Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 19.djvu/383

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369
HOW TO PREVENT DROWNING.

HOW TO PREVENT DROWNING.
By HENRY MacCORMAC.

I WISH to show how drowning might, under ordinary circumstances, be avoided, even in the case of persons otherwise wholly ignorant of what is called the art of swimming. The numerous frightful casualties render every working suggestion of importance, and that which I here offer I venture to think is entirely available.

When one of the inferior animals takes the water, falls or is thrown in, it instantly begins to walk as it does when out of the water. But, when a man who can not "swim" falls into the water, he makes a few spasmodic struggles, throws up his arms, and drowns. The brute, on the other hand, treads water, remains on the surface, and is virtually insubmergible. In order, then, to escape drowning, it is only necessary to do as the brute does, and that is to tread or walk the water. The brute has no advantage in regard of his relative weight, in respect of the water, over man, and yet the man perishes while the brute lives. Nevertheless, any man, any woman, any child who can walk on the land may also walk in the water, just as readily as the animal does, if only he will, and that without any prior instruction or drilling whatever. Throw a dog into the water, and he treads or walks the water instantly, and there is no imaginable reason why a human being under like circumstances should not do as the dog does.

The brute, indeed, walks in the water instinctively, whereas the man has to be told. The ignorance of so simple a possibility, namely, the possibility of treading water, strikes me as one of the most singular things in the history of man, and speaks very little indeed for his intelligence. He is, in fact, as ignorant on the subject as is the newborn babe. Perhaps something is to be ascribed to the vague meaning which is attached to the word swim. When a man swims it means one thing, when a dog swims it means another and quite a different act. The dog is wholly incapable of swimming as a man swims, but nothing is more certain than that a man is capable of swimming, and on the instant, too, as a dog swims, without any previous training or instruction, and that, by so doing without fear or hesitancy, he will be just as safe in the water as the dog is.

The brute in the water continues to go on all-fours, and the man who wishes to save his life, and can not otherwise swim, must do so too, striking alternately, one two, one two, but without hurry or precipitation, with hand and foot, exactly as the brute does. Whether he be provided with paw or hoof, the brute swims with the greatest ease and buoyancy. The human being, if he will, can do so too, with the further immense advantage of having a paddle-formed hand, and