Popular Science Monthly/Volume 83/July 1913/The Intellectual and the Physical Life
|THE INTELLECTUAL AND THE PHYSICAL LIFE|
NEW HAVEN NORMAL SCHOOL OF GYMNASTICS
THE notion is common and deeply rooted that men of large achievement, especially in letters or art, were physically inferior if not downright sickly and infirm. If one questions this idea, he is informed at once that Stevenson was far from well or vigorous, that Heine lived in a "mattress grave," that Chopin died of consumption at an early age, and that Darwin was hardly better than an invalid for much of his life. Even great military minds have found lodgment in miserable shacks of bodies, and Macaulay tells us that, at the battle of Landen, probably the feeblest persons present were the "hunchback" duke of Luxemburg and "that asthmatic skeleton," the Prince of Orange.
The evidence is very striking and also appealing, for while the sickly mediocre are not especially interesting to any one, the fine qualities of the sickly great are magnified, through our sympathy, by the infirmities which beset their paths. The genius displayed by such is often given more credit on this account than it in cold blood deserves. For example, Stevenson, though a writer of delightful things, does not seem by any means certain of maintaining the high place in literature awarded by the admirers of his personality. Heine, brilliant as he was, does not rank with Goethe; and Chopin, though unique in his way, is master in a comparatively narrow field. We should sadly miss his exquisite tone arabesques, but we never expect from him the sublimities of Beethoven or Brahms.
Of the notables named above, it might be remembered that one, Heine, did not complain of a serious illness until he was thirty-nine and that his paralysis was not confirmed until he was forty-seven; that Darwin also was in good health until he had returned from the voyage of the Beagle and was fairly launched in his life work; and that the leaders at the battle of Landen, while frail and sickly, were yet able to knock about on many fields of battle. Even of Stevenson it is said by Mr. Balfour that, "considering his fragility, his muscular strength was considerable and his constitution clearly had great powers of resistance." But for his Bohemian ways and his utter disregard of the laws of bodily well-being, he might have had a much greater degree of health and comfort.
The examples given of great men who were invalids are not always 60 well chosen, and there is often a tendency to exaggerate the infirmities of those named. For instance, Storrs in his life of St. Bernard informs us that the Hussite warrior Zizka was "half blind from his youth," and achieved his greatest victories after complete blindness came upon him. The truth is, Zizka had the use of but one eye in his earlier life, but as that, so far as we know, was a good one, he was a very long way from being half blind. He did win his greatest battles when totally blind, in his last three years, but he was necessarily surrounded, as every general must be, with faithful and sharp eyes in the heads of his lieutenants. Storr's other infirm hero is Doge Dandola, whom he describes as "blind and bearing the weight of almost a hundred winters when he stormed Constantinople." The Doge was eighty-four, which is some remove from a hundred years, and he was not blind at all. He was really an example of prolonged vigor.
Granting that there are wide deviations from the rule, we would set against the popular notion its antithesis that the intellectual life—that genius, to use that ill-defined but expressive word—is never at war with physical health and strength, but that, on the contrary, as a rule, the greatest men in all fields of endeavor have been lusty persons, and relatively free from serious or prolonged illness, and, where not robust, have usually shown wonderful vitality and powers of endurance. Moreover, they have, we believe, been more careful than the ordinary man to preserve their health, and have often husbanded their energy as the average mortal would not think worth his while.
Genius, of course, is no respecter of bodily tabernacles and takes up its tenancy in all manner of them, from the sickly and deformed to the most heroic and symmetrical, but its light will vary according to its conditions of bodily housing, as the light of a lamp will vary according as its wick is splashed at intervals with fuel of uncertain quality or is constantly bathed in pure oil. The mind of genius has its equally elaborate complement of brain machinery through which it expresses itself, but that brain mechanism depends in turn upon the rest of the body which elaborates, furnishes and keeps pure its supply of energy-material in the blood. It stands to reason that the more well ordered the body, the more active and vigorous will be the organ of the mind, and that anything which depresses the proper functioning of the physiological machinery must impair in so much the product of that organ, both in kind and amount. As there is no line to be drawn between genius and ordinary mental activity, what is true of one physiologically applies as well to the other.
It is quite true that accident or sickness often turns a man to a particular calling. Dickens was always thankful for an early illness which gave him a strong inclination to reading. Had Sir Walter Scott not been in childhood confined to bed with his diseased ankle, he might never have found introduction to the realm of romance which he later revealed with such skill to the work-a-day world. It is not unlikely that he would have entered the army as did his son, and have furnished a mark for Napoleon's cannon.
In a profession where, until recently, its members have preached, even if they have not practised, the neglect and abuse of the body, one would expect to find many examples of the feeble and sickly who have risen to eminence, or who, in the course of an active, strenuous life, from their very attitude toward the body, have brought on ill health and weakness. Yet among the great religious leaders there have been many examples of fine bodily presence and especially of phenomenal energy and endurance. In an age of over-indulgence it is difficult to know just what the asceticism of the medieval monks amounted to, but even where, by their devotion to a mistaken ideal, the bodily machinery was undoubtedly more or less damaged, they often showed that they possessed a wonderful vitality and fund of nervous energy.
Among religionists St. Bernard is described as being, in early life, a man of fine presence; in later years he is pictured as "most delicate," without flesh. Those who knew his labors "felt as if in him a lamb had been harnessed to pull a plow." He was extremely ascetic, suicidally so, it would seem, as his friends had at one time to rescue him from himself and place him in the hands of a shepherd who taught him a few items of common sense. Nevertheless he is reputed to have surpassed robust men in his endurance, a trait readily attributed by his biographers to superior spirituality. Though strong enough for his monastic work, Bernard was undoubtedly physically unfit to lead the crusade which he preached, else he would not have refused the post. On the surface at least he does not appear to lend much support to our present thesis.
According to his half-legendary history, Francis of Assisi was a dashing young man who was turned from a life of frivolity to the religious life by a severe illness. There is no doubt but that St. Francis abused his body and lived the unsanitary life. His conscience must have smote him, for when he came to die at forty-five he begged pardon of "Brother Ass, the body," for having neglected him so shamefully.
The fiery Savanarola did nothing by halves, and we are told that, like Bernard, he was so severe in his mortifications of the flesh that "his superiors were frequently obliged to curb his zeal." There is no record of any sickness and notwithstanding his asceticism he must have been anything but weakly to the day of his martyrdom.
Luther, as a monk, apparently damaged his health by the overzealous mortification of the flesh. In his post-monkish days he perhaps went to the other extreme. He was apparently a very vigorous, active man until forty, when, doubtless from his too generous living, a troop of ailments settled upon him.
In Erasmus we have another example of the scholar of the cloister. He was highly sensitive to physical influences, lie could not hear the stoves of Germany, but required an open fire-place. lie was hypersensitive to odors and delicate in his diet. He lived to be seventy despite attacks of gout and, as his days were crowded with work, he must have had a strong, though sensitive, constitution.
Of modern preachers, Robert Hall was a sufferer for years from renal colic, though he possessed great vitality. Jonathan Edwards was frail and Channing was not robust, but there is a numerous company who loom large in bodily impressiveness and health, and who show us the possibilities of the religious genius lodged in a fitting temple.
John Wesley "loved riding and walking, was an expert swimmer and enjoyed a game of tennis." His journal has been called "the most amazing record of human exertion ever penned by man." "On horseback he traveled more miles, spoke oftener and to more people than any man who ever lived." "Eight thousand miles was his annual record for many a long year, during each of which he seldom preached less frequently than five thousand times." At eighty he writes, "I find no more pain or bodily infirmities than at five and twenty," and he imputed this in part "to my still traveling four or five thousand miles a year and to my constant preaching."
Chalmers had a "great look" with his "large head, large chest, his amplitude in every way" and his "erect, royal air." He "had a frame of adamant, that bade defiance to the weather, and that actually exulted in the wildness of the blast" as he hurried over the moors. Spurgeon's body cast a shadow of no mean dimensions and he was in such vigor as to do an immense amount of work. Brooks was a man of great physique, who was so well that when taken with the grippe at fifty-five, he exhibited the impatience with sickness characteristic of one who has always been well by exclaiming, "How strange it all is, this being sick!" Beecher is another example of health and bodily vigor and it is interesting to note that it was his great maxim to keep his body "in first-rate working order, for he considers health to be a Christian duty, and rightly deems it impossible for any man to do justice to his mental faculties without at the same time attending to his physical powers." From Bernard to Beecher is a long interval of time, but a greater gap in ideas of the Christian life, and the last few examples prove that bodily abuse is not essential to spiritual power.
Among artists Leonardo, Raphael and Michelangelo would hardly be denied first place, and a second, later trio, Titian, Rubens and Turner, would rank very high. Raphael died at thirty-seven. He was beautiful, with an almost delicate face, but there is no history of sickness or any bodily weakness. Just prior to his sudden death from plague he had entered into a contract for an arduous piece of work. Leonardo, "painter, sculptor, architect, musician, mechanical engineer and natural philosopher," was a person of splendid physique "who outstripped all the youth of the city in feats of strength and horsemanship," and who was "zealous in labor above all men, with a strength more than human."
Michelangelo was almost as ascetic in his habits as a monk and he labored with "furious" intensity, with chisel and brush, up to his seventieth year, when he still had energy left to plan and carry forward such great architectural works as St. Peter's. Even in his last year he is described as "healthy above all things," notwithstanding the storm and stress of adverse circumstances against which he had to contend throughout life.
It was said of Titian that his death from plague came (at the age of ninety-nine) as a surprise to his friends, since he lived "a life so strong and resisting that it seemed able to withstand all the assaults of time."
Rubens lived sparingly and was devoted to horseback riding. Despite bodily care he suffered from attacks of gout, so common in that age. It was not, however, until in his fifty-seventh year, when his attacks became more severe, that he had to adopt the use of the mahl stick in painting, a utensil which few painters have sufficient nerve control to do without at any time. The fact that "not the remotest trace of approaching old age, not the slightest failing of mind or skill, can be detected even in his latest works" testifies that he had not declined up to his sixty-third year.
Of Turner, the last of this sextette of artists, we know that his health was perfectly sound, that he walked his twenty miles or more a day with ease, often sketching as he walked. He could work fifteen hours at a stretch without weariness, and his digestion was so vigorous that all extremes of living were alike to him. He "worked harder and produced more than any artist of whom we have any record." As Hamerton said, "Man is an intelligence served by organs and few intelligences have been better or more regularly served than Turner. His nervous system was so sound that he could work anywhere and everywhere." At the age of sixty-seven he had an illness, but it was not until seventy that we "are sure that he declined as an artist, . . . when his health and with it, in a degree, his mind, failed suddenly." Among musicians we have no trouble in selecting the greatest. All others stand on a lower plane than Bach, Beethoven and Brahms. Those who mark the physical imperfections of men of genius will at once say that Bach was blind and Beethoven deaf. Bach did become blind at sixty-eight, after such severe use as perhaps no other eyes ever received, and Beethoven (strange fate) did become deaf, his affliction beginning at twenty-eight years. This terrible defect undoubtedly affected his general health materially, though his vigor seemed little impaired.
Up to the time of his failing sight, in 1747, we have no record of any sickness of Bach, while his untiring energy, as shown in his vast amount of work, bears sufficient testimony to his great vitality. He was able to be, besides a marvelous maker of music, "a particularly excellent father (he had nineteen children), friend and citizen."
Of Beethoven it is sufficient to know that he was spoken of as the "image of strength," as power personified—that there was concentrated in him "the pluck of twenty battalions." He was a great walker, and no day in Vienna, however busy or stormy, passed without its constitutional, "a walk, or rather run, twice round the ramparts. . . or further into the environs." Notwithstanding the constant effect of his deafness and the fact that digestive disturbances early began to keep him company, "his splendid constitution and extreme fondness for the open air counteracted his physical defects and even in his last illness" "his constitution, powerful as that of a giant, blocked the gates against death for nearly three months" and during the struggle his fancy seemed to soar more vigorously than ever.
Of the third of the great B's, Brahms, burly, well-knit, muscular, the "very image of strength and vigor," there is little to say beyond the fact that he was never sick. Widmann says "he displayed an absence of physical sensitiveness of which few could boast." "His constitution was thoroughly sound, the most strenuous mental exertion scarcely fatiguing him," and he could "go soundly to sleep at any hour of the day he pleased." Like Beethoven, Brahms was a lover of nature and a tireless walker.
If we step down from the company of the greater to that of the lesser gods of music, Mozart, Weber and Chopin are presented by the advocates of the feebler life for genius. Chopin we have already mentioned. Weber was weakly and tuberculous. With health and strength he might have equaled Beethoven. Mozart, though of inferior bodily presence, did a lifetime's work before his early death from typhus fever. He was trained by his father to take care of himself and would probably have lived the allotted time but for the stress of want, and overwork for thankless and unremunerative patrons.
Over against these few exceptions we could set quite a company of master musicians full of health and vigor. Handel and Haydn with their "continuous, sunny healthfulness." Spohr, "of sound health and herculean frame," his life filled with uninterrupted success and honors up to seventy years.
Then there was Wagner, "the best tumbler and somersault-turner of the large Dresden school," an adept at every form of bodily exercise, who "still performed boyish tricks (such as standing on his head) when nearing three score and ten." Despite dyspepsia and a susceptibility to erysipelas he always possessed "an unusual amount of physical energy." Verdi is another example—the old-man-progressive produced his greatest works after he was seventy, his "Otello" being first performed when he was eighty.
The executive musician especially needs a good physical balance, for the strain upon his nervous system is very great. We find no invalids in the list of great singers. Liszt, Rubinstein and Paderewski were physically strong and robust, while Joachim and Ole Bull were men of long, healthful and vigorous life. A partial exception to the rule is met with in that strange personage Paganini, the severity of whose early training damaged an already frail constitution. He was extremely temperate and had a marvelous use of muscle and nerve in the weaving of his musical magic. He died at fifty-six.
When it comes to the philosophers, among the ancients we must include Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. From what has come down to us we know that Socrates served as a hoplite, or heavy foot soldier, and that in more than one campaign he was conspicuous for both bravery and endurance. He was short, thick-necked and corpulent, although thoroughly schooled to temperance. He was evidently as finely robust physically as morally, until his untimely death at the age of sixty-six.
Of Plato we are positive only that he lived to be seventy years of age. From his writings we know how greatly he appreciated bodily development and well-working.
Of the details of Aristotle's life we know little, but there is no evidence to signify that he was not always in at least fair health, and it would seem from the amount of his work that he must have been a man of great vitality.
Philosophy does not seem to have agreed so well with the moderns, and it seems to have fitted better into inferior somatic conditions than a combination of brain and handiwork as in the artists and musicians. Hobbes was an enthusiastic tennis player until beyond seventy and wielded his pen vigorously after he was ninety. J. S. Mill was "healthy and high spirited." Comte, Leibnitz, and, after his youth, Descartes, were all in fair health and strength, but Locke, Spinoza and Kant could not boast such physique. Of the three, Spinoza alone was short lived, Locke living to the age of seventy-two and Kant to that of eighty.
Spinoza, always of delicate constitution, was early afflicted with pulmonary disease and suffered also from ague. He was extremely abstemious, which did not tend to improve his condition, but it was not until he was forty that he became a confirmed invalid. In Locke's case prudent habits seem to have kept a delicate constitution in even balance of health up to the age of thirty-five, but from this time on, with all his care of himself, he was seriously handicapped by complicated and increasing infirmities, chief of which were "chronic consumption and asthma." All this "painfully impeded his schemes of work and occasionally induced states of mind altogether at variance with its otherwise robust character." He was twenty years in writing his famous "Essay on the Human Understanding" and it was done "by incoherent parcels and after long intervals of neglect." No man was ever more impressed with the value of health and vigor and his "Thoughts on Education" begin with the bitter words, "Our clay cottage is not to be neglected "—for "he whose body is crazy and feeble will never be able to advance in it."
Immanuel Kant is a shining example of what can be done in economizing the bodily forces, and of how much may be accomplished in the way of mental work by a frail body which is kept in a fair state of health. "Possibly a more meager, arid, parched anatomy of a man has not appeared upon this earth." "His organization was so delicate that he was extremely sensitive to impressions from external objects, and Jachmann relates that a newspaper fresh from the press and still damp would give him a cold." "His digestive organs were early deranged and gave him perpetual trouble." Yet he said of himself that he was healthy, "that is in my usual weak way." If we can trust DeQuincy, "Kant's health was even exquisite." That "weak way" interfered with his work and he exclaimed: "Think of it, friends! Sixty years old, constantly disturbed by indisposition in plans only half completed." "He spoke of himself often under the figure of a gymnastic artist, who had continued for nearly fourscore years to support himself upon the slack rope of life-without once swerving to the right or to the left." We owe to Kant's clock-work regularity and temperance of living the product which his fine brain produced, and his vast influence upon the world.
Herbert Spencer is another example of a philosopher who is put down as an invalid, and invalid he was for the greater part of his life after thirty-five. At thirteen he became homesick at school and started one morning at six for home; walked forty-eight miles the first day, forty-seven the second and twenty miles the third day, and in the whole time had very little to eat. It would seem that only a child of very remarkable vitality could have carried out such a program and survived. As he himself says, "It can scarcely be doubted that my system received a detrimental shock. . . although there was no manifest sign of mischief." As a boy he excelled in running and was a good skater.
At sixteen he speaks of himself as "strong, in good health, and of good stature," but easily excited and kept awake.
At twenty-one as a draughtsman he worked from eight in the morning to twelve at night and one day a week to three a.m. Keeping these hours, either with his routine or literary work, he found himself at twenty-eight becoming sleepless. At thirty-five "the mischief had been done." "His nervous system finally gave way." A night of sound sleep became unknown to him, while distress in the head and dyspepsia kept him company the remaining days of his life. Still, it must be kept in mind that even at sixty he writes, "My vigour is pretty well shown by the fact that I found myself running up stairs two steps at a time" and "it seems remarkable, considering my frequent bouts of dyspepsia and perpetual bad nights, I should have retained so much vitality." It was only between sixty-two and sixty-nine that he could truly be called an invalid with a capacity of only a few lines of work per day.
The work of science has often been carried on by men in not the best of health, nor of especial vigor. It has also so fascinated many of its disciples as to lead to bodily unbalancing from over-application to a sedentary calling. Galileo did an enormous amount of work, but his health was sometimes indifferent and he suffered from a number of illnesses. Darwin inherited a strong constitution and up to his voyage on the Beagle was "well, and vigorous and passionately fond of outdoor sport." His chronic nervous weakness seems to have been brought on by the privations and over-exertions of the five years' journey of exploration. By careful limitation of work and removal of unnecessary distractions, he lived to a good age, and accomplished a large amount of work.
Sir Isaac Newton was in fair health most of his days, though, from excessive mental work and absent-mindedness about eating, he had a nervous breakdown at fifty-four from which he was some months in recovering.
Franklin was proud of his physical attainments. "He was as temperate as it was possible to be in that age." He was an expert swimmer and at eighty he was fond of displaying his strength. He nearly died from attacks of pleurisy, and late in life he fell a victim to the diseases of the age—gout and stone. On the whole, Franklin throughout a long life may be considered an unusually vigorous and healthy person.
Huxley, strong and vigorous, worked at a terrible pressure and wore out before his time, but there have been many other scientists of note whose health was more constant, as Faraday, Tyndall, Agassiz and Lord Kelvin.
When it comes to men of letters, it would seem that health and vigor might be less frequent. The conventional poet, like his verses, seems a part of the world immaterial, until we become intimately acquainted with him and find that he too lives on bread and butter, beefsteak and onions.
Of the dramatists, Shakespeare, for aught we know, was reasonably healthy and vigorous. Molière led a busy, combative existence. Play houses were even worse in hygienic conditions then than now, and cold and fatigue seem to have injured his health. He continued his acting and writing with scarce abated vigor until his fifty-fourth year, when, just after playing the part of the invalid in the "Imaginary Invalid," he burst a blood vessel in a fit of coughing and did not survive more than half an hour. Molière was described as "neither too stout nor too thin, tall rather than short; he had a noble carriage, a good leg and his complexion was brown." This eye-witness saw nothing especially sickly or feeble about the great player and playwright. Goethe, great as scientist and novelist as well as poet—a universal genius—was? likened in his youth to an Apollo. His frame was strong and muscular. In his mature years, Hufeland, one of the great physicians of the time said that "never did he meet with a man in whom bodily and mental organization were so perfect. Not only was the prodigious strength of vitality remarkable in him, but equally so the perfect balance of functions."
Goethe knew what sickness meant. From self-confessed youthful excesses (" However sound and strong one may be, in that accursed Leipzig one burns out as fast as a bad torch") he suffered some severe chest affection and he was for a time "uncertain whether he was not yet consumptive." In mature life he more than once suffered from renal colic and from rheumatism. Such attacks had but a transient effect, however, upon his wonderful physical make-up. He was a big eater, as have been so many great men (energy for work must be supplied by bread and butter) and he was a profound sleeper. Even when beyond the age of eighty he was still so vigorous as to produce truly remarkable works.
Of the personal history of Dante we know little, but he was evidently made of elastic stuff and we read of no sickness which came to him in his wanderings. He took part in the civil wars of his city. He died at fifty-six of a fever contracted in the lagoons of Venice.
Milton possessed a "peculiar grace of personal appearance." He seems to have been in good health up to about forty years, when he lost ground somewhat, and in later life, especially during his blindness, his health declined. Speaking for himself at forty-seven, he says: "Though thin, I was never deficient in courage or in strength." He exercised regularly with the broadsword and says he "was a match for any one." His blindness seemed to accompany the onset of gout, a disease hardly due in his case to intemperate living.
Of the great modern English poets, Tennyson was a man of splendid physique—"one of the finest-looking men in the world." In regard to his health he said of himself: "What my infirmities were I know not unless short sight and occasional hypochondria be infirmities."
Wordsworth, according to Hayden the artist, was of very fine heroic proportions. He led a simple life and was healthy and vigorous. He was "as robust as one of the peasants of his native Cumberland." At sixty he walked fifteen to twenty miles a day; he was "still the crack skater on Rydal Lake, and, as to climbing mountains, the hardiest and youngest are yet hardly a match for him." Even at seventy-three he was "wonderfully well and full of vigor."
Browning had some headache, sore throat and colds, but his son wrote, "He was the healthiest man I ever knew," and another biographer called him "brilliantly healthy." Until past seventy he could take long walks without fatigue, and endure an amount of social and general physical strain which would have tried many younger men.
If we turn to the writers of what Dr. Johnson called "irregular and undigested pieces"—of essays—in the expectation of having only invalids for wielders of the pen, we find the inventor of this beautiful form of literature, Montaigne, speaks of his body as "strong and well knit." "My health is vigorous and sprightly, even to a well-advanced age, and I am rarely troubled with sickness." He considered health "the fairest and richest present that nature can make us." It was not a time of long living and Montaigne considered that he had reached a "well advanced age" when he had passed forty. At forty-five he became afflicted with stone in the bladder, which doubtless shortened the days of what was for him old age.
Bacon's health was always delicate. He speaks of himself as "a man of no great share of health, who must therefore lose much time." His nervous system seems to have been exceedingly sensitive and he swooned upon slight cause. By careful management of his health by the admirable rules he has laid down for others, he survived the storms of his political career and his friends expected for him a good old age. In his sixty-sixth year, when driving in London, he suddenly hit upon the notion of using snow as a preservative. He stopped his carriage, purchased a fowl and with his own hands stuffed it with snow. He was seized with a sudden chill, the cold and chill were succeeded by bronchitis, and he died within a few days. Bacon, like Kant, deserves to be remembered as one who lived his philosophy and who with small resource of vital energy kept that at its best and so made the most of the marvelously fine thinking machinery with which he was endowed.
The more modern essayists. Lamb and DeQuincy, did not present a very vigorous aspect. DeQuincy was, according to Carlyle, "one of the smallest man figures I ever saw, . . you would have taken him for the beautifullest little child." Yet he was not so frail even though small, and while hypersensitive to pain "he was wiry, and able to undergo a good deal of fatigue. Indeed he was a first-rate pedestrian, and kept himself well in exercise. He considered that fourteen miles a day was necessary for health. He never took cold, and even at seventy lie was active and vigorous." He easily outwalked James Hogg, who was much younger and who has been described as "hale and hearty as a mountain breeze." So much for this "invalid."
Lamb, who had "the appearance of an air-fed man and whose light frame" with its "almost immaterial legs" "seemed as if a breath would overthrow it," was spoken of as being "as wiry as an Arab," and Proctor said he "could walk during all the day."
In this list of worthies Carlyle and Doctor Johnson should have a place. The great lexicographer "in his bodily strength and stature has been compared to Polyphemus." Boswell speaks of his "herculean strength" and of his "robust health," which was not in the least affected by cold. His great appetite and his intemperance in tea have gone into history, but he could fast for two days without difficulty, and his frequent prayer was "that I may practice such temperance in Meat, Drink, and Sleep, and all bodily enjoyments as may fit me for the duties to which thou shalt call me." Notwithstanding his tendency to melancholia and some attacks of gout he was anything but an invalid.
The Seer of Chelsea was the descendant of a long line of "hardy and healthy Scottish dalesmen." He grew to manhood, he tells us, "healthy and hardy." It was not till after his twentieth year that "he became aware that he was the miserable owner of a diabolical arrangement called a stomach." From this time on he suffered from dyspepsia, headache and sleeplessness. He gave vent to his irritability by lamentations so grotesquely exaggerated as to make it difficult to estimate the real extent of the evil. According to Froude he had a Titanesque power of making mountains out of molehills. Notwithstanding his complaints he lived a vigorous, combative life to a good old age and even at eighty-two was able to walk over five miles a day.
Among novelists, Sir Walter accuses himself of perhaps "setting an undue value" on health and strength. For him "bodily health is the mainspring of the microcosm. . . . What poor things does a fever fit or an overflowing of bile make of the masters of creation?" He writes in his journal, "My early lameness considered, it was impossible for a man to have been stronger or more active than I have been, and that for twenty or thirty years. Seams will slit and elbows will out, quoth the tailor; and as I was fifty-four in August last, my mortal vestments are none of the newest." As a young man he was a desperate climber, a bold rider and a stout player at single-stick "and he walked twenty or thirty miles without fatigue, notwithstanding his limp." Attacks of rheumatism, renal colic and the awful burden of debt under which he toiled so heroically, finally overcame a constitution which, as he said, was "as strong as a team of horses."
Victor Hugo "was born with a thoroughly sound constitution" and he was "in full vigor when many great intellects have passed into their decline."
Balzac "was eminently sound and healthy," "his whole person breathed intense vitality," yet those who were in the secret of his life asked with pitiful wonder how any man could find the time and physical endurance sufficient to support the enormous work of his "La Comédie Humaine."
Dumas's "health was well known and stood firm against the almost wanton test he imposed upon it." Such abuse plus the writing of "1,200 volumes" did not seem to impair his physical vigor until after his sixtieth year.
Thackeray was described in 1813 as "a stout, healthful, broad-shouldered specimen of a man." He knew no such thing as taking care of himself and suffered the consequences, though it took time to undo him. Edward Fitzgerald tells us how he wrote "reviews and newspapers all the morning; dining, drinking and talking of a night, managing to preserve a fresh color and perpetual flow of spirits under a wear and tear of thinking and feeding that would have knocked up all the other men I know two years ago at the least." Thackeray had the best medical advice, but, as he said, "What is the use of advice if you don't follow it? They tell me not to drink and I do drink. They tell me not to eat and I do eat. In short, I do everything I am not to do, and, therefore, what is to be expected? "Thackeray has the unenviable distinction of being one of the comparatively few men of genius who have undervalued health. He preferred, as he acknowledged in his exaggerated style, to "reel from dinner party to dinner party, to wallow in turtle, and to swim in claret and champagne." It is little wonder that the time came and came early (at fifty-one) when "he could not work at will"; when upon taking up his pen "his number of the magazine would not come."
In Dickens we have a man of superlative energy. After writing until twelve "he came out ready for a long walk. . . twelve, fifteen, even twenty miles a day were none too much for Dickens. . . swinging his blackthorn stick, his little figure sprang forward over the ground, and it took a practiced pair of legs to keep alongside of his voice.'* Dickens himself relates "a special feat of turning out of bed at two, after a hard day, pedestrian and otherwise, and walking thirty miles into the country for breakfast."
He was temperate in meats and drinks. James Fields said he had "rarely seen a man eat and drink less," but he was not temperate in his outlay of energy. As his self-chosen biographer said, "He never thought of husbanding his strength except to make fresh demands upon it," and besides, "his notion of finding rest from mental exertion in as much bodily exertion of equal severity, continued with him to the last." All this was more than even Dickens could stand, and, as in the case of Thackeray, the machinery began early to show wear, though it was not until he was fifty-six that there was any manifest abatement of his wonderful forces.
Among statesmen and warriors the strong and healthy predominate, though there are exceptions. As already noted, Bacon was not robust, nor were the Duke ofand the Prince of Orange, mentioned previously. The greater Prince of Orange, William the Silent, was of a very different type, as were Marlborough, Gustavus Adolphus, Cromwell, Frederick and our own model of physical manhood, Washington. Among statesmen we may compare with Bacon such men as Gladstone, Bismarck and Lincoln, all of them giants in physical powers.
It goes without saying that the superb will of Napoleon "had its roots in an abnormally firm vitality." His bodily machinery, of which he in some ways took fastidious care, furnished him with a supply of nervous energy at Napoleonic pressure which sufficed for a working day of from fifteen to eighteen hours. He said of himself that he "was conscious of no limit to the amount of work he could get through." It is interesting to note that his critics have made careful study of his physical condition as affecting the outcome of his last compaign. Most of them are of the opinion that there was a visible physical decline, one dating this from the cold of the Moscow campaign; others from his confinement at Elba, while one who knew him well attributed the lassitude which now and then came over him to the feeling of perplexity in the new conditions under which he worked. Whatever may have brought it about, the Napoleon of Waterloo "was no longer the Napoleon of Marengo or Austerlitz, and, though he was not broken down, his physical strength was certainly impaired."
In selecting the representatives of various kinds of brain work, the author has tried to be unbiased by his thesis, and for good-measure allowance to the common notion, has admitted a few names to the list, such as those of the Duke of Luxemberg, which would hardly nowadays find place among the immortals. Of those mentioned, some seventeen may be said to have been more or less delicate from childhood, though most of these were by no means sickly much of the time. Some eight or ten more, like Darwin and Spencer broke down after a healthy, vigorous youth and early manhood. At least fifty were robust and many of these remarkable for physical powers. The remainder were probably above the average in physical endurance, even if their physique and health was not so impressive.
Genius, superior mental power, or whatever we may choose to call that quality which lifts one man above his fellows in any line of work, does not prefer to have lodgment in inferior bodies, and when this so happens, it finds itself sadly handicapped. Though the soul tides may at times rise very high in those of frail physical nature, the ebb is always lower and more prolonged than in those possessed of greater vitality. The handicap of weakness and ill health has been most recognized by greatness itself, and we have eloquent comment upon the value of health and strength from such men as Plato, Bacon, Locke, Montaigne, Addison, Wesley, Spencer, Molière, Franklin, Carlyle, Beecher and others.
The handiwork of an artist or executant musician is, in a way, a record of his physical condition, and for him to do consistently good work health must be equally constant. Even Michelangelo failed as a sculptor in his later years, though he flourished as an architect. The combination of brain and hand work is in itself conducive to better health than brain work alone, which may also help account for what, in our brief preceding list, would seem to indicate the superior health of such men.
The pursuit of religion, philosophy and science may be more spasmodic, but even here health and strength add greatly to the product, in both quality and quantity. Had the more vigorous men of the middle ages devoted their talents to spiritual affairs, the reformation might have come earlier or might not have been necessary. To-day the church recognizes that the adequate unfolding of the bodily forces is necessary to the full use of the mental powers with which one may be endowed. Asceticism has given place to temperance. Crusades for the sake of a sepulcher are succeeded by crusades against conditions which war upon physical sanity.
It is inspiring to know what has been accomplished under heavy handicap, but it is sad to contemplate what the same mental powers might have accomplished had the handicap never existed. There are quite enough other agencies for tempering and annealing the soul without preventable sickness and infirmity, and an untimely end rings down the curtain before the possibilities of the player are fairly exhibited.
One can not distinguish a fool from a philosopher by either his appearance, physique or vegetative capacity, but, given the finer mental endowment, he in whom that equipment is backed by superior physical balance and endurance is sure to prove the man of larger accomplishment in every sphere of endeavor.