Livesey autobiography — chapter 11

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I may now speak of my health. At the death of my parents, when only seven years of age, I was very delicate and weakly, and being left in the care of my grandfather, who was a small farmer, I was recommended to go into the shippon every morning for a cup of new milk from the cow, which did me a great deal of good, and all through life milk has been my favourite beverage. I was set early to work, but often felt unequal to what I had to perform. After leaving the loom and commencing the cheese business, I had to travel the country many days in the week, and my constitution being unable to resist the cold and wet I was seized the first or second year with rheumatic fever. On my mother’s side there was an hereditary tendency to rheumatism. It would be difficult to describe the sufferings I endured, and such was the exhaustion of my poor weak frame that it was a quarter of a year before I was thoroughly recovered. The joints of both hands and feet were swollen, and quite fast, and I endured the most excruciating pains. For weeks I got little or no sleep. The slightest motion occasioned by my attendants walking over the floor was more than my poor nerves could bear. Sometimes I was delirious, and I saw, as I fancied, the most horrid spectres in the room. Though covered only with a single sheet, the heat of my body was almost unbearable, and such was the agony I endured that the vapour could be seen rising visibly from under the sheet. My business suffered much, and my dear wife who had to attend to it, and also to attend upon me, was worn down with anxiety and fatigue. I had afterwards, at intervals, rheumatic fever three other times, confining me to the room or keeping me from business from two to three months each time. It is impossible to describe what I have suffered, and considering how my constitution must have been impaired by these repeated attacks, it is a cause for deep thankfulness that I should be here recounting and detailing the events of my past life.

Like most people who are ignorant of the working and wants of the human frame, I not only implicitly followed the advice and took the medicines of my medical attendants, but was at all times ready to listen to the persuasions of kind friends who came with numberless prescriptions, some for curing and some for preventing my complaint. At each of the four rheumatic fevers I had a different doctor, and, beyond keeping my bowels more regular, I don’t believe that their medicines did me a particle of good. Their general remark was, “it must have its time.” Our drawers and cupboards were stored with physic bottles and pill boxes, and it was a happy day for me when I discovered their comparative uselessness, and learnt that nature is always curing, and that physic oftener retards than assists her wonderful conservative operations. For years I was seldom without severe colds and often ailing. During the winter of 1842-3 I was worse than usual, feeble, spiritless, and so susceptible of cold that if I went out in hazy weather I was almost sure to be laid up. About this time I met with Claridge’s sixpenny pamphlet on the water cure, and was so struck with his statements and the cures he had seen at Grafenberg, that I was induced to make a partial trial of the water applications. Getting no relief from medicine, I was willing to try anything. Having already described my experience and practice of the hydropathic treatment, and my present plan of using the hand bath every morning, in chapters 4 and 5, I need not here repeat the same. Some consider me an enthusiast in my unceasing practice and recommendation of water inside and out, but if a man gets 15 or 20 years usefulness added to his life; gets rid of rheumatic fevers and other sufferings, he may well be an enthusiast. Whether all the hydropathic baths have the virtues attributed to them I am not prepared to say, but of this I feel confident, that there is scarcely a person living who, having neglected his skin, never washing perhaps more than hands and face, will not be benefited by a fair trial. Though my health was generally improved, and though after adopting the water treatment I never had rheumatic fever, yet I was not quite free afterwards from rheumatic pains. We were so unfortunate as to move into the country, where we had a cold clay soil, and this and other exposures brought on chronic rheumatism in the ankle joints, from which I suffered severely for seven years, so much so that at one time I had to have recourse to the use of crutches. Moving to a warmer situation and a dryer sub-soil, about seven or eight years ago the swelling began to subside, and gradually left me, and it is really wonderful that now I am quite free from it, and walk as well as I did when I was young. Considering the long standing of this chronic affection, and my advanced age, many persons in the medical profession say that such a recovery is very uncommon. Very few persons commence the water treatment who don’t get a strong dislike to physic, and lose faith in its efficacy. This has been so much the case with me that I have not taken a particle of medicine, not so much as an aperient pill, for 14 years. To this and to my abstinence from alcoholic liquors, and my other abstemious habits, I mainly attribute the improved health I have enjoyed during these later years. Still, I feel that the hand of time is not to be bribed. If I write too much or too long at a time, or read too long any matter leading to thought and reflection, I feel that the nervous power is too severely tasked, and indigestion, with its depressing consequences, is sure to follow. A change of pursuits, sometimes mental, sometimes physical, and relaxation if you can get it, enables a person to do much more than if he were always following one and the same thing. This is one great advantage I have always had. I was never without a good many irons in the fire, though some of them might be in danger of burning. Restless, of independent feelings, and never idle, it would be difficult to say how many things I have been engaged in, and this variety no doubt has been beneficial. Losing faith in physic, and learning the benefits of open-air exercise, cheerfulness, and temperance in eating as well as drinking, all of which are inculcated in the water treatment, I began to study the laws of health with great profit. It is very much to be regretted that even educated persons know so little of physiology, that they are daily violating these laws, and, as regards health, are entirely at the mercy of doctors or “quacks.”

About 20 years ago I bought a piece of land at Bowness, the chief village included in the district of Windermere. I built two houses, one of which has afforded us a nice change in the course of the summer. I also erected a small Temperance Hall and other buildings, and lastly, four good houses, allowed to be the best of the kind in the village, so I have had some experience of “bricks (or rather stones) and mortar.” Many a time, when quite overdone with the turmoil and anxiety of unavoidable engagements in the town, have I run down there for a little quiet, and being fond of shrubs and flowers, this place, with solitude as a change, seemed for a short time almost a Paradise. The front grounds of these houses adjoin the public road. Cheap trips to Windermere, “the Queen of the English lakes,” are numerous every summer, and from the walks I often converse with the people over the railings. Of course, I warn them against drinking, and sometimes, to startle the topers, I point upwards to the four houses with mahogany window frames and plate-glass bay windows, and say, “you see those four houses.” “Yes.” “Well, I have cheated the landlords out of these!” Teetotalism, if it did nothing more than give a man a retreat like this in his old age is well worth embracing.

It would be difficult to live seventy years in this world of accidents ever occurring, without being exposed to some of them one’s self. I have been thrown off a coach, pitched off a horse at full trot, and upset in driving a horse and gig down a hill. These are casualties that few who travel can escape; but I have had two very narrow escapes for my life, and both arose from the wanton conduct of men under the influence of drink. The first was in crossing the river Wyre, at Wardless, when it was very much swollen. I was in that district buying cheese, and stayed all night at the old inn, now used as a cottage. My son William was with me, then only a boy. It is a place where they ferry people over. Applying to the landlady to be taken across, early in the morning, she called upon a man then sitting in the house to take us. He appeared to be one who had been drinking all night. He went out and got a little flat-bottomed boat, so light that he wheeled it on a wheelbarrow. We (very foolishly, I must now confess) got into the boat and balanced ourselves. He appeared fresh, but we did not suspect but what he would be able to steer us over. When about midway he began to stagger, and fell over into the river. I felt sure we were upset and should be both drowned. The water was high and the stream rapid. The frail barque, however, righted itself, and the man either bottomed the river with his feet or he could swim. Alarmed as I was at his fall, I was still more so at his attempt to regain his place; he had well nigh capsized the boat with his attempts to get in. I was in a terrible fright; the drowning of us both seemed imminent, but I kept him at bay till he moved to the hinder part of the boat, and then pushed us forward. How thankful was I when I set foot on land! The next narrow escape was on the highroad from Chorley to Clayton, about half a mile from the Clayton toll bar. I was returning from Bolton market, in company with my friend, John Pomfret, in his gig. The evening was very dark. We were just at the bottom of a rather steep incline. Two of the bleacher’s carters had been stopping to drink at the public-house at the top of the brow. On their coming out they had set their horses off at full trot, one against the other. Each cart had two or three horses and very heavy loads. We were at the bottom of the incline when they were at the top, and by our lamps we could see the perilous position we were in. There was little time to think or to act. I saw nothing but a certainty of our vehicle and horse and ourselves all being destroyed. They seemed to be abreast, each cart taking one side of the road. There was no chance of drawing to our own side, and I perceived that my friend was aiming, if possible, to drive between. Feeling impressed with a certainty of a collision I jumped out of the gig, with a view of reaching the parapet for safety; but in doing so fell on the road, and was so stunned as to be unable to rise, nor was there time to recover my legs. Oh! what a moment of suspense and terror! I expected nothing but to be crushed to death. There I lay while the carts passed, the wheel of one just missing my head. My friend got betwixt them safely. To describe the feeling I then experienced, and what I have experienced a hundred times ever since when I have thought of the awful situation I was then in, is impossible. Well may I, on personal grounds (and, indeed, who is there that may not?), swear eternal enmity to this cursed drink!

Some have expressed surprise how I have been able to give my attention and labour to so many matters. Well, in the first place, I seem as if I had never given myself rest or relaxation like other people. I have known very little of what is usually termed recreation; duty has been my pleasure, especially when engaged in something productive of good to the masses or the castaways. For years together I have never attended a “party,” though often invited, and when the mayors of the borough have sent me invitations to their “dinners” or festive gatherings, I have always declined going. I had a strong objection to be found at any gathering where wine drinking was sure to be prominent, and where I could not with propriety protest against it. Indeed, I have carried this objection so far as always to refuse attendance at the wedding breakfasts of my own sons, when the lady’s parents or friends would have wine on the table. I am not sure but I have carried this feeling too far; it has tended to separate me so much from the influential classes that the temperance cause may have gained less than it would have done by my mixing more with them. But I have always felt happiest among the poor—far happier sitting at a drunkard’s fireside than in the drawing-room of my richest friend.

And, another reason of my getting through so much work is, that I have been greatly helped by my family. For the first 15 years after our marriage I had to struggle hard (for, even then, I could not refrain doing something for the public), but I never can sufficiently appreciate the assistance I received from the industry, carefulness, and good management of my wife. And the same I may say of all our children; without exception, they have all been active and industrious. When confined by one of my rheumatic fevers—kept from business for more than two months—my eldest son, William, then only 13 years of age, was a great help to us in the cheese warehouse; and as they have grown up they have all made themselves useful, and never, like many children, brought disgrace upon their parents, or entailed burdens upon us by their misconduct. I owe more than I can express to several of my sons, eight of whom are still living, the eldest turned 52, and the youngest 33. And what is most gratifying, five of them are avowed abstainers, and the others, if not so, are considerably influenced by their father’s teaching upon this subject. Remembering the early days of these, when they walked before us two and two, admired by many, or when on every Good Friday I gave them a country ride, the interval affords matter for grave reflection, and reminds me forcibly of Job’s saying that “his days were swifter than a weaver’s shuttle.”

I was always fond of children, and even now as I pass them in groups in the street, especially those that can just “toddle” about, I feel as if I could form one of the party. I could still drive the hoop, play the ball, or strike the shuttlecock, and I do think if we could mix more with them we might save many from the sad state of degradation into which they fall. I hope, in concluding this chapter, I may be excused for appending the following extract from an article I wrote more than 30 years ago, relative to our youngsters:—

A real family man always takes delight in his children; and when everything around seems clothed with gloom and embarrassment, the smile of one child, the prattling of another, and the skipping of a third, create a source of enjoyment, and often lead him to forget his troubles. With myself, I confess, this has frequently been the case; and were it not for parental fondness, aided by the fascinations of children, how could we so gladly toil for their support, and spend upon them years of labour, without the least pecuniary return? But upon this subject a man must be a parent before he can feel as parents feel. Who can love and admire Frank like Frank’s father? He espies the parlour door open, and in he runs; and if I am on my feet he takes me by the hand and turns me to a chair. He then fetches my shoes, and does his best to put them on. He climbs my knee, takes my comb out of my waistcoat pocket, gets me to open it, combs my hair, now and then looking cunningly into my face to see if I am pleased. His next move is to climb up the chair back; perhaps he hurts his thumb, and I have to kiss it, which is an infallible cure. Children soon learn to like money; and hence he will perhaps venture to ask, in his own way, for a penny. The watch is a pretty plaything, so he will have it placed first to one ear and then to the other. If the days were ever so long, Frank would be my companion, were I disposed to play with him, till he fell fast asleep on my knee. I am exceedingly fond of children; and whatever others may think, I know that those who deserve to be called parents, will bear with me in relating these incidents. “Father, have you forgotten to bring those papers to give to poor people?” said Jem, as we were walking together, alluding to a quantity of Temperance papers which I had laid out for distribution. “No, I have got them in my pocket.” “How many have you?” he again inquired. “I have plenty.” “But how many is plenty?” “Perhaps about fifty.” Jem, still scarcely satisfied with the answer, further inquired, “Would it not take a million to be plenty of some things?” “Indeed, I dare say it would; plenty is a very indefinite term.” “I could not touch brown bread,” said one of the boys at the breakfast table, as the plate went round, both sorts being usually supplied. “Now if I were to introduce one single regulation,” I replied, “I know you would not only touch brown bread, but eat it, and not only eat it, but like it; and not only like it, but ask for more.” Some surprise being expressed at this declaration, I continued—” This would be effected simply by keeping you for some time without food, and then giving you this bread to eat.” I illustrated this by the following remark—” As I passed by a farm yard the other day, I saw some stirks eating straw, and apparently enjoying it. Now if these had been allowed meal and potatoes, or good hay every day, they would all have said, as you have said of bread, ‘I cannot touch straw.’ “—The young children have each a money box, with a little hole in the lid, always kept locked, and I keep the keys. One of them kept his box wrong side up, and when asked the reason, I was much amused with the answer. He said, “it was to prevent the mice getting in at the hole to eat the money.”—”How many fathers have you?” said I to the children one morning. “Two,” was the answer from some of the children; “one here and one in heaven.” “Then have we not two mothers?” rejoined a little one who had been listening to the conversation.

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