Front Page Titles (by Subject) PHYSICAL EDUCATION - Essays on Education and Kindred Subjects
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PHYSICAL EDUCATION - Herbert Spencer, Essays on Education and Kindred Subjects 
Essays on Education and Kindred Subjects, Introduction by Charles W. Eliot (London: Dent, 1911).
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Equally at the squire’s table after the withdrawal of the ladies, at the farmers’ market-ordinary, and at the village ale-house, the topic which, after the political question of the day, excites the most general interest, is the management of animals. Riding home from hunting, the conversation usually gravitates towards horse-breeding, and pedigrees, and comments on this or that “good point;” while a day on the moors is very unlikely to end without something being said on the treatment of dogs. When crossing the fields together from church, the tenants of adjacent farms are apt to pass from criticisms on the sermon to criticisms on the weather, the crops, and the stock; and thence to slide into discussions on the various kinds of fodder and their feeding qualities. Hodge and Giles, after comparing notes over their respective pig-styes, show by their remarks that they have been observant of their masters’ beasts and sheep; and of the effects produced on them by this or that kind of treatment. Nor is it only among the rural population that the regulations of the kennel, the stable, the cow-shed, and the sheep-pen, are favourite subjects. In towns, too, the numerous artisans who keep dogs, the young men who are rich enough to now and then indulge their sporting tendencies, and their more staid seniors who talk over agricultural progress or read Mr. Mechi’s annual reports and Mr. Caird’s letters to the Times, form, when added together, a large portion of the inhabitants. Take the adult males throughout the kingdom, and a great majority will be found to show some interest in the breeding, rearing, or training of animals, of one kind or other.
But, during after-dinner conversations, or at other times of like intercourse, who hears anything said about the rearing of children? When the country gentleman has paid his daily visit to the stable, and personally inspected the condition and treatment of his horses; when he has glanced at his minor live stock, and given directions about them; how often does he go up to the nursery and examine into its dietary, its hours, its ventilation? On his library-shelves may be found White’s Farriery, Stephens’s Book of the Farm, Nimrod on the Condition of Hunters; and with the contents of these he is more or less familiar; but how many books has he read on the management of infancy and childhood? The fattening properties of oilcake, the relative values of hay and chopped straw, the dangers of unlimited clover, are points on which every landlord, farmer, and peasant has some knowledge; but what percentage of them inquire whether the food they give their children is adapted to the constitutional needs of growing boys and girls? Perhaps the business-interests of these classes will be assigned as accounting for this anomaly. The explanation is inadequate, however; seeing that the same contrast holds among other classes. Of a score of townspeople, few, if any, would prove ignorant of the fact that it is undesirable to work a horse soon after it has eaten; and yet, of this same score, supposing them all to be fathers, probably not one would be found who had considered whether the time elapsing between his children’s dinner and their resumption of lessons was sufficient. Indeed, on cross-examination, nearly every man would disclose the latent opinion that the regimen of the nursery was no concern of his. “Oh, I leave all those things to the women,” would probably be the reply. And in most cases the tone of this reply would convey the implication, that such cares are not consistent with masculine dignity.
Regarded from any but a conventional point of view, the fact seems strange that while the raising of first-rate bullocks is an occupation on which educated men willingly bestow much time and thought, the bringing up of fine human beings is an occupation tacitly voted unworthy of their attention. Mammas who have been taught little but languages, music, and accomplishments, aided by nurses full of antiquated prejudices, are held competent regulators of the food, clothing, and exercise of children. Meanwhile the fathers read books and periodicals, attend agricultural meetings, try experiments, and engage in discussions, all with the view of discovering how to fatten prize pigs! We see infinite pains taken to produce a racer that shall win the Derby: none to produce a modern athlete. Had Gulliver narrated of the Laputans that the men vied with each other in learning how best to rear the offspring of other creatures, and were careless of learning how best to rear their own offspring, he would have paralleled any of the other absurdities he ascribes to them.
The matter is a serious one, however. Ludicrous as is the antithesis, the fact it expresses is not less disastrous. As remarks a suggestive writer, the first requisite to success in life is “to be a good animal;” and to be a nation of good animals is the first condition to national prosperity. Not only is it that the event of a war often turns on the strength and hardiness of soldiers; but it is that the contests of commerce are in part determined by the bodily endurance of producers. Thus far we have found no reason to fear trials of strength with other races in either of these fields. But there are not wanting signs that our powers will presently be taxed to the uttermost. The competition of modern life is so keen, that few can bear the required application without injury. Already thousands break down under the high pressure they are subject to. If this pressure continues to increase, as it seems likely to do, it will try severely even the soundest constitutions. Hence it is becoming of especial importance that the training of children should be so carried on, as not only to fit them mentally for the struggle before them, but also to make them physically fit to bear its excessive wear and tear.
Happily the matter is beginning to attract attention. The writings of Mr. Kingsley indicate a reaction against overculture; carried perhaps, as reactions usually are, somewhat too far. Occasional letters and leaders in the newspapers have shown an awakening interest in physical training. And the formation of a school, significantly nicknamed that of “muscular Christianity,” implies a growing opinion that our present methods of bringing up children do not sufficiently regard the welfare of the body. The topic is evidently ripe for discussion.
To conform the regimen of the nursery and the school to the established truths of modern science—this is the desideratum. It is time that the benefits which our sheep and oxen are deriving from the investigations of the laboratory, should be participated in by our children. Without calling in question the great importance of horse-training and pig-feeding, we would suggest that, as the rearing of well-grown men and women is also of some moment, these conclusions which theory indicates and practice indorses, ought to be acted on in the last case as in the first. Probably not a few will be startled—perhaps offended—by this collocation of ideas. But it is a fact not to be disputed, and to which we must reconcile ourselves, that man is subject to the same organic laws as inferior creatures. No anatomist, no physiologist, no chemist, will for a moment hesitate to assert, that the general principles which are true of the vital processes in animals are equally true of the vital processes in man. And a candid admission of this fact is not without its reward: namely, that the generalisations established by observation and experiment on brutes, become available for human guidance. Rudimentary as is the Science of Life, it has already attained to certain fundamental principles underlying the development of all organisms, the human included. That which has now to be done, and that which we shall endeavour in some measure to do, is to trace the bearings of these fundamental principles on the physical training of childhood and youth.
The rhythmical tendency which is traceable in all departments of social life—which is illustrated in the access of despotism after revolution, or, among ourselves, in the alternation of reforming epochs and conservative epochs—which, after a dissolute age, brings an age of asceticism, and conversely,—which, in commerce, produces the recurring inflations and panics—which carries the devotees of fashion from one absurd extreme to the opposite one;—this rhythmical tendency affects also our table-habits, and by implication, the dietary of the young. After a period distinguished by hard drinking and hard eating, has come a period of comparative sobriety, which, in teetotalism and vegetarianism, exhibits extreme forms of protest against the riotous living of the past. And along with this change in the regimen of adults, has come a parallel change in the regimen for boys and girls. In past generations the belief was, that the more a child could be induced to eat, the better; and even now, among farmers and in remote districts, where traditional ideas most linger, parents may be found who tempt their children into repletion. But among the educated classes, who chiefly display this reaction towards abstemiousness, there may be seen a decided leaning to the under-feeding, rather than the over-feeding, of children. Indeed their disgust for by-gone animalism, is more clearly shown in the treatment of their offspring than in the treatment of themselves; for while their disguised asceticism is, in so far as their personal conduct is concerned, kept in check by their appetites, it has full play in legislating for juveniles.
That over-feeding and under-feeding are both bad, is a truism. Of the two, however, the last is the worst. As writes a high authority, “the effects of casual repletion are less prejudicial, and more easily corrected, than those of inanition.”1 Besides, where there has been no injudicious interference, repletion seldom occurs. “Excess is the vice rather of adults than of the young, who are rarely either gourmands or epicures, unless through the fault of those who rear them.”1 This system of restriction which many parents think so necessary, is based upon inadequate observation, and erroneous reasoning. There is an over-legislation in the nursery, as well as an over-legislation in the State; and one of the most injurious forms of it is this limitation in the quantity of food.
“But are children to be allowed to surfeit themselves? Shall they be suffered to take their fill of dainties and make themselves ill, as they certainly will do?” As thus put, the question admits of but one reply. But as thus put, it assumes the point at issue. We contend that, as appetite is a good guide to all the lower creation—as it is a good guide to the infant—as it is a good guide to the invalid—as it is a good guide to the differently-placed races of men—and as it is a good guide for every adult who leads a healthful life; it may safely be inferred that it is a good guide for childhood. It would be strange indeed were it here alone untrustworthy.
Perhaps some will read this reply with impatience; being able, as they think, to cite facts totally at variance with it. It may appear absurd if we deny the relevancy of these facts. And yet the paradox is quite defensible. The truth is, that the instances of excess which such persons have in mind, are usually the consequences of the restrictive system they seem to justify. They are the sensual reactions caused by an ascetic regimen. They illustrate on a small scale that commonly-remarked truth, that those who during youth have been subject to the most rigorous discipline, are apt afterwards to rush into the wildest extravagances. They are analogous to those frightful phenomena, once not uncommon in convents, where nuns suddenly lapsed from the extremest austerities into an almost demoniac wickedness. They simply exhibit the uncontrollable vehemence of long-denied desires. Consider the ordinary tastes and the ordinary treatment of children. The love of sweets is conspicuous and almost universal among them. Probably ninetynine people in a hundred presume that there is nothing more in this than gratification of the palate; and that, in common with other sensual desires, it should be discouraged. The physiologist, however, whose discoveries lead him to an ever-increasing reverence for the arrangements of things, suspects something more in this love of sweets than is currently supposed; and inquiry confirms the suspicion. He finds that sugar plays an important part in the vital processes. Both saccharine and fatty matters are eventually oxidised in the body; and there is an accompanying evolution of heat. Sugar is the form to which sundry other compounds have to be reduced before they are available as heat-making food; and this formation of sugar is carried on in the body. Not only is starch changed into sugar in the course of digestion, but it has been proved by M. Claude Bernard that the liver is a factory in which other constituents of food are transformed into sugar: the need for sugar being so imperative that it is even thus produced from nitrogenous substances when no others are given. Now, when to the fact that children have a marked desire for this valuable heat-food, we join the fact that they have usually a marked dislike to that food which gives out the greatest amount of heat during oxidation (namely, fat), we have reason for thinking that excess of the one compensates for defect of the other—that the organism demands more sugar because it cannot deal with much fat. Again, children are fond of vegetable acids. Fruits of all kinds are their delight; and, in the absence of anything better, they will devour unripe gooseberries and the sourest of crabs. Now not only are vegetable acids, in common with mineral ones, very good tonics, and beneficial as such when taken in moderation; but they have, when administered in their natural forms, other advantages. “Ripe fruit,” says Dr. Andrew Combe, “is more freely given on the Continent than in this country; and, particularly when the bowels act imperfectly, it is often very useful.” See, then, the discord between the instinctive wants of children and their habitual treatment. Here are two dominant desires, which in all probability express certain needs of the child’s constitution; and not only are they ignored in the nursery-regimen, but there is a general tendency to forbid the gratification of them. Bread-and-milk in the morning, tea and bread-and-butter at night, or some dietary equally insipid, is rigidly adhered to; and any ministration to the palate is thought needless, or rather, wrong. What is the consequence? When, on fête-days, there is unlimited access to good things—when a gift of pocket-money brings the contents of the confectioner’s window within reach, or when by some accident the free run of a fruit-garden is obtained; then the long-denied, and therefore intense, desires lead to great excesses. There is an impromptu carnival, due partly to release from past restraints, and partly to the consciousness that a long Lent will begin on the morrow. And then, when the evils of repletion display themselves, it is argued that children must not be left to the guidance of their appetites! These disastrous results of artificial restrictions, are themselves cited as proving the need for further restrictions! We contend, therefore, that the reasoning used to justify this system of interference is vicious. We contend that, were children allowed daily to partake of these more sapid edibles, for which there is a physiological requirement, they would rarely exceed, as they now mostly do when they have the opportunity: were fruit, as Dr. Combe recommends, “to constitute a part of the regular food” (given, as he advises, not between meals, but along with them), there would be none of that craving which prompts the devouring of crabs and sloes And similarly in other cases.
Not only is it that the à priori reasons for trusting the appetites of children are strong; and that the reasons assigned for distrusting them are invalid; but it is that no other guidance is worthy of confidence. What is the value of this parental judgment, set up as an alternative regulator? When to “Oliver asking for more,” the mamma or governess says “No,” on what data does she proceed? She thinks he has had enough. But where are her grounds for so thinking? Has she some secret understanding with the boy’s stomach—some clairvoyant power enabling her to discern the needs of his body? If not, how can she safely decide? Does she not know that the demand of the system for food is determined by numerous and involved causes—varies with the temperature, with the hygrometric state of the air, with the electric state of the air—varies also according to the exercise taken, according to the kind and quantity of food eaten at the last meal, and according to the rapidity with which the last meal was digested? How can she calculate the result of such a combination of causes? As we heard said by the father of a five-years-old boy, who stands a head taller than most of his age, and is proportionately robust, rosy, and active:—“I can see no artificial standard by which to mete out his food. If I say, ‘this much is enough,’ it is a mere guess; and the guess is as likely to be wrong as right. Consequently, having no faith in guesses, I let him eat his fill.” And certainly, any one judging of his policy by its effects, would be constrained to admit its wisdom. In truth, this confidence, with which most parents legislate for the stomachs of their children, proves their unacquaintance with physiology: if they knew more, they would be more modest. “The pride of science is humble when compared with the pride of ignorance.” If any one would learn how little faith is to be placed in human judgments, and how much in the pre-established arrangements of things, let him compare the rashness of the inexperienced physician with the caution of the most advanced; or let him dip into Sir John Forbes’s work, On Nature and Art in the Cure of Disease; and he will see that, in proportion as men gain knowledge of the laws of life, they come to have less confidence in themselves, and more in Nature.
Turning from the question of quantity of food to that of quality, we may discern the same ascetic tendency. Not simply a restricted diet, but a comparatively low diet, is thought proper for children. The current opinion is, that they should have but little animal food. Among the less wealthy classes, economy seems to have dictated this opinion—the wish has been father to the thought. Parents not affording to buy much meat, answer the petitions of juveniles with—“Meat is not good for little boys and girls;” and this, at first probably nothing but a convenient excuse, has by repetition grown into an article of faith. While the classes with whom cost is no consideration, have been swayed partly by the example of the majority, partly by the influence of nurses drawn from the lower classes, and in some measure by the reaction against past animalism.
If, however, we inquire for the basis of this opinion, we find little or none. It is a dogma repeated and received without proof, like that which, for thousands of years, insisted on swaddling-clothes. Very probably for the infant’s stomach, not yet endowed with much muscular power, meat, which requires considerable trituration before it can be made into chyme, is an unfit aliment. But this objection does not tell against animal food from which the fibrous part has been extracted; nor does it apply when, after the lapse of two or three years, considerable muscular vigour has been acquired. And while the evidence in support of this dogma, partially valid in the case of very young children, is not valid in the case of older children, who are, nevertheless, ordinarily treated in conformity with it, the adverse evidence is abundant and conclusive. The verdict of science is exactly opposite to the popular opinion. We have put the question to two of our leading physicians, and to several of the most distinguished physiologists, and they uniformly agree in the conclusion, that children should have a diet not less nutritive, but, if anything, more nutritive than that of adults.
The grounds for this conclusion are obvious, and the reasoning simple. It needs but to compare the vital processes of a man with those of a boy, to see that the demand for sustenance is relatively greater in the boy than in the man. What are the ends for which a man requires food? Each day his body undergoes more or less wear—wear through muscular exertion, wear of the nervous system through mental actions, wear of the viscera in carrying on the functions of life; and the tissue thus wasted has to be renewed. Each day, too, by radiation, his body loses a large amount of heat; and as, for the continuance of the vital actions, the temperature of the body must be maintained, this loss has to be compensated by a constant production of heat: to which end certain constituents of the body are ever undergoing oxidation. To make up for the day’s waste, and to supply fuel for the day’s expenditure of heat, are, then, the sole purposes for which the adult requires food. Consider now the case of the boy. He, too, wastes the substance of his body by action; and it needs but to note his restless activity to see that, in proportion to his bulk, he probably wastes as much as a man. He, too, loses heat by radiation; and, as his body exposes a greater surface in proportion to its mass than does that of a man, and therefore loses heat more rapidly, the quantity of heat-food he requires is, bulk for bulk, greater than that required by a man. So that even had the boy no other vital processes to carry on than the man has, he would need, relatively to his size, a somewhat larger supply of nutriment. But, besides repairing his body and maintaining its heat, the boy has to make new tissue—to grow. After waste and thermal loss have been provided for, such surplus of nutriment as remains goes to the further building up of the frame; and only in virtue of this surplus is normal growth possible; the growth that sometimes takes place in the absence of it, causing a manifest prostration consequent upon defective repair. It is true that because of a certain mechanical law which cannot be here explained, a small organism has an advantage over a large one in the ratio between the sustaining and destroying forces—an advantage, indeed, to which the very possibility of growth is owing. But this admission only makes it the more obvious that though much adverse treatment may be borne without this excess of vitality being quite out-balanced; yet any adverse treatment, by diminishing it, must diminish the size or structural perfection reached. How peremptory is the demand of the unfolding organism for materials, is seen alike in that “schoolboy hunger,” which after-life rarely parallels in intensity, and in the comparatively quick return of appetite. And if there needs further evidence of this extra necessity for nutriment, we have it in the fact that, during the famines following shipwrecks and other disasters, the children are the first to die.
This relatively greater need for nutriment being admitted, as it must be, the question that remains is—shall we meet it by giving an excessive quantity of what may be called dilute food, or a more moderate quantity of concentrated food? The nutriment obtainable from a given weight of meat is obtainable only from a larger weight of bread, or from a still larger weight of potatoes, and so on. To fulfil the requirement, the quantity must be increased as the nutritiveness is diminished. Shall, we, then, respond to the extra wants of the growing child by giving an adequate quantity of food as good as that of adults? Or, regardless of the fact that its stomach has to dispose of a relatively larger quantity even of this good food, shall we further tax it by giving an inferior food in still greater quantity?
The answer is tolerably obvious. The more the labour of digestion is economised, the more energy is left for the purposes of growth and action. The functions of the stomach and intestines cannot be performed without a large supply of blood and nervous power; and in the comparative lassitude that follows a hearty meal, every adult has proof that this supply of blood and nervous power is at the expense of the system at large. If the requisite nutriment is obtained from a great quantity of innutritious food, more work is entailed on the viscera than when it is obtained from a moderate quantity of nutritious food. This extra work is so much loss—a loss which in children shows itself either in diminished energy, or in smaller growth, or in both. The inference is, then, that they should have a diet which combines, as much as possible, nutritiveness and digestibility.
It is doubtless true that boys and girls may be reared upon an exclusively, or almost exclusively, vegetable diet. Among the upper classes are to be found children to whom comparatively little meat is given; and who, nevertheless, grow and appear in good health. Animal food is scarcely tasted by the offspring of labouring people; and yet they reach a healthy maturity. But these seemingly adverse facts have by no means the weight commonly supposed. In the first place, it does not follow that those who in early years flourish on bread and potatoes, will eventually reach a fine development; and a comparison between the agricultural labourers and the gentry, in England, or between the middle and lower classes in France is by no means in favour of begetable feeders. In the second place, the question is not simply a question of bulk, but also a question of quality. A soft, flabby flesh makes as good a show as a firm one; but though to the careless eye, a child of full, flaccid tissue may appear the equal of one whose fibres are well toned, a trial of strength will prove the difference. Obesity in adults is often a sign of feebleness. Men lose weight in training. Hence the appearance of these low-fed children is far from conclusive. In the third place, besides size, we have to consider energy. Between children of the meat-eating classes and those of the bread-and-potato-eating classes, there is a marked contrast in this respect. Both in mental and physical vivacity the peasant-boy is greatly inferior to the son of a gentleman.
If we compare different kinds of animals, or different races of men, or the same animals or men when differently fed, we find still more distinct proof that the degree of energy essentially depends on the nutritiveness of the food.
In a cow, subsisting on so innutritive a food as grass, we see that the immense quantity required necessitates an enormous digestive system; that the limbs, small in comparison with the body, are burdened by its weight; that in carrying about this heavy body and digesting this excessive quantity of food, much force is expended; and that, having but little remaining, the creature is sluggish. Compare with the cow a horse—an animal of nearly allied structure, but habituated to a more concentrated diet. Here the body, and more especially its abdominal region, bears a smaller ratio to the limbs; the powers are not taxed by the support of such massive viscera, nor the digestion of so bulky a food; and, as a consequence, there is greater locomotive energy and considerable vivacity. If, again, we contrast the stolid inactivity of the graminivorous sheep with the liveliness of the dog, subsisting on flesh or farinaceous matters, or a mixture of the two, we see a difference similar in kind, but still greater in degree. And after walking through the Zoological Gardens, and noting the restlessness with which the carnivorous animals pace up and down their cages, it needs but to remember that none of the herbivorous animals habitually display this superfluous energy, to see how clear is the relation between concentration of food and degree of activity.
That these differences are not directly consequent on differences of constitution, as some may argue; but are directly consequent on differences in the food which the creatures are constituted to subsist on; is proved by the fact, that they are observable between different divisions of the same species. The varieties of the horse furnish an illustration. Compare the big-bellied, inactive, spiritless cart-horse with a racer or hunter, small in the flanks and full of energy; and then call to mind how much less nutritive is the diet of the one than that of the other. Or take the case of mankind. Australians, Bushmen, and others of the lowest savages who live on roots and berries, varied by larvæ of insects and the like meagre fare, are comparatively puny in stature, have large abdomens, soft and undeveloped muscles, and are quite unable to cope with Europeans, either in a struggle or in prolonged exertion. Count up the wild races who are well grown, strong and active, as the Kaffirs, North-American Indians, and Patagonians, and you find them large consumers of flesh. The ill-fed Hindoo goes down before the Englishman fed on more nutritive food; to whom he is as inferior in mental as in physical energy. And generally, we think, the history of the world shows that the well-fed races have been the energetic and dominant races.
Still stronger, however, becomes the argument, when we find that the same individual animal is capable of more or less exertion according as its food is more or less nutritious. This has been demonstrated in the case of the horse. Though flesh may be gained by a grazing horse, strength is lost; as putting him to hard work proves. “The consequence of turning horses out to grass is relaxation of the muscular system.” “Grass is a very good preparation for a bullock for Smithfield market, but a very bad one for a hunter.” It was well known of old that, after passing the summer in the fields, hunters required some months of stable-feeding before becoming able to follow the hounds; and that they did not get into good condition till the beginning of the next spring. And the modern practice is that insisted on by Mr. Apperley—“Never to give a hunter what is called ‘a summer’s run at grass,’ and, except under particular and very favourable circumstances, never to turn him out at all.” That is to say, never give him poor food: great energy and endurance are to be obtained only by the continued use of nutritive food. So true is this that, as proved by Mr. Apperley, prolonged high-feeding enables a middling horse to equal, in his performances, a first-rate horse fed in the ordinary way. To which various evidences add the familiar fact that, when a horse is required to do double duty, it is the practice to give him beans—a food containing a larger proportion of nitrogenous, or flesh-making material, than his habitual oats.
Once more, in the case of individual men the truth has been illustrated with equal, or still greater, clearness. We do not refer to men in training for feats of strength, whose regimen, however, thoroughly conforms to the doctrine. We refer to the experience of railway-contractors and their labourers. It has been for years a well-established fact that an English navvy, eating largely of flesh, is far more efficient than a Continental navvy living on farinaceous food: so much more efficient, that English contractors for Continental railways found it pay to take their labourers with them. That difference of diet and not difference of race caused this superiority, has been of late distinctly shown. For it has turned out, that when the Continental navvies live in the same style as their English competitors, they presently rise, more or less nearly, to a par with them in efficiency. And to this fact let us here add the converse one, to which we can give personal testimony based upon six months’ experience of vegetarianism, that abstinence from meat entails diminished energy of both body and mind.
Do not these various evidences endorse our argument respecting the feeding of children? Do they not imply that, even supposing the same stature and bulk to be attained on an innutritive as on a nutritive diet, the quality of tissue is greatly inferior? Do they not establish the position that, where energy as well as growth has to be maintained, it can only be done by high feeding? Do they not confirm the à priori conclusion that, though a child of whom little is expected in the way of bodily or mental activity, may thrive tolerably well on farinaceous substances, a child who is daily required, not only to form the due amount of new tissue, but to supply the waste consequent on great muscular action, and the further waste consequent on hard exercise of brain, must live on substances containing a larger ratio of nutritive matter? And is it not an obvious corollary, that denial of this better food will be at the expense either of growth, or of bodily activity, or of mental activity; as constitution and circumstances determine? We believe no logical intellect will question it. To think otherwise is to entertain in a disguised form the old fallacy of the perpetual-motion schemers—that it is possible to get power out of nothing.
Before leaving the question of food, a few words must be said on another requisite—variety. In this respect the dietary of the young is very faulty. If not, like our soldiers, condemned to “twenty years of boiled beef,” our children have mostly to bear a monotony which, though less extreme and less lasting, is quite as clearly at variance with the laws of health. At dinner, it is true, they usually have food that is more or less mixed, and that is changed day by day. But week after week, month after month, year after year, comes the same breakfast of bread-and-milk, or, it may be, oatmeal-porridge. And with like persistence the day is closed, perhaps with a second edition of the bread-and-milk, perhaps with tea and bread-and-butter.
This practice is opposed to the dictates of physiology. The satiety produced by an often-repeated dish, and the gratification caused by one long a stranger to the palate, are not meaningless, as people carelessly assume; but they are the incentives to a wholesome diversity of diet. It is a fact, established by numerous experiments, that there is scarcely any one food, however good, which supplies in due proportions or right forms all the elements required for carrying on the vital processes in a normal manner: whence it follows that frequent change of food is desirable to balance the supplies of all the elements. It is a further fact, known to physiologists, that the enjoyment given by a much-liked food is a nervous stimulus, which, by increasing the action of the heart and so propelling the blood with increased vigour, aids in the subsequent digestion. And these truths are in harmony with the maxims of modern cattle-feeding, which dictate a rotation of diet.
Not only, however, is periodic change of food very desirable; but, for the same reasons, it is very desirable that a mixture of food should be taken at each meal. The better balance of ingredients, and the greater nervous stimulation, are advantages which hold here as before. If facts are asked for, we may name as one, the comparative ease with which the stomach disposes of a French dinner, enormous in quantity but extremely varied in materials. Few will contend that an equal weight of one kind of food, however well cooked, could be digested with as much facility. If any desire further facts, they may find them in every modern book on the management of animals. Animals thrive best when each meal is made up of several things. The experiments of Goss and Stark “afford the most decisive proof of the advantage, or rather the necessity, of a mixture of substances, in order to produce the compound which is the best adapted for the action of the stomach.”1
Should any object, as probably many will, that a rotating dietary for children, and one which also requires a mixture of food at each meal, would entail too much trouble; we reply, that no trouble is thought too great which conduces to the mental development of children, and that for their future welfare, good bodily development is of still higher importance. Moreover, it seems alike sad and strange that a trouble which is cheerfully taken in the fattening of pigs, should be thought too great in the rearing of children.
One more paragraph, with the view of warning those who may propose to adopt the regimen indicated. The change must not be made suddenly; for continued low-feeding so enfeebles the system, as to disable it from at once dealing with a high diet. Deficient nutrition is itself a cause of dyspepsia. This is true even of animals. “When calves are fed with skimmed milk, or whey, or other poor food, they are liable to indigestion.”1 Hence, therefore, where the energies are low, the transition to a generous diet must be gradual: each increment of strength gained, justifying a fresh addition of nutriment. Further, it should be borne in mind that the concentration of nutriment may be carried too far. A bulk sufficient to fill the stomach is one requisite of a proper meal; and this requisite negatives a diet deficient in those matters which give adequate mass. Though the size of the digestive organs is less in the well-fed civilised races than in the ill-fed savage ones, and though their size may eventually diminish still further, yet, for the time being, the bulk of the ingesta must be determined by the existing capacity. But, paying due regard to these two qualifications, our conclusions are—that the food of children should be highly nutritive; that it should be varied at each meal and at successive meals; and that it should be abundant.
With clothing as with food, the usual tendency is towards an improper scantiness. Here, too, asceticism peeps out. There is a current theory, vaguely entertained if not put into a definite formula, that the sensations are to be disregarded. They do not exist for our guidance, but to mislead us, seems to be the prevalent belief reduced to its naked form. It is a grave error: we are much more beneficently constituted. It is not obedience to the sensations, but disobedience to them, which is the habitual cause of bodily evils. It is not the eating when hungry, but the eating in the absence of hunger, which is bad. It is not drinking when thirsty, but continuing to drink when thirst has ceased, that is the vice. Harm does not result from breathing that fresh air which every healthy person enjoys; but from breathing foul air, spite of the protest of the lungs. Harm does not result from taking that active exercise which, as every child shows us, Nature strongly prompts; but from a persistent disregard of Nature’s promptings. Not that mental activity which is spontaneous and enjoyable does the mischief; but that which is persevered in after a hot or aching head commands desistance. Not that bodily exertion which is pleasant or indifferent, does injury; but that which is continued when exhaustion forbids. It is true that, in those who have long led unhealthy lives, the sensations are not trustworthy guides. People who have for years been almost constantly in-doors, who have exercised their brains very much and their bodies scarcely at all, who in eating have obeyed their clocks without consulting their stomachs, may very likely be misled by their vitiated feelings. But their abnormal state is itself the result of transgressing their feelings. Had they from childhood never disobeyed what we may term the physical conscience, it would not have been seared, but would have remained a faithful monitor.
Among the sensations serving for our guidance are those of heat and cold; and a clothing for children which does not carefully consult these sensations, is to be condemned. The common notion about “hardening” is a grievous delusion. Not a few children are “hardened” out of the world; and those who survive, permanently suffer either in growth or constitution. “Their delicate appearance furnishes ample indication of the mischief thus produced, and their frequent attacks of illness might prove a warning even to unreflecting parents,” says Dr. Combe. The reasoning on which this hardening-theory rests is extremely superficial. Wealthy parents, seeing little peasant boys and girls playing about in the open air only half-clothed, and joining with this fact the general healthiness of labouring people, draw the unwarrantable conclusion that the healthiness is the result of the exposure, and resolve to keep their own offspring scantily covered! It is forgotten that these urchins who gambol upon village-greens are in many respects favourably circumstanced—that their lives are spent in almost perpetual play; that they are all day breathing fresh air; and that their systems are not disturbed by over-taxed brains. For aught that appears to the contrary, their good health may be maintained, not in consequence of, but in spite of, their deficient clothing. This alternative conclusion we believe to be the true one; and that an inevitable detriment results from the loss of animal heat to which they are subject.
For when, the constitution being sound enough to bear it, exposure does produce hardness, it does so at the expense of growth. This truth is displayed alike in animals and in man. Shetland ponies bear greater inclemencies than the horses of the south, but are dwarfed. Highland sheep and cattle, living in a colder climate, are stunted in comparison with English breeds. In both the arctic and antarctic regions the human race falls much below its ordinary height: the Laplander and Esquimaux are very short; and the Terra del Fuegians, who go naked in a wintry land, are described by Darwin as so stunted and hideous, that “one can hardly make one’s-self believe they are fellow-creatures.”
Science explains this dwarfishness produced by great abstraction of heat; showing that, food and other things being equal, it unavoidably results. For, as before pointed out, to make up for that cooling by radiation which the body is ever undergoing, there must be a constant oxidation of certain matters forming part of the food. And in proportion as the thermal loss is great, must the quantity of these matters required for oxidation be great. But the power of the digestive organs is limited. Consequently, when they have to prepare a large quantity of this material needful for maintaining the temperature, they can prepare but a small quantity of the material which goes to build up the frame. Excessive expenditure for fuel entails diminished means for other purposes. Wherefore there necessarily results a body small in size, or inferior in texture, or both.
Hence the great importance of clothing. As Liebig says:—“Our clothing is, in reference to the temperature of the body, merely an equivalent for a certain amount of food.” By diminishing the loss of heat, it diminishes the amount of fuel needful for maintaining the heat; and when the stomach has less to do in preparing fuel, it can do more in preparing other materials. This deduction is confirmed by the experience of those who manage animals. Cold can be borne by animals only at an expense of fat, or muscle, or growth, as the case may be. “If fattening cattle are exposed to a low temperature, either their progress must be retarded, or a great additional expenditure of food incurred.”1 Mr. Apperley insists strongly that, to bring hunters into good condition, it is necessary that the stable should be kept warm. And among those who rear racers, it is an established doctrine that exposure is to be avoided.
The scientific truth thus illustrated by ethnology, and recognised by agriculturists and sportsmen, applies with double force to children. In proportion to their smallness and the rapidity of their growth is the injury from cold great. In France, newborn infants often die in winter from being carried to the office of the maire for registration. “M. Quetelet has pointed out, that in Belgium two infants die in January for one that dies in July.” And in Russia the infant mortality is something enormous. Even when near maturity, the undeveloped frame is comparatively unable to bear exposure: as witness the quickness with which young soldiers succumb in a trying campaign. The rationale is obvious. We have already adverted to the fact that, in consequence of the varying relation between surface and bulk, a child loses a relatively larger amount of heat than an adult; and here we must point out that the disadvantage under which the child thus labours is very great. Lehmann says:—“If the carbonic acid excreted by children or young animals is calculated for an equal bodily weight, it results that children produce nearly twice as much acid as adults.” Now the quantity of carbonic acid given off varies with tolerable accuracy as the quantity of heat produced. And thus we see that in children the system, even when not placed at a disadvantage, is called upon to provide nearly double the proportion of material for generating heat.
See, then, the extreme folly of clothing the young scantily. What father, full-grown though he is, losing heat less rapidly as he does, and having no physiological necessity but to supply the waste of each day—what father, we ask, would think it salutary to go about with bare legs, bare arms, and bare neck? Yet this tax on the system, from which he would shrink, he inflicts on his little ones, who are so much less able to bear it! or, if he does not inflict it, sees it inflicted without protest. Let him remember that every ounce of nutriment needlessly expended for the maintenance of temperature, is so much deducted from the nutriment going to build up the frame; and that even when colds, congestions, or other consequent disorders are escaped, diminished growth or less perfect structure is inevitable.
“The rule is, therefore, not to dress in an invariable way in all cases, but to put on clothing in kind and quantity sufficient in the individual case to protect the body effectually from an abiding sensation of cold, however slight.” This rule, the importance of which Dr. Combe indicates by the italics, is one in which men of science and practitioners agree. We have met with none competent to form a judgment on the matter, who do not strongly condemn the exposure of children’s limbs. If there is one point above others in which “pestilent custom” should be ignored, it is this.
Lamentable, indeed, is it to see mothers seriously damaging the constitutions of their children out of compliance with an irrational fashion. It is bad enough that they should themselves conform to every folly which our Gallic neighbours please to initiate; but that they should clothe their children in any mountebank dress which Le petit Courrier des Dames indicates, regardless of its insufficiency and unfitness, is monstrous. Discomfort, more or less great, is inflicted; frequent disorders are entailed; growth is checked or stamina undermined; premature death not uncommonly caused; and all because it is thought needful to make frocks of a size and material dictated by French caprice. Not only is it that for the sake of conformity, mothers thus punish and injure their little ones by scantiness of covering; but it is that from an allied motive they impose a style of dress which forbids healthful activity. To please the eye, colours and fabrics are chosen totally unfit to bear that rough usage which unrestrained play involves; and then to prevent damage the unrestrained play is interdicted. “Get up this moment: you will soil your clean frock,” is the mandate issued to some urchin creeping about on the floor. “Come back: you will dirty your stockings,” calls out the governess to one of her charges, who has left the footpath to scramble up a bank. Thus is the evil doubled. That they may come up to their mamma’s standard of prettiness, and be admired by her visitors, children must have habiliments deficient in quantity and unfit in texture; and that these easily-damaged habiliments may be kept clean and uninjured, the restless activity so natural and needful for the young is restrained. The exercise which becomes doubly requisite when the clothing is insufficient, is cut short, lest it should deface the clothing. Would that the terrible cruelty of this system could be seen by those who maintain it! We do not hesitate to say that, through enfeebled health, defective energies, and consequent non-success in life, thousands are annually doomed to unhappiness by this unscrupulous regard for appearances: even when they are not, by early death, literally sacrificed to the Moloch of maternal vanity. We are reluctant to counsel strong measures, but really the evils are so great as to justify, or even to demand, a peremptory interference on the part of fathers.
Our conclusions are, then—that, while the clothing of children should never be in such excess as to create oppressive warmth, it should always be sufficient to prevent any general feeling of cold;1 that, instead of the flimsy 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 colours should be such as will not soon suffer from use and exposure.
To the importance of bodily exercise most people are in some degree awake. 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 play-grounds; and there is usually a fair share of time for out-door games, and a recognition of them as needful. In this, if in no other direction, it seems admitted that the promptings of boyish instinct may advantageously be followed; and, indeed, in the modern practice of breaking the prolonged morning’s 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 be said in the way of expostulation or suggestion.
But we have been obliged to qualify this admission by inserting the clause “in so far as boys are concerned.” Unfortunately the fact is quite otherwise with girls. It chances, somewhat strangely, that we have daily opportunity of drawing a comparison. We have both a boys’ school and a girls’ school within view; and the contrast between them is remarkable. In the one case, nearly the whole of a large garden is turned into an open, gravelled space, affording ample scope for games, and supplied with poles and horizontal bars for gymnastic exercises. Every day before breakfast, again towards eleven o’clock, again at mid-day, again in the afternoon, and once more after school is over, the neighbourhood is awakened by a chorus of shouts and laughter as the boys rush out to play; and for as long as they remain, both eyes and ears give proof that they are absorbed in that enjoyable activity which makes the pulse bound and ensures the healthful activity of every organ. How unlike is the picture offered by the “Establishment for Young Ladies!” Until the fact was pointed out, we actually did not know that we had a girl’s school as close to us as the school for boys. The garden, equally large with the other, affords no sign whatever of any provision for juvenile recreation; but is entirely laid out with prim grass-plots, gravel-walks, shrubs, and flowers, after the usual suburban style. During five months we have not once had our attention drawn to the premises by a shout or a laugh. Occasionally girls may be observed sauntering along the paths with lesson-books in their hands, or else walking arm-in-arm. Once indeed, we saw one chase another round the garden; but, with this exception, nothing like vigorous exertion has been visible.
Why this astounding 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 stimuli to a bodily activity without which there cannot be adequate development, to their sisters, Nature has given them for no purpose whatever—unless it be for the vexation of school-mistresses? Perhaps, however, we mistake the aim of those who train the gentler sex. We have a vague suspicion that to produce a robust physique is thought undesirable; that rude health and abundant vigour are considered somewhat plebeian; that a certain delicacy, a strength not competent to more than a mile or two’s walk, an appetite fastidious and easily satisfied, joined with that timidity which commonly accompanies feebleness, are held more lady-like. We do not expect that any would distinctly avow this; but we fancy the governess-mind is haunted by an ideal young lady bearing not a little resemblance to this type. If so, it must be admitted that the established system is admirably calculated to realise this ideal. But to suppose that such is the ideal of the opposite sex is a profound mistake. That men are not commonly drawn towards masculine women, is doubtless true. That such relative weakness as asks the protection of superior strength, is an element of attraction, we quite admit. But the difference thus responded to by the feelings of men, is the natural, pre-established difference, which will assert itself without artificial appliances. And when, by artificial appliances, the degree of this difference is increased, it becomes an element of repulsion rather than of attraction.
“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 school-mistresses. It appears, on inquiry, that at “Establishments for Young Ladies” noisy play like that daily indulged in by boys, is a punishable offence; and we infer that it is forbidden, lest unlady-like habits should be formed. The fear is quite groundless, however. For if the sportive activity allowed to boys does not prevent them from growing up into gentlemen; why should a like sportive activity prevent girls from growing up into ladies? Rough as may have been their play-ground frolics, youths who have left school do not indulge in leap-frog 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 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 boisterous? How absurd is the supposition that the womanly instincts would not assert themselves but for the rigorous discipline of school-mistresses!
In this, as in other cases, to remedy the evils of one artificiality, another artificiality has been introduced. 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 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 have done: to which, in passing, let us add, 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 there will be a further deficiency 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. The weightiest objection, however, still remains. Besides being inferior in respect of the quantity of muscular exertion which they secure, gymnastics are still more inferior in respect of the quality. This comparative want of enjoyment which we have named as a cause of early desistance from artificial exercises, 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 mental 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. Remember how beneficial to 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 intrinsic 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 radically 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 they can never serve in 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.
A topic still remains—one perhaps more urgently demanding consideration than any of the foregoing. It is asserted by not a few, that among the educated classes the younger adults and those who are verging on maturity, are neither so well grown nor so strong as their seniors. On first hearing this assertion, we were inclined to class it as one of the many manifestations of the old tendency to exalt the past at the expense of the present. Calling to mind the facts that, as measured by ancient armour, modern men are proved to be larger than ancient men; and that the tables of mortality show no diminution, but rather an increase, in the duration of life, we paid little attention to what seemed a groundless belief. Detailed observation, however, has shaken our opinion. Omitting from the comparison the labouring classes, we have noticed a majority of cases in which the children do not reach the stature of their parents; and, in massiveness, making due allowance for difference of age, there seems a like inferiority. Medical men say that now-a-days people cannot bear nearly so much depletion as in times gone by. Premature baldness is far more common than it used to be. And an early decay of teeth occurs in the rising generation with startling frequency. In general vigour the contrast appears equally striking. Men of past generations, living riotously as they did, could bear more than men of the present generation, who live soberly, can bear. Though they drank hard, kept irregular hours, were regardless of fresh air, and thought little of cleanliness, our recent ancestors were capable of prolonged application without injury, even to a ripe old age: witness the annals of the bench and the bar. Yet we who think much about our bodily welfare; who eat with moderation, and do not drink to excess; who attend to ventilation, and use frequent ablutions; who make annual excursions, and have the benefit of greater medical knowledge;—we are continually breaking down under our work. Paying considerable attention to the laws of health, we seem to be weaker than our grandfathers who, in many respects, defied the laws of health. And, judging from the appearance and frequent ailments of the rising generation, they are likely to be even less robust than ourselves.
What is the meaning of this? Is it that past over-feeding, alike of adults and children, was less injurious than the under-feeding to which we have adverted as now so general? Is it that the deficient clothing which this delusive hardening-theory has encouraged, is to blame? Is it that the greater or less discouragement of juvenile sports, in deference to a false refinement is the cause? From our reasonings it may be inferred that each of these has probably had a share in producing the evil.1 But there has been yet another detrimental influence at work, perhaps more potent than any of the others: we mean—excess of mental application.
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, to fit the young to hold their places under this intenser competition, they are subject to severer discipline than heretofore. The damage is thus doubled. Fathers, who find themselves run hard by their multiplying competitors, and, while labouring under this disadvantage, 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 continued over-application, they bequeath to their children. And then these comparatively feeble children, predisposed to break down even under ordinary strains on their energies, are required to go through a curriculum much more extended than that prescribed for the unenfeebled children of past generations.
The disastrous consequences that might be anticipated, are everywhere visible. 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 his return to them, is frequently taken out of his class in a fainting fit. We state facts—facts not sought for, but which have been thrust on our observation during the last two years; and that, too, within a very limited range. Nor have we by any means exhausted the list. Quite recently we had the opportunity of marking how the evil becomes hereditary: the case being that of a lady of robust parentage, whose system was so injured by the régime of a Scotch boarding-school, where she was under-fed and overworked, that she invariably suffers from vertigo on rising in the morning; and whose children, inheriting this enfeebled brain, are several of them unable to bear even a moderate amount of study without headache or giddiness. At the present time we have daily under our eyes, a young lady whose system has been damaged for life by the college-course through which she has passed. Taxed as she was to such an extent that she had no energy left for exercise, she is, now that she has finished her education, a constant complainant. Appetite small and very capricious, mostly refusing meat; extremities perpetually cold, even when the weather is warm; a feebleness which forbids anything but the slowest walking, and that only for a short time; palpitation on going upstairs; greatly impaired vision—these, joined with checked growth and lax tissue, are among the results entailed. And to her case we may add that of her friend and fellow-student; who is similarly weak; who is liable to faint even under the excitement of a quiet party of friends; and who has at length been obliged by her medical attendant to desist from study entirely.
If injuries so conspicuous are thus frequent, how very general must be the smaller, and inconspicuous injuries! To one case where positive illness is traceable to over-application, there are probably at least 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 labour of adult life. How commonly health is thus undermined, will be clear to all who, after noting the frequent ailments of hard-worked professional and mercantile men, will reflect on the much worse effects which undue application must produce on the undeveloped systems of children. The young can bear neither so much hardship, nor so much physical exertion, nor so much mental exertion, as the full grown. Judge, then, if the full grown manifestly suffer from the excessive mental exertion required of them, how great must be the damage which a mental exertion, often equally excessive, inflicts on the young!
Indeed, when we examine the merciless school drill frequently enforced, the wonder is, not that it does extreme injury, but that it can be borne at all. Take the instance given by Sir John Forbes, from personal knowledge; and which he asserts, after much inquiry, to be an average sample of the middle-class girls’-school system throughout England. Omitting detailed divisions of time, we quote the summary of the twenty-four hours.
And what are the results of this “astounding regimen,” as Sir John Forbes terms it? Of course feebleness, pallor, want of spirits, general ill-health. But he describes something more. This utter disregard of physical welfare, out of extreme anxiety to cultivate the mind—this prolonged exercise of brain and deficient exercise of limbs,—he found to be habitually followed, not only by disordered functions but by malformation. He says:—“We lately visited, in a large town, a boarding-school containing forty girls; and we learnt, on close and accurate inquiry, that there was not one of the girl who had been at the school two years (and the majority had been as long) that was not more or less crooked!”1
It may be that since 1833, when this was written, some improvement has taken place. We hope it has. But that the system is still common—nay, that it is in some cases carried to a greater extreme than ever; we can personally testify. We recently went over a training-college for young men: one of those instituted of late years for the purpose of supplying schools with well-disciplined teachers. Here, under official supervision, where something better than the judgment of private school-mistresses might have been looked for, we found the daily routine to be as follows:—
At 6 o’clock the students are called,
At 7 to 8 studies,
At 8 to 9 scripture-reading, prayers, and breakfast,
At 9 to 12 studies,
At 12 to 1¼ leisure, nominally devoted to walking or other exercise, but often spent in study,
At 1¼ to 2 dinner, the meal commonly occupying twenty minutes,
At 2 to 5 studies,
At 5 to 6 tea and relaxation,
At 6 to 8½ studies,
At 8½ to 9½ private studies in preparing lessons for the next day,
At 10 to bed.
Thus, out of the twenty-four hours, eight are devoted to sleep; four and a quarter are occupied in dressing, prayers, meals, and the brief periods of rest accompanying them; ten and a half are given to study; and one and a quarter to exercise, which is optional and often avoided. Not only, however, are the ten-and-a-half hours of recognised study frequently increased to eleven-and-a-half by devoting to books the time set apart for exercise; but some of the students get up at four o’clock in the morning to prepare their lessons; and are actually encouraged by their teachers to do this! The course to be passed through in a given time is so extensive, and the teachers, whose credit is at stake in getting their pupils well through the examinations, are so urgent, that pupils are not uncommonly induced to spend twelve and thirteen hours a day in mental labour!
It needs no prophet to see that the bodily injury inflicted must be great. As we were told by one of the inmates, those who arrive with fresh complexions quickly become blanched. Illness is frequent: there are always some on the sick-list. Failure of appetite and indigestion are very common. Diarrhœa is a prevalent disorder: not uncommonly a third of the whole number of students suffering under it at the same time. Headache is generally complained of; and by some is borne almost daily for months. While a certain percentage break down entirely and go away.
That this should be the regimen of what is in some sort a model institution, established and superintended by the embodied enlightenment of the age, is a startling fact. That the severe examinations, joined with the short period assigned for preparation, should compel recourse to a system which inevitably undermines the health of all who pass through it, is proof, if not of cruelty, then of woeful ignorance.
The case is no doubt in a great degree exceptional—perhaps to be paralleled only in other institutions of the same class. But that cases so extreme should exist at all, goes far to show that the minds of the rising generation are greatly over-tasked. Expressing as they do the ideas of the educated community, the requirements of these training colleges, even in the absence of other evidence, would imply a prevailing tendency to an unduly urgent system of culture.
It seems strange that there should be so little consciousness of the dangers of over-education during youth, when there is so general a consciousness of the dangers of over-education during childhood. Most parents are partially 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 physiology, 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 either physical feebleness, or ultimate stupidity, or early death; it appears not to be perceived that throughout youth the same truth holds. Yet it unquestionably does so. There is a given order in which, and a given rate at which, the faculties unfold. If the course of education conforms itself to that order and rate, well. If not—if the higher faculties are early taxed by presenting an 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 its age; the abnormal advantage gained 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 met; 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: to which must be added the amount of energy absorbed in digesting 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 both manifest à priori, and proved à posteriori, by 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, frequently ending in sleep. Every one knows, too, that excess of bodily exercise diminishes the power of thought—that 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 labour the activity of mind is very small. Again, it is a familiar truth that during those fits of rapid growth which sometimes occur in childhood, the great abstraction of energy is shown in an 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 labour 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 during youth the expenditure in mental labour exceeds that which Nature has provided for; the expenditure for other purposes falls below what it should have been; and evils of one kind or other are inevitably entailed. Let us briefly consider these evils.
Supposing the over-activity of brain to exceed the normal activity only in a moderate degree, there will be nothing more than some slight reaction on the development of the body: the stature falling a little below that which it would else have reached; or the bulk being less than it would have been; or the quality of tissue not being so good. One or more of these effects must necessarily occur. The extra quantity of blood supplied to the brain during mental exertion, and during the subsequent period in which the waste of cerebral substance is being made good, is blood that would else have been circulating through the limbs and viscera; and the growth or repair for which that blood would have supplied materials, is lost. The physical reaction being certain, the question is, whether the gain resulting from the extra culture is equivalent to the loss?—whether defect of bodily growth, or the want of that structural perfection which gives vigour and endurance, is compensated by the additional knowledge acquired?
When the excess of mental exertion is greater, there follow results far more serious; telling not only against bodily perfection, but against the perfection of the brain itself. 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 development, increase of structure. And the law is, that great activity in either of these processes involves retardation or arrest of the other. A familiar example is furnished by the cases of the caterpillar and the chrysalis. In the caterpillar there is extremely rapid augmentation of bulk; but the structure is scarcely at all more complex when the caterpillar is full-grown than when it is small. In the chrysalis the bulk does not increase; on the contrary, weight is lost during this stage of the creature’s life; but the elaboration of a more complex structure goes on with great activity. The antagonism, here so clear, is less traceable in higher creatures, because the two processes are carried on together. But we see it pretty well illustrated among ourselves when we contrast the sexes. A girl develops in body and mind rapidly, and ceases to grow comparatively early. A boy’s bodily and mental development is slower, and his growth greater. At the age when the one is mature, finished, and having all faculties in full play, the other, whose vital energies have been more directed towards increase of size, is relatively incomplete in structure; and shows it in a comparative awkwardness, bodily and mental. Now this law is true of each separate part of the organism, as well as of the whole. The abnormally rapid advance of any organ 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 its 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 certain 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 effects produced on 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. Digestion, circulation, and through these all other organic processes, are profoundly affected by cerebral excitement. Whoever has 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 irritating this nerve; slowly recommencing when the irritation is suspended; and again arrested the moment it is renewed; will have a vivid conception of the depressing influence which an over-wrought brain exercises on the body. The effects thus physiologically explained, are indeed exemplified in ordinary experience. There is no one but has felt the palpitation accompanying hope, fear, anger, joy—no one but has observed how laboured becomes the action of the heart when these feelings are violent. And though there are many who have never suffered that extreme emotional excitement which is followed by arrest of the heart’s action and fainting; yet every one knows these to be cause and effect. It is a familiar fact, too, that disturbance of the stomach results from mental excitement exceeding a certain intensity. Loss of appetite is a common consequence alike of very pleasurable and very painful states of mind. When the event producing a pleasurable or painful state of mind occurs shortly after a meal, it not unfrequently happens either that the stomach rejects what has been eaten, or digests it with great difficulty and under protest. And as every one who taxes his brain much can testify, even purely intellectual action will, when excessive, produce analogous effects. Now the relation between brain and body which is so manifest in these extreme cases, holds equally in ordinary, less-marked cases. Just as these violent but temporary cerebral excitements produce violent but temporary disturbances of the viscera; so do the less violent but chronic cerebral excitements produce less violent but chronic visceral disturbances. This is not simply an inference:—it is a truth to which every medical man can bear witness; and it is one to which a long and sad experience enables us to give personal testimony. Various degrees and forms of bodily derangement, often taking years of enforced idleness to set partially right, result from this prolonged over-exertion of mind. Sometimes the heart is chiefly affected: habitual palpitations; a pulse much enfeebled; and very generally a diminution in the number of beats from seventy-two to sixty, or even fewer. Sometimes the conspicuous disorder is of the stomach: a dyspepsia which makes life a burden, and is amenable to no remedy but time. In many cases both heart and stomach are implicated. Mostly the sleep is short and broken. And very generally there is more or less mental depression.
Consider, then, how great must be the damage inflicted by undue mental excitement on children and youths. More or less of this constitutional disturbance will inevitably follow an exertion of brain beyond the normal amount; and when not so excessive as to produce absolute illness, is sure to entail a slowly accumulating 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 an adequate supply of good blood. Without enough good blood, no gland can secrete properly, no viscus can fully discharge its office. Without enough 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.
And if, as all who investigate the matter must admit, physical degeneracy is a consequence of excessive study, how grave is the condemnation to be passed on this cramming-system above exemplified. It is a terrible mistake, from whatever point of view regarded. It is a mistake in so far as the mere acquirement of knowledge is concerned. For the mind, like the body, cannot assimilate beyond a certain rate; and if you ply it with facts faster than it can assimilate them, they are soon rejected again: instead of being built into the intellectual fabric, they fall out of recollection after the passing of the examination for which they were got up. It is a mistake, too, because it tends to make study distasteful. Either through the painful associations produced by ceaseless mental toil, or through the abnormal state of brain it leaves behind, it often generates an aversion to books; and, instead of that subsequent self-culture induced by rational education, there comes continued retrogression. It is a mistake, also, inasmuch as it assumes that the acquisition of knowledge is everything; and forgets that a much more important thing is the organisation of knowledge, for which time and spontaneous thinking are requisite. As Humboldt remarks respecting the progress of intelligence in general, that “the interpretation of Nature is obscured when the description languishes under too great an accumulation of insulated facts;” so, it may be remarked respecting the progress of individual intelligence, that the mind is over-burdened and hampered by an excess of ill-digested information. It is not the knowledge stored up as intellectual fat which is of value; but that which is turned into intellectual muscle. The mistake goes still deeper however. Even were the system good as producing intellectual efficiency, which it is not, it would still be bad, because, as we have shown, it is fatal to that vigour of physique needful to make intellectual training available in the struggle of life. Those who, in eagerness to cultivate their pupils’ minds, are reckless of their bodies, do not remember that success in the world depends more on energy than on information; and that a policy which in cramming with information undermines energy, is self-defeating. The strong will and untiring activity due to abundant animal vigour, go far to compensate even great defects of education; and when joined with that quite adequate education which may be obtained without sacrificing health, they ensure an easy victory over competitors enfeebled by excessive study: prodigies of learning though they may be. A comparatively small and ill-made engine, worked at high pressure, will do more than a large and well-finished one worked at low-pressure. What folly is it, then, while finishing the engine, so to damage the boiler that it will not generate steam! Once more, the system is a mistake, as involving a false estimate of welfare in life. Even supposing it were a means to worldly success, instead of a means to worldly failure, yet, in the entailed ill-health, it would inflict a more than equivalent curse. What boots it to have attained wealth, if the wealth is accompanied by ceaseless ailments? What is the worth of distinction, if it has brought hypochondria with it? Surely no one needs telling that a good digestion, a bounding pulse, and high spirits, are elements of happiness which no external advantages can outbalance. Chronic bodily disorder casts a gloom over the brightest prospects; while the vivacity of strong health gilds even misfortune. 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 organisation of knowledge which is more important than its acquisition; vicious, as weakening or destroying 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. In the pale, angular, flat-chested young ladies, so abundant in London drawing-rooms, we see the effect of merciless application, unrelieved by youthful sports; and this physical degeneracy hinders their welfare far more than their many accomplishments aid it. Mammas anxious to make their daughters attractive, could scarcely choose a course more fatal than this, which sacrifices the body to the mind. Either they disregard the tastes of the opposite sex, or else their conception of those tastes is erroneous. Men care little for erudition in women; but very much for physical beauty, good nature, and sound sense. How many conquests does the blue-stocking make through her extensive knowledge of history? What man ever fell in love with a woman because she understood Italian? Where is the Edwin who was brought to Angelina’s feet by her German? But rosy cheeks and laughing eyes are great attractions. A finely rounded figure draws admiring glances. The liveliness and good humour that overflowing health produces, go a great way towards establishing attachments. Every one knows cases where bodily perfections, in the absence of all other recommendations, have incited a passion that carried all before it; but scarcely any one can point to a case where intellectual acquirements, apart from moral or physical attributes, have aroused such a feeling. The truth is that, out of the many elements uniting in various proportions to produce in a man’s breast the complex emotion we call love, the strongest are those produced by physical attractions; the next in order of strength are those produced by moral attractions; the weakest are those produced by intellectual attractions; and even these are dependent less on acquired knowledge than on natural faculty—quickness, wit, insight. If any think the assertion a derogatory one, and inveigh against the masculine character for being thus swayed; we reply that they little know what they say when they thus call in question the Divine ordinations. Even were there no obvious meaning in the arrangement, we might be sure that some important end was subserved. But the meaning is quite obvious to those who examine. When we remember that one of Nature’s ends, or rather her supreme end, is the welfare of posterity; further that, in so far as posterity are concerned, a cultivated intelligence based on a bad physique is of little worth, since its descendants will die out in a generation or two; and conversely that a good physique, however poor the accompanying mental endowments, is worth preserving, because, throughout future generations, the mental endowments may be indefinitely developed; we perceive how important is the balance of instincts above described. But, advantage apart, the instincts being thus balanced, it is folly to persist in a system which undermines a girl’s constitution that it may overload her memory. Educate as highly as possible—the higher the better—providing no bodily injury is entailed (and we may remark, in passing, that a sufficiently high standard might be reached were the parrot-faculty cultivated less, and the human faculty more, and were the discipline extended over that now wasted period between leaving school and being married). But to educate in such manner, or to such extent, as to produce physical degeneracy, is to defeat the chief end for which the toil and cost and anxiety are submitted to. By subjecting their daughters to this high-pressure system, parents frequently ruin their prospects in life. Besides inflicting on them enfeebled health, with all its pains and disabilities and gloom; they not unfrequently doom them to celibacy.
The physical education of children is thus, in various ways, seriously faulty. It errs in deficient feeding; in deficient clothing; in deficient exercise (among girls at least); and in excessive mental application. Considering the régime as a whole, its tendency is too exacting: it asks too much and gives too little. In the extent to which it taxes the vital energies, it makes the juvenile life far more like the adult life than it should be. It overlooks the truth that, as in the fœtus the entire vitality is expended in growth—as in the infant, the expenditure of vitality in growth is so great as to leave extremely little for either physical or mental action; so throughout childhood and youth, growth is the dominant requirement to which all others must be subordinated: a requirement which dictates the giving of much and the taking away of little—a requirement which, therefore, restricts the exertion of body and mind in proportion to the rapidity of growth—a requirement which permits the mental and physical activities to increase only as fast as the rate of growth diminishes.
The rationale of this high-pressure education is that it results from our passing phase of civilisation. In primitive times, when aggression and defence were the leading social activities, bodily vigour with its accompanying courage were the desiderata; and then education was almost wholly physical: mental cultivation was little cared for, and indeed, as in feudal ages, was often treated with contempt. But now that our state is relatively peaceful—now that muscular power is of use for little else than manual labour, while social success of nearly every kind depends very much on mental power; our education has become almost exclusively mental. Instead of respecting the body and ignoring the mind, we now respect the mind and ignore the body. Both these attitudes are wrong. We do not yet realise the truth that as, in this life of ours, the physical underlies the mental, the mental must not be developed at the expense of the physical. The ancient and modern conceptions must be combined.
Perhaps nothing will so much hasten the time when body and mind will both be adequately cared for, as a diffusion of the belief that the preservation of health is a duty. Few seem conscious that there is such a thing as physical morality. Men’s habitual words and acts imply the idea that they are at liberty to treat their bodies as they please. Disorders entailed by disobedience to Nature’s dictates, they regard simply as grievances: not as the effects of a conduct more or less flagitious. Though the evil consequences inflicted on their dependents, and on future generations, are often as great as those caused by crime; yet they do not think themselves in any degree criminal. It is true that, in the case of drunkenness, the viciousness of a bodily transgression is recognised; but none appear to infer that, if this bodily transgression is vicious, so too is every bodily transgression. The fact is, that all breaches of the laws of health are physical sins. When this is generally seen, then, and perhaps not till then, will the physical training of the young receive the attention it deserves.
ESSAYS ON KINDRED SUBJECTS
[1 ]Cyclopædia of Practical Medicine.
[1 ]Cyclopædia of Practical Medicine.
[1 ]Cyclopædia of Anatomy and Physiology.
[1 ] Morton’s Cyclopædia of Agriculture.
[1 ] Morton’s Cyclopædia of Agriculture.
[1 ] It is needful to remark that children whose legs and arms have been from the beginning habitually without covering, cease to be conscious that the exposed surfaces are cold; just as by use we have all ceased to be conscious that our faces are cold, even when out of doors. But though in such children the sensations no longer protest, it does not follow that the system escapes injury any more than it follows that the Fuegian is undamaged by exposure, because he bears with indifference the melting of the falling snow on his naked body.
[1 ] We are not certain that the propagation of subdued forms of constitutional disease through the agency of vaccination is not a part cause. Sundry facts in pathology suggest the inference, that when the system of a vaccinated child is excreting the vaccine virus by means of pustules, it will tend also to excrete through such pustules other morbific matters; especially if these morbific matters are of a kind ordinarily got rid of by the skin, as are some of the worst of them. Hence it is very possible—probable even—that a child with a constitutional taint, too slight to show itself in visible disease, may, through the medium of vitiated vaccine lymph taken from it, convey a like constitutional taint to other children, and these to others.
[1 ]Cyclopædia of Practical Medicine, vol. i. pp. 697, 698.