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The professional class suffer largely, therefore, perhaps mainly, from physical affections. Diabetes, a physical nervous malady, is so common amongst them that I once had six gentlemen, following learned professions, under my care for this disease, at the same time; and for many years I have never been withoutone or more of such cases. Paralysis of the limbs, with little interference of the mental faculties, is another common type of disease. Affection of the kidneys, degeneration of the structure of those organs, is a third condition, and disorganisation of the structure of the heart is a last, and by no means rare, occur
Men whose lives are devoted to the arts are infinitely less subjected to the graver physical evils than are either the professional men or the speculators. Their ailments, however, differ materially, according to the line of art which is pursued. Those who follow painting as an art, though they are sometimes for long hours shut up in the studio, and are working almost like men of letters, are nevertheless allowed recreations and pleasures which greatly relieve the monotony of their lives, and which add, in no small degree, to their health. They make their journeys to Rome, Venice, and various parts of England, and, indeed, lead an existence which is most invigorating and delightful. Exceptions must of course be made for those who suffer from pecuniary difficulties, who labour for the mere means of existence, and are obliged, in the studio, to conjure up subjects for the pencil from the worn out recollections of the past. But compared with the mass of mental workers these are very few, too few for any inference to be drawn or fact displayed as to their special diseases. Painters, as a whole, may indeed be considered as largely exempt from mental strain, but they have trials which tell upon the heart, in respect to the position which shall be gained by the work which they have done. I believe this is really the greatest mischief to which the painter is liable. His work is so light, so chaste, so fruitful of enjoyment, and so confined to those hours of the day when the sun shines, that he cannot seriously suffer from real over exertion. But for these very reasons, being retired from the world and understanding little of it, he chafes sorely under unjust criticism, and often frets himself into a nervous hesitating condition, which renders life a burden, prolonged, and hardly to be borne.
Concerning those who follow poetry as an art, we have heard much said_a vast deal more, I take it, than ever was trueas to their sufferings. In truth, the world has not produced a sufficient number of poets for us to calculate whether poetic art is at all destructive of mind or of body. The instances of destruction are too few and too questionable to be relied upon, and the romance which is made to surround destroyed poets is too extreme to be believed in by the physician.
The dramatic artist differs from the classes previously mentioned, both in his labours and in his troubles. To men of strong build and firm will, to men who possess by nature the very faculties which they represent, dramatic art may offer few anxieties or perils, and we know from experience that some of our greatest actors have passed through their active careers, extending over a long life, without suffering beyond other men; but if my experience serves me rightly, the majority of players are very differently placed. A man in the studio can labour at works of art calmly and quietly, thinking deliberately as he touches the inanimate canvas, of what can be said of the result. But this is very different from the art in which the man transforms his own body into art, and appears suddenly before a crowd, exhibiting himself in attitude and character personifying what he has never seen. To get up to this ordeal, the intensest labour and presence of mind are required, the strongest volition, the most refined ideal. We have an illustration of this intensity in those cases common, I believe, to almost every player—when the artist, at his first appearance, is said to be “stage struck,” when for the moment the circulation stands still, when the muscles are rigid and the face deathly. That is the first, and probably the most painful ordeal, but it is an ordeal which rarely ceases altogether with the first appearance. Without manifesting itself with the same active symptoms as those that are combined at the stage struck period, it keeps alight a nervous irritable excitement, which intensifies up to the period when the time arrives for taking part in a performance, and then gradually subsides during the performance, or is even transformed into enthusiasm, to be followed, when the excitement is over, by a depression that may amount even to despair, a depression which applause and admiration do not satisfy, but which unjust or unfair criticism goads either into melancholy or apathy.
Under these influences, many of our really best players sink into second or third positions, not because they are wanting in the talent to stand first, but for the simple reason that they prefer the ease of mediocrity. For this reason, some of our players who do stand first, owing to the constant irritation to which they are subjected, become cross, irritable, or desponding, finding no satisfaction in the temporary approbation which they achieve, but overwhelming chagrin at every shade of disappointment. Still more, in the very act of the sustaining of certain characters on the stage, vehement physical efforts are called forth, which demand a degree of muscular exertion, mental strain and expenditure of vital force altogether, of which the mere lookeron has no adequate conception. Take the play of “Othello," for instance, as indicating the character of the labour that is required of the actor. The mere effort of speaking such a play well is beyond the reach of ninety-nine men out of a hundred; but add to the speech the action, the studied expression, the passion,—what can be more onerous, exciting,
or severe ? In the intensity of the passion the brain is so tense it is as if it would distend the rigid skull, while all common surroundings are lost to view.
The labours of the players tell on the brain and the heart. The heart becomes irregularin its action; then, for a time, large and overstrong, and finally degenerate, feeble and uncertain. With this there are combined excessive timidity, sleeplessness, persistent dyspepsia, paralysis, and gradual decay. Whenever sensations thus excited lead the actor, unfortunately, to resort to the use of stimulants; when without a stimulant he is unable to meet his audience, or to recover from his labour, he is beginning to suffer from a second destruction, more fatal than the first.
The extent to which over mental strain is injurious to the young, varies according to the kind and character of work. The endeavour to fill the minds of children with artificial information leads to one of two results. Not unfrequently in the very young, it gives rise to direct disease of the brain itself, to deposit of tubercle if there be pre-disposition to that disease, to convulsive attacks, or even to epilepsy. In less extreme cases it causes simple weakness and exhaustion of the mental organs, with irregularity of power. The child may grow up with a memory taxed with technicals, and impressed so forcibly that it is hard to make way for other knowledge; and, added to these mischiefs there may be, and often is, the further evil, that the brain, owing to the labour put on it, becomes too fully and easily developed, too firm, and too soon mature, so that it remains throughout manhood always a large child's brain, very wonderful in a child, and equally ridiculous in a man or woman. The development in an excessive degree of one particular faculty is also a common cause of feebleness.
I knew once an instance in which a child was blessed' with a marvellous gift of verbal memory.
This being his “forte,” his teacher, who wished every scholar to be remarkable for something beyond other scholars, played on this “forte” incessantly, and with wonderful effect. By constant cultivation of the one faculty this marvellous boy could learn off fifty lines of “Paradise Lost,” or of any other English book at a single reading, and could repeat his lesson on the spot, without missing a word or omitting a comma. But the result was so bad that when the boy was sent from school to a university to learn a profession, he was beaten in the learning of detailed and detached facts by every fellowstudent. Seeing slowly but surely where his weakness lay, the student ceased at last to call into play his remarkable talent. It was a terrible task; a task he accomplished at last to a considerable degree, but never effectually. For a long time he made mistakes that were most annoying; he was unable, for instance, to cast up accurately any column of figures, he forgot dates, he ran over or under important appointments, misnamed authors in speaking of works of art or letters, and in reasoning his want of analytical
power was painfully felt. It took him full ten long years to unlearn his wonderful technical art.
For the reasons given I have always persistently opposed the special prize system in schools. A teacher, with some experience of results of teaching, I can recall no single instance in which noted prizemen in early youth bore away more than other men the prizes, that is to say, the successes, of after life. I have, however, many many times known the successful prizeman, in the class, the least successful afterwards, and as often have known the most ordinary youths, in class, come out as the best men in life.
Overwork in the child and in the student defeats its own object; it does not develop the powerful brain so necessary for the man: for life is ever a new and great lesson, and some young brain must be left free for the