Victorian London - Publications - Lectures - Degeneration Amongst Londoners, by James Cantlie, 1885

James Cantlie
M.A., M.B., F.R.C.S.

Field & Tuer, The Leadenhall Press, E.C.
Simpkin, Marshall & Co.; Hamilton, Adams & Co.

 A lecture delivered at the Parkes Museum of Hygiene, January 27, 1885.

 [-7-] To all who live in London the title of this lecture is calculated to excite surprise and suspicion surprise, that in this, the most healthy of all large towns, as judged from the death-rate returns, there should be even a question of gradual degeneration; suspicion, lest false grounds, mistaken premises, and too narrow observations have landed me in an erroneous belief.
      An apology seems at first sight [-8-] necessary, but I will reserve giving it until the end of the lecture, when, if it is proved I am in error, I shall be ready to grant one. 
I.   The first knotty point to be settled is — What is, or where is London from a hygienic standpoint? It is not limited by bars or gates, nor by high walls or entrenchments, but by the distance any given point of it is removed from the nearest point where really fresh air is to be obtained. In this street, for instance, it is many a decade since really fresh country air has been wafted along its length by even a gale of wind.
      The next thing to occur to one [-9-] is, What is fresh air, or what is there in fresh air to make so great a difference between the air we obtain in town and that which circulates in the country?
     Most agree that it is ozone, a gas, a modification of oxygen, to which unsearchable vital powers are ascribed: it is found in the open country, at sea—in fact everywhere, where there is not too great an aggregation of human beings to abstract or decompose it.
     This gas gives the peculiar odour present in the neighbourhood of an electric machine; it is present in the air in quantity during a thunderstorm and a fall of snow: it is borne in greater [-10-] quantity on the south-west wind than on any other, probably because that comes, in this country, from off the sea, and the sea seems to be its haven or birthplace, for it is greater in quantity there than elsewhere. If ozone is the health-giving spark, certain it is, none of it is to be found in London. The air has been tested over and over again for this gas, and I had it examined on January 18th, 1885, once more. The day was very dull, the wind N.E., and blowing at the rate of only about one and a half miles an hour. The various places from whence I obtained information on that day were: near Brownswood Park, in the N.E. of [-11-] London; near Maida Vale, in the N.W.; at Wandsworth, at Barnes, at Chiswick, and in Bushy Park, in the S.W.; and in Hyde Park. With the exception of a faint, very faint indication of ozone in the N.E. there was no evidence of ozone being present anywhere else. It was from the N.E. quarter the wind was blowing, hence at Bushy Park the air had travelled all over London, and consequently had little likelihood of containing ozone after that. Practically there was no ozone beyond a small semicircle of the N.E. quarter.
    But supposing a gale had been blowing, and it had been summertime when the air had been tested, [-12-] it is unlikely that ozone or fresh air would have travelled further than one mile nearer the centre of London, or, say, as far as the Angel at Islington. So it is with other districts when the wind blows from different quarters: if from the south, it has to pass over Croydon, and but little ozone then finds its way to London. From whatever quarter the air is blowing, the outer circlet of, say, half-a mile of human beings, absorbs the fresh air, and not only so, but adds various pollutions to it, so that the air breathed within a given area, centred around, for instance Charing Cross, or the Bank, has not had fresh air supplied to it for, say, 50 or 100 years.
Hence we might define London as a district where there is no ozone.

II.      Did you ever get sunburnt in London? I shall answer the question for you, and say NO. The natural appearance of the face in London is pale; when it is otherwise it is red; not brown or tanned, but red. An omnibus-driver does not get brown, he gets red; and you can see the cause of the redness to be dilated vessels in the skin of his face. Why does one not get sunburnt in London? Is it absence of light, or is it the absence of fresh air— the ozone we have been speaking of?
    Light, as we know, develops [-14-] pigment; and it will do so in human beings under certain conditions. When, however, one is sickening for an illness — say typhoid fever — it is impossible to get sunburnt for some weeks previously even at the sea-side. There are varieties of consumptive people who never get sunburnt in the country or at sea. It is only at a certain turning-point in convalescence that a person can get sunburnt. Beneath a quarter-deck in the tropics, where it is supposed the reflection from the sea is the cause of the sunburning (just as if the reflection of a mirror could sunburn), you can tell the healthy traveller from the blanched and pale invalid returning home suffering [-15-] from Asiatic diarrhoea or dysentery by the effect which the sun has upon them.
     A convalescent on board ship, who is kept in his cabin with only the stream of light (and it may be from the shaded side) which enters through the window, gets sunburnt. Hence, it is not altogether light; there must be something else present in the air: and to avoid creating a new entity, we shall term it ozone still, and believe that ozone must be present in the air before healthy people can be sunburnt, but that no amount of exposure to even ozonised air will “tan” a person suffering from the conditions mentioned above. Hence [-16-] I would limit London to the region where sunburning is unknown

III.       Thirdly, I would define London to be a region where at any time beneficial exercise is impossible. No exercise can be beneficial in “the highest sense” which is undertaken in polluted air. With increased exertion, increased respiratory processes are necessary, and greater chemical changes are requisite, necessitating for their hygienic completion a greater supply of fresh air. But as this is absent in the air of London, exercise taken in London cannot do that amount of good it does were it taken in fresh air. Far be [-17-] it from me to condemn exercise in London, and to say, Never walk when you can ride. I would say rather, Walk whenever you can; mount a horse if you have one, and take what air and exercise you can get even in the area mentioned. The evils which accrue from want of exercise greatly outbalance the total want of exercise in an atmosphere that may not be quite fresh. Still, there is no doubt that were a gymnast (i.e., a man requiring an increased amount of air) trained in such an atmosphere as that of the underground railway, he would die sooner, than, if living in such an atmosphere he moved about in an ordinary way. Hence I land myself in a [-18-] dilemma: am I to condemn exercise in London because it is bad, or am I to say the good gained from exercise, say walking, outbalances the evils of sedentary life? Whichever way we settle it, it practically settles itself. Few people walk far in towns; few of you walked here to this lecture. Why do not people walk in town as in the country? Because they get so quickly tired; there is no freshness in the air, even in the parks, and what is theoretically wrong is practically borne out, viz., that people in London walk as little as possible simply because they do not feel inclined to: but if they did walk more, the good that would come of it would be doubtful.
    [-19-] Hence, then, I will return to my enunciation, viz., that no exercise can be beneficial in the highest sense which is undertaken in polluted air.
    In the next place I have to define a Londoner. A Londoner is one whose parents were born, brought up, and lived in the area defined, and who himself, or herself, was born, brought up, and lived in London, and whose only notion of the country or the sea-side is an occasional run on a Bank Holiday.
            Some four years ago, when my attention was first drawn to this subject, I started with the premises that a Londoner was one whose [-20-] grand-parents and not the parents only, came under the category but I had to stop, as I could find no such specimens.
    As you may imagine, it has taken much questioning and investigation to obtain substantive evidence on such a subject.
    The nearest approach beyond what I have given as a definition, are specimens of generations whose grandfather or grandmother came from the country. I have two men under my observation just now, one whose grandfather came from the country, Somersetshire; the other whose grandmother was Irish.
     First, I shall describe to you [-21-] the man with the Somersetshire grandfather, but whose folks had lived in London, commencing from the grand-parents. Height 5 feet 1 inch; age 21 chest measurement 28 inches. His head measure around above the eyebrows is 19 inches (nearly 3 inches below the average); measured across from tip of ear to tip of ear, 11 inches (1½ below the average). His aspect is pale waxy; he is very narrow between the eyes, and with a decided squint. Solemnity intense.
    I shall now describe the man with the Irish grandmother, but the others of whose predecessors have lived rigidly in London from the grand-parents downwards.
[-22-] Height 5 feet 3 inches. Age 19. Chest measurement 29 inches. His head measures 20 inches round (2 inches below the average). His face is mottled, pale, and pimpled. He squints rather badly. His jaws are misshapen; he cannot bring his front teeth within half an inch of each other his upper jaw is pointed, and falls within the arch of the lower; his teeth spiculated, and must be well nigh useless to him. Solemnity great.
    Again, I might describe girls of similar pedigree. Here is one:— height 4 feet 10 inches. Age 18. Misshapen jaw, almost the same as above described. Enlarged scrofulous glands all around lower jaw, [-23-] a red scrofulous aspect; slight tendency to squint. Solemnity marked.
    These are specimens I have come across, as I say, after much inquiry. I have never come across the children of any such, and I believe it is not likely I ever shall. Nature steps in and denies the continuance of such; and weakness of brain-power gives such a being but little chance in this struggling world.
     Now, I know it will be said, Why take London, why abuse its surroundings? There are many other towns whose citizens are placed under worse conditions; such as Sheffield, Bradford, Liverpool, Manchester, Glasgow, and, in fact [-24-] many towns where numerous manufactories pour their smoke and chemical poisons into the air. Now, that is just the very reason why I have not chosen these, but prefer to study the Londoner and London, where manufactories do not poison the air but to an infinitesimal extent compared with many other towns. What I want to prove, if possible, is that a mere collection of human beings is enough, without manufactories’ smoke, to render the air in such a condition that the families living in such an atmosphere here dwindle and disappear from inability of continuance. I want to find out if there is such a thing as “urbomorbus” or “city disease,” [-25-] independently of trade disease; hence I chose to study London. Every one in their inner conscience knows and believes that town air is bad, that every one working in it must suffer after a time in health and stamina; and that person must be blind indeed, who does not observe the effect on children born and brought up in towns, even if they belong to the upper or middle classes.
     Now, in the absence of the smoke of manufactories, what is it in towns which causes this deterioration? It is the presence of non-ozonised air air that has been pre-breathed and the consequent bad effects of taking exercise therein.
     First, then, as to the physical [-26-] effects of want of beneficial exercise. In the earliest times of the human race, when man’s only duty was to till the ground or follow the chase, it was unnecessary to prompt people to take exercise farther than what was required in the execution of their labours. Now-a-days, however, the multiplication of industries is such, that but few obtain exercise at their employment; and consequently, if they are to have exercise at all, it must be something added on to and independent of their daily employment. Such a departure from an open air or natural employment, to one with unnatural or cooped-up surroundings whilst at labour, may be proof of advance of [-27-] man’s intellect, but in its effect there must be a physical retrocession, or artificial means must be taken to maintain that physique.
     This state of things obtains not only in towns, but also in villages and country places. This “nation of shop-keepers” is becoming more and more “townified.” The farm-labouring class is the only large class of all the community which has preserved to it man’s natural calling. For has not the shop-keeper, the shoe-maker, the weaver, and the butcher as close employment in even a country village as in a large town? Thus have all classes, except the farm-labourer, undertaken work which is [-28-] without a sufficiency of exercise and unless care is taken to provide for such, there will, in time, be developed a puny race unfit to maintain themselves. If such is the case in villages, how much more is it the case in large towns and cities, where the city shop-keeper has not the advantage of fresh air entering his abode, and who, tied up all the hours of sunlight, can only take exercise after dark and in a polluted atmosphere.
     Before proceeding further, I should like to state once for all, that in the present decade we have individuals amongst us who are capable of feats of strength such as were never dreamt of in former days.
     [-29-]When Captain Webb swam the Channel in 1875, it was a feat unparalleled in strength and endurance. Until the year 1877, no human being had been known to leap from the ground six feet two inches, as happened at the Oxford and Cambridge sports that year. The feats of walking performed now — 500 miles in a week, and so on — are prodigies of strength such as we never read of in former days. Four minutes is almost the time a mile can be run in now-a-days.
     I could bring forward many other instances to show, that, there are individuals of the present generation who are superior in the performance of feats of strength [-30-] and endurance to any of our predecessors. But what is being done to maintain this state of things? Are we not at the end of the generation who lived before railways, and therefore before steam, manufactories, large cities, and all the modern developments which have made our air more impure, our necessity for walking less — almost a waste of time, our citizens to be attendants rather than workers at big machines? It is coming to pass that we shall forget that our hands are organs whereby to feed ourselves with, and that our lower extremities are meant to carry us about to get our requirements. In place of our hands and arms we [-31-] use machines now-a-days, and in place of our legs we have railways, omnibuses, cabs, etc., to supplant the necessity for their use.
     Are there any signs of such retrocession abroad? What about the rowing championship? It was competed for last on an Australian river, and the competitors were the progeny of previous British generations, a Canadian and an Australian, men whose fathers had gone forth from out of this nation of cities and polluted air, and found vigour and strength in the Canadian forest or Australian bush. Depend upon it we are at a turning-point in our national health; our soldiers are as brave, as stout-hearted [-32-] steady and calm under difficulties as ever; and shall we even say that the events of the last few days have proved them even better than any who have preceded them? Allowing all that, let not the people of this country be blinded to the fact of the effect of living in large towns, of this incessant travelling in carriages of all sorts. Muscle now-a-days is at a discount; brain power is what is sought for, and there is no doubt it is forthcoming: but as it requires a healthy heart to give forth a normal sound, so it requires a healthy brain to beget wise thoughts.
     It is sad to contemplate that now-a-days honest labour [-33-] brings with it of necessity illness and misery, instead of health and comfort—that the close confinement and the foul air of our cities are shortening the life of the individual, and raising up a puny and ill-developed race. But certain it is, and every one knows on the face of it that it is true; and if you will bear with me whilst I run through some of the effects of city life and want of beneficial exercise, I will promise to be short.
     First, let us look at the surroundings of the child. In this moist climate of ours, and with the murky atmosphere of coal smoke which obscures the sunlight, where, in addition, thousands of [-34-] tall chimneys vomit forth their impurities, how can it be otherwise than that the child, from want of exercise in fresh air, gets out of health and condition? The bones are imperfectly developed being soft and spongy they bend beneath the body weight, nor can they resist the muscular contractions. How few families in London of even the better class escape wholly what is called rickets — “the English malady,” as the French call it, from its frequency amongst us. As with the child, so with the growing lad; and even more pronounced still are the effects of town life to be seen in growing girls. The chest does not expand properly, [-35-] the bones of the limbs may grow in length, but being soft and spongy knock-knees or bow-legs may be the result. A growing out of one shoulder (a lateral curvature) is another common type of infirmity and combined with these apparent deformities there is the wan appearance, bad digestion, want of spirits and energy, and so forth, but ill-calculated to develop a healthy man or woman.
     As with individuals, so with families and races. Every one knows of families who, owing to a sudden accession of wealth, and possessed only of democratic methods of enjoying it, have proved themselves unable mentally and [-36-] physically to bear the strain, and who drift into unwise extremes of eating and drinking, religion or revelry, lavishness or effeminacy.
     Again, looking round upon many a previous race now in decadence bears out the same fact. Luxury destroyed the Roman Empire. Spain, only yesterday, as it were, fell from being the leader of nations to the position she holds to-day. The Spaniards, held in bondage by the Moor, were for centuries condemned to slave and toil under their hard masters the Moor, enjoying the luxury of sloth, despised the labouring peasant. But out of the stout hirelings sprang men with strong frames and indomitable [-37-] courage, and the Moor had now in turn to succumb. From Spain the Sons of labour sailed forth to the utmost ends of the earth, civilising, conquering, and adding to their wealth. So monetarily wealthy grew they that in time labour ceased to be a necessity, the sons of the active spirits grew up to laugh at labour, and in no long time degeneracy succeeded, placitude gave place to energy, and now the sons of the mighty Spaniard are content to play a second-rate part in the affairs of the world. Thus it is that luxury in families or nations begets sloth in the unwise, and exercise of all kinds comes to be considered vulgar. In [-37-] this country we are blessed with an aristocracy of long and tried standing; those whom luxury had upset have died out, and we are blessed for the most part, with a race of men and women capable of resisting the effeminacy and sloth, into which their high position and attendant wealth might delude them.
     As an example of what artificial exercise, wisely conducted, and in fresh air, will do for generations of families, as compared with exercise obtained at work in polluted air, consider the following. As an example of an industrious class who works all the hours of sunlight, who seldom stirs out of doors, and who knows no holiday [-39-] beyond, it may be, Christmas Day, take the Spitalfields weavers. In them we find a stunted, puny race, who become prematurely old, whose grave and sorrowful countenances betray a body and mind at variance with natural habiliments. Being an abstemious class they continue, it may be, to a third generation; but they are more machines than active livers, and, on the face of it, it is improbable that out of such a class a healthy person could spring. As an example of an opposite class take the Royal families of Europe at the present moment. The Sons and daughters of our own Royal family can [-40-] together compare in physique with the Sons and daughters of any family in the land. Then again take the German, Italian, Austrian, or Russian Royal families, and it will be found they are almost all of them types of their races, and each man amongst them fit to hold his own in physique with the stoutest peasant in his land.
     How is this to be explained away? Here we have two classes living exactly opposite lives, one condemned to labour incessantly indoors, the other called upon to do no manual labour. When we look into it we find that the former have departed from outof-door employment to sit and [-41-] watch the shuttle and the loom, are assembled in a large town to be near a market for their wares, where the close employment and polluted air bring upon them physical ruin. On the other hand we find a class whose ancestors have known no labour for centuries, whose only work is compulsory parades, but whose pastimes — shooting, riding, drilling, yachting, and such like — carry them out of towns, and induce them to take exercise of a beneficial kind. Which of these two classes has the better physique has been already stated, and it forces this conclusion on us, viz., that close employment — i.e., during all the [-42-] hours of sunlight, and in the polluted air of towns, is ruinous to the individual and his progeny; but that employment, combined with artificial beneficial exercise, produces a race which has a tendency to increase in physique. Hence there is no necessity for wringing of hands, of lamentations as to our national decline. It is quite possible for us to follow closely the city régime of to-day, and still, by a system of beneficial exercise, to compensate for the apparent defiance of Nature’s laws.
    The instances I have given may, by many of you, be considered to be extreme; therefore I will take a [-43-] more familiar example. Consider the percentage of the leading men in almost any branch of industry in London, and establish the fact of whether they were born in town or country. The boy who is to become a Lord Mayor is pictured as invariably coming into London from the country; and avoiding pantomime revelation, turn up Orridge’s account of the Lord Mayors of London, and take note of the Mayors and Sheriffs who were born in London. Few, very few, will you find during the last hundred years, and when the odd occurrence took place, prominence is given to the fact in a special footnote. Of the last thirty Mayors mentioned, [-44-] twenty-seven were born in the country and the remaining three of country parents.
     I take examples from amongst the Lord Mayors in preference to judges, or politicians, etc., who, if born in towns, must of necessity almost have spent some years of their youth at one of our large public schools or universities, where beneficial exercise has been obtainable, and where exercise in manly English sport has lent vigour to their frames and freshness to their minds. The son of a townsman, however, who is to be trained in his father’s business, is more frequently educated in a city school and at fourteen or fifteen enters an office [-45-] and pursues work. The sedentary life inculcated, the close room, the inevitable dyspepsia consequent on hurried meals, the bending over a desk, and the absence of fresh air or any beneficial exercise, engender the belief that the lad would be unlikely to attain eminence, and that by such up-bringing our greatest citizens are not made. We grieve over the fact that a third generation of Anglo-Indians attaining adult years is impossible; but it may be that we have the same non-continuance near home without our having ever given it a thought.
      Another point which is notice able as the result of town life, it [-46-] appears to me, is that individually and enthusiasm are gone. Now all England is becoming largely “townified” in the sense of want of enthusiasm. I have often been laughed at for saying, that I could tell which of the members of an audience before me were town-bred or not, by the way they take things. The enthusiastic hearer — in other words, the one who has sufficient energy given him, or who has not become two “ urbanised “ in his manner — communicates in a variety of ways that he is understanding what one says and appreciating it. The urbanised being is cruelly undemonstrative; he is interrogatory and querulous in his interrogations. [-47-] If a joke is made the urbanised person neither pretends to see it, nor can he bother himself to signify his disapprobation, beyond it may be a dyspeptic sniggle; there is nothing indicative of any mental expression on his part.
     In town we are reduced, or raised up, to a level, which is it? And nowhere more is this the case than in London. A democratic negative ness is what seems to be the aim and goal of the rising generation; the sinking of the individual to be a passing show in the acquaintance of a few equally democratised acquaintances. There is not enough energy left in the “set” to make friends. There is too much thought [-48-] of the community and not enough of the individual. There is too much regard for what one’s neighbours will say. The manly motto of the Keiths, Earls Mareschal of Scotland, of “They say; what say they? Let them say” — has given place to — “They say. Oh, do they say so? Then we shan’t do it.”
     Any of you who saw a leading article in the Standard of yesterday morning, January 28th, upon “Our Boys,” must have been struck with the truthfulness of it. The writer of that article says boys are now complete little gentlemen of the world at fifteen. They have command long before then of their feelings, affections, and manners. [-49-] They have lost their energy, self-assertion, and a certain amount of what our Irish friends used to call devilry. The writer of this article has had on his mind what has been turning over in mine for a long time, and I expect most people have been thinking the same, although many will combat its truth, but still believe it in their hearts. It is the young people now-a-days who shape manners for their elders, and tell them what they must do or leave undone. The generation now passing away are taking all the enthusiasm with them; it is the old, not the young people who are enthusiastic. They spread our civilisation, made [-50-] themselves rich and widened our Empire, until now there seems not much more to do. America now-a-days returns many of the emigrants who used to be swallowed up in her western maw. The levelling process has gone on until foreign countries are tied to us by bands of communication. The distant parts of the earth can send news to us in an hour or two. There is no sailing forth now-a-days in search of unknown lands; no facing dangers for the individual as in the old days of discovery and exploration. The world in the days of the generation passing away was but opening up. Railways, steamboats, and telegraphs [-51-] were but developing their powers, and disclosing their effects, and the world seemed young, hopeful, and full of promise. Now the work is done, and, as it were, stagnation has set in, and is now bearing its fruits. Is this the cause of the apathy of the young? Think over it, for it is a question which has serious bearings. How much better for the future of this country were the elders to assume the reins of government as of old! Instead of the boy dictating to his father what he ought or ought not to do, or the boarding-school Miss telling her mother, of whom she is rather ashamed at times, how she ought to behave herself, let them be [-52-] “taught” to be young before they are old; let them honour their fathers and mothers in the way they ought. It was not the young who made this Empire; it was not good behaviour, nor fine manners, nor apathy, nor perfect morals which welded it together. It was ambition, energy, enthusiasm and love of enterprise, which sent our fathers forth to unknown climes and to brave perils of war and weather. It is beyond prophecy to guess even what the rising degeneration will grow into, what this Empire will become after they have got charge of it. The wisdom at sixteen affects what used to be considered sufficient for forty. Is [-53-] this modern wisdom of the proper kind? is this devotion, of townsfolk especially, to their children, right? is this forcing and quick maturity of thought desirable? is the placing children on a level with their parents what should be? is the companionship which now-a-days exists between father and son not derogatory to the elder ? These are all questions which time alone will answer; but it may do so when too late, and the bitter fruits will cause children to curse their parents.
     Now, I do not wish to stop without aiding in some way to allay this monster which I have raised this demon of want of beneficial exercise and its results must be [-54-] combated; and how is this to be done? The sports and pastimes which even thirty years ago were sufficient for the health of the community have now become insufficient, and in consequence new means of obtaining exercise have been evolved. The three which seem the most prominent, and which have taken a real hold on the community, are — 1, Cycling; 2, Lawn tennis; 3, Gymnastics.

     I.     Cycling counts its devotees by tens of thousands. From the Land’s End to John o’Groat’s house, men are familiar with the noiseless wheels. By the bicycle and tricycle men and women can be carried [-55-] rapidly out of town to country lanes and open air. The exercise is pleasant in that the motion is rapid, and that one is sent along by one’s own exertion. Nothing in the way of exercise could be more calculated to do good to dwellers in towns, and it seems a merciful interposition that such an excellent means has been supplied. It allows of really beneficial exercise when it carries its rider out of an ozoneless region. If a cyclist is wise, he will, when taking a short “constitutional,” travel in the direction from which the wind is blowing, as not only is he more able when he starts to go against the wind, than when returning home tired after a [-56-] long journey, but there will be more good got from it as he more quickly reaches fresh air, and it is possible to get ozone to windward of the town, but to leeward it is impossible unless a far journey he taken. 

     II. Lawn tennis. — Of modern inventions in the way of games, this is one of the best. It is suitable to young and middle-aged men and women. It has many advantages over other ball games, as it can be played at home with one’s own friends; it may be engaged in for a variable length of time; it can be taken up with safety by anyone without previous training; it is less likely to give rise to serious [-57-] accidents than other ball games. Lawn tennis has more adherents than has cricket; it includes men, women and children among its devotees. As pursued in towns exercise of this kind is not in the “highest” sense beneficial, as it is performed in a polluted ozoneless air. Still, as stated previously, exercise taken in even such an atmosphere as that of a London park, or a garden in a square, is better than none at all. Hence lawn tennis does not grant such a beneficial exercise as does cycling, from the fact that in but few instances does it take people out of town to play it. 

     III. Gymnastics have of late [-58-] years been a good deal taken up by the youth of this country. That this is an unmixed good is very doubtful. The Romans had magnificent gymnasia, and in days of hand-to-hand conflict they did, and would do now, much good. But the wretched dens we know of as gymnasia are but as dog-kennels to a palace. A few fairly good gymnasia there are in this country; but the majority are in cellars under archways, filthy, from the products of gas which is an invariable accompaniment, the stuffiness from overcrowding, and the sawdust on the floor. Even in the best gymnasia in London, our youth are condemned to go in the evening, [-59-] when the overcrowding and the numerous gas flames render the atmosphere filthy. Besides, are gymnastics real exercise? Do we thereby exercise our lower extremities? No! Consequently they are not a real exercise. When we exercise our arms only to the exclusion of our lower extremities we may then know we are wrong. The rowing man cannot continue in a fit state unless he walks eight or nine miles a day. Nor is any exercise a real gain which does not cause us to use our lower limbs ; they were given to carry us about to get our food, and our hands were meant as organs whereby to feed ourselves.

     Hence, of the three modern [-60-] innovations evolved, out of the necessity for some such, to counteract the effects of town life, cycling is the best; lawn tennis is excellent, and when performed out of town is purely beneficial; but gymnastics as practised in our gymnasia are a mistake, and likely to lead to physical ruin instead of muscular stamina. How good for our national welfare would it be, did the future “physical” state of those coming after us concern us equally with the more selfish interest in our own “spiritual” welfare. There would be preserved to the world more healthy doctrines, more true Christianity. In the words of Parkes I will finish: “Were the laws of [-61-] health and of physiology better understood how great would be the effect! Let us hope that matters of such great moment may not always be considered of less importance than the language of extinct nations, or the unimportant facts of a dead history.” 

[thanks to Lawrence Phillips, of Goldsmith's College,  for suggesting and providing this scan; 
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