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C h a p t e r O n e Creating Nature’s Republic From Natural Therapies to Self-Help in Germany, 1800–1870 In the nineteenth century, natural healers claimed that “nature” (and not doctors) was responsible for health and healing. The healers argued that water cures and dietary practices could restore the sick person to health, while the medications prescribed by allopathic doctors addressed symptoms rather than the patient. The emphasis on the healing power of nature was a consistent feature of natural healing throughout the nineteenth century, and this sometimes creates the impression that natural healing did not change very much during that period. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, medical associations tried to foster this view, claiming that natural healers recycled archaic therapies while academic medicine was making progress through laboratory research.1 If one focuses on therapeutic practices, as medical men did, it does sometimes seem that natural healers were more conservative in their response to new treatments than their allopathic colleagues were. By shifting the focus from particular therapies to a more comprehensive view of natural healing, though, we get a different perspective. This chapter explores how natural healing evolved over the course of the nineteenth century to become a holistic medical cosmology more concerned with prevention than with cures, more focused on health than sickness, and more interested in social practices than symptoms. Exploring how natural healing changed over the nineteenth century helps to explain why natural healers were so concerned with the ev- • • Creating Nature’s Republic 17 eryday behaviors of their patients, and why their prescriptions were so different from those of their allopathic colleagues.“Nature” is central to this story because from the beginning of the nineteenth century to the end, natural healers claimed that only “nature” could heal. To understand the evolution of natural healing over the course of the century, then, we have to look at what natural healers meant when they talked about nature. Telling this story is no easy task, in part because “nature” itself is so difficult to define. In the very useful collection Germany’s Nature, for example, “nature” is used to signify a place or a divine presence. It is used as a noun (as in “technology is not alien to nature”) and as an adjective (as in “natural man” or “natural landscape”).2 Other sources look at the concept of nature as a force. Historian John Williams, for example, claims that nature was defined“as an antidote to urban industrial modernity,”3 while Uwe Heyll tells us that“[the] idea of a healthful nature was not new,” but had been around since antiquity.4 Historians have pointed to different genealogies of the nature concept. In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, for example, German speakers consistently referred to nature as an abstract ideal and a space untainted by human hands. German romanticism is also cited for its role in evangelizing nature.5 In the history of medicine, it is common to cite a different trajectory, from Hippocrates to Galen, and then, centuries later, to Christoph Wilhelm Hufeland.6 Nature meant different things in different contexts. In tracing the evolution of natural healing across the nineteenth century, I show one important way that German ideas about nature were formed.7 This chapter shows how the practice of popular medicine helped to change the way that nature was understood by contemporaries. In the hands of natural healers, nature was not the transcendental, quasireligious ideal offered by romantic poets, nor was it simply the opposite of urban space.Over the course of the nineteenth century, as natural healers tried to use nature to improve their patients’health, they began to talk about nature as an example to be followed and a tool that could transform individual lives. As natural healers began to focus more on preventive medicine than on “the cure” and more on the everyday habits of their patients than on their immediate symptoms, they helped to transform 18 we lived for the body how nature was defined and understood. Theirs was not, of course, the only definition. Poets continued to refer to nature’s transcendental beauty, nature was often used to refer to nonurban landscapes, and cultural critics still spoke of unspoiled nature as an antidote to degeneracy. As natural healers used nature as a model for everyday practices and as a tool to combat sickness, though, nature also came to mean something less abstract. In part through the practice...


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