From the Baltimore Sun on July 20, 1861:
"Shut Your Mouth."
This is the advice of Mr. George Catlin, who is so thoroughly convinced that most of the ills of our humanity are caused by open mouths, that he has written an amusing little volume to prove his case and urge his point upon the men and women of America.
"If I were to endeavor to bequeath to posterity the most important motto which human language can convey," (says Mr. Catlin,) "it should be in three words--Shut--your--Mouth."
Mr. Catlin addresses himself chiefly to mothers. He urges them to keep tightly closed not only their own mouths, but their children's, of both sexes and all ages. he assures them that out of the mouth, or through it--when it is open--proceeds consumption, dyspepsia, rotten teeth, a crooked spine, ill temper, snoring; and if there be any other diseases which men fear, they too assail man's vital parts by way of the mouth.
If you want to catch a contagious disease, sleep with your moth open. If you want to have disagreeable dreams, sleep with your mouth open. If you want to spoil your teeth, your good looks and your temper, sleep with your mouth open.
"Bronchitis, quinsey, croup, asthma and other diseases of the respiratory organs, as well as dyspepsia, gout of the stomach, rickets, diarrhea, diseases of the liver, the heart, the spine and the whole of the nervous system, from the brain to the toes, may chiefly be attributed to this deadly and unnatural habit" of sleeping with the mouth agape, like an oyster in his last agonies. "When a man lies down at night to rest from the fatigues of the day, and yields his system and all his energies to the repose of sleep, and his volition and all his powers of resistance are giving way to its quieting influence, if he gradually opens his mouth to its widest strain, he lets the enemy in that chills his lungs, that racks his brain, that paralyses his stomach, that gives him the nightmare, brings imps and fairies that dance before him during the night; and during the following day, headache, toothache, rheumatism, dyspepsia, and the gout."
Mr. Catlin believes that the nose was intended to be breathed through. He believes air should reach the lungs only through the nose, and never through the mouth; and to prove the correctness of his theory he cites a number of curious facts and experiences of his own.
He remarks that in times when cholera or yellow fever are prevalent, persons who habitually breathe through their mouth are most subject to these infections. And here we may bring in the general voice of seamen to co[r]roborate his statement. All experienced sailors sleep, habitually, with closely shut mouths. One reason for this may be that roaches, which are very large and extremely abundant on board ship, are apt to crawl into an open mouth to investigate its contents--the large East Indian roach being, as is well known, an animal of highly inquisitive character. But another and equally powerful reason is the general belief, among seamen, that the air laden with miasmatic poison is more or less purified by being inhaled through the nostrils. They believe with Mr. Catlin, that--
"The air which enters the lungs is as different from that which enters the nostrils as distilled water is different from the water in an ordinary cistern or a frog-pond. The arresting and purifying process of the nose, upon the atmosphere with its poisonous ingredients, passing through it, though less perceptible, is not less distinct nor less important than that of the mouth which stops cherry-stones and fish-bones from entering the stomach.
"It is a known fact that man can inhale through his nose, for a certain time, mephitic air, in the bottom of a well, without harm; but if he opens his mouth to answer a question, or calls for help, in that position, his lungs are closed and he expires. Most animals are able to inhale the same for a considerable time without destruction of life, and, no doubt, solely from the fact that their respiration is through the nostrils, in which the poisonous effluvia[?] are arrested.
"There are many mineral and vegetable poisons also, which can be inhaled by the nose without harm, but if taken through the mouth destroy life. And so with poisonous reptiles and poisonous animals. The man who kills the rattlesnake or the copperhead, and stands alone over it, keeps his mouth shut and receives no harm; but if he has compainions with him, with whom he is conversing over the carcasses of these reptiles, he inhales the poisonous effluvia through the mouth and becomes deadly sick, and in some instances death ensues.
"It is a well known fact that fishes will die in a few moments, in their own element, with their mouths kept open by the hook; and I strongly doubt whether a horse or an ox would live any length of time with its mouth fastened open with a block of wood during the accustomed hours of its repose.
"How interesting to science, and how infinitely important to the welfare of the human race might yet be the inquiry, whether the thousands and millions of victims to cholera and yellow fever were not those very portions of society who were in the habit of sleeping with their mouths open in the districts infected with those awful scourges?"
Mr. Catlin suggests that--
"By nature the teeth and eyes are strictly amphibious, both immersed in liquids which are prepared for their nourishment and protection, and with powers of existing in the open air long enough for the various purposes for which they were designed; but beyond that, abuse begins, and the soon turn to decay. It is the suppression of saliva, with dryness of the mouth, and an unnatural current of cold air across the teeth and gums during the hours of sleep, that produce malformation of the teeth, toothache and tic-doloureux[?] with premature decay, and loss of teeth, so lamentably prevalent in the civilized world."
And he relates that the American Indians invariably sleep with their mouths shut; mothers being very careful to close forcibly the lips of their children, when they happen to be open during sleep. The Indians, it seems, call us not only "pale faces," but "black mouth;" and Mr. Catlin relates that they always remark upon the frequency of decayed teeth among their white neighbors, which they believe to be occasioned "by the number of lies that pass over the white man's teeth."
Not only does the mouth thus occasion many diseases by its too frequent opening, but Mr. Catlin maintains that there are "all nervousness" first shows itself, and he relates the following case in point, with which we must close the review of his little book, to the main principle of which we do not hesitate to give in or adhesion:
"In one of the exciting scenes of my roaming life, I recollect to have witnessed a strong illustration of the above remarks, wile residing in one of the Sioux villages on the banks of the upper Missouri. A serious quarrel having arisen between one of the Fur Company's men and a Sioux brave, a challenge was given by the Indian and accepted by the white man, who were to meet upon the prairie, in a state of nudity and unattended, and decided the affair with their knives.
"A few minutes before this horrible combat was commenced, both parties being on the ground, and perfectly prepared, the factor and myself succeeded in bringing them to a reconciliation, and finally to a shaking of hands, by which we had the satisfaction of knowing, beyond a doubt, that we had been the means of saving the life of one of these men; and in a short time afterwords, while alone with the Indian, I asked him if he had not felt fears of his antagonist, who appeared much his superior in size and in strength--to which he very promptly replied: 'No, not in the least; I never fear harm from a man who can't shut his mouth, no matter how large or strong he may be.' I was forcibly struck with this reply, as well as with the conviction I had got in my own mind (and no doubt from the same symptoms) that the white man would have been killed if they had fought."