Theoretically, at least, we all pay tribute to the value and importance of physical education. We admire physical strength and beauty, and recognize, though only faintly as yet, the inter- relation of mind and matter. We know, moreover, that a healthy, active brain is sadly handicapped by an ill-developed, sickly body. We see around us every day of our lives masses of our race of imperfect growth and unsound constitution, and almost daily the lesson comes home to us of the break-down of some friend or acquaintance, whose weakness of body could not withstand the mental and bodily strain in the struggle of life.
Yet it is not strength, so much as health, that is the crying want of the time. It is stamina, and the power, in each of us, to do our daily work with the least friction and the greatest amount of comfort and ease. Only the few are called upon, like the great traveler or the soldier in a campaign, to endure protracted fatigue and encounter serious ob- stacles in nature of severities of climate, from which most of us shrink, and for the under-taking of which few of us have either the will-power or the courage. “A small portion only of our youth are in uniform,” observes the authority we have already quoted; “but other occupations, other demands upon mind and body, advance claims as urgent as ever were pressed upon the soldier in ancient or modern times. From the nursery to the school, from the school to the college, or to the world beyond, the brain and nerve strain goes on— continuous, augmenting, intensifying. Scholarships, competitive examinations, speculations, promotions, excitements, stimulations, long hours of work, late hours of rest, jaded frames, weary brains, jarring nerves — all intensified and intensifying—seek in modern times for the antidote to be found alone in physical action. These are the exigencies of the campaign of life for the great bulk of our youth, to be encountered in the schoolroom, in the study, in the court of law, in the hospital, and in the day and night visitations to court and alley and lane; and the hardships encountered in these fields of warfare hit as hard and as suddenly, sap as insidiously, destroy as mercilessly, as the night-march, the scanty ration, the toil, the struggle, or the weapon of a warlike enemy.
“Yes, it is health rather than strength that is the great requirement of modern men at modern occupations; it is not the power to travel great distances, carry great burdens, lift great weights, or overcome great material obstructions; it is simply that condition of body, and that amount of vital capacity, which shall enable each man in his place to pursue his calling, and work on in his working life, with the greatest amount of comfort to himself and usefulness to his fellow-men. How many men, earnest, eager, uncomplaining, are pursuing their avocations with the imma- nency of a certain breakdown ever before them—or with pain and weariness, languor and de- pression, when fair health and full power might have been secured, and the labor that is of love, now performed incompletely and in pain, might have been performed with completeness and in comfort.”
Nor is the remedy hard to apply or likely to be at all doubtful in its results. It is Nature’s own panacea—the remedy, as we have seen, which the nations of antiquity, intelligent and highly civilized as they were, found effective in war as well as conducive to the health and vigor of youth. But physical strength was not only “the veritable God of antiquity;” it was also the pride and idol of the Middle Ages. At the latter era, the tilting-field and tourney-ground took the place of the Campus Martinus and the gymnasium. There the chivalry of the time disported itself in jousts and feats of horsemanship, which the village-green gave encouragement to wrestling matches and the varied sports which are noted among England’s manly national games. We in the New World are inheritors of many of these playful incitements to bodily vigor, to which we have added others, characteristic of our climate and people, but all helpful in their way in the up- building of a lusty frame.