm he had been all but killed in a runaway accident. His survival seemed doubtful, and when he left the hospital of a neighboring city he "was a mere bundle of disabilities," stiff-jointed, half lame, and troubled with all sorts of pains and disorders. A swollen foot having been greatly benefited by immersion in cold water, the convalescent tried the effect of an occasional sitz-bath, then of daily all-over sponge-baths, and before the end of the second year had got rid of all his ailments. As far as he could remember, he had, indeed, never felt better in his life, except in early boyhood when a relative now and then took him out to a berry-picking camp in the highlands, and the little lad "wondered if the dwellers in paradise could have been much happier."

In his subsequent school-years he used to take long rambles all by himself, feeling more at home in the mountain cliffs than in the tobacco-clouded village tavern—evidently a child of Nature, with the very instincts that would lead him to abandon drug-traditions for a new gospel of hygiene.

He was no learned man, in the college sense of the word, but had read a good deal and thought more, and his arguments had the force born of intense conviction. Besides, his own experience was an argnmentum ad hominem, and one by one his afflicted neighbors tried the inexpensive prescriptions of the water-doctor. Reformed topers felt their shattered nerves braced as no drugs, no ointments and strengthening diet had braced them before. Rickety youngsters improved till they could join in the sports of their contemporaries and often beat them at their own game. Invalids with one foot in the grave regained their vantage ground on the upper tablelands of health, and one old soldier became so enthusiastic a champion of the new sanitary creed that his savage denunciations of drug-mongers more than once got him into serious trouble.

Squire Priessnitz himself never indulged in invectives, and kept his temper even when the neighboring physicians got him indicted for kurpfuscherie—the unauthorized practise of medicine; "mal-practice" being a term they could not apply to his case, as there were no plaintiffs and it could not be proved that anybody had ever been the worse for a cold-water cure. The sympathy of the public was emphatically on the side of the defendant, who relied on his native eloquence and asked the court if it was fair to force an indictment for the practise of medicine against a man who had never encouraged the belief in the efficacy of medicinal prescriptions or dispensed a grain of drugs in his life. "Bathing," he argued, "is a mere sanitary habit, and you might as well arrest me for advising my neighbors to take more outdoor exercise or try a change of diet."

Those neighbors became a trifle too demonstrative in their applause, and the court warned all concerned to "be more careful hereafter," but, on the whole, thought it best to discharge the prisoner.

The kreis physicus (chief health officer of the district) threatened to appeal the case, but at the urgent advice of a legal friend, concluded to desist.

As a net result of the prosecution, Squire Priessnitz gained so many new patrons that he had to enlarge his sanitarium, and the next year could add a new branch for female patients. As usual in such cases, the charm of novelty attracted additional customers from ever-increasing distances, and two years before his death the now old "water doctor" could boast of having eight patients from France and two from the Netherlands. Women, strange to say, came to outnumber the male visitors, though probably only after Priessnitz had modified his rather heroic routine of prescriptions in favor of hysterical patients.

We should add a few words about the fierce controversy which a few years after Priessnitz's death was excited by the attempt to suppress the "water-cures" which in the meantime had sprung up all over Western Europe. The indignation of the hydropaths now and then rose to a pitch of fury, but their grievance was really worse than the proverbial provocation of saints. In Las Casas' "History of the West Indian Colonies" an eyewitness describes the numerous victims of Spanish despotism, as worn-out fugitives who could be seen perishing in way-side ditches, and faintly crying "Hunger, hunger!"

Even thus the lovers of truth had been persecuted and starved for a long series of centuries. Opponents of the autocrat swindle were slain as rebels. Dissenters from the insanities of the ghost-swindle were burned as heretics. Protests against the delusions of the drug-swindle were silenced by the bullies of the government quack-ring. For the coalition of shams had developed a union of state and drug-stores as oppressive and jealous as the union of State and Church, though the practise of medicine at last almost deserved the stigma of licensed murder.

"Die oft mit ihren hoellischen Latwergen
In diesen Thaelern, diesen Bergen,
Weit schlimmer als die Pest gehaust,"

says Goethe in the Prologue of "Faust"—"with their hellish nostrums they raged worse than the very pestilence."

After a thousand years' reign of Bruno's "Bestia trionfante," the blatant beast of Imposture—truth, for the first time, had got in a word edgeways; one small standard of fact and naturalism had been raised and successfully defended against the swashbucklers of shams. Can we wonder that all friends of reform rushed to its support and repelled aggression as the refugees of an island, rising above the waves of a universal deluge, would repulse an attack of sea-monsters?

Truth, for once, prevailed. Hydrotherapy contrived to hold its own against all comers, and health-seekers could rejoice in the certainty of having found a true remedy for a number of disorders which thus far had been only complicated and aggravated by conventional prescriptions.

No observer, unbiased by hearsay prejudices, could doubt that Priessnitz had discovered a reliable specific for the cure of dyspepsia and nervous debility, for sick headaches, insomnia, and the disorders resulting from over-heating and protracted indoor life.

It is true of the hydrotherapists of the nineteenth century have in several respects modified the methods of the Silesian doctor; but it is also certain that the objections against the main principles of the system have been successfully refuted. There is no danger in three-minute immersions, followed by an energetic use of the towel, and no harm can result from reducing the temperature of the bath to 50° Fahrenheit—least of all in midsummer. The supposed peril, of plunge-baths or draughts of cold water "in the heat," is one of the silliest bugbears of sanitary superstition. Shall we be asked to believe that the most natural of all beverages could become health-endangering when the voice of instinct clamors most urgently for refrigeration? The preposterous absurdity of the idea is rebuked by the example of our instinct-guided fellow-creatures who in warm weather, and after hours of strenuous exercise, drink their fill of cold spring-water, without the slightest hesitation and without any appreciable injurious consequences. Children, admonished not to touch cold water till they are cooled off, might as well be warned against falling asleep when they are tired.

And it is the same with cold baths. Professor Tyndale, in his "Hours of Recreation in the Alps," notices the astonishment of his Swiss guides who saw him plunge into the deep pool of a mountain torrent, after climbing uphill all afternoon in the glare of an August sun. "Their objections," he observes, "seemed to be founded on the difference in the temperature of the sun-heated atmosphere and that of the shaded brook, but that very contrast guaranteed the safety of the venture. In cold weather, when the organism is already suffering from the difficulty of maintaining its inner warmth at the proper medium, a cold bath might have overtaxed the vital staying powers; in midsummer there is no such risk."

And training will even reduce the peril of winter baths to a safe minimum. Nay, the stimulating effect of the reflux of animal warmth (assisted by friction and brisk exercise) is perhaps most noticeable in moderately cold weather; and there are scores of habitués who take plunge-baths in ice-covered rivers to enjoy the subsequent glow of health, and maintain that the practise is the most reliable of all safeguards against the risk of "taking cold." Cold baths incidentally also serve the purpose of a cosmetic. "I would undertake to identify hydropathists of the heroic school by their complexions," says Professor Carl Vogt; "and I have known octogenarians who had preserved the bloom of youth by the persistent use of ice-water."

Bathing, followed by the use of a coarse towel, stimulates the action of the skin to a degree that enables it to facilitate the work of the respiratory organs. Our pores have aptly been called supplementary lungs, and all sorts of impurities are secreted by cutaneous exhalations, as well as by the breathing process.

Water of almost any temperature compatible with comfort would subserve that special end, but only cold water tends to expurgate microbes. Cold sponge-baths have often sufficed to nip an attack of climatic fevers in the bud; and Dr. Sydenham mentions the case of three smallpox patients who were capsized on the way to an island pesthouse, and in spite of (almost certainly because of) their involuntary ice-water bath, recovered with a facility unprecedented in the records of the lazaretto.

Two baths a day, one early in the morning, the other just before supper, is the usual routine of our hydropathic health-resorts, which, besides, prescribe liberal internal doses of cold spring-water. Common sense is bidding fair to prevail against prejudice in regard to the use of cooling beverages in febrile diseases, the world over, and one of our largest American sanitariums (managed mainly on an eclectic plan of reform) now offers its nurses premiums for persuading sufferers from various disorders to drink a maximum quantity of pure cold water.

The stronghold of the drug-delusion, indeed, is getting breached from all sides, but the leaders of the most numerous storming party must plead guilty to the charge of having recruited their ranks by manifold concessions to popular errors. Hydrotherapy has thus far not attained the front rank of progress by a numerical test of success, but its victories can certainly claim prestige as triumphs of uncompromising truth.