This section of the book is from "Fasting, Hydropathy and Exercise", by Bernarr MacFadden.
Trance-fasters, like Augusta Kerner of Ingolstadt, survived in a semi-conscious condition for nearly a quarter of a year, but it would be a mistake to suppose that staying powers of that kind are a prerogative of the sick. Miners in collieries, affording a sufficient supply of water, have been found alive after weeks of enforced abstinence from any more nutritious food than scraps of leather soaked in pit-water and masticated with desperate perseverance. Sailors, deprived of food and drink, have endured exposure to the glare of a tropical sun for a week or more. But the marvels of long-continued abstinence without loss of strength reach their maximum in the winter-sleep of several species of warm-blooded animals. Reptiles, with their small expenditure of vital energy, can easily survive dietetic deprivations, but bears and badgers, with an organization essentially analogous to that of the human species, and with a circulation of the blood active enough to maintain the temperature of their bodies more than a hundred degrees above that of the winter-storms, dispense with food for periods varying from three to five months, and at the termination of their ordeal emerge from their dens in the full possession of their physical and mental energies.*
* Karl Vogt in his "Curiosities
of Instinct," mentions the case of a spaniel that had accidentally
been locked up by visitors to the attic of an old castle-ruin,
and contrived to procure a few drops of water by gnawing the
edges of a cleft in the slate-covered roof. His life had thus
been saved by the accident of a few heavy rain-showers, but there
was no chance for a crumb of food, no grain, leather, rats or
mice, no vestige of living things with the exception of a few
spiders under the rafters of the roof. The whole summer passed,
and a part of autumn; but during the first week of October there
was a picnic on the castle mountain, and a wandering party of
sight-seers rescued the little prisoner that had been locked
up about the middle of June. Its ribs could be counted as easily
as in a skeleton, but it was still able to drag itself across
the floor and lick the hands of its deliverers.
Chossat in his Recherches sur l'Inanition, states that the land tortoise of southern France can starve for a year without betraying a reduction of vital energy, and the Proteus anguinus, or serpent salamander, even for a year and a half, provided that the temperature of its cage be kept above the freezing point.
The black bear of northern Russia rolls itself up in scrap-heaps of leaves and moss, about the end of November, trusting to good luck to be left to the enjoyment of peaceful slumber till middle of March, but if disturbed before the end of February is wide awake in a minute and attacks the intruders with a fury expressed in a Slavonic phrase: equivalent to "savage as a waked winter bear." Badgers leave their burrows a little sooner, being often awakened by a spell of warm weather, a month before the vernal equinox, and after an absolute fast of ten weeks will trot for miles in search of roots and acorns that have perhaps to be scraped out of the half-frozen ground.
The little dormouse, in its winter-sleep of five months, suffers a loss of weight sometimes exceeding forty per cent., and exhibition fasters have survived a reduction of thirty per cent., without anything like a total collapse of vital vigor.
The first few meals after such a fast have to be served in doll-house saucers. Reckless gorging might forfeit all the advantages of a sanitary fast, and rations have to be raised from ounces to half pounds, with four-hour intervalsa precaution which Nature tries to enforce in a peculiar way of her own: After a fast of four days or more the teguments of the palate become so sensitive that mastication has to proceed with pauses.
The above quoted instances preclude the idea of a week's fast involving any life-endangering consequences. It would often relieve disorders which drugs can only complicate and give the patient a new lease of life, hope and vigor.
But for ordinary purposes even a two-days' intermission of surfeits would result in sanitary benefits apt to reform all but the most inveterate gluttons. No need of aggravating the sickness of dyspeptics by mentioning the "duty of self-denial," and evoke visions of spiritual advisers helping themselves to the assets of world-renouncing idiots; the mere change from physical misery and oppression to buoyancy and freedom would be sufficient to attain the approval of believers in happiness on this side of the grave.
During the last summer of Kitchener's campaign in the Soudan the Mahdists captured a British quartermaster, baggage and all, and, after harnessing him like a donkey, put him in a chain-gang of burden-carriers and loaded him up with a cargo of camping outfit and nigger babies. Pinching fetters, perspiration, and vermin completed the horrors of his predicament, and he was on the verge of suicide, when Captain Magruder's dragoons overtook his captors and celebrated his deliverance with a picnic at a spring. Washed, refreshed and dressed in cleanest linen, the freed man continued his journey rejoicing, but the contrast of misery and comfort can hardly have surpassed that of a dyspeptic before and after a fasting-cure. The relief of his overburdened stomach has given Nature a chance to expurgate all sorts of encumbrances: accumulated ingesta, vitiated humors and sixteen different kinds of pinching, gnawing and excavating microbes. He feels as if a burden of rags and parasites had been removed from his shoulders; he can continue the pilgrimage of life without a handicap; his soul has been dressed in clean raiment.
And even from an epicuric point of view the revival of appetite would more than compensate a few days' abstinence. Food is relished to a degree that implies a pledge of its thorough assimilation. House-cleaning has prepared the storerooms for the reception of fresh supplies. The night's rest following the first appetite-sanctioned meal will not be disturbed by nightmares. Fasting, like exercise and refrigeration, makes repose sweet. The dull, unheeded, but ever-gnawing reproaches of the physical conscience have been silenced.