The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Health Notes.

Edited by H. Laing Gordon, M.D.
Volume 10, 1899, pg. 324

By M. Handfield-Jones, M.D., M.R.C.P.

Some short time ago a well known writer created considerable interest by picturing the invasion of this island by the dwellers in another planet. After having described in a highly dramatic manner the details of the advance on London, the author was apparently at a loss to account for the ultimate failure of the expedition. However, he decided that they should all rapidly succumb, when on the eve of victory, because their vital powers were unable to cope with the microbes of this world. Had their systems been sufficiently braced up and hardened to withstand the attacks of the germs of these islands, our small planet would soon have become the mere appendage of Mars.

In these days of germ warfare, we run a risk of overlooking the teaching of this novelist. Every effort is being made to prevent the introduction of microbe life into our systems, but what care is being taken to render our children's bodies hardy and vigorous, and so to increase the resisting powers of their tissues, that germs, even when admitted, will be unable to thrive or multiply? It is well, doubtless, that cows should be tested and dairies inspected before milk is sent out for household use, but sanitary precautions are only one side of our fight with the destructive agencies round us.

How many a child has its resisting powers lowered by a prolonged diet of some peptonised, zyminised, artificial food; or overclad and overheated with layer after layer of so-called sanitary clothing, is liable to pulmonary or intestinal catarrh on the slightest exposure. What chance of hardihood is there for a child whose nursery window is never left open at night even in summer and spring time, who every morning revels in a warm bath and knows nothing of a cold plunge and a sharp rub down afterwards, and who is never allowed to run about in the open air on the finest day without an immense cloth or velvet erection (Anglice, hat) held down on the poor, perspiring little head by a tight elastic band.

Perhaps as the open-air treatment of consumption finds due favour, and mothers note that even delicate invalids and feeble-chested folk improve with wise exposure, they will leave off absurd pampering and even run a little risk for the sake of giving their children healthy, hardy frames, fit to meet and overcome the foes they must encounter in after life.

A charming work might be written on the evolution of the medicine chest. Our great-grandmothers left bad cases to barber surgeons and gold-sticked physicians, but they were great on the treatment of minor ailments, and their medicine cupboard was a village institution. No one resorted to the cupboard lightly, for a trifling cold was preferable to mustard, treacle posset and a stewing bed; headaches were made light of in the contemplation of senna and brimstone as a remedy, and even a certain amount of pain was not in it with Gregory powder.

By degrees, however, a fashionable homoeopathy sprang up, and charming medicine cabinets came into vogue; delightful little bottles, boxes and drawers, sugar-coated pills, and medical bon-bons, doses of only one drop in goodness knows how much water, all nice to look at, all nice to taste, and all warranted to do good when there was nothing really the matter. The great charm of this system was its universality and its harmlessness; it suited its adherents, for in most cases the disease was infinitesimal and the remedy of equal value.

But now, alas, under the pressure of nineteenth century work and nineteenth century pleasure, a crowd of small neuroses have sprung up, which must be got rid of at once, and remedies more potent than homoeopathic pilules must be at hand. So the matron of to-day keeps by her phenacetin and antipyrin tabloids for headache or neuralgia (for she has no time to try what rest or fresh air or a cup of tea will do to relieve her pain); sulphonal tabloids when sleep will not be wooed or won; chlorodyne vials if any slight abdominal pain worries her; "beef and port wine tonic" when the system is felt to be somewhat below par; and cocaine and other abominations for every small ailment.

It is bad enough that drugging should be made so easy for adults, and should be used so recklessly in cases where the drug is worse than the disease and the after results are so dangerous; but what are we to say when we find this wholesale treatment extended to the child-world?

"Oh, mother!" a small maiden urges, "my head is beginning to ache," and forthwith a tabloid of antipyrin is administered; "the child is really so restless," one hears another parent say, "that I think I ought to give her some bromide!" Apart from the harm done to the digestive and nervous systems by such indiscriminate drugging, the child's resisting powers or powers of endurance are never cultivated; pain cannot be tolerated even in the most moderate degree, discomfort is the greatest evil, and patience is an unknown good.

Proofread by LNL, June 2020