D. S. (David Samuel) Margoliouth.

The Popular science monthly (Volume 19) online

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Kraft strahlet die Anmuth hervor,'''' as Goethe explains it : " The high-
est grace is the outcome of consummate strength."

Climbing, too, calls into action nearly every muscle of the human
body, and should be encouraged, though at the expense of a pair of
summer pants or summer birds, as the jDOSsibility of accidents is more
than outweighed by the sure gain in physical self-reliance. There is
a deep truth in the apparent paradox that it is the best plan not to
avoid dangers and difficulties that can be mastered. In the voluntary
risks of the gymnasium the athlete pays an insurance policy against
future dangers. In a man's life there will always come moments
when the woe and weal of years depend on firm nerves and a strong
hand, and such moments prove the value of a system of training
which teaches children to treat danger as a mechanical problem. The
operation of the same cause may be traced in the realistic influence
which the culture of the manly powers generally exerts on the human


mind. Having learned to rely on their personal strength and judg-
ment under circumstances where shams are peculiarly unavailing,
gymnasts will generally be men of self-help ; practical, rather apt to
believe in the competence of human reason and human virtue and to
question the utility of a pious fraud.

On rainy days an in-door gymnasium is as useful as a private libra-
ry. Where wood is cheap, the aggregate cost of the following appa-
ratus need not exceed fifty dollars : 1. A spring-board and leaping-
gauge ; 2. An inclined ladder ; 3. A horizontal bar ; 4. Swinging-
rings ; 5. A vaulting-horse (rough hewed) ; 6. A chest-expander
(elastic band with handles) ; and, 7. A pair of Indian clubs. Buckets
filled with shot or pig-iron will do for a health-lift. With this simple
apparatus an infinite variety of health-giving exercises may be per-
formed without much risk ; on the horizontal bar alone Jahn and
Salzmann enumerate not less than one hundred and twenty different
movements, most of which have proved very useful in correcting spe-
cial malformations. For general hygienic purposes a much smaller
number will be sufficient, especially where the neighborhood affords
an opportunity for occasional out-door sports ; for an in-door gymnasium
is, after all, only a preparatory school, or at best a substitute for the
palrestra of Nature — the woods, the seashore, and the cliffs of a rocky
mountain-range. But in large cities even the poorest ought to procure
a few gymnastic implements ; no dyspeptic should be without a spring-
board and some sort of health-lift.

The victims of asthma would throw a considerable quantity of
physic to the dogs if they knew, the value of a mechanical specific —
a few minutes' exercise with the balance-stick, an apparatus which any
man can manufacture in half an hour, and at an expense representing
the value of an old broom-stick and a yard of copper wire. Take a
straight stick, about six feet long and one inch in diameter, and marl
it from end to end with deep notches at regular intervals, say twc
inches apart, with smaller subdivisions, as on the beam of a lever-bal-
ance. Then get a ten-pound lump of pig-iron, or a large stone, and
gird it with a piece of stout wire, so as to let one end of the wire pro-
ject in the form of a hook. The exercise consists in grasping the stick
at one end, stretching out arm and stick horizontally like a rapier at a
home-thrust ; then draw your arm back, still keeping the stick rigidly
liorizontal, make your hand touch your chin, thrust it out again, draw
back, and so on, till the forearm moves rapidly on a steady fulcrum.
Next load the stick — i. e., hook the stone to one of the notches ; every
inch fartlier out will increase the weight by several pounds. Hook it to
one of the middle notches, and try to move your arm as before. It will
be hard work now to keep the stick horizontal ; even a strong man will
find that the effort reacts powerfully on his lungs : he will puff as if the
respiratory engine were working under high pressure. On the same
principle, the lungs of a half-drowned man may be set awork by mov-


ing the arms up and do\m like pump-handles. But the weighted stick,
bearing against the sinews of the forearm, still increases this effect, and
overcomes the stricture of the asthmatic spasm, as the movement of
the loose arms relieves the torpor of the drowning-asphyxia. With the
aid of this mechanical palliative (for death is the only radical asthma-
cure) the distress of the spasm can be relieved before the actual dysp-
noea or breathlessness has begun, and, after ten or twelve resolute
efforts, the feeling of oppression will generally subside and the lungs
resume their work as if nothing had happened. Daily exercise with
the balance-stick is sure to diminish the frequency of the attacks, and,
if begun in time, would probably cure children from an hereditary ten-
dency of this sort. Two years ago I sent this receipt to an asthma-
martyr whom the narcotic-vapor cure did not save from a weekly repe-
tition of all the horrors of strangulation. He has now lengthened the
period of his complaint from a week to an average of forty days, and
assured me that even a few minutes' exercise with a six-pound weight
has saved him many a sleepless night.

Lifting and carrying weights was a favorite exercise with the an-
cient athletes, and our modern rustics are still very apt to estimate a
man's strength by his lifting capacity. The "best man" of a York-
shire parish is generally he who can shoulder the heaviest bag and
carry it farthest and with the firmest step. Feats of this sort require
certainly a sound constitution in every way ; weak lungs, especially,
are sure to tell, but the main strain bears upon the thighs and the small
of the back : a good lifter has to be a strong-boned man, and will gen-
erally make a good wrestler and rider. Weak-backed children will,
therefore, derive much benefit from the vai'ious exercises with hand-
weights and lifting-straps, and, indeed, from any labor involving the
addition of an extra burden to the natural weight of the body. Heavy
lifts require some precaution against strains — a waist-belt, and unflinch-
ing steadiness in rising from a stooping position ; but it should be
remembered that rupture (hernia) — generally ascribed to the effects
of overlifts — results more frequently from the shock of a fall, and a
predisposing defect of the abdominal teguments. The history of the
lifting-cure records not a single instance of a rupture having origi-
nated from the often enormous feats of professional gymnasts, or the
more dangerous efforts of enthusiastic beginners. As a general rule, it
may be relied upon that a perfectly sound child can not overlift him-
self before his strength gives way — I mean, before the yielding of his
muscles and sinews simply compels him to drop the burden. Here,
too, the achievements of ancient and modern Samsons illustrate the
tenacity of the human frame and its marvelous capacity for develop-
ment. The credibility of the Gaza story depends somewhat upon the
size of those city gates ; but there is no doubt that Thomas Topham, of
Surrey, once shouldered a sentry-box containing a stove, a bench, and
a sleeping watchman, and carried his burden to a suburban cemetery.



Dr. "Winship, of Boston, lifted twenty-nine hundred p'uuus with the
lid of shoulder-straps ; and, unless the historians of Magna Graecia
were afflicted with an abnormal development of the myth-making
faculty, it would seem that their countryman Milo carried a bidl-calf
around the arena, and thus carried it every day till he could tote a full-
_rown steer. K the story is even half true, we need not wonder that
Milo's powers as a wrestler put a temporary stop to that sport as a

ranch of the Olympian games, since " no man or god durst accept his

Wrestling is still the chief accomplishment of the Swiss village

hampions, and would be the favorite pastime of our rural districts if
:: had not been kept down by our sickly prejudice against all rough-
and-ready sports. Fifteen centuries ago the Olympic games were
.bolished by the decree of a Christian emperor ; the moralists of Old
England have tabooed pugilism ; our Sabbatarians now include even
wrestling among the '* blackguard sports " ; and Frederick Gerstaecker
predicts that the American Inquisition of a future century will sup-
press skating and ball-playing '' as giving an undue ascendancy to the
animal energies over the moral part of our nature." For such a cen-
tury's sake we should hope that the Patagonian savages will prove un-
conquerable, for a year's life among healthy beasts would be a blessed
relief from a long sojourn in the land of an unmanned nation.

But I trust that the propaganda of the Tumbund will save us from
-uch a fate. What a stimulus it would give to manly sports and manly
virtues, nay, to the physical regeneration of the human race, if we
could made their yearly assembly a national festival ! The river-mead-
ows of Chattanooga, or the mountain amphitheatre near Huntsville,
Alabama, would make a first-class Olympia, and our Indian summer
would be a ready-made " weather-truce," without an expensive bumt-

tfering to the sun. Olives, it is true, do not floxirish on our soil ; our
mercenary souls need other inducements ; but the rent of reserved
seats and camp-tents would enable us to gild the crowns of the seve-
ral victors. Imagine the athletes of every village training for those
I'rizes — ^thousands of boy-topers turning grvmnasts, ward delegates
running for something besides office, and the members of a Yotmg
Men's Association seeking paradise on this side of the grave !

With the decadence of athletic sports, games of skill come gener-
ally into favor ; hence, perhaps, the revival of archery in the United
States, and the pandemic spread of certain amusements which are
properly ladies' plays. Riding has gone almost out of fashion, though
few sportsmen will, gainsay me if I assert that a day in the saddle is
worth a week of other sedentary pursuits. A Mexican boy would part
as soon with an arm as with his horse, and I never saw a finer picture
of exultant health than a cavalcade of m'/z-^ao^o^ dashing out into the
prairie at full speed, whooping and cheering, though perhaps on their
way to school or to a/uncion of some national saint. The deportment


of such little equestrians is distinguished by a cei-tain chivalrous frank-
ness, and the word chivalry itself, as well as the German Bitter ("ca-
ballero "), were originally derived from horse-riding. The rider's man-
agement of his nag may tend to develop the domineering, the princely
traits of human nature, though probably at the expense of a humbler
virtue or two ; in Spanish America, at least, the experience of Indian
agents and Indian school-teachers has shown that the pedestrian red-
skins are generally more manageable than their mounted comjyadres.

The lovers of aquatic sports may combine a useful accomplishment
with the best relief from the midsummer martyrdom of our large cities.
The art of swimming adds as much to the pleasure of bathing as it does
to its healthfulness ; but it has often puzzled me that with the himiau
animal that should be an art which is a natural faculty of all other
mammals. Dr. Andersson's theory is probably the right solution of the
riddle. He noticed that to the young negroes of Sierra Leone swim-
ming comes almost as natural as walking (in which attainment they
are also rather precocious), and he concludes that the disability of a
white man's child arises chiefly from a general want of vigor. Our
mobile arms and paddle-like hands are better swimming implements
than the drumstick legs of a dog ; but our muscular debility more than
counteracts these advantages. The limbs of a child are swathed, con-
jBned in tight clothes, kept year after year in compulsive inactivity,
till, in proportion to its size, the nursling of civilization is the weakliest
of living creatuj'es. After exercise has developed the defective mus-
cles, a swimmer can hardly understand ^ow he could ever be in dread
of deep water, swimming seems so easy ; the faculty of floating, as it
appears to him, is an inalienable attribute of a human creature, requir-
ing neither art nor anything like a great effort except in swimming
against the stream ; he would undertake to study, read, or dream in a
calm sea, and let the body take care of itself. The Marquesas-Island-
ers witnessed the struggles of a sinking English sailor with mute
astonishment, and neglected to help him, utterly incapable of realizing
the fact that a full-grown man could be in danger of drowning.

In the sixteen provinces of the Roman Empire every larger town
had a free bath or two, and our entire neglect of this branch of public
hygiene is certainly the ugliest feature of our boasted civilization ; but
our children at least might make shift with the natural bathing facili-
ties which can be reached by a short excursion beyond the precincts of
all but the unluckiest cities, A cool bath at the end of a sweltering
day can be delightful enough to reconcile a poor city slave to his
misery ; the sensation of floating along with the rhythm of a dancing
current admits no comparison with any terra firma pleasure, and awa-
kens instincts of the human soul which may date from the life of our
marine ancestors in the days of the Devonian fore-world. But such
enjoyments are the privilege of the aquatic gymnast, and no swimmer
should deem it below his dignity to imitate the example of the elder


PHYSICAL education:

Cato, who taught his sons to dive and traverse rapid rivers. I know
that a swimming-school is not always a favorite resort of a young
child ; weakly youngsters are apt to prefer a sponge-bath ; but I agree
with the Baptists, that immersion alone will save us. The way of the
beginner is hard, but the reward is worth the price. No boy who has
learned to " tread water " or to " take a header " from a high bank
would exchange the wild joy of his sport for all the taffy of a tame
Sunday-school picnic. And it is a great mistake to suppose that hardy
habits would harden the character ; on the contrary, the bravest lad of a
parish can generally be known by his cheerfulness and his frank good-
nature, and in after-years will be apt to meet the billows of life with a
joyous zeal rather than with a shivering " resignation." I am often
tempted to quote the remark of a French training-ship surgeon, of
blunt speech, but with a sharp eye for the character-traits of his young
countrymen : " If I had my own way," said he, " every boy in the marine
should serve an apprenticeship in the rigging, and learn to rough it,
before he gets a soft berth. The lads that have grown up before the
mast make the best men in every sense of the word, brave, honest fel-
lows most of them ; while the cabin-boys, who have been pampered
with titbits and soft jobs generally, turn out " (I won't risk a literal
translation) " prevaricating puppies," or words to that effect.

Per aspera ad astra, and a very important branch of gymnastic
education, might be included under the head of hard work or volun-
tary labor. Labor with a practical purpose is not only more visibly
useful but more agreeable than mere crank-work at the horizontal bar,
and it is sometimes advisable to beguile ourselves into a strenuous and
long-continued physical effort. For what we call vice or evil propen-
sities is often nothing but misdirected energy, vital force exploding in
the wrong direction for want of a better outlet. The sensible remedy
is not to anathematize such energies, but to let our muscular system
absorb them by engaging in some entertaining out-door business re-
quiring a good deal of heavy work. In summer-time there will be no
lack of such jobs : interest your enfant terrible in horticulture ; make
him transplant shade-trees and dig ditches ; send him to the gravel-pit,
and let him fill his wheelbarrow with sand and his pockets with geo-
logical specimens. Or enlist his constructiveness : set him to build a
garden-wall, and quarry his own building-material in the next ravine.
During the progress of the good work the hours will vanish magically,
and so will the evil propensities. Novel-reading girls can generally be
cured with a butterfly-catcher ; entomology and sentimentalisra are
not concomitant manias.

It has often been observed as a curious phenomenon that the vilest
young hoodlums are found in the middle-sized towns. I believe I could
suggest an explanation : In very large cities, as well as in the woods
and mountains, they find something else to do. A New York street
Arab is often addicted to sharp practice, but not often to degrading


vices. He can't afford to be vicious : sensuality weakens ; physical
vigor is a stock-in-trade ; the fierceness of competition compels him to
use every advantage. For the same reason a training oarsman is gen-
erally an exemplar of all manly virtues ; to him experience has demon-
strated the temporal disadvantages of vice, an argument whose cogency
somehow conquers objections that resist the most eloquent argumenta
adjidem. Moreover, such virtues with a business purf>ose are liable
to become habits. If we could keep a record of the longevity of our
university crews, we would probably find that the victors outlive the
often vanquished ; the champions of Olympia (with the exception of
the cestus-fighters) generally attained to a good old age.

It is, indeed, a pity that oar-contests should be confined to our lake-
shore cities and a few college towns ; as an athletic exercise rowing is
out and out superior to ball-playing and skating, and a sovereign rem-
edy for many disorders of the respiratory organs. Venice has all the
topographical characteristics of a consumption town — stagnant lagoons,
damp buildings, dark and narrow streets — and yet the lower classes of
her po])ulation are remarkably free from pulmonary affections— they
have a gondolier in nearly every family. The watermen of the
Thames, too, are generally long-lived, in spite of being so much ox-
posed to wet and cold. If I had to limit a child to two kinds of out-
door exercises, I would choose running and rowing : the one docs for
the legs and the stomach what the other does for the arms and the

It is said that Cyrus advised his countrymen '-never to eat but
after labor," and, as a general rule, the best time for out-door exercise
is certainly rather before than after meals ; but gymnastics of the
heroic kind may induce a degree of fatigue which decreases the appe-
tite instead of stimulating it, and in summer it is by far the best plan
to take the last meal in the afternoon, and postpone athletic sports to
the cooler hours of the evening. In moonlit nights, out-door games
may be continued for several hours after sunset. A nearly infallible
receipt for pleasant dreams is a light supper, followed by competitive
gymnastics in the presence of (somebody's) sisters and cousins. In stress
of circumstances, though, the fair witnesses can be dispensed with.
Even an in-door gymnasium will answer the main purjDose ; it is the re-
laxation of the strained sinews which makes rest sweet ; the soul seems
to revel in a conscious sense of health to come. It is a fact that a man
may be "too tired to sleep" ; but that sort of insomnia is always a
sign of general debility. Our latter-day sports are not likely to hurt
a healthy boy through excess of exercise. "We hear of people having
" killed themselves with hard work " ; but, if their habits were other-
wise correct and their diet not altogether insufficient, they must have
worked hard indeed, and with suicided intent, I am tempted to say, as
we have no single word iov Lehensmilde — the reckless contempt of life
which can make men deaf to the voice of their physical conscience.


The Manitoba lumbermen ply their hard trade clieerfully for ten
hours a day for months togetlier, and the pastoral nomads of the Cas-
pian steppes often keep their boys in the saddle for two days and two

It can do no harm to let girls join in the athletic sports of their
brothers ; though in their case an harmonious structural development is
of more importance than the attainment of muscular strength. Their
natural vocation exempts them from the necessity of engaging in vio-
lent exercises, and the experience of every nation has confirmed the
somewhat obscure biological fact that a child's bodily constitution de-
pends chiefly on that of his paternal relatives. A weakling can never
become the father of robust children ; while a delicate but otherwise
healthy woman may give birth to an infant Hercules. But, for boys,
the most thorough physical education is the best ; a child can never
be too weakly to profit by gymnastic exercises. If the culture of the
bodily faculties were made a regular branch of public education, ro-
bust strength would be the rule and debility the rare exception. The
puniness and sickliness of the vast plurality of our city boys are indeed
something altogether abnormal. If our primogenitor (as we have no
reason to doubt) surpassed the other primates of the animal kingdom
in strength as much as he still exceeds them in size, he must have been
fully able to hold his own against any beast of prey. Dr. Clarke Abel's
undoubtedly authentic description of an orang-outang hunt near Ran-
goon, on the northwest coast of Sumatra, reads like an episode from
the " Lay of the Nibelungen," rather than like the account of a con-
scientious and scientific observer. • AVith five bullets in his body, the
hairy half-man still leaped from ti-ee to tree with the agility of a pan-
ther, survived the fall of the last tree, and, though crippled by a shower
of blows, snatched a spear from the hands of his chief assailant and
broke it like a rotten stick. On his campaign against a horde of north-
ern barbarians, one of Trajan's generals attempted to scare, or at least
to astonish, the natives by shipping a troop of lions aci'oss the Danube.
But the children of Xature declined to marvel : " They mistook them
for dogs," says the historian, " and knocked their brains out." Even
after the middle of the fourteenth century the levy of a small German
burgh could turn out more athletes than the combined armies of the
present empire ; the Margrave of Nuremberg could at any time muster
ten thousand men, every one of whom was able to wear and use accou-
trements that would crush a so-called strong man of the present day.
In the armories of Vienna, Brunswick, and Strasburg there are coats
of mail which a modern porter would hesitate to shoulder without the
assistance of a comrade.

And yet these medifcval Samsons were the exclusive product of the
drill-ground ; physical vigor was not valued as the foimdation of health
and happiness, but rather as a means of military efticiency ; the guar-
dians of public education merely connived at such things ; and, when


the invention of gunpowder dirainislied the imj^ortance of personal
prowess, our anti-natural dogmas accomplished their tendency in the
rapid physical corruption of their devotees. The dull and gloomy
slavery of the monasteries was transferred to the management of all
educational institutions ; for several centuries the bodily rights of the
poor convent-pupils were not only disregarded but Avillfully depreci-
ated. Educational influences became the chief cause of physical de-
generacy, and the superficial ness of our reformatory measures proves
that we have not yet recognized the root of the evil.

But the voice of Nature has repqated its protest in the yearnings
of every new generation. Our children still long for out-door life, for
active exercise, for the free development of every bodily faculty ; and,
if we cease to suppress those instincts, the regenerative tendency of
Nature will soon assert itself, and the time may come when man will
be once more the physical as well as mental superior of his fellow-



ASIDE from the rich field for scientific research that the mineral
springs of Saratoga present to the student of natural phenomena,
the majority of the members of this Association are undoubtedly in-
terested to a greater or less extent in a product that forms, with many,

Online LibraryD. S. (David Samuel) MargoliouthThe Popular science monthly (Volume 19) → online text (page 3 of 110)