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Popular Science Monthly/Volume 40/December 1891/Breathe Pure Air

BREATHE PURE AIR.
By the Rev. J. W. QUINBY.

ONE of the saddest sights of our civilization is the spectacle of disease and pain which confronts us on every side It is rare indeed to find even an individual perfectly well, to say nothing of families and communities. But why is it?

Barbarians and savages do not so suffer. May it not be in part, because civilized communities do not sufficiently avail themselves of the sanitary influences of the air and light? It is in the hope of helping to answer this question that the following notes of personal experience are herewith given.

A few years ago I read an article in in the Popular Science Monthly which seemed to prove the value of pure air as a preventive of "colds." The theory suggested was that colds may be caused by the loss of a certain equilibrium between the oxygen in the lungs and the carbon in the blood. It is true that this may follow overeating, and so overcharging the blood with food elements; but more frequently, it was thought, the lack of pure air By acting upon this theory almost incredible results were said to have been reached. The writer of the article alluded to claimed that he had easily brought himself into a condition in which It seemed impossible to take cold. He could sit in thin clothing in winter at an open window. The ordinary causes of colds, such as wet feet, overheating, and the like, seemed powerless to produce their usual results.

With these statements in mind, I remembered some curious facts of my own experience in the army in 1862 and 1863. I was not strong, and indeed was hardly fit to be in the army at all. And when I found myself exposed all day long to a steady rain, and at night to the outdoor air, with no fire, no change of clothing, no shelter but a canvas covering open at both ends, through which the rain dripped constantly, it seemed certain that the "death o' cold" so often predicted must surely follow. Why it did not follow was more of a mystery then, however, than it is now. For I was in a place where the art of man no longer excluded one of the prime principles of health. I breathed pure air because I could not help it. During a service of fifteen months, with severe exposures, but fresh air constantly, the same immunity from colds prevailed. I remembered, too, that when I came home from the army the blessing and the curse—at least one of the curses of civil life—came back together. I had comfortable rooms to eat, breathe, and sleep in on the one hand, but very soon colds, sore throats, and related troubles on the other. This was the second count in the argument for pure air.

Finally, after nearly twenty years of suffering according to the common lot of man, I resolved to try the pure-air cure, and from that time to this the windows of my room have been open almost constantly day and night. The result was immediate and striking, and for the last seven years I have not had one serious cold. My sore throats are wholly a thing of the past, and certain other physical derangements not usually associated with colds have also disappeared.

Like others, I have often to spend hours in crowded rooms. It sometimes happens after such an "exposure," as I prefer to call it, that I suffer for a day or two from a "head-cold." But in every case so far it has proved to be entirely superficial—a natural and easy throwing off of the poison contracted in that crowded room, followed by no serious effects whatever.

At this very moment in the house where I live there are twelve persons, every one of whom, except myself and one other, is suffering from the effects of a cold. It certainly does look as if the exemption I enjoy is due to the exceptional privilege of the pure air to which I constantly treat myself. Perhaps it would help the argument to state that nearly all of my father's large family died of consumption.

It should be borne in mind that the difference between the air of an ordinary room in which people live and that of the air outdoors is far greater than is generally supposed. Do but think of the emanations that constantly proceed from every object in such a room—carpets, walls, and draperies. People say: "Oh, yes, we believe in ventilation. We open the windows in the morning and let the air draw through; and at night we open the doors of our sleeping-rooms. We believe in pure air." And I feel like saying to them: "My dear friends, you know no more of really pure air than the blind mole down in the ground knows of sunlight."

I would not by any means advise persons who have been living in a close atmosphere to suddenly sit or sleep in the draught of an open window. It is only by degrees that such changes can be made with safety. But by degrees they can be made, and why might not most people begin at least to make them?

In the town where I live, in Massachusetts, a new system of ventilation required by the State has recently been put in operation in the high-school building. By means of it thirty cubic feet of air, it is said, are furnished to every pupil every minute. It seems to me this forward step in so vital a matter should be heartily approved by every lover of humanity.

Meanwhile, it is painfully apparent that multitudes of people, sick with constantly recurring diseases of the lungs and related parts, continue to breathe the old foulness. Is it not worth while to make some effort to change this condition of things? Perhaps half the money now spent on superfluities, if devoted to a better system of ventilation, might very sensibly improve the health and increase the happiness of the community.