Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 23.djvu/89

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79
GYMNASTICS.

a stiff-jointed, clumsy, ill-proportioned body. In the fifty years since the introduction into this country of systematic body-training, there, nevertheless, has been great gain in the popular estimation of its advantages, as is shown by the almost countless systems that have received ephemeral patronage. Witness the innumerable pieces of gymnasium apparatus that have been advertised, and widely believed, to prevent or to cure all manner of woes and ills. At one time it is the spirometer, which, if blown into daily, will prevent consumption; then it is a patent kind of lifting-machine by which a man may soon learn to lift a ton; or rubber bands which deluded purchasers would surely find it easier to stretch as the rubber grew older. This long list of nostrums it is important for us to notice as in great measure accounting for the distrust many intelligent people have of the whole subject of gymnastics. In their ignorance they have believed the quacks, and, having suffered at least in purse, they now are shy of the subject in general. The fact is plain that their distrust is because more good has been claimed, and has been temporarily believed, to result from the use of one especial kind of exercise than could reasonably be expected from all kinds together. Honest efforts have meantime been made to introduce systematic exercise. Dio Lewis twenty years ago carried on in Boston a normal school of gymnastics. Several hundred teachers were graduated, and for a time were in considerable demand. Later, Dr. Lewis had a great girls' school in Lexington, where, in Bloomer dress and broad-soled boots, girls were certainly taught to walk long distances. The new system, as he called it, contained this principal innovation: Exercise was to be by couples holding rings or wands, and with music the doctor enthusiastically believed that he had borrowed all the charm of the dance, but it was found that, unlike dancing, in his evolutions all the fun was in learning how, and now his system is quite forgotten. In bringing our history of gymnastics down to date, it is necessary to mention the gymnasia of city clubs and colleges. Till within a few years a typical gymnasium of this sort was a medley collection of apparatus under the care of a janitor, who possibly knew something of the art of boxing. It was the fashion for the would-be gymnast to work at this or that according to fancy, always taking care, however, to exercise only his best-developed muscles. If a good vaulter, he spent his hour in vaulting; if strong armed, his exhibitions were on the swings and bar. These gymnasia would have been even less patronized except for the training in them of the sporting-men, who by general opinion were obliged to work diligently at some kind of machine if the next summer they were to beat other clubs and colleges on the field and river. Of their training and violent exercise little need be said, because they were so few, except that the wide-spread fear of harmful results from excessive exertion in these sports seems in the light of recent careful investigation to have been greatly exaggerated. The poverty in the results of