Wet air or dry?
The hot air controversy

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4: Support from others

'Diogenes', whose Life in a tub had been singled out for criticism by Madden, took this as an opportunity to reply. He sought first to set the record straight regarding the supposed contamination of the air in the bathing rooms by fumes from the furnace, and dismissed as fanciful the notion that, since there were no such fumes, Madden's 'feelings of oppression, heaviness, and slight headache' could not be caused by them.

I have never experienced, or imagined that I experienced, such a sensation in the Bray bath, to which I presume Dr Madden refers; but then I was fortified against any nervous suggestion of the kind by the knowledge that the hot air flues communicating with the furnace are hermetically secured, and that the objectionable 'effluvia of coke, in a state of combustion', are only permitted to contaminate the external atmosphere, at an elevation of more than 60 feet above the heads of the bathers; and that the slender tower-like shaft, which lends additional beauty to that graceful building, also discharges important utilitarian duties, and insures that the due exit of the combusted coke, after the latter, in its passage through the network of flues, has communicated its genial heat, but not its contamination, to the bathing rooms.

'Diogenes' then discusses Madden's contention that one of the principal failings of the western, as opposed to the eastern, bath was the absence of visible vapour. On the contrary, he explains, this distinguishing feature is not a consequence of ignorance or false economy but 'a result deliberately arrived at by the inventor after long consideration and experience'. For this reason, the western bath has been called 'the improved Turkish bath' and the Sultan's physicians 'have not failed to recognise it as such' when the bath is used as a therapeutic agent.

The peculiar moisture which pervades the atmosphere of the Eastern bath, and which is strongly perceptible to more senses than those of sight and feeling, is certainly absent in our Irish bath, and we are weak enough to congratulate ourselves upon this deficiency.

'Diogenes' then deals with Madden's pulse-taking experiments. Admitting that the pulse of a bather is increased in a bath, he points out that of all the heated baths known, the hot air bath is 'the least exciting.' And, since his point is easily proved by experiment, he issues a challenge. A given number of bathers should stay in a dry air bath held at a given temperature for a specific period of time and their pulses should be recorded. Then the experiment should be repeated by letting them 'pass the same amount of time (if they can)' in the same atmosphere at the same temperature, 'but Orientalized by the addition of visible and palpable vapour'. Again their pulses should be recorded.

I feel so satisfied from actual experience that the question will be decided most evidently in favour of the Irish bath, that I am prepared to stake £500 on the issue of the trial, if anyone will accept the wager.

This last point was confirmed by another letter, published by the Cork Daily Herald on the following day:

Dr Madden has gone into much detail regarding the effect of the Turkish bath on the pulse, but he has not condescended to give us any statistics respecting the effects on the pulse by the Eastern bath, the vapour bath, or the ordinary warm-water bath; and I now tell him, as the result of many experiments on the subject at Blarney, that the improved Turkish bath produces incomparably the least disturbing effect on the pulse of any hot bath yet invented, which fact I challenge him to disprove; and I can further tell him that the improved Turkish bath now derided by him is the direct result of experiments made by Dr Barter on this very subject.

The writer of this letter, from an address in Dublin, was Dr Richard Griffith, Jnr. It may be that he was a director of the Turkish Bath Company of Dublin since all his points have the feel of authority about them and, on occasion, he uses 'we' as if speaking for the company.

Referring to the assertion that, in the hot-room, 'there is a communication beneath the bench with a hot-air channel, the mouth of which is in one of the furnaces,' Griffith—implicitly correcting the careless remark of 'Diogenes'—writes:

I cannot but hold Dr Madden grossly culpable in making so unfounded a statement, since by taking the smallest pains he might have easily informed himself of the actual state of the facts, and have avoided exposing himself as he has done...First,...no portion whatever of the floor of the bath communicates with the heated air of the furnaces; on the contrary, the floor between them is hermetically sealed, is nine inches in thickness, and all the products of combustion pass directly to the main chimney of the building. Secondly, the slab in question is in immediate communication with the external air, and on opening the ventilator attached to it, becomes the coolest portion of the bath—the 'slab where water boils' becoming cooled down to 98º or 100º.

Griffith had, earlier in his letter, likened Madden to a lover who, 'deprived of the object of his affections, bemoans in touching terms the loss of his old friend of 35 years standing, the Hammam of Turkey and Egypt.' Now he goes on to deal with Madden's criticism of the use of coke to heat the Bray furnaces.

Instead of following senselessly or blindly the institutions of the East, it has been our aim to copy them in all that our reason approved, omitting those practices which seemed neither necessary nor desirable. We have not, for instance, set aside the use of coke, and had recourse to a less efficient and more expensive fuel—namely, wood, for the childish reason that they do so in the East, albeit, for this we have incurred the censure of Dr Madden. Does Dr Madden really think the Easterns, if placed in our position, would use wood instead of coke; if he does, he puts forward an argument against their shrewdness and intelligence, and gives us an additional reason for not blindly adopting all their practices; if he does not believe it, what is the meaning of his sneer about Brummagem ideas?

As 'Photophilus' claimed, the new Irish Bath did indeed repel the attack made upon it 'with a display of inherent vitality'.

This page revised and reformatted 01 January 2021

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