Abstinence may be defined, the habit of refraining from what is either useful, agreeable, or pernicious ; and may be divided into general and particular. In the former sense, it may signify a certain pri-vation, whereby the senses are mortified, and the passions restrained. In the latter, it is confined to the exclusion of certain substances, at stated times and seasons, in compliance either with the customs of particular countries, or with religious precepts. There is, also, another sense, in which the term abstinence denotes the limitation of any usual indulgence, for the purpose of preserving health, and removing the consequences of excess.
In the religious institutions of all countries, we find many regulations on this subject. The Mosaic Law forbids the eating of animals that were strangled, the use of swine's flesh, the exercise of daily labour on the Sabbath, etc. The Christian system more particularly enjoins the discipline of the passions, and an abstinence from those pleasures which have a tendency to degrade our nature. In England, particular days have been appointed, called vigils and fasts, in which flesh is prohibited, and fish enjoined : this, however, being more a political restriction than a religious obligation, was first enacfed in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, with a view to encourage our fisheries.
The effects of abstinence in the preservation of health, and the cure of diseases, are, by many physicians, stated to be remarkable. Dr. E. Miller, of New-York, in his Original Observations, relates that, in a district of the United States, which is particularly obnoxious to epidemic diseases, the febrile attack is often obviated and diminished by a rigid abstinence from food; and the celebrated Sydenham declares, that he has often cured the synocha, or inflammatory fever, and other ie\ en, by prescribing diluent drinks, and prohibiting every kind of aliment, even, to use their own words, "for two or three days" The method, in this respect, adopted by Dr. Miller, was to commence his plan of abstinence on the first sensations of indisposition, and continue it on some occasions for a period of twenty-four, and even forty-eight, hours, until these feelings had subsided, the appetite was restored, and the calls of hunger become not only frequent, but even importunate. He concludes his interesting remarks with an aphorism, "That in those particular states of the body, which denote the approach, and at the commencement, of acute diseases, the strict observance of a rigid and continued abstinence has been productive of the most beneficial feds."—The late celebrated author of the "Elementa Mederince, " Dr. Brown, has, in that work, particularly enjoined it, as one of the means to be employed in the prevention and cure of sthenic, or inflammatory diseases; and he declares that the cynanche tonsillaris, or inflammatory sore throat, and the catarrh, or common cold attended with hoarseness, may often be cured by abstinence alone.
Men of genius, and persons who lead sedentary lives, are more especially benefited by occasional abstinence ; as these, from the want of vigorous exercise, and their intense application, are generally the severest sufferers from diseases of repletion. In the observance of the rules of abstinence, due attention must always be paid to the age, strength, constitution, and habit of the patient.
With regard to the total abstinence of the sexes from sensual gratifications, it should be observed in this place, that it may, though rarely, be attended with serious effeefs; yet these seldom, if ever, take place in those who live regularly, and do not encourage libidinous ideas; and that both males and females would undoubtedly derive greater benefit from total commence, till marriage, than by an indulgence in ven in the former case, they would not only in a great measure contribute to their vigour of body and mind, but also to the prolongation of life.
Instances may also be found, of men who have been abstemious to a degree almost incredible; and experience has demonstrated that, from habit and use, the power of abstinence may be cither increased or diminished. Some persons will bear the attacks of hunger without any visible marks of impatience, while in others, a mere temporary privation will occasion the most urgent and distressing symptoms. See the article Fasts.