The Theories of Horace Fletcher


The Theories of Horace Fletcher


The Theories of Horace Fletcher


Horace Fletcher has been dubbed a faddist, but notwithstanding there is a great deal of common sense in his theories. Certainly their practise in his case has proved their worth. Mr. Fletcher's theories all centre around serenity. The serene celm life strengthens the physical and mental sides of life and gives a broader and a saner outlook.

THERE are several facts in regard to Horace Fletcher’s theories and personal practice which deserve emphasis. In the first place he does not maintain that his ideas are new. He says that Gladstone’s famous “thirty-two chews’’ suggested his first experiments in food nutrition. And back of that there was the story of Luigi Cornari, the artist. Professor Fenollosa was responsible for his first theories of mentieulture. These originally grew out of Japanese training and Buddhistic teaching. Llis sociological theories were startled into him by an experience in Chicago at the time of the Spanish War, and, in their growth, they have owed much to the work of Dr. Barnado in London, and of Mrs. Sarah B. Cooper in this country. Mr. Fletcher has put forth old ideas in new form. He has added the personal equation, and, in his complete earnestness, developed new experiments and new evidence. It is not fair, moreover, to call Mr. Fletcher a faddist. He has not attempted, as yet, to form any cult or sect and he is not likely to do so. He is not a vegetarian nor a Christian Scientist, although he has been called both.

Mr. Fletcher’s theory of food nutrition is so simple that the many misstatements which have been made of it seem inexcusable. Taste, he maintains, is the chemist of the body. While the taste of a mouthful of food lasts, a necessary process is going on. Liquid and solid should there-

fore be tasted and chewed until all taste has disappeared. When this process has been carried out, and not until then, he maintains, we swallow involuntarily, for nature has provided each of us with a “food filter” in the throat which works automatically as soon as the preliminary task has been accomplished by the teeth and bv the saliva. Any tasteless remains of the food in the mouth, which are not fit for the stomach, should be removed. Otherwise they make extra work for the digestive organs which these organs were not intended to do. His idea is, therefore, that we should chew and taste each morsel of food until we swallow it naturally. Incidentally he says that he finds more enjoyment in eating by obtaining the last pleasure of taste from each mouthful. He does not suggest any particular dietary. He believes in eating whatever he likes whenever he is really hungry. The essential tiling is thorough mastication.

The results of Mr. Fletcher’s theories put into practice have been, first, the requirement of a much smaller quantity of food than most people eat ; second, infinitely less work for the stomach and digestive organs— merely their natural work, he maintains ; third, a general purifying of all the organs that work upon the food ; and fourth, a buoyant, strong physical and mental condition. Many doctors and scientists and some faddists, too, have come to agree with his ideas, in whole or in part. Many have experimented either upon oth-

ers or upon themselves with convincing results. His books' have already been widely read and many people are trying his simple remedy for digestive ills, with greater or less success. And Mr. Fletcher himself has been the subject of many tryingtests in Venice, at Cambridge, England, at New Haven, in France, and elsewhere.

The first tests at Yale occurred three vears ago when for some weeks Mr. Fletcher’s food and general condition were carefully observed in Professor Chittenden’s laboratory. The results were startling. During one week Mr. Fletcher, who was then nearlv 54 years old, lived upon a diet of prepared cereal, milk and maple sugar taken twice a day. He was found to be in continuously good physical condition upon food the full value of which was about half that demanded by scientific standards. His weight remained constant at about 165 pounds. For four days of the seven, moreover, he took, under the direction of Dr. Anderson of the Yale Gymnasium, the regular exercises of the university crew, exercises so severe that they are never given to first year men. Mr. Fletcher gave no evidence of soreness or lameness or distress of any kind. Dr. Anderson testified that he did the work more easily and with fewer bad results than any man of his age the Yale director had ever worked with. This was true, also, in spite of the fact that for several months Mr. Fletcher had taken no regular exercise except that involved in daily walks.

Professor Chittenden naturally was interested. Beside the question of complete body fitness upon what seemed an absurdly small diet, there was obviously the matter of economy. Mr. Fletcher’s food during that week cost only eleven cents a day. If

Mr. Fletcher’s system—for, whatever his diet is, he consumes about the same amount of food daily — were adopted throughout the country, it has been figured that the nation would save $1,000,000 a day in food cost. Other people were interested, among them Professor Bowditch of Harvard, Surgeon-General O’Reillv of the United States army, and General Wood. The result was Professor Chittenden’s more recent experiments —financially supported by Mr. Fletcher—upon himself and a number of his colleagues, upon a group of athletes, and upon a group of “regular” soldiers. Professor Chittenden has described this investigation in great detail in his book, “Physiological Economy in Nutrition.” In general, however, each test added evidence of satisfactory body condition upon a very considerably decreased diet. This was the single truth which Professor Chittenden aimed to show.

On his fiftieth birthday Mr. Fletcher made a characteristic experiment. Starting with a young and athletic companion on a cycling trip, he left the young athlete fatigued after a little more than half a day of hard wheeling, and himself journeyed until long after nightfall. He covered nearly 200 miles of road that day and arose the next morning without any feeling of muscular strain. He seems to have good reason for his assertion that his method of living keeps him “in constant training.”

Mr. Fletcher says, then, that he used to eat too much, too often and too fast. Now he eats only when he is hungry enough to enjoy plain bread. He eats whatever his appetite craves ; he masticates his food thoroughly ; and he eats as long as he is hungry. As a result he finds that his digestion, which a few years ago threatened his life, is perfect ;

that he has greatly increased energy of body and keenness of mind ; and that he consumes only one-third to one-half as much food as he was accustomed to eat formerly. He believes that what was true of him is true of most people, and that what is true of him can be true of them. And, as always, he is in dead earnest about it. All this and much more he has told in his books as frank personal experience and as the experience, also, of many others who have followed his lead in the matter of eating.

Horace Fletcher has read very widely and very wisely during all his active years, but his “mentieulture” theories, like his ideas about food nutrition, are largely the product of personal experience. The first suggestion he received from the Japanese. His main contention is based upon the results he has observed in himself. His illustrations are from the thousand and one people and places he has known. Here, again, therefore, is an interesting human document rather than an accurate scientific treatise.

His mental doctrine is as simple as his physical creed. He contrasts constructive forethought and destructive “fearthought.” He maintains that fear and anger and worry can be entirely j eliminated like bacteria, not merely repressed temporarily. He says that he has done it, and his cheery, unruffled temper is fair evidence. And he tells how he and others have done it ; by having, first of all, sound conviction that it was possible.

It is an old teaching, as old as Christianity, as old as Buddhism. To the majority of people, unfortunately, it is a beautiful theory which breaks down woefully in practice. The interest in Mr. Fletcher’s em-

phasis upon it is therefore entirelv in the convincing human story of how he has destroyed the “fearthought” germ in himself and of how he has helped to destroy it in other people. It furnishes a new and valuable sidelight upon an exceedinglv interesting personality and it will, in all probability, lead many to a more careful consideration of the ways in which they daily jeopardize their own happiness.

There is a third phase of so-called Fletcherism. One night in Chicago, in the midst of the enthusiasm over freeing Cuba, Mr. Fletcher saw a little four-year-old waif struggling in the hands of a policeman. Some cakes had been stolen and the pleading boy was one of a “gang” who had been caught. In the end the officer let him go with an oath and turned to tell Mr. Fletcher, who was watching the pair with a new interest, of the many children who are taught to steal from their childhood.

This third phase of “Fletcherism” is as yet scarcelv more than an idea. A man who has learned true economy in food nutrition he maintains, and who has been able to get rid of his worst mental foes, wishes his entire environment purified. The “submerged tenth” costs upwards of one-quarter the amount necessary to sustain the entire government. It threatens health and happiness and even life. To lift up this low stratum Mr. Fletcher proposes a “social quarantine,” with the greatest effort centred upon the children. It would cost less, he says, than the “submerged tenth” costs us now, and, with his principle of economic nutrition, its cost would be still further decreased. He hopes that a central organization can be established with local branches to carry out this plan gradually — to “clean up the backyards of the

different departments of the social structure with an aseptic nutrition as the basis of social cleanliness.”

The secret of Dr. Barnardo’s success was, and is, through the organization he left behind him, in the home system by which the children are taught how to live as well as how to read and write. A number of smaller organizations have grown up in this country which are doing the same work with similar results. Mr. Fletcher has marked out an infinitely greater task with less definite and less practical lines. It is, at best, only a vague prophecy, allied distantly to his simple panacea for bodily ills. But here again Mr. Fletcher is completely in earnest. He has already talked upon this theme throughout the country. There is no telling what he may build in time from this third plank of his propaganda.

Horace Fletcher calls himself an epicurean rather than a philanthropist or an altruist. It is said that when, not long ago, a sportsman friend asked him to go duck shooting instead of lecturing on the school quarantine, he remarked that he found more pleasure in saving a child than in killing a duck. He does not consider himself unselfish ; he has merely changed his pleasures. He believes in his propaganda as a great duty, and he is finding more enjoyment in the doing of that duty than he once found in his diversified pursuits of pleasure and profit. Luigi Cornari discovered the secret, he says, and died, after living more than one hundred years, without making anyone understand it. Mr. Fletcher means that it shall not be his fault

if the way of living, which has changed him from a rapidly aging dyspeptic who was refused life insurance to a buoyant man fifty-seven years young, is not known to everyone. He is not only giving his time to the work, but he is giving his money as well. Every penny that comes to him from the sale of his books is spent to further the cause, and he has added many times the amount thus obtained out of his private purse. He has tolerated, in connection with the advance of his theories, a considerable amount of personal exploitation which has been distasteful to him. He permits the term “Fletcherism,” merely because it seems the easiest way to express something which originally meant economic food nutrition, and which now has two added meanings.

After all, if the Horace Fletcher of to-day is a good example of the value of his theories, they deserve careful consideration. If his perfectlv simple ideas could change him from the restless, adventurous, worrying man of his San Francisco days to the calm, genial philosopher ; if they could transform what seemed to be a fatal weakness into really phenomenal strength ; if they could make a famous authority on snap-shooting find more pleasure in saving a child than in killing a duck, they are worth a trial by those who envy his contentment. His main contentions are obvious and there are abundant scientific proofs of his extreme beliefs. And his books are humanly interesting. Certainly he can consider his mission a success if he is able to make any considerable number of Americans eat more slowly and worry less constantly.