Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 19.djvu/744

This page has been validated.

minutio monachi could counteract the effects of deficient exercise; if we can believe the publicists of the Reformation, the chronique scandaleuse of Lesbos and Capri was far surpassed in the record of some mediæval convents—and not in the flagrant latitude of Italy alone (Robert Burton's "Anatomy of Melancholy," volume of miscellanies, pp. 449-451, quotations, etc.). Nor can we mistake the significance of the circumstance that sexual aberrations in the years of immaturity are almost exclusively the vice of male children, whose potential energies, with the same diet and the same general mode of life, find no adequate vent in an amount of active exercise nearly sufficient for the constitutional wants of the other sex. Moral lectures are sadly ineffectual in such cases, because, as Gotthold Lessing remarks, vicious passions pervert the constitution of the mind as effectually as they subvert that of the body—"the evil powers blindfold the victims of their altars." A frugal diet may subserve the work of reform, but the great specific is competitive gymnastics, the society and example of merry, manly, and adventurous companions. Crank-work gymnastics won't do; enlist the pride of the young Trimalchion, watch him at play, find out his special forte, no matter what—running, jumping, or throwing stones—and organize a sodality for the cultivation of that particular accomplishment. Beguile him into heroic efforts, offer prizes and champion badges: as soon as manful exercises become a pleasure, unmanning indulgences will lose their attractions. The depressing after-effect of sensual excesses, the dreary reaction, is a chief incentive to the repetition of the vicious act, and the success of all reformatory measures depends at first upon the possibility of relieving this depression by healthful diversion, till, in the course of time, regained mental and bodily vigor will help the remedial tendency of Nature to neutralize the morbid inclination.

"Rickets" is a sign of general debility, owing to mal-nutrition during the years of rapid growth. The best physic for a rickety child is milk, bran-bread, and fruit; the best physician, the drill-master of the turner-hall. Rickety children are apt to be precocious, and till their backs are straightened up their books ought to be thrown aside. Knock-knees, bow-legs, "chicken-breasts," and round shoulders are all amenable to treatment, if the cure be begun in time—during the first three years of the teens, of all ages at once the most plastic and the most retentive of deep impressions.

For the cure of young topers, smokers, and gluttons I am persuaded that punishments are only of temporary avail, and homilies of no use whatever. The most glowing eloquence palls before the suasion of a vicious penchant. Here, too, the chances of saving the tempted depend upon the possibility of silencing the tempter—by outbidding his offer. Provide healthful diversions; the victims of the poison habit yield to temptation when the reaction (following upon every morbid excitement) becomes intolerable. Relieve the strain of that