Imágenes de página

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 body.

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 power. 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

wards, and the anterior ends being confined to the sternum or breast-bone, the right edge of the sternum will be drawn forwards, and the left edge consequently turned backwards. The fore-parts of the left ribs will be gradually forced inwards or backwards, and thus the left side of the chest distorted and contracted.

I am aware how difficult it is to have a distinct notion of these intricate changes in the human machinery, without an exhibition of the parts concerned in them; but it is my duty to represent the train of phenomena as they exist in nature; and I think they are sufficiently intelligible to excite consideration and inquiry.

Perhaps it may be imagined, that the cases I have described are of rare occurrence, and that we have no occasion to alarm ourselves about a few strange distortions, the consequence of peculiar and accidental causes. If such were in fact the truth, I would not have occupied your time with the minute details of these unpleasant subjects. Unhappily they are very common. I feel warranted in the assertion already intimated, that of the well-educated females within my sphere of experience, about one-half are affected with some degree of distortion of the spine. This statement will not be thought exaggerated when compared with that of one of the latest and most judicious foreign writers. Speaking of the right lateral curvature of the spine, just described, he tells us, “it is so common, that out of twenty young girls who have attained the age of fifteen years, there are not two who do not present very manifest traces of it*.”

As the bones serve to contain most of the great organs, any change in their forms wiil be likely to produce changes in the condition and healthy action of these

* Lachaise, Sur les Courbures de la Colonne Vertebrale, p. 23, VOL, I,

2 A

organs, The spine gives lodgment, as has been said, to the spinal marrow; and this sends out nearly all the nerves that carry the influence of voluntary motion, and many of those that convey energy to the great organs of respiration, circulation, and digestion. When the containing part is distorted, the part contained is likely to be disturbed, and this disturbance must produce important effects on the nerves issuing from it, and of course on the organs to which these nerves are distributed. If the compression be slight, the operations of the organs will be partially disturbed. Hence proceed shortness of breath; palpitation of the heart; the phenomena of indigestion, flatulence, acidity, &c. These again give rise to the uncomfortable feelings called nervous ; though I believe they are sometimes the direct consequence of partial compression of the spinal marrow. When this pressure is considerable, the bad consequences are more obvious and formidable. In such instances the muscles supplied with nerves from the part below that com. pressed lose their activity. The circulation in the lower limbs is retarded, and they grow cold and livid, and swell. Sometimes even a complete paralysis, or loss of the power of motion, occurs in one or in both of these extremities.

The ribs and the breast-bone enclose and guard, as we have said, the organs of the chest. Their position being altered by the deviation of the spine, the cavity they form becomes deranged. Its left part, where the heart is placed, being diminished in extent, this organ is embarrassed in its movements, and, striving to relieve itself, produces painful and dangerous palpitations, and a general disturbance in the circulatory system. The lungs, for the same reasons, cannot fully expand. This

« AnteriorContinuar »