Copyright
D. S. (David Samuel) Margoliouth.

The Popular science monthly (Volume 19) online

. (page 20 of 110)
Online LibraryD. S. (David Samuel) MargoliouthThe Popular science monthly (Volume 19) → online text (page 20 of 110)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


revival of barbarism and an insurrection against the statutes of an or-
thodox community. Hence, in a great degree, the disproportionate
mortality, in all northern countries of Christendom, among infants
under two years. In Spanish America, where infantile diseases are as
rare as in Hindostan, babies of all classes and all sizes toddle about
naked, nearly the year round ; and the Indians of Tamaulipas, between
Tampico and Matamoras, raise an astonishing number of brown ban-
tlings who are never troubled with clothes till they are big enough to
carry garden-stuff to a city where the police enforces the apron regula-
tion.

But Mrs. Grundy — a person's pinafore — and the carpet ? Well,
get a lot of short linen hose, rather loose about the hips and tied around
the waist or buttoned to the skirts of a sliort frock. Change them as
often as you like. Wholesale they could be made for a dollar and
Avashed for a quarter a dozen. Out-doors add a pair of stockings with
canvas soles, and perhaps little rubber boots on wet days, but no cap
or shawl before October, and under no circumstances any swaddles or
baby night-gowns. Let us get rid of the " draught " superstition ; ca-
tarrhs are not taken by any creature of the open air, not by the fisher-
man's boy, paddling around in the surf and sitting barefooted in a wet
canoe or bareheaded on the windward cliffs, but by the cachectic
cadets of the tenement-barracks, where the same air is breathed and
rebreathed by the diseased lungs of a regiment of voluntary prisoners.*

After the first frost, a cap with ear-flaps, double stockings, and
mittens out-doors can do no harm. A wama shirt and two quilt-blank-
ets will be enough in all but the coldest nights, and (if I had not seen
the thing done I should commit an outrage on common-sense by think-
ing it necessary to mention it) the face of a sleeping child should never
be covered with a shawl, nor — when flies are very troublesome — with
anything thicker than the lightest gauze handkerchief. "A great
store of clothes," says Lord Bacon, " either upon the bed or the back,
relaxes the body " ; and every obsei-vant parent must have noticed
that school-children complain a hundred times of being overdressed
for once that they ask for additional or warmer clothing. Indeed, only
dire habit can reconcile us to the mass of trappings and wrappings

* " I shall not attempt to explain why ' damp clothes ' occasion colds rather than wet
ones, because I doubt the fact. I imagine that neither the one nor the other contributes
to this effect, and that the causes of colds are totally independent of wet and even of
cold."— (Ben Franklin's "Essays," p. 216.)



PHYSICAL EDUCATION. 147

which fashion and effeminacy load us witli. Five hundred millions of
our fellow-men wear scarcely any clothing — not in Africa and Southern
Asia only, but in cold Patagonia and the by no means genial latitudes
of the Norfolk Islands. The mantle of the Roman peasant was laid aside
in cold weather and generally at the beginning of the day's work.
The sculptures of Rome and Greece abound with the representations
of nude hunters, shepherds, and artisans. On the friezes of Pompey
and the countless vases and entablatures of the Museo Borbonico and
the Vatican collection, children, almost without any exception, appear
in natitralibus. The very word gymnasium was derived from yvjivoa,
naked ; and there is every reason to believe that the tof/a virilis, like
the ?o^«jorce^ea;to, was worn only on state occasions. Henry's "His-
tory of Great Britain" (vol. i, pp. 468, 469) leaves hardly any doubt that
the ancient Britons, Picts, and Scots were either wholly or almost
naked, " unless their custom of painting their bodies can be considered
as clothing." Nor did the south Britons and Romans go naked from
poverty, like Darwin's Firelanders. They had clothes, but they re-
served them for emergencies, and, though our advanced notions of
decency and cleanliness might not permit us to emulate their example,
I suspect that, from May to November, the lightest suit of clothes is,
from an hygienic standpoint, about the best. The body breathes through
the pores as well as through the lungs, and heavy garments obstruct
the cutaneous exhalations quite as much as the atmosphere of an over-
heated room impedes the process of respiration, and it has been found
by actual experiments that the weight of a mantle or heavy coat with
woolen shirts and other underwear diminishes the respiratory capacity
of the lungs from twenty to twenty-five per cent. — (Coale's " Hints on
Health," p. 104.)

Besides, it seems that fresh air exercises on the human skin a cer-
tain tonic influence, of which the wearer of thick woolen garments
deprives his body. Benjamin Franklin proposed to prevent colds, and
even small-pox, by air-baths, and found that he could relieve insomnia
by simply removing the bedclothes for a couple of minutes. " I rise
early almost every morning," says he, " and sit in my chamber without
any clothes whatever, half an hour or an hour, according to the season,
either reading or writing. This practice is not the least painful but,
on the contrary, agreeable, and if I return to bed afterward, before I
dress myself, as it sometimes happens, I make a supplement to my
night's rest of one or two hours of the most pleasing sleep that can be
imagined."— (" A iVew Mode of Bathing,'''' Franklin's " Essays," p.
215.)

Nor should we forget the incidental advantages of hardy habits,
their invigorating influence on the constitution in general and on the
digestive system in particular, nor the fact that effeminacy defeats its
own object and exposes its slaves to sufferings unknown to the sons of
the wilderness. He who restricts himself to a minimum of clothes in



148 THE POPULAR SCIEXCE MONTHLY.

summer-time will find an extra shirt or a plaid and a pair of mittens
a sufficient protection from almost any weather. The Indians of the
Tehuantepec highlands, who work the year round in a breech-clout and
a palmetto hat, ascend the icy summit regions of the Sierra Madre
with a threadbare blanket as their only cover from cold winds and
night frosts ; and our own red-skins prefer an old-buffalo robe to the
best tight-fitting garments, and invariably tear the seams of the store-
clothes they buy at the post-agencies — to make them " lighter," venti-
late them, as it were. Nay, the post-trader of Fort Richardson, on
the upper Brazos, assured me that his Kiowa customers never bought
a suit of clothes without cutting the seat out of the pantaloons and
slitting the coats from the armpits down to the skirts !

If an out-door laborer leaves a warm house on a cold morning, the
first contact with the open air is anything but agreeable, but after half
an hour's exercise the body warms up from within, and this animal
caloric can make a heavy suit of clothes as oppressive in winter as in
midsummer ; the gaseous excretions of the skin, after saturating the
confined air, are condensed and thus effectually checked — the body
has to forego the benefits of cutaneous respiration. And herein con-
sists the difference between our artificial fleece and the hairy coat of a
wild beast : fur and wool retain the animal warmth but emit the cuta-
neous vapors ; a close woven coat stops both. The process of tan-
ning, too, stops the pores of the fur-skin, and I have often wondered
why our dress-reformers have never tried to construct a fur coat on
the brush-maker's plan — fastening the hair in little bunches on some
strong, net-like texture. By spreading outward, the hair would pre-
sent the even surface of the natural fur, and make such a porous brush
coat nearly as warm as a common pelisse. Thus far the same end has
been most nearly attained by the triple blouse of the Havre 'longshore-
men — three linen jackets ; the first and third as smooth as a shirt, but
the middle one ruffled, i. e., gathered up in a series of open plaits like
a mediaeval lace collar. This arrangement prevents a " tight fit," and
leaves a considerable space on both sides of the middle blouse, and, air
being a bad conductor, the three blouses, weighing about three pounds
apiece, are actually warmer than a twelve-pound overcoat of thick
broadcloth, but fitting the back like the cover of a pin-cushion. On
going to work, the porte-faix removes one or two of his blouses, accord-
ing to the state of the weather, as the American schoolboy takes off his
comforter and unbuttons his jacket before going in for a snow-ball
fight.

A jacket or a short blouse is out and out more sensible than our
cumbersome overcoats or the unspeakable tangle-work of frippery and
flounces, cross-and-lengthwise wrappings, and intricate fastenings that
still form the winter' dress of a fashionable lady. The women of
Scandinavia and New England (Jenny Lind, Mrs. Everett, Dr. Mary
Safford-Blake, etc.) can claim the honor of having initiated the oppo-



PHYSICAL EDUCATION. 149

sition movement that bids fair to abate the grievance* in the course of
another generation or two, having already exploded the chief outrages
on hygienic and artistic common-sense — corsets and the crinoline.
Mrs. Abba G. Woolson's " Dress Reform" should be the sartorial text-
book of every girl's mother.

The Turks and Hollanders, though differing so widely in their
general mode of life, agree in preferring warm clothes to heated
rooms, and when the in-door atmosphere can be made tolerable only
by air-tight window-sashes and glowing stoves, it is a curious question
whether a warmer dress would not, on the whole, be the lesser evil.
It would save fuel, sick-headaches, and constipation, and by adding or
removing an extra blouse, d la Normandie, the several occupants of a
moderately Avarmed room might exactly adapt the temperature to
their individual feelings. A German author, who admits hardly any
excuse for excluding the fresh air from a sitting-room, proposes an
ingenious remedy for cold hands — the only cogent objection to an
open study-window : a box writing-desk, namely, with a double lid,
the writing-board resting on top of a box full of hot sand, that can be
warmed in a common baking-pan and warranted to retain its heat
for five or six hours. A cold garret library was Goethe's favorite
refuge from sick-headaches ; and the Chevalier Edelkranz reminds his
fur-loving countrymen that, when the difference of temperature be-
tween the external air and that within-doors is inconsiderable, it
would be useful to " put on an extra coat on returning home, instead
of doing it when going out, since the exercise in the open air produces
the necessary degree of warmth, which, in the chamber, in a sedentary
state, can only be supplied by additional clothing."

In our climate, however, there are days when a child of the Cau-
casian race has urgent need of all the overcoats his shoulders can
support, and the natives of northern Michigan have taught their Saxon
neighbors some useful lessons in the art of surviving a Lake Superior
snow-storm. Experience has made them eschew our common head-
gear ; they wear " Mackinaw hoods," a sort of monk's cowl, buttoned
to the mantle-collar and covering every part of the face but the eyes
and a small space between the mouth and the nostrils ; double woolen
mittens, reaching half-way up to the elbow ; baggy trousers, fastened
around the ankle, and shoes that admit three or four pairs of worsted
stockings. Their particular care seems to be to protect the neck,
hands, and feet ; and it might, indeed, be accepted as a general rule
that the parts of the body farthest from the heart are most liable to
suffer from the effects of a low temperature. All extremities — toes, fin-
gers, nose, and ears — are especially apt to get frost-bitten, but march-
ing against a cold wind also produces a peculiarly uncomfortable sen-
sation about the neclc, and I can not help thinking that there is some-
thing AN'rong about our fashion of cropping our boys like criminals.
A good head of hair may be something more than an ornamental



150 THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

appendage, and Nature seems to have taken especial care to protect
the nape of the neck in a great number of different animals. It is
certainly a suggestive circumstance that fomenting the space between
the shoulders exerts an assuaging effect on various affections of the
respiratory organs ; and, if I had the care of a boy with an hereditary
disposition to a pulmonary disease, I should feel strongly tempted to
defy fashion, and let him wear his hair ii la Giddo — about a foot
long.

The canal-laborers of Sault Ste. Marie wear double hoods, and on
many days have to stuff them with wool to save their ears ; but, in the
more populous part of America, such days are a rare exception, and
south of the lower lakes the average schoolboy will prefer to rough it
with a tippet shawl or a common cap with a pair of ear-flaps. In re-
gard to the utility of woolen underclothes, opinions are much divided :
Carl Bock recommends worsted jackets ; Dr. Coale flannel under-
shirts and drawers, with extra breast-pads in cold weather ; but the
hardy Scandinavians, Russians, and French Canadians, as well as the
great majority of our German population, still stick to coarse linen
next the skin, and use woolen pectorals only as counter-irritants in
rheumatic affections. Persons who can not bear woolen underclothes,
I would advise to try the Normandy plan of ruffled linen, which might
be applied even to hoisery and drawers. Chamois-leather, too, is as
warm as wool and less irritating to the skin, and has the advantage
of being more durable, and withal cleanlier, than the best flannel.
On stormy days, especially during the piercing northwest storms of
our prairie States, few children will object to a Scotch plaid, worn
like a burnoose, over head and shoulders, or a handful of wool stuffed
around the socks in a pair of wide brogans.

But at the beginning of the warm season all such things ought to
be thrown aside. A loose shirt, linen jacket, and short linen trowsers
are the right summer dress for a healthy boy — a dalmatica and light
straw hat for a healthy girl — in a country where the six warmest
months approach the isotherms of southern Spain. No wadded coats,
no drawers, and, in the name of reason, no flannels, nor shoes and
stockings, unless the mud is very deep, or the road to school recently
macadamized. The long-lived races of Eastern Europe would laugh
at the idea that the constitution of a normal human being could be
endangered by an April shower, or that in the dog-days "health
and decency" require a woolen cuticle from neck to foot. Have
dogmas and hearsays entirely closed our senses to the language of
instinct, to the meaning of the discomfort, the distracting uneasiness
under the burden of a load of calorific covers and bandages, while
every pore of our skin cries out for relief, for the cooling influence of
the free open air ? Keep your children under lock and key, lest the
sun should spoil their complexion or their morals, let them pass their
days in an underground dungeon like Kaspar Hauser, but do not load



PHYSICAL EDUCATION. 151

them with woolen trappings at a time when even a linen robe becomes
a Nessus-shirt. There is a story of a glutton being cured by a friend
who persuaded him to eat and drink nothing for twenty-four hours
without putting an equivalent in quantity and quality into an earthen
crock, and the next day made him inspect the collectanea ; and on the
same principle a person of common-sense might perhaps be redeemed
from the slavery of the dress-mania, by making him wrap up his com-
plete suit of traps and weigh the bundle : he would find that the sum-
mer dress of a fashionable gentleman outweighs the winter coat of the
most hirsute brute of the wilderness. A grizzly bear, shorn to the
skin, would yield about ten pounds of hair and wool ; but a dandy's
accoutrements — flannel undershirt, drawers, shoes, stockings, starched
overshirt, waistcoat, cravat, black dress-coat, and pantaloons — would
weigh at least fourteen pounds. Habit mitigates the evil, though
there are times when the martyrs of fashion suffer more in a single
hour than a ragged Comanche in the coldest winter week ; but, for
boys and young girls, calorific food and woolen clothes certainly make
the sunniest days the saddest in the year.

The vicissitudes of the weather ? It is worth a journey to Trieste
to see the youngsters of the suburbs enjoy their evenings on the Capo
Liddo, the sandy headland between the Pola pike-road and the hai-bor
fortifications : four or five hundred half-wild boys, splashing in the
surf, throwing stones, wrestling, or chasing each other along the shore,
all shouting and cheering, merry as carnivallers, though there is not
a pair of shoes or a dozen hats in the crowd. Swift-footed, lithe, and
indefatigable, they are the very picture of careless health ; you can
see them at play almost every evening, even in winter, when the Tra-
montane raises the snow-drifts of the Karst. They laugh at summer
showers ; their linen jackets will dry before they get home. Sunshine
makes them a holiday ; but let your well-dressed New York or Paris
schoolboy join in their sports, and examine his clothes after an hour
or two, and see if perspiration has not made his undershirts as Avet as
any rain could make his jacket.

Decency? Are the gambols of a barefoot boy more unseemly
than the contortions of a sunstruck alderman in his holiday dress ?
Can ethics or aesthetics be promoted by the imprecations of a sleepless
victim of flannel night-shirts and closed bedroom windows ? If daily
misery can spoil the temper of a saint, the ladies of the American
Dress-Reform are working in the interest of charity and good-humor
by removing a chief incentive to the opposite sentiments, for the
aggravations of Tantalus must have been trifling compared with those
of an American schoolgirl d la mode, at the thought of a mountain
meadow to run on with naked feet or a shady brook to pick pebbles
from with bared arms. Pocahontas, indeed, had no need to envy the
" fair maids in the land of her lover," if the fair ones had to wear the
twenty-three distinct pieces of dry-goods which, according to a cor-



152 THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

respondent of Yirchow's " Jahresberichte," constitute the summer
dress of the average girl of the period. The blind submission to such
demands of fashion can be explained only by a long subjection of
human reason to authority, together with that ridiculous dread of
nudity which foi*ms a characteristic feature of all anti-natural relig-
ions. According to the ethics of the Hebrew-Buddhistic moralists, all
nahiralia siint Uirpia y the body is the arch-enemy of the soul, and
must be hidden, lest the children of the Church might be reminded of
their relationship to the despised children of Nature. Boys and girls
have no vote in such matters, or they would consent to turn night
into day for the sake of getting a little exercise without the dire alter-
native of sweating to death or awakening the anathemas of Mrs.
Grundy. The misery reaches its climax in June, when the warm
weather begins before the vacations ; and in midsummer a person
with humane instincts would rather make a wide detour than pass a
town school or a cotton-factory and witness the triumph of our pious
civilization — the daily and intolerable torture of thousands of helpless
children to please an Old Hypocrites' Christian Association of priests
and prudes !

As houses have been called exterior garments, a heavy suit of
clothes might be called a portable house — a protective barrier between
the skin and the cold air ; but in warm weather the most effectual
device for diminishing the benefit of out-door exercise. Between May
and October man has to wear clothes enough to keep the flies and
gnats from troubling him : a pair of linen trowsers, a shirt, and a light
neckerchief — whatsoever is more than these is of evil. The best head-
dress for summer is our natural hair ; the next best a light straw hat,
wnth a perforated crown. Hats and caps, as a protection from the
vicissitudes of the atmosphere, are a comparatively recent invention.
The Syrians, Greeks, Romans, Normans, and Visigoths wore helmets
in war, but went uncovered in time of peace, in the coldest and most
stormy seasons ; the Gauls and Egyptians always went bareheaded,
even into battle, and, a hundred years after the conquest of Egypt by
Cambyses (b. c. 525), the sands of Pelusium still covered the well-
preserved skulls of the native warriors, while those of the turbaned
Persians had crumbled to the jawbones. The Emperor Hadrian trav-
eled bareheaded from the icy Alps to the borders of Mesopotamia ; the
founders of several monastic orders interdicted all coverings for the
head ; during the reign of Henry VIII, boys and young men generally
went with the head bare, and to the preservation of this old Saxon
custom Sir John Sinclair* ascribes the remarkable health of the orphans
of Queen's Hospital. The human skull is naturally better protected
than that of any other warm-blooded animal, so that there seems little
need of adding an artificial covering ; and, as Dr. Adair observes, the
most neglected children, street Arabs and young gypsies, are least
* " Code of Health and Longevity," p. 29S.



PHYSICAL EDUCATION. 153

liable to diseases, chiefly because they are not guarded from the access
of fresh air by too many garments (Adair's " Medical Cautions," p.
389). It is also -well known that baldness is the effect of effeminate
habits as often as of dissipation ; and yet there are parents who think
it highly dangerous to let a boy go out bareheaded even in May or
September. The trouble is, that so many of our latter-day health
codes are framed by men who mistake the exigencies of their own
decrepitude for the normal condition of mankind. Thousands of North
American mothers get their hygienic oracles from the household notes
of some orthodox weekly, where the Rev. Falstaff Tartuffe assures
them — from personal experience — that raw apples are indigestible, and
that rheumatism can be prevented only by nightcaps and woolen un-
dershirts. *

Girls, it seems, have to pass through a millinery climacteric, as
their brothers through a wild-oats period ; but even during that inter-
regnum of reason the instinct of self-preservation would assert its
supremacy if the health laws of physiology and their antagonism to
certain fashions were more generally understood. Claude Bernard
speaks of a French philanthropist who proposed to offer a prize for the
most tasteful female dress, manufactured from the cheapest materials ;
and, if the votaries of the Graces would consent to a reform in the
shape and stuff of their garments, we could well afford to indulge them
in chromatics and a flounce or two, for there is no reason to afliict
them with Quaker-drab, if more cheerful colors are as cheap. As
long as they avoid excesses in the quantity and form of their dress,
and restrict themselves to four dimes' worth of vanities per month, we
need not grudge them a display of their taste in the selection of pretty
patterns ; let them radiate in all the colors of the rainbow and all the
gems of the " Chicago Prize-Package Company." Veniimt a veste
sagittal — the dress problem has always employed the leisure of gossips
and Doctors' Commons, especially in cities, and more especially in the
wealthy and indolent cities of the Old World. There is a legend of a
New England virgin fainting at the mention of " undressed lumber,"
but that tradition must be of Eastern origin. The dry-goods worship is
carried nowhere further than where children are treated like dolls and
women like children, unfit to be intrusted with any more important
business. The " organ of ornamentativeness," or fashion-mania, may,
after all, not be an innate instinct of the female mind. Madame de
Stael and Mrs. Lewes at least deny it, and, if they are right, an enlarged
sphere of activity will by-and-by help their sisters to outgrow that
bias. In the mean while, the best palliative is a liberal education,
besides a zealous propaganda of the two chief theses of the dress
reform : wider jackets and shorter under-garments ; no trailing dresses,
keeping the feet wet and impeding locomotion ; no stays, corsets, and
strait-jacket bodices.

Next to the regulation dress of the Turner hall, the present style



154 '^^^^ POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

of the United States infantry uniform is about the most sensible that
could be devised with regard to sanitary advantages, and nearly so in



Online LibraryD. S. (David Samuel) MargoliouthThe Popular science monthly (Volume 19) → online text (page 20 of 110)