The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 4
Lecture IV. Preserving Bodily and Mental Health, a Moral Duty; Amusements
Lecture IV. Preserving Bodily and Mental Health, a Moral Duty; Amusements.
The preservation of health is a moral duty—Causes of tad health are to be found in infringement of the organic law—All the bodily organs must be preserved in propertionate vigour—The pleasures attending high health are refined, and distinguishable from sensual pleasures—The habits of the lower animals are instructive to man in regard to health—Labour is indispensable to health—Fatal consequences of continued, although slight, infractions of the organic laws—Amusements necessary to health and therefore not sinful—We have received faculties of Time, Tune, Ideality, Imitation, and Wit, calculated to invent and practise amusements'—their uses and abuses statedpage 20
—Error of religion! persons who condemn instead of purifying and improving public amusements.
The next duty of man, as an individual, is to apply his knowledge in preserving himself in health, bodily and mental. Without health he is unfit for the successful discharge of his duties. It is so advantageous and agreeable to enjoy sound health, that many persons will exclaim, "No prophet is needed to inform us that it is our duty and our interest sedulously to guard it;" but many who treat thus lightly the general injunction, are grievously deficient in practical knowledge how to carry it into effect. It is true that every man in his senses takes care not to fall into the fire or walk into a pool of water? but how many valuable lives are put in jeopardy by sitting in wet clothes, by over asking the brain in study or in the cares of business, by too frequently repeated convivialities, or other habits that sap the foundations of health!
In tracing to their source the calamities which arise to families and individuals from bad health and untimely death, attended by deep laceration of their feelings and numerous privations, it is surprising how many of them may be discovered to arise from slight but long continued deviations from the dictates of the organic laws; apparently so trivial at first that scarcely any injurious or even disagreeable result was observed, but which, nevertheless, were from the beginning important errors, whose injurious consequence constantly increased. Perhaps the victim had an ardent mind, and, under the impulse of a laudable ambition to excel in his profession, studied with so much intensity, and for such long periods in succession, that he overtasked his brain, and ruined his health. His parents and relations, equally ignorant with himself of the organic laws, were rejoicing in his diligence, and forming fond expectations of the brilliant future that must, in their estimation, await one so gifted in virtuous feeling, in intellect, and in industry; when suddenly he was seized with fever, with inflammation, or with consumption, and in a few days or weeks was carried to the tomb. The heart bleeds at the sight; and the ways of Providence appear hard to be reconciled with our natural feelings and expectations; yet when we trace the catastrophe to its first cause, it is discovered to have had no mysterious or vindictive origin. The habits which appeared to the spectators so praiseworthy, and calculated to lead to such excellent attainments, were practically erroneous, and there was not one link wanting to complete the connection between them and the evil which they induced.
Another cause by which health and life are frequently destroyed, is occasional reckless conduct, pursued in ignorance of the laws of the human constitution. Take as an example the following case, which I have elsewhere given:—A young man in a public office, after many months of sedentary occupations, went to the country on a shooting excursion, where he exhausted himself by muscular exertion, of which his previous habits had rendered him little capable: he went to bed feverish, and perspired much during the night: next day he came to Edinburgh, unprotected by a greatcoat, on the outside of a very early coach: his skin was chilled, the perspiration was checked, the blood received an undue determination to the interior vital organs, disease was excited in the lungs, and within a few weeks he was consigned to the grave.
I received an interesting communication in illustration of the topic which I am now discussing, from a medical gentleman well known in the literary world by his instructive publications. His letter was suggested by a perusal of the" Constitution of Man." "On four several occasions," says he, "I have nearly lost my life from infringing the organic, laws. When a lad of fifteen, I brought on a brain-fever (from excessive study) which nearly killed me;: at the age of nineteen I had an attack of peritonitis-(inflammation of the lining membrane of the abdomen) occasioned by violent efforts in wrestling and leaping; and while in France, nine years ago, I was laid up with pneumonia (inflammation of the lungs) brought on by dissecting in the great galleries of La Piti6 with my coat and hat off in the month of December, the windows next to me being constantly open; and in 1829 I had a dreadful fever, occasioned by walking home from a party, at which I had been dancing, in an exceeding cold morning, without a cloak or greatcoat. I was for four months on my back, and did not recover perfectly for more than eighteen months. All these evils were entirely of my own creating, and arose from a foolish violation! of laws which every sensible man ought to observe and regulate himself by. Indeed I have always thought—and your book confirms me more fully in the sentiment—that, by proper attention, crime and disease and misery of every sort, could, in a much greater measure than is generally believed, be banished from the earth, and that the true method of doing so is to instruct people in the laws which govern their own frame."*
The great requisite of health is the preservation of all the leading organs of the body in a condition of regular and proportionate activity; to allow none to become too languid, and none too active. The result of this harmonious activity is a pleasing consciousness of existence, experienced when the mind is withdrawn from all exciting objects and turned inward on its own feelings. A philosophical friend once remarked to me, that he never considered himself to be in complete health, except when he was able to place his feet firmly on the turf, his hands hanging carelessly by his sides, his eyes wandering over space, and thus circumstanced, to feel such agreeable sensations arising in his mere bodily frame, that he could raise his mind to heaven, and thank God that he was a living man. This description of the quiet, pleasing enjoyment which accompanies complete health, appears to me to be admirable. It can hardly be doubted, that the Creator intended that the mere play of our bodily organs should yield us pleasure. It is probable that this is the chief gratification enjoyed by the inferior animals; and although we have received the high gift of reason, it does not necessarily follow that we should be deprived of the delights which our organic nature is. fairly calculated to afford. How different is the enjoyment which I have described, arising from the temperate, active, harmonious play of every bodily function,—from sensual pleasure, which results from the abuse of a few of our bodily appetites, and is followed by lasting pain; and yet so perverted are human notions, in consequence of ignorance and vicious habits, that thousands attach no idea to the phrase bodily pleasure, but that of sensual indulgence. The pleasurable feelings springing from health are delicate and refined; they are the supports and rewards of virtue, and altogether incompatible with vicious gratification of the appetites. So widely do the habits of civilized life depart from the standards of nature, that I fear this enjoyment is known, in its full exquisiteness, to comparatively few. Too many of us, when we direct our attention to our bodily sensations, experience only feelings of discomfort, anxiety, and discontent, which make us fly to an external pursuit, that we may escape from ourselves. page 21 This undefined uneasiness is the result of slight, but extensive derangement of the vital functions, and is the prelude of future disease. The causes of these uneasy feelings may be traced in our erroneous habits, occupations, and physical condition; and until society shall become so enlightened as to adopt (extensive improvements in all these particulars, there is no prospect of their termination.
It is instructive to compare with our own the modes of life of the lower animals, whose actions and habits are directly prompted and regulated by the Creator, by means of their instincts; because, in all circumstances in which our constitution closely resembles theirs, their conduct is really a lesson read to us by the All wise himself. If, then, we survey them attentively, we observe that they are incited to :a course of action calculated to produce harmonious activity in all their vital organs, and thus insure .their possession of health. Animals in a state of nature are remarkably cleanly in their habits. You must have observed the feathered tribes dressing their plumage and washing themselves in the brooks. 'The domestic cat is most careful to preserve a clean: sleek, flossy skin; the dog rolls himself on grass or straw; and the horse, when grazing, does the same, if he has not enjoyed the luxury of being well curried. The sow, although our standard of comparison for dirt, is not deserving of this character. It is invariably clean, wherever it is possible for it to be so; and its bad reputation arises from its masters, too frequently, leaving it no sphere of existence except dunghills and other receptacles of filth. In a stable-yard, where there is abundance of clean straw, the sleeping-place of the sow is unsoiled, and the creature makes great efforts to preserve it in this condition.
Again—In a state of nature there has been imposed on the inferior animals, in acquiring their food, an extent of labour, which amounts to regular exercise of their corporeal organs. And lastly, their food has been so adjusted to their constitutions, that without cookery they are well nourished, but very rarely rendered sick through surfeit, or the bad quality of what they eat. I speak always of animals in a state of nature. The domestic cow, which has stood an a house for many months, when first turned into a clover-field in summer, occasionally commits a surfeit; but she would not do so if left on the hill-side, and allowed to pick up her food by assiduous exertion. The animals, I repeat, are impelled directly by the Creator to act in the manner now described; and when we study their organization, and see its close resemblance to the human frame, we cannot fail, "while we admire the wisdom and benevolence displayed in their habits and constitution, hence to draw lessons for the regulation of our own.
Man differs from the brutes in this—that, instead of blind instincts, he is furnished with reason, which enables him to study himself, the external world, and their mutual relations; and to pursue the conduct which these point out as beneficial. It is by examining the structure, modes of action, and objects, of the various parts of his constitution, that man discovers what his duties of performance and abstinence in regard to health, really are. This proposition may be illustrated in the following manner. The skin has innumerable pores, and serves as an outlet for the waste particles of the body. The quantity of noxious matter excreted through these pores in twenty-four hours is, on the very lowest estimate, about twenty-four ounces. If the passage of this matter be obstructed so that it is retained in the body, the quality of the blood is deteriorated by its presence, and the general health, which greatly depends on the state of the blood, suffers. The nature if perspired matter is such, that it is apt. in consequence of the evaporation of its watery portion, to be condensed and clog the pores of the skin; and hence the necessity for washing the surface frequently, so as to keep the pores open, and allow perspiration freely to proceed. The clothing, moreover, must be so porous and clear.., as readily to absorb and allow a passage to the matter perspired, otherwise the same result ensues as from the impurity of the skin, namely, the arrest, or diminution, of the process of perspiration. Nor is this all. The skin is an absorbing as well as an excreting organ, and foreign substances in contact with it are sucked into its pores and introduced into the blood. When cleanliness is neglected, therefore, the evil consequences are twofold; first, the pores, as we have mentioned, are clogged, and perspiration obstructed; and, secondly, part of the noxious matter left on the skin or clothing, is absorbed into the system, where it produces hurtful effects. From such an exposition of the structure and functions of the skin, the necessity for cleanliness of person and clothing becomes abundantly evident; and the corresponding duty is more likely to be performed by those who know these details, and are convinced of their importance, than by persons impelled by injunctions alone. In some parts of the East, ablution of the body is justly regarded as a duty of religion; but you need not be told how extensively this duty is neglected in our own country. When men become enlightened, attention to cleanliness will be regarded as an important duty, akin to temperance, honesty, or piety.
I might, in like manner, describe the structure and modes of action of the bones, muscles, bloodvessels, nerves, and brain; and demonstrate to you that the necessity for bodily and mental labour, for temperance, for attention to ventilation, for judicious clothing, and a great variety of other observances, is written by the finger of God in the framework of our bodies. This, however, belongs to Physiology; and here I assume that you have studied and understand the leading facts of that subject. I limit myself to two observations. First, Exercise of the bones and muscles is labour; and labour, instead of being a curse to man, is a positive source of his wellbeing and enjoyment—It is only excessive labour that is painful; and in a well ordered community there should be no necessity for painfully exhausting exertion. Secondly, Exercise of the brain is synonymous with mental activity, which may be intellectual, or moral, or animal, according to the faculties which we employ. Mental inactivity, therefore, implies inactivity of the brain; and as the brain is the fountain of nervous energy to the whole system, the punishment of neglecting its exercise is great and severe—consisting in feelings of lassitude, uneasiness, fear and anxiety; vague desires, sleepless nights, and a general consciousness of discomfort, with incapacity to escape from suffering; all which poison life at its source, and render it thoroughly miserable. Well regulated mental activity, combined with due bodily exercise, on the other hand, is rewarded with gay, joyous feelings, an inward alacrity to discharge all our duties, a good appetite, sound sleep, and a general consciousness of happiness that causes days and years to fleet away without leaving a trace of physical suffering behind.
While moderate and proportionate exercise of all the bodily and mental functions is essential to health, we must be equally careful, in order to preserve this invaluable blessing, to shun over-exertion and excessive mental excitement. Owing to the constitution of British society, it is very difficult to avoid, in our habitual conduct, one or other of the extremes now mentioned. Many persons, born to wealth, have few motives to exertion; and such individuals; particularly females, often suffer grie page 22 vously in their health and happiness from want of rational objects of pursuit, calculated to excite and exercise their minds and bodies. Others, again, who do not inherit riches from their ancestors, are tempted to overtask themselves in acquiring them, frequently to support an expensive style of living, which vanity leads them to regard as necessary to social consideration. At this season, how many of us, after beginning our labours long before the sun dawns upon our city, find it difficult to snatch even this late hour (8 o'clock), at which we now assemble, from our pressing and yet unfulfilled business engagements! The same state of society exists in the United States of America, and the same effects ensue Dr Caldwell, one of the ornaments of that country, in his work on Physical Education, introduces some excellent remarks on the tendency of the embroilment of party politics and religious differences to over-excite the brain and produce insanity, and also dyspepsia or indigestion, which, says he, is more nearly allied to insanity than is commonly supposed. "So true is this, ' he adds; u that the one is not unfrequently converted into the other, and often alternates with it. The lunatic is usually a dyspeptic during his lucid interval's; and complaints, which begin in some form of gastric derangement, turn, in many instances, to madness;' Nor is this all. In families where mental derangement is hereditary, the members who escape that complaint are more than usually obnoxious to dyspepsia. It may be added, that dyspeptics and lunatics are relieved by the same modes of treatment, and that their maladies are induced, for the most part, by the same causes. The passions of grief. jealousy, anger, and envy, impair the digestive power; and dyspepsia is often cured by abandoning care and business, and giving rest to the brain. It is chiefly for this reason that a visit to a watering-place is so beneficial. The agitations of commercial speculation and too eager pursuit of wealth, have the same effect with party politics and religious controversy in over-exciting the brain; and" hence, in all probability, the inordinate extent of insanity and indigestion in Britain, and still more in the United States."
In opposition to these obvious dictates of reason, two objections are generally urged. The first is, that persons who are always taking care of their health, generally ruin it; their heads are filled with hypochondriacal fancies and alarms, and they become habitual valetudinarians. The answer to this remark is, that all such persons are already valetudinarians before they begin to experience the anxiety about their health here described; they are already nervous or dyspeptic, the victims of a morbid condition of body attended by uneasiness of mind, which last they ascribe to the state of their health. They are essentially in the right as to the main cause of their distress, for their mental anxiety certainly does proceed from disorder of their organic functions: Their chief error lies in this, that their efforts to regain health are not directed by knowledge, and in consequence lead to no beneficial result. They take quack medicines, or follow some foolish observances, Instead of subjecting themselves patiently and perseveringly to a judicious regimen in diet, and regular exercise, accompanied by amusement, and relaxation,—the remedies dictated by the organic laws. This last procedure alone constitutes a proper care of health; and no one becomes an invalid, or a hypochondriac, from adopting it. On the contrary, many individuals, in consequence of this rational obedience to the organic laws, have ceased to suffer under the maladies which previously afflicted them.
The second objection is that many persons live in sound health to a good old age, who never take any care of themselves at all; whence it is inferred that the safest plan is to follow their example and act on all occasions as impulse prompts, never doubting that our health, if we pursue this manly course, will take care of itself. In answer to this objection I observe, that constitutions differ widely in the amount of their native stamina, and consequently in the extent of tear and wear and bad treatment which they are able to sustain without being ruined; and that, for this reason, one individual may be comparatively little injured by a course of action which would prove fatal to another with a feebler natural frame.
The grand principle of the philosophy which I am now teaching is, that the natural laws really admit of no exceptions, and that specific causes, sufficient to account for the apparent exceptions, exist in every instance. Some of these individuals may have enjoyed very robust constitutions, which it was difficult to subvert: others may have indulged in excesses only at intervals, passing an intermediate period in abstinence, and permitting the powers of nature to readjust themselves and recover their tone, before they committed a new debauch; while others may have led an extremely active life, passing much of their time in the open air; a mode of being which enables the constitution to withstand a greater extent of intemperance than it can resist with sedentary employment. Rut of one and all of these men we may safely affirm, that if they had obeyed the organic laws, they would have lived still longer and more happily than they did by infringing them: and in the course of my observations, I have never seen an example of an individual who perseveringly proceeded in a course of intemperance, either sensual or mental,—that is, who habitually over asked his stomach or his brain,—who did not permanently ruin his health, usefulness, and enjoyment: I, therefore, cannot believe in the supposed exceptions to the organic laws. On the contrary, I have seen many of the most robust and energetic boys, who were my school companions, sink into premature graves, from reckless reliance on their strength, and disregard of external injurious influences; while the more feeble, but more prudent, survive.
One source of error on this subject may be traced to the widely prevailing ignorance which exists regarding the structure and functions of the body; in consequence of which, danger is frequently present, unknown to those who unthinkingly expose themselves to its approach. If you have marked a party of young men, every one of whom is unacquainted with the currents, sand-banks, and rocks, visible and invisible, with which the Frith of Forth is studded, proceeding in a boat on a pleasure-sail, you may have seen them all alert, and full of fun and frolic; and if the day was calm and the sea smooth, you may have observed them return in the evening well and happy, and altogether unconscious of the dangers to which their ignorance had exposed them. They may repeat the experiment, and succeed, by a fortunate combination of circumstances, again and again; but how different would be the feelings of a prudent and experienced pilot, who knew every part of the channel, and who saw that on one day they had passed within three inches of a sunken rock, on which, if they had struck, their boat would have been smashed to pieces; on another, had escaped by a few yards a dangerous sandbank; and on a third, had with great difficulty been able to extricate themselves from a current which was rapidly carrying them on a precipitous and rocky shore. The pilot' s anxiety would probably be fully justified at length, by the occurrence of one or other of those mischances, or by the upsetting of the boat in a squall, its destruction in a mist, or its driving out to sea when the wind aided an ebbing tide.
This is not an imaginary picture. In my own page 23 youth, I happened to form one of such an inconsiderate party. The wind rose on us. and all our strength applied to the oars scarcely sufficed to enable us to pull round a point of rock, on which the sea Has beating with so much force, that had we struck on it, our frail bark would never have withstood a second shock. Scarcely had we escaped this danger, when we ran right in the way of a heavy man of war's boat. scudding at the rate of ten miles an hour before the wind, and which would have run us down, but for the amazing promptitude of her crew, who in an instant extended twenty brawny arms over the side of their own boat, seized ours, and held it above water by main force, till they were able to clear away by our stern. The adventure was terminated by our being picked up by a revenue cutter, and brought safety into Leith harbour at a late hour in the evening. I have reflected since on the folly and presumptuous confidence of that excursion; but I never was aware of the full extent of the danger, until, many years subsequently, I saw a regular chart of the Frith, in which the shoals, sunken rocks, and currents were conspicuously laid down for the direction of pilots who navigate these waters.
Thus it is with rash, reckless, ignorant youth in regard to health. Each folly or indiscretion that, through some combination of fortunate circumstances, has been committed without immediate punishment, emboldens them to venture on greater irregularities, until, in an evil hour, they are caught in a violation of the organic laws that consigns them to the grave. Those who have become acquainted with the structure, functions, and laws of the vital organs, see the conduct of these blind adventurers on the ocean of life, in the same light that I regarded our youthful voyage after I had become acquainted with the chart of the Frith. There is an unspeakable difference between a belief in safety founded only on utter ignorance of the existence of danger, and that which arises from a knowledge of all the sunken rocks and eddies in the stream, and from a practical pilot's skill in steering clear of them all. The pilot is as gay and joyous as they; but his joy arises from well-grounded assurance of safety; theirs from ignorance of danger. He is cheerful, yet always observant, cautious, and alert. They are happy, because they are unobservant and heedless. When danger comes, he shuns it by his skill, or meets and conquers it. They escape it by accident, or perish unwittingly in the gulph.
The last observation which I make on this head is, that, in regard to health, Nature may be said to allow us to run with her an account-current, in which many small transgressions seem at the time to be followed by no penalty, when, in fact, they are all charged to the debit side of the account, and, after the lapse of years, are summed up and closed by a fearful balance against the transgressor. Do any of you know individuals, who, for twenty years, have persevered in frequent feastings, who all that time have been constant diners out or diners at home, or the soul of convivial meetings, prolonged into far advanced hours of the morning, and who have resisted every warning, and admonition from friends, and proceeded in the confident belief that neither their health nor strength were impaired by such a course? Nature kept an account-current with such men. She had at first placed a strong constitution and vigorous health to their credit, and they had drawn on it day by day; believing that, because she did not instantly strike the balance against them and withdraw her blessing, she was keeping no note of their follies. But mark the close. At the end of twenty years, or less, you will find them dying of palsy, apoplexy, water in the chest, or some other disease clearly referrible to their protracted intemperance; or. if they escape death, you will see them become walking shadows, the ghosts of their former selves-the beacons, in short, set up by Nature to warn others that she does not, in any instance, permit her laws to be transgressed with impunity. If sedulous instruction in the laws of health would not assist the reason and moral and religious feelings of such persons to curb their appetites, and avoid these consequences, they must be reckless indeed. At least, until this shall have been tried and failed, we should never despair, or consider their case and condition as beyond the reach of improvement.
It must be allowed, however, that the dangers arising to health from improper social habits and arrangements, cannot be altogether avoided by the exertions of individuals acting singly in their separate spheres. I shall have occasion, hereafter, in explaining the social law, to point out that the great precept of Christianity (that we must love our neighbours as ourselves) is inscribed in every line of our constitution; and that, in consequence, we must render our neighbours as moral, intelligent, and virtuous as ourselves, and induce them to form a public opinion in favour of wisdom and virtue, before we can reap the full reward even of our own knowledge and attainments. As an example in point, I observe, that if there be among us any one merchant, manufacturer, or lawyer, who feels, in all its magnitude and intensity, the evil of an overstrained pursuit of wealth; yet he cannot, with impunity, abridge his hours of toil, unless he can induce his rivals to do so also. If they persevere, they will outstrip him in the race of competition, and impair his fortune. We must, therefore, produce a general conviction among the constituent members of society, that Providence forbids that course of incessant action which obstructs the path of moral and intellectual improvement, and leads to mental anxiety and corporeal suffering; and induce them, by a simultaneous movement, to apply an effectual remedy, in a wiser and better distribution of the hours of labour, relaxation, and enjoyment. Every one of us can testify, that this is possible, so far as the real, necessary, and advantageous business of the world is concerned: for we perceive that, by a judicious arrangement of our time and our affairs, all necessary business may be compressed within many fewer hours than those we now dedicate to that object. I should consider eight hours a-day amply sufficient for business and labour: there would remain eight hours more for enjoyment, and eight for repose; a distribution that would cause the current of life to flow more cheerfully; agreeably, and successfully, than it can do under our present system of ceaseless competition and toil.
It appears, then, from the foregoing considerations, that the study and observance of the laws of health is a moral duty, revealed by our constitution as the will of God, and, moreover, necessary to the due discharge of all our other duties. We rarely hear from divines an exposition of the duty of preserving health, founded on and enforced by an exposition of our natural constitution; because they confine themselves to what the Scriptures contain. The Scriptures, in prescribing sobriety and temperance, moderation and activity, clearly coincide with the natural laws on this subject: but we ought not to study the former to the exclusion of the latter; for, by learning the structure, functions, and relations of the human body, we are rendered more fully aware of the excellence of the Scriptural precepts, and we obtain new motives to observe them in our perception of the punishments by which, even in this world, the breach of them is visited. Why the exposition of the will of God, when strikingly written in the Book of Nature, should be neglected by divines, is explicable only by the fact, that when the page 24 present standards of theology were framed, that book was sealed, and its contents were unknown. We cannot, therefore, justly blame our ancestors for the omission; but it is not too much to hope that modern divines may take courage and supply the deficiency. I believe that many of them are inclined to do so, but are afraid of giving offence to the people. By teaching the people to regard all natural institutions as divine, this obstacle to improvement may, in time, be removed, and religion may be brought to lend her powerful aid in enforcing obedience to the natural laws.
In my Introductory Lecture, I explained that Veneration, as well as the other moral sentiments, is merely a blind feeling, and needs to be directed by knowledge. In that lecture, I alluded to the case of an English lady, who had all her life been taught to regard Christmas and Good-Friday as holy, and who, on her first arrival in Edinburgh, was greatly shocked at perceiving them to be desecrated by ordinary business. Her Veneration had been trained to regard them as sanctified days; and she could not immediately divest herself of pain at seeing them treated without any religious respect. I humbly propose, that, in a sound education, the sentiment of Veneration should be directed to all that God has really instituted. If the structure and functions of the body were taught to youth, as God's workmanship, and the duties deducible from them were clearly enforced as his commands, the mind would feel it to be sinful to neglect or violate them; and a great additional efficacy would thereby be given to all precepts, recommending exercise, cleanliness, and temperance. They would come home to youth, enforced by the perceptions of the understanding, and by the emotions of the moral sentiments; and they would be practically confirmed by the experience of pleasure from observance, and pain from infringement of them. The young, in short, would be taught to trace their duty to its foundation in the will of God, and to discover that it is addressed to them as rational beings: at the same time, they would learn that the study of his laws is no vain philosophy; for they would speedily discern the Creator's hand rewarding them for obedience, and punishing them for transgression.
As closely connected with health, I proceed to consider the subject of amusements, regarding which much difference of opinion prevails. When we have no true philosophy of mind, this question becomes altogether inextricable; because every individual disputant ascribes to human nature those tendencies, either to vice or virtue, which suit his favourite theory, and then he has no difficulty in proving that amusements either are, or are not, necessary and advantageous to a being so constituted. Phrenology gives us a firmer basis. As formerly remarked, man cannot make and unmake mental and bodily organs, nor vary their functions and laws of action to suit his different theories and views.
I observe, then, that every mental organ, by frequent and long continued action, becomes fatigued, just as the muscles of the leg and arm become weary by too protracted exertion. Indeed, it cannot be conceived that the mind, except in consequence of the interposition of organs, is susceptible of fatigue at all. We can comprehend that the vigour of the fibres of the organ of Tune may become exhausted by a constant repetition of the same kind of action, and demand repose; while the idea of an immaterial spirit becoming weary is altogether inconceivable.
From this law of our constitution, therefore, it is plain that variety of employment is necessary to our welfare, and was intended by the Creator. Hence he has given us a plurality of faculties, each having; a separate [unclear: organic] so that some may rest while others are actively employed. Among these various faculties and organs, there are several which appear obviously destined to contribute to our amusement; a circumstance which (as Addison has remarked) "sufficiently shews us that Providence did not design this world should be filled with murmurs and repinings, or that the heart of man should be involved in gloom and melancholy." We have received a faculty of the ludicrous, which, when active, prompts us to laugh and to excite laughter in others: We have received organs of Tune and Time, which inspire us with the desire, and give us the talent, to produce music. Our organs of voluntary motion are so connected with these organs, that when we hear gay and vivacious music played in well marked time, we instinctively desire to dance; and when we survey the effect of dancing on our corporeal frame, we discover that it is admirably calculated to promote the circulation of the blood and nervous influence all over the body, and by this means to strengthen the limbs, the heart, the lungs, and the brain: in short, to invigorate the health, and to render the mind cheerful and alert. To such of my audience as have not studied anatomy and physiology, and who are ignorant of the functions of the brain, these propositions may appear to be mere words or theories; but to those who have made the structure, functions, relations, and adaptations of these various organs a subject of careful investigation, they will. I hope, appear in the light of truths. If such they are, our constitution proves that amusement has been kindly intended for us by the Creator, and that therefore, in itself, it must be not only harmless, but absolutely beneficial.
In this, as in every thing else, we must distinguish between the use and abuse of natural gifts. Because some young men neglect their graver duties through an excessive love of music, some parents denounce music altogether as dangerous and pernicious to youth; and because some young ladies think more earnestly about balls and operas than about their advancement in moral, intellectual, and religious attainments, there are parents who are equally disposed to proscribe dancing. But this is equally irrational as if they should propose to prohibit eating because John or Helen had been guilty of a surfeit. These enjoyments in due season and degree are advantageous, and it is only sheer ignorance or impatience that can prompt any one to propose their abolition.
The organs of Intellect, combined with Secretiveness, Imitation, and Ideality, confer a talent for acting, or for representing by words, looks, gestures, and attitudes, the various emotions, passions, and ideas of the soul; and these representations excite the faculties of the spectators into activity in a powerful and pleasing manner. Farther, the Creator has bestowed on us organs of Constructiveness, Form, Size, Locality, and Colouring, which, combined with Imitation and Ideality, prompt us to represent objects in statuary or painting: and these representations also speak directly to the mind of the beholder, and fill it with delightful emotions. Here, then, we trace directly to nature the origin of the stage and of the fine arts. Again, I am forced to remark, that to those individuals who have not studied Phrenology and seen evidence of the existence and functions of the organs here enumerated, this reference of the fine arts, and of the drama in particular, to nature, or in other words to the intention of the Creator, will appear unwarranted, perhaps irreverent or impious. To such persons I reply, that, having satisfied myself by observation that the organs do exist, and that they produce the effects here described, I cannot avoid the conclusion in question; and in support of it I may refer also to page 25 the existence of the stage, and to the delight of man-kind, in all ages and all civilized countries, in scenic representations.
If, therefore, the faculties which produce the love of the stage and the fine arts have been instituted by nature, we may justly infer that they have legitimate, improving, and exalting objects; although, like our other talents, they may be abused. The line of demarcation between their use and abuse may be distinguished by a moderate exercise of judgment. They are in themselves mere arts of expression and representation, a species of natural language, which may be made subservient to the gratification of all the faculties, whether propensities, moral sentiments, or intellect. We may represent in statuary, on canvass, or on the stage, lascivious and immoral objects calculated to excite all the lower feelings of our nature; which is a disgraceful abuse: or we may pour tray scenes and objects calculated to gratify and strengthen our moral, religious, and intellectual powers, and to carry forward our whole being in the paths of virtue and improvement; and this is the legitimate use of these gifts of God.
The applications made of these powers, by particular nations or individuals, bear reference to their general mental condition. The ancient Greeks and Romans enjoyed very immoral plays, and also combats of gladiators and of wild beasts, in which men and animals tore each other to pieces, and put each other to death. Such scenes were the direct stimulants of Amativeness, Combativeness, and Destructiveness, and proclaim to us, more forcibly than the pages of the most eloquent, veracious, and authentic historians, that these nations, with all their boasted refinement, were essentially barbarians, and that, in the mass of the people, the moral sentiments had not attained any important ascendency. In the days of Queen Elizabeth and Charles the Second, plays of a very indelicate character were listened to by the nobles and common people of Britain, without the least expression of disapprobation: and this indicated a general grossness of feeling, and of manners, to be prevalent among them. Even in our own day we become spectators of plays of very imperfect morality and questionable delicacy; and the same conclusion follows, that there still lurks among us no small portion of unrefined animal propensity, and semi-barbarism; in other words, that the moral and intellectual faculties have not yet achieved the full conquest over our inferior nature. But even in these instances there is an evident advance from the Greek and Roman standards towards a more legitimate use of the faculties of representation; and I conclude from this fact, that future generations will apply them to still higher and more useful objects. Nor is it too enthusiastic to hope, that some future Shakspeare, aided by the true philosophy of mind, and a knowledge of the natural laws according to which good; and evil are dispensed in the world, may teach and illustrate the philosophy of human life, with all the splendour of eloquence, and soul-stirring energy of conception which lofty genius can impart; and that a future Kemble or Siddons proclaim such lessons in living speech and gestures to mankind. By looking forward to possibilities like these, we are enabled to form some notion of the legitimate objects for which a love of the stage was given, and of the improvement and delight of which it may yet be rendered the instrument.
If there be any truth in the principles on which these remarks are founded, we cannot avoid lamenting that helpless (although well meaning and amiable) imbecility, which, alarmed at the abuses of amusements, decries them altogether. A few days ago (Dec. 18 35), we saw an announcement in the public papers that the ladies directresses of the House of Industry of Edinburgh had declined to accept of money drawn at Mr Cook's circus for the benefit of that charity, because it was against their principles to countenance public amusements. If I am warranted in saying that the Creator has constituted our minds and bodies to be benefited by amusements—has given us faculties specially designed to produce and enjoy them—and has assigned a sphere of use and abuse to these faculties as well as to all others, it is clearly injudicious in the amiable, the virtuous, the charitable, and the religious,—in persons meriting our warmest sympathy and respect,—to place themselves in an attitude of hostility, and of open and indiscriminate denunciation, against pleasures founded on the laws of our common nature. Instead of bringing all the weight of their moral and intellectual character to bear upon the improvement and beneficial application of public entertainments, as it is obviously their duty both to God and to society to do, they fly from them as pestilential, and leave the direction of them exclusively to those whom they consider fitted only to abuse them. This is an example of piety and charity smitten with paralysis and fatal cowardice through ignorance. In urging you to "try all things," and to distinguish between the uses and abuses of every gift, my aim is to impart to you knowledge to distinguish virtue, and courage to maintain it; to render you bold in advocating what is right, and to induce you, while there is a principle of reason and morality left to rest upon, never to abandon the field, whether of duty, instruction, or amusement, to those whom you consider the enemies of human happiness and virtue. Let us correct all our institutions, but not utterly extinguish any that are founded in nature.
* The author of this letter was Dr Robert Macnish, and I regret to say, that since it was written he has fallen a victim to another attack of fever.