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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 19.djvu/31

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PHYSICAL EDUCATION.

Cato, who taught his sons to dive and traverse rapid rivers. I know that a swimming-school is not always a favorite resort of a young child; weakly youngsters are apt to prefer a sponge-bath; but I agree with the Baptists, that immersion alone will save us. The way of the beginner is hard, but the reward is worth the price. No boy who has learned to "tread water" or to "take a header" from a high bank would exchange the wild joy of his sport for all the taffy of a tame Sunday-school picnic. And it is a great mistake to suppose that hardy habits would harden the character; on the contrary, the bravest lad of a parish can generally be known by his cheerfulness and his frank good nature, and in after-years will be apt to meet the billows of life with a joyous zeal rather than with a shivering "resignation." I am often tempted to quote the remark of a French training-ship surgeon, of blunt speech, but with a sharp eye for the character-traits of his young countrymen: "If I had my own way," said he, "every boy in the marine should serve an apprenticeship in the rigging, and learn to rough it, before he gets a soft berth. The lads that have grown up before the mast make the best men in every sense of the word, brave, honest fellows most of them; while the cabin-boys, who have been pampered with titbits and soft jobs generally, turn out" (I won't risk a literal translation) "prevaricating puppies," or words to that effect.

Per aspera ad astra, and a very important branch of gymnastic education might be included under the head of hard work or voluntary labor. Labor with a practical purpose is not only more visibly useful but more agreeable than mere crank-work at the horizontal bar, and it is sometimes advisable to beguile ourselves into a strenuous and long-continued physical effort. For what we call vice or evil propensities is often nothing but misdirected energy, vital force exploding in the wrong direction for want of a better outlet. The sensible remedy is not to anathematize such energies, but to let our muscular system absorb them by engaging in some entertaining out-door business requiring a good deal of heavy work. In summer-time there will be no lack of such jobs: interest your enfant terrible in horticulture; make him transplant shade-trees and dig ditches; send him to the gravel-pit, and let him fill his wheelbarrow with sand and his pockets with geological specimens. Or enlist his constructiveness: set him to build a garden-wall, and quarry his own building-material in the next ravine. During the progress of the good work the hours will vanish magically, and so will the evil propensities. Novel-reading girls can generally be cured with a butterfly-catcher; entomology and sentimentalism are not concomitant manias.

It has often been observed as a curious phenomenon that the vilest young hoodlums are found in the middle-sized towns. I believe I could suggest an explanation: In very large cities, as well as in the woods and mountains, they find something else to do. A New York street Arab is often addicted to sharp practice, but not often to degrading