D. S. (David Samuel) Margoliouth.

The Popular science monthly (Volume 19) online

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ship broke out like a mental epidemic, and, at the very time when the
influence of Grecian civilization began to wane, the new creed spread
into Italy, and the friends of science and freedom were confronted
with the fearful danger of an anti-natural religion. What that dan-
ger meant, our liberated age can hardly realize unless we review the


fate of those nations to whom salvation came too kite ; on whose des-
tiny the curse of that superstition has been wrought out to the bitter
end. The attempt to carry the theories of the Hebrew fanatics into
practice led to a state of affairs against which the unpossessed part
of mankind had to combine in sheer self-defense ; the maniacs were
overpowered, but only after a struggle which has trampled the chief
battle-fields into dust, and not before they had turned, the Mediterra-
nean God-garden into such a pandemonium of madness, tyranny, and
wretchedness, that the lot of the African savages appeared heaven in
comparison. The annals of pagan despotism furnish no parallel to
the pages stained with blood and tears that record the horrors of the
inquisitorial butcheries and man-hunts of the middle ages. The his-
tory of science is the history of a day with a bright morning and a
sunny evening, but interrupted at the noontide hour by a total eclipse
of common sense and reason. The men that inculcated a belief in the
possibility of witchcraft and demoniac possession are responsible for
the agonies of the three million human beings that perished in the
flames of the stake ; the dogma of total natui'al depravity guided the
arm that aimed its poisoned daggers at the heart of every social, politi-
cal, or scientific reformer. But the direst of all the evils which made
the rule of the miracle-mongers the unhappiest period in the history
of this earth was, after all, their total neglect of physical education —
the logical outcome of their Xature-hating insanity. Their disciples
were assured, in the name of an infallible fevelator, that all earthly
concernments are vain ; that we can not please God without mortifying
our bodies ; that our natural instincts must be suppressed, in order to
qualify our souls for the New Jerusalem. The joys of Nature were
to be shunned, as man-traps of the arch-fiend. Sickness was to be
cured by prayer and certain ecclesiastic ceremonies. "Bodily exer-
cise," we are informed, "profited but little." The Olympic games
were suppressed by order of a Christian emperor.* The health-code
of the Mosaic dispensation was repealed as unessential, and indeed
superfluous, in a community of miracle-workers who could defy the
laws of Nature with the aid of supernal spirits. Gluttony and be-
sottedness were encouraged by the example of the ministers of that
creed. Manly exercises, the festivals of the seasons, mirth, pastimes,
and health-giving sports were discouraged as unworthy of a true saint ;
the sons of the thaumaturgic church were taught that our natural de-
sires and natural dispositions are wholly evil ; that the study of world-
ly sciences is vain, and solicitude for the welfare of the body a proof
of an unregenerate heart.

To these doctrines we owe the consequences of our countless sins
against the physical laws of God*; the many irretrievable losses by
the ruin of a former civilization ; the terrible night of the long cen-
turies when science was paralyzed, when industrial progre*-^ wiis liin-
* "a. d." 394.


ited to the invention of new instruments of torture, when the neglect
of husbandry changed so many Elysian fields into hopeless deserts.
To these doctrines the Latin peoples owe the sickliness and effeminacy
which contrast their present generation with the hero-race of antiquity.
It is a favorite subterfuge of the Jesuitical apologists to ascribe that
degeneracy to climatic influences. A cold climate has not saved the
North-China votaries of Buddhism, and would not have saved the
Xorth-Europeans against a prolonged influence of Hebrew Buddhism.
We must not forget that in Northern Europe the rule of the anti-natu-
ralists did not begin before the end of the seventh century, and never
overcame the latent protestantism of the Teuton races. In a- warmer
country than Italy the votaries of the manlier prophet of El Medina
have always preserved their physical vigor, and the representative
North-African of the present day is the physical superior of his South-
European contemporary, while the forefathers of the same African
were mere children in the hands of the palastra-trained Roman war-

The physical corruption of the non-Mohammedan inhabitants of
Southern Europe and Southern Asia has reached the incurable stage of
complacent effeminacy : their indifference to the vices of indolence
precludes the possibility of reform. Indifference to physical degra-
dation is, indeed, a symptom of a deep-seated disease. Mental inert-
ness is often but a dormant state of the intellect, a state from which
the sleeper may be roused at any moment by the din of war, by the
light of a great discovery, by the voice of an inspired poet. Physical
indolence is the torpor which precedes the sleep that knows no waking.
The civilization of Greece, Dutch art, the science of Bagdad and Cor-
dova, sprang up, like water from the rock of Moses. Can historians
point out a single instance of an unmanned people regaining their
manhood ? The bodily degeneracy of a whole nation dooms it to a
hopeless retrogression in prosperity and political power.

The first use we should make of our regained liberty is, therefore,
the reestablishment of those institutions to whose influence the hap-
piest nations of antiquity owed their energy and their physical prow-
ess, their martial and moral heroism, their fortitude in adversity. The
physical constitution of man was never intended for the sluggish inac-
tivity of our sedentary and Sabbatarian mode of life. In a state of
nature, the faculty of voluntary motion distinguishes animals from
plants, and our next relatives in the great family of the animal king-
dom are the most restlessly active of all warm-blooded creatures. The
children of Nature — ^hunters, shepherds, and nomads — pass their days
in out-door labor and out-door sports ; physical exercise affords them
at once the necessaries of life and the means of recreation, and secures
them against all physical ills but wounds and the infirmities of extreme
old age. Civilization, i. e., life on the cooperative plan, exempts many
individuals from the necessity of supplying their daily M-ants by daily


physical labor ; wealth removes the objective necessity of physical
exercise, but the subjective necessity remains ; millions of city-dwell-
ers, in their pursuit of artificial luxuries, stint their bodies in the nat-
ural means of happiness ; they increase their stock of creature-comforts
and decrease their capacity for enjoying them ; religious and social
dogmas pervert their natural instincts ; their children are crammed
with metaphysics till they forget the physical laws of God.

These evils the inventors of gymnastics managed to counteract,
and, before we can hope to recover the Grecian earth-paradise, our sys-
tem of public education needs an essential and thorough reform. On
earth, at least, moral and physical culture should be as inseparable as
mind and body ; every towTi school should have an in-door and out-door
gymnasium ; the same village carpenter who takes a contract for a
dozen rustic school-benches should get an order for a horizontal bar
and a couple of jumping-boards ; every school district should appoint
a superintendent of gymnastics ; every town a committee of public
arenas : cities that can afford to devote a hundred tax-free tabernacles
to Hebrew mythology might well spare an acre of ground for Grecian
athFetics. Plato's Academia and Aristotle's Lyceum were both gym-
nastic institutions, where the patricians of Athens spent their leisure
hours, and often joined in the exercises of the athletes. Our best citi-
zens should emulate their example, and help to eradicate the lingering
prejudice against the culture of the manly powers. A field-day, con-
secrated to Olympic games and the competitive gymnastics of the
Turner-hall, should be the grandest yearly festival of a free nation.

In the mean time we must help our children the best way we can
by giving them plenty of time for out-door exercise, and providing
them, according to our means, with some domestic substitutes for the
gymnastic apparatus which, I trust, the next generation will find in
every village hall and every town school.*

Children have a natural penchant for active exercises. Sloth is
one of the vices we should drop from our catalogue of original sins.
If a child were banished from the haunts of men, and left to grow up
as a wild thing of the woods, he would turn aut a self-made gymnast,
though perhaps also in the original sense of the term, for gymnasium
and gymnastics were derived from a word which means naked. Na-
ture seems to deem the development of our limbs a matter of greater
importance than their envelopment, and clothes are often, indeed, the
first impediment to the free exercise of our motive organs. The regu-

* la 1825 Professor Beck opened in Northampton, Massachusetts, the first American
school where gymnastics formed a branch of the regular curriculum. He has found fol-
lowers, but, considering our progress in othpr directions, his wheat can not be said to
have fallen on a fertile soil. Taking Massachusetts, Ohio, and North Carolina as repre-
sentative States of their respective sections, it seems that at present (1881) an average
of three in every thousand North American schools pays any attention to physical edu-


lation dress of the Swedish turners is, in this resj^cct, also the best
dress for children — a light jacket, vride trousers and shirts, and broad,
low-heeled shoes ; in-doors, and in summer-time, shoes and stockings
should often be altogether dispensed with, Stephens, the celebrated
English trainer, remarked that only men who have their toes perfectly
straight will make first-rate runners and wrestlers, and this qualifica-
tion is nowadays a privilege of country lads who are permitted (or
obliged) to run around barefoot all summer. Considering the way
we treat our feet, it must often puzzle us what our toes were made
for, anyhow ; but the antics of a baby in the cradle prove that the hu-
man foot is by nature semi-prehensile, and might be developed into a
sort of under-hand. Hindoo pickpockets " crib " with their toes, while
they stand with folded arms in a crowd, and the Languedoc cork-
gatherers ply their trade without a ladder, trusting their lives to the
grasping power of their feet. The structural proportions of a new-
bom child also show a comparatively unimportant difference in the
size of the lower and upper extremities ; but, in the course of the first
twelve years, this difference increases from 2 : 5 to 1 : 3, and often as
much as 1 : 4 ; in other words, while an infant's two arms weigh nearly
as much as one of its legs, the arm-weight of a schoolboy is often
only one fourth of his leg-weight. The reason is that, of all the active
exercise a child gets, nine tenths fall generally to the share of its lower
extremities. A little child can not stand erect ; the task of supporting
the weight of the whole body on two feet exceeds its untried strength.
But in local progression we do more : taking a step means to support
and propel, or even lift, the whole body by means of the foot remain-
ing on the ground. In running up and down stairs, to school and
back, and here and there about the house, the legs of the laziest
schoolboy perform that feat about eight thousand times a day. What
have his arms done in the mean while ? Carried a chair across the
room, perhaps, or elevated so and so many spoonfuls of hash from the
plate to a place six inches farther up, besides supporting the weight of
three or four ounces of clothing. To equalize this difference should
therefore be the primary object of physical culture, for the harmo-
nious structure of all its parts is an essential condition of a perfectly
developed body. No malformation is more common in city recruits
than a narrow chest. Besides spear -throwing, of which I shall speak
further on, any exercise promoting the development of the shoulder-
muscles will tend to expand the chest, and thus remove the chief pre-
disposing cause of consumption. In a climate where the first four
years of a child's life have to be passed mostly in-doors, a special room
of a spacious house or a corner reservation of a small nursery should
be set apart for arm-exercises — hurling, swinging, and lifting. The
arrangements for the propulsive part of the good work need not go
beyond an old bolster and a cushion-target, but the grapple-sicing
should be both safe and handy — a pair of swinging-rings suspended


at a height of about four feet from the floor above a stratum of old
quilts and carpets. In London, and in some of our Northeastern cities,
health-lifts for children can now be got very cheap ; weighted buck-
ets, however, or sand-bags with strap-handles, will serve nearly the
same purpose ; and smaller bags of that kind may be used for various
dumb-bell exercises. A plurality of young gymnasts can vary the
programme by throwing such bags to each other and catching them
with outstretched arms. In a suitable locality I would add a knotted
rope, fastened to the ceiling by means of a screw-hook, and hanging
down in a single or double chain, which children soon learn to climb
by the hand-over-hand process, thus strengthening the triceps and
flexor muscles, to whose development the quadrumana owe their pecul-
iar arm-power. A full-grown man w^ho has passed his life behind the
counter will find it rather difficult to raise his body by the contraction
of his arm-muscles, but, unless Darwin is right. Heaven must have in-
tended us to pursue the culture of our higher virtues in the tree-tops,
after the manner of the gymnosophists, for a young child acquires all
climbing tricks with a quite amazing facility — much readier, in fact,
than the art of biped progression, whose chief difliculty consists, per-
haps, in the necessity of preserving the equilibrium. The knots should
be far enough apart to tempt an enterprising climber to dispense with
their use now and then and rely on the power of his grasp by seizing
the rope at the interspaces ; and this exercise should be especially en-
couraged, for the strength and suppleness of the wrist-joint will con-
sid,erably facilitate the attainment of " polytechnic skill," as modern
Jacks-of-all-trades begin to call their versatile handiness. Nay, the
Rev. Salzmann holds that the ancient practice of hand-shaking was
originally suggested by the wish to ascertain the wrist-power and con-
sequent wrestling capacity of a stranger. As to the rest, negative
precautions will generally suffice for the first three or four years.
Diminish the danger of a fall by padding the floor of your nursery-
gymnasium, and the restless mobility of your pupils will generally
save you the trouble of initiating them in the rudiments of hopping
and tumbling. But make it a rule with all hired or amateur nursery-
maids that the children must not be carried more than is absolutely

In long winters it can do no harm, now and then, to let the young-
sters turn the hall into a race-course ; but, with the first warm weather,
the arena should be removed to the next playground — a garden-lane,
or a vacant lot without rubbish-heaps, if the Park Commissioners are
too proscriptive. In its general invigorating effect on the organic sys-
tem, running surpasses every other kind of exercise. Among the con-
tests of the paLnestra it ranked above wrestling and boxing ; for more
than two hundred years the Olympic games consisted, indeed, exclu-
sively of foot-races, and the chronological era of Greece dated from
the year when the Elean Coroebus defeated his Peloponnesian competi-



tors in the long-distance match. The swift -footedness of Achilles is
mentioned as often as his name occurs in the " Iliad " ; and, according
to the Scandinavian Saga, the champions of Jotunheim distanced even
the henchman of Thor in a foot-race. Next to a smooth and perfectly
level lawn, a firm beach is the best race-course, and, after a warm day,
it is a luxury to the martyred feet of a city boy to tread the cool sand
with his naked soles. Fast running is, on the whole, a more valuable
accomplishment than long walking, for no one knows when he may
owe his life, and more than his life, to the ability of outrunning a pur-
suer or a fugitive scoundrel ; but walking and trotting matches against
time will help to cure our children of that miserable snail-pace which
has come to be the fashion of every public promenade. Reduced to a
funeral-march, the " regulation walk " loses half its value — the hygienic
value of the only kind of out-door exercise which the children of the
upper ten or twenty can count upon. Who could wish a prettier sight
than a bevy of schoolgirls, flitting by with fluttering flounces, like
dancers keeping step to a merry tune ? If mothers knew all the charms
of aniniatedheAxxiy, they would not think it " more becoming " to turn
their children into tortoises. Nor would they fear that they would
*' run themselves into a consumption," if they knew what real running
means, and what the motive organs of a human being are capable of.
Mexico has ceased to be a terra incognita to Yankee tourists, and
most visitors to the upland cities will remember the army of huck-
sters and poulterers who every forenoon turn the main plaza into
an agricultural fair. If you will take a morning Avalk on one of the
sand-roads that diverge from the ^outh gate of Puebla, you may see
those hucksters coming in at a trot, girls in their teens many of them,
and loaded with sacks and baskets ; and upon inquiry you will learn
that most of them come from the valley of Tehuacan, from a distance
of ten or twelve English miles. The zagal, or post-boy of a Spanish
mail-coach, carries nothing but a light whip, but he has not only to
keep pace with a team of galloping horses for hour after hour, but has
to run zigzag, adjusting a strap here, picking up a handkerchief there,
and frequently entertains the travelers wdth a series of hand-springs,
in order to earn an extra medio or two — not to mention the Grecian
hemerodromes, who could distance a horse on the long run, and had
often to cross rivers and lakes on their bee-line routes.

An excellent system of training was that of the old Turkish Je-
nidji-begs, or drill-masters of the Janizary cadets, who made young
boys practice lance-throwing with a spear that exceeded the common
javelin both in size and weight — "because, after they had become
proficient in the use of such a heavy implement, the army-spear would
be a mere feather in their hands." On the same principle the knee-
muscles may be strengthened by a simple manoeuvre without the use
of any apparatus. Bend the left leg in a right angle, extending the
right leg horizontally, and lower the body till your right heel nearly


touches the ground. Kow rise by straightening the left leg, with the
right still extended horizontally, and without letting your hands or
your right heel touch the ground. Then squat down as before, extend
the left leg this time and rise on the right, and so on until the weight
of the body has been raised twenty or thirty times by the effort of
either knee-joint without the aid of the other. A moderate proficiency
in this exercise will enable girls and city boys to walk up-hill for hours
with the ease of a Tyrolese goat-herd.

In classifying gymnastics after the degree of their usefulness, a
prominent place should be assigned to leaping, especially high leaping,
an exercise which imparts a powerful stimulus to the digestive organs,
and, 'combined with the shock of the descent, exerts an invigorating
influence on the nervous system in general. The leaping-gauge of the
Turner-hall consists of two upright posts with pegs and a cord stretched
from post to post. Every peg is marked with a figure indicating the
number of inches from the ground, and by raising or lowering the
cord each gymnast can measure his jumping capacity and keep tally
of his score in a certain number of leaps. Competition imparts to
this sport an incentive which may be put to as good account in gym-
nastics as in mental exercises, and is certainly preferable to the only
other method of stimulating the zeal of young pupils. Personal am-
bition, according to the ethics of a certain class of pedagogues, is
inconsistent with the spirit of true Christian humility, and should be
quelled rather than fomented ; in dealing with unruly youngsters
they have consequently ^to resort to the only alternative, slavish fear,
enforced by punishments and espionage. For the nonce, that system
answers its purpose quite as well as the emulation-method ; as to fu-
ture results, your choice must depend upon the main question of mod-
ern education. Are we to form men or canting sneaks ?

A quadruped has an evident advantage over a biped jumper, but
practice will do wonders. Leonardo da Yinci often astounded his
visitors by jumping to the ceiling and knocking his feet against the
bells of a glass chandelier, and a private soldier of Vandamme's cui-
rassiers even leaped over the tutelar deity of a brass fountain on the
Frankfort market-square. But the champion jumper of modern times
was Joe Ireland, a native of Beverley in Yorkshire. In his eigh-
teenth year, " without any assistance, trick, or deception," he leaped
over nine horses standing side by side and a man seated on the middle
horse. He could clear a string held fourteen feet high, and once kicked
a bladder hanging sixteen feet from the ground.* In horizontal leaps
our turners can not beat the record of antiquity : a Spartan once
cleared fifty-two feet, and a native of Crotona even fifty-five. Nor
would any modern filibusters be likely to emulate the trick of the
Teuton freebooters who crossed the Alps during the consulate of Cai-
ns Marius : Finding the Roman battle-front inexpugnable, they at-
* Strutt's " Plays and Pastimes," p. 176.


tempted to force the figlit by vaulting with the aid of their framm or
leaping-poles over a triple row of mail-clad spearmen.

Hurling is the gymnastic specific for pulmonary complaints ; and
the best possible exercise for so many hectic and narrow-chested boys
of our larger cities would be the game of Ger-werfen, as the turners
call it — spear-throwing at a fixed or movable mark. It is a most di-
verting sport after a week's practice has hardened the flexor muscles
against the shock of propelling the larger spears. The missile is a
lance of some tough wood (ash and hickory preferred), about ten feet
long and one and a half inch in diameter, terminating in a blunt
iron knob to steady the throw and keep the wood from splintering.
A heavy post with a movable top-piece (the " Ger-block ") forms the
target, the head-shaped top being secured by means of a stout cramp-
hinge that permits it to turn over, but not to fall down — distance, all
the way from ten to forty paces. Grasp the spear near the middle,
raise it to the height of your ear, plant the left foot fii-mly on the
ground, the right knee slightly bent, fix your eye on the target, lean
back and let drive. If you hit the log squarely in the center or a
trifle higher up, it will topple over, but, still hanging by the cramp-
hinge, can be quickly adjusted for the next thrower. A feeble hit will
not stir the ponderous Ger-block ; the spear has to impinge with the
force of a sixty-pound blow, so that a successful throw is also an ath-
letic triumph. The German Ger-throwers are generally lads after the
heart of Charles Reade — ambidexterous boys, whose either-handed
strength and skill illustrate the fact that the antiquity of a prejudice
proves nothing in its favor. As the least vacillation in the act of
throwing would derange the aim, this exercise imparts a perfect com-
mand over the balance of the body, besides improving the faculty of
measuring distances by the eye. It is, indeed, surprising how soon
gymnastics of this sort will impart an easy deportment and graceful
manners even to boys in their lubber-years — '■'■ Nur cms vollendeter

Online LibraryD. S. (David Samuel) MargoliouthThe Popular science monthly (Volume 19) → online text (page 2 of 110)