Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 19.djvu/17

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PHYSICAL EDUCATION.

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

"Force begets Fortitude and conquers Fortune."—Helvetius.

PHYSICAL vigor is the basis of all moral and bodily welfare, and a chief condition of permanent health. Like manly strength and female purity, gymnastics and temperance should go hand in hand. An effeminate man is half sick; without the stimulus of physical exercise, the complex organism of the human body is liable to disorders which abstinence and chastity can only partly counteract. By increasing the action of the circulatory system, athletic sports promote the elimination of effete matter and quicken all the vital processes till languor and dyspepsia disappear like rust from a busy plowshare. "When I reflect on the immunity of hard-working people from the effects of wrong and overfeeding," says Dr. Boerhaave, "I can not help thinking that most of our fashionable diseases might be cured mechanically instead of chemically, by climbing a bitterwood-tree or chopping it down, if you like, rather than swallowing a decoction of its disgusting leaves." The medical philosopher, Asclepiades, Pliny tells us, had found that health could be preserved, and if lost, restored, by physical exercise alone, and not only discarded the use of internal remedies, but made a public declaration that he would forfeit all claim to the title of a physician if he should ever fall sick or die but by violence or extreme old age. Asclepiades kept his word, for he lived upward of a century, and died from the effects of an accident. He used to prescribe a course of gymnastics for every form of bodily ailment, and the same physic might be successfully applied to certain moral disorders, incontinence, for instance, and the incipient stages of the alcohol-habit. It would be a remedy ad principium, curing the symptoms by removing the cause, for some of the besetting vices of youth can with certainty be ascribed to an excess of that potential energy which finds no outlet in the functions of our sedentary mode of life. In large cities parents owe their children a provision for a frequent opportunity of active exercise, as they owe them an antiseptic diet in a malarious climate.

Nor can this obligation be evaded by depreciating the importance of physical culture as distinct from that of the mental faculties. For the term of their earthly pilgrimage the human body and the most immortal soul are more inseparable and more interdependent than the horse and its rider: a Centaur would hardly have promoted his higher interests by neglecting the equine part of his person. "I have sinned against my brother, the Ass," said St. Francis, when the abuse of his