Page images
PDF
EPUB

of health and long life; that they have been rather in the hills of Palestine and Arcadia, than in the plains of Babylon or of Thessaly; and among us in England, rather upon the Peak of Derbyshire and the heaths of Staffordshire, than in the fertile soils of other counties that abound more in people and in riches." Examples of great and extraordinary longevity have been chiefly confined to peasants of the lowest order of society; to philosophers, who have thought that the truest wisdom consists in the regulation of the passions and the appetites; or hermits and anchorites, who practiced great abstemiousness as a religious duty.

That the members of those monastic orders, who abstained from the flesh of animals by the rules of their institution, enjoyed a longer mean term ,of life in consequence, has been proved by the result of an actual examination. This fact is well established by the author of an interesting tract, published at Geneva, in 1789, entitled Apologie du Jeune. As this tract appears to furnish some important and instructive matter, I am sorry that my own knowledge of its contents is derived from the scanty details of a medical journal. From this source, however, I have obtained the calculation which seems sufficient to justify the conclusions of the author.

This writer extracted from Baillot the length of the lives of 152 monks {solitaires), or of bishops, who used the same austere mode of life. He took them promiscuously, as they were presented, in all times, and in all sorts of climates. They produced a total of 11,589 years; and consequently they gave an average of seventy-six years and a little more than three months, which may be expected from a regimen confined principally to fruits, herbs, roots, etc. He took, in like manner, 152 academicians, half members of the academy of sciences, and half of that of Belles Lettres. They gave only 10,511 years, affording an average of sixty-nine years and a little more than two months. The ancient austerity, therefore, so far from abridging life, lengthens it rather more, upon an average, than seven years; and the long life of the anchorites was the effect of the frugality of their regimen.

The difference between the ages of the seventy-six members of the two academies was only nineteen years; but in every stage of life the advantage was on the side of the monks; there were fewer deaths, more numerous survivors, and an old age more prolonged, as appeared by noting the number of deaths in every successive ten years.

The author of this account concludes with making what I which remains to a person who has a tumor of this kind, maybe conjectured with a tolerable degree of precision. Let us suppose such a person under common regimen would survive three years; under a strict vegetable regimen, the same person may expect, from these data, to live about three years and a half.

From this view of the subject, I think it is easily explained how the vegetable regimen has fallen into a species of disrepute ; and how impossible it is to obtain from it, when the system is hastening toward dissolution, even a temporary respite from suffering. Let us make an assumption which is certainly quite extravagant; but let us suppose that, other things remaining the same, life would be doubled by vegetable regimen. In the beginning or middle of life this would be a momentous consideration; but how would it be toward its close? A man, we will say, is consumptive, and has but half a year to live. By tho vegetable regimen, then, he would, by the supposition, live a whole year. But he would still during the whole period be a dying man; the symptoms might be less severe, but they would persist. And how much more evidently must this be tho ease if, what would doubtless be the real fact, life was not prolonged, a month? In these circumstances it can hardly be coneoived that the patient should, as far as he could judge from his feelings, bo sensible of any benefit whatever. And as no practitioner will pretend to so correct a judgment as to bo a We to lix, in those circumstances, and foretell death within thro* or four weeks, the advantage gained, though real, would elude the observation of the medical attendants quite .is much as that of the patient.

It is no wonder, then, that while vegetable,regimen has been confuted to eases of this kind, persons should be insensible of its advantages. The most strenuous advocates for a vegetable regimen have Ueou some solitary individuals in common life, living coiumourv in a eontiued circle, and acting either from a regard to health or from a principle of conscience. The errors of suoh persons have iu them something respectable. But the medical profession have, in general, held a different and even an opposite language. The reason clearly is the much more extensive observation which their profession affords them. This experience has presented to them diseases of all sorts, iuvading persons whom necessity confines to such a regimen; and death taking place in all its forms. They must therefore have a full conviotion that all the flattering prospects of avoiding diseases, held out by the enthusiasts of a vegetable regimen, are wholly fallacious. And as men are apt to fall into extremes, it is no wonder that a large portion of this body of men are insensible to its real advantages, and inclined to attribute mischiefs to it of which it is really guiltless.

[graphic]

Under the influence of prejudices, grounded, I dare say, upon observations such as I have mentioned, a surgeon, who, from the extent of his practice and his standing in the profession, is justly called, I believe, the first of this metropolis, being told how little animal food was given to the children at Edinburgh, answered, "Yes; but I find animal food is necessary to our London children;" as if what was right in one place was wrong in another, and that there is a real difference in the human constitution at London and at Edinburgh. When the first men of the profession use such vague language, and have such indistinct ideas, can we wonder at the ignorance and prejudices of the bulk of the people?

Though there is no reason to question the fidelity of the writers who have given the histories which I have recited in this chapter, yet it is to be considered that they are rare occurrences, and as such ought not to be allowed undue weight. General conclusions must rest upon a firmer foundation; facts should be both numerous and concurring. In individual cases circumstances may easily be omitted which would lead to different conclusions had they been related; and this may happen from error or precipitation without any intention to mislead.

Gout is the disease in which abstinence from animal food has been the most frequently recommended, and with the greatest, but not with uniform success. It is generally acknowledged that the practice alleviates the symptoms of the, disease. Many single cases, of the good done by such a regimen, have been related. A treatise by Dolceus, on the cure of gout by milk diet, contains several cases in which the severity of the disease was by this method much alleviated. In Dr. Starke's works is the following passage to the same purpose.

"Mr. Slingsby has lived many years on bread and milk and vegetables, without animal food or wine; he has excellent spirits, is very vigorous, and has been free from the gout ever since he began this regimen.

"Dr. Knight has lived also many years on a diet strictly vegetable, excepting eggs in puddings, milk with his tea and chocolate, and butter. He finds wine necessary to him. Since he lived in this manner he has been free from the gout."

But it has also appeared that a great degree of atony and

r

muscular debility has often succeeded to the more violent paroxysms of the disease. This is the evidence of Dr. Mead, which, I doubt not, is correct. "In persons advanced in life, in whom the disease has been used to recur for a course of years, if it does not invade them at all, instead of the limbs, the internal parts are infected; and, moreover, the limbs being deprived of their strength, they pass the remainder of their lives in a miserable state, which I have seen more than once in those who, contenting themselves with milk and vegetables, have abstained from all other food."

I question not these facts. It is no reproach to the vegetable regimen that it cannot effect impossibilities; that it cannot restore a constitution worn out with age and disease. Nor are the evils described to be attributed to the diet, though vulgar prejudice might reason so; and the representation of the writer seems to favor it, this series of symptoms being the customary course of the disease under every regimen. It is equally true, that in London, and perhaps every where else, many children will become diseased, and die, who are confined to vegetable food, other causes of disease being in action. But let observations be made on a scale sufficiently large, and let an average be fairly taken, and there can be no doubt that the balance will be in favor of the abstemious in length of life, in diminution of suffering, and in actual enjoyment.

Excess of all kinds is followed by an instantaneous exacerbation of constitutional disease, as persons subject to gouty pains almost always experience. And where the very contrary eifect is experienced, as may sometimes happen, it may be suspected to be owing to a degree, of torpor introduced into the nervous system rather than to healthy action.

Abstinence, on the contrary, without curing constitutional disease, assuages its violence; it both protracts life and renders it more comfortable.

A gentleman of about thirty years of age, while this chapter was in the press, informed me that he had formerly used animal food two or three times a day. He had for some time suffered most severe pains of the head, so much as to confine him, during the paroxysms, to his bed ; and they gave him the greatest dread of their approach, which he could commonly foretell for two or three days. Moreover, he had a bleeding" from the hemorrhoidal vessels, from which he had hardly any respite. In consequence of the inquiries originating with me, he determined to confine himself wholly to vegetable food, which he has now done, I believe, between two and three years. For half a year the disease continued with unabating severity. But from that time it became much milder, and now it never confines him, and he hardly regards it. The hemorrhage also is greatly diminished. The whole time it now occupies is not equal to what the intervals were formerly. He has perceived no loss of strength, and has determined, in consequence of the benefit he has received, to pursue in every respect the regimen I have recommended in chronic disease.

I have before me some papers written by a gentleman of Birmingham, of the name of Luckcock, which he liberally communicated for publication. But though the matter is creditable both to the benevolence and good sense of the writer, it is not such as I deem suitable to my object. I doubt not, therefore, that he will excuse me if I use only those facts which I think more directly conducive to that end.

This gentleman had, in May, 1813, used a vegetable regimen for rather more than four years, prompted more by a principle of humanity, and a conscientious feeling, than a mere regard to health. He says that he never found the smallest inconvenience from the change, but that, on the contrary, he ha$ rather increased in weight, and sensibly improved in health. On this subject he declares: "I confidently believe that I am taking the best means to enjoy life as long as it may continue. In this respect I do affirm that the last four years have been equal to any period between twenty and the present time, and certainly better than the four years preceding the innovation." Mr. Luckcock's age was at this time fifty-three.

It further appears that the writer, like most men of his time of life, was not entirely free from constitutional disease. His words on this subject are: "About fifteen years ago a slight hemorrhage made its appearance with me, and has gradually increased to a degree which, under less favorable circumstances, might well excite considerable alarm, and it may eventually be fatal." From this statement I conclude that the change of regimen has made no marked alteration in this disease.

I repeat, then, that abstemiousness does not cure constitutional disease; but it palliates, where to cure is obviously impossible. Even in aneurisms of the aorta, or dilatations of the cavities of the heart, whatever good is possible must be looked for in a treatment founded upon analogous principles. Such was the practice proposed by Valsalva in these hopeless diseases. He enjoined repeated bleedings, and a spare diet rigorously persevered in; and we are assured by Albertini, in a

r

« PreviousContinue »