Popular Science Monthly/Volume 18/February 1881/Physical Education II
By FELIX L. OSWALD, M. D.
BUT, under all circumstances, make a firm stand against the poison-habit. It is best to call things by their right names, The effect upon the animal economy of every stimulant is strictly that of a poison, and every poison may become a stimulant. There is no bane in the South American swamps, no virulent compound in the North American drug-stores—chemistry knows no deadliest poison—whose gradual and persistent obtrusion on the human organism will not create an unnatural craving after a repetition of the lethal dose, a morbid appetency in every way analogous to the hankering of the toper after his favorite tipple. Swallow a tablespoonful of laudanum or a few grains of arsenious acid every night: at first your physical conscience protests by every means in its power; nausea, gripes, gastric spasms, and nervous headaches warn you again and again; the struggle of the digestive organs against the fell intruder convulses your whole system. But you continue the dose, and Nature, true to her highest law to preserve life at any price, finally adapts herself to an abnormal condition—adapts your system to the poison at whatever cost of health, strength, and happiness. Your body becomes an opium-machine, an arsenic-mill, a physiological engine moved by poison, and performing its vital functions only under the spur of the unnatural stimulus. But by and by the jaded system fails to respond to the spur, your strength gives way, and, alarmed at the symptoms of rapid deliquium, you resolve to remedy the evil by removing the cause. You try to renounce stimulation, and rely once more on the unaided strength of the vis vitæ. But that strength is almost exhausted. The oil that should have fed the flame of life has been wasted on a health-consuming fire. Before you can regain strength and happiness, your system must readapt itself to the normal condition, and the difficulty of that rearrangement will be proportioned to the degree of the present disarrangement; the further you have strayed from Nature, the longer it will take you to retrace your steps. Still, it is always the best plan to make your way back somehow or other, for, if you resign yourself to your fate, it will soon confront you with another and greater difficulty. Before long the poison fiend will demand a larger fee; you have to increase the dose. The "delightful and exhilarating stimulant" has palled, the quantum has now to be doubled to pay the blue-devils off, and to the majority of their distracted victims that seems the best, because the shortest, road to peace. Restimulation really seems to alleviate the effects of the poison-habit for a time. The anguish always returns, and always with increased strength, as a fire, smothered for a moment with fuel, will soon break forth again with a fiercer flame.
By these symptoms the disease of the poison-habit may be identified in all its disguises, for the self-deception of the poor lady who seeks relief in a cup of the same strong tea that has caused her sick headache is absolutely analogous to that of the pothouse sot who hopes to drown his care in the source of all his misery, or of the frenzied opium-eater who tries to exorcise a legion of fiends with the aid of Beelzebub. There are few accessible poisons which are not somewhere abused for the purpose of intoxication: the Guatemala Indians fuddle with hemlock-sap, the Peruvians with coca, the Tartars with fermented mare's milk, the Algerians with hasheesh; but, wherever men have dealings with the "fiend that steals away their brains," there are always Ancient Lagos who mistake him for a "good familiar creature," till he steals their health and wealth as well as their wits. Their woes are not the penalty of their persistent blindness, but of their first open-eyed transgression. There is a Spanish proverb to the effect that it is easier to keep the devil out than to turn him out, and many dupes of the Good Familiar would actually think it an ingratitude to turn him off; but they should have known better than to admit him when he presented himself with horns and claws. To a normal taste every poison is abhorrent, and with the rarest exceptions the degree of the repulsiveness is proportioned to that of the virulence. In the mouth of a healthy child, rum is a liquid fire; beer, an emetic; tea and coffee, bitter decoctions; tobacco-fumes revolt the stomach of the non-habitué Only blind deference to the example of his elders will induce a boy to accustom himself to such abominations; if he were left to the guidance of his natural instincts, intoxication would be anything but an insidious vice.
With all its ramifications, the poison-habit is a upas-tree which has polluted the well-springs and tainted the very atmosphere of our social life. The woe which the human race owes to alcohol alone is so far beyond description that I will here only record my belief that its total interdiction will form the first commandment in the decalogue of the future. The power of prejudice has its limits. No man, possessed of a vestige of common sense, can read the scientific literature that has accumulated upon the subject, and doubt that even the moderate use of distilled liquors as a beverage amply justifies the belief in the existence of unqualified evils. The effects of tea and coffee drinking are also well understood, but I must call attention to an often overlooked though most important feature of the habit—its progressiveness. The original moderate quantum soon palls, and it is this craving of the system for the same degree of stimulation which leads us to Johnsonian excesses or to the adoption of a stronger stimulant. Men generally prefer the latter alternative. Coffee, tea, and tobacco pave the way to opium in the East and to alcohol in the West. The same holds true of pungent spices. Pepper and mustard form the vanguard of the poison fiend. They inflame the liver, produce a morbid irritability of the stomach, cause numerous functional derangements by impeding the process of assimilation, and thus become auxiliary in expediting the development of the poison-habit. Whatever irritates the digestive organs or unusually exhausts the vital forces tends to the same effect. Besides, they blunt the susceptibility of the gustatory nerves, and thus diminish our enjoyment of the simple viands that should form our daily food. In trying to heighten that enjoyment, the surfeited gastronome defeats his own purpose: all sweetmeats pall; the most appetizing dishes he values only as a foil to his caustic condiments, like the Austrian peddler who trudges through the flower-leas of the Alpenland in a cloud of nicotine, and to whom the divine afflatus of the morning wind is only so much draught for his tobacco-pipe.
With a single and not quite explained exception, man is the only animal that resorts to stimulation: a few ruminant mammals—cows, sheep, and deer—pay an occasional visit to the next salt-lick. The carnivora digest their meat without salt; our next relatives, the frugivorous four-handers, detest it. Not one of the countless tonics, cordials, stimulants, pickles, and spices, which have become household necessities of modern civilization, is ever touched by animals in a state of nature. A famished wolf would shrink from a "deviled gizzard." To children and frugivorous animals our pickles and pepper sauces are, on the whole, more offensive than meat, and therefore, probably more injurious. To savages, too. In the summer of 1875 I stood one evening near the quartermaster's office at Fort Wingate, New Mexico, when two Kiowa Indians applied for permission to water their famished horses at the Government cistern, offering to accept that boon in part payment of a load of brushwood which they proposed to haul from the neighboring chaparral. The fellows looked thirsty and hungry themselves, and, while the quartermaster ratified the wood-bargain, one of the officers sent to his company quarters for a lunch of such comestibles as the cooks might have on hand at that time of the day. A trayful of "Government grub" was deposited on the adjacent cord-wood platform, and the Indios pitched in with the peculiar appetite of carnivorous nomads. A yard of commissary sausage was accepted as a tough variety of jerked beef; yeasted and branless bread disappeared in quantities that would have confirmed Dr. Graham's belief in natural depravity; they sipped the cold coffee and eyed it with a gleam of suspicion, but were reconciled by the discovery of the saccharine sediment, and the cook was just going to replenish their cups when the senior Kiowa helped himself to a vinegar pickle, which he probably mistook for some sort of an off-color sugarplum. He tasted it, rose to his feet, and dashed the plate down with a muttered execration, and then clutched the prop of the platform to master his rising fury. Explanations followed, and a pound of brown sugar was accepted as a peace-offering, but the children of Nature left the post under the impression that they had been the victims of a heartless practical joke. "D—n their breechless souls, they don't know what's good for them!" was the cook's comment, which I should endorse if his guests had been in need of a blister. A slice of a peppered and allspiced vinegar pickle will blister your skin as quick as a plaster of Spanish flies. The lady-friends of Dio Lewis have promised us an "Art of Cookery for Total Abstainers," and, if the book should correspond to the title, I would suggest a motto: "No spice but hunger; no stimulant but exercise."
By avoiding pungent condiments we also obviate the principal cause of gluttony. It is well known that the admirers of lager-beer do not drink it for the sake of its nutritive properties, but as a medium of stimulation, and I hold that nine out of ten gluttons swallow their peppered ragoûts for the same purpose. Only natural appetites have natural limits. Two quarts of water will satisfy the normal thirst of a giant, two pounds of dates his hunger after a two days' fast. But the beer-drinker swills till he runs over, and the glutton stuffs himself till the oppression of his chest threatens him with suffocation. Their unnatural appetite has no limits but those of their abdominal capacity. Poison-hunger would be a better word than appetite. What they really want is alcohol and hot spices, and, being unable to swallow them "straight," the one takes a bucketful of swill, the other a potful of grease into the bargain.
But gluttony has one other cause—involuntary cramming. Fond mothers often surfeit their babies till they sputter and spew, and it is not less wrong to force a child to eat any particular kind of food against his grain—in disregard of a natural antipathy. Such aversions are allied to the feeling of repletion by which Nature warns the eater to desist, and, if this warning is persistently disregarded, the monitory instinct finally suspends its function; overeating becomes a morbid habit, our system has adapted itself to the abnormal condition, and every deviation from the new routine produces the same feeling of distress which shackles the rum-drinker to his unnatural practice. Avoid pungent spices, do not cram your children against their will, and never fear that natural aliments will tempt them to excess. But I should add here that of absolutely innocuous food—ripe food and simple farinaceous preparations—a larger quantity than is commonly imagined can be habitually taken with perfect freedom from injurious consequences. On the Upper Rhine they have Trauben-Curen—sanitaria where people are fed almost exclusively on ripe grapes in order to purify their blood. The grapes generally used for this purpose are of the variety known as Muskateller, with big, honey-sweet berries of a most enticing flavor. "Doesn't such physic tempt your patients?" I asked the manager of a famous Trauben-Cure; "don't they dose themselves to a damaging extent?" His answer surprised me, "Damaging? Yes, sir," said he, "they damage my pocket, some of them do, though I charge them three florins a day, lodgers five. They can not damage themselves by eating Muskateller."
Never stint the supply of fresh drinking-water. The danger of water-drinking in warm weather has been grossly exaggerated. Cold water and cold air are the two scapegoats that have to bear the burden of our besetting sins. There is, indeed, something preposterous in the idea that Nature would punish us for indulging a natural appetite to its full extent. Sheep that have been fed on dry corn-husks all winter sometimes break into a clover-field and eat till they burst; but who ever heard of a dyspeptic bear, or of an elk prostrated by a fit of gastric spasms? And yet we need not doubt that wild animals eat while their appetite lasts. If we lock them up and deprive them of their wonted exercise, their appetite, too, diminishes. In short, as long as we confine ourselves to our proper diet, our stomachs never call for more than we can digest. There are things that have to be eaten in homœopathic doses to prevent surfeit, but respecting such stuff (Limburger, caviare, etc., I would say, as of spices and alcohol), abstinence is better than temperance. In convivial neighborhoods sporadic cases of surfeit are almost as unavoidable as Christmas dinners and school picnics; but their effects are as transient as their causes. For children, a nearly infallible peptic corrective is a fast day passed in cheerful out-door exercise. By a curious law of periodicity, the mind will stray to the dining-room when the wonted meal-time comes around, even if genuine appetite does not return with that hour, but fishing, hunting, and ball-playing divert our thoughts from such channels, and, returning late in the evening from a good day's sport, the periodicity of bedroom-thoughts, aided by fatigue, overcomes the latent craving for food without the least effort. Try the experiment.
Want of appetite is not always a morbid symptom, nor even a sign of imperfect digestion. Nature may have found it necessary to muster all the energies of our system for some special purpose, momentarily of paramount importance. Organic changes and repairs, teething, pleuritic epurations, and the external elimination of bad humors (boils, etc.), are often attended with a temporary suspension of the alimentary process. The instinct of domestic animals thus generally counteracts the influence of abnormal circumstances. As a rule, it is always the safest plan to give Nature her own way, and was thus proved even in the extreme cases of more than one bona fide fasting girl, whose system, for recondite reasons of its own, preferred to subsist on air for weeks and months together.
In regard to the quality of food, too, there are intuitive dislikes which should not be disregarded, because they can not always be accounted for. I do not say likes and dislikes; a child's whimsical desire to treat innutritious or injurious substances as comestibles should certainly not be encouraged as long as its hunger can be appeased with less suspicious aliments. For it is a curious fact that all unnatural practices—the eating of indigestible matter as well as of poisons—are apt to excite a morbid appetency akin to the stimulant habit. The human stomach can be accustomed to the most preposterous things. The Otomacs, of South America, whose forefathers in times of scarcity may have filled their bellies with loam, are now afflicted with a national penchant for swallowing inorganic substances. In New Caledonia, habitués often eat as much as two pounds of ferruginous clay a day, and a similar stuff is sold in the markets of Bolivia, and finds eager purchasers, even when better comestibles are cheaper. Professor Ehrenberg procured a sample of this clay which was supposed to contain organic admixtures or some kind of fat; but his analysis proved that it consists of talc, mica, and a little oxide of iron. According to Malte-Brun, the Lisbon lazzaroni chew all day long the insipid, leathery kernels of the carob-bean (Mimosa silica), and the most popular "chewing-gum" is said to be composed chiefly (not entirely, I hope) of resin, paraffine, and triturated caoutchouc! Still, Ehrenberg's analysis makes stranger things credible. I do not doubt that a man might contract a habit of swallowing a couple of slate-pencils or a dime's worth of shoe-strings every morning.
But an innate repugnance to a special dish, or even to a special class of aliments, may be indulged very cheaply, and certainly very safely, as long as there are other available substances of the same nutritive value. Abnormal antipathies may indicate constitutional abnormities, and among the curious cases on record there are some which clearly preclude the idea of imaginative influences. I knew a Belgian soldier on whom common salt, in any combination, and in any dose exceeding ten pennyweights, acted as a drastic poison, and thousands of Hindoos can not taste animal food without vomiting. Similar effects have obliged individuals to abstain from onions, sage, parsnips, and even from Irish potatoes. Dr. Pereira mentions the case of an English boy who had an incurable aversion to mutton: "He could not eat mutton in any form. The peculiarity was supposed to be owing to caprice, but the mutton was repeatedly disguised and given to him unknown; but uniformly with the same result of producing violent vomiting and diarrhœa. And from the severity of the effects, which were in fact those of a virulent poison, there can be little doubt that, if the use of mutton had been persisted in, it would soon have destroyed the life of the individual."
It may be considered as a suggestive circumstance that the great plurality of such instinctive aversions relate either to stimulants or to some kind of animal food. To one person whose stomach can not bear bread or apples, we shall find a thousand with an invincible repugnance to pork, coffee, and pungent condiments. It is also certain that, by voluntary abstinence from all such things, the vigor of the alimentary organs can be considerably increased. The Danish sailors whom the Dey of Algiers had fed on barley and dates for a couple of months, found that after that they "could digest almost anything."
By adopting an absolutely non-stimulating, chiefly vegetable diet, combined with active exercise in open air, the most dyspeptic glutton can cure himself in the course of a single season, and by the same means every boarding-school might become a dietetic sanitarium. The following list of hygenic menus is arranged in the order of their digestibility and wholesomeness:
Milk, bread, and fruit.—Eggs (raw or whipped), bread and honey.—Boiled eggs, bread, and apples (ancient Rome).—Bread and butter, rice-pudding, with sugar and fresh milk.—Corn-bread or roasted chestnuts, butter, honey, and grapes (the usual diet of the long-lived Corsican mountaineers).—Fish, butter, oatmeal-porridge, and fresh milk (Danish Islands).—Pancakes, honey or new molasses, poached eggs, boiled milk, and bread-pudding.—Vegetable soups, baked beans, potatoes (baked or mashed), butter, biscuits, and apple-dumplings.
General Rules. Avoid stimulants; alcoholic and narcotic drinks, tobacco, and all pungent spices; be sparing in the use of animal food, especially in summer-time; in midsummer eat fruit with every meal; let unprepared food (fresh milk, fruits, etc.) form a part of your daily fare; of unprepared aliments as well as of all unspiced viands, the most palatable are the most wholesome; eat slowly and masticate your food; never eat if you have no appetite; and finish your last meal three hours before bedtime.
As a dessert I will add a few of my favorite dietetic aphorisms: An hour of exercise to every pound of food.—We are not nourished by what we eat, but by what we digest.—Every hour you steal from digestion will be reclaimed by indigestion.—Beware of the wrath of a patient stomach!—He who controls his appetite in regard to the quality of his food may safely indulge it in regard to quantity.—The oftener you eat, the oftener you will repent it.—Dyspepsia is a poor pedestrian; walk at the rate of four miles an hour, and you will soon leave her behind.—The road to the rum-cellar leads through the coffee-house—. Abstinence from all stimulants, only, is easier than temperance.—There are worthier objects of charity than famine-stricken nations that send their breadstuffs to the distillery.—An egg, is worth a pound of meat; a milch-cow, seven stall-fed oxen.—Sleep is sweeter after a fast-day than after a feast-day.—For every meal you lose you gain a better.
How often should we eat is still a mooted question. For men in a state of nature the answer would be simple enough; but, considering our present artificial modes of life, I must say that the choice of fixed hours is less important than the observation of the following rule: Never eat till you have leisure to digest. For digestion requires leisure; we can not assimilate our food while the functional energy of our system is engrossed by other occupations. After a hearty feed, animals retire to a quiet hiding-place; and the "after-dinner laziness," the plea of our system for rest, should admonish us to imitate their example. The idea that exercise after dinner promotes digestion is a mischievous fallacy; Jules Virey settled that question by a cruel but conclusive experiment. He selected two curs of the same size, age and general physique, made them keep a fast-day and treated them the next morning to a square meal of potato-chips and cubes of fat mutton, but, as soon as one of them had eaten his fill, he made the other stop too, to make sure that they had both consumed the same quantity. Dog No. 1 was then confined in a comfortable kennel, while No. 2 had to run after the doctor's coach, not at a breathless rate of speed, but at a fair, brisk trot, for two hours and a half. As soon as they got home, the coach-dog and his comrade were slain and dissected: the kennel-dog had completely digested his meal, while the chips and cubes in the coach-dog's stomach had not changed their form at all; the process of assimilation had not even begun! Railroad laborers, who bolt their dinner during a short interval of hard work, might as well pass their recess in a hammock; instead of strengthening them, their dinner will only oppress them, till it is digested, together with their supper, in the cool of the evening. In a manner essentially similar, mental activity tends to hinder the digestive process for a considerable time; and I believe, more especially, the digestion of the very substances that are often selected as brain-food par excellence. Even after a fashionable dinner of six or seven courses (curses, Dr. Abernethy used to call them), two hours of absolute rest will set our wits a-work again; but, if that time be passed behind a double-entry ledger, a feeling of lassitude, often combined with an almost resistless somnolence, will advise the brainworker that his vital energy is needed for other purposes. "I could eat with more comfort if it wasn't for the consciousness of having to hurry back to my drudgery," I heard a poor class-teacher say, and the same consciousness embitters the noonday-meal of millions of schoolchildren and overworked clerks.
Andrew Combe, M. D., informs us that a century ago the tradesmen of Edinburgh used to indulge in a "nooning," a general suspension of business for two hours, in the middle of the day. But an hour or so was thus probably spent in going home and back, dressing, etc., and half an hour at the meal itself; so that, after all, only thirty minutes remained for digestion; and, considering the anachronism of that nooning practice, the best plan, on the whole, would seem to be a general return to the method of the ancient Romans, who postponed their principal meal till their day's work was done. It would be an insult to common sense and humanity to doubt that the eight-hour system will ultimately prevail, and, where it has been already adopted, I can see no reason why mechanics could not arrange to finish their day's job at 4 p. m. Schools should always close at four. Bankers and government clerks often get home before that time, and competitive shopkeepers might carry on their business by relays. At half-past four, or, say, five o'clock, the coena domestica might begin, conclude before six; then dolce far niente, pleasant conversation, and four blessed hours for digestion.
But that principal meal should be the last. It is an important rule that we should digest our food thoroughly before we replenish the stomach. To counteract the effects of overeating, the gluttons of ancient Rome used emetics, the Parisian gastronomes stimulants. Dr. Alcott wants us to "leave off hungry"; the exponents of the movement-cure prescribe a certain system of gymnastic evolutions before and after dinner. But there is a better plan: Lengthen the interval between meals. Two meals a day are enough, perhaps more than enough, though we can accustom ourselves to swallow (not digest) five or six. It all depends on training, and in no other respect is the human system so plastic to the influence of habit. The Rev. Mr. Moffat tells us that the Gonaque Hottentots are noways incommoded by a five days' fast, and get old on an average of four meals a week. The Greeks and Romans during the prime of their republics contented themselves with one meal a day; Claude Bernard recommends two, but his countrymen generally eat three; their German neighbors four; the East-Germans even five: breakfast, second breakfast (zweites Frühstück), dinner, Vesperbrot, and supper, to which supper the Vienna burghers actually superadd a Nacht-bissel—a "night-lunch," of cold potato-salad with bread and Wurst, and often with a mug of beer—"for the stomach's sake"! I get along comfortably with a meal and a half; so does my grand-uncle, an octogenarian, who still masticates his bread with a full set of unbought teeth. Two, or one and two halves, should be enough for any man. The lightest breakfast is the best—buckwheat-cakes with a little honey or apple-butter, and a glass of milk, or a cup of chocolate, if you must take "something warm." Chocolate possesses nutritive properties, which tea and coffee per se are totally devoid of. I never use it, but I believe it is non-stimulating. Or chew a crust of stale bread, the best dentifrice and a useful absorbent, good for acidity of the stomach. At noon take a glass of milk and a couple of biscuits, or in summer a couple of ripe pears or peaches; they will keep you cool during the post-meridian heat and do you more good than a cocktail lunch, Never keep a pocket-flask. Don't stay with flagons; better comfort with apples, if you can not wait till five. School-children should pass their recess on the playground. A biscuit and a pocketful of apples will satisfy the temporary demands of the stomach; and, if they have munched up their comestibles in the course of the morning, as boys are apt to do, they will find it far easier to forego their noonday lunch altogether than to resist the insidious somnolence which would dull their wits after a regular dinner, and often makes the afternoon lesson a protracted struggle between nature and duty.
But at the principal meal they should eat their fill. Let them pitch in, without fear of dangerous consequences—unless your landlord charges by the plateful. Children, like monkeys, have a way of dallying with their food if they are full—picking a crumb here and there, or mumbling their apples without using their teeth. Make them get up if you notice such symptoms, or, better, entice them away by improvising some out-door or up-stairs amusement. But I repeat, never press them to eat—for principle's sake—not even your young visitors; they are not likely to go to bed hungry if your menu comprises such items as baked apples or bread-pudding and sweet milk.
Jean Jacques Rousseau holds that intemperate habits are mostly acquired in early boyhood, when blind deference to social precedents is apt to overcome our natural antipathies, and that those who have passed that period in safety have generally escaped the danger of temptation. The same holds good of other dietetic abuses. If a child's natural aversion to vice has never been willfully perverted, the time will come when his welfare may be intrusted to the safe-keeping of his protective instincts. You need not fear that he will swerve from the path of health when his simple habits, sanctioned by Nature and inclination, have acquired the additional strength of long practice. When the age of blind deference is passed, vice is generally too unattractive to be very dangerous. "Why make yourself the slave of such a degrading habit?" says Count Zinzendorf, in his "Hirtenbrief"; "it is so easy never to begin!" I go further. I say it is difficult to begin. Nature is not neutral on a point of such importance. Between virtue and vice she has erected a bulwark which she intended to last from birth to death. We need not strengthen that bulwark. We need not guard it with anxious care; it will stand the ordinary wear and tear of life. All we have to do is to save ourselves the extraordinary trouble of breaking it down.
Pure joys never pall; uniformity is uniform happiness if the even tenor of our way is the way of Nature. And Nature herself will guide our steps if the exigence of abnormal circumstances should require a deviation from the beaten path. Remedial instincts are not confined to the lower animals; man has his full share of them; the self-regulating power of the human system is as wonderful in the variety as in the simplicity of its resources. Have you ever observed the weather-wisdom of the black bindweed?—how its flowers open to the morning sun and close at the approach of the noontide glare; how its tendrils expand their spirals in a calm, but contract and cling, as with hands, to their support when the storm-wind sweeps the woods? With the same certainty our dietetic instincts respond to the varying demands of our daily life. Without the aid of art, without the assistance of our own experience, they even adapt themselves to the exigencies of our abnormal social conditions, and our interference alone often prevents them from counteracting the tendency of dire abuses.
Summer brings no repose to the slaves of Mammon, but dull headaches and the stomach's imperative demand for rest convince even the unwilling that intricate arithmetical problems and 90° Fahr. are incompatible with digestion; and I ascribe it to the logic of those gastric arguments that bankers and brokers now close their shops at 3 p. m.; and that business men generally avoid repletion in the middle of the day. "Cheese is gold in the morning, silver at noon, and lead at night," says a mediæval proverb; but the effects of those horrid cheese and porter breakfasts of Queen Anne's time satisfied our grandams that rotten curd and fermented (i. e., putrid) barley-broth are always lead, except to those who employ the hygienic philosopher's stone—active and long-continued out-door exercise. After recovery from an exhausting sickness—especially if you decide to promote that recovery by a throwing physic to the dogs—the demands of your stomach will often become exorbitant, but only apparently so; your system wants to repair the waste of the disease. Never fear that "the digestive organs are too feeble yet," etc.; those organs will keep their promise, unless you break yours by resuming medication. Have you eaten more than the wants of your system require? Your appetite will not respond to your invitation at the next meal. Take the hint—wait. Do not increase the troubles of your stomach by mordant spices and alcohol. In the sultry dog-days your system craves a surcease of greasy ragoûts and yearns for something refreshing—sherbet or cool fruit. Get a watermelon. "But isn't the yellow fever in town? Quack, Quinine, and other leading physicians, agree that one must take a course of antiseptics, and avoid vegetables at such seasons." Don't believe them; Nature knows better. Fruit is a better antiseptic than fusel poison and wormwood. The frugivorous Mexican survives where the beef eating stranger dies in spite of his bitters. If sailors have been surfeited with salt meat, their craving after lemon-juice or fresh fruit becomes more urgent from day to day; the surcharge of their organism with saline matter requires a neutralizing acid. A single meal of salt herring excites merely thirst; common water is yet sufficient to dilute the ingesta and eliminate the salt. Vegetable substances that consist chiefly of starch and water supply the wants of our organism less completely than those that contain an admixture of gluten, albumen, and fat; and, if we restrict our diet to the first-named class of aliments, our system announces the deficit by means of our senses; without such complements as milk, sugar, or fat, rice-bread is more insipid than bread from unbolted wheat-flour.
All dietetic needs of our body thus announce themselves in a versatile language of their own, and he who has learned to interpret that language, nor willfully disregards its just appeals, may avoid all digestive disorders—not by fasting if he is hungry or forcing food upon his protesting stomach, not by convulsing his bowels with nauseous drugs, but by quietly following the guidance of his instincts.
Nature's health laws are simple. The road to health and happiness is not the labyrinthine maze described by our medical mystagogues. In perusing their dietetic codes one is fairly bewildered by a mass of incongruous precepts and prescriptions, laborious compromises between old and new theories, arbitrary rules, and illogical exceptions, anti natural restrictions and anti-natural remedies. Their views of the constitution of man suggest the King of Aragon's remark about the cycles and epicycles of the Ptolemaic system: "It strikes me the Creator might have arranged this business in a simpler way."
All normal things are good, all evil is abnormal, is an axiom which has been almost reversed in the principle of our orthodox health theories, for many of our physical educators still hold to the cardinal error of their spiritual colleagues, who consider depravity and wretchedness as the normal condition of man, and happiness as the reward of a self-abhorring suppression of all natural desires and of a blind confidence in the efficacy of an abnormal and mysterious remedy—nay, who despise Earth herself as a "vale of tears," and life as a disease whose only cure is death, whose only anodyne a dream of a supernatural elysium. It is time to awake from that dream. It is time to open our eyes to the well-springs of life and happiness which the bounty of our Mother Earth sends forth in such abundance, and which man might enjoy with all his fellow-creatures if his perversity had not turned them into sources of misery and death. Instead of insulting our Maker by the doctrine of innate depravity, we should learn to distinguish the voice of our natural instincts from the cravings of a morbid appetency. We should try to restore life to its original purity and healthfulness instead of despising it and looking for happiness beyond the grave.
But the deluge of mediæval superstitions is fast assuaging, and many a submerged truth has reappeared like a bequest of a former and better world, and now stands as a way-mark on the road to a true Science of Life. We have rediscovered the truth that the weal and woe of earth are not distributed by the caprices of a mysterious Fate, but that they follow as sure effects upon ascertainable causes. Our best thinkers have ceased to doubt that man can work out his own destiny, that the Creator has made us the keepers of our own happiness on conditions which he never violates; that he has attached pleasure to every right act, and pain to every wrong, that he fulfills the promises of our yearnings, and never permits us to sin unwarned. We have at last begun to realize the fact that the physical laws of God find an echo in the voice of our innate monitor, and only an hereditary mistrust in our instincts makes us still hesitate to commit ourselves to its guidance. But experience will overcome that prejudice by and by; duty and inclination will go hand in hand, and the result will justify our trust in the wisdom and benevolence of Nature.
- Pereira, "Treatise on Food and Diet," p. 242.
- Wodderstadt, "On Yellow Fever," p. 72.