Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 13.djvu/149

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THE AGE OF GYMNASTICS.

estant, but a gloomy ascetic nevertheless, passed the last week of his life on the mountain-farm of his brother, an honest farmer, who had never left the paternal manse. One evening, two days before the chancellor's death, his biographer tells us, the brothers were sitting on a rustic bench, on the edge of a mountain-lawn, where the boys of the farmer were disporting themselves, running races, shouting in the joy of exuberant health, or resting arm-in-arm at the foot of an old beech tree, in the interacts of their play. While the chancellor watched their sports, a vision was haunting his inner eye: the dreary college of Upsala, and two pale-faced students, whose features resembled or had resembled his own. Staggering suddenly to his feet he drew a dagger from its sheath and handed it to his brother, with the words, "Cut my throat, Hendrick—I cannot stand that any longer!" "What's the matter?" said the old farmer, smiling; "are you in such a hurry to go to h—? If Dr. Hochstratten" (a Catholic controversialist) "is right, you will get there soon enough!" "Better be there," said the chancellor, grimly, "than in the other place, where I might meet my sons. How can I answer for the earthly paradise they have lost through my fault? What have I robbed them of!"

Open-air labor is the most effective cosmetic, an almost infallible panacea against all kinds of bodily deformity. But the remedial virtue of labor, i. e., sound bodily exercise, is greater than that of open-air life per se, for among the rustic population of Scandinavia, Scotland, and Northern Germany, who perform a large portion of their hard work in-doors, we frequently find models of health and vigor; far more frequently than among the inhabitants of Italy, Spain, etc., who pass the greater part of their indolent lives in open air.

But, besides all this, athletic exercises have a moral value, which our social reformers have strangely failed to recognize; they afford a diversion and a vent to those animal energies which otherwise are sure to explode in debauch and all kind of vicious excesses. The sympathetic thrill by which the mind accompanies a daring gymnastic feat and the enthusiasm of athletic contests form the most salutary and perhaps the only normal gratification of that love of excitement which is either the legitimate manifestation of a healthy instinct, or else a wholly irremediable disease of our nature. The soul needs emotions as the body needs exercise, and the exciting sports of the palæstra met both wants at once. We try to suppress these instincts, but their motives remain, and if thwarted in their normal manifestations they assert themselves in some abnormal way, chemically instead of mechanically, as Dr. Boerhaave would say; by convulsing the organs of digestion, since the organs of motion are kept in unbearable inactivity. In times of scarcity the paupers of China and Siam silence the clamors of their hungry children by dosing them with opium; and for analogous reasons millions of our fellow-citizens seek relief in alcohol: they want to benumb a feeling which they cannot satisfy in a healthier way.