This section of the book is from "Fasting, Hydropathy and Exercise", by Bernarr MacFadden.
The progress of culture often resembles the undulating rise of the tide, rather than the steady advance of a river current; the rippling waves surge in capricious eddies and for a time may even seem to recede. Scientific tenets familiar to the philosophers of pagan antiquity were lost sight of during the night of the Middle Ages, and in the dawn of modern civilization are apt to be viewed with doubt or accepted as novel discoveries.
The true theory of the solar system, for instance, was known to the disciples of Pythagoras; but a thousand years later was forgotten almost as completely as the existence of the lost Atlantis. Centuries before the birth of Ludwig Jahn the Greeks had recognized the truth that in thickly settled countries the lack of wood-sports ought to be compensated by gymnastic training and competitive athletics. There were fresh-air doctors two thousand years before Dio Lewis, and during the zenith period of Grecian and Roman civilization monogamy was not half as firmly established as the rule that a health-loving man should content himself with one meal a day, and never eat till he had leisure to digest, i. e., not till the day's work was wholly done.
For more than a thousand years the one meal plan was the established rule among the civilized nations inhabiting the coast-lands of the Mediterranean. The evening repastcall it supper or dinnerwas a kind of domestic festival, the reward of the day's toil, an enjoyment which rich and poor refrained from marring by premature gratifications of their appetite. Cares were laid aside before the family and their guests assembled in the supper-hall. People of wealth provided reclining couches, and their desserts included a good many things besides Attic figs. They treated their guests to perfumes, to music and dances. Athenæus describes a symposium enlivened by musical contests and juggler shows. All but the poorest had at least a minstrel who bartered comic ditties for a basketful of cold lunch. Amusements of that sort were supposed to aid digestion and keep the revelers awake during the two hours' interval between the termination of the repast and the setting of the sun, though appetite alone generally guaranteed the assimilation of a good-sized meal. Dinner, in the form of a noon-time lunch was unknown, and for breakfast a biscuit or a piece of crust, to counteract the acidity of the stomach, were considered sufficient.
There were exceptions, but they were tolerated merely as we should tolerate a sportsman unable to wait for legal holidays, and enjoying leisure periods in the middle of the week, or vacations before the beginning of summer. "To desecrate one's appetite," the Romans called the habit of eating between meals, and Suetonius mentions among the demerits of the Emperor Vitellius a "penchant for gorging himself in the early morning hours,"the time of the day that ought to have remained consecrated to labor or study. As a rule, probably nine out of ten well-educated Greeks and six out of ten Romans did not think twenty-two hours too long an interval between meals which, with chat and other pauses, lasted more than an hour and a half.
They were probably athletes," remarked a critic of a lecture on Roman customs; "but what about women and persons of delicate constitutions? Would they not risk to faint with hunger in trying total abstinence, in that extreme sense of the word, all the day long?"
In reply to such questions the lecturer ought to have added a few words on the subject of Diet and the Influence of Habit. A little child, according to Dr. Page's experiments, can be taught to guzzle day and night, or to content himself with being stilled about once in three hours. Little habitues of a hundred daily guzzles will howl horribly at the first attempt to restrict them to seventy-five, but after a month or two will get so used to ten nursings that it requires coaxing to make them accept a dozen.
And in the course of a few years the tapering-off process can be easily brought to an average of one meal a day. Baker Pasha (Sir Samuel Baker) ascertained that fact in studying the habits of the Abyssinian hunters. Youngsters of twelve years join the hunting expeditions of their tribe and think themselves lucky if the kettle can be set a-boiling to the extent of furnishing a good evening meal. In the repose of the kraal they might yield to the temptation of a noon-time lunch; but when game is scarce, think nothing of rolling themselves up in a blanket at night and trying a nap to forget the disappointment of the day, trusting to the chance of better pot-luck for the morrow. "Qui dort dine," say the French"he who sleeps feasts." A good night's rest in the bracing night air of the Abyssinian tablelands will sustain strength even on the basis of alternate day meals. A daily feast is so abundantly sufficient that active youngsters would fear to handicap themselves by re-loading their stomachs before the end of the next day. With the prospect of an up-and-down hill race against time and the competition of athletic companions, the offer even of a moderate morning lunch would probably jar upon their sanitary conscience.
The subjects of the two Kaisers, on the other hand, would consider it a grievance to be limited to three daily meals. All over Germany and northern Austria a pause of four hours is thought a distressingly long time between meals, though some brands of wurst are apt to resist the assimilative apparatus of unfeathered bipeds at least half a clay.
Master Karl Schulze has no springboks to hunt; the stifling atmosphere of his grammar-school room does not promote digestion; yet Karl insists on a Frühstück (breakfast) six A. M.; zweites früstück ("second breakfast") at nine; mittagsmahl at noon; vesperbrot (vesper lunch) at half past three; and abendessen at 6 P. M. Just before retiring from the scene of their gastronomic exploits Vienna burghers often add a night-cap of beer, pretzels and more wurst, "for the stomach's sake." "In spite of the stomach" might seem more correct, but it isn't. One month's practice would be enough to supplement the horrid load of ingesta with a midnight meal. It might shorten the glutton's life one half; but as sure as the noon and night comes around his stomach, or the ulcerated receptacle retaining that name, would interrupt the nightmare circus to clamor for its perquisites; and disappointment would result in fits of insomnia and yearnings for the picnic grounds of a better hereafter.
It is the same with fluid surfeits. Hoffs Malt Extract was advertised as a cure-all till even ascetics bought a bottle at certain times of the yearsay a quart per quarter, and on those terms contrived to compromise with the stimulant habit. After the end of the second month they might now and then experience a vague yearning for the office of the Hoff Agency, but on the whole get along contentedly without half way drinks. In Munich almost identical beverages have votaries that get nervous if business emergencies oblige them to postpone their trip to the Bier-Keller for a few minutes. They call thrice a day, and after supper hurry to a club that furnishes them a pretext for guzzling till midnight. "Say, I feel a vacuum," one of these far-gones used to remark, when the Sunday excursion steamer did not reach its pier strictly on time. Nay, a Wisconsin physician vouches for the fact that some of the Milwaukee brewers allow their employees twenty-five quarts of lager free, every working day in the year, and that many of the veterans begin to fret if they cannot visit the free dispensary at least once in thirty minutes. Habit, in fact, becomes a "second nature," and the limits of its influence, for better or worse, have never been ascertained. It is quite possible that gluttons might learn to hanker for a meal an hour, and that St. Jerome in his Syrian hermitage really got along comfortably with three meals a week; but it must be admitted that the old Roman plan combines advantages not easy to rival.