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As she advances, her vivacity naturally lessens ; but, as if it would not be soon enough extinguished, it must be repressed by art. The lively motions of the body and limbs must be checked, the spirits must be restrained, and a sort of unnatural hypocrisy made to conceal every ingenuous movement. The activity of disposition is destroyed; by confinement she loses the inclination for exercise, and passes from her school to a state of listlessness at home, or to frivolous and useless amusements, or perhaps to fresh tasks. By this regular repression of the physical powers, their energy is at last broken. Various organs lose their tone and their healthy action. Even the most solid parts are gradually impaired, and, being unable to support their ordinary burden, they sink under its weight, and bring on unchangeable deformity. Perhaps the exterior of health may remain a little longer, although the destroying principle is working in the heart. Should she be called on to be a mother, then comes the trial of her strength. The fruit, so fair without, is then found decayed within when scarcely matured. Next, the roses of the countenance wither; the limbs are feeble and tottering; the vivacity is extinguished; the whole system undermined, and ready to fall on the first impulse. Of what use now are all the finery of accomplishment, and the rich stores of literature and of science, the fruits of so many years' labour ? They are all wasted, and perish unemployed.
What I have now stated as the result of the mode of female education in use at present is not a picture of the imagination; it is a fair representation of what we are compelled to encounter in almost daily experience.
My wish now is to point out some of the principal ways in which literary pursuits may be destructive to health ; and also to show what measures might be adopted to prevent these pernicious consequences.
Action is the object for which organization was created. If the organs are allowed to remain inactive, the channels of life become clogged ; and the functions and even the structure get impaired. Young animals are filled with the desire of motion, in order that the fluids of the body may be forced rapidly through their tubes, the solids thus elongated and enlarged, and every part gradually and fully developed.
The immediate consequences of action on the bodily frame are familiar and visible to daily experience. Observe the sinewy arm of the mechanic. The muscles are large and distinct; and when put in motion they become as hard as wood and as strong as iron. Notice those who are accustomed to carry considerable weights on the head. The joints of the lower limbs are close-set and unyielding ; the frame perfectly erect, and the attitude commanding. In the cultivator of the soil, though the form may be vitiated by neglect, you may observe that the appearance of every part is healthful, vigorous, and well fitted for labour.
While all of us are desirous of possessing the excellent qualities of strength, hardiness, and beauty, how defective are our systems of education in the means of acquiring them ? In the present state of civilization, a child, soon after it can walk, is sent to school; not so much for the purpose of learning, as to relieve its parents of the trouble of superintending its early movements. As he grows older the same plan is incessantly pursued and improved on, till a large part of his time is passed in sedentary pursuits and in crowded rooms. In
the short intervals of mental occupation the boy is allowed to follow the bent of his inclinations, and to seek in play that exercise which nature imperiously demands. The development of his system, though not what it was destined to be, is attained in a certain way; and he is exempted from some of the evils which fall heavily on the other sex.
The female, at an early age, is discouraged from activity, as unbecoming her sex, and is taught to pass her leisure hours in a state of quietude at home. The effects of this habit have been already spoken of in general terms; and I would now point out some of its results in a specific manner.
In the course of my observations, I have been able to satisfy myself that about half the young females brought up as they are at present undergo some visible and obvious change of structure; that a considerable number are the subjects of great and permanent deviations; and that not a few entirely lose their health from the manner in which they are reared. The proportion of those who fall under the first description I have already stated. The amount of the two last it is impossible to ascertain with preciseness. I can venture to say that it is sufficient to constitute a powerful claim on the attention of those engaged in the management of young persons.
The nature of all the particular affections and diseases thus induced it would be impossible to describe in this place. I shall venture to direct your views to the details of only one of them.
The weight of the principal part of the body or trunk, the weight of the neck, the head, and the two upper extremities, are supported by a single bony column, called the spine. This column is about three inches in diameter. It consists of twenty-four pieces of bone placed one on the other; and between each two is interposed a substance somewhat resembling caoutchouc or India-rubber, for the purpose of giving it elasticity. This column is hollow, and contains the spinal marrow. Now the spinal marrow is the origin and source of the nerves that convey the influence necessary to voluntary motion; and they are sent off in pairs to the various muscles. The bony pieces of the spine are confined together by many small ligaments, by the elastic substance just spoken of, and by numerous muscles, affixed, not only to connect and support, but also to move them.
The bones of the spine, at an early period of life, are themselves in part composed of an elastic, cartilaginous, or gristly substance; and are always of a porous and sponge-like texture. In consequence of this kind of organization the spinal column possesses much elasticity and flexibility, which enable it to yield and to move in different directions, and expose it to receive permanent flexures, when there is a deficiency of natural strength in its composing parts.
Causes which affect the health and produce general weakness, operate powerfully on this part, in consequence of the complexity of its structure, and the great burden it supports. When weakened, it gradually yields under its weight, becomes bent and distorted, losing its natural curves and acquiring others, in such directions as the operation of external causes tend to give to it; and these curves will be proportioned, in their degree and in their permanence, to the producing causes.
If the supporting part is removed from its true position the parts supported necessarily follow, and thus a dis
tortion of the spine effects a distortion of the trunk of
The change commonly begins at the part which supports the right arm. The column bends towards the right shoulder, forms a convexity on the side where the shoulder rests, and thus elevates the right higher than the other. This elevation, or, as it is commonly called, growing out of the shoulder, is the first phenomenon that strikes the friends of the patient. Often when observed, it has already undergone a considerable change of position; and the change is not confined to the shoulder, nor to the portion of spine immediately connected with it. On examination it will be discovered that the curvature to the right in the upper part of the column is accompanied, as a natural consequence, by a bend of the lower part to the left, and a correspondent projection of the left hip. It is perfectly obvious that the inclination of the upper part of a flexible stick to one side will leave the lower part on the other; and when, by this inclination, the vertical support is lost, a disposition to yield at the curving points will continually increase until it be counteracted by some other po er. Thus it happens, then, that any considerable projection of the right shoulder will be attended by a correspondent projection of the left hip.
The rising of the shoulder involves other changes in the osseous fabric. For, as the spinal bones support the ribs, when these bones project they necessarily push forward the ribs dependent on them. These ribs form the frame of the chest, and of course the right side of the chest is projected forwards, and causes a deformity in the fore-part of the body. Nor do the changes stop here. The posterior ends of the ribs being pushed for