There is a prejudice abroad, to some extent, against agitating the questions—”What shall we eat? What shall we drink? and Wherewithal shall we be clothed?”—not
so much because the Scriptures have charged us not to be over “anxious” on the subject, as because those who pay the least attention to what they eat and drink, are
supposed to be, after all, the most healthy.
It is not difficult to ascertain how this opinion originated. There are a few individuals who are perpetually thinking and talking on this subject, and who would fain
comply with appropriate rules, if they knew what they were, and if a certain definite course, pursued a few days only, would change their whole condition, and
completely restore a shattered or ruined constitution. But their ignorance of the laws which govern the human frame, both in sickness and in health, and their
indisposition to pursue any proposed plan for their improvement long enough to receive much permanent benefit from it, keep them, notwithstanding all they say or do,
Then, on the other hand, there are a few who, in consequence of possessing by nature very strong constitutions, and laboring at some active and peculiarly healthy
employment, are able for a few, and perhaps even for many years, to set all the rules of health at defiance.
Now, strange as it may seem, these cases, though they are only exceptions (and those more apparent than real) to the general rule, are always dwelt upon, by those
who are determined to live as they please, and to put no restraint either upon themselves or their appetites. For nothing can be plainer—so it seems to me—than that,
taking mankind by families, or what is still better, by larger portions, they are most free from pain and disease, as well as most healthy and happy, who pay the most
attention to the laws of human health, that is, those laws or rules by whose observance alone, that health can be certainly and permanently secured.
But these families and communities are most healthy and happy, not because they live in a proper manner, by fits and starts, but because they have, from some cause
or other, adopted and persevered in HABITS which, compared with the habits of other families, or other communities, are preferable; that is, more in obedience to the
laws which govern the human constitution. Not that even they are “without sin” or error on this subject—gross error too—but because their errors are fewer or less
destructive than those of their neighbors.
Now is it possible that any intelligent father or mother of a family, whose diet, clothing, exercise, &c. are thus comparatively well regulated, would derive no benefit
from the perusal of works which treat candidly, rationally, and dispassionately, on these points? Is there a mother in the community who is so destitute of reason and
common sense as not to desire the light of a broader experience in regard to the tendency of things than she has had, or possibly can have, in her own family? Is there
one who will not be aided by understanding not only that a certain thing or course is better than another, but also WHY it is so?
It is by no means the object of this little work to set people to watching their stomachs from meal to meal, in regard to the effects of food, drink, &c.; for nothing in
the world is better calculated to make dyspeptics than this. It is true, indeed, that some things may be obviously and greatly injurious, taken only once; and when they
are so, they should be avoided. But in general, it is the effect of a habitual use of certain things for a long time together—and the longer the experiment the better—
which we are to observe.
A book to guide mothers in the formation of early good habits in their offspring, should be the result of long observation and much experiment on these points, but
more especially of a thorough understanding of human physiology. It should not consist so much of the conceits of a single brain—perhaps half turned—as of the
logical deductions of severe science, and facts gleaned from the world’s history.
Here is a nation, or tribe of men, bringing up children to certain habits, from generation to generation—and such and such is their character. Here, again, is another
large portion of our race, who, under similar circumstances of climate, &c. &c., have, for several hundred years, educated their children very differently, and with
different results. A comparison of things on a large scale, together with a close attention to the constitution and relations of the human system, affords ground for
drawing conclusions which are or may be useful. If this book shall not afford light derived from such sources, it were far better that it had never been written. If it only
sets people to watching over the effects of things taken or used only for a single day, instead of leading them from early infancy to form in their children such habits as
will preclude, in a great measure, the necessity of watching ourselves daily, then let the day perish from the memory of the writer, in which the plan of bringing it forth
to the world was conceived. But he is confident of better things. He does not believe that a work which, to such an extent, GIVES THE REASON WHY, will be
productive of more evil than good. On the contrary, it must, if read, have the opposite effect.
I do not deny that even after the formation of the best habits, there will be a necessity of paying some attention to what we eat and what we drink, from day to day,
and from hour to hour; but only that the tendency of this work is not to increase this necessity, but on the contrary, to diminish it. In my own view; these occasions of
inquiry in regard to what is right, physically as well as morally, are one part of our trials in this world—one means of forming our characters. We are constantly
tempted to excess and to error, in spite of the most firm habits of self-denial which can be formed. If we resist temptation, our characters are improved. And it is by
self-denial and self-government in these smaller matters, that we are to hope for nearly all the progress we can ever make in the great work of self-education. Great
trials of character come but seldom; and when they come, we are often armed against them; but these little trials and temptations, coming upon us every hour—these it
is, after all, that give shape to our characters, and make us constantly growing either better or worse, both in the sight of God and man. But, as I have repeatedly said,
the object of this work is to diminish rather than to increase the frequency of these trials, useful though they may be, if duly improved, in the formation of virtuous, and
even of holy character.
There is a sense in which every infant may be said to be born healthy, so that we may not only adopt the language of the poet, Bowring, and say
—”a child is born;
It is this gas, accumulated in large quantities, that destroys so many people in close rooms, where there is no chimney, nor any other place for the bad air to escape.
But it not only kills people outright—it partly kills, that is, it poisons, more or less, hundreds of thousands.
In a nursery there is the mother and child, and perhaps the nurse, to render the air impure by breathing, the fire and the lamp or candle to contribute to the same
result, besides several other causes not yet mentioned. One of these is nearly related to the former. I allude to the fact that our skins, by perspiration and by other
means, are a source of much impurity to the atmosphere; a fact which will be more fully explained and illustrated in the chapter on Bathing and Cleanliness. It is only
necessary to say, in this place, that it is not the matter of perspiration alone which, issuing from the skin, renders the air impure; there are other exhalations more or less
constantly going off from every living body, especially from the lungs; and carbonic acid gas is even formed all over the surface of the skin, as well as by means of the
is it any wonder that children, in the end, become sickly? What else could be expected but that the seeds of disease, thus early sown, should in
due time spring up, and produce their appropriate fruits?
It is sometimes said that fire in a room purifies it. It undoubtedly does so, to a certain extent, if fresh air be often admitted; but not otherwise.
I have classed feather beds among the common causes of impurity. Dr. Dewees also condemns them, most decidedly; and gives substantial reasons for “driving
them out of the nursery.”
In speaking of the structure of the room used for a nursery, I have adverted to the importance of having a large or double room, with sliding doors between, in order
that the occupants may go into one of them, while the other is being ventilated. But whatever may be the structure of the room, the circumstances of the occupants, or
the state of the weather, every nursery ought to be most thoroughly ventilated, once a day, at least; and when the weather is tolerable, twice a day. If there is but one
apartment, and fear is entertained of the dampness of the fresh air introduced, or of currents, and if the mother and babe cannot retire, there is a last resort, which is for
them to get into bed, and cover themselves a short time with the clothing. For though I have prohibited the covering of the face with the bed-clothes for any
considerable length of time together, yet to do so for some fifteen or twenty minutes is an evil of far less magnitude than to suffer an apartment to remain without being
ventilated, for twenty-four hours together—a very common occurrence.
When a lamp is kept burning in a nursery during the night, it should always be placed at the door of the stove, or in the chimney place, that its smoke, and the bad
airs or gases which are formed, may escape. But it is better, in general, to avoid burning lamps or candles during the night. By means of common matches, a light may
be produced, when necessary, almost instantly; especially if you have a spirit lamp in the nursery, or what is still better, one of spirit gas—that is, a mixture of alcohol
It is highly desirable that all washing, ironing, and cooking should be avoided in the nursery. They load the air with noxious effluvia or vapor, or with particles of
dust; none of which ought ever to enter the delicate lungs of an infant.
Fumigations with camphor, vinegar, and other similar substances, have long been in reputation as a means of purifying the air in sick-rooms and nurseries; but they
are of very little consequence. Fresh air, if it can be had, is always better.