This is a good place in which to set down a few hints about sickness, which I have gleaned from my good mother, and other friends.
She often observed, that many people make mistakes on this subject, and she took great pains to correct them wherever she had opportunity.
In the first place, she would say, “Do all you can to preserve health; an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. In order that you may be healthy, rise early, live temperately, labor diligently, cultivate a contented spirit, observe cleanliness, drink plenty of cold water, admit plenty of fresh air into your houses.”
She used to tell a story of a certain great physician, who gave four rules for the preservation of health. When he died, his books were sold: one, which was said to contain very valuable precepts of health, but which the bidders were not permitted to open, sold at a high price. When the purchaser got it home, he was at first disappointed at finding that it contained nothing more than four simple rules; but, on further consideration, he was induced to put the rules in practice; by which means he was restored to a state of health to which he had long been a stranger; and he often spoke of the old physician’s book as the cheapest and most valuable purchase he ever made in his life. The rules were these—”Keep the head cool. Keep the feet warm. Take a light supper. Rise early.”
These simple rules comprehend a vast deal more than may appear at first sight. A word or two on each will show this.
1. “Keep the head cool.” To “keep the head cool,” people must avoid every kind of excess, and maintain moderation in every pursuit, and in every pleasure. The great eater and the great drinker have generally a burning forehead and a cloudy brain. The passionate man, and the intemperate, are strangers to perfect health, as well as to peace of mind. Even too hard study occasions an aching and burning head.
2. “Keep the feet warm.” The same course suggested for keeping the head cool will at the same time tend to keep the feet properly warm, namely, moderation, activity, and calmness of temper. An intemperate, an indolent, or an ill-tempered person, is never really healthy; and, as it is in the power of everyone to avoid such wicked habits, and even to resist and break them off when acquired, in that sense and to that degree, every man is the disposer of his own health, and has to answer for trifling with it.
3. “Take a light supper.” It is a sign of ill health when people have the strongest relish for food late in the day; and the indulgence of that irregular appetite tends to increase the evil. Formerly it was the fashion, though a very bad one, to eat substantial and often luxurious suppers. There was then a common saying,
“After dinner sit awhile,
After supper walk a mile.”
In this homely distich there is much sound wisdom. One moderately hearty meal of food daily, is sufficient for nourishment, and conducive to health. After taking it, a short period of comparative repose is desirable, but not the total repose of sleep. After that, several hours of activity, and then a slight meal, such as will not require much exercise of the digestive powers, when the whole system ought to be resigned to complete repose.
Those who eat a hearty supper generally have disturbed, uneasy sleep, and wake at a late hour, languid and drowsy, feeble, sullen, and irritable, with a burning forehead, cold feet, and a disinclination to food and labor.
Some laboring men, however, are obliged to content themselves at mid-day with a slight refreshment, which they can carry with them, and depend on returning home to their principal meal when labor is done. In this case, the meal should be quite ready for them on their return home; and they should not go to bed directly on eating it, but employ themselves for an hour or two on some moderately-active pursuit, which, being of a different nature from their daily labor, will come in as an agreeable variation; such, for instance, as gardening, or carpentering, for the man who has labored through the day in the loom or on the shop-board.
4. “Rise early.” Nothing is more conducive to health and excellence of every kind than early rising. All physicians agree in this; and all people who have attained a good old age, in whatever particulars they might differ from each other, have been distinguished as early risers. Some people require more sleep than others; but it may be laid down as a general rule, that there is no grown person to whom a period of sleep longer than seven, or, at the very most, eight hours, can be either necessary or beneficial. But a person in health may easily know how much sleep he requires, by going to bed every night at a stated time, and uniformly rising as soon as he awakes, however early that may be. By steadily pursuing this plan for a few days, or at most a few weeks, a habit will be acquired of taking just the rest that nature requires, and regularly awaking out of one sound and refreshing sleep to new vigor and activity; and when this habit is thoroughly formed, it would be no less disagreeable, than useless and injurious, for such a person, having once beheld the bright morning sun, to turn on his pillow and say, “A little more sleep, a little more slumber, a little more folding of the hands to sleep.”
The earlier rest is taken, the more satisfying and beneficial it will be found. “One hour before midnight is worth two hours afterwards.” This is a common and a true saying; but it is not to be supposed that two hours in the morning will make up for the loss of one at night. Nothing can be farther from the truth. The loss of night sleep is injurious, but indulgence in day slumbers is still more so. In case of having been disturbed one night, the best way to replace the loss is to go to bed one hour or two earlier, rather than to be later in the morning. Attention to these particulars would do much to preserve health.
“In the historical parts of scripture,” says Robinson, “we may observe in general that diligence and early rising are inculcated as a doctrine; as, ‘You shall diligently keep the commandments’—’Give diligence to make your calling and election sure.’ They are exemplified as a practice; as, ‘Awake, I myself will awake early’—Abraham got up early in the morning—Jacob rose up early—Moses rose early in the morning—Joshua rose early—Samuel rose early—Job rose early in the morning—Jesus came early in the morning into the temple, and all the people came early to hear him. All these were, probably, early risers by habit; and it is certain most of them were. Moreover, the practice is encouraged by express promise; as, ‘I love those who love me, and those who seek me early shall find me.’
“Besides this general view of scripture history, there is a particular and edifying view of some remarkable mornings, of which I will just give you a sketch to direct your meditations.
“That was a morning long to be remembered, in which the angel hastened to Lot, and led him and his family out of Sodom. The sun rose before he entered Zoar; and when Abraham got up early, and looked towards Sodom, he beheld, and, lo! the smoke of the country went up as the smoke of a furnace.
“It was a happy morning in the life of Isaac, when peace and plenty were secured to him and his family by a contract, confirmed by oath, between himself and a neighboring king, to perform which they rose early in the morning.
“It was a morning sacred to memory with Jacob and his posterity, when, after his dream of a frame with steps opening a passage to the temple of the King of kings, graced with heavenly officers going up and coming down, to teach him the doctrine of Providence, he rose up early, set up a pillar, and dedicated both the place and himself to God. Nor could time ever erase out of his memory that other morning, when a man wrestled with him until the breaking of day. ‘Let me go,’ said one, ‘for the day breaks;’ ‘I will not let you go,’ replied the other, ‘unless you bless me.’
“What memorable mornings were those, in which Moses rose up early, stood before Pharaoh, and in the name of Almighty God demanded liberty for his nation! What a night was that, in which the Israelites passed through the sea! and what a morning followed, when Moses stretched out his hand, and the tide rolled back with the dawning of the day, and floated the carcasses of the Egyptians to the feet of the people of God, on the shore!
“Early every morning, for forty years, the cloud was taken up, and the manna fell.
“What a busy morning was that on which Gideon suppressed idolatry, at the hazard of his life! What an honorable morning was that to Daniel, when a great king visited him in the lion’s den! And, to mention no more, that was a morning sacred to memory throughout all generations, in which Jesus, the King of Israel, was cut off. A belief of these true histories furnishes matter for early meditation, prayer, and praise.
“If any of us have been so unfortunate as to have acquired the idle habit of lying late in bed, let us get rid of it: nothing is easier. A habit is but a repetition of single acts, and bad habits are to be broken as they were formed, that is, by degrees. Difficult habits, however, may be unraveled by application and prudence. Let a person, accustomed to sleep until eight in the morning, rise, the first week in April, at a quarter before eight, the second week at half-past seven, and the fourth at seven; let him continue this method until the end of July, subtracting one quarter of an hour from sleep, and he will accomplish the work that at first sight appears so difficult. It is not a single stride, but a succession of short steps, which conveys us from the foot—to the top of the mountain. Early rising is a great gain of time; and should the learner, just now supposed, rise, all the harvest month, at four instead of eight, he would make that month equal to five weeks of his former indolent life.
“Early rising is a habit so easily acquired, so advantageous to health, so necessary to the dispatch of business, and so important to devotion, that, except in cases of necessity, it cannot be dispensed with by any prudent and diligent man.
“Thanks to the goodness of God, and the fostering hands of our kind parents, this habit is so formed in some of us, that we would think it a cruel punishment to be confined to our beds after the usual hour. Let us prize and preserve this profitable practice, and let us habituate all our children to consider lying in bed after daylight, as one of the ills of the aged and the sick, and not as an enjoyment to people in a state of perfect health.
“Early rising is beneficial to health. I am aware that ‘to ask what is wholesome, is like asking whether the wind be fair, without specifying to what port we are bound;’ for some animals live on poisons. However, it may safely be affirmed, that, in general, lying long and late in bed impairs the health, generates disease, and, in the end, destroys the lives of multitudes. It is an intemperance of the most pernicious kind, having nothing to recommend it, nothing to set against its ten thousand mischievous consequences; for to be asleep is to be dead for the time. This tyrannical habit attacks life in its essential powers; it makes the blood forget its way, and creep lazily along the veins; it relaxes the fibers; unstrings the nerves; evaporates the animal spirits; saddens the soul; dulls the fancy; subdues and stupefies a man to such a degree, that he, the master of the creation, has no appetite for anything in it; loathes labor; yawns for lack of thought; trembles at the sight of a spider, and, in the absence of that, at the creatures of his own gloomy imagination.”
– Gorham Abbott, The Family At Home