Imatges de pÓgina

to prevent any general feeling of cold; that instead of the Aimsy cotton, linen, or mixed fabrics commonly used, it should be made of some good non-conductor, such as coarse woollen cloth; that it should be so strong as to receive little damage from the hard wear and tear which childish sports will give it; and that its color should be such as will not soon suffer from use and exposure.


7. Perhaps less needs saying on this requisite of physical education than on most others: at any rate, in so far as boys are concerned. Public schools and private schools alike furnish tolerably adequate playgrounds; and there is usually a fair share of time for out-of-door games, and a recognition of them as needful. In this, if in no other direction, it seems admitted that the natural promptings of boyish instinct may advantageously be followed; and, indeed, in the modern practice of breaking the prolonged morning and afternoon's lessons by a few minutes' open-air recreation, we see an increasing tendency to conform school regulations to the bodily sensations of the pupils. Here, then, little needs to be said in the way of expostulation or suggestion.

But we have been obliged to qualify this admission by inserting the clanse “in so far as boys are concerned.” Unfortunately, the fact is quite otherwise in the case of girls.

Why this astonishing difference? Is it that the constitution of a girl differs so entirely from that of a boy as not to need these active exercises ? Is it that a girl has none of the promptings to vociferous play by which boys are impelled ? Or is it that, while in boys these promptings are to be regarded as securing that bodily activity without which there can not be adequate development, to their sisters nature has given them for no purpose whatever-unless it be for the vexation of schoolmistresses ?

"Then girls should be allowed to run wild—to become as rude as boys, and grow up into romps and hoydens!” exclaims some defender of the proprieties. This, we presume, is the ever-present dread of schoolmistresses. It appears, on inquiry, that at " Establishments for Young Ladies " noisy play like that daily indulged in by boys, is a punishable offense; and it is to be inferred that this noisy play is forbidden, lest unlady-like habits should be formed. The fear is quite goundless, however. For if the sportive activity allowed to boys does not prevent them from rowing up into gentlemen; why should a like sportive activity allowed to girls prevent them from growing up into ladies? Rough as may have been their accustomed playground frolics, youths who have left school do not indulge in leapfrog in the street, or marbles in the drawing-room. Abandoning their jackets, they abandon at the same time boyish games; and display an anxiety-often a ludicrous anxiety-to avoid whatever is not manly. If now, on arriving at the due age, this feeling of masculine dignity puts so efficient a restraint on the romping sports of boyhood, will not the feeling of feminine modesty, gradually strengthening as maturity is approached, put an efficient restraint on the like sports of girlhood ? Have not women even a greater regard for appearances than men? and will there not consequently arise in them even a stronger check to whatever is rough or hoisterous ? How absurd is the supposition that the womanly instincts would not assert themselves but for the rigorous discipline of schoolmistresses!

The natural spontaneous exercise having been forbidden, and the bad consequences of no exercise having become conspicuous, there has been adopted a system of factitious exercise-gymnastics. That this is better than nothing we admit; but that it is an adequate substitute for play we deny. The defects are both positive and negative. In the first place, these formal, muscular motions, necessarily much less varied than those accompanying juvenile sports, do not secure so equable a distribution of action to all parts of the body; whence it results that the exertion, falling on special parts, produces fatigue sooner than it would else bave done: add to which, that, if constantly repeated, this exertion of special parts leads to a disproportionate development. Again, the quantity of exercise thus taken will be deficient, not only in consequence of uneven distribution, but it will be further deficient in consequence of lack of interest. Even when not made repulsive, as they sometimes are, by assuming the shape of appointed lessons, these monotonous movements are sure to become wearisome, from the absence of amusement. Competition it is true, serves as a stimulus; but it is not a lasting stimulus, like that enjoyment which accompanies varied play. Not only, however, are gymnastics inferior in respect of the quantity of muscular exertion which they secure; they are still more inferior in respect of the quality. This comparative want of enjoyment to which we have just referred as a cause of early desistance from artificial exercisos, is also a cause of inferiority in the effects they produce on the system. The common assumption that so long as the amount of bodily action is the same, it matters not whether it be pleasurable or otherwise, is a grave mistake. An agreeable men. tal excitement has a highly invigorating influence. See the effect produced upon an invalid by good news, or by the visit of an old friend. Mark how careful medical men are to recommend lively society to debilitated patients. Remem·ber how beneficial to the health is the gratification produced by change of scene. The truth is that happiness is the most powerful of tonics. By accelerating the circulation of the blood, it facilitates the performance of every function; and so tends alike to increase health when it exists, and to restore it when it has been lost. Hence the essential superiority of play to gymnastics. The extreme interest felt by children in their games, and the riotous glee with which they carry on their rougher frolics, are of as much importance as the accompanying exertion. And as not supplying these mental stimuli, gymnastics must be fundamentally defective.

Granting then, as we do, that formal exercises of the limbs are better than nothing-granting, further, that they may be used with advantage as supplementary aids; we yet contend that such formal exercises can never supply the place of the exercises prompted by nature. For girls, as well as boys, the sportive activities to which the instincts impel, are essential to bodily welfare. Whoever forbids them, forbids the divinely-appointed means to physical development.


8. On old and young, the pressure of modern life puts a still-increasing strain. In all businesses and professions, intenser competition taxes the energies and abilities of every adult; and, with the view of better fitting the young to hold their place under this intenser competition, they are subject to a more severe discipline than heretofore. The damage is thus doubled. Fathers, who find not only that they are run hard by their multiplying competitors, but that, while laboring under this disadvantage, they have to maintain a more expensive style of living, are all the year round obliged to work early and late, taking little exercise and getting but short holidays. The constitutions, shaken by this long continued overapplication, they bequeath to their children. And then these comparatively feeble children, predisposed as they are to break down even under an ordinary strain upon their energies, are required to go through a curriculum much more extended than that prescribed for the unenfeebled children of past generations.

That disastrous consequences must result from this cumulative transgression might be predicted with certainty; and that they do result, every observant person knows. Go where you will, and before long there come under your notice cases of children, or youths, of either sex, more or less injured by undue study. Here, to recover from a state of debility thus produced, a year's rustication has been found necessary. There you find a chronic congestion of the brain, that has already lasted many months, and threatens to last much longer. Now you hear of a fever that resulted from the over-excitement in some way brought on at school. And, again, the instance is that of a youth who has already had once to desist from his studies, and who, since he has returned to them, is frequently taken out of his class in a fainting fit. We state facts facts that have not been sought for, but have been thrust upon our observation during the last two years: and that, too, within a very limited range.

If injuries so conspicuous are thus frequent, how very general must be the smaller and inconspicuous injuries. To one case where positive illness is directly traceable to over-application, there are probably at Jeast half-a-dozen cases where the evil is unobtrusive and slowly accumulating-cases where there is frequent derangement of the functions, attributed to this or that special cause, or to constitutional delicacy; cases where there is retardation and premature arrest of bodily growth; cases where a latent tendency to consumption is brought out and established; cases where a predisposition is given to that now common cerebral disorder brought on by the hard work of adult life. How commonly constitutions are thus undermined, will be clear to all who, after noting the frequent ailments of hard-worked professional and mercantile men, will reflect on the disastrous effects which undue application must produce upon the undeveloped systems of the young. The young are competent to bear neither as much hardship, nor as much physical exertion, nor as much mental exertion, as the full grown. Judge, then, if the full grown so manifestly suffer from the excessive mental exertion required of them, how great must be the damage which a mental exertion, often equally excessive, inflicts upon the young!

Most parents are more or less aware of the evil consequences that follow infant precocity. In every society may be heard reprobation of those who too early stimulate the minds of their little ones. And the dread of this early stimulation is great in proportion as there is adequate knowledge of the effects : witness the implied opinion of one of our most distinguished professors of phy. siology, who told us that he did not intend his little boy to learn any lessons until he was eight years old. But while to all it is a familiar truth that a forced development of intelligence in childhood entails disastrous results-either physical feebleness, or ultimate stupidity, or early death-it appears not to be porceived that throughout youth the same truth holds. Yet it is certain that it must do so. There is a given order in which, and a given rate at which, tho faculties unfold. If the course of education conforms itself to that of order and rato, well. If not—if the higher faculties are early taxed by presenting au order of knowledge more complex and abstract than can be readily assimilated; or if, by excess of culture, the intellect in general is developed to a degree beyond that which is natural to the age; the abnormal result so produced will inevitably be accompanied by some equivalent, or more than equivalent, evil.

For Nature is a strict accountant; and if you demand of her in one direction more than she is prepared to lay out, she balances the account by making a deduction elsewhere. If you will let her follow her own course, taking care to supply, in right quantities and kinds, the raw materials of bodily and mental growth required at each age, she will eventually produce an individual more or less evenly developed. If, however, you insist on premature or undue growth of any one part, she will, with more or less protest, concede the point; but that she may do your extra work, she must leave some of her more important work undone. Let it never be forgotten that the amount of vital energy which the body at any moment possesses is limited; and that, being limited, it is impossible to get from it more than a fixed quantity of results. In a child or youth the demands upon this vital energy are various and urgent. As before pointed out, the waste consequent on the day's bodily exercise has to be repaired; the wear of brain entailed by the day's study has to be made good; a certain additional growth of body has to be provided for; and also a certain additional growth of brain: add to which the amount of energy absorbed in the digestion of the large quantity of food required for meeting these many demands. Now, that to divert an excess of energy into any one of these channels is to abstract it from the others, is not only manifest à priori, but may be shown à posteriori from the experience of every one. Every one knows, for instance, that the digestion of a heavy meal makes such a demand on the system as to produce lassitude of mind and body, ending not unfrequently in sleep. Every one knows, too, that excess of bodily exercise diminishes the power of thoughtthat the temporary prostration following any sudden exertion, or the fatigue produced by a thirty miles' walk, is accompanied by a disinclination to mental effort; that, after a month's pedestrian tour, the mental inertia is such that some days are required to overcome it; and that in peasants who spend their lives in muscular labor the activity of mind is very small. Again, it is a truth familiar to all that during those fits of extreme rapid growth which sometimes occur in childhood, the great abstraction of energy is shown in the attendant prostration, bodily and mental. Once more, the facts that violent muscular exertion after eating will stop digestion, and that children who are early put to hard labor become stunted, similarly exhibit the antagonism-similarly imply that excess of activity in one direction involves deficiency of it in other directions. Now, the law which is thus manifest in extreme cases holds in all cases. These injurious abstractions of energy as certainly take place when the undue demands are slight and constant, as when they are great and sudden. Hence, if in youth, the ex. penditure in mental labor exceeds that which nature had provided for; the expenditure for other puposes falls below what it should have been: and evils of one kind or other are inevitably entailed.

It is a physiological law, first pointed out by M. Isidore St. Hilaire, and to which attention has been drawn by Mr. Lewes in his essay on Dwarfs and Giants, that there is an antagonism between growth and development. By growth, as used in this antithetical sense, is to be understood increase of size; by develope ment, increase of structure. And the law is, that great activity in either of these processes involves retardation or arrest of the other. This law is true not only of the organism as a whole, but of each separate part. The abnormally rapid advance of any part in respect of structure involves premature arrest of its growth; and this happens with the organ of the mind as certainly as with any other organ. The brain, which during early years is relatively large in mass but imperfect in structure will, if required to perform its functions with undue activity, undergo a structural advance greater than is appropriate to the age; but the ultimate effect will be a falling short of the size and power that would else have been attained. And this is a part cause probably the chief cause-- -why precocious children, and youths who up to a cer. tain time were carrying all before them, so often stop short and disappoint the high hopes of their parents.

But these results of over-education, disastrous as they are, are perhaps less disastrous than the results produced upon the health—the undermined constitution, the enfeebled energies, the morbid feelings. Recent discoveries in physiology have shown how immense is the influence of the brain over the functions of the body. The digestion of the food, the circulation.of the blood, and through these all other organic processes, are profoundly affected by cerebral excitement. Whoever bas seen repeated, as we have, the experiment first performed by Weber, showing the consequence of irritating the vagus nerve which connects the brain with the viscera—whoever has seen the action of the heart suddenly arrested by the irritation of this nerve; slowly recommencing when the irritation is suspended; and again arrested the moment it is renowed; will have a vivid conception of the depressing influence wbich an over-wrought brain exercises on the body.

More or less of this constitutional disturbance will inevitably follow an exertion of brain beyond that which nature had provided for; and when not so excessive as to produce absolute illness, is sure to entail a slowly accumulativg degeneracy of physique. With a small and fastidious appetite, an imperfect digestion, and an enfeebled circulation, how can the developing body flourish ? The due performance of every vital process depends on the adequate supply of good blood. Without enough good blood, no gland can secrete properly, no viscus can fully discharge its office. Without enough of good blood, no nerve, muscle, membrane, or other tissue can be efficiently repaired. Without enough good blood, growth will neither be sound nor sufficient. Judge, then, how bad must be the consequences when to a growing body the weakened stomach supplies blood that is deficient in quantity and poor in quality; while the debilitated heart propels this poor and scanty blood with unnatural slowness.

We contend, then, that this over-education is vicious in every way-vicious as giving knowledge that will soon be forgotten; vicious, as producing a disgust for knowledge ; vicious, as neglecting that organization of knowledge which is more important than its acquisition; vicious, as weakening or destroye ing that energy, without which a trained intellect is useless: vicious, as entailing that ill-health for which even success would not compensate, and which makes failure doubly bitter.

On women the effects of this forcing system are, if possible, even more injurious than on men. Being in great measure debarred from those vigorous and enjoyable exercises of body by which boys mitigate the evils of excessive study, girls feel these evils in their full intensity. Hence, the much smaller proportion of them who grow up well made and healthy.

It needs but to remember that one of Nature's ends, or rather her supreme end, is the welfare of posterity-it needs but to remember that, in so far as

« AnteriorContinua »