Physical Education . . .

PHYSICAL EDUCATION AND THE PRESERVATION OF HEALTH. By John C. Warren, M.D. Professor of Anatomy and Surgery in Harvard University. Boston, William D. Ticknor & Co. 1846.

TREATISE ON THE PHYSIOLOGICAL AND MORAL MANAGEMENT OF INFANCY. By ANDREW COMBE, M.D. &c. with Notes and a Supplementary Chapter, by JOHN BELL, M.D. &c. Fourth Edition. New-York, Saxton & Miles, Saxton & Huntington, 1846.

  This Lecture of Dr. Warren is printed in a form suitable for popular distribution, while the high reputation of its author insures it respect. Men will expect to find there those rules for daily practice, the plain common sense which men should possess from Nature, but strangely lose, amid their many inventions, and are obliged to rediscover by aid of experience and science.

  There will be found those general statements as to modes of exercise, care of the skin, choice of food and time and circumstances required for its digestion, that might furnish the ounce of prevention that is worth so many pounds of cure. And how much are they needed in this country, where the most barbarous ignorance prevails on the subject of cleanliness, sleeping accommodations, &c. On these subjects improvement would be easy—that of diet is far more complicated, and is, unfortunately, one which it requires great knowledge of the ways in which the human frame is affected by the changes of climate and various other influences, even to discuss. If it is difficult where a race mostly indigenous to the soil feed upon what Mother Nature has prepared expressly for their use, and where excess or want of judgment in its use produces disease, it must be far more so, where men come from all latitudes to live under new circumstances, and need a judicious adaptation of the old to the new. The dogmatism and proscription that prevail on this topic amuse the observer and distress the patient.—“Touch no meat for your life,” says one. “It is not meat but sugar that is your ruin,” cries another. “No! salt is the ruin of the world,” sadly and gravely declares a third. Milk, which once conciliated all regards, has its denunciators. “Water,” say some, “is the bliss that shall dissolve all bane. Drink—wash—take to yourself all the water you can get.” “That is madness! is far worse than useless,” cry others, “unless the water be pure. You must touch none that has not been tested by a chemist.” “Yes! you may, at any rate, drink it,” say others, “and in large quantities, for the power of water to aid digestion is obvious to every observer.”

  “No,” says Dr. Warren. “Animals do not drink at the time they eat, but some hours after, and they generally take very small quantities of liquid, compared with that which is used by man. The savage in his native wilds takes his solid food, when he can obtain it, to satiety, reposes afterwards, and then resuming his chase through the forest, stops at the rivulet to allay his thirst. The disadvantage of taking a large quantity of liquid must be obvious to all those who consider that the digesting liquid is diluted and weakened in proportion to the quantity of drink.”

  What wonder is it, if even the well disposed among the multitude, seeing such dissension among the counselors, gathering just enough from their disputes to infer that they have no true philosophical tests for their opinions, and seeing those who would set the example in practice of this art without science of dietetics, generally among the most morbid and ill-developed specimens of humanity, just throw aside all rule upon the subject, partake of what is set before them, trust to air, exercise, and good intentions to ward off the worst effects of the promiscuous fare.

  Yet, while hopeless at present of selecting the right articles and building up a pure and healthful body, so far at least as hereditary taint will permit, from feeding on congenial substances, we know at least this much, that stimulants, not food, and over-eating are injurious, and may take care enough of ourselves to avoid these.

  The other branches we can really act wisely in. Dr. Warren after giving the usual directions (rarely followed as yet) for airing beds and sleeping-rooms, adds:

  “The manner in which children sleep, will readily be acknowledged to be important, yet very little attention is paid to this matter. Children are crowded together in small and unventilated rooms, often two or three in a bed, and on beds composed of half prepared feathers, from which issues a noxious effluvia, infecting the child at a period when he is least able to resist its influence. So that in the morning, instead of feeling the full refreshment and vigor natural to the age, he is pale, languid, and for some time indisposed to exertion.

  “The rooms in which children are brought up, should be well aired, by having a fire-place, which should be kept open the greater part of the year.—There never should be more than one in the same bed, and this remark may be applied with equal propriety to adults. The substance on which they lie should be hair, thoroughly prepared, so that it shall have no bad smell; in Winter it may be of cotton, or of hair and cotton. It would be very desirable, however, whenever practicable, to place them in separate apartments, as well as separate beds.

  “It has been justly said, that adults as well as children had better employ single instead of double beds; this remark is intended to apply universally. The use of double beds has been very generally adopted in this country, perhaps in part as a matter of economy, but this practice is objectionable for more reasons than can be stated here.”

  On the subject of exercise he mentions particularly the Triangle, and we copy what he says because of the perfect ease and convenience with which one could be put up and used in every bedchamber.

  “The exercising the upper limbs is too much neglected, and it is important to provide the means of bringing them into action, as well to develope their powers, as to enlarge and invigorate the chest, with which they are connected, and which they powerfully influence. The best I know of is the use of the triangle. This admirably exerts the upper limbs and the muscles of the chest, and, indeed, when adroitly employed, those of the whole body. The triangle is made of a stick of walnut wood, four feet long, an inch and a half in diameter. To each end is connected a rope, the opposite extremities of which being confined together, are secured to the ceiling of a room, at such hight as to allow the motion of swinging by the hands.”

  We have ourselves derived the greatest benefit from this simple means. Gymnastic exercises, and if possible in the open air, are needed by every one who is not otherwise led to exercise all parts of the body by various kinds of labor. And in this connection we would mention the rooms for Calisthenic exercises now opened by Mrs. Hawley in this city. She is a good instructor, and we wish her rooms may become the haunt of those ladies who need to improve in grace, strength and health. Some, though almost as partial provision, is made for boys by gymnasia and riding schools. In wiser nations such have been the care of the State. And in despotic Governments, the jealousy of a tyrant was never more justly awakened than when the youth of the land, by a devotion to gymnastic exercises showed their aspiration to reach the healthful stature of manhood. For every one who possesses a strong mind in a sane body is heir presumptive to the kingdom of this world: he needs no external credentials, but has only to appear and make his title clear. But for such a princely form the eye searches the street, the mart, and the council-chamber, in vain.

  Those who feel as if the game of life was so near up with them that they could not devote much of the time that is left to the care of wise living in their own persons, should, at least, be unwilling to injure the next generation by the same ignorance which has blighted so many of us in our earliest years. Such should attend to this work of Mr. Combe, among other good books. Mr. Combe has done much good already in this country, and this book should be circulated every where, for many of its suggestions are too obviously just not to be adopted as soon as read. Dr. Warren bears his testimony against the pernicious effects that follow upon the use of tobacco, and we cannot but hope that what he says of its tendency to create cancer will have weight with some who are given up to the detestable practice of chewing. This practice is odious to women, that we must regard its prevalence here as a token of the very light regard in which they are held, and the consequent want of refinement among men. Dr. Warren seems to favor the practice of Hydropathy to some extent, but must needs bear his testimony in full against Homoepathy. No matter; the little doses will insinuate their way, and cure the ills that flesh is heir to,

“For a’ that, and a’ that,
And mickle mair than a’ that.”


“Physical Education . . . ,” New-York Daily Tribune, 19 January 1846, p. 1.