Health and beauty by Caplin/Chapter III

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WE will next suppose that Baby has been short-coated, and has attained sufficient muscular strength to preserve the erect position whilst sitting in its nurse's arms. Now is the time when its dress becomes a matter of very serious consideration, as the bones are now attaining something like solidity, and any deviation from the proper position of the body will day by day become more difficult to remedy. If the same influences of which I have before spoken be continued, the spine will even at this early age show symptoms of yielding; the natural curves of the verte­bral column will be more or less distorted, the shoulders will pre­sent a rounded appearance, and the size and form of the chest have undergone injurious modification. The weight of the child by this time will become too great to permit of its constant carriage in the nurse's or the mother's arms, and it is therefore too frequently seated in a chair sufficiently high to enable it to reach the table. In front of the chair a bar is placed for the purpose of guarding against the possi­bility of a fall. The child is thus literally forced into a certain position, and its playthings being put before it, it will naturally reach forward to grasp them. Now mark the result. The roundness of the shoulders and projection of the scapula are increased by the forward motion of the baby's arms; and if heavy substances are given it to play with, their weight, at the end of these levers, adds to the injury, while the chest being pressed against the transverse bar is driven inwards, with a force proportioned to the infant's exertions; so that the more active and energetic the child, the greater is the injury done. All this while the feet are resting on a board placed underneath them, the lower extremities being thus impeded in their movements, the head falls more and more forward, the muscles of the back are weakened and elongated, while those of the chest derive considerable strength from their constant exercise; the clavicles are unable to support the shoulders in their proper position, and therefore bend, or are forced from their natural situation; the cavity of the chest is diminished, and the founda­tion of numerous disorders is laid.

We cannot help in this place adverting to the habit so frequently adopted by nursery maids, of dragging the child by the arm during the process of teaching it to walk. The unhappy infant is consigned to the care of an inexperienced nursemaid, who, in her anxiety to pass a crossing, seizes the baby by the hand, and literally drags it across, regardless of the child's feet not touching the ground. The poor baby stumbles in its passage over the rough ground, and the nurse being engaged in preserving herself from the probability of being run over by the cabs or omnibuses which are constantly passing, rushes across, and at the end of her unnecessary journey beats the poor infant for its clumsi­ness. By this practice the shoulder of the child may be dislocated, or the clavicle broken, while the spine becomes completely distorted. The same thing will sometimes occur with boys who, when very young, are taken out for a walk by their parents. The father walks on with long and rapid strides, holding the child by the hand, and as he does not consider that his step is much longer than that of his offspring, he tells the child to "step out, like papa." The boy endeavours to obey, and the result is, that the pelvis becomes ricketty and deformed. The late lamented· Thomas Hood, whose sagacity nothing escaped, has in one of his Comic Annuals given a good illustration of this subject, by a wood engraving entitled "A Step Father," in which he represents a poor child being dragged along in the manner I speak of.

Let us now suppose that the period has arrived for the education of the girl, who in her infancy has been subjected to the injurious influ­ences against which we have endeavoured to warn our readers; and let us consider whether the course of education ordinarily pursued is calcu­lated to correct or to increase the evils already described. It unfor­tunately often happens that precocity of mind is allied with physical weakness; and" this may be accounted for by the fact, that in a child brought up without the necessary exercise of the muscles, the blood so constantly forced from the heart is carried to the brain, which is thereby stimulated to undue exertion. Indications of extraordinary mental ability are thus engendered, and the delighted parents, solacing them­selves with the belief that time will work wonders in their daughter's behalf, and that her mental powers will compensate for her physical debility, determine on sending her to boarding-school, in order that her mind may be properly cultivated—forgetful or ignorant of the wise maxim enunciated by the ancient philosopher, who truly said that a sound mind could only exist in a healthy body. Fond, though mis­takenly fond as the mother may be, she cheerfully parts with her child, and consigns her to the care of strangers, at a period when all her efforts should have been directed to the repression of what we may truly call a morbid cerebral activity. The Business of a child is play, and this is proved by its anxiety to relieve the monotony of study by a hearty laugh, or a healthy scamper through the fields. Believe me, that children should not be compelled to study, until the equilibrium between the body and mind has been perfectly established; and the instances in which an infant prodigy has in maturer years fulfilled the promise of its youth are few indeed. No! they have been like hot­house plants, forced to yield their blossoms before the time for flowering had arrived, and whilst their hardier but later neighbours are strong and healthy, these victims of early culture are falling into decay, and repay­ing the pains taken in their development by an early death. *[1]

Arrived at school, let us now inquire into the method by which these latent energies and talents are to be matured. To do this effectually, it will be necessary to review the means and appliances which are brought to bear upon female education; and in doing this we are well aware that many ladies conducting such establishments are unremitting in their endeavours to promote the health and happiness of their pupils, and attribute many of the evils of that system to the extreme anxiety of parents to see their children eclipse their fellow students by the multiplicity and brilliancy of their acquirements. The conductors of schools are therefore, from pecuniary motives, compelled to gratify the vanity of the parents, though their own feelings might prompt them to relax the discipline, and afford leisure for more healthful physical exercise. It is due to the accomplished members of the scholastic profession to say thus much, as we all know the difficulty—­nay, the impossibility—of conforming to all the whims which are dictated by parental solicitude.

The first evil to be complained of in large educational establishments is the crowding together of a great number of children in small or insufficiently ventilated apartments. If a fresh supply of pure air be not constantly admitted, the carbon given off from the thirty or forty pairs of lungs accumulates, and is respired over and over again; the children become listless, and complain of headache and a sensation of tightness across the chest. Most adults are familiar with this feeling after sitting for some time in a crowded church or theatre; and it is so common in the latter place as to have acquired the title of "a playhouse headache." The dormitories of schools are also often insufficiently ven­tilated, in consequence of a very unnecessary apprehension of the ill effects of fresh air, which, if introduced freely and without draughts, never did, and never will do any injury. Children are also generally put two in a bed-a practice which we do not approve, but which cannot always be avoided. Where this is the case they should change sides every night; as, from their natural dislike to breathing in each other's faces, they will, if this be not attended to, contract the habit of always lying on the same side, and the weight of the arm above will compress the ribs in the manner which I have before described.

On rising in the morning, the young ladies are expected to be out of bed the moment the bell rings, and in a short time another imperative tinkle summons them to prayers in the school-room. The child is obliged to make her appearance at the wonted moment. Bills of pains and penalties are not only known in the outer world, but may be found also in a Ladies' Boarding School. Each drowsy pupil, in order to avoid the consequences of being too late, huddles on her clothes as rapidly as possible, and as for the corset, or bodice, which is supposed to be for the purpose of keeping its wearer erect, it is either not laced at all, or is laced in such an uneven manner that it had better not be worn at all. In our corsets all this is impossible; the fastening is in front, and they can be put on in one minute, so that, if the time for a young lady's dressing be circumscribed, she will not be compelled to neglect the ornamental part of her toilet. By this means also deformity is avoided, and ease and comfort secured, as the corset can never fail to fit properly.

It has often occurred to us that it would be an excellent thing to have a competent dresser in every large establishment. Sufficient time should be allowed for the operation, the child be taught to stand in a proper position, and the whole toilet well arranged, so as to require no shifting, twitching, and shuffling, during the day. Not only the com­fort, but the ability of the child to maintain a perfectly upright and natural position, will depend much upon the proper adaptation and arrangements of its clothing.

The next thing to complain of in Ladies' Schools is the length of time allotted at one period to study. The heaviness of the atmosphere just spoken of, and the rigid silence maintained, broken only by the voice of the teacher, or the apathetic drone of some lazily-repeated and imper­fectly-known lesson, create a lassitude which induces the children to place themselves in all kinds of awkward positions, for the purpose of resting the muscles which keep the neck and spine erect. Being seated on forms without backs, the children cannot accomplish this by leaning backward, and they therefore place one or both elbows on the desk, and rest on them the weight of the head and trunk. Here the erroneous mode of dressing, which at this time is so generally adopted, seriously adds to the evils occasioned by this habit. When a girl is sent to school the mother insists on dressing her daughter in the same fashion and with the same materials as herself. Does the mother wear flounces, the child must also present an equal number of rows, ascending in terraced regularity from the hem of the dress to the waist. No matter that the mother may be a strong healthy woman, and her offspring weak and delicate—the same stuff must be used for the dress of one as for that of the other, and nearly the same number of widths be put in the skirt. The same mode of tying the petticoats round the waist is employed, in utter contempt of the fact, that the strong muscles of the mother will enable her to carry a weight with comparative impunity which would crush the tender frame of the child. This, combined with other causes, induces that poking of the head from which few young ladies are free. The weight of the clothes is not supported on the clavicle, but upon the upper part of the arm itself, pinioning it to the side, and render­ing it impossible to lift the hands above the head; and this inconvenience is increased by the dress not being sufficiently long in the side seam from the arm-pit to the waist. The sleeves are also invariably made too long on the shoulder and too tight in the arm-holes, causing the shoulders to become unnaturally large and heavy, while the arms and hands are prevented from receiving their proper nutriment. As the child grows the bones increase in size and weight, their nutrition being independent of motion; not so, however, with the muscles, which must be constantly kept in action to secure their due development. As will be at once seen, this action cannot be attained under the process of pinioning; the muscles will not grow in proportion to the bones, and will therefore soon become incapable of sustaining their weight. The girl, of course, stoops forward, the clavicles are bent, the scapulæ stick out, and the tops of the dress and the whole of the under-clothing coming underneath their points, lift them up and retain them in their unnatural position. Many parents have their children's dresses made so loose as to permit of the passage of the hand round the waist, between the body and the clothing, not remembering that without some point of support the clothes would fall off; but if the clothing were so con­structed as to take the outline of the body, and the material suited to the age of the child, the weight of the upper part bearing on the shoul­der, and the skirt on the hip, we should have the weight of the clothing distributed over the whole of the body, and not upon points only, while the bones and muscles would grow together in equal proportion. The following evils are occasioned by neglect of these precautions: Crane neck; round, protruding, and raised shoulders—one higher than the other; head twisted to one side to preserve the centre of gravity; double lateral curvature of the spine and distortion of pelvis; compres­sion of the chest, with its concomitants, difficult breathing, constipated bowels, flushings of the face, red nose, and cutaneous eruptions. Strange that due allowance is not made by parents in estimating the relative muscular power of themselves and their children! It cannot be from ignorance, as nobody would start a two-year old colt for a race with a weight on his back equal to that carried by a full-grown horse, but would apportion the burden to his size and strength. Why should not

children be treated in a similarly sensible manner? This would cer­tainly be the case if parents would abandon the habit of considering those things trifles which do not produce immediate deformity, forgetful that "trifles make perfection, and perfection is no trifle." In most cases of spinal deviation it will be found that the column yields on the right side, and the cause of this may be traced to a very early period. In infancy the child is taught to use the right hand in preference to the left; and when it can sit at table and use a knife and fork and spoon, it is corrected should it attempt to cut its meat with the left hand, or to employ it in raising the food to its lips. Now, in order to produce equilibrium of the body the muscles of both sides should receive an equal amount of exercise, and this can be accomplished by teaching the child to use both hands indiscriminately, which it would soon do with perfect facility. As the child grows up the right foot will always accompany the right hand, as may be seen by watching it pick a pin from the ground. The right foot will be advanced, the right arm stretched forward, and in stooping the body will be twisted, and the whole of its weight thrown upon the right leg. When fatigued with long standing it naturally rests itself on this side, the weight falling on the right foot, which loses its arched form and becomes elongated, while the length of the limb is sensibly diminished. I have seen cases in which the right leg has become much shorter than the left, entirely from persistence in this inelegant habit. A short time ago a child was brought to me whose foot was quite flattened, every vestige of its arches having been destroyed; and although not strictly ­within the sphere of my practice, I consented, at the entreaty of the mother, who is one of my patronesses, to try if the foot could be re­stored to its proper shape. A shoemaker was sent for to measure it for a pair of boots, and we purposely let him take the length of the left foot first. On proposing that he should try the right also, he said it was unnecessary, as one measure would do for both; but we persisted, and he found, to his surprise, that the right foot was fully half an inch longer than the other. On placing my finger under the sale of the foot, and pressing upwards, the arched form was restored, and the foot reduced to the same length as its fellow. Proper means were adopted, the child is now rapidly improving, and, I have no doubt, will ultimately recover. So much for the good that may be effected by the study of a simple law of mechanics.

  1. * "The mind ought never to be cultivated at the expense of the body. Physical education ought to precede that of the intellect, and then proceed simultaneously with it, without cultivating one faculty to the neglect of others; for health is the base, and instruction the ornament of education."—Spurzheim.