"Imagine the grief and anguish of the poor mother! No one but a mother who has been called to pass through a similar trial could know how to sympathize with such a one. Her darling son she saw daily becoming a prey to a strange, incurable malady, with no power even to stay the progress of the terrible disease.
"But there was still greater grief in store for her. Within a year or two the younger son began to show symptoms of the same character, and in spite of all that was done, rapidly sank into the same helpless state as his brother. As a last resort, the mother took her boys and came a long journey to place her sons under our care. At the time they were both nearly helpless. Neither could walk but a few steps. They reeled and staggered about like drunken men, falling down upon each other and going through the most agonizing contortions in attempts to work their way from one chair to another and thus about the room. Their heads were no longer erect, but drooped like wilted flowers. On their faces was a blank, imbecile expression, with a few traces of former intelligence still left. The mouths were still open, from the drooping of the lower jaws, and the saliva dribbled upon the clothing. Altogether, it was a spectacle which one does not care to meet every day; the impression made was too harrowing to be pleasant even for its interest from a scientific point of view.
"We at once set to work to discover the cause of this dreadful condition, saying to ourselves that such an awful punishment should certainly be the result of some gross violation of nature's laws somewhere. The most careful scrutiny of the history of the parents of the unfortunate lads gave no clue to anything of an hereditary character, both parents having come of good families, and having been always of sober, temperate habits. The father had used neither liquor nor tobacco in any form. The mother could give no light on the matter, and we were obliged to rest for the time being upon the conviction which fastened itself upon us that the pair were most marked illustrations of the results of self-abuse begun at a very early age. The mother thought it impossible that our suspicions could be correct, saying that she had watched her sons with jealous care from the earliest infancy and had seen no indications of any error of the sort. But we had not long to wait for confirmation of our view of the case, as they were soon caught in the act, to which it was found that they were greatly addicted, and the mystery was wholly solved."
Although for Dr. Kellogg, "the mystery was wholly solved," he was unable to follow his remarkable diagnosis with any sort of cure, and the boys eventually returned home with their mother, where they lived out their remaining years thus afflicted, and eventually died.
The author devotes a considerable portion of these last two chapters to similar case histories. A young man, referred to as M.M., was the son of a mechanic and of humble circumstances. "Good school advantages were given him, and at a proper age he was put to learn a trade. He succeeded fairly, and his parents' hopes of his becoming all that they could desire were great, when he suddenly began to manifest peculiar symptoms. He had attended a religious revival and seemed much affected, professing religion and becoming a member of the church. To the exercises of his mind on the subject of religion his friends attributed his peculiar actions, which soon became so strange as to excite grave fears that his mind was seriously affected. At times he was wild, showing such unmistakable evidences of insanity that even his poor mother, who was loth to believe the sad truth, was forced to admit that he was deranged...
"In this condition was the young man when he came under our care. We felt strongly impressed from our first examination of the case that it was one of sexual abuse [which prompts us to observe that this immediate diagnostic insight seems remarkably like what a psychiatrist might consider as a case of projection, on the part of Dr. Kellogg] but we were assured by his friends in the most emphatic manner that such was an impossibility. It was claimed that the most scrupulous care had been bestowed upon him, and that he had been so closely watched that it was impossible that he should have been guilty of so gross of a vice. His friends were disposed to attribute his sad condition to excessive exercise of [his] mind upon religious subjects. [Which prompts us to observe that the patient's friends display more psychiatric acumen than the sanitarium's chief physician.]
"Not satisfied with this view of the case, we set a close watch upon him, and within a week his nurse reported that he had detected him in the act of self-pollution, when he confessed the truth, not yet being so utterly devoid of sense as to have lost his appreciation of the sinfulness of the act. [Which prompts us to observe that this is one of the most incredible examples of diagnostic technique we have ever read.]
"When discovered in the act of self-abuse, the patient exclaimed, 'I know I have made myself a fool,' which was the exact truth."
Dr. Kellogg wasn't able to do anything to help this patient either, which appears to be something of a recurring theme, where the cases of "excessive sexual abuse" are concerned. The doctor reports, "At our suggestion the young man was removed to an institution devoted to the care of the imbeciles and lunatics. The last we heard of the poor fellow, he was still sinking in the lower depths of physical and mental degradation—a soul utterly lost and ruined. How many thousands of young men who might have been useful members of society—lawyers, clergymen, statesmen, scientists—have thus sunk into the foul depths of the quagmire of vice, to rise no more forever! Oh, awful fate! The human eye never rests upon a sadder sight than a ruined soul, a mind shattered and debased by vice."
Oh, physician, heal thyself!
A last case history, and we are done with Dr. J.H. Kellogg forevermore. "A case came to our knowledge through a gentleman who brought his daughter to us for treatment for the effects of self-abuse," Kellogg reports, "of a father who adopted a summary method of curing his son of the evil practice. Having discovered that the lad was a victim of the vile habit, and having done all in his power by punishment, threats, and representations of its terrible effects, but without inducing him to reform, the father, in a fit of desperation, seized the sinful boy and with his own hand performed upon him the operation of castration as he would have done upon a colt. The boy recovered from the operation, and was, of course, effectively cured from his vile habit. The remedy was efficient, though scarcely justifiable. Even a father has no right thus to mutilate his own son, though we must confess that the lad's chances for becoming a useful man are fully as good as they would have been had he continued his course of sin."
Our Antisexual Heritage
We haven't devoted an entire installment of this editorial to Dr. J.H. Kellogg and his book simply to describe the twisted antisexuality of a single individual, or a single volume of his writings. We have given the space to thus extended consideration of Plain Facts for Old and Young because it serves as a classic case study of Puritan America at the end of the last century.
As we stated at the beginning of this article, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg was not an insignificant crackpot, whose irrational sexual rantings can be dismissed as of little consequence. Dr. Kellogg was a highly respected member of the medical profession, who held a number of important positions in his lifetime, who was affiliated with a number of influential medical associations, and whose words on any aspect of medical science carried considerable authority and import.
Under the circumstances, the pathological aversion to sex evidenced throughout the more than 500 pages of Plain Facts might be viewed as ample proof of the disturbed psyche of its author. In actual fact, however, the book is an accurate reflection of the guilt-and-shame-infested culture in which it was produced. If there is sickness in this sexual treatise, it is less the sickness of a single individual than a symptom of an entire sick society.
But this book was not written in the Old World during the Dark Ages; it was written here in the United States less than 100 years ago. The antisexual attitude expressed in this worn volume are typical of that severe puritanical period; the irrational intermixing of science, Scripture and superstition is typical, too.
It may be argued, with validity, that the fact most dramatically demonstrated by the naive nature of Dr. Kellogg's book is how much we have learned from Darwin, Freud, Kinsey, and others, regarding both the physical and psychological makeup of man, since the 19th century. But though our scientific insights have increased a thousandfold, our society's mores and laws are still rooted in the sterile soil of puritanism.
We still suffer, in this supposedly enlightened time, from taboos and guilts regarding sexual behavior that are directly derived from the almost total antisexuality of the late 1800s, so enthusiastically depicted in Kellogg's chronicle. It is hardly significant that the taboos have been somewhat tempered and the guilts become less grave, in the fourscore years between; the irrational restrictions and repressions still exist, and the difference in his world and ours is only a matter of degree—not reason replacing superstition.
We devoted the two previous installments of The Playboy Philosophy to current U.S. sex laws, and can only conclude that these statutes, in all 50 states, are as unreasoned and unreasonable today as when Dr. Kellogg first put pen to paper. The American Law Institute proposed a Model Penal Code for sex offenses almost a decade ago, but no state has yet adopted this recommendation for more lenient legislation; our sex statutes are still based more on puritanism than psychiatry, more on religious morality than scientific insight.
Many Americans do not realize that censorship in this country commenced in the 19th century—mostly in its last three puritanical decades—and was previously all but unknown here. Thomas Jefferson wrote, in 1814, "I am mortified to be told that, in the United States of America, the sale of a cook can become a subject of inquiry, and of criminal inquiry too, as an offense against religion; that a question like this can be carried before the civil magistrate. Is this then our freedom of religion?"
With our Puritan heritage, it is no surprise that when censorship came to our supposedly free society, it centered upon the literature and art that dealt with sex. In a memorable debate in the U.S. Senate in 1835, Clay, Calhoun and Webster declared that the government of the United States should never be involved in an act of censorship; and in the same year a visitor from France, Alexis de Tocqueville, reported "Attempts have been made by some governments to protect the morality of nations by prohibiting licentious books. In the United States no one is punished for this sort of work."
But in 1842 Congress passed a Tariff Act that forbade the importation of "obscene books or pictures into the United States"; and in 1865 another federal law was passed prohibiting the transmission of objectionable materials through the mails. "But there was one saving grace in these laws," wrote Ernest Sutherland Bates. "It never occurred to anyone apparently that they should be enforced. And then around 1870 the lid was clamped down. Censorship spread over the land like a prairie fire."