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 sense in which every infant may be said to be born healthy, so that we may not only adopt the language of the poet, Bowring, and say
a child is born;
Take it, and make it a bud of moral beauty,"
but we may also add—Take it and make it beautiful physically. For though a hereditary predisposition undoubtedly renders some individuals more susceptible than others to particular diseases, yet when the bodily organization of an infant is complete, and the degree of vitality which nature gives it is sufficient to propel the machinery of the frame, it can scarcely be regarded as in any other state than that of health.
Now if it be the intention of divine Providence (and who will doubt that it is?) that the animal body should be capable of resisting with impunity the impressions of heat, cold, light, air, and the various external influences to which, at birth, it is subjected, it may be properly asked why this primitive state of health cannot be maintained, and diseases, and medicines, and even PREVENTIVES wholly avoided.
But the reason is obvious. Civilized society has placed the human race in artificial circumstances. Instead of listening to the dictates of reason, making ourselves acquainted with the nature of the human constitution, and studying to preserve it in health and vigor, we yield to the government of ignorance and presumption. The first moment, even, in which we draw breath, sees us placed under the control of individuals who are totally inadequate to the important charge of preserving the infant constitution in its original state, and aiding its progress to maturity. And thus it is that though infants, as a general rule, may be said to be born healthy, few actually remain so. Seldom, indeed, do we find a person who has arrived at maturity wholly free from disease, even in those parts of our country which are reckoned to have the most healthy climate.
It is indeed commonly said, that a large proportion, both of children and adults, among the agricultural portion of our population, are healthy. But it is not so. There is room for doubt whether, on the whole, the farmers of this country are healthier than the mechanics, or much more so than the manufacturers; or the whole mass of the country population healthier than that of the crowded city. The causes of disease are sufficiently numerous, in all places and conditions; and this will continue to be the fact, not merely until parents and teachers shall become more enlightened, but until many generations have been trained under their enlightened influence.
If the children and adults among our agricultural population derive from their employments in the open air a more ruddy appearance than those either of the city or country who are confined more to their rooms; or to a vitiated atmosphere, and to numerous other sources of disease, and if they appear more favored with health, I have learned, by accurate observation, that these appearances are somewhat deceptive. Their active sports and employments in the open air give them a stronger appetite than any other class of people; and the indulgence of this appetite, not only with articles which are heating or indigestible in their nature, but with an unreasonable quantity even of those which are considered highly proper, is almost in an exact proportion. And it is hence scarcely possible for the causes of disease and premature death to be more operative in factories and in cities than in farm houses and the country. Indeed it may be questioned whether the abuses of the ANIMAL part of man—more common in some of their forms in country than in city—though they may be less conspicuous, are not more certainly and even more immediately destructive than those abuses which, in city life, and bustle, and competition, affect more the MORAL nature.
Be that as it may, however—for this is not the place for the grave discussion of so broad a question—one thing, to my mind, is perfectly clear, namely, that until physical education shall receive more attention from all those who hold the sacred office of instructors of the young, humanity can neither be much elevated nor improved. Mothers and schoolmasters especially—they who, as Dr. Rush says, plant the seeds of nearly all the good or evil in the world—must understand, most deeply and thoroughly, the laws which regulate the various provinces of the little world in which the soul resides, and which, like so many states of a great confederacy, have not only their separate interests and rights, but certain common and general ones; as well as those laws by which the human constitution is related to and connected with the objects which everywhere surround, and influence, and limit, and extend it.
This book contains little, if anything, new to those who are already familiar with anatomy and physiology. Indeed, whatever may be its claims, its merits or its demerits, it disclaims novelty. It is, indeed, in one point of view, original;—I mean in its form, manner, and arrangement. What I have written is chiefly from my own resources—the results of patient study and observation, and careful reflection; but that study and observation of human nature, and this reflection, have been greatly aided by reading the writings of others.
In the prosecution of the task which I had assigned myself, no work has been of more service to me than an octavo volume of 548 pages, by Dr. Wm. P. Dewees, of Philadelphia, entitled, "A Treatise on the Physical and Medical Treatment of Children." It is one of the most valuable works on Physical Education in the English language, as is evident from the fact that notwithstanding its expense—three or four dollars—it has, in nine years, gone through five editions. If it were written in such a style, and published at such a price as would bring it within reach of the minds and purses of the mass of the community, its sale would have been, I think, much greater still; and the good which it has accomplished would have been increased ten-fold.
If the "YOUNG MOTHER" should be favorably received by the American community, and prove extensively useful, it will undoubtedly be owing to the fact that it presents so large a collection of facts and principles on the great subject of physical education, in a manner so practical, and at a price which is very low. To accomplish an object so desirable is by no means an easy task. It was once said by the author of a huge volume, that he wrote so large a work because he had not time to prepare a smaller one. And however unaccountable it may be to those who have not made the trial, it may be safely asserted, that to present, within limits so small, anything like a system of Physical Education for the guidance of young mothers, requires much more time, and labor, and patience, than to prepare a work on the same subject twice as large.
Nor is it to be expected, after all, that the work is, in all respects, perfect. I have indeed done what I could to render it so; but am conscious that future inquiries may lead to the discovery of errors. Should such discoveries be made, they will be cheerfully acknowledged and corrected; truth being, as it should be, the leading object.