Benjamin Franklin on Common Colds and Russian Stoves

Benjamin Franklin, in an essay on the common cold stated:

That warmed rooms make people tender and apt to catch cold, is as great a mistake as it is (among the English) general.  We have seen how the common rooms are apt to give colds; but the writer of this paper may affirm from his own experience, and that of his family and friends, who have used warm rooms for these four winters past, that by the use of such rooms, people are rendered less liable to take cold, and indeed, actually hardened…Now, every time you go out of a warm room into the cold, freezing air, you do as if it were into a cold bath, and the effect is in proportion the same; for (though perhaps you may feel somewhat chilly at first you find in a little time your bodies hardened and strengthened, your blood is driven round with a brisker circulation, and comfortable, steady, uniform inward warmth succeeds that equal outward warmth you first received in the room.  Farther to confirm this asertion, we instance the Swedes, the Danes, and the Russians; these nations are said to live in rooms, compared to ours, as hot as ovens; Mr. Boyle, in his experiments and observations upon cold says, “It is remarkable….that Russians and Livonians…accustom themselves to pass immediately from a great degree of heat, to as great a one of cold, without receiving any visible prejudice, thereby.  It is a surprising thing to see how far the Russians can endure heat; and how, when it makes them ready to faint, they can go out of their stoves, stark naked, both men and women, and thrown themselves into cold water, and even in winter wallow in snow.”

Yet, where are the hardy soldiers, though bred in their boasted cool houses, that can, like these people, bear the fatigues of a winter campaign in so severe a climate, march whole days in the neck in snow, and at night entrench in ice, as they do?

The mentioning of these northern nations puts me in mind of a considerable public advantage that may arise from the general use of these stoves.  It is observable, that, though these countries have been well inhabited form any ages, wood is still their fuel, and yet at no very great price; which could have been, if they had not universally used stoves, but consumed it as we do in great quantities by open fires.  By help of this saving invention out wood may grow as fast as we consume it, and our posterity may warm themselves at a moderate rate, without being obliged to fetch their fuel over the Atlantic; as, if pit-coal should not be here discovered, they must necessarily do.”

Franklin, Dr. Benjamin.  Works of, with notes and life of the Author, edited by Jared Sparks, Boston, 1836.

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