Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 21.djvu/135

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LITERARY NOTICES.

the childish nature to neglect those studies which are best suited to this stage of his unfolding faculties.

 


LITERARY NOTICES.

Physical Education; or, the Health Laws of Nature. By Felix L. Oswald, M.D. New York: D. Appleton & Co. Pp. 259. Price, $1.

The health papers contributed by Dr. Oswald to the "Monthly" during the past year, having been revised by the author, are now issued in a separate form, and, as we are glad to see, at a price which will favor their wide circulation. We call attention to some points of interest in this remarkable little book.

In the first place, it must be said that the author is no mere unpractical theorizer. He is a medical man of thorough preparation and large professional experience, and an extensively traveled student of nature and of men. While in charge of a military hospital at Vera Cruz, his own health broke down from long exposure in a malarial region, and he then struck for the Mexican mountains, where he became director of another medical establishment. He there spent eight years, making many excursions to explore the imperfectly known Mexican highlands, and he has given the results of his observations and adventures in his "Summerland Sketches," 5 one of the most interesting and instructive books of travel that has appeared in a long time.

Dr. Oswald has also journeyed extensively in Europe, South America, and the United States, and always as an open-eyed, absorbed observer of nature and of men. So active a career we might suppose not to be in the highest degree favorable to superior literary work, which we are accustomed to expect only from the devotees of scholarship, who concentrate themselves upon books in the solitude of their libraries. And yet Dr. Oswald's merits as a writer are of a very high order. He has a genius in the use of language which is less a result of cultivation than a gift of nature. He writes in a style that is at once crisp and incisive, easy and flowing. His vocabulary is prolific, and every word is the most felicitous for its place. There is

no halting and no dissonance in the musical rhythm of his periods, and there is not a weak or a faltering sentence to be found between the covers of the book on "Physical Education." He never spins out his passages, or plays with epithets for effect; and though the earnestness and ardor of expression often start the pulse, the strain of eloquence never breaks into rhetorical inflation. These traits are possessed by our author in a degree that places him, beyond question, among the few unrivaled masters of lucid idiomatic English.

In an age when the whole force of culture is thrown upon the art of effective expression, it is no easy task to reach preeminence in this field; but the interest of the case is heightened when we learn that Dr. Oswald is not an Englishman, and is not writing in his native speech, but in a foreign tongue. Macaulay, in his life of Frederick the Great, remarks, "No classic work, as far as I recollect, was ever composed by any man except in a dialect which he had learned without remembering how and when, and which he had spoken with perfect ease before he had ever analyzed its structure." The little book now before us will go far to refute this dictum of the great essayist. At any rate, we do not think the critic of the "Troy Press" is far from the truth when he declares that "Mr. Felix L. Oswald, of Cincinnati, is the cleanest writer of pure English on this continent."

But, though proficient to a rare degree in one of the most difficult arts, yet with Dr. Oswald this art is far from being an end in itself; he subordinates his gift of writing to a more serious purpose. It is by the breadth, beneficence, and vital urgency of this controlling purpose that the man is to be properly measured. With him the accomplishments of literary expression, like the facts and truths of science, only acquire their highest value as they are made tributary to human amelioration. By "physical education" he means not mere "gymnastics," as hitherto interpreted, but all hygienic and educative resources for the physical improvement and redemption of mankind. Though a man of many-sided culture, and a passionate lover of nature, and therefore with inexhaustible resources for his own mental gratification, yet Dr. Oswald is still more a