Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 18.djvu/480

This page has been validated.
464
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

chips and cubes in the coach-dog's stomach had not changed their form at all; the process of assimilation had not even begun! Railroad laborers, who bolt their dinner during a short interval of hard work, might as well pass their recess in a hammock; instead of strengthening them, their dinner will only oppress them, till it is digested, together with their supper, in the cool of the evening. In a manner essentially similar, mental activity tends to hinder the digestive process for a considerable time; and I believe, more especially, the digestion of the very substances that are often selected as brain-food par excellence. Even after a fashionable dinner of six or seven courses (curses, Dr. Abernethy used to call them), two hours of absolute rest will set our wits a-work again; but, if that time be passed behind a double-entry ledger, a feeling of lassitude, often combined with an almost resistless somnolence, will advise the brainworker that his vital energy is needed for other purposes. "I could eat with more comfort if it wasn't for the consciousness of having to hurry back to my drudgery," I heard a poor class-teacher say, and the same consciousness embitters the noonday-meal of millions of schoolchildren and overworked clerks.

Andrew Combe, M. D., informs us that a century ago the tradesmen of Edinburgh used to indulge in a "nooning," a general suspension of business for two hours, in the middle of the day. But an hour or so was thus probably spent in going home and back, dressing, etc., and half an hour at the meal itself; so that, after all, only thirty minutes remained for digestion; and, considering the anachronism of that nooning practice, the best plan, on the whole, would seem to be a general return to the method of the ancient Romans, who postponed their principal meal till their day's work was done. It would be an insult to common sense and humanity to doubt that the eight-hour system will ultimately prevail, and, where it has been already adopted, I can see no reason why mechanics could not arrange to finish their day's job at 4 p. m. Schools should always close at four. Bankers and government clerks often get home before that time, and competitive shopkeepers might carry on their business by relays. At half-past four, or, say, five o'clock, the coena domestica might begin, conclude before six; then dolce far niente, pleasant conversation, and four blessed hours for digestion.

But that principal meal should be the last. It is an important rule that we should digest our food thoroughly before we replenish the stomach. To counteract the effects of overeating, the gluttons of ancient Rome used emetics, the Parisian gastronomes stimulants. Dr. Alcott wants us to "leave off hungry"; the exponents of the movement-cure prescribe a certain system of gymnastic evolutions before and after dinner. But there is a better plan: Lengthen the interval between meals. Two meals a day are enough, perhaps more than enough, though we can accustom ourselves to swallow (not digest) five