This section is from the "The Young Mother. Management of Children in Regard to Health" book, by William A. Alcott. Also available from Amazon: The Young Mother
There is a prejudice abroad, to some extent, against agitating the questions—"What shall we eat? What shall we drink? and Wherewithal shall we be clothed?"—not so much because the Scriptures have charged us not to be over "anxious" on the subject, as because those who pay the least attention to what they eat and drink, are supposed to be, after all, the most healthy.
It is not difficult to ascertain how this opinion originated. There are a few individuals who are perpetually thinking and talking on this subject, and who would fain comply with appropriate rules, if they knew what they were, and if a certain definite course, pursued a few days only, would change their whole condition, and completely restore a shattered or ruined constitution. But their ignorance of the laws which govern the human frame, both in sickness and in health, and their indisposition to pursue any proposed plan for their improvement long enough to receive much permanent benefit from it, keep them, notwithstanding all they say or do, always deteriorating.
Then, on the other hand, there are a few who, in consequence of possessing by nature very strong constitutions, and laboring at some active and peculiarly healthy employment, are able for a few, and perhaps even for many years, to set all the rules of health at defiance.
Now, strange as it may seem, these cases, though they are only exceptions (and those more apparent than real) to the general rule, are always dwelt upon, by those who are determined to live as they please, and to put no restraint either upon themselves or their appetites. For nothing can be plainer—so it seems to me—than that, taking mankind by families, or what is still better, by larger portions, they are most free from pain and disease, as well as most healthy and happy, who pay the most attention to the laws of human health, that is, those laws or rules by whose observance alone, that health can be certainly and permanently secured.
But these families and communities are most healthy and happy, not because they live in a proper manner, by fits and starts, but because they have, from some cause or other, adopted and persevered in HABITS which, compared with the habits of other families, or other communities, are preferable; that is, more in obedience to the laws which govern the human constitution. Not that even they are "without sin" or error on this subject—gross error too—but because their errors are fewer or less destructive than those of their neighbors.
Now is it possible that any intelligent father or mother of a family, whose diet, clothing, exercise, &c. are thus comparatively well regulated, would derive no benefit from the perusal of works which treat candidly, rationally, and dispassionately, on these points? Is there a mother in the community who is so destitute of reason and common sense as not to desire the light of a broader experience in regard to the tendency of things than she has had, or possibly can have, in her own family? Is there one who will not be aided by understanding not only that a certain thing or course is better than another, but also WHY it is so?
It is by no means the object of this little work to set people to watching their stomachs from meal to meal, in regard to the effects of food, drink, etc.; for nothing in the world is better calculated to make dyspeptics than this. It is true, indeed, that some things may be obviously and greatly injurious, taken only once; and when they are so, they should be avoided. But in general, it is the effect of a habitual use of certain things for a long time together—and the longer the experiment the better—which we are to observe.
A book to guide mothers in the formation of early good habits in their offspring, should be the result of long observation and much experiment on these points, but more especially of a thorough understanding of human physiology. It should not consist so much of the conceits of a single brain—perhaps half turned—as of the logical deductions of severe science, and facts gleaned from the world's history.
Here is a nation, or tribe of men, bringing up children to certain habits, from generation to generation—and such and such is their character. Here, again, is another large portion of our race, who, under similar circumstances of climate, &c. &c., have, for several hundred years, educated their children very differently, and with different results. A comparison of things on a large scale, together with a close attention to the constitution and relations of the human system, affords ground for drawing conclusions which are or may be useful. If this book shall not afford light derived from such sources, it were far better that it had never been written. If it only sets people to watching over the effects of things taken or used only for a single day, instead of leading them from early infancy to form in their children such habits as will preclude, in a great measure, the necessity of watching ourselves daily, then let the day perish from the memory of the writer, in which the plan of bringing it forth to the world was conceived. But he is confident of better things. He does not believe that a work which, to such an extent, GIVES THE REASON WHY, will be productive of more evil than good. On the contrary, it must, if read, have the opposite effect.
I do not deny that even after the formation of the best habits, there will be a necessity of paying some attention to what we eat and what we drink, from day to day, and from hour to hour; but only that the tendency of this work is not to increase this necessity, but on the contrary, to diminish it. In my own view; these occasions of inquiry in regard to what is right, physically as well as morally, are one part of our trials in this world—one means of forming our characters. We are constantly tempted to excess and to error, in spite of the most firm habits of self-denial which can be formed. If we resist temptation, our characters are improved. And it is by self-denial and self-government in these smaller matters, that we are to hope for nearly all the progress we can ever make in the great work of self-education. Great trials of character come but seldom; and when they come, we are often armed against them; but these little trials and temptations, coming upon us every hour—these it is, after all, that give shape to our characters, and make us constantly growing either better or worse, both in the sight of God and man. But, as I have repeatedly said, the object of this work is to diminish rather than to increase the frequency of these trials, useful though they may be, if duly improved, in the formation of virtuous, and even of holy character.