Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 18.djvu/317

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303
PHYSICAL EDUCATION.

PHYSICAL EDUCATION.
By FELIX L. OSWALD, M. D.
DIET.

"Blessed are the pure, for they can follow their inclinations with impunity."

UNNATURAL food is the principal cause of human degeneration. It is the oldest vice. If we reflect upon the number of ruinous dietetic abuses, and their immemorial tyranny over the larger part of the human race, we are tempted to eschew all symbolical interpretations of the paradise legend, and to ascribe the fall of mankind literally and exclusively to the eating of forbidden food. From century to century the same cause has multiplied the sum of our earthly ills. Substances which Nature never intended for the food of man have come to form a principal part of our diet; caustic spices torture our digestive organs; we ransack every clime for noxious weeds and intoxicating fluids; from twenty to thirty-five per cent, of our breadstuffs are yearly wasted on the distillation of a life-consuming fire; vegetable poisons, inorganic poisons, and all kinds of indigestible compounds enslave our appetites, and among the Caucasian nations of the present age an unexampled concurrence of causes has made a passive submission to that slavery the habitual condition.

Dietetic abuses, alone, would amply account for all our "ailments and pains, in form, variety, and degree beyond description"; the vitality of the human race would, indeed, have long succumbed to their combined influence, if their effects were not counteracted by the reconstructive tendency of Nature. Every birth is an hygienic regeneration. The constitutional defects which degenerate parents transmit to their offspring are modified by the inalienable bequest of an elder world—the redeeming instincts which our All-mother grants to every new child of earth. Individuals may deprave these instincts till their functions are entirely usurped by the cravings of a vicious appetency, but this perversion is never hereditary; Nature has ordained that all her children should begin the pilgrimage of life from beyond the point where the roads of misery and happiness diverge. As the golden age, the happy childhood of the human race returns in the morning of every life, the normal type of our primogenitor asserts itself athwart the morbid influences of all intermediate generations; the regenesis of every new birth brings mankind back from vice to innocence, from mysticism to realism, from ghost-land to earth. For a time those better instincts thwart the influence of miseducation as persistently as confirmed vices afterward thwart the success of reformatory measures; but, if the work of correct physical culture were begun in time, our innate propensities