Livesey autobiography — chapter 17

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Water for both inside and outside has been what I have long preached and practised. Hence I have always advocated Hydropathy, and have also largely availed myself, for my bodily ailments, of that mode of treatment. The first doctor practising Hydropathy which I consulted was Dr. Pasely at Bowness, Windermere. This was above thirty years ago, and his place was a most limited one compared with those which have been since erected in numerous parts of the kingdom, including the extensive establishment opened this year (1881) by the Windermere Hydropathic Company. This is situate on the slope of Biskey Howe, overlooking lake Windermere, and also the lovely lake-side village of Bowness, and immediately above my former residence at that place. Subsequently I visited most of the leading Hydropathic Establishments—Gully’s and Wilson’s, Malvern; the Wells and Ben Rhydding at Ilkley; and Smedley’s I have visited several times. I have also been twice at the Hydropathic Establishment at Rolandseck on the Rhine—on one occasion remaining there nine weeks. No one has been more faithful to the use of Nature’s best remedy, simplifying the water treatment in many respects. In the earlier days of Hydropathy the treatment was largely if not entirely by cold water applied in a variety of ways, but in later years the mode of treatment has considerably changed, warm and hot applications being largely in use besides the introduction of the Turkish Bath at some of the largest establishments. About this change in the mode of treatment I do not venture to give any opinion, but there is another change which is sadly for the worse, and which I am bound to condemn. In the early days of Hydropathy the establishments were curative ones, but as they began to multiply they became less and less so, until now many of them are more akin to hotels than places for the cure of disease. When they are conducted on Temperance principles, no objection can be offered; indeed situate as they generally are on hill sides, where there is pure and bracing air, they offer advantages alike for pleasure and securing health independent of the baths. But it is lamentable to find in places ostensibly for the promotion of health, that there has been introduced the very substance—Alcohol—which undermines men’s constitutions, and induces disease and every other evil. I regret to know that such is the power of appetite formed by moderate indulgence in alcohol, that even in establishments conducted, as they all ought to be, on strictly temperance principles, drink is sometimes surreptitiously introduced; lamentable as is that practice, yet its evil influence on others is small compared with the sale of intoxicating liquors at such places; and in some others where not sold facilities are afforded for fetching it. The lesson to be learnt from all this is that the various temperance organizations need to put forth greater exertions than ever in the advocacy of total abstinence, for it might seem that concurrent with the extension of temperance principles, there has been a shifting of the sale and supply of liquors into perhaps more dangerous channels than the old ones, as in the case of hydropathic establishments and of social and political clubs, and worse than all, of grocers’ shops.

The readers of this autobiography scarcely need to be told that my health during life has often been interrupted. I have suffered more from rheumatism than from any other cause. I have had rheumatic fever five times, and few have had more to endure from this than myself. It is an hereditary disease, and I have had several relatives who carried marks of the same to the grave. My last rheumatic fever laid me up at Windermere in 1869; it was very severe, and put a stop to my temperance work for a long time; what rendered it most trying was that my dear wife was seriously ill at the same time—an illness which terminated in her death. We were both confined in the same house, but in different rooms, and never saw each other for seven weeks. I recovered slowly. I was unable to attend her funeral, and for a long time it was doubtful whether I should ever be able to render much more service to the temperance cause. One circumstance during this fever I shall never forget. Dr. Clowes was my medical adviser, and having attended upon me for some time my case was becoming serious, and one morning after a special examination, especially as to the action of my heart, he said: —”I know your principles, that you have a strong objection to stimulants, but I feel it my duty to be candid and to say that unless you consent I should not like to be responsible for the consequences.” In reply, I answered—”Well, what is it you wish me to take?” He said—”I should recommend a little brandy, but perhaps in your case claret might answer.” In my firmness against alcohol I was as unshaken as at the present time, but I replied—”I always understood that you could make up substitutes if required.” He then said—” Well, I will send you a mixture,” which he did at once. I only took one doze; it was so bad, that calling for James—the man who attended upon me—I said to him—”This house has always been clear of drink and it shall now be clear of physic also, clear the room, take every bottle away”—speaking hastily at the time, being racked with pain. This he did at once as ordered, and I was left alone. There I was, I could scarcely move hand or foot, and I then began to think of the serious condition I was left in, for I did not know whether the doctor would call again, but if he did I was determined not to alter my decision. I said to myself—”If need be I am prepared to die, but I am not prepared to bring a scandal upon the good cause for which I have laboured so hard;” and this resolve I should repeat again if I were placed under similar circumstances. After some time I decided what to do. Remembering the reputation of Mr. Constantine, of Manchester, as a good bath-man, at my request he was telegraphed for, and after several visits and the application of the hydropathic treatment, in the best way my bed-ridden and painful condition would admit of, I began to improve, and though my recovery was slow, I ultimately recovered. I did not fail afterwards to “chaff” the doctor about my refusing to take any of his stimulants; I said—”If I had taken your claret, you would have repeated it all around that Mr. Livesey, notwithstanding his teetotalism, was obliged to take alcoholic liquor, and that it had saved his life, but as I did not take it—depending upon nature and assisted by water—and have recovered, you are quiet and say nothing.” We have since discussed the question more fully, and what is a matter of great satisfaction to myself is, that he has since become a sound teetotaler, and has delivered—for the benefit of the Church of England Temperance Society—several lectures, some of which have been published. Since this period I have been compelled to be careful as to my health—to cease altogether taking journeys from home or to attend meetings, but my attachment to the good old cause has not abated, and I have continued to render all the help I could. Instead of keeping on my depot of temperance tracts and bills in the town, which I found not convenient, I converted one of our bedrooms on the ground floor into a sort of stock and packing room, where I have all under my own management, and from which, with the help of some of the family, I despatch parcels almost daily to every part of the kingdom. Though I am now so closely confined to the house, yet I know as well as many others (perhaps more than some) what progress we are making. I get nearly all the periodicals that are published; my correspondence is still extensive, so much so that were it not for the help of my family I should disappoint many.

I have practised so many years washing every morning, that I have given the following details of my morning’s operations as a guide to others. Once begun few will find any inclination to discontinue:—

I have always been an advocate for the free use of water to the skin; indeed, I may say that “water inside and out” has been a leading article in my hygienic faith. The people of this country are sadly too afraid of water; if they were as much afraid of beer it would be greatly to their advantage. One is the gift—among the best gifts—of heaven, “pure, sparkling, and bright,” and can be had for nothing; the other is adulterated with whisky, and the people are such geese as to give for this unnatural mixture 4d. or 6d. a quart! There is one simple water operation that suits all cases, involves no loss of time, and is practicable in every bedroom, requiring nothing more than a large basin, a sponge, and two towels. This I call my “Morning Hand Bath;” and of its efficacy, when followed, I can not only speak from experience, but have received numerous testimonies of persons who have been benefited, but who could get no benefit from drugs. I have derived so much good myself that, as there are many that cannot afford the time or the expense of going to a water establishment, I will give a detail of the operation on my own person. All the appliances I require are, first, the usual wash-hand basin, into which I pour (sometimes before going to bed), say, two quarts of water. Into this I put a large coarse sponge, or, if I have not one at hand, a small towel, and next, something to stand on (simply to prevent wetting the floor), a piece of old carpet is sufficient, but I have a tin tray, 3ft. 3in. diameter, with a rim a few inches deep. These being provided, I get out of bed, the warmer the better, wet my head first with my hands, and then, taking the sponge full of water, I squeeze it on my shoulders, the water trickling down the body to the feet. If I want a good dose, I take a second spongeful in like manner, and sometimes a third; I have then at hand a couple of coarse towels, each about a yard long, and with them I rub myself vigorously for about a minute. Many persons, when commencing the practice, will require a longer rubbing—say two or three minutes; they need, however, to rub no longer than necessary to secure a reaction of warmth. It is important that the dressing should be quick, so as not to lose the heat which arises from the bounding of the blood to the surface. Ten minutes is the full time I take from leaving the bed to being in full dress. Of course this cannot be expected where much dandyism is attempted! At first it will be desirable for the amateur to take a brisk walk, for a quarter of an hour or so, immediately after, but in cold weather this should not be done without an overcoat; and as the walk is merely to secure reaction, when this can be obtained without it may be dispensed with. To persons who are only starting the practice I would say—if cold water be very disagreeable, by all means try tepid, and reduce it gradually to cold as soon as the body is able to bear it. For health, vigour, and physical happiness, I know nothing equal to “water inside and out.” The latter I have practised, summer and winter, for above thirty and the former nearly fifty years. I have great faith in nature—in what physiologists call the vis medicatrix naturae, and this conservative power has seldom disappointed me. If I am unwell I don’t take physic; I wait, and recover much sooner, I observe, than those who dose themselves with drugs. I don’t know any greater mistake made by most people than this—that as soon as they feel out of order, either the doctor or some quack medicine is sent for, and they are never satisfied unless they get something to “cure” them. Whereas the truth is, that most of our ailments are themselves a curative process, a remedial effort of nature to set the system right. To take physic, in most cases, is to interfere with, and often to defeat that remedial operation. The vitality of the system has then to exert itself both to get rid of the physic and to do its own proper work. We have a great deal to learn, and perhaps more to unlearn, as to what course is best for securing good health. Nobody knows the value of water and fresh air; I would that all preachers and teachers understood the water treatment, and would reduce it to practice on their own persons. To me it has been life itself: but for this morning ablution I should never have been able to do half the labour which has fallen to my lot. I have induced numbers to adopt the practice, and they have been greatly benefited.

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