It is, however, true, that years sometimes intervene, before the evil consequences of dirtiness appear. The office of the vessels of the skin being interrupted, an increase of action is imposed on other parts, especially on those internal organs commonly called glands, which action is apt to settle into obstinate disease. Hence, at least when aided by other causes, often arise, in later life, after the source of the evil is forgotten, if it were ever suspected, rheumatism, scrofula, jaundice, and even consumption.
There is a strange notion abroad, that the smell of the earth is beneficial, especially to consumptive persons. I honestly believe, however, that it is more likely to create consumption than to cure it. Besides, in what does this smell consist? Do the silex, the alumine, and the other earths, with their compounds, emit any odor? Rarely, I believe, unless when mixed with vegetable matter. But no gases necessary to health are evolved during the decomposition of vegetable matter; on the contrary, it is well known that many of them tend to induce disease.
I am thoroughly persuaded that too much attention cannot be paid to cleanliness; and the demand for such attention is equally imperious in the case of those who cultivate the earth, or labor in it, or on stone, during the intervals of their useful avocations, as in the case of those individuals who follow other employments.
I must also protest against the doctrine, that the smell or taste of the earth, much less a coat of it spread over the surface, and closing up, for hours and days together, thousands and millions of those little pores with which the Author of this “wondrous frame” has pierced the skin, can have a salutary tendency.
The opinion has been even maintained, that uncleanly habits are not only unfavorable to health, but to morality. There can be no doubt that he who neglects his person and dress will be found lower in the scale of morals, other things being equal, than he who pays a due regard to cleanliness.
Some have supposed that a disposition to neglect personal cleanliness was indicative of genius. But this opinion is grossly erroneous, and has well nigh ruined many a young man.
I am far from recommending any degree of fastidiousness on this subject. Truth and correct practice usually lie between extremes. But I do and must insist, that the connection between cleanliness of body and purity of moral character, is much more close and direct than has usually been supposed.
But to return to the more immediate effects of cleanliness on health. There is one class of diseases in particular which, in an eminent degree, owe their origin to a neglect of cleanliness. I refer to the bowel complaints so common among children during summer and autumn. Except in case of teething, the use of unripe fruits, or the abuse of those which are in themselves excellent, it is probable that more than half of the bowel complaints of the young are either produced or greatly aggravated by a foul skin.