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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 78

Cram and Neglect of the Body

Cram and Neglect of the Body.

And if, as all who investigate the matter must admit, physical degeneracy is a consequence of excessive study, how grave is the condemnation to be passed on this cramming system above exemplified. It is a terrible mistake, from whatever point of view regarded. . . . Those who, in eagerness to cultivate their pupils' minds, are reckless of their bodice, do not remember that success in the world depends more on energy than on information; and that a policy which in cramming with information undermines energy is self-defeating. The strong will and untiring activity due to abundant animal vigor go far to compensate even great defects of education; and when joined with that quite adequate education which may be obtained without sacrificing health, they ensure an easy victory over competitors enfeebled by excessive study, prodigies of learning though they may be. A comparatively small and ill-made engine, worked at high pressure, will do more than a large and well-finished one worked at low pressure. What folly is it, then, while finishing the engine, so to damage the boiler that it will not generate steam ! Once more, the system is a mistake, as involving a false estimate of welfare in life. Even supposing it were a means to worldly success, instead of a means to worldly failure. Yet, page 80 in the entailed ill-health, it would inflict a more than equivalent curse. What boots it to have attained wealth, if the wealth is accompanied by ceaseless ailments? What is the worth of distinction, if it has brought hypochondria with it? Surely no one needs telling that a good digestion, a bounding pulse, and high spirits are elements of happiness which no external advantages can outbalance. Chronic bodily disorder casts a gloom over the brightest prospects; while the vivacity of strong health gilds even misfortune. We contend, then, that this over-education is vicious in every way—vicious, as giving knowledge that will soon be forgotten: vicious, as producing a disgust for knowledge; vicious, as neglecting that organisation of knowledge which is more important than its acquisition; vicious, as weakening or destroying that energy without which a trained intellect is useless; vicious, as entailing that ill-health for which even success would not compensate, and which makes failure doubly bitter.

On women the effects of thi6 forcing system are, if possible, even more injurious than on men. Being in great measure debarred from those vigorous and enjoyable exercises of body by which boys mitigate the evils of excessive study, girls feel these evils in their full intensity. Hence the much smaller proportion of them who grow up well-made and healthy. . . . And this physical degeneracy hinders their welfare far more than their many accomplishments aid it. Mammas anxious to make their daughters attractive could scarcely choose a course more fatal than this, which sacrifices the body to the mind. Either they disregard the tastes of the opposite sex, or else their conception of these tastes is erroneous. Men care little for erudition in women, but very much for physical beauty, good nature, and sound sense. . . . The truth is that out of the many elements uniting in various proportions to produce in a man's breast the complex emotion we call love, the strongest are those produced by physical attractions;* the next in order of strength are those produced by moral; attractions; the weakest are those produced by intellectual attractions; and even these are dependent less on acquired knowledge than on natural faculty—quickness, wit, insight. If any think the assertion a derogatory one, and inveigh against the masculine character for being thus swayed, we reply that they little know what they say when they thus call in question the Divine ordinations. Even were there no obvious meaning in the arrangement, we might be sure that some important end was subserved. But the meaning is quite obvious to those who examine. When we remember that one of Nature's ends, or rather her supreme end, is the welfare of posterity; further that, in so far as posterity are concerned, a cultivated intelligence based on a bad physique is of little worth, since its descendants will die out in a generation or two; and conversely that a good physique, however poor the accompanying mental endowments, is worth preserving, because, through out future generations, the mental endowments may be indefinitely developed, we perceive how important is the balance of instincts above described. But, advantage apart, the instincts being thus balanced, it is folly to persist in a system which undermines a girl's constitution that it may overload her memory. . . . To educate in such manner or to such extent, as to produce physical degeneracy is to defeat the chief end for which the toil and cost and anxiety are submitted to. By subjecting their daughters to this high-pressure system, parents frequently ruin their prospects in life. Besides inflicting on them enfeebled health, with all its pains and disabilities and gloom, they not unfrequently doom them to celibacy. . .

The rationale of this high-pressure education is that it results from our passing phase of civilisation. In primitive times, when aggression and defence were the leading social activities, bodily vigor with its accompanying courage were the desiderata; and then education was almost wholly physical; mental cultivation was little cared for, and indeed, as in feudal ages, was often treated with contempt. But now that our state is relatively peaceful—now that muscular power is of use for little else than manual labor, while social page 81 success of nearly every kind depends very much on mental power—our education has become almost exclusively mental. Instead of respecting the body and ignoring the mind, we now respect the mind and ignore the body. Both these attitudes are wrong. We do not yet realise the truth that as, in this life of ours, the physical underlies the mental, the mental must not be developed at the expense of the physical. The ancient and modern conceptions must be combined.

Perhaps nothing will so much hasten the time when body and mind will both he adequately cared for as a diffusion of the belief that the preservation of health is a duty. Few seem conscious that there is such a thing as physical morality. Men's habitual words and acts imply the idea that they are at liberty to treat their bodies as they please. Disorders entailed by disobedience to Natures dictates they regard simply as grievances, not as the effects of a conduct more or less flagitious. Though the evil consequences inflicted on their dependents, and on future generations, are often as great as those caused by crime, yet they do not think themselves in any degree criminal. It is true that in the case of drunkenness, the viciousness of a bodily transgression is recognised; but none appear to infer that, if this bodily transgression is vicious, so too is every bodily transgression. The fact is, that all breaches of the laws of health are physical sins. When this is generally seen, then, and perhaps not till then, will the physical training of the young receive the attention it deserves.

* Of course the converse of this is too often true—viz., that marriages are contracted on merely sentimental grounds, without any consideration whatever as to physical fitness on either side—indeed, in the face of known unfitness. Doctors recognise that there is a tendency for unions to take place between invalids attracted by the mutual affinities of weakness. This fact obviously affords further support to Spencer's protest against sacrifice of the body in the course of education.—F. T. K.