July 30, 2010

Higginson's milk diet

Known for frequently overworking himself, Thomas Wentworth Higginson soon paid the price of constant labor. By the autumn of 1895, he was bed-ridden for rest and living on a "milk diet" due to dyspepsia, or indigestion (he had a similar problem while a student at Harvard Divinity School, though he also noted his need to save money at the time). After eight weeks, he described having a rare treat — a raw egg — as being like "a whole Christmas dinner." Propped up on pillows during this illness, he wrote his book Cheerful Yesterdays.

On July 30, 1896, Higginson wrote in his journal: "Sent to printers first (new) instalment of narrative... Collapse... This involves putting back on milk diet and cessation of drives for a time."

This relapse also forced Higginson to give up some of his upcoming lectures and trips (one was planned for England). He was resigned to his condition and, in the same journal entry, speculated: "Very possibly semi-invalidism for the rest of my life. Still this to be quietly faced and recognized." Elsewhere, on the cover of this journal, he wrote: "Now that I begin to know a little, I die."

His concern was unfounded, however. Higginson soon recovered and made his trip to Europe after all. Even so, he noticed the positive aspect in his experience as a "semi-invalid." He had read 42 books during the period, for example, and his focus on writing allowed him to earn more money than ever before. Higginson lived for a couple decades longer before his death in 1911.

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