In a work which aims to influence women to train the young to honor domestic labor and to seek healthful exercise in home pursuits, there is special reason for explaining the construction of the muscles and their connection with the nerves, these being the chief organs of motion.

The muscles, as seen by the naked eye, consist of very fine fibres or strings, bound up in smooth, silky casings of thin membrane. But each of these visible fibres or strings the microscope shows to be made up of still finer strings, numbering from five to eight hundred in each fibre. And each of these microscopic fibres is a series or chain of elastic cells, which are so minute that one hundred thousand would scarcely cover a capital O on this page.

The peculiar property of the cells which compose the muscles is their elasticity, no other cells of the body having this property. At Fig. 49 is a diagram representing a microscopic muscular fibre, in which the cells are relaxed, as in the natural state of rest. But when the muscle contracts, each of its numberless cells in all its small fibres becomes widened, making each fibre of the muscle shorter and thicker, as at Fig. 50. This explains the cause of the swelling out of muscles when they act.

Fig. 49.

Fig. 49.

Fig. 50.

Fig. 50.

Every motion in every part of the body has a special muscle to produce it, and many have other muscles to restore the part moved to its natural state. The muscles that move or bend any part are called flexors, and those that restore the natural position are called extensors.

Fig. 51 represents the muscles of the arm after the skin and flesh are removed. They are all in smooth, silky cases, laid over each other, and separated both by the smooth membranes that encase them and by layers of fat, so as to move easily without interfering with each other. They are fastened to the bones by strong tendons and cartilages; and around the wrist, in the drawing, is shown a band of cartilage to confine them in place. The muscle marked 8 is the extensor that straightens the fingers after they have been closed by a flexor on the other side of the arm. In like manner, each motion of the arm and fingers has one muscle to produce it and another to restore to the natural position.

The muscles are dependent on the brain and nerves for power to move. It has been shown that the gray matter of the brain and spinal marrow furnishes the stimulating power that moves the muscles, and causes sensations of touch on the skin, and the other sensations of the several senses. The white part of the brain and spinal marrow consists solely of conducting tubes to transmit this influence. Each of the minute fibrils of the muscles has a small conducting nerve connecting it with the brain or spinal marrow, and in this respect each muscular fibril is separate from every other.

When, therefore, the mind wills to move a flexor muscle of the arm, the gray matter sends out the stimulus through the nerves to the cells of each individual fibre of that muscle, and they contract. When this is done, the nerve of sensation reports it to the brain and mind. If the mind desires to return the arm to its former position, then follows the willing, and consequent stimulus sent through the nerves to the corresponding muscle; its cells contract, and the limb is restored.

Fig. 51.

Fig. 51.

When the motion is a compound one, involving the action of several muscles at the same time, a multitude of impressions are sent back and forth to and from the brain through the nerves. But the person acting thus is unconscious of all this delicate and wonderful mechanism. He wills the movement, and instantly the requisite nervous power is sent to the required cells and fibres, and they perform the motions required. Many of the muscles are moved by the sympathetic system, over which the mind has but little control. Among the muscles and nerves so intimately connected run the minute capillaries of the blood, which furnish nourishment to all.

Fig. 52 represents an artery at a, which brings pure blood to a muscle from the heart. After meandering through the capillaries at c, to distribute oxygen and food from the stomach, the blood enters the vein, b, loaded with carbonic acid and water taken up in the capillaries, to be carried to the lungs or skin, and thrown out into the air.

The manner in which the exercise of the muscles quickens the circulation of the blood will now be explained. The veins abound in every part of every muscle, and the large veins have valves which prevent the blood from flowing backward. If the wrist is grasped tightly, the veins of the hand are immediately swollen. This is owing to the fact that the blood is prevented from flowing toward the heart by this pressure, and by the vein-valves from returning into the arteries; while the arteries themselves, being placed deeper down, are not so compressed, and continue to send the blood into the hand, and thus it accumulates. As soon as this pressure is removed, the blood springs onward from the restraint with accelerated motion. This same process takes place when any of the muscles are exercised. The contraction of any muscle presses some of the veins, so that the blood can not flow the natural way, while the valves in the veins prevent its flowing backward. Meantime the arteries continue to press the blood along until the veins become swollen. Then, as soon as the muscle ceases its contraction, the blood flows faster from the previous accumulation.

Fig. 52.

Fig. 52.

If, then, we use a number of muscles, and use them strongly and quickly, there are so many veins affected in this way as to quicken the whole circulation. The heart receives blood faster, and sends it to the lungs faster. Then the lungs work quicker, to furnish the oxygen required by the greater amount of blood. The blood returns with greater speed to the heart, and the heart sends it out with quicker action through the arteries to the capillaries. In the capillaries, too, the decayed matter is carried off faster, and then the stomach calls for more food to furnish new and pure blood. Thus it is that exercise gives new life and nourishment to every part of the body.

It is the universal law of the human frame that exercise is indispensable to the health of the several parts. Thus, if a blood-vessel be tied up, so as not to be used, it shrinks, and becomes a useless string; if a muscle be condemned to inaction, it shrinks in size. and diminishes in power; and thus it is also with the bones. Inactivity produces softness, debility, and unfitness for the functions they are designed to perform.

Now, the nerves, like all other parts of the body, gain and lose strength according as they are exercised. If they have too much or too little exercise, they lose strength; if they are exercised to a proper degree, they gain strength. When the mind is continuously excited, by business, study, or the imagination, the nerves of emotion and sensation are kept in constant action, while the nerves of motion are unemployed. If this is continued for a long time, the nerves of sensation lose their strength from overaction, and the nerves of motion lose their power from inactivity. In consequence, there is a morbid excitability of the nervous, and a debility of the muscular system, which make all exertion irksome and wearisome.

The only mode of preserving the health of these systems is to keep up in them an equilibrium of action. For this purpose, occupations must be sought which exercise the muscles and interest the mind; and thus the equal action of both kinds of nerves is secured. This shows why exercise is so much more healthful and invigorating when the mind is interested than when it is not. As an illustration, let a person go shopping with a friend, and have nothing to do but look on. How soon do the continuous walking and standing weary! But, suppose one, thus wearied, hears of the arrival of a very dear friend: she can instantly walk off a mile or two to meet her, without the least feeling of fatigue. By this is shown the importance of furnishing, for young persons, exercise in which they will take an interest. Long and formal walks, merely for exercise, though they do some good, in securing fresh air and some exercise of the muscles, would be of triple benefit if changed to amusing sports, or to the cultivation of fruits and flowers, in which it is impossible to engage without acquiring a great interest.

It shows, also, why it is far better to trust to useful domestic exercise at home than to send a young person out to walk for the mere purpose of exercise. Young girls can seldom be made to realize the value of health, and the need of exercise to secure it, so as to feel much interest in walking abroad, when they have no other object. But if they are brought up to minister to the comfort and enjoyment of themselves and others by performing domestic duties, they will constantly be interested and cheered in their exercise by the feeling of usefulness and the consciousness of having performed their duty.

There are few young persons, it is hoped, who are brought up with such miserable habits of selfishness and indolence that they can not be made to feel happier by the consciousness of being usefully employed. And those who have never been accustomed to think or care for any one but themselves, and who seem to feel little pleasure in making themselves useful, by wise and proper, influences can often be gradually awakened to the new pleasure of benevolent exertion to promote the comfort and enjoyment of others. And the more this sacred and elevating kind of enjoyment is tasted, the greater is the relish induced. Other enjoyments often cloy; but the heavenly pleasure secured by virtuous industry and benevolence, while it satisfies at the time, awakens fresh desires for the continuance of so ennobling a good.

It is an interesting illustration of the benevolence and wisdom of our Maker, that the appropriate duties of the family, uniting intellectual, social, and moral with both sedentary and active pursuits, are exactly fitted to employ every faculty in a healthful proportion. And it is a sad violation of the laws of health to so divide family employments that one class use muscle too much, and the other the brain to excess.