24. ON THE CULTURE OF BEAUTY,
GRACE, AND HEALTH IN YOUTH – IX
MY DEAR SIBYL, – I have but few words to add to what I have already said on the physical education of children, and they shall be devoted to the consideration of certain natural individual idiosyncrasies which tend to help or to hinder physiological development in youth.
Physicians attribute to the human body five different constitutional temperaments or normal states, with one of which everybody is born. These five temperaments are: the sanguine, the nervous, the lymphatic, the bilious, and the composite, which last may represent a combination of two or more of the other four.
These natal and constitutional differences of organisation are all of them constant in the same individual; that is to say, they are not interchangeable, but throughout life continue identical, and control the entire manière d’être of the subject from cradle to grave. Particular expressions of the constitutional temperament may be modified by education and acquired habit, but the native tendency of physique is ineradicable, and must, as I shall presently hope to show, be taken into due account during the years of childhood and early youth.
The sanguine temperament is so named because it imports great activity of the circulatory system. The chest and lungs of sanguine people are well developed and
sturdy, their skin is usually clear, their cheeks and lips ruddy, their muscles firm, their powers of digestion and assimilation strong and robust, their movements free, vigorous, and even vehement; their passions and imaginations of the liveliest. The pulse is strong and full, the body usually inclined to embonpoint, and the mental acumen sharp and penetrative. Boys and girls of this temperament are, as a rule, endowed with regular and easily-preserved health; if they contract any childish malady, such as measles, scarlatina, or whooping-cough, the disorder is well marked, attended with strong fever, and followed by a convalescence of short duration. The illnesses to which this temperament most predisposes are of a plethoric character, and special care should therefore be taken to avoid over-heating, sunstroke, ill-ventilated rooms, and undue excitement. Stimulating foods and drinks are unsuitable to young people of sanguine temperament; they should take chiefly fruit, vegetable, and farinaceous articles of diet, and should not be indulged with tea or coffee.
The nervous temperament is usually characterised by pallor of the face, fineness and scantiness of hair, spare-ness of frame, great length of spine, and a somewhat contracted chest The countenance is expressive, the forehead broad, the muscular system poorly developed, the movements sudden and often spasmodic, and the circulation generally defective. From the intellectual point of view there is great susceptibility of mental impression, everything is felt in extremes, at times there is almost overwhelming despondency and discontent, at others an exaltation equally exaggerated. Children of nervous temperament are very quick of apprehension, generally studious, inventive, and subtle; genius belongs to this type, and often shows itself at a very early age.
When the nervous temperament exists in combination with another, it always dominates and controls the latter. Great care is needed in the education and training of children of this constitutional calibre. They are subject to frequent complaints, and usually have many infantile disorders. Later, as the mental faculties unfold, they are liable to manifest all kinds of nervous indisposition, – chorea (St. Vitus’s dance), hysteria, somnambulism, asthma, neuralgia, and various irregularities of the digestive processes. Yet, notwithstanding these weaknesses and the instability of their physique, it is remarkable that the nervous temperament endows its possessors with greater power of endurance than any other. Suffering, labour, fatigue, privation, and every kind of trial, moral and physical, are better supported by nervous persons than by others of hardier or less sensitive type.
The diet of nervous children should be carefully selected. It should consist of fine and concentrated aliments, all coarse, bulky, and flatulent foods being avoided. Tonics, bitters, and cordials are beneficial aids in most cases. Baths, either warm or tepid, should be daily administered, followed by gymnastic exercises and frictions from head to foot, in order to promote the general circulation and equalise the nervous tension. Boys and girls, especially girls, of this temperament, suffer greatly from cerebro-spinal irritability, and this tendency must be taken into consideration during their schooldays, in such wise as to avoid brain-pressure, anxiety, and excessive fault-finding. All nervous children are sensitive in an acute degree, they take blame terribly to heart, and are elated, often unduly, by praise. Their teachers should not be their parents; for unless the latter can, in the capacity of instructors, preserve a perfectly unruffled and serene demeanour, lesson-time is liable to
end abruptly in tears and laments. For nervous children are excitable, resentful of reproof and often petulant; and it is equally bad for parent and for child to come into collision as tutor and pupil. The fathers and mothers of nervous children should reserve themselves for the parlour and the nursery, and remain absent from the school-room. The parental presence should be one of repose, wholly unassociated with reminiscences of turmoil, vexation, and disheartenment. Frequent change of air and scene are beneficial – indeed, almost necessary – for nervous children. Violent exercise should be avoided, especially in the case of girls, because all the bodily functions are precociously developed and easily excited to abnormal activity in young people of this temperament, and much mischief may be done by over-fatigue or stimulation of the system.
The lymphatic type is, perhaps the most easily recognisable. It consists in the predominance of the organic over the cerebral and spinal nervous system, resulting in general feebleness of the intellectual and physical forces, whiteness and flabbiness of the flesh, exaggeration of the watery fluids of the body, arrest of development, and a production of fatty tissue often inconvenient and unwieldy, with a marked tendency to chronic complaints of the mucous membranes and of the skin. Generally speaking, seaside and moist places are unfavourable to lymphatic children; they should live in country towns inland and on high levels; they should wear flannel garments, thick boots, and be well nourished, eschewing rich and greasy foods, and taking a fair portion of stimulating aliments, such as spices, pepper, mustard, coffee, and occasionally a little wine, especially if liable to any form of chronic fluxion. It is usually futile to expect much from children of this temperament in the way of
intellectual acquirement. They are dreamy, indolent, and capricious, and incapable of sustained effort. Pressure will only exasperate them; they are neither encouraged by praise nor abashed by censure. It is not in their nature to be moved by emulation or ambition of any kind: all they desire is to be tranquil and undisturbed. Women of this type make good mothers from the physical point of view, and rarely require wet-nursed for their infants.
The bilious temperament is nearly allied to the nervous, and some hygienists regard it as a derivative of the latter, with which it is frequently combined. It is characterised by a dark or yellowish aspect of complexion, black or dusky-coloured hair, a downy skin, pronounced features, well-developed muscles, with very little fat, large bones, and predominance of the functions of the liver over those of the other organs. The passions are usually energetic and their effects lasting, the character is distinguished by great perseverance, firmness, and even obstinacy. Young people of this temperament require a good deal of exercise, and their diet should be strictly moderate, vegetable rather than animal; milky foods are not suitable for them, nor are stimulants of any kind. Usually, indeed, they dislike milk and all sorts of mild or sweet dishes.
As for the composite temperaments, such as the nervo-sanguine, the nerve-lymphatic, the sanguine-lymphatic, and so forth, they are, of course, distinguished by combinations of the various types just described; and are of far more frequent occurrence than simple temperaments. Dr. B.W. Richardson (F.R.S.), in an interesting lecture entitled “Felicity, as a Sanitary Research,” records his conviction that temperament is a fundamental and all-important factor in the attainment of happiness.
He says: “As a general fact, the sanguine is altogether the happier temperament, but not always the most sustained as such; the dark or bilious is the least happy in early life, but is often in later life more serene; the nervous is a varying condition, full of ups and downs; the lymphatic is, by a negative effect, the most even; and, among the twenty-four combinations of temperaments, the sanguine-lymphatic is the most felicitous in respect to physical pleasures; and the bilious-sanguine and the bilious-lymphatic, in respect to intellectual; the nervous-sanguine is the most irritable, and the nervous-lymphatic the most helpless and miserable.”
Varieties of temperament must be viewed, then, as potent factors in determining the direction and result of education, and especially of that branch of education which is, properly speaking, physiological. Childhood and youth are the most plastic periods of life. According to the prevailing tone of the influences, moral, social, and otherwise, brought to bear on the vital centres of the brain and heart in early years, will be their subsequent development and calibre. Repression, worry, or frequent rebuke, combined with what in most girls’ schools is usually called “discipline,” will suffice to develop in a nervous temperament all the symptoms of chorea or hysteria, disorders which leave their mark on the character or physique for long periods, and blight the felicity of early womanhood. Girls of nervous temperament, or of any of its combinations, should be encouraged to adopt as a special subject of pursuit some one particular study or accomplishment, as drawing, music, botany, or one of the sciences. Their idiosyncrasy needs the satisfaction of absorbed interest and ambition, and they will pine or become melancholy if repressed to the dead level of ordinary domesticity. If
such a girl shows aptitudes and desire for unusual avocations, – as medicine, science, or other professional work, she should be encouraged and aided in following up the bent of her genius, precisely as though she belonged to the more favoured sex. If she is thwarted and restrained, nature will avenge itself against her guardians by instigating the girl so defrauded of a legitimate outlet for her mental energy, to some wild or romantic action on another plane. She will elope with a penniless adventurer, or engage in some Quixotic enterprise not less disastrous, or, failing these resources, will fall into chlorosis or some other chronic state of ill-health. For the vital activity burns fiercely in such a temperament, and cries imperatively for work and the satisfaction of ambition.
Again, lymphatic children need very careful physiological training and supervision, but, of course, of a wholly different character. Indolence and supineness are the besetting faults of the lymphatic. In common phrase, they are said to “moon about,” no doubt because, astrologically speaking, they are “born under the moon’s influence.” Their disposition is the reverse of that which characterises the nervous or “quicksilver” temperament, and the difficulty in their case is to arouse them to an interest in any subject. Injudicious harassment and perpetual attempts to force them to occupy their minds or bodies against their will, usually result only in compelling them to take refuge in subterfuge or prevarication. In order to excuse themselves from work or effort of any kind, they will enter on a bewildering series of misrepresentations, generally as little lucid and perspicuous as the condition of their own intelligence. It is futile to endeavour to “cram” children of this constitution. Let them do what they can;
expect nothing brilliant from them; if perchance they exhibit any livelier interest in one particular branch of study than in others, suppress the rest, and let them devote all the energy they can summon to that one. Bilious-lymphatic persons often make good executive musicians; they are not inventive, but they are reflective, and the mechanical study of music is not one that requires the exercise of acute mental processes. Self-possession also is necessary to executive musicians, and this virtue is frequently conspicuous in lymphatic types of temperament. The nervous person may break down utterly for want of self-possession, where the lymphatic subject will score a success, chiefly on account of his or her admirable aplomb. In many circumstances and avocations the power of coolness is of far more value than that of intellectual skill. The scholar of genius who is perturbed and agitated before his examiners, so that his memory plays him false and leaves his mind a prey to confusion, obviously stands a better chance of being “referred to his studies” than does the phlegmatic pupil whom nothing can excite, and who is at the top of his excellence when before his jury. At the Paris Faculty, where all examinations are viva voce, I have had ample opportunities for verifying these conclusions.
On the whole, the sanguine temperament and its varieties give the best material for steady success and felicity. The nervous subject is mobile as mercury; every change of scene, of weather, or of magnetic condition in his surroundings, affects and influences him. He mopes in damp seasons, and is joyously responsive to sunshine. In the midst of mountains he burns with fierce ardour and enthusiasm; among the pastures of the low-lying country he is resigned and timid. Like a flower, his subtle and various nature droops under frost or rain,
and expands beneath the light. On the other hand, nothing of all these affects the lymphatic. He resembles the Yankee who, when shown the Falls of Niagara for the first time, observed that the sight was “really very pretty.” Enthusiasm never visits the breast of the lymphatic individual, nor is he ever abnormally depressed. He glides evenly through life like flowing water, which is, indeed, the philosophical analogue of his type. But the sanguine temperament has the better of both these. It is pre-eminently hopeful; its tide is always high; it is true and steadfast without being brilliant, earnest without being fanatic. Sanguine natures are usually “well-regulated” and thoroughly trustworthy. They are truthful because neither indolent nor fearful; they are persevering and determined because they have an abounding confidence in Providence. All will come right for them; they are never discouraged or fainthearted. If your children are of this temperament, Sibyl, receive my congratulations. They will succeed in life, and will have ample and unshaken felicity; for happiness dwells in the heart of the sanguine man or woman, and to such all seasons are fair. Genius may poison itself in despair, as Chatterton did at fifteen, or run away with an innkeepers daughter, as Shelley did at twenty; but the sanguine boy will do credit to his pastors and masters, and will grow up to become by-and-by eminent in law, in chemistry, or some other of the more solid and less artistic professions.