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Mark Twain > At The Appetite-Cure > Story

At The Appetite-Cure


This establishment's name is Hochberghaus. It is in Bohemia, a short
day's journey from Vienna, and being in the Austrian Empire is of course
a health resort. The empire is made up of health resorts; it distributes
health to the whole world. Its waters are all medicinal. They are
bottled and sent throughout the earth; the natives themselves drink beer.
This is self-sacrifice apparently--but outlanders who have drunk Vienna
beer have another idea about it. Particularly the Pilsner which one gets
in a small cellar up an obscure back lane in the First Bezirk--the name
has escaped me, but the place is easily found: You inquire for the Greek
church; and when you get to it, go right along by--the next house is that
little beer-mill. It is remote from all traffic and all noise; it is
always Sunday there. There are two small rooms, with low ceilings
supported by massive arches; the arches and ceilings are whitewashed,
otherwise the rooms would pass for cells in the dungeons of a bastile.
The furniture is plain and cheap, there is no ornamentation anywhere; yet
it is a heaven for the self-sacrificers, for the beer there is
incomparable; there is nothing like it elsewhere in the world. In the
first room you will find twelve or fifteen ladies and gentlemen of
civilian quality; in the other one a dozen generals and ambassadors. One
may live in Vienna many months and not hear of this place; but having
once heard of it and sampled it, the sampler will afterward infest it.

However, this is all incidental--a mere passing note of gratitude for
blessings received--it has nothing to do with my subject. My subject is
health resorts. All unhealthy people ought to domicile themselves in
Vienna, and use that as a base, making flights from time to time to the
outlying resorts, according to need. A flight to Marienbad to get rid of
fat; a flight to Carlsbad to get rid of rheumatism; a flight to
Kalteneutgeben to take the water cure and get rid of the rest of the
diseases. It is all so handy. You can stand in Vienna and toss a
biscuit into Kaltenleutgeben, with a twelve-inch gun. You can run out
thither at any time of the day; you go by phenomenally slow trains, and
yet inside of an hour you have exchanged the glare and swelter of the
city for wooded hills, and shady forest paths, and soft cool airs, and
the music of birds, and the repose and the peace of paradise.

And there are plenty of other health resorts at your service and
convenient to get at from Vienna; charming places, all of them; Vienna
sits in the centre of a beautiful world of mountains with now and then a
lake and forests; in fact, no other city is so fortunately situated.

There is an abundance of health resorts, as I have said. Among them this
place--Hochberghaus. It stands solitary on the top of a densely wooded
mountain, and is a building of great size. It is called the Appetite
Anstallt, and people who have lost their appetites come here to get them
restored. When I arrived I was taken by Professor Haimberger to his
consulting-room and questioned:

'It is six o'clock. When did you eat last?'

'At noon.'

'What did you eat?'

'Next to nothing.'

'What was on the table?'

'The usual things.'

'Chops, chickens, vegetables, and so on?'

'Yes; but don't mention them--I can't bear it.'

'Are you tired of them?'

'Oh, utterly. I wish I might never hear of them again.'

'The mere sight of food offends you, does it?'

'More, it revolts me.'

The doctor considered awhile, then got out a long menu and ran his eye
slowly down it.

'I think,' said he, 'that what you need to eat is--but here, choose for

I glanced at the list, and my stomach threw a hand-spring. Of all the
barbarous lay-outs that were ever contrived, this was the most atrocious.
At the top stood 'tough, underdone, overdue tripe, garnished with
garlic;' half-way down the bill stood 'young cat; old cat; scrambled
cat;' at the bottom stood 'sailor-boots, softened with tallow--served
raw.' The wide intervals of the bill were packed with dishes calculated
to gag a cannibal. I said:

'Doctor, it is not fair to joke over so serious a case as mine. I came
here to get an appetite, not to throw away the remnant that's left.'

He said gravely: 'I am not joking; why should I joke?'

'But I can't eat these horrors.'

'Why not?'

He said it with a naivete that was admirable, whether it was real or

'Why not? Because--why, doctor, for months I have seldom been able to
endure anything more substantial than omelettes and custards. These
unspeakable dishes of yours--'

'Oh, you will come to like them. They are very good. And you must eat
them. It is a rule of the place, and is strict. I cannot permit any
departure from it.'

I said smiling: 'Well, then, doctor, you will have to permit the
departure of the patient. I am going.'

He looked hurt, and said in a way which changed the aspect of things:

'I am sure you would not do me that injustice. I accepted you in good
faith--you will not shame that confidence. This appetite-cure is my
whole living. If you should go forth from it with the sort of appetite
which you now have, it could become known, and you can see, yourself,
that people would say my cure failed in your case and hence can fail in
other cases. You will not go; you will not do me this hurt.'

I apologised and said I would stay.

'That is right. I was sure you would not go; it would take the food from
my family's mouths.'

'Would they mind that? Do they eat these fiendish things?'

'They? My family?' His eyes were full of gentle wonder. 'Of course

'Oh, they don't! Do you?'

'Certainly not.'

'I see. It's another case of a physician who doesn't take his own

'I don't need it. It is six hours since you lunched. Will you have
supper now--or later?'

'I am not hungry, but now is as good a time as any, and I would like to
be done with it and have it off my mind. It is about my usual time, and
regularity is commanded by all the authorities. Yes, I will try to
nibble a little now--I wish a light horsewhipping would answer instead.'

The professor handed me that odious menu.

'Choose--or will you have it later?'

'Oh, dear me, show me to my room; I forgot your hard rule.'

'Wait just a moment before you finally decide. There is another rule.
If you choose now, the order will be filled at once; but if you wait, you
will have to await my pleasure. You cannot get a dish from that entire
bill until I consent.'

'All right. Show me to my room, and send the cook to bed; there is not
going to be any hurry.'

The professor took me up one flight of stairs and showed me into a most
inviting and comfortable apartment consisting of parlour, bedchamber, and

The front windows looked out over a far-reaching spread of green glades
and valleys, and tumbled hills clothed with forests--a noble solitude
unvexed by the fussy world. In the parlour were many shelves filled with
books. The professor said he would now leave me to myself; and added:

'Smoke and read as much as you please, drink all the water you like.
When you get hungry, ring and give your order, and I will decide whether
it shall be filled or not. Yours is a stubborn, bad case, and I think
the first fourteen dishes in the bill are each and all too delicate for
its needs. I ask you as a favour to restrain yourself and not call for

'Restrain myself, is it? Give yourself no uneasiness. You are going to
save money by me. The idea of coaxing a sick man's appetite back with
this buzzard-fare is clear insanity.'

I said it with bitterness, for I felt outraged by this calm, cold talk
over these heartless new engines of assassination. The doctor looked
grieved, but not offended. He laid the bill of fare of the commode at my
bed's head, 'so that it would be handy,' and said:

'Yours is not the worst case I have encountered, by any means; still it
is a bad one and requires robust treatment; therefore I shall be
gratified if you will restrain yourself and skip down to No. 15 and begin
with that.'

Then he left me and I began to undress, for I was dog-tired and very
sleepy. I slept fifteen hours and woke up finely refreshed at ten the
next morning. Vienna coffee! It was the first thing I thought of--that
unapproachable luxury--that sumptuous coffee-house coffee, compared with
which all other European coffee and all American hotel coffee is mere
fluid poverty. I rang, and ordered it; also Vienna bread, that delicious
invention. The servant spoke through the wicket in the door and said--
but you know what he said. He referred me to the bill of fare.
I allowed him to go--I had no further use for him.

After the bath I dressed and started for a walk, and got as far as the
door. It was locked on the outside. I rang, and the servant came and
explained that it was another rule. The seclusion of the patient was
required until after the first meal. I had not been particularly anxious
to get out before; but it was different now. Being locked in makes a
person wishful to get out. I soon began to find it difficult to put in
the time. At two o'clock I had been twenty-six hours without food. I
had been growing hungry for some time; I recognised that I was not only
hungry now, but hungry with a strong adjective in front of it. Yet I was
not hungry enough to face the bill of fare.

I must put in the time somehow. I would read and smoke. I did it; hour
by hour. The books were all of one breed--shipwrecks; people lost in
deserts; people shut up in caved-in mines; people starving in besieged
cities. I read about all the revolting dishes that ever famishing men
had stayed their hunger with. During the first hours these things
nauseated me: hours followed in which they did not so affect me; still
other hours followed in which I found myself smacking my lips over some
tolerably infernal messes. When I had been without food forty-five hours
I ran eagerly to the bell and ordered the second dish in the bill, which
was a sort of dumplings containing a compost made of caviar and tar.

It was refused me. During the next fifteen hours I visited the bell
every now and then and ordered a dish that was further down the list.
Always a refusal. But I was conquering prejudice after prejudice, right
along; I was making sure progress; I was creeping up on No. 15 with
deadly certainty, and my heart beat faster and faster, my hopes rose
higher and higher.

At last when food had not passed my lips for sixty hours, victory was
mine, and I ordered No. 15:

'Soft-boiled spring chicken--in the egg; six dozen, hot and fragrant!'

In fifteen minutes it was there; and the doctor along with it, rubbing
his hands with joy. He said with great excitement:

'It's a cure, it's a cure! I knew I could do it. Dear sir, my grand
system never failed--never. You've got your appetite back--you know you
have; say it and make me happy.'

'Bring on your carrion--I can eat anything in the bill!'

'Oh, this is noble, this is splendid--but I knew I could do it, the
system never fails. How are the birds?'

'Never was anything so delicious in the world; and yet as a rule I don't
care for game. But don't interrupt me, don't--I can't spare my mouth, I
really can't.'

Then the doctor said:

'The cure is perfect. There is no more doubt nor danger. Let the
poultry alone; I can trust you with a beefsteak, now.'

The beefsteak came--as much as a basketful of it--with potatoes, and
Vienna bread and coffee; and I ate a meal then that was worth all the
costly preparation I had made for it. And dripped tears of gratitude
into the gravy all the time--gratitude to the doctor for putting a little
plain common-sense into me when I had been empty of it so many, many


Thirty years ago Haimberger went off on a long voyage in a sailing-ship.
There were fifteen passengers on board. The table-fare was of the
regulation pattern of the day: At 7 in the morning, a cup of bad coffee
in bed; at 9, breakfast: bad coffee, with condensed milk; soggy rolls,
crackers, salt fish; at 1 P.M., luncheon: cold tongue, cold ham, cold
corned beef, soggy cold rolls, crackers; 5 P.M., dinner: thick pea soup,
salt fish, hot corned beef and sour kraut, boiled pork and beans,
pudding; 9 till 11 P.M., supper: tea, with condensed milk, cold tongue,
cold ham, pickles, sea-biscuit, pickled oysters, pickled pigs' feet,
grilled bones, golden buck.

At the end of the first week eating had ceased, nibbling had taken its
place. The passengers came to the table, but it was partly to put in the
time, and partly because the wisdom of the ages commanded them to be
regular in their meals. They were tired of the coarse and monotonous
fare, and took no interest in it, had no appetite for it. All day and
every day they roamed the ship half hungry, plagued by their gnawing
stomachs, moody, untalkative, miserable. Among them were three confirmed
dyspeptics. These became shadows in the course of three weeks. There
was also a bed-ridden invalid; he lived on boiled rice; he could not look
at the regular dishes.

Now came shipwrecks and life in open boats, with the usual paucity of
food. Provisions ran lower and lower. The appetites improved, then.
When nothing was left but raw ham and the ration of that was down to two
ounces a day per person, the appetites were perfect. At the end of
fifteen days the dyspeptics, the invalid, and the most delicate ladies in
the party were chewing sailor-boots in ecstasy, and only complaining
because the supply of them was limited. Yet these were the same people
who couldn't endure the ship's tedious corned beef and sour kraut and
other crudities. They were rescued by an English vessel. Within ten
days the whole fifteen were in as good condition as they had been when
the shipwreck occurred.

'They had suffered no damage by their adventure,' said the professor.

'Do you note that?'


'Do you note it well?'

'Yes--I think I do.'

'But you don't. You hesitate. You don't rise to the importance of it.
I will say it again--with emphasis--not one of them suffered any damage.'

'Now I begin to see. Yes, it was indeed remarkable.'

'Nothing of the kind. It was perfectly natural. There was no reason why
they should suffer damage. They were undergoing Nature's Appetite-Cure,
the best and wisest in the world.'

'Is that where you got your idea?'

'That is where I got it.'

'It taught those people a valuable lesson.'

'What makes you think that?'

'Why shouldn't I? You seem to think it taught you one.'

'That is nothing to the point. I am not a fool.'

'I see. Were they fools?'

'They were human beings.'

'Is it the same thing?'

'Why do you ask? You know it yourself. As regards his health--and the
rest of the things--the average man is what his environment and his
superstitions have made him; and their function is to make him an ass.
He can't add up three or four new circumstances together and perceive
what they mean; it is beyond him. He is not capable of observing for
himself; he has to get everything at second-hand. If what are miscalled
the lower animals were as silly as man is, they would all perish from the
earth in a year.'

'Those passengers learned no lesson, then?'

'Not a sign of it. They went to their regular meals in the English ship,
and pretty soon they were nibbling again--nibbling, appetiteless,
disgusted with the food, moody, miserable, half hungry, their outraged
stomachs cursing and swearing and whining and supplicating all day long.
And in vain, for they were the stomachs of fools.'

'Then, as I understand it, your scheme is--'

'Quite simple. Don't eat until you are hungry. If the food fails to
taste good, fails to satisfy you, rejoice you, comfort you, don't eat
again until you are very hungry. Then it will rejoice you--and do you
good, too.'

'And I am to observe no regularity, as to hours?'

'When you are conquering a bad appetite--no. After it is conquered,
regularity is no harm, so long as the appetite remains good. As soon as
the appetite wavers, apply the corrective again--which is starvation,
long or short according to the needs of the case.'

'The best diet, I suppose--I mean the wholesomest--'

'All diets are wholesome. Some are wholesomer than others, but all the
ordinary diets are wholesome enough for the people who use them. Whether
the food be fine or coarse it will taste good and it will nourish if a
watch be kept upon the appetite and a little starvation introduced every
time it weakens. Nansen was used to fine fare, but when his meals were
restricted to bear-meat months at a time he suffered no damage and no
discomfort, because his appetite was kept at par through the difficulty
of getting his bear-meat regularly.'

'But doctors arrange carefully considered and delicate diets for

'They can't help it. The invalid is full of inherited superstitions and
won't starve himself. He believes it would certainly kill him.'

'It would weaken him, wouldn't it?'

'Nothing to hurt. Look at the invalids in our shipwreck. They lived
fifteen days on pinches of raw ham, a suck at sailor-boots, and general
starvation. It weakened them, but it didn't hurt them. It put them in
fine shape to eat heartily of hearty food and build themselves up to a
condition of robust health. But they did not know enough to profit by
that; they lost their opportunity; they remained invalids; it served them
right. Do you know the trick that the health-resort doctors play?'

'What is it?'

'My system disguised--covert starvation. Grape-cure, bath-cure, mud-
cure--it is all the same. The grape and the bath and the mud make a show
and do a trifle of the work--the real work is done by the surreptitious
starvation. The patient accustomed to four meals and late hours--at both
ends of the day--now consider what he has to do at a health resort. He
gets up at 6 in the morning. Eats one egg. Tramps up and down a
promenade two hours with the other fools. Eats a butterfly. Slowly
drinks a glass of filtered sewage that smells like a buzzard's breath.
Promenades another two hours, but alone; if you speak to him he says
anxiously, "My water!--I am walking off my water!--please don't
interrupt," and goes stumping along again. Eats a candied roseleaf.
Lies at rest in the silence and solitude of his room for hours; mustn't
read, mustn't smoke. The doctor comes and feels of his heart, now, and
his pulse, and thumps his breast and his back and his stomach, and
listens for results through a penny flageolet; then orders the man's
bath--half a degree, Reaumur, cooler than yesterday. After the bath
another egg. A glass of sewage at three or four in the afternoon, and
promenade solemnly with the other freaks. Dinner at 6--half a doughnut
and a cup of tea. Walk again. Half-past 8, supper--more butterfly; at
9, to bed. Six weeks of this regime--think of it. It starves a man out
and puts him in splendid condition. It would have the same effect in
London, New York, Jericho--anywhere.'

'How long does it take to put a person in condition here?'

'It ought to take but a day or two; but in fact it takes from one to six
weeks, according to the character and mentality of the patient.'

'How is that?'

'Do you see that crowd of women playing football, and boxing, and jumping
fences yonder? They have been here six or seven weeks. They were
spectral poor weaklings when they came. They were accustomed to nibbling
at dainties and delicacies at set hours four times a day, and they had no
appetite for anything. I questioned them, and then locked them into
their rooms--the frailest ones to starve nine or ten hours, the others
twelve or fifteen. Before long they began to beg; and indeed they
suffered a good deal. They complained of nausea, headache, and so on.
It was good to see them eat when the time was up. They could not
remember when the devouring of a meal had afforded them such rapture--
that was their word. Now, then, that ought to have ended their cure, but
it didn't. They were free to go to any meals in the house, and they
chose their accustomed four. Within a day or two I had to interfere.
Their appetites were weakening. I made them knock out a meal. That set
them up again. Then they resumed the four. I begged them to learn to
knock out a meal themselves, without waiting for me. Up to a fortnight
ago they couldn't; they really hadn't manhood enough; but they were
gaining it, and now I think they are safe. They drop out a meal every
now and then of their own accord. They are in fine condition now, and
they might safely go home, I think, but their confidence is not quite
perfect yet, so they are waiting awhile.'

'Other cases are different?'

'Oh yes. Sometimes a man learns the whole trick in a week. Learns to
regulate his appetite and keep it in perfect order. Learns to drop out a
meal with frequency and not mind it.'

'But why drop the entire meal out? Why not a part of it?'

'It's a poor device, and inadequate. If the stomach doesn't call
vigorously--with a shout, as you may say--it is better not to pester it
but just give it a real rest. Some people can eat more meals than
others, and still thrive. There are all sorts of people, and all sorts
of appetites. I will show you a man presently who was accustomed to
nibble at eight meals a day. It was beyond the proper gait of his
appetite by two. I have got him down to six a day, now, and he is all
right, and enjoys life. How many meals to you affect per day?'

'Formerly--for twenty-two years--a meal and a half; during the past two
years, two and a half: coffee and a roll at 9, luncheon at 1, dinner at
7.30 or 8.'

'Formerly a meal and a half--that is, coffee and a roll at 9, dinner in
the evening, nothing between--is that it?


'Why did you add a meal?'

'It was the family's idea. They were uneasy. They thought I was killing

'You found a meal and a half per day enough, all through the twenty-two


'Your present poor condition is due to the extra meal. Drop it out. You
are trying to eat oftener than your stomach demands. You don't gain, you
lose. You eat less food now, in a day, on two and a half meals, than you
formerly ate on one and a half.'

'True--a good deal less; for in those olds days my dinner was a very
sizeable thing.'

'Put yourself on a single meal a day, now--dinner--for a few days, till
you secure a good, sound, regular, trustworthy appetite, then take to
your one and a half permanently, and don't listen to the family any more.
When you have any ordinary ailment, particularly of a feverish sort, eat
nothing at all during twenty-four hours. That will cure it. It will
cure the stubbornest cold in the head, too. No cold in the head can
survive twenty-four hours' unmodified starvation.'

I know it. I have proved it many a time.

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