Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 18.djvu/599

This page has been validated.

scream from morning till night. Forty per cent, of all children born in certain manufacturing districts of Belgium and Great Britain die before the end of the second year. They are swaddled, of course; they must not crawl around, and bother people; and "paregoric" does the rest: the child cries for liberty, and receives death. Opiates are sold under right pleasant names nowadays, and at popular prices in the larger cities; but a spoonful of arsenic would be a shorter and a kinder remedy.

Not every family has room and the means to construct a model nursery, but the poorest could spare a few square feet of space in some sunny corner, and, with old quilts and rugs, make it baby-proof enough for all probable emergencies. Then furnish a few playthings and trust the rest to nature. Man wants but little here below, and between meals a pickaninny will content itself with liberty, light and air, and a couple of rag-babies. As soon as a child begins to toddle, it should also have an opportunity to exercise its arms—a grapple-swing, or (if your ceiling be inviolate) a rope stretched from wall to wall. It is surprising how fast the clumsiest youngster begins to profit by such a chance. To the young son of man climbing comes natural enough to shock a witness of anti-Darwinian proclivities. The development of the shoulder-muscles also tends to invigorate the chest, and a fifty cent hand-swing may save many dollars' worth of cough-medicine.

The progressive development of the motory organs prompts their frequent exercise, and there is no doubt that the gratification of this instinct constitutes the chief element of that physical beatitude which makes the age of childhood the spring-time of every life; and it is equally certain that compulsive physical inactivity inflicts on a healthy child an amount of wretchedness which no prospective advantages can possibly repay. It is hard enough that so large a portion of the human race have to rear their young in a latitude which half the year confines them to the freedom of their four walls; but it is harder that even this limited freedom should be curtailed by so many unnecessary restraints. I wish every houseful of children had a rough-and-tumble room, some out-of-the-way place where the cadets could romp, roll, and jump to their hearts' content. It need not be a heated room nor even an in-door place, as long as it has anything like a roof to it; children are naturally hardy, as they are naturally truthful: effeminacy and hypocrisy are twin daughters of our pious civilization. A wood-shed will do, or a lumber-room with old mattresses and hiding places. Well-to-do parents might add some gymnastic apparatus, and for big boys a carpenter's table with an assortment of tools; mechanical dexterity may prove useful in many ways, and every normal boy has something of that instinct which phrenologists call constructiveness, and which makes the use of such implements a pleasure rather than a task. But, for the youngsters, the rough-and-tumble play is the main thing; it will strengthen their limbs, lungs, and livers, and