Written by Ephraim Chambers
Thursday, 01 January 1728 09:00
Abstinencia, the Habit of restraining or containing one's self from some Pleasure, or Enjoyment. See PLEASURE.
The Word is compounded of the Latin abs, from ; and teneo, I hold.
The Jews were oblig'd to abstain from their Wives at certain Seasons.---— The same is enjoin'd in the Apostolical Constitutions, on all fast and meagre Days ; and the Church of England recommends certain Days of Fasting and Abstinence.---— The Great Fast, says St. Augustin, is to abstain from Sin. See FAST.
The antient Athletæ liv'd in a perpetual Abstinence from all kind of sensible Pleasure, to render their Bodies more robust and hardy. See ATHLETA.
Abstinence is particularly used for a spare Diet, or a flender parsimonious use of Food. See FOOD, and DIET.
The Physicians relate Wonders of the Effects of Abstinence in the Cure of many Disorders, and the protracting the Term of Life.---— The Noble Venetian, Cornaro, after all imaginable means had proved vain, so that his Life was despair'd of at 40 ; rccover'd and liv'd to near 100, by mere dint of Abstinence : as he himself gives the Account.
'Tis indeed surprizing to what a great Age the primitive Christians of the East, who retir'd from the Persecutions into the Desarts of Arabia and Egypt, lived, healthful and chearful, on a very little Food : Cassian assures us, that the common Rate for twenty four Hours was twelve Ounces of Bread, and mere Water : with this St. Anthony lived 105 Years ; James the Hermit, 104 ; Arsenius, Tutor of the Emperor Arcadius, 120; St. Epiphanius 115 ; Simeon Stylites 112 ; and Romualdus 120.
Indeed, we can match, nay out-do these Instances of Longævity, at home : Buchanan writes, that one Lawrence preserv'd himself to 140 by force of Temperance and Labour ; and Spotswood mentions one Kentigorn, afterwards call'd St. Mougah or Mungo, who lived to 185 by the same means.---— Other Instances see under the Article LONGÆVITY.
In effect, most of the Chronical Diseases, the Infirmities of old Age, and the short Lives of Englishmen, are owing, according to Dr. Cheyne, to Repletion ; and may be either cured, prevented, or remedied, by Abstinence. See REPLETION, EVACUATION, &c.
Among the Brute Creation, we see extraordinary Instances of long Abstinence.---— 'Tis the natural Course for divers Species to pass four, five, or six Months every Year without either eating or drinking : Accordingly, the Tortoise, Bear, Dormoule, Serpent, Swallow, Fly, &c. are observ'd regularly to retire, at those Seasons, to their respective Cells and hide themselves, some in the Caverns of Rocks, or Ruins ; others dig Holes under Ground ; others get into the Woods, and lay themielves up in the Clefts of Trees ; others bury themselves under Water, &c. See MIGRATION, PASSAGE, &c.
In effect, several Species of Birds, the whole Tribe almost of Insects, and many among the other Tribes, are able to subsist all Winter, not only without Food, but many of 'em without Respiration too.—--- This furnishes an admirable Instance of the Wisdom of the Creator. The proper Food of these Creatures, especially the Insect-Tribe, being now wanting ; there is a Provision for 'em to live without it. When the Fields are diverted of their slowery Furniture, when the Trees and Plants are stripp'd of their Fruits ; what would become of such Animals as are subsisted by the Produce of the Spring, and Summer ? And when the Air is grown rigid and chilly with Frost, what would become of those many tender Species which are impatient of Cold ? To prevent the total Destruction and Extirpation of many Species of Animals ; the Author of Nature has provided, that Creatures thus bereav'd of their Food, should be likewise impatient of Cold ; to lead 'em thus to shelter themselves out of the way of Danger ; and that when there arrived, the natural Texture and Viscidity of the Blood, should discose it, by a further degree of Cold, to lag and stagnate in the Vessels : so that the Circulation stopping, and the Animal Functions being in great measure suspended ; there is no sensible Waste or Consumption of Parts, but they remain in a kind of drousy neutral State, between Life and Death ; till the warm Sun revive both them and their Food together, by thawing the congealed Juices both of such Animals and Vegetables, See HEAT.
'Tis more than probable, that, all Motion of the Animal Juices is extinct in Flies and other Insects, when thus asleep ; in that, tho cut in pieces they do not awake, nor does any Fluid ooze out at the Wound ; unless some extraordinary degree of Warmth have been first applied to unbind the Ice.---The Sleep of such Animals is little elsethan a real Death ; and their Waking, a Resurrection.---— For is Life do not consist in a Circulation of the Blood, we don't know what it consists in.---- Animals thus asleep, therefore, are rather said to be alive potentially than actually ; much as an Embryo is before Conception, or Incubation. See LIFE, SLEEP, BLOOD, CIRCULATION, FOETUS, &c.
Hence 'tis no wonder that Tortoises, Dormice, Bears, &c. are found as fat and fleshy after some Months Abstinence as before.---— Sir G. Ent weigh'd his Tortoise several Years succesfively, at his going to Earth in October, and his coming out again in March ; and sound that of 4 Pounds 4 Ounces, he only used to lose about 1 Ounce. Philosoph. Transact. N° 194.
Indeed, we have Instances of Men patting several Months as strictly abstinent as other Creatures.—--- The Records of the Tower mention a Scotchman imprison'd for Felony, and strictly watch'd in that Fortress for six Weeks ; in all which time he took not the least Sustenance : for which he had his Pardon. The Ephem. German, speak of one Martha Taylor, who by a Blow on the Back sell into such a Prostration of Appetite, that he took no Sustenance beside a few Drops with a Feather for thirteen Months : But this was a morbid and unnatural Case, for she slept but little ail the Time.-—-We may add the Inslance of S. Chilton of Tinsbury near Bath, who in the Years 1693, 1694, 1695, slept sometimes four Months, and sometimes above six together, with very little Food ; and six Weeks without any more than a little Tent, convey'd with a Quill into his Mouth thro' a hole in his Teeth. Philosoph. Transact. N° 304.
It is to be added, that in most Instances of long Abstinence related by Naturalists, there were apparent Evidences of a Texture of Blood and Humours, much like that of Summer-Beasts, and Insects.—--- Tho it is no improbable Opinion, that the Air it self may furnish something for Nutrition. 'Tis certain, there are Substances of all Kinds, Animal, Vegetable, &c. floating in the Atmosphere ; which must be continually taken in by Respiration. And that an animal Body may be nourish'd thereby, is evident in the Inslance of Vipers, which is taken when first brought forth, and kept from every thing but Air, will yet grow very considerably in a few Days. So the Eggs of Lizards are observed to increase in Bulk, after they are produced, tho there be nothing to furnish the Increment but Air alone ; after the like manner, as the Eggs or Spawn of Fishes grow, and are nourish'd with the Water. See AIR, and WATER.---- And hence, say some, it is, that Cooks, Turn-spit Dogs, &c. tho they cat but little, yet are usually sat. See NUTRITION, PERSPIRATION, &c.