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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 18.djvu/477

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PHYSICAL EDUCATION.

in homœopathic doses to prevent surfeit, but respecting such stuff (Limburger, caviare, etc., I would say, as of spices and alcohol), abstinence is better than temperance. In convivial neighborhoods sporadic cases of surfeit are almost as unavoidable as Christmas dinners and school picnics; but their effects are as transient as their causes. For children, a nearly infallible peptic corrective is a fast day passed in cheerful out-door exercise. By a curious law of periodicity, the mind will stray to the dining-room when the wonted meal-time comes around, even if genuine appetite does not return with that hour, but fishing, hunting, and ball-playing divert our thoughts from such channels, and, returning late in the evening from a good day's sport, the periodicity of bedroom-thoughts, aided by fatigue, overcomes the latent craving for food without the least effort. Try the experiment.

Want of appetite is not always a morbid symptom, nor even a sign of imperfect digestion. Nature may have found it necessary to muster all the energies of our system for some special purpose, momentarily of paramount importance. Organic changes and repairs, teething, pleuritic epurations, and the external elimination of bad humors (boils, etc.), are often attended with a temporary suspension of the alimentary process. The instinct of domestic animals thus generally counteracts the influence of abnormal circumstances. As a rule, it is always the safest plan to give Nature her own way, and was thus proved even in the extreme cases of more than one bona fide fasting girl, whose system, for recondite reasons of its own, preferred to subsist on air for weeks and months together.

In regard to the quality of food, too, there are intuitive dislikes which should not be disregarded, because they can not always be accounted for. I do not say likes and dislikes; a child's whimsical desire to treat innutritious or injurious substances as comestibles should certainly not be encouraged as long as its hunger can be appeased with less suspicious aliments. For it is a curious fact that all unnatural practices—the eating of indigestible matter as well as of poisons—are apt to excite a morbid appetency akin to the stimulant habit. The human stomach can be accustomed to the most preposterous things. The Otomacs, of South America, whose forefathers in times of scarcity may have filled their bellies with loam, are now afflicted with a national penchant for swallowing inorganic substances. In New Caledonia, habitués often eat as much as two pounds of ferruginous clay a day, and a similar stuff is sold in the markets of Bolivia, and finds eager purchasers, even when better comestibles are cheaper. Professor Ehrenberg procured a sample of this clay which was supposed to contain organic admixtures or some kind of fat; but his analysis proved that it consists of talc, mica, and a little oxide of iron. According to Malte-Brun, the Lisbon lazzaroni chew all day long the insipid, leathery kernels of the carob-bean (Mimosa silica), and the most popular "chewing-gum" is said to be composed chiefly (not entirely, I