Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 26.djvu/29

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MIND AND THE NERVOUS SYSTEM.

subject them. But no such fostering care does the State take of the brains of the young. There are no laws to prevent the undeveloped nervous system being overtasked and brought to disease or even absolute destruction. Every physician sees cases of the kind, and wonders how parents of intelligence can be so blind to the welfare of their offspring as to force or even to allow their brains to be worked to a degree that in many cases results in idiocy or death. Only a few months ago I saw for the first time a boy of five years of age, with a large head, a prominent forehead, and all the other signs of mental precocity. He had read the first volume of Bryant's "History of the United States," and was preparing to tackle the other volumes! He read the magazines of the day with as much interest as did his father, and conversed with equal facility on the politics of the period. But a few weeks before I saw him he had begun to walk in his sleep, then chorea had made its appearance, and on the day before he was brought to me he had had a well-marked epileptic paroxysm. Already his mind is weakened—perhaps permanently so. Such cases are not isolated ones. They are continually occurring.

The period of early childhood—say up to seven or eight years of age—is that during which the brain and other parts of the nervous system are most actively developing, in order to fit them for the great work before them. It is safe to say that the only instruction given during this time should be that which consists in teaching children how to observe. The perceptive faculties alone should be made the subjects of systematic attempts at development. The child should be taught how to use its senses, and especially how to see, hear, and touch. In this manner knowledge would be acquired in the way that is pre-eminently the natural way, and ample food would be furnished for the child's reflective powers.

And now I must bring these remarks to a close, although there is a great deal yet that, were there time, and I were not afraid of wearying you, I should be glad to say. One point, however, must not be overlooked, and that is, the occasion that enables me to come before you at all. It is not likely that the world, and especially Pennsylvania, will ever forget the wise man who laid the foundations of this institution of learning. It is not yet venerable by age, but, when it counts as many centuries of existence as it now counts years, the name of Asa Packer will stand first among those that it will delight to honor. More than forty years ago, when I was a boy in Harrisburg, and he was a State Senator from Northampton County, I knew him well, and his personal appearance and manner are firmly fixed in my mind as he was then, a man of perhaps thirty-five to forty years of age. I recollect that upon one occasion I met him at the corner of Market and Third Streets, as he was on his way to the Capitol, and that he invited me to walk with him to the building. I was then a school-boy, and he questioned me very closely in regard to the profession I proposed