Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 42.djvu/838

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.



to the most useful and best-chosen ones. It is interesting, when we travel abroad, to observe the efforts made in different countries to reach this aim of rendering exercise attractive. It is also often curious to notice the ingenuity that is devoted to seeking for singular means of palliating the aridity and monotony of systematic exercises.

The pre-eminently recreative exercise is play. This natural gymnastics brings with it an attraction that animates the most indifferent and gives inspiration to the most phlegmatic. And what a contrast there is between pupils exercising in play and those upon whom a systematic gymnastics is imposed—between English school children, for example, and French! In France, to everybody's sorrow, the children seem to have a horror of motion. Left to themselves, as soon as they are out of the schoolroom, they walk along slowly in couples or gather in groups in the corners of the yard; and they pass the time in chatting, in "philosophizing." Gymnastics is obligatory, it is true, on some days and at certain hours; but a witness of the lesson will be struck with observing that hardly four or five pupils out of thirty execute their exercises conscientiously. The others present themselves in their turn, but hardly outline the movement. The professor incites them, urges them; and they go back to their places after having made an imitation of an effort. In the English colleges no regulation makes exercise obligatory, and every one is free to dispense with it or engage in it at will. But all give themselves up to it with incredible ardor. Weak and strong, young pupils or students twenty years old, all show an equal passion for those plays in the open air, now neglected in France, for which gymnastics has been so unfortunately substituted. To form an idea of the enthusiasm they display one should visit Eton or Harrow, Oxford or Cambridge, and see those immense lawns occupied after lunch by crowds of young men in the costume of the game, dividing into groups, forming into gangs, and organizing their parties without losing a minute. I have still in vision the spectacle of a game of football played in my presence by students of Cambridge. Nowhere else have I ever seen such enthusiasm and such spirit, such disregard of falls and blows. The play of ball as thus practiced might constitute in itself alone a complete means of physical education, so fully does it bring into action all the bodily qualities and all the active moral faculties of the players. What vigor in starting the ball, what agility in getting it and bearing it to the goal! What address also in avoiding the throng of opponents who would bar the passage, and what suppleness in gliding through their arms without losing the precious trophy! And if in the struggle the vanquished champion falls to the ground, we see him rebound like the ball itself, touching the turf and begin-