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HEALTH AND PHYSIQUE OF OUR CITY
The self-complacency of John Bull is proverbial; it is extremely difficult to persuade him that there is any quality in which he is inferior to those born on other soils than that of Britain, and if there is one quality more than another upon which he prides himself, it is his physical superiority to the men of other nations. Has he not over and over again, it is said, given proofs of such superior excellence, from Cressy and Agincourt to Waterloo and Inkermann ? Did not the strong right arms and unerring aim of British bowmen scatter the chivalry of France in those victories of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries ? and has not the same story been repeated under different forms throughout successive ages? Were not the finest cuirassiers of France driven like chaff before the wind when they came in contact with the superior weight and strength of the Life Guards at Waterloo ? and is it not acknowledged that at Inkermann our little handful of men, overwhelmed by numbers, must have been swept into the sea had it not been for the individual dogged courage and physical strength of the British soldiery, who, with their usual obstinacy, knew not when they were beaten, and snatched a victory, when by all the recognised rules of war they ought to have been annihilated ?
National pride within certain limits is useful. It produces selfconfidence, which is as indispensable to a nation as it is to an army. A people which has lost faith in itself is doomed, but wise men, whilst fostering a healthy national self-respect, will see that it is founded on solid foundations; that the reputed superiority is real ; that it is not a dream of the past, nor the vain imaginings of dwellers in a fool's paradise. It is well that all matters should be brought to the test of truth, the question of physique 'not less than others of apparently greater importance, but indeed this is a question not unworthy of serious consideration. Let it not be thought that it is a matter of indifference whether the average breadth of chest or height of Englishmen varies an inch or so one way or the other. National physique depends upon national health, and health is as necessary to the happiness and prosperity of a nation as it is to an individual. Mens sana in corpore sano may be said of the aggregate as of the unit.
Is it then a fact that we English are physically stronger than our neighbours ? and if so, are the conditions of life of the mass of our population such as will conduce to the maintenance of this superiority?
Injured patriotism will assuredly ask whether the records of athletic sports do not plainly show that not only is the Anglo-Saxon race pre-eminent in the achievement of feats of agility and strength, but that even our own ancestors were unable to reach the pitch of perfection in athletic sports which has been since attained by their
It will be asked whether it was not left to the men and even to the women of the nineieenth century, and mainly to those of English race, to overcome the difficulties of ice and snow, crag and precipice, and to scale those virgin mountain heights previously untrodden by the foot of man. We shall be told that to raise such a question when a Whymper has but just returned from his victorious campaigns amongst the giants of the Andes, a man to whom it was but an ordinary morning's task 'to wipe off,' as he himself most unreverentially expresses it, some mountain Titan which never before, since the foundation of the world, had been forced to acknowledge the supremacy of man; at such a moment of all others to come forward and express a doubt on the physical capabilities of Englishmen, argues an ignorance of facts which, to say the least, is unpardonable. The sailor might with justice take up the parable and point to the glorious victories of British pluck and endurance in the icy regions of the North, where cold, darkness, hunger, and disease are the daily portions of those adventurous spirits who, for the sake of carrying the British flag further north than that of any other nation, have cheerfully undergone these hardships, and consider it an honour to be allowed the privilege of partaking in them. Are these men, it may be argued, in any way inferior to their predecessors? Would not Drake, Anson, or Nelson be proud to command such men and would they not consider them quite equal, if not superior, to those brave seadogs who, in their days, caused the name of England to be feared throughout the four quarters of the globe. Nor need the traveller be silent. The names of Livingstone, Burton, Speke, Cameron, Stuart, Warburton, and many others speak to the enterprise and daring of men of English blood. They have performed feats of endurance under tropical skies which ofttimes have proved beyond the physical
powers of their native followers, men born and bred in the countries they traversed, inured to their climates, and who had never been exposed to the alleged deleterious influences of civilisation and of city life. All this is indeed true, and many more instances of strength of body and of undaunted courage may be brought forward to controvert any rash theory of national physical deterioration. Almost all Englishmen are naturally fond of country pursuits and of athletic sports. The number of the well-to-do has vastly increased since the commencement of this century; means of rapid locomotion permit of large VOL. X.-No. 53.
classes living in the country which formerly were forced to reside permanently in towns; and thus it happens that athletic pursuits engage the attention of a much larger number of well-to-do persons amongst the mercantile and commercial classes than used formerly to be the case. Never were there so many packs of hounds and so well attended as there are at present. So much so is this the case, that the railway companies find it worth their while to run, for the convenience of members of the mercantile and professional classes residing in our largest towns, special trains during the hunting season, to and from the principal meets of foxhounds. It is hardly possible to take a stroll of a Saturday afternoon in the well-to-do outskirts of a populous town without seeing a game, and it may be several games, of football in winter, and of cricket in summer, being engaged in by a large number of young men who, during the rest of the week, have been occupied in business pursuits. Our rivers are crowded with craft manned by the young men of our commercial classes. During the autumn the mountainous parts of our own island and that country which is called “the playground of Europe' teem with visitors whose means would formerly not have permitted them to enjoy this healthy exercise and relaxation of mind. These greater facilities for getting into the country have certainly improved the physique of our betterclass townsmen. The effeminate shop-clerk, against whom Punch at the time of the Crimean war, used never to be weary of levelling the shafts of his ridicule, has developed into the stalwart volunteer, the oarsman, or the bicyclist. It is, indeed, unnecessary to multiply instances to prove the presence amongst us of large numbers endowed with physical powers, and inspired by a lion-hearted courage, worthy of the best days of our ancestors. Perhaps it would be impossible for any country to produce as fine a body of young athletes belonging to the well-to-do classes as are to be found at our Public Schools and Universities. Nay, more; taking into consideration the increase of comfort and of population, the England of to-day could probably, under a system of universal military conscription, produce a greater number of fine regiments as regards height and breadth of chest than the England of 1800. But does this admission, or do all these instances of a high standard of physical strength and courage amongst certain classes of the population, prove that other classes, even now the most numerous, and which under the present order of civilisation must inevitably increase, and that at no slight rate, do these instances, I
say, any way prove that these less favoured classes are even now not degenerating in health and strength ? As cities increase, will not the physical powers of their inhabitants assuredly decrease, unless steps are taken, and that soon, to counteract the evil effects of the crowding together of masses of human beings within extremely limited areas? Is it not a fact that the population of these islands is annually becoming more and more a town one, crowded together
without light, without air, without the means of obtaining proper exercise, and in the case of many without wholesome, or even necessary food, warmth, and clothing? If we do not as yet discover signs of national deterioration in health, may it not be because the average is maintained by the high state of the physical condition of more favoured portions of the community? Do our athletes, our sportsmen, our travellers, our mountaineers, issue from the crowded lanes of overgrown cities? Are not their homes to be found rather amongst the pleasant places of the earth, in rural manor-houses, in retired parsonages, in country villas, or in the healthy portions of well-to-do towns, in the midst of comfort and of plenty, with every means of exercising the healthy bodies which they have inherited from healthy and well-to-do progenitors ? Are not our pavvies, our merchant seamen, our iron-workers, our game-keepers, our gillies, and all who require physical strength in the exercise of their employment, obtained as a rule from the country and small town population ? It may be said that our soldiers are recruited in towns. Although it is true that the mass of our recruits are enlisted in towns, it does not follow that they have been brought up in them, though no doubt many and perhaps the majority are. Many a country-bred lad walks into the neighbouring large town for the purpose of enlisting. We have no record of the number of town-bred recruits rejected by the inspecting surgeon for physical defects. None but those likely to develop under the influence of good food and healthy exercise are accepted. Even these we do not see in the ranks until they have been withdrawn for some months from hurtful influences, and have been carefully trained with a view to the increase of their physical powers under conditions of life most favourable to their development.
What are the conclusions to which we are naturally led by the above considerations ? That the robust and athletic are to be found amongst the well-fed, the well-clothed, the well-housed; that good food and clothing, fresh air and exercise, are necessary to the healthy development of the human frame; and that where these healthrequirements are wanting, physical qualities may be expected to degenerate.
The police records attest that the finest men physically and intellectually come as a rule from the small country towns, and it is precisely in the small country towns that life amongst the lower class presents its easiest aspect.
Now that almost all who have any pretension to the name of well-to-do can get away, for at all events some short portion of the year, from the smoky and grimy city, there is a real danger lest the health-requirements of those left behind, and they the least influential of the community, should be neglected. Formerly it was the interest of the rich as well as of the poor citizen to secure open spaces and means of recreation, but if even the superior artisan can now afford to live away in a healthy suburb, who is left whose interest will induce him to raise his voice on behalf of the poor against the constant invasions of brick and mortar ? Let the reader walk through the wretched streets of one of our large manufacturing towns, or through those of the eastern and southern districts of London. If he returns satisfied with the results of his investigationshe must indeed be gifted with a very sanguine temperament. Should he be of average height, he will find himself a head taller than those around him ; he will see on all sides pale faces, stunted figures, debilitated forms, narrow chests, and all the outward signs of a low vital power. Surely this ought not to be. We are not Turks, to cry out “Kismet!' and then turn on the other side, satisfied that what is is good, and cannot be avoided. If the exigencies of civilisation and the limited size of our island home require that millions shall pass their lives under the unnatural conditions consequent on city life, it is surely incumbent on the nation to see that every assistance is given these unfortunates to enable them to bring up their children in as high a degree of health as the unfavourable circumstances of their lives will admit. Cities must exist, and will continue to increase. We should therefore turn our attention seriously to the question how to bring health Within the reach of our poorer City populations HadVictor Hugo passed his life within reach of the noxious vapours of a Widnes, in the heart of a Newcastle, on the banks of the odoriferous Clyde, on within the purlieus of a Whitechapel court, it may be doubted whether, as on a certain recent occasion, he would have been eloquent in the praise of cities, and have styled them divine.' Places which at the beginning of this century were small hamlets are now large manufacturing towns, teeming with people huddled together under conditions adverse to health and to the development of a robust population. What similarity to their present appearance did Glasgow, Dundee, Newcastle, Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, Sheffield, Bradford, and a hundred other places, present at the commencement of this century? How long will it take before the manufacturing towns and villages with which Lancashire is studded shall have joined one another, and that county become one vast bive of human industry? When will the modern Babylon cease to add
wn to town, and what will be the limit of its extension? Can we look with complacency on the fact that the population of these islands is annually becoming more and more a town one; that annually more and more human beings are engulfed by the advanciqg tide of buildings, and become absorbed in endless streets and courts and alleys; that fresh air and the means of wholesome exercise are daily being withdrawn from larger and larger numbers of people; that crowded streets and ill-ventilated dwellings produce vitiated air; that the want of a proper supply of oxygen and of means of obtaining healthy exercise weakens the human system; and that daily and hourly a