Hydropathy (Gr. water, and affection or disease), a system of treatment of diseases mainly or exclusively by the use of water and of the known hygienic agencies. Hygienic management in some form, as a resort to exercise, or, in diseases induced by luxurious living, to abstemiousness, dates from the earliest conception of a healing art; and it has kept pace with the growth of physiological science, until within the present century the laws and claims of hygiene have become appreciated as never before. The physicians of very early times seem also to have employed water as a remedy in certain febrile, inflammatory, and surgical maladies; a usage recommended, among other early medical writers, by Hippocrates, Galen, and Avicenna. In the 18th century Sir John Floyer and Dr. Bay-nard, in England, resorted to bathing almost exclusively in chronic diseases; as did F. Hoffmann and Hahn on the continent. Dr. James Currie in 1797 published highly favorable reports of the effects of water, chiefly by affusion, in many diseases.
But the distinctive " water cure," or hydropathy, owes its origin to the fertility of invention of a Silesian peasant, Vincenz Priessnitz. Having at the age of 13 sprained his wrist, young Priessnitz intuitively applied it to the pump; and afterward, to continue the relief thus obtained, ho bound upon it an Umschlag, or wet bandage. Rewetting this as it became dry, he reduced the inflammation, but excited a rash on the surface of the part. Soon after, having crushed his thumb, he again applied the bandage, and the pain once more subsided, but the rash reappeared. He inferred that the rash indicated an impure blood; and this conclusion was strengthened by the result of experiments which he was induced to try upon injuries and ulcers in the case of some of his neighbors, since the rash in some instances appeared after the treatment, and in others did not. Thus he was led to frame for himself a humoral pathology of all diseases, and a doctrine of the elimination of morbific matters by "crisis." According to this view, the cure of disease is to be effected by favoring the activity of those organs through which the purification of the system is carried on, and, through a regulated and pure dietary and correct regimen, preventing further morbid accumulations.
In his 19th year, being run over by a cart, Priessnitz had some ribs broken and received severe bruises; on learning that the physicians pronounced his case hopeless, he tore off their bandages, and recovered under the renewed application of the Umschlag, and replaced his ribs by inflating the lungs while pressing the abdomen against a window sill. This incident confirmed the idea and initiated the practice of the water cure. In the new practice, its author discovered in rapid succession the means of securing either cooling, heating, or soothing effects by compresses; then, the sponge bath', the wet-sheet packing, the sitz, foot, arm, and other partial baths, the douche, the stream bath, the dripping sheet, the plunge, the tepid shallow bath, dry-blanket packing, etc. The pail douche of Dr. E. Johnson is one of the very few additions since made to this list of measures. Unquestionably, Priessnitz's earlier treatment, especially after the opening in 1826 of the famous Grafenberg cure, was too incessant and severe, and often borne only through the vital tenacity, whatever their maladies, of the class of invalids with whom he had to deal.
Along with this was introduced a rigorous, but in some respects mistaken hygiene, including the very free use of a plain and peculiar diet, much walking in the open air, and the disuse of flannel undergarments and of soft beds. The water appliances have since been rendered more mild, and in the United States necessarily so. The number of instances, however, of decided restoration to health among the invalids who flocked from all parts of Europe and of the United States to the Grafenberg cure, sufficiently explains the rapid spread of the new system. This was first distinctly brought to the notice of the English public about the year 1840, by a book put forth by a former patient of Priessnitz, Capt. Claridge, and entitled "Hydropathy, or the Cold Water Cure." In Germany, under Francke, Weiss, Munde, and others, the enthusiastic treatise of the first of whom did much to spread the system, several new establishments had already sprung up. On March 17, 1842, the hydropathic society was organized in London, for the purpose, among others, of circulating information in regard to Priessnitz, and the authenticity of the reported cures.
Drs. Wilson, Johnson, and Gully were first to embrace the practice, the first two early lecturing before the new society, and all soon establishing institutions of their own. The writings of Drs. Gully and Johnson contributed much to spread the system in England, and at a later day they were ably seconded by Bulwer's "Confessions of a Water Patient," detailing incidents of his restoration to health at the Malvern establishment. The earliest popular information concerning water treatment in the United States was through a letter published about 1843, from H. 0. Wright, himself at the time a patient under Priessnitz; and this was soon followed by the earnest statements and appeals, through a like channel, of J. H. Gray of Boston and A. J. Colvin of Albany. Drs. Schieferdecker, Wesselhoeft, and Shew seem to have been the first to enter upon the new practice in the United States; while the first establishment appears to have been that opened in 1844 at No. 63 Barclay street, New York. Of this, David Cambell, also the originator of the "Water-Cure Journal," was proprietor, and Joel Shew physician.
In May, 1845, an establishment was opened at New Lebanon Springs, N. Y., under the management of Dr. Shew, and another at Brattleboro, Vt,, under the management of Dr. Wesselhoeft, who/having explored the country from Florida to Maine, selected Brattleboro on account of the superior purity of the water of a spring there. At the present time there are in this country and Europe several hundred establishments in which the application of water in one form or another is the chief remedial agent relied upon in the treatment of diseases, but medicines in many cases are used to a greater or less extent. The name hydropathy is not in general use among its practitioners, that of "hygienic medicine " being adopted instead. - Of books upon the subject may be mentioned, besides those above referred to, " Hydropathic Encyclopaedia," by R. T. Trail, M. D. (New York, 1852); "The Bath," by S. R. Wells (New York); and " Water Cure in Chronic Diseases," by J. M. Gully, M. D. (London).
Fig. 4. - Hare's Hydrometer.