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Notes From a Professor's Lecture.


I begin with the sad confession that in our busy, restless, nerve-wearing existence too little attention is paid to the blessing of health, and that, compared to the ancients in this matter, we are thoughtless barbarians. I am aware that our college boys play base-ball, ride bicycles, and row boats, but I still assert that we are all fools in the matter of health.

A healthy body is the foundation on which all good intellectual work is founded; there are exceptions to this rule, but is it not possible that genius which does so much valuable work under the strain of illness would have done better work under the invigorating influence of health?

I state, then, that all good art work is the outcome of health, and conversely, that every departure from health is a departure from good art, and I would ask every student of art to remember this immutable law, that every ill treatment of the body is infallibly followed by deterioration of thought and of feeling.

The human body, the human machine supplied with a proper amount of fuel in the form of food, will give out so much energy and no more; if you use up an over amount of this energy in one direction, there is a lack of it in another direction; for example, if you use up the greater amount of it in producing thought, you do not leave enough for the supply of muscle; and health, please remember, is the sum of all energies.

Every motion you make, every thought you think, every emotion you feel, is destructive of a certain amount of tissue, which must be renewed by the nutritious elements of the food circulating in the blood; cease to supply the blood with nutriment, and the brain is powerless to think, and the muscles are powerless to act. Supply the blood with nutriment, but divert the greater part of it to some particular organ, and you starve all other organs.

Do you understand why the prize-fighter is not a thinker? Heredity, of course, counts for a good deal, but if you take the average man and bring him up as a prize-fighter you will give him strong muscles and weak brain. A similar state of affairs obtains with the ambitious student; he strengthens his brains at the expense of his body, but notice the difference. Nobody expects a prize-fighter to be a thinker, and if his brain impoverishment reaches to the point of imbecility, he may still remain the strong, healthy animal. On the other hand, a healthy thinking system depends on a healthy animal system. If you keep on impoverishing the body at the expense of the brain, a condition is finally reached when the brain sympathizes with the body’s weakness, and when it ends by being destroyed with the body. The brain may be destroyed to a certain extent, and the body still live; but a live brain is impossible in a dead body. You are an animal before you are a thinker; the animal may survive in the absence of the thinker; but on this earth there is no thinker in the absence of the animal!

Health then comes first, and if it is necessary to sacrifice health or art, I should advise you to sacrifice art. What becomes of your piano-playing, Miss Artemis, if you have rheumatism in your fingers; what becomes of your singing, Miss Diana, if you have a chronic sore throat? And how many throats and fingers have been ruined through an ignorance or a defiance of the laws of health.

Every defiance of the laws of health brings its punishment on the artist. Eat a lobster salad in bed to-night, Miss Diana, and you will not sing to-morrow as well as you sung to-day; catch cold to-night, Miss Artemis, and I shall hear the sneezing in your piano-playing tomorrow.

You cannot fool nature, even though you tell her the most plausible lies; she will not even sugar-coat her pills to oblige you; but although you are allowed to do as you please, stripes will surely fall on the backs of fools just the same.

Strive, then, for health, and when you get it keep it; do not be over-studious at the expense of your health, but at the same time do not call laziness sickness. If I founded my ideal conservatory I would make it one of the requisites of admission that the students had passed a two years’ preliminary study in physiology and hygiene. I would not care if they confounded the vocal cords with the diaphragm, but I should vigorously insist that they should know the train of evil that follows in the wake of defying the laws of health. Be ambitious for health as well as for fame, for dyspepsia is a drawback even to genius. If you intend to become professional artists you must become ascetics in the matter of pleasures. Ask the famous opera-singers how they pass their lives, and be astonished at the vast difference between what you have imagined and the reality. You are amateurs, however, and greater latitude is allowed you. And yet you would be amazed if you knew how many so-called luxuries there are which you could do without, not only to the benefit of your health, but to your intellectual and emotional profit. Some day I intend to devote an entire lecture to pies and iced water as potent enemies of that higher life which we are all so anxious to live. While waiting I have, perhaps, supplied you with some present material for profitable thought.—P. W. —Leader.


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