Cleanliness Next to Godliness.
Selected writings of John M. Scudder.
Dr. Scudder was an enemy to dirt. One of the last efforts of his life was to preside at a meeting at which was read a symposium on medicine prepared under his direction, which was directed against dirt as a causative factor in disease. He abhorred dirt in any form, as he abhorred dirty practitioners, dirty methods, and dirty medicines. This editorial was much more needed in his day than now, when sanitation has been enforced by statutes and ordinances. Dr. Scudder, in advance of his time, was a pioneer in the crusade for municipal and rural cleanliness, as well as for clean medication.—Ed. Gleaner.
CLEANLINESS NEXT TO GODLINESS.—If the apostle places cleanliness next to godliness in religion, it should hold a first place in medicine. Dirt, disease, death, have a very close relationship; indeed, in many cases we regard them in the order of cause, operation, result, and it is because this relationship is ignored that I desire to call attention to it.
Dirt is a very common cause of disease, and of its more unpleasant forms, yet the subject has not received the attention that it deserves. The illness of the Prince of Wales attracted public attention to dirty air from defective sewers as a cause of disease, and was the occasion of rectifying similar wrongs in hundreds of households. The large number of cases of cholera, and its marked fatality in certain localities where the people used well water, called attention to their foul condition, and, to the discharge into them from cesspools and sewers, and they were abandoned. The remarkable prevalence of typh-fever in the vicinity of open sewers called attention to this, and the employment of sewer-traps to obviate the difficulty. The-prevalence of low grades of fever in some large prisons (jail fever) called attention to dirt—in the building, in the atmosphere, of the person, and regulations were made to enforce cleanliness. Having found a low fever that was evidently dependant upon the milk supply, an examination proved that milk would absorb some of the most unpleasant forms of animal dirt, and afterwards the milk was properly cared for.
I name these as familiar examples in medical literature, but don't think that they are exceptional cases—dirt is the rule, cleanliness the exception. Men eat dirt, drink dirt, bathe in dirt, breathe dirt, and are dirty; and whilst but the few suffer from: the acute poisoning that will produce a typhoid fever or a dysentery, the majority are slowly poisoned, and have their lives shortened by it. Hence the apostle's truism—"cleanliness is next to godliness"—cleanliness as much a necessity for this world as godliness is for the next.
Don't imagine that your neighborhood, or your family, or yourself are exempt. Inspect your village, your own surroundings, and you will find the evidences that people are wronged by dirt. Look at the kitchen drainage,—in nine out of ten cases the dirt is not removed, or but a short distance, and the ground becomes supersaturated with this offal. Possibly it has found the road into the well, into the cellar, or under the house, and people are continually taking it into the system by way of the lungs or mouth. I have known several instances in which you could thus put your finger on the causes of grave disease affecting an entire family. Look at your privy—built on the surface, with an excavation two or three feet in depth, and the well but a stone's throw, supplied by surface water. Two-thirds of the wells in this country are shallow and have a surface supply; and two-thirds of the water used is surface water, contaminated by all the offal and excreta of the house and family.
Investigate the cellar. The moment the door is opened the nose is offended by a compound smell of dampness, decay, and dirt. Here are decomposing vegetables, there rotting boards, barrels, and straw; here a leak from the outside, there a checked drain—add the flavor of a spoiled rat, and you have it in a very common form. Sometimes the entire house is pervaded by the nastiness, and shaded windows, the absence of sunlight and fresh air intensifies the trouble.
These conditions of houses are to some extent conditions of villages, and the result is a most unnatural amount of disease and death. As we had occasion to remark before, this is the physician's business, and he illy does his duty who neglects to warn the people of their danger.
But there is a want of cleanliness that more nearly concerns us, and this we find in the surroundings of the sick. As we open the door of the sick room, our senses warn us of danger. The atmosphere is loaded with fever emanations, indeed it is sometimes so heavy that, to use a common expression, it seems "you could cut it with a knife." The air is not only dirty, but it seems to have lost some of its life-giving properties. You glance at the windows, and they are closed and darkened, the beds in the wrong places, the carpets are foul, under the bed is especially foul, and the receptable of nastiness, the chamber utensils are foul, the table or stand cluttered with unpleasant looking medicines, drinks, slops, and food. The bed-clothing is soiled, the patient's clothes dirty and offensive, his hands and face grimy, and his hair unkempt.
You may not have all this. You may not have it in its most aggravated forms, but you will have it unless you resist dirt as the Christian is taught to resist the devil. Show me the doctor that enforces cleanliness, of air, of surroundings, of drink, of food, of medicines, of bedding, of clothes, of person, and I will show you a man that has more than ordinary success.
And here we may learn a lesson from Homeopathy. (By the by, we are not afraid to talk of Homeopathy, or learn any lesson that it can teach us.) If there is nothing good in little pellets, there is wondrous virtue in cleanliness, as it does give most excellent results, and your Homeopath is cleanly himself and enforces cleanliness in his patrons—it is not the practice of the "great unwashed."
Eclecticism owes more than half its success to the alkaline bath, and when I say more than half, I am estimating Podophyllin, Leptandrin, Lobelia, and all the other "indigenous," and mean one-half full. It was personal cleanliness vs. personal dirt, and cleanliness won the day. And if we had found personal cleanliness of so much advantage, why not carry it a little farther and make it embrace the clothing, the air, the room, the food, the medicine, and even the surroundings of a man's house? Why not?—SCUDDER, Eclectic Medical Journal, 1874.
The Biographies of King, Howe, and Scudder, 1912, was written by Harvey Wickes Felter, M. D.