Principles or Men, Which?
Brief History Of The Hygienic Movement
By: Herbert M. Shelton
I borrowed the title for this article
from the late Dr. Bergholtz of
Milwaukee. Immediately after
the death of Dr. Wm. H. Hay,
Dr. Bergholtz wrote an article
under this title. It was published
in the Therapeutic Digest for Feb.
The article was reproduced in the
Aug.-Sept. 1945 issue of the Journal of
Balanced Living issued by the Bergholtz
Health Institute. As there is so much in the article that is good, I am going to
do more than merely borrow the title, I am also going to borrow some of the
Dr. Bergholtz points out that every time a leader in the nature cure field dies,
doubts are raised as to the efficacy of the nature cure system. Questions are
asked and much criticism is offered. Dr. Hay was only 70 when he died, yet his
system had promised longer life.
Since he failed to attain the "greater-expectancy he attributed to following a
program of diet stressing moderation and restricted food combinations" doubts
were thrown upon the validity of his program.
It was ever thus. Sylvester Graham died in 1851 at the age of 55. He had
promised longer life by adhering to a Hygienic way of life. His early death is
still referred to by the enemies of living reform as an evidence that there was
something radically wrong with the mode of living he advocated.
Dr. Trall's death at the age of 66 caused much criticism of him and the plan of
living he advocated. His discussions of longevity had promised a much
longer life to those who lived a rational Hygienic life. The recent death of Dr.
Benedict Lust at the age of 73 has brought many comments to my desk and to
my ears. If the principles Dr. Lust advocated were correct, why did he not live
The purpose of Dr. Bergholtz's article is to point out that the correctness of a
principle is not dependent upon the success of an individual in carrying it out
in his own living. He says that:
"A philosophy based on truth is not dependent upon any man, procedure,
experimental evidence, or any other agent that man may devise, but will stand
by itself in its own right, indisputable, irrevocable, invincible and eternal."
It may be objected that we have no way of determining the truth of a
philosophy or a principle except by its results in operation, that, "by their fruits
ye shall know them." This is true. We cannot properly evaluate the results of a
principle unless we take into account every factor in the experience of the
It is one thing to recognize and advocate a principle; it is another to make full
application of it in your own life.
"Not every one who cries Lord, Lord, but he that doeth the will of the Father"
can expect to reap the rewards of right living. It has long been recognized that
men may fail, even if their principles are correct. The New Testament writer,
Paul, found himself doing the things he would not do and not doing the things
he would do.
Men may recognize the great benefits that flow from a life of self-discipline but
not be able to follow such a course as much as they would like to. There are
many reasons for failure. All of these must be considered.
Dr. Bergholtz says that we are so wrapped up in ourselves that we feel men
are the originators of principles, rather than that they were merely discoverers
of the facts, which were in existence long before they were born. We are
enamoured by the performances of men, we lean on their beliefs, we give ear
to their interpretations and philosophies, and so we judge by men and
He says we forget that they but carry out well or partially the truths they
adhere to, while their lives are usually a mixture of both truth and error, and
they can only demonstrate to the limit of their depth of knowledge,
understanding and abilities under the circumstances of life, the truths which
For several reasons a man or several men may not even seem to demonstrate
the correctness of principles which they know to be inviolably right.
"Principles, laws, truths, come first. Men either accept or reject them, and they
demonstrate the facts involved to the degree that they accept and practice
them. Law cannot change. Man alone confuses the picture through his
interpretations of it and by his inability to obey it to the letter."
Sylvester Graham severely condemned the effort to discover how to live long
by studying the lives of old men and women. It was, then as now, the practice
of reporters to ask old men and women to what they attributed their long lives.
Graham pointed out that these old people did not know why they lived to
advanced ages. Their replies to the questions of the reporters were usually
Graham said we must first learn, from a true physiology, the laws of life and,
then, we can say to the individual: here is how you must live to acquire long
life. This is the law. Always he placed the emphasis on law.
Laws always work, but they are not always required to work under identical
conditions. Conditions vary, hence results vary.
Dr. Bergholtz enumerates a few of the many factors that vitally affect the
results of the operations of the principles of living in the lives of different
individuals. Let us look at these, one by one.
1. What kind of a body did he inherit? I have repeatedly pointed out that some
babies are born into the world so weak they do not live more than a few hours
to a few days and some are so rugged that you can't kill them with a club.
Between these two extremes, everybody comes forth at birth.
This is to say, some are born with fine, vigorous, stable organisms; others are
born with poor, feeble and unstable organisms. Some have good
constitutions, some have poor constitutions. Everything else being equal, the
individual with a rugged organism will greatly outlive the individual of feeble
Graham frequently pointed out that the constitutional powers of living
generations vary so much that no program of living, universally adopted and
rigidly adhered to would enable everybody to reach an advanced age.
He also declared that present generations cannot hope to attain the maximum
age to which man is capable of living. We are too badly impaired at the outset
to ever hope to do what better organisms could do. Fortunately, a program of
right living will give each succeeding generation a better start than its
Some years ago, I walked into the Hall of The Age of Man in the Museum of
Natural History, in New York City. Inside the entrance, on a table, was a
display of skulls. In the middle was a beautiful skull. It was larger than the
other two, was beautifully proportioned and very symmetrical. The two
smaller skulls were disproportionate and asymmetrical. I stopped and
surveyed them a minute and remarked to my wife, who was with me, "The one
in the middle is a human skull. The other two must be the skulls of apes—
perhaps a gorilla and an orangutan."
Now there are great differences between the skulls of man and ape, but the
contrast between these skulls was so great, that I was fooled for the time.
Imagine my chagrin when, upon approaching the table, I found that those two
skulls were the skulls of modern European and American white men.
The one in the middle was the skull of an old Cro-Magnon man. What a fine
head that old man had. If the rest of his organism was as much superior to the
bodies of modern man as his head is superior to the heads of living man, what
a super-man he must have been.
We have come a long way down the slope since those far off days when the
men of Cro-Magnon painted and carved in their caves.
The Hygienic System alone holds out to us the possibility of re-ascending that
hill and re-attaining the position once occupied by the men of Cro-Magnon. It
has been suggested that the Greek gods and goddesses were Cro-Magnon.
Graham was born a weakling. He was ailing all of his childhood and up to
maturity. More than once his life was despaired of. It was not expected that he
would live to maturity. Trall was sick most of his young life.
Indeed, it was the failure of his many physicians to restore him to health that
caused him to decide to study medicine. He undertook the study in the hope
that he could find a way to restore his own health. Many men of more rugged
constitutions have outlived these two men in spite of many abuses Graham
and Trall avoided after they learned to avoid them.
2. What was his state of health prior to his own adopting a program of health
restoration? He says elsewhere: "what do we usually find? Man sick unto
death in his youth or prime, learns the eternal truth of health through the
observance of natural law and gets certain results which inspire him to tell
others of his precious findings."
It is all too true that we start with sick men and women. Few who enjoy
ordinary health ever break away from the conventional ways of life. We tend to
go along with the crowd until circumstances force us to do otherwise.
Alcott was tubercular before he learned anything about living. Yet he
succeeded in living to the age of 61.
Robert Walter was a wreck with a bad heart before he turned from medical
methods to the Hygienic System. He died at the age of 80. Dr. Tilden was a
sickly lad and was sick until he was 50 years old. He learned how to live after
he had lived half a century.
Dr. Henry Lindlahr was a diabetic and a tubercular. His medical advisors
could not help him. After years of suffering he turned to Louis Kuhne of
Germany and recovered. Wm. H. Hay lived thirty or more years longer than he
should. With a bad heart, Bright's disease, high blood pressure and great
dropsy of the lower limbs, he would sit in his chair and consult with his
patients. His physicians told him to wind up his earthly affairs for he had but
six months to live.
Dr. Hay told me that he had said the same thing to many of his own patients
who had been in the same condition. He had always fought the Nature Cure,
but now, that he knew medicine could offer him nothing, he decided to try it.
If, even with a limited application of its principles to his own life, he lived
another thirty years instead of six months, why question the correctness of
the principles? Dr. Elmer Lee told me more than once that he was a wreck
before he learned how to live.
3. How strict did he have to become in order to bring back lost energies? Was
he able to do so physically, psychologically, economically? It is all too true
that many of those who advocate simple and abstemious living for others are
inclined to indulge themselves almost without limit.
The late Dr. Henry Lindlahr was a very fat man who excused his fat on the
grounds that he was iodine poisoned when a young man. Although he
advocated vegetarianism he was not a very strict vegetarian himself. Others
he told to avoid alcoholic drinks. He was not too careful to avoid them. Dr.
Hay smoked heavily, used coffee and drank alcoholics. His advice to others
was far better than his own example. This is often true. Many of them like the
hypocritical preacher could well have said: "Don't do as I do, do as I say."
4. How complete was the understanding of his counselors, associates,
relatives, friends? Did they help or add confusion? To this may be added the
question: "how complete was his own understanding?" Men do not always
understand all that they appear to. I have frequently said that Dr. Lindlahr was
guilty of repeating principles that he did not understand.
He would say or write a thing and in the very next statement or paragraph
contradict it. It is not to be thought that complete understanding exists
anywhere, still less in the earlier pioneers of the Hygienic movement.
Knowledge and understanding come slowly. There is still much to be
learned. We have learned much since the days of Graham, Trall and Jennings.
Unfortunately, very few have complete understanding of what is now known.
5. Could the individual discipline himself sufficiently on all scores? Dr.
Bergholtz says of Dr. Bircher-Benner, a world renown Swiss raw food
advocate "who died at the age of 73" that "he was an inveterate smoker."
If he was an inveterate smoker, he was probably guilty of other associated
habits that tend to shorten life. It would be interesting to know how much wine
or beer he drank daily. The late Arnold Ehert, so loudly proclaimed in many
quarters even now, as the greatest health teacher of any age, died before
reaching an advanced age, of heart disease. He was a heavy smoker, a wine
drinker and a heavy consumer of strong coffee.
Dr. Lust, who recently died at the age of 73, had two or more apoplectic
strokes during the five years preceding his death, from what was stated in the
press to have been a "heart attack." His knowledge was superficial, his
understanding meager, his mode of living not one to be emulated. He was
overweight for years, was a heavy eater, not always the vegetarian he would
be expected to be from his teachings, and was a heavy user of homeopathic
When I was associated with Dr. Lust, I saw him on more than one occasion,
sitting in his store, then located on 41st. St., New York City, eating
homeopathic pills by the handfuls. He had offered them to me more than once
and upon my declining them, he would say: "These are not drugs, they are
There was a lack of discipline in the life of Dr. Lindlahr as well as in that of Dr.
Hay. We find real discipline in the lives of Drs. Jennings, Jackson, Alcott,
Walter, Page and Tilden. These men, despite their handicaps, lived to
6. What harm of a surgical or drug nature was done to his body prior to his
embracing the natural mode of living? Dr. Tilden had been greatly damaged
by drugging, especially in his early life. Dr. Lindlahr attributed much of his
troubles to early drugging. Trall and Graham had both been heroically
drugged in their early lives.
Dr. Walter had been much abused by the medical men. Surgically, Dr. Walter
was the victim of a serious accident that crippled him for years, leaving his
heart in serious condition.
Dr. Bergholtz's own case is an example in evidence. He died a comparatively
young man. He was thin and not too strong. He was often accused of not
being a good representative of the principles for which he stood.
In 1927, before he knew better, he underwent a subtotal thyroidectomy for
goiter, which left him a physiological cripple and the effects of which he had to
fight at arms length for the remainder of his life.
He maintained that instead of being a poor example of the virtues of his
teachings, he was an outstanding example of their worth. It was his thought
that, despite a death sentence imposed upon him by his physicians in 1927, he
succeeded in adding a number of years to his life by following those very
teachings. I think there was not complete understanding in the mind of the
doctor, else he might have added a few more years to his life.
7. Did he feel that physical health was not so important to warrant a perfect
program, spiritual health being the more desirable? I have met such
individuals and have heard of others. I know of no outstanding examples in
the Hygienic field that I can offer. Men in other fields, who do not adhere to
Hygienic principles, are of no particular concern to us in this discussion.
8. What about the inability of others to discipline themselves whose
experiences force them to adopt a 'middle' course in their teachings? I think
the "middle" course may be seen more in the lives of some of these men than
in their teachings. Some of them have had wives that made it impossible for
them to live as they would, unless, of course, they first murdered their wives,
and this is no longer legal.
I am of the opinion that those who adopt a middle course in their teachings do
not fully understand—this is to say, they have a "middle course"
understanding. They do not understand, as Trall said, that: "the truth is never
between two extremes, it is always one extreme or the other."
A middle course life based on a middle course understanding can but give
middle course results.
9. Was it possible for him to execute the laws himself as actually understood?
How about his work, his rest, sleep, time for play, vacations? What about his
social state, the demands of his wife, who may not understand, his friends, his
Social and economic factors over which the individual has but limited control
are involved in these questions. Dr. Tilden advised rest, rest, rest and worked
himself to death. Graham broke down from overwork more than once. Dr.
Trall had the idea that there is no such thing as mental overwork and
overlooked the fact that, while this may be so, he overworked his body by his
long hours of arduous mental work.
I advise everybody to get plenty of rest and fail to get sufficient rest myself. I
believe everybody should have a vacation once or twice a year. I have not had
a vacation in over twenty years. In my work there are no Sundays, no
holidays, no vacations. I work every day and every night, way into the night.
During the recent worldwide murder-fest (world war) staged by the rulers of
earth, when help was scarce, because murder comes first and constructive
work can go to the devil during the periodic spasms of bloodletting the rulers
delight in, I had double work to do. If I had been triplets, I could have done all I
had to do.
When I first became acquainted with the Nature Cure I lived in a small Texas
town. I was born on a farm and I had spent practically all of my life in the
open. The woods and prairie had been my background. All the "Back to
Nature" people seemed to live in Chicago and New York. I went to both these
two cities. I was amazed at the advocates of "back to nature."
I said of them, after watching them for a few months: "they go back to nature
for three days and back to the city for life." They preached the "back to nature"
and lived in crowded, noisy, gassy, odoriferous cities that are unfit for even
bugs and mice to live in.
For some reason or other they were not able to get away from the environment
they appeared to detest and which they condemned so roundly and rightly in
their writings and lectures. Often it was their work that would not let them get
away. Paradoxical as it may seem, the work of leading people away from the
city, often keeps the leader in the city. This is a case of the leader sacrificing
himself for the good of others.
10. How about the continuous persecution of the enemies of truth he
invariably must face? How about it? It is as big as a mountain and not every
man, despite his courage, can face it with calmness and poise. They are
greatly affected by it. Jennings finally gave up practice because of it. Trall
was subjected to a continuous barrage of it. Graham not only had to face it, he
was even the object of a mob on one occasion, but he was a sensitive
individual who was greatly affected by all of the unkind and cutting things that
were said about him.
He did not have the thick skin of your editor, who has learned to laugh at the
barbs of his enemies. Jackson, Walter, Tilden, Dewey, Lindlahr, Lust—they all
went through years of the most intense persecution. Dr. Lust is, I believe,
however, the only man among them who was arrested more times than I have
been. Some of them were never arrested.
There are many ways to put to death those who father new ideas and new
movements or act as midwives at the birth of a new truth. Burning such
benefactors of the race has gone out of fashion, but the more subtle and more
refined, but long-drawn out, methods of killing them are still in vogue.
Herward Carrington once advised that we learn to laugh at those who laugh at
and ridicule us. This I have learned to do, but there are arrests, trials at which
stool pigeons try to lie your life away, periods spent in jail, and many other
annoyances that can't be shoved aside with a laugh and a shrug of the
Dr. Bergholtz says: "The human machine has limitations. No nature curist has
ever denied this." As he so truly says: "A review of the history of individuals
who preach self-discipline will usually find them adhering, and, in defending the
truth, will have the enemies of truth arrayed against them, plus the imposition
on their vitality of the rigors of an abnormally active life in the humanitarian
care of, generally, the sickest of the sick, who seek the Nature Cure as a last
Dr. Bergholtz died shortly after his article was first published. It is of interest to
note, therefore, that he made it clear that he did not expect to live to a ripe old
age. He stated that he was not possessed of a vital physical inheritance, that
he had had his thyroid gland removed and that this alone precluded all
possibility of living long. "Right here and now as a matter of record" he says,
should he die before he reached the "allotted three score and ten" he wished
that "no man judge the principles by his seemingly early passing." He added:
"The principles are there and not dependent upon him" to "verify their validity."
There is no doubt, however, that he did verify their validity as far as he
understood and correctly applied them in his life. The fact that he lived as long
as he did after he was made into a physiological cripple by the surgeons is a
verification of those principles.
Longevity is not alone the criterion of the correctness of the principles. All
factors must be considered. He says truly:
"It should be clear by now to the critical onlooker who judges only by a
lifespan, that he is decidedly unjust in his observations and actually makes a
scientific fool of himself to be so simple minded in his hasty, ill considered
In her book, Freedom in Education, Mrs. Firm says that no man is good enough
to serve as a model for the rest of us. With this statement I agree. It, therefore,
becomes essential that we follow principles rather than men. Leaders often
have feet of clay. They are often misleaders. They make mistakes.
True principles should, therefore, guide us. The lives of others are of value to
us only insofar as they exemplify the working of principles. In this connection
it is well to emphasize that no man's life is an exception to the operation of
natural law. Whatever their mode of living, if we fully understand all the details,
we would find that each man kills himself according to law.
By: Herbert M. Shelton
Article: Principles or Men, Which?