Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 13.djvu/236

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tone; but to enter the colt for the race, to bloom and seed the young plant, or to put the young male to the stud, is to stint their growth and to exhaust their vigor. Precocity is gained at the cost of feeble maturity and early decay. And yet, can the young brain grow, cell add itself to cell, and fibre knit itself to fibre, without work and play? Can the slack sinew be braced, or the muscle which is idle be increased? To this I would reply that the activity which feeds the waxing strand and ganglion is rather receptive than productive.[1] It is easy to forget how the child and the youth drink in knowledge and virtue imperceptibly as the green leaves spread themselves and feed upon the air. By an equable tide flowing in from every side—by the channels of the senses, by the universal surface of the skin—the inner chambers of the nervous system are expanded, and stored with riches for future profusion. The mischief done daily by calling upon the unripe brain for productive work, for original composition,[2] for competitive examinations, for teaching, and even for preaching, is calamitous, and the evil is increasing. The impatient examinations of young children are as injurious and as foolish as the searching of the roots of the pushing plant. Cram, again, is that which secures the immediate production of brain-results rather than the growth of the brain itself; and it must be thrusting itself upon the vision of all but the moon-struck, that young men who are prize-winners at the ages even of eighteen or twenty years have too often spent their brains before the natural yielding-time. Too often the star of their year is quenched ere their course be well begun, and if their life be not henceforth a failure it may fall far short of its early promise; and the brain which might have been year by year more flexible, more potent, and more enterprising, is warped, stiffened, and staled. Such young men are now sent into the world in numbers, with minds orderly, trim, and garnished, but without élan, and without initiative—admirable clerks and formalists—but as men of action spoiled forever.

Pupil-teachers, again, present a curious subject for observation, and a sad one. Called upon as children to teach children, their brains turn backward, or stop at the stage they have attained, and the living stream of thought is congealed into a dead dogmatism. Their minds, no longer open to the dew of knowledge from above, are bent to the work of churning vapid juices for yet callower nurslings. Nor is this all: the striving and jaded brain sucks the kindly sap from the rest of the body, and the weaker sex more especially tend in their years of puberty to become pallid and enfeebled, or to break down altogether between the rival claims of mind and body. Other cases, of which my note-books are full, are those in which brain-power is run low in youth by the untimely pressure of business and of heavy responsibilities. A father

  1. That receptiveness of brain, its play and its productiveness, are but various degrees of function I do not forget, but few differences of degree are more clearly distinguishable.
  2. I believe in many schools mere children are ordered to write "original" essays on set subjects.