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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Fritz Reuter (1810–1874)

Water Cure

From “My Farming Days”

SPRING was gone and summer had come, when one Sunday morning Hawermann received a letter from Bräsig, dated from Warnitz, in which his friend requested him to remain at home that day, for he had returned, and intended to call on him that afternoon. When Bräsig arrived, he sprang from his saddle with so much force that one might have thought he wanted to go through the road with both legs.

“Oho!” cried Hawermann, “how brisk you are! You’re all right now, aren’t you?”

“As right as a trivet, Karl. I’ve renewed my youth.”

“Well, how have you been getting on, old boy?” asked Hawermann, when they were seated on the sofa and their pipes were lighted.

“Listen, Karl. Cold, damp, watery, clammy—that’s about what it comes to. It’s just turning a human being into a frog, and before a man’s nature is so changed, he has such a hard time of it that he begins to wish he had come into the world a frog. Still, it isn’t a bad thing! You begin the day with the common packing, as they call it. They wrap you up in cold, damp sheets, and then in woolen blankets, in which they fasten you up so tight that you can’t move any part of your body except your toes. In this condition they take you to a bath-room, and a man goes before you ringing a bell to warn the ladies to keep out of your way. Then they put you, just as God made you, in a bath, and dash three pails of water over your bald head, if you happen to have one, and after that they allow you to go away. Well, do you think that that’s the end of it? No, Karl, there’s more to follow: but it’s a good thing, all the same. Now you’ve got to go for a walk in a place where there’s nothing on earth to do. I’ve been accustomed all my life to walking a great deal, but then it was doing something—plowing or harrowing, spreading manure or cutting corn—and there I’d no occupation whatever. While walking, you are expected to drink ever so many tumblers of water, ever so many. Some of the people were exactly like sieves; they were always at it, and they used to gasp out, ‘What splendid water it is!’ Don’t believe them, Karl, it is nothing but talk. Water applied externally is bad enough, in all conscience, but internally it’s still more horrible. Then comes the sitting-bath. Do you know what a bath at four degrees below zero is like? It’s very much what you would feel if you were in hell, and the devil had tied you down to a glowing iron chair, under which he kept up a roaring fire. Still, it’s a good thing! Then you’ve to walk again till dinner-time. And now comes dinner. Ah, Karl, you have no idea what a human being goes through at a water-cure place! You’ve got to drink no end of water. Karl, I’ve seen ladies, small and thin as real angels, drink each of them three decanters as large as laundry-pails at a sitting. And then the potatoes! Good gracious! as many potatoes were eaten in a day as would have served to plant an acre of ground! These water-doctors are much to be pitied; their patients must eat them out of house and home. In the afternoon the water-drinking goes on as merrily as before, and you may now talk to the ladies, if you like; but in the morning you may not approach them, for they are not then dressed for society. Before dinner some of them are to be seen running about with wet stockings, as if they had been walking through a field of clover; others have wet bandages tied round their heads, and all of them let their hair hang down over their shoulders, and wear a Venus’s girdle round their waists, which last, however, is not visible. But in the afternoon, as I said, you may talk to them as much as you like, but will most likely get short answers, unless you speak to them about their health, and ask them how often they have been packed, and what effect it had on them; for that is the sort of conversation that is most approved of at a water-cure establishment. After amusing yourself in this way for a little, you must have a touche, that is, a great rush of ice-cold water—and that’s a good thing too. Above all, Karl, you must know that what every one most dislikes, and whatever is most intensely disagreeable, is found to be wholesome and good for the constitution.”

“Then you ought to be quite cured of your gout,” said Hawermann, “for, of all things in the world, cold water was what you always disliked the most.”

“It’s easy to see from that speech that you’ve never been at the water-cure, Karl. Listen; this is how the doctor explained the whole thing to me. That confounded gout is the chief of all diseases—in other words, it is the source of them all, and it proceeds from the gouty humor which is in the bones, and which simply tears one to pieces with the pain; and this gouty substance comes from the poisonous matter one has swallowed as food—for example, Kümmel, or tobacco, or medicine from the apothecary’s. Now you must understand that any one who has gout must, if he wishes to be cured, be packed in damp sheets till the water has drawn all the tobacco he has ever smoked, and all the Kümmel he has ever drunk, out of his constitution. First the poisonous matter goes, then the gouty matter, and last of all the gout itself.”

“And has it been so with you?”


“Why didn’t you remain longer, then? I should have stayed on, and have got rid of it once for all, if I had been you.”

“You don’t know what you are talking about, Karl. No one could stand it, and no one has ever done it all at once. But now let me go on with my description of our daily life. After the touche, you are expected to walk again, and by the time that is finished it has begun to grow dusk. You may remain out later, if you like, and many people do so, both gentlemen and ladies; or you may go into the house and amuse yourself by reading. I always spent the evening in studying the water-books written by an author named Franck, who is, I understand, at the head of his profession. These books explain the plan on which the water-doctors proceed, and give reasons for all they do; but it’s very difficult to understand. I could never get farther than the first two pages, and these were quite enough for me, for when I’d read them I felt as light-headed and giddy as if I had been standing on my head for half an hour. You imagine, no doubt, Karl, that the water in your well is water? He does not think so. Listen. Fresh air is divided into three parts: oxygen, nitrogen, and black carbon; and water is divided into two parts: carbon and hydrogen. Now, the whole water-cure the’ry is founded on water and air. And listen, Karl, just think of the wisdom of nature: when a human being goes out into the fresh air, he inhales both black carbon and nitrogen through his wind-pipe, and as his constitution cannot stand the combination of these two dreadful things, the art of curing by water steps in, and drives them out of his throat. And the way that it does so is this: the oxygen grapples with the carbon, and the hydrogen drives the nitrogen out of your body. Do you understand me, Karl?”

“No,” said Hawermann, laughing heartily; “you can hardly expect me to do that.”

“Never laugh at things you don’t understand, Karl. Listen: I have smelt the nitrogen myself, but as for the black carbon, what becomes of it? That is a difficult question, and I didn’t get on far enough with the water-science to be able to answer it. Perhaps you think that Parson Behrens could explain the matter to me; but no, when I asked him yesterday he said that he knew nothing about it. And now, Karl, you’ll see that I’ve still got the black carbon in me, and that I shall have that beastly gout again.”

“But, Zacharias, why didn’t you remain a little longer, and get thoroughly cured?”

“Because”—and Bräsig cast down his eyes, and looked uncomfortable—“I couldn’t. Something happened to me. Karl,” he continued, raising his eyes to his friend’s face, “you’ve known me from childhood; tell me, did you ever see me disrespectful to a woman?”

“No, Bräsig, I can bear witness that I never did.”

“Well, then, just think what happened. A week ago last Friday the gout was very troublesome in my great toe—you know it always begins by attacking the small end of the human wedge—and the water-doctor said, ‘Mr. Bailiff,’ he said, ‘you must have an extra packing; Dr. Strump’s colchicum is the cause of this, and we must get rid of it.’ Well, it was done. He packed me himself, and so tight that I had hardly room to breathe, telling me for my comfort that water was more necessary for me than air, and then he wanted to shut the window. ‘No,’ I said, ‘I understand the the’ry well enough to know that I must have fresh air, so please leave the window open.’ He did as I asked, and went away. I lay quite still in my compress, thinking no evil, when suddenly I heard a great humming and buzzing in my ears, and when I could look up, I saw a swarm of bees streaming in at my window, preceded by their queen. I knew her well, Karl, for, as you know, I am a bee-keeper. One spring the schoolmaster at Zittelwitz and I got fifty-seven in a field. I now saw that the queen was going to settle on the blanket which the doctor had drawn over my head. What was to be done? I couldn’t move. I blew at her, and blew and blew till my breath was all gone. It was horrible! The queen settled right on the bald part of my head—for I had taken off my wig, as usual, to save it—and now the whole swarm flew at my face. That was enough for me. Quickly I rolled out of bed, freed myself from the blanket, wriggled out of the wet sheets, and reached the door, for the devil was at my heels. I got out at the door, and striking out at my assailants blindly and madly, shrieked for help. God be praised and thanked for the existence of the water-doctor! His name is Ehrfurcht. He came to my rescue, and, taking me to another room, fetched me my clothes, and so after a few hours’ rest I was able to go down to the dining-room—salong, as they call it; but I still had half a bushel of bee-stings in my body. I began to speak to the gentlemen, and they did nothing but laugh. Why did they laugh, Karl? You don’t know, nor do I. I turned to one of the ladies, and spoke to her in a friendly way about the weather. She blushed. What was there in the weather to make her red? I can’t tell, nor can you, Karl. I spoke to the lady who sings, and asked her very politely to let us hear the beautiful song which she sings every evening. What did she do, Karl? She turned her back upon me! I now busied myself with my own thoughts, but the water-doctor came up to me, and said courteously:

“‘Don’t be angry with me, Mr. Bailiff, but you’ve made yourself very conspicuous this afternoon.’

“‘How?’ I asked.

“‘Fräulein von Hinkefuss was crossing the passage when you ran out of your room, and she has told every one else in strict confidence.’

“‘And so,’ I said, ‘you give me no sympathy, the gentlemen laugh at me, and the ladies turn their pretty backs upon me. No, I didn’t come here for that! If Fräulein von Hinkefuss had met me, if half a bushel of bee-stings had been planted in her body, I should have asked her every morning, with the utmost propriety, how she was. But let her alone! There is no market where people can buy kind-heartedness! Come away, doctor, and pull the stings out of my body.’

“He said he couldn’t do it.

“‘What!’ I asked, ‘can’t you pull bee-stings out of a man’s skin?’

“‘No,’ he said; ‘that is to say, I can do it, but I dare not, for that is an operation such as surgeons perform, and I have no diploma for surgery from the Mecklenburg government.’

“‘What?’ I asked, ‘you are allowed to draw gout out of my bones, but it is illegal for you to draw a bee-sting out of my skin? You dare not meddle with the outer skin, which you can see, and yet you presume to attack my internal maladies, which you can’t see? Thank you!’

“Well, Karl, from that moment I lost all faith in the water-doctor, and without faith they can do nothing, as they themselves tell you when it comes to the point. So I went away quietly and got old Metz, the surgeon at Rahnstädt, to draw out the stings. That was the end of the water-cure. Still, it’s a good thing. One gets new ideas in a place like that, and even if one’s gout is not cured, one gains some notion of what a human being can suffer. And now, Karl, this is a water-book I have brought you; you can read it in the winter evenings.”