Priessnitz: Keep Taking the Liquids

Ian Bradley looks at the life of Vincent Priessnitz, pioneer of hydrotherapy, whose water cures gained advocates throughout 19th-century Europe and beyond and are still popular today.

The portrait of Preissnitz that stands in the sanatorium in Jesenik that bears his nameThe recession seems to have made little impact on the booming market in alternative and holistic medicine. It may well be that these straitened times are encouraging more people to abandon expensive drug-based therapies and return to older, simpler remedies and more ‘natural’ ways of keeping fit.

A similar movement developed in the mid-18th century under the twin influences of evangelical religion and Romanticism. Among the first advocates of what would now be called holistic medicine was John Wesley (1703-91), the founder of Methodism, whose Primitive Physic, published in 1747, extolled the benefits of a healthy life based on the simple gifts that God had provided, avoiding excesses of every kind.

Abstain from all mixed, all high seasoned food. Use plain diet, easy of digestion; and this as sparingly as you can, consistent with ease and strength. Drink only water, if it agrees with our stomach; if not, good, clear small beer. Use as much exercise daily in the open air, as you can without weariness. Sup at six or seven on the lightest food; go to bed early, and rise betimes. To persevere with steadiness in this course, is often more than half the cure.

At the heart of the natural approach to health preached and practised by Wesley and others was an emphasis on the use of copious amounts of water both internally and externally. He recommended that everyone should have a cold bath on rising in the morning:

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