This section of the book is from "Fasting, Hydropathy and Exercise", by Bernarr MacFadden.
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 Imposturetruth, 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° Fahrenheitleast 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 habitues 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.