Page images
PDF
EPUB

little concession, the first lost battle between the will and a temptation, is but the commencement of a long series of failures. Every succeeding conflict is harder because the last has been lost. Every defeat lessens the last trembling remnants of selfreliance. And at last, with the bitterest pain of all-self-contempt-gnawing at his heart, with no strength to say “I will not”—under the tyrannous dominion of foul passions, which all the good that is left in him abhors, the man slinks and stumbles towards his grave.

But, more than this, the steady discipline of the will has a direct physical effect on the body. The young man who can command even his thoughts, will have an easier task in keeping himself continent than he who cannot. He who, when physical temptations assail him, can determinately apply his mind to other subjects, and employ the whole force of his will in turning away, as it were, from the danger, has a power over the body itself which will make his victory tenfold easier than his who, unable to check bodily excitement, though determined not to yield, must endure in the conflict great sexual misery.

Dr. Carter, in his “ Treatise on Hysteria,” makes some striking remarks on the effect of continual direction of the mind in producing emotional congestion of organs, which illustrate this view of the subject. He says (p. 13): “ The glands liable to emotional congestion are those which, by forming their products in larger quantity, subserve to the gratification of the excited feeling. Thus, blood is directed to the mammæ by the maternal emotions, to the testes by the sexual, and to the salivary glands by the influence of appetizing odours; while in either case the sudden demand may produce an exsanguine condition of other organs, and may check some function which was being actively performed, as, for instance, the digestive.”

He also relates a very remarkable example of the intensity of the emotional influence. “A lady, who was watching her little child at play, saw a heavy window-sash fall upon its hand, cutting off three of the fingers; and she was so much overcome by fright and distress as to be unable to render it any assistance. A surgeon was speedily obtained, who, having dressed the wounds,

turned himself to the mother, whom he found seated, moaning and complaining of pain in her hand. On examination, three fingers corresponding to those injured in the child, were discovered to be swollen and inflamed, although they had ailed nothing prior to the accident. In four-and-twenty hours, incisions were made into them and pus was evacuated; sloughs were afterwards discharged, and the wounds ultimately healed.

"Now in this case there can be no doubt that the mother's emotion was directed, by observation of the parts injured, upon the corresponding parts of her own system, there working a change in the circulation or nutrition, sufficient to excite acute inflammatory action.”

In treating of this subject further on, we shall find many instances in which there is good reason to believe in such emotional influences, and that a long directed attention to the organs in hypochondriacs and others, has set up a deranged state of the nervous and circulating powers.

In accordance with the same law, a steady avoidance of all impure thoughts—a turning away, so to speak, of the will from sexual subjects—will spare the young man much of the distress and temptation arising from the abnormal excitement of the reproductive system induced by the mind's dwelling much on such subjects.

The essence of all this training of the will, however, lies in beginning early. If a boy is once fully impressed that all such indulgences are dirty and mean, and, with the whole force of his unimpaired energy, determines he will not disgrace himself by yielding, a very bright and happy future is before him.

A striking example of what resolution can do was related to me lately by a distinguished patient. “You may be somewhat surprised, Mr. Acton,” said he, “ by the statement I am about to make to you, that before my marriage I lived a perfectly continent life. During my university career my passions were very strong, sometimes almost uncontrollable, but I have the satisfaction of thinking that I mastered them; it was, however, by great efforts. I obliged myself to take violent physical exertion; I was the best oar of my year, and when I felt particularly strong sexual desire, I sallied out to take my exercise. I was victorious always; and I never committed fornication; you see in what robust health I am, it was exercise that alone saved me.” I may mention that this gentleman took a most excellent degree, and has reached the highest point of his profession. Here then is an instance of what energy of character, indomitable perseverance and good health will effect.

The advice given by Carpenter in the fifth edition of his work, p. 779, is as follows :-“The author would say to those of his younger readers who

urge

the wants of nature as an excuse for the illicit gratification of the sexual passion, "Try the effects of close mental application to some of those ennobling pursuits to which your profession introduces you, in combination with vigorous bodily exercise, before you assert that the appetite is unrestrainable, and act upon that assertion.' Nothing tends so much to increase the desire, as the continual direction of the mind towards the objects of its gratification, especially under the favoring influence of sedentary habits ; whilst nothing so effectually represses it as the determinate exercise of the mental faculties upon other subjects and the expenditure of nervous energy in other channels.”

With reference to the vital importance of a strong, well-trained will, we may also quote the valuable testimony of Dr. Reid:

“ Let us, as psychological physicians, impress upon the minds of those predisposed to attacks of mental aberration, and other forms of nervous disease, the important truth that they have it in their power to crush, by determined, persevering, and continuous acts of volition, the floating atoms, the minute embryos, the early scintillations of insanity. Many of the diseases of the mind, in their premonitory stage admit, under certain favorable conditions, of an easy cure, if the mind has in early life been accustomed to habits of self-control, and the patient is happily gifted with strong volitionary power, and brings it to bear upon the scarcely formed filaments of mental disease. We should have fewer disorders of the mind if we could acquire more power of volition, and endeavor by our energy to disperse the clouds which occasionally arise within our own horizon—if we resolutely tore the first threads of the net which gloom and ill-humor may cast around us, and made an effort to drive away the melancholy images of the imagination by incessant occupation.”

It should not be forgotten that this training of the will is not without its immediate and sensible rewards. Without it, or at least without some measure of it, those faculties of the mind on the regular exercise of which our success in any pursuit, and in fact our general intellectual advancement depend, cannot be rightly cultivated. How absolutely essential it is for the attainment of real happiness, which depends so largely upon self-approbation, has been already noticed.

Exercise and Diet.It is not, however, sufficient to train and strengthen the mind and will; the body must be subjected to a regular and determined discipline, before the proper command can be obtained over its rebellious instincts. And this discipline, when properly carried out, will not consist in any violation of the natural rules of health, but in a strict conformity to the hygienic regulations which science has proved must be obeyed before real health and vigor can be ensured.

For instance, religious and mental discipline may be vastly assisted by partial or total abstinence from fermented drinks and exciting animal food. Experience teaches us that by merely judiciously stinting the food of man in quantity and quality, while, at the same time, the brain is kept in exercise and the body fatigued, the animal instincts may be well-nigh subjugated. I cannot, therefore, but believe, that a well-directed combination of spiritual, mental, and physical training would secure, as nearly as man may hope for, a perfect result. I lay stress upon the words “judiciously" and "well-directed,” because it is necessary I should guard myself against being supposed to counsel a rash or unscientific self-treatment. Much of the danger which has always attended attempts at ill-directed self-maceration,' by fasting and purgatives, undertaken sometimes with a view of correcting corpulency and sometimes for mortification's sake, by religious enthusiasts, will as surely wait upon unscientific training to continence. During the initiatory period, at all events, some medical superintendence is desirable to decide when the process should be commenced and how it should be graduated, what amount of pressure may be put upon each constitution, when to increase and when to relax it, what should be the nature and extent of exercise, and the quantity and quality of nutriment required to keep the system in true form and balance.

11 am inclined to believe that many of the penances which ascetics in former times set themselves—such as starvation, scourging, and exposurewere the most potent means then known of restraining the animal passions, and teaching the sufferers from them to control their feelings; with the same object we may believe that many a hermit shut himself out of the world in order to escape the effect of female society. In the present day I am acquainted with individuals who in former times would have become such misdirected enthusiasts ;-for human nature is little changed, although the fashion of self-chastisement has gone out. There are self-made martyrs in this nineteenth century, as there were in the sixteenth.

I am convinced, all other considerations apart, that were there one or two days weekly set aside by all of us for extreme moderation in diet, public health and morals would be much benefited. The writer who would rationally consider and popularize such discipline, would be entitled to our thanks as a public benefactor. At present, all healthy persons in anything like easy circumstances, eat and drink too much. Our over-eating is often attended visibly by the pendulous abdomen and lethargic frame, and less obviously by depreciated mental energy, and what I may term an artificial desire and imaginary increase of sexual power. The dining, drinking, and sexual indulgence which are practised with unvarying regularity by too many of our middle classes who take little or no exercise, are acting as surely, though perhaps slowly, against the mens sana in corpore sano of the generation, as the opposite system I recommend of bodily labour and organized abstemiousness? would tend to its maintenance. So we come after all to the good old adage on the way to live well—“On a shilling a day, and earn it.”

1 The influence of food in modifying the process of development is seen in a very marked form in the hive-bee. The neuters which constitute the majority of every bee-community, are really females with the sexual organs undeveloped, the capacity for generation being restricted to the queen. If the queen should be destroyed, or removed, the bees choose two or three among the neuter eggs that have been deposited in their appropriate cells, and

« PreviousContinue »