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pocratic maxim is not founded in truth, which declares: “In bodies that are not pure, the more you nourish them, the more you injure them ?”
It is said that there are great varieties of constitution, which produce corresponding varieties of diseases, and that it is impossible that the same regimen can be adapted to them all. The vulgar proverb is quoted, and, if I am rightly informed, by a gentleman who was an eye-witness of some of the facts contained in my “Reports on Cancer,” that what is one man's meat is another man's poison ; and many exclaim, A vegetable regimen may do very well with some, but I am sure it would not suit me; my own feelings tell me so, and what better guide can we possibly follow ?
I shall consider these objections in their order.
I have already said, that however various constitutions may be, diseases, with different and even opposite symptoms, may be in their essence identical. The variety of constitution is displayed in the various and ever varying forms of disease, and in the irregular times at which they take place from infancy to extreme old age. The identity then is not in the forms and external signs of disease. It must consist in some circumstance which is common to them all. This circumstance is a decay and final destruction of the vital powers. Perhaps there is no single and infallible criterion by which to judge of this decay. It may exist, though the organization of the body is perfect. It is not incompatible with great apparent strength and energy of action. The principle of life is not an object of sense, and we infer both its existence and its modifications from the phenomena of living bodies. Whether in its decay, the loss of power be confined to the organ principally affected, or whether it extend primarily to the whole body, it is not easy to determine. But that it is general and uniform throughout the whole system, seems to me, from many circumstances which I have observed, to be by far the most probable opinion. Its total destruction is the death of the body.
If the gentleman who tells me that one man's meat is another man's poison, and who is so much better versed in the anatomy of the human body than I pretend to be, will show me in what I have mistaken when I have asserted that man is herbivorous in his structure; if he can show that there is any radical difference in this respect among the individuals of the human species, I shall then subscribe to the doctrine that there is a radical divinity in human constitutions beyond what I have acknowledged. But till this is done, I must agree with a
sprightly friend of my own, who says that the proverb justly interpreted means no more than that what is meat for the patient may, perchance, be poison to the doctor.
The question of feeling may deserve a little more consideration, since it is apt to deceive persons of good judgment. The impulse or feeling of the moment is that which is naturally the immediate motive for action. What gives pleasure we naturally seek; and we avoid what occasions uneasiness. And this seems so just and reasonable a ground of action that I can hardly doubt that, in a truly sound and healthy state of the system, we might safely trust to our sensations; that what is most agreeable would be most healthy, and what gives uneasiness would be also injurious.
But it is obvious that we cannot safely argue so in a diseased system. In this case agents may neither produce their natural and appropriate sensations; nor sensations inform us justly of the qualities of bodies. The same habit which has reconciled us to many unnatural and noxious substances has likewise given us a disrelish for those which are natural and salutary. Gassendi tells us of a lamb which, having been bred up on shipboard, refused to eat grass. We surely then cannot wonder that, having accustomed our stomachs to every thing which earth, sea, or air affords, we have obliterated our relish for simple vegetable food.
It may very well be, therefore, that by habit animal food may cause no uneasiness on the stomach; and vegetable food may have the very opposite effect. I can only say it is a great misfortune to have the feelings of the stomach so completely perverted. It may be that leaving off animal food may cause suffering and uneasy feeling. This a greater misfortune still, if the health require it. But it betrays a profound ignorance of the elementary principles of human nature to mention such things as serious objections to a vegetable regimen.
The case of spirituous liquors, in which every child knows how to reason properly, is exactly parallel. I should be ashamed to dwell upon it if I did not know that, in fact, such objections have been strongly and effectually urged. I would ask, then, would any one listen a moment to a gin drinker who should tell us how warm and comfortable his morning dram is to his stomach, and how low and cold and flatulent he is without it? In like manner, no doubt, the subduction of animal food is withdrawing an accustomed irritation; a strong, but an unnatural appetite remains unsatisfied ; a craving takes place which it may require a determined effort to subdue; and it may
take some time before the old habits and old desires are completely eradicated; and before the stomach feels as well satisfied with vegetable food as it did with the former fare. An additional misfortune is that these depraved feelings and appetites are the strongest in the most diseased persons. By resolution, however, they may be conquered; and gradually animal food, so far from being an object of appetite, will cease to be thought of. The very remembrance of it will be effaced. I must assert that, except uneasy feeling such as I have described, I have observed no ill consequences from the relinquishment of animal food. The apprehended danger of the change, with which many scare themselves and their neighbors, is a mere phantom of the imagination; the danger, in truth, lies wholly on the other side.
But besides the uneasiness from the change of habits, there may be consequent uneasiness affecting any part of the body. This may have various sources. If other causes of disease continue to operate, such as putrescent water, or fermented liquors, which have power sufficient ultimately to destroy life, the source of this uneasiness is manifest. Moreover, diseased action continues long after the antecedent causes have been removed.
Parts imperfect in their primary organization, or rendered unsound artificially, may perish and be renewed. Newly-formed parts commonly possess feeble powers of life, in consequence of which they may again perish and be again renewed ; and this may take place repeatedly. In these processes we see many sources of uneasiness; of suffering ; even of acute pain, however cautious men may be in their manner of living and attentive to the rules laid down for them. They may cause inflammations, ulcerations, suppurations, sloughings, and, by consequence, every sort of pain which is attendant upon these processes.
Some of the uneasiness consequent upon the use of vegetable food is due, as I have explained in another place, to the improvement of the senses, which follows the disuse of animal food, and the restoration of the natural sensibility of the neryous system. This improvement is not confined to the organs of sense, but pervades every organ and influences every function of every part of the system. The torpor, therefore, introduced by the animal food must be equally diffused over the whole system; all the secreting organs, all the membranes, probably the whole of the vascular, glandular, and absorbent systems suffer under it, as well as the nervous system. Whether each suffers independently, or the whole, in consequence
of the union of every organ through the medium of the nervous system, it is not worth while perhaps to inquire. But observation shows that there is no organ of the body which, under the use of vegetable food, does not receive an increase of sensibility, or of that power which is thought to be imparted to it by the nervous system. The observation of this it is which has made me think it most probable that the decay and final destruction of the powers of life, in the diseases terminating in death, pervades the whole body, though the principal apparent disease may be confined to a single organ. The same consideration shows that palsy is a condition of the system not confined to the muscles, or the organs of sense. There is no fibre in the body which may not be paralytic.
Morever, there are many pains which persons suffer in the early or middle parts of life which disappear as they advance to old age. On this account there are those who are an exception to the more common rule of old age being the season of infirmity and suffering; on the contrary, they enjoy in age a uniformi degree of ease and comfort to which they were strangers in the former part of their lives. Upon such observations must have been founded the maxim of Hippocrates, that “old men for the most part have less sickness than the young." I see not what reasonable explication can be given of these phenomena, except by attributing them to the different degrees of sensibility which the body is endued with during the different stages of its existence. From this cause the young suffer from impressions which the apathy and torpor of the old shield them against. I think it must be in the memory of every person in the middle of life, that when they were children the coldness of a frosty morning was infinitely more piercing than when they had arrived at manhood.
Now this diminution of sensibility may be natural; the necessary consequence of increasing years. As far as this is the case it cannot be deemed morbid; and it would be absurd to expect to prevent or remedy it. But as far as we accelerate old age by depraved customs, or diminish our natural portion of sensibility by the use of deleterious substances, so far we may hope to recover it, in a measure, by adopting more salubrious habits. It is possible, then, that under these circumstances pain may arise in the system which may indicate the recovery of a portion of sensibility that was lost. Such pain ought to be deemed salutary. No one can question that to feel pain must be better than to be stupefied. Some illustrations and examples of this will be given in the sequel.