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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 19.djvu/33

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PHYSICAL EDUCATION.

The Manitoba lumbermen ply their hard trade cheerfully for ten hours a day for months together, and the pastoral nomads of the Caspian steppes often keep their boys in the saddle for two days and two nights.

It can do no harm to let girls join in the athletic sports of their brothers; though in their case an harmonious structural development is of more importance than the attainment of muscular strength. Their natural vocation exempts them from the necessity of engaging in violent exercises, and the experience of every nation has confirmed the somewhat obscure biological fact that a child's bodily constitution depends chiefly on that of his paternal relatives. A weakling can never become the father of robust children; while a delicate but otherwise healthy woman may give birth to an infant Hercules. But, for boys, the most thorough physical education is the best; a child can never be too weakly to profit by gymnastic exercises. If the culture of the bodily faculties were made a regular branch of public education, robust strength would be the rule and debility the rare exception. The puniness and sickliness of the vast plurality of our city boys are indeed something altogether abnormal. If our primogenitor (as we have no reason to doubt) surpassed the other primates of the animal kingdom in strength as much as he still exceeds them in size, he must have been fully able to hold his own against any beast of prey. Dr. Clarke Abel's undoubtedly authentic description of an orang-outang hunt near Rangoon, on the northwest coast of Sumatra, reads like an episode from the "Lay of the Nibelungen," rather than like the account of a conscientious and scientific observer. With five bullets in his body, the hairy half-man still leaped from tree to tree with the agility of a panther, survived the fall of the last tree, and, though crippled by a shower of blows, snatched a spear from the hands of his chief assailant and broke it like a rotten stick. On his campaign against a horde of northern barbarians, one of Trajan's generals attempted to scare, or at least to astonish, the natives by shipping a troop of lions across the Danube. But the children of Nature declined to marvel: "They mistook them for dogs," says the historian, "and knocked their brains out." Even after the middle of the fourteenth century the levy of a small German burgh could turn out more athletes than the combined armies of the present empire; the Margrave of Nuremberg could at any time muster ten thousand men, every one of whom was able to wear and use accoutrements that would crush a so-called strong man of the present day. In the armories of Vienna, Brunswick, and Strasburg there are coats of mail which a modern porter would hesitate to shoulder without the assistance of a comrade.

And yet these mediƦval Samsons were the exclusive product of the drill-ground; physical vigor was not valued as the foundation of health and happiness, but rather as a means of military efficiency; the guardians of public education merely connived at such things; and, when