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Sanitary and Social Lectures and Essays by Charles Kingsley

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This etext was prepared from the 1880 Macmillan and Co. edition
by David Price, email ccx074@coventry.ac.uk

Sanitary and Social Lectures and Essays


Woman's Work in a Country Parish
The Science of Health
The Two Breaths
Nausicaa in London; or, the Lower Education of Women
The Air-Mothers
The Tree of Knowledge
Great Cities and their Influence for Good and Evil
The Massacre of the Innocents
"A mad world, my masters."


I have been asked to speak a few words to you on a lady's work in
a country parish. I shall confine myself rather to principles
than to details; and the first principle which I would impress on
you is, that we must all be just before we are generous. I must,
indeed, speak plainly on this point. A woman's first duties are
to her own family, her own servants. Be not deceived: if anyone
cannot rule her own household, she cannot rule the Church of God.
If anyone cannot sympathise with the servants with whom she is in
contact all day long, she will not really sympathise with the poor
whom she sees once a week. I know the temptation not to believe
this is very great. It seems so much easier to women to do
something for the poor, than for their own ladies' maids, and
house-maids, and cooks. And why? Because they can treat the poor
as THINGS: but they MUST treat their servants as persons. A lady
can go into a poor cottage, lay down the law to the inhabitants,
reprove them for sins to which she has never been tempted; tell
them how to set things right, which, if she had the doing of them,
I fear she would do even more confusedly and slovenly than they.
She can give them a tract, as she might a pill; and then a
shilling, as something sweet after the medicine; and she can go
out again and see no more of them till her benevolent mood recurs:
but with the servants it is not so. She knows their characters;
and, what is more, they know hers; they know her private history,
her little weaknesses. Perhaps she is a little in their power,
and she is shy with them. She is afraid of beginning a good work
with them, because, if she does, she will be forced to carry it
out; and it cannot be cold, dry, perfunctory, official: it must
be hearty, living, loving, personal. She must make them her
friends; and perhaps she is afraid of doing that, for fear they
should take liberties, as it is called--which they very probably
will do, unless she keeps up a very high standard of self-
restraint and earnestness in her own life--and that involves a
great deal of trouble, and so she is tempted, when she wishes to
do good, to fall back on the poor people in the cottages outside,
who, as she fancies, know nothing about her, and will never find
out whether or not she acts up to the rules which she lays down
for them. Be not deceived, I say, in this case also. Fancy not
that they know nothing about you. There is nothing secret which
shall not be made manifest; and what you do in the closet is
surely proclaimed (and often with exaggeration enough and to
spare) on the house-top. These poor folks at your gate know well
enough, through servants and tradesmen, what you are, how you
treat your servants, how you pay your bills, what sort of temper
you have; and they form a shrewd, hard estimate of your character,
in the light of which they view all that you do and say to them;
and believe me, that if you wish to do any real good to them, you
must begin by doing good to those who lie still nearer to you than
them. And believe me, too, that if you shrink from a hearty
patriarchal sympathy with your own servants, because it would
require too much personal human intercourse with them, you are
like a man who, finding that he had not powder enough to fire off
a pocket-pistol, should try to better matters by using the same
quantity of ammunition in an eighty-four pound gun. For it is
this human friendship, trust, affection, which is the very thing
you have to employ towards the poor, and to call up in them.
Clubs, societies, alms, lending libraries are but dead machinery,
needful, perhaps, but, like the iron tube without the powder,
unable to send the bullet forth one single inch; dead and useless
lumber, without humanity; without the smile of the lip, the light
of the eye, the tenderness of the voice, which makes the poor
woman feel that a soul is speaking to her soul, a heart yearning
after her heart; that she is not merely a THING to be improved,
but a sister to be made conscious of the divine bond of her
sisterhood, and taught what she means when she repeats in her
Creed, "I believe in the communion of saints." This is my text,
and my key-note--whatever else I may say to-day is but a carrying
out into details of the one question, How may you go to these poor
creatures as woman to woman?

Your next duties are to your husband's or father's servants and
workmen. It is said that a clergyman's wife ought to consider the
parish as HER flock as well as her husband's. It may be so: I
believe the dogma to be much overstated just now. But of a
landlord's, or employer's wife (I am inclined to say, too, of an
officer's wife), such a doctrine is absolutely true, and cannot be
overstated. A large proportion, therefore, of your parish work
will be to influence the men of your family to do their duty by
their dependants. You wish to cure the evils under which they
labour. The greater proportion of these are in the hands of your
men relatives. It is a mockery, for instance, in you to visit the
fever-stricken cottage, while your husband leaves it in a state
which breeds that fever. Your business is to go to him and say,
"HERE IS A WRONG; RIGHT IT!" This, as many a beautiful Middle Age
legend tells us, has been woman's function in all uncivilised
times; not merely to melt man's heart to pity, but to awaken it to
duty. But the man must see that the woman is in earnest: that if
he will not repair the wrong by justice, she will, if possible (as
in those old legends), by self-sacrifice. Be sure this method
will conquer. Do but say: "If you will not new-roof that
cottage, if you will not make that drain, I will. I will not buy
a new dress till it is done; I will sell the horse you gave me,
pawn the bracelet you gave me, but the thing shall be done." Let
him see, I say, that you are in earnest, and he will feel that
your message is a divine one, which he must obey for very shame
and weariness, if for nothing else. This is in my eyes the second
part of a woman's parish work. I entreat you to bear it in mind
when you hear, as I trust you will, lectures in this place upon
that SANITARY REFORM, without which all efforts for the bettering
of the masses are in my eyes not only useless, but hypocritical.

I will suppose, then, that you are fulfilling home duties in self-
restraint, and love, and in the fear of God. I will suppose that
you are using all your woman's influence on the mind of your
family, in behalf of tenants and workmen; and I tell you frankly,
that unless this be first done, you are paying a tithe of mint and
anise, and neglecting common righteousness and mercy. But you
wish to do more: you wish for personal contact with the poor
round you, for the pure enjoyment of doing good to them with your
own hands. How are you to set about it? First, there are clubs--
clothing-clubs, shoe-clubs, maternal-clubs; all very good in their
way. But do not fancy that they are the greater part of your
parish work. Rather watch and fear lest they become substitutes
for your real parish work; lest the bustle and amusement of
playing at shopkeeper, or penny-collector, once a week, should
blind you to your real power--your real treasure, by spending
which you become all the richer. What you have to do is to
ennoble and purify the WOMANHOOD of these poor women; to make them
better daughters, sisters, wives, mothers: and all the clubs in
the world will not do that; they are but palliatives of a great
evil, which they do not touch; cloaks for almsgiving, clumsy means
of eking out insufficient wages; at best, kindly contrivances for
tricking into temporary thriftiness a degraded and reckless
peasantry. Miserable, miserable state of things! out of which the
longer I live I see less hope of escape, saving by an emigration,
which shall drain us of all the healthy, strong, and brave among
the lower classes, and leave us, as a just punishment for our
sins, only the cripple, the drunkard, and the beggar.

Yet these clubs MUST be carried on. They make life a little more
possible; they lighten hearts, if but for a moment; they inculcate
habits of order and self-restraint, which may be useful when the
poor man finds himself in Canada or Australia. And it is a cruel
utilitarianism to refuse to palliate the symptoms because you
cannot cure the disease itself. You will give opiates to the
suffering, who must die nevertheless. Let him slip into his grave
at least as painlessly as you can. And so you must use these
charitable societies, remembering all along what a fearful and
humbling sign the necessity for them is of the diseased state of
this England, as the sportula and universal almsgiving was of the
decadence of Rome.

However, the work has to be done; and such as it is, it is
especially fitted for young unmarried ladies. It requires no deep
knowledge of human nature. It makes them aware of the amount of
suffering and struggling which lies around them, without bringing
them in that most undesirable contact with the coarser forms of
evil which house-visitation must do; and the mere business habits
of accuracy and patience to which it compels them, are a valuable
practical schooling for them themselves in after-life. It is
tiresome and unsentimental drudgery, no doubt; but perhaps all the
better training on that account. And, after all, the magic of
sweetness, grace, and courtesy may shed a hallowing and humanising
light over the meanest work, and the smile of God may spread from
lip to lip, and the light of God from eye to eye, even between the
giver and receiver of a penny, till the poor woman goes home,
saying in her heart, "I have not only found the life of my hand--I
have found a sister for time and for eternity."

But there is another field of parish usefulness which I cannot
recommend too earnestly, and that is, the school. There you may
work as hard as you will, and how you will--provided you do it in
a loving, hearty, cheerful, HUMAN way, playful and yet earnest;
two qualities which, when they exist in their highest power, are
sure to go together. I say, how you will. I am no pedant about
schools; I care less what is taught than how it is taught. The
merest rudiments of Christianity, the merest rudiments of popular
instruction, are enough, provided they be given by lips which
speak as if they believed what they said, and with a look which
shows real love for the pupil. Manner is everything--matter a
secondary consideration; for in matter, brain only speaks to
brain; in manner, soul speaks to soul. If you want Christ's lost-
lambs really to believe that He died for them, you will do it
better by one little act of interest and affection, than by making
them learn by heart whole commentaries--even as Miss Nightingale
has preached Christ crucified to those poor soldiers by acts of
plain outward drudgery, more livingly, and really, and
convincingly than she could have done by ten thousand sermons, and
made many a noble lad, I doubt not, say in his heart, for the
first time in his wild life, "I can believe now that Christ died
for me, for here is one whom He has taught to die for me in like
wise." And this blessed effect of school-work, remember, is not
confined to the children. It goes home with them to the parents.
The child becomes an object of interest and respect in their eyes,
when they see it an object of interest and respect in yours. If
they see that you look on it as an awful and glorious being, the
child of God, the co-heir of Christ, they learn gradually to look
on it in the same light. They become afraid and ashamed (and it
is a noble fear and shame) to do and say before it what they used
to do and say; afraid to ill-use it. It becomes to them a
mysterious visitor (sad that it should be so, but true as sad)
from a higher and purer sphere, who must be treated with something
of courtesy and respect, who must even be asked to teach them
something of its new knowledge; and the school, and the ladies'
interest in the school, become to the degraded parents a living
sign that those children's angels do indeed behold the face of
their Father which is in heaven.

Now, there is one thing in school-work which I wish to press on
you; and that is, that you should not confine your work to the
girls; but bestow it as freely on those who need it more, and who
(paradoxical as it may seem) will respond to it more deeply and
freely--THE BOYS. I am not going to enter into the reasons WHY.
I only entreat you to believe me, that by helping to educate the
boys, or even (when old enough), by taking a class (as I have seen
done with admirable effect) of grown-up lads, you may influence
for ever not only the happiness of your pupils, but of the girls
whom they will hereafter marry. It will be a boon to your own sex
as well as to ours to teach them courtesy, self-restraint,
reverence for physical weakness, admiration of tenderness and
gentleness; and it is one which only a lady can bestow. Only by
being accustomed in youth to converse with ladies, will the boy
learn to treat hereafter his sweetheart or his wife like a
gentleman. There is a latent chivalry, doubt it not, in the heart
of every untutored clod; if it dies out in him (as it too often
does), it were better for him, I often think, if he had never been
born: but the only talisman which will keep it alive, much more
develop it into its fulness, is friendly and revering intercourse
with women of higher rank than himself, between whom and him there
is a great and yet a blessed gulf fixed.

I have left to the last the most important subject of all; and
that is, what is called "visiting the poor." It is an endless
subject; if you go into details, you might write volumes on it.
All I can do this afternoon is to keep to my own key-note, and
say, Visit whom, when, and where you will; but let your visits be
those of woman to woman. Consider to whom you go--to poor souls
whose life, compared with yours, is one long malaise of body, and
soul, and spirit--and do as you would be done by; instead of
reproving and fault-finding, encourage. In God's name, encourage.
They scramble through life's rocks, bogs, and thornbrakes,
clumsily enough, and have many a fall, poor things! But why, in
the name of a God of love and justice, is the lady, rolling along
the smooth turnpike-road in her comfortable carriage, to be
calling out all day long to the poor soul who drags on beside her
over hedge and ditch, moss and moor, bare-footed and weary-
hearted, with half-a-dozen children at her back: "You ought not
to have fallen here; and it was very cowardly to lie down there;
and it was your duty, as a mother, to have helped that child
through the puddle; while, as for sleeping under that bush, it is
most imprudent and inadmissible?" Why not encourage her, praise
her, cheer her on her weary way by loving words, and keep your
reproofs for yourself--even your advice; for SHE does get on her
way, after all, where YOU could not travel a step forward; and she
knows what she is about perhaps better than you do, and what she
has to endure, and what God thinks of her life-journey. The heart
knoweth its own bitterness, and a stranger intermeddleth not with
its joy. But do not be a stranger to her. Be a sister to her. I
do not ask you to take her up in your carriage. You cannot;
perhaps it is good for her that you cannot. It is good sometimes
for Lazarus that he is not fit to sit at Dives's feast--good for
him that he should receive his evil things in this life, and be
comforted in the life to come. All I ask is, do to the poor soul
as you would have her do to you in her place. Do not interrupt
and vex her (for she is busy enough already) with remedies which
she does not understand, for troubles which you do not understand.
But speak comfortably to her, and say: "I cannot feel WITH you,
but I do feel FOR you: I should enjoy helping you, but I do not
know how--tell me. Tell me where the yoke galls; tell me why that
forehead is grown old before its time: I may be able to ease the
burden, to put fresh light into the eyes; and if not, still tell
me, simply because I am a woman, and know the relief of pouring
out my own soul into loving ears, even though in the depths of
despair." Yes, paradoxical as it may seem, I am convinced that
the only way to help these poor women humanly and really, is to
begin by confessing to them that you do not know how to help them;
to humble yourself to them, and to ask their counsel for the good
of themselves and of their neighbours, instead of coming proudly
to them, with nostrums ready compounded, as if a doctor should be
so confident in his own knowledge of books and medicine as to give
physic before asking the patient's symptoms.

Therefore, I entreat you to bear in mind (for without this all
visiting of the poor will be utterly void and useless), that you
must regulate your conduct to them, and in their houses, even to
the most minute particulars, by the very same rules which apply to
persons of your own class. Never let any woman say of you
(thought fatal to all confidence, all influence!): "Yes, it is
all very kind: but she does not behave to me as she would to one
of her own quality." Piety, earnestness, affectionateness,
eloquence--all may be nullified and stultified by simply keeping a
poor woman standing in her own cottage while you sit, or entering
her house, even at her own request, while she is at meals. She
may decline to sit; she may beg you to come in, all the more
reason for refusing utterly to obey her, because it shows that
that very inward gulf between you and her still exists in her
mind, which it is the object of your visit to bridge over. If you
know her to be in trouble, touch on that trouble as you would with
a lady. Woman's heart is alike in all ranks, and the deepest
sorrow is the one of which she speaks the last and least. We
should not like anyone--no, not an angel from heaven, to come into
our houses without knocking at the door, and say: "I hear you are
very ill off--I will lend you a hundred pounds. I think you are
very careless of money, I will take your accounts into my own
hands;" and still less again: "Your son is a very bad,
profligate, disgraceful fellow, who is not fit to be mentioned; I
intend to take him out of your hands and reform him myself."
Neither do the poor like such unceremonious mercy, such untender
tenderness, benevolence at horse-play, mistaking kicks for
caresses. They do not like it, they will not respond to it, save
in parishes which have been demoralised by officious and
indiscriminate benevolence, and where the last remaining virtues
of the poor, savage self-help and independence, have been
exchanged (as I have too often seen them exchanged) for organised
begging and hypocrisy.

I would that you would all read, ladies, and consider well the
traits of an opposite character which have just come to light (to
me, I am ashamed to say, for the first time) in the Biography of
Sidney Smith. The love and admiration which that truly brave and
loving man won from everyone, rich or poor, with whom he came in
contact, seems to me to have arisen from the one fact, that
without perhaps having any such conscious intention, he treated
rich and poor, his own servants and the noblemen his guests,
alike, and ALIKE courteously, considerately, cheerfully,
affectionately--so leaving a blessing and reaping a blessing
wheresoever he went.

Approach, then, these poor women as sisters, and you will be able
gradually to reverse the hard saying of which I made use just now:
"Do not apply remedies which they do not understand, to diseases
which you do not understand." Learn lovingly and patiently (aye,
and reverently, for there is that in every human being which
deserves reverence, and must be reverenced if we wish to
understand it)--learn, I say, to understand their troubles, and by
that time they will have learnt to understand your remedies, and
they will appreciate them. For you HAVE remedies. I do not
undervalue your position. No man on earth is less inclined to
undervalue the real power of wealth, rank, accomplishments,
manners--even physical beauty. All are talents from God, and I
give God thanks when I see them possessed by any human being; for
I know that they, too, can be used in His service, and brought to
bear on the true emancipation of woman--her emancipation, not from
man (as some foolish persons fancy), but from the devil, "the
slanderer and divider" who divides her from man, and makes her
live a life-long tragedy, which goes on in more cottages than in
palaces--a vie e part, a vie incomprise--a life made up half of
ill-usage, half of unnecessary, self-willed, self-conceited
martyrdom, instead of being (as God intended) half of the human
universe, a helpmeet for man, and the one bright spot which makes
this world endurable. Towards making her that, and so realising
the primeval mission by every cottage hearth, each of you can do
something; for each of you have some talent, power, knowledge,
attraction between soul and soul, which the cottager's wife has
not, and by which you may draw her to you with (as the prophet
says) human bonds and the cords of love: but she must be drawn by
them alone, or your work is nothing, and though you give the
treasures of Ind, they are valueless equally to her and to Christ;
for they are not given in His name, which is that boundless
tenderness, consideration, patience, self-sacrifice, by which even
the cup of cold water is a precious offering--as God grant your
labour may be!


Whether the British race is improving or degenerating? What, if
it seem probably degenerating, are the causes of so great an evil?
How they can be, if not destroyed, at least arrested? These are
questions worthy attention, not of statesmen only and medical men,
but of every father and mother in these isles. I shall say
somewhat about them in this Essay; and say it in a form which
ought to be intelligible to fathers and mothers of every class,
from the highest to the lowest, in hopes of convincing some of
them at least that the science of health, now so utterly neglected
in our curriculum of so-called education, ought to be taught--the
rudiments of it at least--in every school, college, and

We talk of our hardy forefathers; and rightly. But they were
hardy, just as the savage is usually hardy, because none but the
hardy lived. They may have been able to say of themselves--as
they do in a State paper of 1515, now well known through the pages
of Mr. Froude: "What comyn folk of all the world may compare with
the comyns of England, in riches, freedom, liberty, welfare, and
all prosperity? What comyn folk is so mighty, and so strong in
the felde, as the comyns of England?" They may have been fed on
"great shins of beef," till they became, as Benvenuto Cellini
calls them, "the English wild beasts." But they increased in
numbers slowly, if at all, for centuries. Those terrible laws of
natural selection, which issue in "the survival of the fittest,"
cleared off the less fit, in every generation, principally by
infantile disease, often by wholesale famine and pestilence; and
left, on the whole, only those of the strongest constitutions to
perpetuate a hardy, valiant, and enterprising race.

At last came a sudden and unprecedented change. In the first
years of this century, steam and commerce produced an enormous
increase in the population. Millions of fresh human beings found
employment, married, brought up children who found employment in
their turn, and learnt to live more or less civilised lives. An
event, doubtless, for which God is to be thanked. A quite new
phase of humanity, bringing with it new vices and new dangers:
but bringing, also, not merely new comforts, but new noblenesses,
new generosities, new conceptions of duty, and of how that duty
should be done. It is childish to regret the old times, when our
soot-grimed manufacturing districts were green with lonely farms.
To murmur at the transformation would be, I believe, to murmur at
the will of Him without whom not a sparrow falls to the ground.

The old order changeth, yielding place to the new,
And God fulfils himself in many ways,
Lest one good custom should corrupt the world.

Our duty is, instead of longing for the good old custom, to take
care of the good new custom, lest it should corrupt the world in
like wise. And it may do so thus:

The rapid increase of population during the first half of this
century began at a moment when the British stock was specially
exhausted; namely, about the end of the long French war. There
may have been periods of exhaustion, at least in England, before
that. There may have been one here, as there seems to have been
on the Continent, after the Crusades; and another after the Wars
of the Roses. There was certainly a period of severe exhaustion
at the end of Elizabeth's reign, due both to the long Spanish and
Irish wars and to the terrible endemics introduced from abroad; an
exhaustion which may have caused, in part, the national weakness
which hung upon us during the reign of the Stuarts. But after
none of these did the survival of the less fit suddenly become
more easy; or the discovery of steam power, and the acquisition of
a colonial empire, create at once a fresh demand for human beings
and a fresh supply of food for them. Britain, at the beginning of
the nineteenth century, was in an altogether new social situation,

At the beginning of the great French war; and, indeed, ever since
the beginning of the war with Spain in 1739--often snubbed as the
"war about Jenkins's ear"--but which was, as I hold, one of the
most just, as it was one of the most popular, of all our wars;
after, too, the once famous "forty fine harvests" of the
eighteenth century, the British people, from the gentleman who led
to the soldier or sailor who followed, were one of the mightiest
and most capable races which the world has ever seen, comparable
best to the old Roman, at his mightiest and most capable period.
That, at least, their works testify. They created--as far as man
can be said to create anything--the British Empire. They won for
us our colonies, our commerce, the mastery of the seas of all the
world. But at what a cost!

Their bones are scattered far and wide,
By mount, and stream, and sea.

Year after year, till the final triumph of Waterloo, not battle
only, but worse destroyers than shot and shell--fatigue and
disease--had been carrying off our stoutest, ablest, healthiest
young men, each of whom represented, alas! a maiden left unmarried
at home, or married, in default, to a less able man. The
strongest went to the war; each who fell left a weaklier man to
continue the race; while of those who did not fall, too many
returned with tainted and weakened constitutions, to injure, it
may be, generations yet unborn. The middle classes, being mostly
engaged in peaceful pursuits, suffered less of this decimation of
their finest young men; and to that fact I attribute much of their
increasing preponderance, social, political, and intellectual, to
this very day. One cannot walk the streets of any of our great
commercial cities without seeing plenty of men, young and middle-
aged, whose whole bearing and stature shows that the manly vigour
of our middle class is anything but exhausted. In Liverpool,
especially, I have been much struck not only with the vigorous
countenance, but with the bodily size of the mercantile men on
'Change. But it must be remembered always, first, that these men
are the very elite of their class; the cleverest men; the men
capable of doing most work; and next, that they are, almost all of
them, from the great merchant who has his villa out of town, and
perhaps his moor in the Highlands, down to the sturdy young
volunteer who serves in the haberdasher's shop, country-bred men;
and that the question is, not what they are like now, but what
their children and grandchildren, especially the fine young
volunteer's, will be like? A very serious question I hold that to
be, and for this reason.

War is, without doubt, the most hideous physical curse which
fallen man inflicts upon himself; and for this simple reason, that
it reverses the very laws of nature, and is more cruel even than
pestilence. For instead of issuing in the survival of the
fittest, it issues in the survival of the less fit: and
therefore, if protracted, must deteriorate generations yet unborn.
And yet a peace such as we now enjoy, prosperous, civilised,
humane, is fraught, though to a less degree, with the very same
ill effect.

In the first place, tens of thousands--who knows it not?--lead
sedentary and unwholesome lives, stooping, asphyxiated, employing
as small a fraction of their bodies as of their minds. And all
this in dwellings, workshops, what not?--the influences, the very
atmosphere of which tend not to health, but to unhealth, and to
drunkenness as a solace under the feeling of unhealth and
depression. And that such a life must tell upon their offspring,
and if their offspring grow up under similar circumstances, upon
their offspring's offspring, till a whole population may become
permanently degraded, who does not know? For who that walks
through the by-streets of any great city does not see? Moreover,
and this is one of the most fearful problems with which modern
civilisation has to deal--we interfere with natural selection by
our conscientious care of life, as surely as does war itself. If
war kills the most fit to live, we save alive those who--looking
at them from a merely physical point of view--are most fit to die.
Everything which makes it more easy to live; every sanitary
reform, prevention of pestilence, medical discovery, amelioration
of climate, drainage of soil, improvement in dwelling-houses,
workhouses, gaols; every reformatory school, every hospital, every
cure of drunkenness, every influence, in short, which has--so I am
told--increased the average length of life in these islands, by
nearly one-third, since the first establishment of life
insurances, one hundred and fifty years ago; every influence of
this kind, I say, saves persons alive who would otherwise have
died; and the great majority of these will be, even in surgical
and zymotic cases, those of least resisting power, who are thus
preserved to produce in time a still less powerful progeny.

Do I say that we ought not to save these people if we can? God
forbid. The weakly, the diseased whether infant or adult, is here
on earth; a British citizen; no more responsible for his own
weakness than for his own existence. Society, that is, in plain
English, we and our ancestors, are responsible for both; and we
must fulfil the duty, and keep him in life; and, if we can, heal,
strengthen, develop him to the utmost; and make the best of that
which "fate and our own deservings" have given us to deal with. I
do not speak of higher motives still; motives which, to every
minister of religion, must be paramount and awful. I speak merely
of physical and social motives, such as appeal to the conscience
of every man--the instinct which bids every human-hearted man or
woman to save life, alleviate pain, like Him who causes His sun to
shine on the evil and on the good, and His rain to fall on the
just and on the unjust.

But it is palpable that in doing so we must, year by year,
preserve a large percentage of weakly persons who, marrying freely
in their own class, must produce weaklier children, and they
weaklier children still. Must, did I say? There are those who
are of opinion--and I, after watching and comparing the histories
of many families, indeed of every one with whom I have come in
contact for now five-and-thirty years, in town and country, can
only fear that their opinion is but too well founded on fact--that
in the great majority of cases, in all classes whatsoever, the
children are not equal to their parents, nor they, again, to their
grand-parents of the beginning of the century; and that this
degrading process goes on most surely and most rapidly in our
large towns, and in proportion to the antiquity of those towns,
and therefore in proportion to the number of generations during
which the degrading influences have been at work.

This and cognate dangers have been felt more and more deeply, as
the years have rolled on, by students of human society. To ward
them off, theory after theory has been put on paper, especially in
France, which deserve high praise for their ingenuity, less for
their morality, and, I fear, still less for their common sense.
For the theorist in his closet is certain to ignore, as
inconvenient to the construction of his Utopia, certain of those
broad facts of human nature which every active parish priest,
medical man, or poor-law guardian has to face every day of his

Society and British human nature are what they have become by the
indirect influences of long ages, and we can no more reconstruct
the one than we can change the other. We can no more mend men by
theories than we can by coercion--to which, by-the-bye, almost all
these theorists look longingly as their final hope and mainstay.
We must teach men to mend their own matters, of their own reason,
and their own free-will. We must teach them that they are the
arbiters of their own destinies; and, to a fearfully large degree,
of their children's destinies after them. We must teach them not
merely that they ought to be free, but that they are free, whether
they know it or not, for good and for evil. And we must do that
in this case, by teaching them sound practical science; the
science of physiology as applied to health. So, and so only, can
we cheek--I do not say stop entirely--though I believe even that
to be ideally possible; but at least cheek the process of
degradation which I believe to be surely going on, not merely in
these islands, but in every civilised country in the world, in
proportion to its civilisation.

It is still a question whether science has fully discovered those
laws of hereditary health, the disregard of which causes so many
marriages disastrous to generations yet unborn. But much valuable
light has been thrown on this most mysterious and most important
subject during the last few years. That light--and I thank God
for it--is widening and deepening rapidly. And I doubt not that
in a generation or two more, enough will be known to be thrown
into the shape of practical and provable rules; and that, if not a
public opinion, yet at least, what is more useful far, a
widespread private opinion will grow up, especially among educated
women, which will prevent many a tragedy and save many a life.

But, as to the laws of personal health: enough, and more than
enough, is known already, to be applied safely and easily by any
adults, however unlearned, to the preservation not only of their
own health, but of that of their children.

The value of healthy habitations, of personal cleanliness, of pure
air and pure water, of various kinds of food, according as each
tends to make bone, fat, or muscle, provided only--provided only--
that the food be unadulterated; the value of various kinds of
clothing, and physical exercise, of a free and equal development
of the brain power, without undue overstrain in any one direction;
in one word, the method of producing, as far as possible, the
mentem sanam in corpore sano, and the wonderful and blessed
effects of such obedience to those laws of nature, which are
nothing but the good will of God expressed in facts--their
wonderful and blessed tendency, I say, to eliminate the germs of
hereditary disease, and to actually regenerate the human system--
all this is known; known as fully and clearly as any human
knowledge need be known; it is written in dozens of popular books
and pamphlets. And why should this divine voice, which cries to
man, tending to sink into effeminate barbarism through his own
hasty and partial civilisation: "It is not too late. For your
bodies, as for your spirits, there is an upward, as well as a
downward path. You, or if not you, at least the children whom you
have brought into the world, for whom you toil, for whom you
hoard, for whom you pray, for whom you would give your lives,--
they still may be healthy, strong, it may be beautiful, and have
all the intellectual and social, as well as the physical
advantages, which health, strength, and beauty give."--Ah, why is
this divine voice now, as of old, Wisdom crying in the streets,
and no man regarding her? I appeal to women, who are initiated,
as we men can never be, into the stern mysteries of pain, and
sorrow, and self-sacrifice;--they who bring forth children, weep
over children, slave for children, and, if they have none of their
own, then slave, with the holy instinct of the sexless bee, for
the children of others--Let them say, shall this thing be?

Let my readers pardon me if I seem to write too earnestly. That I
speak neither more nor less than the truth, every medical man
knows full well. Not only as a very humble student of physiology,
but as a parish priest of thirty years' standing, I have seen so
much unnecessary misery; and I have in other cases seen similar
misery so simply avoided; that the sense of the vastness of the
evil is intensified by my sense of the easiness of the cure.

Why, then--to come to practical suggestions--should there not be
opened in every great town in these realms a public school of
health? It might connect itself with--I hold that it should form
an integral part of--some existing educational institute. But it
should at least give practical lectures, for fees small enough to
put them within the reach of any respectable man or woman, however
poor, I cannot but hope that such schools of health, if opened in
the great manufacturing towns of England and Scotland, and,
indeed, in such an Irish town as Belfast, would obtain pupils in
plenty, and pupils who would thoroughly profit by what they hear.
The people of these towns are, most of them, specially accustomed
by their own trades to the application of scientific laws. To
them, therefore, the application of any fresh physical laws to a
fresh set of facts, would have nothing strange in it. They have
already something of that inductive habit of mind which is the
groundwork of all rational understanding or action. They would
not turn the deaf and contemptuous ear with which the savage and
the superstitious receive the revelation of nature's mysteries.
Why should not, with so hopeful an audience, the experiment be
tried far and wide, of giving lectures on health, as supplementary
to those lectures on animal physiology which are, I am happy to
say, becoming more and more common? Why should not people be
taught--they are already being taught at Birmingham--something
about the tissues of the body, their structure and uses, the
circulation of the blood, respiration, chemical changes in the air
respired, amount breathed, digestion, nature of food, absorption,
secretion, structure of the nervous system--in fact, be taught
something of how their own bodies are made and how they work?
Teaching of this kind ought to, and will, in some more civilised
age and country, be held a necessary element in the school course
of every child, just as necessary as reading, writing, and
arithmetic; for it is after all the most necessary branch of that
"technical education" of which we hear so much just now, namely,
the technic, or art, of keeping oneself alive and well.

But we can hardly stop there. After we have taught the condition
of health, we must teach also the condition of disease; of those
diseases specially which tend to lessen wholesale the health of
townsfolk, exposed to an artificial mode of life. Surely young
men and women should be taught something of the causes of zymotic
disease, and of scrofula, consumption, rickets, dipsomania,
cerebral derangement, and such like. They should be shown the
practical value of pure air, pure water, unadulterated food, sweet
and dry dwellings. Is there one of them, man or woman, who would
not be the safer and happier, and the more useful to his or her
neighbours, if they had acquired some sound notions about those
questions of drainage on which their own lives and the lives of
their children may every day depend? I say--women as well as men.
I should have said women rather than men. For it is the women who
have the ordering of the household, the bringing up of the
children; the women who bide at home, while the men are away, it
may be at the other end of the earth.

And if any say, as they have a right to say--"But these are
subjects which can hardly be taught to young women in public
lectures;" I rejoin--of course not, unless they are taught by
women--by women, of course, duly educated and legally qualified.
Let such teach to women, what every woman ought to know, and what
her parents will very properly object to her hearing from almost
any man. This is one of the main reasons why I have, for twenty
years past, advocated the training of women for the medical
profession; and one which countervails, in my mind, all possible
objections to such a movement. And now, thank God, we are seeing
the common sense of Great Britain, and indeed of every civilised
nation, gradually coming round to that which seemed to me, when I
first conceived of it, a dream too chimerical to be cherished save
in secret--the restoring woman to her natural share in that sacred
office of healer, which she held in the Middle Ages, and from
which she was thrust out during the sixteenth century.

I am most happy to see, for instance, that the National Health
Society, {3} which I earnestly recommend to the attention of my
readers, announces a "Course of Lectures for Ladies on Elementary
Physiology and Hygiene," by a lady, to which I am also most happy
to see, governesses are admitted at half-fees. Alas! how much
misery, disease, and even death might have been prevented, had
governesses been taught such matters thirty years ago, I, for one,
know too well. May the day soon come when there will be educated
women enough to give such lectures throughout these realms, to
rich as well as poor--for the rich, strange to say, need them
often as much as the poor do--and that we may live to see, in
every great town, health classes for women as well as for men,
sending forth year by year more young women and young men taught,
not only to take care of themselves and of their families, but to
exercise moral influence over their fellow-citizens, as champions
in the battle against dirt and drunkenness, disease and death.

There may be those who would answer--or rather, there would
certainly have been those who would have so answered thirty years
ago, before the so-called materialism of advanced science had
taught us some practical wisdom about education, and reminded
people that they have bodies as well as minds and souls--"You say,
we are likely to grow weaklier, unhealthier. And if it were so,
what matter? Mind makes the man, not body. We do not want our
children to be stupid giants and bravos; but clever, able, highly
educated, however weakly Providence or the laws of nature may have
chosen to make them. Let them overstrain their brains a little;
let them contract their chests, and injure their digestion and
their eyesight, by sitting at desks, poring over books. Intellect
is what we want. Intellect makes money. Intellect makes the
world. We would rather see our son a genius than a mere athlete."
Well: and so would I. But what if intellect alone does not even
make money, save as Messrs. Dodson and Fogg, Sampson Brass, and
Montagu Tigg were wont to make it, unless backed by an able,
enduring, healthy physique, such as I have seen, almost without
exception, in those successful men of business whom I have had the
honour and the pleasure of knowing? What if intellect, or what is
now called intellect, did not make the world, or the smallest
wheel or cog of it? What if, for want of obeying the laws of
nature, parents bred up neither a genius nor an athlete, but only
an incapable unhappy personage, with a huge upright forehead, like
that of a Byzantine Greek, filled with some sort of pap instead of
brains, and tempted alternately to fanaticism and strong drink?
We must, in the great majority of cases, have the CORPUS SANEM if
we want the MENTEM SANEM; and healthy bodies are the only
trustworthy organs for healthy minds. Which is cause and which is
effect, I shall not stay to debate here. But wherever we find a
population generally weakly, stunted, scrofulous, we find in them
a corresponding type of brain, which cannot be trusted to do good
work; which is capable more or less of madness, whether solitary
or epidemic. It may be very active; it may be very quick at
catching at new and grand ideas--all the more quick, perhaps, on
account of its own secret malaise and self-discontent; but it will
be irritable, spasmodic, hysterical. It will be apt to mistake
capacity of talk for capacity of action, excitement for
earnestness, virulence for force, and, too often; cruelty for
justice. It will lose manful independence, individuality,
originality; and when men act, they will act from the
consciousness of personal weakness, like sheep rushing over a
hedge, leaning against each other, exhorting each other to be
brave, and swaying about in mobs and masses. These were the
intellectual weaknesses which, as I read history, followed on
physical degradation in Imperial Rome, in Alexandria, in
Byzantium. Have we not seen them reappear, under fearful forms,
in Paris but the other day?

I do not blame; I do not judge. My theory, which I hold, and
shall hold, to be fairly founded on a wide induction, forbids me
to blame and to judge; because it tells me that these defects are
mainly physical; that those who exhibit them are mainly to be
pitied, as victims of the sins or ignorance of their forefathers.

But it tells me too, that those who, professing to be educated
men, and therefore bound to know better, treat these physical
phenomena as spiritual, healthy, and praiseworthy; who even
exasperate them, that they may make capital out of the weaknesses
of fallen man, are the most contemptible and yet the most
dangerous of public enemies, let them cloak their quackery under
whatsoever patriotic, or scientific, or even sacred words.

There are those again honest, kindly, sensible, practical men,
many of them; men whom I have no wish to offend; whom I had rather
ask to teach me some of their own experience and common sense,
which has learned to discern, like good statesmen, not only what
ought to be done, but what can be done--there are those, I say,
who would sooner see this whole question let alone. Their
feeling, as far as I can analyse it, seems to be that the evils of
which I have been complaining, are on the whole inevitable; or, if
not, that we can mend so very little of them, that it is wisest to
leave them alone altogether, lest, like certain sewers, "the more
you stir them, the more they smell." They fear lest we should
unsettle the minds of the many for whom these evils will never be
mended; lest we make them discontented; discontented with their
houses, their occupations, their food, their whole social
arrangements; and all in vain.

I should answer, in all courtesy and humility--for I sympathise
deeply with such men and women, and respect them deeply likewise--
but are not people discontented already, from the lowest to the
highest? And ought a man, in such a piecemeal, foolish, greedy,
sinful world as this is, and always has been, to be anything but
discontented? If he thinks that things are going all right, must
he not have a most beggarly conception of what going right means?
And if things are not going right, can it be anything but good for
him to see that they are not going right? Can truth and fact harm
any human being? I shall not believe so, as long as I have a
Bible wherein to believe. For my part, I should like to make
every man, woman, and child whom I meet discontented with
themselves, even as I am discontented with myself. I should like
to awaken in them, about their physical, their intellectual, their
moral condition, that divine discontent which is the parent, first
of upward aspiration and then of self-control, thought, effort to
fulfil that aspiration even in part. For to be discontented with
the divine discontent, and to be ashamed with the noble shame, is
the very germ and first upgrowth of all virtue. Men begin at
first, as boys begin when they grumble at their school and their
schoolmasters, to lay the blame on others; to be discontented with
their circumstances--the things which stand around them; and to
cry, "Oh that I had this!" "Oh that I had that!" But by that way
no deliverance lies. That discontent only ends in revolt and
rebellion, social or political; and that, again, still in the same
worship of circumstances--but this time desperate--which ends, let
it disguise itself under what fine names it will, in what the old
Greeks called a tyranny; in which--as in the Spanish republics of
America, and in France more than once--all have become the
voluntary slaves of one man, because each man fancies that the one
man can improve his circumstances for him.

But the wise man will learn, like Epictetus the heroic slave, the
slave of Epaphroditus, Nero's minion--and in what baser and uglier
circumstances could human being find himself?--to find out the
secret of being truly free; namely, to be discontented with no man
and no thing save himself. To say not--"Oh that I had this and
that!" but "Oh that I were this and that!" Then, by God's help--
and that heroic slave, heathen though he was, believed and trusted
in God's help--"I will make myself that which God has shown me
that I ought to be and can be."

Ten thousand a year, or ten million a year, as Epictetus saw full
well, cannot mend that vulgar discontent with circumstances which
he had felt--and who with more right?--and conquered, and
despised. For that is the discontent of children, wanting always
more holidays and more sweets. But I wish my readers to have, and
to cherish, the discontent of men and women.

Therefore I would make men and women discontented, with the divine
and wholesome discontent, at their own physical frame, and at that
of their children. I would accustom their eyes to those precious
heirlooms of the human race, the statues of the old Greeks; to
their tender grandeur, their chaste healthfulness, their
unconscious, because perfect might: and say--There; these are
tokens to you, and to all generations yet unborn, of what man
could be once; of what he can be again if he will obey those laws
of nature which are the voice of God. I would make them
discontented with the ugliness and closeness of their dwellings; I
would make them discontented with the fashion of their garments,
and still more just now the women, of all ranks, with the fashion
of theirs; and with everything around them which they have the
power of improving, if it be at all ungraceful, superfluous,
tawdry, ridiculous, unwholesome. I would make them discontented
with what they call their education, and say to them--You call the
three Royal R's education? They are not education: no more is
the knowledge which would enable you to take the highest prizes
given by the Society of Arts, or any other body. They are not
education: they are only instruction; a necessary groundwork, in
an age like this, for making practical use of your education: but
not the education itself.

And if they asked me, What then education meant? I should point
them, first, I think, to noble old Lilly's noble old "Euphues," of
three hundred years ago, and ask them to consider what it says
about education, and especially this passage concerning that mere
knowledge which is nowadays strangely miscalled education. "There
are two principal and peculiar gifts in the nature of man,
knowledge and reason. The one"--that is reason--"commandeth, and
the other"--that is knowledge--"obeyeth. These things neither the
whirling wheel of fortune can change, nor the deceitful cavillings
of worldlings separate, neither sickness abate, nor age abolish."
And next I should point them to those pages in Mr. Gladstone's
"Juventus Mundi," where he describes the ideal training of a Greek
youth in Homer's days; and say--There: that is an education fit
for a really civilised man, even though he never saw a book in his
life; the full, proportionate, harmonious educing-that is,
bringing out and developing--of all the faculties of his body,
mind, and heart, till he becomes at once a reverent yet self-
assured, a graceful and yet a valiant, an able and yet an eloquent

And if any should say to me--"But what has this to do with
science? Homer's Greeks knew no science;" I should rejoin--But
they had, pre-eminently above all ancient races which we know, the
scientific instinct; the teachableness and modesty; the clear eye
and quick ear; the hearty reverence for fact and nature, and for
the human body, and mind, and spirit; for human nature in a word,
in its completeness, as the highest fact upon this earth.
Therefore they became in after years, not only the great
colonisers and the great civilisers of the old world--the most
practical people, I hold, which the world ever saw; but the
parents of all sound physics as well as of all sound metaphysics.
Their very religion, in spite of its imperfections, helped forward
their education, not in spite of, but by means of that
anthropomorphism which we sometimes too hastily decry. As Mr.
Gladstone says: "As regarded all other functions of our nature,
outside the domain of the life to Godward--all those functions
which are summed up in what St. Paul calls the flesh and the mind,
the psychic and bodily life, the tendency of the system was to
exalt the human element, by proposing a model of beauty, strength,
and wisdom, in all their combinations, so elevated that the effort
to attain them required a continual upward strain. It made
divinity attainable; and thus it effectually directed the thought
and aim of man

Along the line of limitless desires.

Such a scheme of religion, though failing grossly in the
government of the passions, and in upholding the standard of moral
duties, tended powerfully to produce a lofty self-respect, and a
large, free, and varied conception of humanity. It incorporated
itself in schemes of notable discipline for mind and body, indeed
of a lifelong education; and these habits of mind and action had
their marked results (to omit many other greatnesses) in a
philosophy, literature, and art, which remain to this day
unrivalled or unsurpassed."

So much those old Greeks did for their own education, without
science and without Christianity. We who have both: what might
we not do, if we would be true to our advantages, and to


Ladies,--I have been honoured by a second invitation to address
you, and I dare not refuse it; because it gives me an opportunity
of speaking on a matter, knowledge and ignorance about which may
seriously affect your health and happiness, and that of the
children with whom you may have to do. I must apologise if I say
many things which are well known to many persons in this room:
they ought to be well known to all: but it is generally best to
assume total ignorance in one's hearers, and to begin from the

I shall try to be as simple as possible; to trouble you as little
as possible with scientific terms; to be practical; and at the
same time, if possible, interesting.

I should wish to call this lecture "The Two Breaths:" not merely
"The Breath;" and for this reason: every time you breathe you
breathe two different breaths; you take in one, you give out
another. The composition of those two breaths is different.
Their effects are different. The breath which has been breathed
out must not be breathed in again. To tell you why it must not
would lead me into anatomical details, not quite in place here as
yet; though the day will come, I trust, when every woman entrusted
with the care of children will be expected to know something about
them. But this I may say: Those who habitually take in fresh
breath will probably grow up large, strong, ruddy, cheerful,
active, clear-headed, fit for their work. Those who habitually
take in the breath which has been breathed out by themselves, or
any other living creature, will certainly grow up, if they grow up
at all, small, weak, pale, nervous, depressed, unfit for work, and
tempted continually to resort to stimulants, and become drunkards.

If you want to see how different the breath breathed out is from
the breath taken in, you have only to try a somewhat cruel
experiment, but one which people too often try upon themselves,
their children, and their workpeople. If you take any small
animal with lungs like your own--a mouse, for instance--and force
it to breathe no air but what you have breathed already; if you
put it in a close box, and while you take in breath from the outer
air, send out your breath through a tube, into that box, the
animal will soon faint: if you go on long with this process, it
will die.

Take a second instance, which I beg to press most seriously on the
notice of mothers, governesses, and nurses. If you allow a child
to get into the habit of sleeping with its head under the bed-
clothes, and thereby breathing its own breath over and over again,
that child will assuredly grow pale, weak, and ill. Medical men
have cases on record of scrofula appearing in children previously
healthy, which could only be accounted for from this habit, and
which ceased when the habit stopped. Let me again entreat your
attention to this undoubted fact.

Take another instance, which is only too common: If you are in a
crowded room, with plenty of fire and lights and company, doors
and windows all shut tight, how often you feel faint--so faint
that you may require smelling-salts or some other stimulant. The
cause of your faintness is just the same as that of the mouse's
fainting in the box; you and your friends, and, as I shall show
you presently, the fire and the candles likewise, having been all
breathing each other's breaths, over and over again, till the air
has become unfit to support life. You are doing your best to
enact over again the Highland tragedy, of which Sir James Simpson
tells in his lectures to the working-classes of Edinburgh, when at
a Christmas meeting thirty-six persons danced all night in a small
room with a low ceiling, keeping the doors and windows shut. The
atmosphere of the room was noxious beyond description; and the
effect was, that seven of the party were soon after seized with
typhus fever, of which two died. You are inflicting on yourselves
the torments of the poor dog, who is kept at the Grotto del Cane,
near Naples, to be stupefied, for the amusement of visitors, by
the carbonic acid gas of the Grotto, and brought to life again by
being dragged into the fresh air; nay, you are inflicting upon
yourselves the torments of the famous Black Hole of Calcutta:
and, if there was no chimney in the room, by which some fresh air
could enter, the candles would soon burn blue, as they do, you
know, when ghosts appear; your brains become disturbed; and you
yourselves ran the risk of becoming ghosts, and the candles of
actually going out.

Of this last fact there is no doubt; for if, instead of putting a
mouse into the box, you will put a lighted candle, and breathe
into the tube as before, however gently, you will in a short time
put the candle out.

Now, how is this? First, what is the difference between the
breath you take in and the breath you give out? And next, why has
it a similar effect on animal life and a lighted candle?

The difference is this. The breath which you take in is, or ought
to be, pure air, composed, on the whole, of oxygen and nitrogen,
with a minute portion of carbonic acid.

The breath which you give out is an impure air, to which has been
added, among other matters which will not support life, an excess
of carbonic acid.

That this is the fact you can prove for yourselves by a simple
experiment. Get a little lime-water at the chemist's, and breathe
into it through a glass tube; your breath will at once make the
lime-water milky. The carbonic acid of your breath has laid hold
of the lime, and made it visible as white carbonate of lime--in
plain English, as common chalk.

Now I do not wish, as I said, to load your memories with
scientific terms: but I beseech you to remember at least these
two, oxygen gas and carbonic acid gas; and to remember that, as
surely as oxygen feeds the fire of life, so surely does carbonic
acid put it out.

I say, "the fire of life." In that expression lies the answer to
our second question: Why does our breath produce a similar effect
upon the mouse and the lighted candle? Every one of us is, as it
were, a living fire. Were we not, how could we be always warmer
than the air outside us? There is a process; going on perpetually
in each of us, similar to that by which coals are burnt in the
fire, oil in a lamp, wax in a candle, and the earth itself in a
volcano. To keep each of those fires alight, oxygen is needed;
and the products of combustion, as they are called, are more or
less the same in each case--carbonic acid and steam.

These facts justify the expression I just made use of--which may
have seemed to some of you fantastical--that the fire and the
candles in the crowded room were breathing the same breath as you
were. It is but too true. An average fire in the grate requires,
to keep it burning, as much oxygen as several human beings do;
each candle or lamp must have its share of oxygen likewise, and
that a very considerable one, and an average gas-burner--pray
attend to this, you who live in rooms lighted with gas--consumes
as much oxygen as several candles. All alike are making carbonic
acid. The carbonic acid of the fire happily escapes up the
chimney in the smoke: but the carbonic acid from the human beings
and the candles remains to poison the room, unless it be

Now, I think you may understand one of the simplest, and yet most
terrible, cases of want of ventilation--death by the fumes of
charcoal. A human being shut up in a room, of which every crack
is closed, with a pan of burning charcoal, falls asleep, never to
wake again. His inward fire is competing with the fire of
charcoal for the oxygen of the room; both are making carbonic acid
out of it: but the charcoal, being the stronger of the two, gets
all the oxygen to itself, and leaves the human being nothing to
inhale but the carbonic acid which it has made. The human being,
being the weaker, dies first: but the charcoal dies also. When
it has exhausted all the oxygen of the room, it cools, goes out,
and is found in the morning half-consumed beside its victim. If
you put a giant or an elephant, I should conceive, into that room,
instead of a human being, the case would be reversed for a time:
the elephant would put out the burning charcoal by the carbonic
acid from his mighty lungs; and then, when he had exhausted all
the air in the room, die likewise of his own carbonic acid.

Now, I think, we may see what ventilation means, and why it is

Ventilation means simply letting out the foul air, and letting in
the fresh air; letting out the air which has been breathed by men
or by candles, and letting in the air which has not. To
understand how to do that, we must remember a most simple chemical
law, that a gas as it is warmed expands, and therefore becomes
lighter; as it cools, it contracts, and becomes heavier.

Now the carbonic acid in the breath which comes out of our mouth
is warm, lighter than the air, and rises to the ceiling; and
therefore in any unventilated room full of people, there is a
layer of foul air along the ceiling. You might soon test that for
yourselves, if you could mount a ladder and put your heads there
aloft. You do test it for yourselves when you sit in the
galleries of churches and theatres, where the air is palpably more
foul, and therefore more injurious, than down below.

Where, again, work-people are employed in a crowded house of many
storeys, the health of those who work on the upper floors always
suffers most.

In the old monkey-house of the Zoological Gardens, when the cages
were on the old plan, tier upon tier, the poor little fellows in
the uppermost tier--so I have been told--always died first of the
monkey's constitutional complaint, consumption, simply from
breathing the warm breath of their friends below. But since the
cages have been altered, and made to range side by side from top
to bottom, consumption--I understand--has vastly diminished among

The first question in ventilation, therefore, is to get this
carbonic acid safe out of the room, while it is warm and light and
close to the ceiling; for if you do not, this happens: The
carbonic acid gas cools and becomes heavier; for carbonic acid, at
the same temperature as common air, is so much heavier than common
air, that you may actually--if you are handy enough--turn it from
one vessel to another, and pour out for your enemy a glass of
invisible poison. So down to the floor this heavy carbonic acid
comes, and lies along it, just as it lies often in the bottom of
old wells, or old brewers' vats, as a stratum of poison, killing
occasionally the men who descend into it. Hence, as foolish a
practice as I know is that of sleeping on the floor; for towards
the small hours, when the room gets cold, the sleeper on the floor
is breathing carbonic acid.

And here one word to those ladies who interest themselves with the
poor. The poor are too apt in times of distress to pawn their
bedsteads and keep their beds. Never, if you have influence, let
that happen. Keep the bedstead, whatever else may go, to save the
sleeper from the carbonic acid on the floor.

How, then, shall we get rid of the foul air at the top of the
room? After all that has been written and tried on ventilation, I
know no simpler method than putting into the chimney one of
Arnott's ventilators, which may be bought and fixed for a few
shillings; always remembering that it must be. fixed into the
chimney as near the ceiling as possible. I can speak of these
ventilators from twenty-five years' experience. Living in a house
with low ceilings, liable to become overcharged with carbonic
acid, which produces sleepiness in the evening, I have found that
these ventilators keep the air fresh and pure; and I consider the
presence of one of these ventilators in a room more valuable than
three or four feet additional height of ceiling. I have found,
too, that their working proves how necessary they are, from this
simple fact: You would suppose that, as the ventilator opens
freely into the chimney, the smoke would be blown down through it
in high winds, and blacken the ceiling: but this is just what
does not happen. If the ventilator be at all properly poised, so
as to shut with a violent gust of wind, it will at all other
moments keep itself permanently open; proving thereby that there
is an up-draught of heated air continually escaping from the
ceiling up the chimney. Another very simple method of ventilation
is employed in those excellent cottages which Her Majesty has
built for her labourers round Windsor. Over each door a sheet of
perforated zinc, some eighteen inches square, is fixed; allowing
the foul air to escape into the passage; and in the ceiling of the
passage a similar sheet of zinc, allowing it to escape into the
roof. Fresh air, meanwhile, should be obtained from outside, by
piercing the windows, or otherwise. And here let me give one hint
to all builders of houses: If possible, let bedroom windows open
at the top as well as at the bottom.

Let me impress the necessity of using some such contrivances, not
only on parents and educators, but on those who employ workpeople,
and above all on those who employ young women in shops or in work-
rooms. What their condition may be in this city I know not; but
most painful it has been to me in other places, when passing
through warehouses or workrooms, to see the pale, sodden, and, as
the French would say, "etiolated" countenances of the girls who
were passing the greater part of the day in them; and painful,
also, to breathe an atmosphere of which habit had, alas! made them
unconscious, but which to one coming out of the open air was
altogether noxious, and shocking also; for it was fostering the
seeds of death, not only in the present but future generations.

Why should this be? Everyone will agree that good ventilation is
necessary in a hospital, because people cannot get well without
fresh air. Do they not see that by the same reasoning good
ventilation is necessary everywhere, because people cannot remain
well without fresh air? Let me entreat those who employ women in
workrooms, if they have no time to read through such books as Dr.
Andrew Combe's "Physiology applied to Health and Education," and
Madame de Wahl's "Practical Hints on the Moral, Mental, and
Physical Training of Girls," to procure certain tracts published
by Messrs. Jarrold, Paternoster Row, for the Ladies' Sanitary
Association; especially one which bears on this subject: "The
Black-hole in our own Bedrooms;" Dr. Lankester's "School Manual of
Health;" or a manual on ventilation, published by the Metropolitan
Working Classes Association for the Improvement of Public Health.

I look forward--I say it openly--to some period of higher
civilisation, when the Acts of Parliament for the ventilation of
factories and workshops shall be largely extended, and made far
more stringent; when officers of public health shall be empowered
to enforce the ventilation of every room in which persons are
employed for hire: and empowered also to demand a proper system
of ventilation for every new house, whether in country or in town.
To that, I believe, we must come: but I had sooner far see these
improvements carried out, as befits the citizens of a free
country, in the spirit of the Gospel rather than in that of the
Law; carried out, not compulsorily and from fear of fines, but
voluntarily, from a sense of duty, honour, and humanity. I
appeal, therefore, to the good feeling of all whom it may concern,
whether the health of those whom they employ, and therefore the
supply of fresh air which they absolutely need, are not matters
for which they are not, more or less, responsible to their country
and their God.

And if any excellent person of the old school should answer me:
"Why make all this fuss about ventilation? Our forefathers got on
very well without it"--I must answer that, begging their pardons,
our ancestors did nothing of the kind. Our ancestors got on
usually very ill in these matters: and when they got on well, it
was because they had good ventilation in spite of themselves.

First. They got on very ill. To quote a few remarkable instances
of longevity, or to tell me that men were larger and stronger on
the average in old times, is to yield to the old fallacy of
fancying that savages were peculiarly healthy, because those who
were seen were active and strong. The simple answer is, that the
strong alone survived, while the majority died from the severity
of the training. Savages do not increase in number; and our
ancestors increased but very slowly for many centuries. I am not
going to disgust my audience with statistics of disease: but
knowing something, as I happen to do, of the social state and of
the health of the Middle and Elizabethan Ages, I have no
hesitation in saying that the average of disease and death was far
greater then than it is now. Epidemics of many kinds, typhus,
ague, plague--all diseases which were caused more or less by bad
air--devastated this land and Europe in those days with a horrible
intensity, to which even the choleras of our times are mild. The
back streets, the hospitals, the gaols, the barracks, the camps--
every place in which any large number of persons congregated, were
so many nests of pestilence, engendered by uncleanliness, which
defiled alike the water which was drunk and the air which was
breathed; and as a single fact, of which the tables of insurance
companies assure us, the average of human life in England has
increased twenty-five per cent. since the reign of George I.,
owing simply to our more rational and cleanly habits of life.

But secondly, I said that when our ancestors got on well, they did
so because they got ventilation in spite of themselves. Luckily
for them, their houses were ill-built; their doors and windows
would not shut. They had lattice-windowed houses, too; to live in
one of which, as I can testify from long experience, is as
thoroughly ventilating as living in a lantern with the horn broken
out. It was because their houses were full of draughts, and still
more, in the early Middle Age, because they had no glass, and
stopped out the air only by a shutter at night, that they sought
for shelter rather than for fresh air, of which they sometimes had
too much; and, to escape the wind, built their houses in holes,
such as that in which the old city of Winchester stands. Shelter,
I believe, as much as the desire to be near fish in Lent, and to
occupy the rich alluvium of the valleys, made the monks of Old
England choose the river-banks for the sites of their abbeys.
They made a mistake therein, which, like most mistakes, did not go
unpunished. These low situations, especially while the forests
were yet thick on the hills around, were the perennial haunts of
fever and ague, produced by subtle vegetable poisons, carried in
the carbonic acid given off by rotten vegetation. So there,
again, they fell in with man's old enemy--bad air. Still, as long
as the doors and windows did not shut, some free circulation of
air remained. But now, our doors and windows shut only too tight.
We have plate-glass instead of lattices; and we have replaced the
draughty and smoky, but really wholesome open chimney, with its
wide corners and settles, by narrow registers, and even by stoves.
We have done all we can, in fact, to seal ourselves up
hermetically from the outer air, and to breath our own breaths
over and over again; and we pay the penalty of it in a thousand
ways unknown to our ancestors, through whose rooms all the winds
of heaven whistled, and who were glad enough to shelter themselves
from draughts in the sitting-room by the high screen round the
fire, and in the sleeping-room by the thick curtains of the four-
post bedstead, which is now rapidly disappearing before a higher
civilisation. We therefore absolutely require to make for
ourselves the very ventilation from which our ancestors tried to

But, ladies, there is an old and true proverb, that you may bring
a horse to the water, but you cannot make him drink. And in like
wise it is too true, that you may bring people to the fresh air,
but you cannot make them breath it. Their own folly, or the folly
of their parents and educators, prevents their lungs being duly
filled and duly emptied. Therefore the blood is not duly
oxygenated, and the whole system goes wrong. Paleness, weakness,
consumption, scrofula, and too many other ailments, are the
consequences of ill-filled lungs. For without well-filled lungs,
robust health is impossible.

And if anyone shall answer: "We do not want robust health so much
as intellectual attainment; the mortal body, being the lower
organ, must take its chance, and be even sacrificed, if need be to
the higher organ--the immortal mind"--To such I reply, You cannot
do it. The laws of nature, which are the express will of God,
laugh such attempts to scorn. Every organ of the body is formed
out of the blood; and if the blood be vitiated, every organ
suffers in proportion to its delicacy; and the brain, being the
most delicate and highly specialised of all organs, suffers most
of all, and soonest of all, as everyone knows who has tried to
work his brain when his digestion was the least out of order.
Nay, the very morals will suffer. From ill-filled lungs, which
signify ill-repaired blood, arise year by year an amount not
merely of disease, but of folly, temper, laziness, intemperance,
madness, and, let me tell you fairly, crime--the sum of which will
never be known till that great day when men shall be called to
account for all deeds done in the body, whether they be good or

I must refer you on this subject again to Andrew Combe's
"Physiology," especially chapters iv. and vii.; and also to
chapter x. of Madame de Wahl's excellent book. I will only say
this shortly, that the three most common causes of ill-filled
lungs, in children and in young ladies, are stillness, silence,
and stays.

First, stillness; a sedentary life, and want of exercise. A girl
is kept for hours sitting on a form writing or reading, to do
which she must lean forward; and if her schoolmistress cruelly
attempts to make her sit upright, and thereby keep the spine in an
attitude for which Nature did not intend it, she is thereby doing
her best to bring on that disease, so fearfully common in girls'
schools, lateral curvature of the spine. But practically the girl
will stoop forward. And what happens? The lower ribs are pressed
into the body, thereby displacing more or less something inside.
The diaphragm in the meantime, which is the very bellows of the
lungs, remains loose; the lungs are never properly filled or
emptied; and an excess of carbonic acid accumulates at the bottom
of them. What follows? Frequent sighing to get rid of it;
heaviness of head; depression of the whole nervous system under
the influence of the poison of the lungs; and when the poor child
gets up from her weary work, what is the first thing she probably
does? She lifts up her chest, stretches, yawns, and breathes
deeply--Nature's voice, Nature's instinctive cure, which is
probably regarded as ungraceful, as what is called "lolling" is.
As if sitting upright was not an attitude in itself essentially
ungraceful, and such as no artist would care to draw. As if
"lolling," which means putting the body in the attitude of the
most perfect ease compatible with a fully-expanded chest, was not
in itself essentially graceful, and to be seen in every reposing
figure in Greek bas-reliefs and vases; graceful, and like all
graceful actions, healthful at the same time. The only tolerably
wholesome attitude of repose, which I see allowed in average
school-rooms, is lying on the back on the floor, or on a sloping
board, in which case the lungs must be fully expanded. But even
so, a pillow, or some equivalent, ought to be placed under the
small of the back: or the spine will be strained at its very
weakest point.

I now go on to the second mistake--enforced silence. Moderate
reading aloud is good: but where there is any tendency to
irritability of throat or lungs, too much moderation cannot be
used. You may as well try to cure a diseased lung by working it,
as to cure a lame horse by galloping him. But where the breathing
organs are of average health let it be said once and for all, that
children and young people cannot make too much noise. The parents
who cannot bear the noise of their children have no right to have
brought them into the world. The schoolmistress who enforces
silence on her pupils is committing--unintentionally no doubt, but
still committing--an offence against reason, worthy only of a
convent. Every shout, every burst of laughter, every song--nay,
in the case of infants, as physiologists well know, every moderate
fit of crying--conduces to health, by rapidly filling and emptying
the lung, and changing the blood more rapidly from black to red,
that is, from death to life. Andrew Combe tells a story of a
large charity school, in which the young girls were, for the sake
of their health, shut up in the hall and school-room during play
hours, from November till March, and no romping or noise allowed.
The natural consequences were, the great majority of them fell
ill; and I am afraid that a great deal of illness has been from
time to time contracted in certain school-rooms, simply through
this one cause of enforced silence. Some cause or other there
must be for the amount of ill-health and weakliness which prevails
especially among girls of the middle classes in towns, who have
not, poor things, the opportunities which richer girls have, of
keeping themselves in strong health by riding, skating, archery,--
that last quite an admirable exercise for the chest and lungs, and
far preferable to croquet, which involves too much unwholesome
stooping.--Even a game of ball, if milliners and shop-girls had
room to indulge in one after their sedentary work, might bring
fresh spirits to many a heart, and fresh colour to many a cheek.

I spoke just now of the Greeks. I suppose you will all allow that
the Greeks were, as far as we know, the most beautiful race which
the world ever saw. Every educated man knows that they were also
the cleverest of all races; and, next to his Bible, thanks, God
for Greek literature.

Now, these people had made physical as well as intellectual
education a science as well as a study. Their women practised
graceful, and in some cases even athletic, exercises. They
developed, by a free and healthy life, those figures which remain
everlasting and unapproachable models of human beauty: but--to
come to my third point--they wore no stays. The first mention of
stays that I have ever found is in the letters of dear old
Synesius, Bishop of Cyrene, on the Greek coast of Africa, about
four hundred years after the Christian era. He tells us how, when
he was shipwrecked on a remote part of the coast, and he and the
rest of the passengers were starving on cockles and limpets, there
was among them a slave girl out of the far East, who had a pinched
wasp-waist, such as you may see on the old Hindoo sculptures, and
such as you may see in any street in a British town. And when the
Greek ladies of the neighbourhood found her out, they sent for her
from house to house, to behold, with astonishment and laughter,
this new and prodigious, waist, with which it seemed to them it
was impossible for a human being to breathe or live; and they
petted the poor girl, and fed her, as they might a dwarf or a
giantess, till she got quite fat and comfortable, while her owners
had not enough to eat. So strange and ridiculous seemed our
present fashion to the descendants of those who, centuries before,
had imagined, because they had seen living and moving, those
glorious statues which we pretend to admire, but refuse to

It seems to me that a few centuries hence, when mankind has learnt
to fear God more, and therefore to obey more strictly those laws
of nature and of science which are the will of God--it seems to
me, I say, that in those days the present fashion of tight lacing
will be looked back upon as a contemptible and barbarous
superstition, denoting a very low level of civilisation in the
peoples which have practised it. That for generations past women
should have been in the habit--not to please men, who do not care
about the matter as a point of beauty--but simply to vie with each
other in obedience to something called fashion--that they should,
I say, have been in the habit of deliberately crushing that part
of the body which should be specially left free, contracting and
displacing their lungs, their heart, and all the most vital and
important organs, and entailing thereby disease, not only on
themselves but on their children after them; that for forty years
past physicians should have been telling them of the folly of what
they have been doing; and that they should as yet, in the great
majority of cases, not only turn a deaf ear to all warnings, but
actually deny the offence, of which one glance of the physician or
the sculptor, who know what shape the human body ought to be,
brings them in guilty--this, I say, is an instance of--what shall
I call it?--which deserves at once the lash, not merely of the
satirist, but of any theologian who really believes that God made
the physical universe. Let me, I pray you, appeal to your common
sense for a moment. When any one chooses a horse or a dog,
whether for strength, for speed, or for any other useful purpose,
the first thing almost to be looked at is the girth round the
ribs; the room for heart and lungs. Exactly in proportion to that
will be the animal's general healthiness, power of endurance, and
value in many other ways. If you will look at eminent lawyers and
famous orators, who have attained a healthy old age, you will see
that in every case they are men, like the late Lord Palmerston,
and others whom I could mention, of remarkable size, not merely in
the upper, but in the lower part of the chest; men who had,
therefore, a peculiar power of using the diaphragm to fill and to
clear the lungs, and therefore to oxygenate the blood of the whole
body. Now, it is just these lower ribs, across which the
diaphragm is stretched like the head of a drum, which stays
contract to a minimum. If you advised owners of horses and hounds
to put their horses or their hounds into stays, and lace them up
tight, in order to increase their beauty, you would receive, I
doubt not, a very courteous, but certainly a very decided, refusal
to do that which would spoil not merely the animals themselves,
but the whole stud or the whole kennel for years to come. And if
you advised an orator to put himself into tight stays, he, no
doubt, again would give a courteous answer; but he would reply--if
he was a really educated man--that to comply with your request
would involve his giving up public work, under the probable
penalty of being dead within the twelve-month.

And how much work of every kind, intellectual as well as physical,
is spoiled or hindered; how many deaths occur from consumption and
other complaints which are the result of this habit of tight
lacing, is known partly to the medical men, who lift up their
voices in vain, and known fully to Him who will not interfere with
the least of His own physical laws to save human beings from the
consequences of their own wilful folly.

And now--to end this lecture with more pleasing thoughts--What
becomes of this breath which passes from your lips? Is it merely
harmful; merely waste? God forbid! God has forbidden that
anything should be merely harmful or merely waste in this so wise
and well-made world. The carbonic acid which passes from your
lips at every breath--ay, even that which oozes from the volcano
crater when the eruption is past--is a precious boon to thousands
of things of which you have daily need. Indeed there is a sort of
hint at physical truth in the old fairy tale of the girl, from
whose lips, as she spoke, fell pearls and diamonds; for the
carbonic acid of your breath may help hereafter to make the pure
carbonate of lime of a pearl, or the still purer carbon of a
diamond. Nay, it may go--in such a world of transformations do we
live--to make atoms of coal strata, which after being buried for
ages beneath deep seas, shall be upheaved in continents which are
yet unborn, and there be burnt for the use of a future race of
men, and resolved into their original elements. Coal, wise men
tell us, is on the whole breath and sunlight; the breath of living
creatures who have lived in the vast swamps and forests of some
primeval world, and the sunlight which transmuted that breath into
the leaves and stems of trees, magically locked up for ages in
that black stone, to become, when it is burnt at last, light and
carbonic acid as it was at first. For though you must not breathe
your breath again, you may at least eat your breath, if you will
allow the sun to transmute it for you into vegetables; or you may
enjoy its fragrance and its colour in the shape of a lily or a
rose. When you walk in a sunlit garden, every word you speak,
every breath you breathe, is feeding the plants and flowers
around. The delicate surface of the green leaves absorbs the
carbonic acid, and parts it into its elements, retaining the
carbon to make woody fibre, and courteously returning you the
oxygen to mingle with the fresh air, and be inhaled by your lungs
once more. Thus do you feed the plants; just as the plants feed
you: while the great life-giving sun feeds both; and the geranium
standing in the sick child's window does not merely rejoice his
eye and mind by its beauty and freshness, but repays honestly the
trouble spent on it; absorbing the breath which the child needs
not, and giving to him the breath which he needs.

So are the services of all things constituted according to a
Divine and wonderful order, and knit together in mutual dependence
and mutual helpfulness--a fact to be remembered with hope and
comfort: but also with awe and fear. For as in that which is
above nature, so in nature itself; he that breaks one physical law
is guilty of all. The whole universe, as it were, takes up arms
against him; and all nature, with her numberless and unseen
powers, is ready to avenge herself on him, and on his children
after him, he knows not when nor where. He, on the other hand,
who obeys the laws of nature with his whole heart and mind, will
find all things working together to him for good. He is at peace
with the physical universe. He is helped and befriended alike by
the sun above his head and the dust beneath his feet; because he
is obeying the will and mind of Him who made sun, and dust, and
all things; and who has given them a law which cannot be broken.


Ladies,--I have chosen for the title of this lecture a practical
and prosaic word, because I intend the lecture itself to be as
practical and prosaic as I can make it, without becoming
altogether dull.

The question of the better or worse education of women is one far
too important for vague sentiment, wild aspirations, or Utopian

It is a practical question, on which depends not merely money or
comfort, but too often health and life, as the consequences of a
good education, or disease and death--I know too well of what I
speak--as the consequences of a bad one.

I beg you, therefore, to put out of your minds at the outset any
fancy that I wish for a social revolution in the position of
women; or that I wish to see them educated by exactly the same
methods, and in exactly the same subjects, as men. British lads,
on an average, are far too ill-taught still, in spite of all
recent improvements, for me to wish that British girls should be
taught in the same way.

Moreover, whatever defects there may have been--and defects there
must be in all things human--in the past education of British
women, it has been most certainly a splendid moral success. It
has made, by the grace of God, British women the best wives,
mothers, daughters, sisters, aunts, that the world, as far as I
can discover, has yet seen.

Let those who will, sneer at the women of England. We who have to
do the work and to fight the battle of life know the inspiration
which we derive from their virtue, their counsel, their
tenderness, and--but too often--from their compassion and their
forgiveness. There is, I doubt not, still left in England many a
man with chivalry and patriotism enough to challenge the world to
show so perfect a specimen of humanity as a cultivated British

But just because a cultivated British woman is so perfect a
personage; therefore I wish to see all British women cultivated.
Because the womanhood of England is so precious a treasure; I wish
to see none of it wasted. It is an invaluable capital, or
material, out of which the greatest possible profit to the nation
must be made. And that can only be done by Thrift; and that,
again, can only be attained by knowledge.

Consider that word Thrift. If you will look at "Dr. Johnson's
Dictionary," or if you know your "Shakespeare," you will see that
Thrift signified originally profits, gain, riches gotten--in a
word, the marks of a man's thriving.

How, then, did the word Thrift get to mean parsimony, frugality,
the opposite of waste? Just in the same way as economy--which
first, of course, meant the management of a household--got to mean
also the opposite of waste.

It was found that in commerce, in husbandry, in any process, in
fact, men throve in proportion as they saved their capital, their
material, their force.

Now this is a great law which runs through life; one of those laws
of nature--call them, rather, laws of God--which apply not merely
to political economy, to commerce, and to mechanics; but to
physiology, to society; to the intellect, to the heart, of every
person in this room.

The secret of thriving is thrift; saving of force; to get as much
work as possible done with the least expenditure of power, the
least jar and obstruction, least wear and tear.

And the secret of thrift is knowledge. In proportion as you know
the laws and nature of a subject, you will be able to work at it
easily, surely, rapidly, successfully; instead of wasting your
money or your energies in mistaken schemes, irregular efforts,
which end in disappointment and exhaustion.

The secret of thrift, I say, is knowledge. The more you know, the
more you can save yourself and that which belongs to you; and can
do more work with less effort.

A knowledge of the laws of commercial credit, we all know, saves
capital, enabling a less capital to do the work of a greater.
Knowledge of the electric telegraph saves time; knowledge of
writing saves human speech and locomotion; knowledge of domestic
economy saves income; knowledge of sanitary laws saves health and
life; knowledge of the laws of the intellect saves wear and tear
of brain; and knowledge of the laws of the spirit--what does it
not save?

A well-educated moral sense, a well-regulated character, saves
from idleness and ennui, alternating with sentimentality and
excitement, those tenderer emotions, those deeper passions, those
nobler aspirations of humanity, which are the heritage of the
woman far more than of the man; and which are potent in her, for
evil or for good, in proportion as they are left to run wild and
undisciplined; or are trained and developed into graceful,
harmonious, self-restraining strength, beautiful in themselves,
and a blessing to all who come under their influence.

What, therefore, I recommend to ladies in this lecture is thrift:
thrift of themselves and of their own powers: and knowledge as
the parent of thrift.

And because it is well to begin with the lower applications of
thrift, and to work up to the higher, I am much pleased to hear
that the first course of the proposed lectures to women in this
place will be one on domestic economy.

I presume that the learned gentleman who will deliver these
lectures will be the last to mean by that term the mere saving of
money; that he will tell you, as--being a German--he will have
good reason to know, that the young lady who learns thrift in
domestic economy is also learning thrift of the very highest
faculties of her immortal spirit. He will tell you, I doubt not--
for he must know--how you may see in Germany young ladies living
in what we more luxurious British would consider something like
poverty; cooking, waiting at table, and performing many a
household office which would be here considered menial; and yet
finding time for a cultivation of the intellect, which is,
unfortunately, too rare in Great Britain.

The truth is, that we British are too wealthy. We make money, if
not too rapidly for the good of the nation at large, yet too
rapidly, I fear, for the good of the daughters of those who make
it. Their temptation--I do not, of course, say they all yield to
it--but their temptation is, to waste of the very simplest--I had
almost said, if I may be pardoned the expression, of the most
barbaric--kind; to an oriental waste of money, and waste of time;
to a fondness for mere finery, pardonable enough, but still a
waste; and to the mistaken fancy that it is the mark of a lady to
sit idle and let servants do everything for her.

But it is not of this sort of waste of which I wish to speak to-
day. I only mention the matter in passing, to show that high
intellectual culture is not incompatible with the performance of
homely household duties, and that the moral success of which I
spoke just now need not be injured, any more than it is in
Germany, by intellectual success likewise. I trust that these
words may reassure those parents, if any such there be here, who
may fear that these lectures will withdraw women from their
existing sphere of interest and activity. That they should
entertain such a fear is not surprising, after the extravagant
opinions and schemes which have been lately broached in various

The programme to these lectures expressly disclaims any such
intentions; and I, as a husband and a father, expressly disclaim
any such intention likewise.

"To fit women for the more enlightened performance of their
special duties;" to help them towards learning how to do better
what we doubt not many of them are already doing well; is, I
honestly believe, the only object of the promoters of this scheme.

Let us see now how some of these special duties can be better
performed by help of a little enlightenment as to the laws which
regulate them.

Now, no man will deny--certainly no man who is past forty-five,
and whose digestion is beginning to quail before the lumps of beef
and mutton which are the boast of a British kitchen, and to
prefer, with Justice Shallow, and, I presume, Sir John Falstaff
also, "any pretty little tiny kickshaws"--no man, I say, who has
reached that age, but will feel it a practical comfort to him to
know that the young ladies of his family are at all events good
cooks; and understand, as the French do, thrift in the matter of

Neither will any parent who wishes, naturally enough, that his
daughters should cost him as little as possible; and wishes,
naturally enough also, that they should be as well dressed as
possible, deny that it would be a good thing for them to be
practical milliners and mantua-makers; and, by making their own
clothes gracefully and well, exercise thrift in clothing.

But, beside this thrift in clothing, I am not alone, I believe, in
wishing for some thrift in the energy which produces it. Labour
misapplied, you will agree, is labour wasted; and as dress, I
presume, is intended to adorn the person of the wearer, the making
a dress which only disfigures her may be considered as a plain
case of waste. It would be impertinent in me to go into any
details: but it is impossible to walk about the streets now
without passing young people who must be under a deep delusion as
to the success of their own toilette. Instead of graceful and
noble simplicity of form, instead of combinations of colour at
once rich and delicate, because in accordance with the chromatic
laws of nature, one meets with phenomena more and more painful to
the eye, and startling to common sense, till one would be hardly
more astonished, and certainly hardly more shocked, if in a year
or two, one should pass someone going about like a Chinese lady,
with pinched feet, or like a savage of the Amazons, with a wooden
bung through her lower lip. It is easy to complain of these
monstrosities: but impossible to cure them, it seems to me,
without an education of the taste, an education in those laws of
nature which produce beauty in form and beauty in colour. For
that the cause of these failures lies in want of education is
patent. They are most common in--I had almost said they are
confined to--those classes of well-to-do persons who are the least
educated; who have no standard of taste of their own; and who do
not acquire any from cultivated friends and relations: who, in
consequence, dress themselves blindly according to what they
conceive to be the Paris fashions, conveyed at third-hand through
an equally uneducated dressmaker; in innocent ignorance of the
fact--for fact I believe it to be--that Paris fashions are
invented now not in the least for the sake of beauty, but for the
sake of producing, through variety, increased expenditure, and
thereby increased employment; according to the strange system
which now prevails in France of compelling, if not prosperity, at
least the signs of it; and like schoolboys before a holiday,
nailing up the head of the weather-glass to insure fine weather.

Let British ladies educate themselves in those laws of beauty
which are as eternal as any other of nature's laws; which may be
seen fulfilled, as Mr. Ruskin tells us, so eloquently in every
flower and every leaf, in every sweeping down and rippling wave;
and they will be able to invent graceful and economical dresses
for themselves, without importing tawdry and expensive ugliness
from France.

Let me now go a step farther, and ask you to consider this: There
are in England now a vast number, and an increasing number, of
young women who, from various circumstances which we all know,
must in after life be either the mistresses of their own fortunes,
or the earners of their own bread. And, to do that wisely and
well, they must be more or less women of business, and to be women
of business they must know something of the meaning of the words
Capital, Profit, Price, Value, Labour, Wages, and of the relation
between those two last. In a word, they must know a little
political economy. Nay, I sometimes think that the mistress of
every household might find, not only thrift of money, but thrift
of brain; freedom from mistakes, anxieties, worries of many kinds,
all of which eat out the health as well as the heart, by a little
sound knowledge of the principles of political economy.

When we consider that every mistress of a household is continually
buying, if not selling; that she is continually hiring and
employing labour in the form of servants; and very often, into the
bargain, keeping her husband's accounts: I cannot but think that
her hard-worked brain might be clearer, and her hard-tried desire
to do her duty by every subject in her little kingdom, might be
more easily satisfied, had she read something of what Mr. John
Stuart Mill has written, especially on the duties of employer and
employed. A capitalist, a commercialist, an employer of labour,
and an accountant--every mistress of a household is all these,
whether she likes it or not; and it would be surely well for her,
in so very complicated a state of society as this, not to trust
merely to that mother-wit, that intuitive sagacity and innate
power of ruling her fellow-creatures, which carries women so nobly
through their work in simpler and less civilised societies.

And here I stop to answer those who may say--as I have heard it
said--That a woman's intellect is not fit for business; that when
a woman takes to business, she is apt to do it ill, and
unpleasantly likewise, to be more suspicious, more irritable, more
grasping, more unreasonable, than regular men of business would
be: that--as I have heard it put--"a woman does not fight fair."
The answer is simple. That a woman's intellect is eminently
fitted for business is proved by the enormous amount of business
she gets through without any special training for it: but those
faults in a woman of which some men complain are simply the
results of her not having had a special training. She does not
know the laws of business. She does not know the rules of the
game she is playing; and therefore she is playing it in the dark,
in fear and suspicion, apt to judge of questions on personal
grounds, often offending those with whom she has to do, and
oftener still making herself miserable over matters of law or of
business, on which a little sound knowledge would set her head and
her heart at rest.

When I have seen widows, having the care of children, of a great
household, of a great estate, of a great business, struggling
heroically, and yet often mistakenly; blamed severely for
selfishness and ambition, while they were really sacrificing
themselves with the divine instinct of a mother for their
children's interest: I have stood by with mingled admiration and
pity, and said to myself: "How nobly she is doing the work
without teaching! How much more nobly would she have done it had
she been taught! She is now doing her work at the most enormous
waste of energy and of virtue: had she had knowledge, thrift
would have followed it; she would have done more work with far
less trouble. She will probably kill herself if she goes on;
while sound knowledge would have saved her health, saved her
heart, saved her friends, and helped the very loved ones for whom
she labours, not always with success."

A little political economy, therefore, will at least do no harm to
a woman; especially if she have to take care of herself in after
life; neither, I think, will she be much harmed by some sound
knowledge of another subject, which I see promised in these
lectures: "Natural philosophy, in its various branches, such as
the chemistry of common life, light, heat, electricity, etc. etc."

A little knowledge of the laws of light, for instance, would teach
many women that by shutting themselves up day after day, week
after week, in darkened rooms, they are as certainly committing a
waste of health, destroying their vital energy, and diseasing
their brains, as if they were taking so much poison the whole

A little knowledge of the laws of heat would teach women not to
clothe themselves and their children after foolish and
insufficient fashions, which in this climate sow the seeds of a
dozen different diseases, and have to be atoned for by perpetual
anxieties, and by perpetual doctors' bills; and as for a little
knowledge of the laws of electricity, one thrift I am sure it
would produce--thrift to us men, of having to answer continual
inquiries as to what the weather is going to be, when a slight
knowledge of the barometer, or of the form of the clouds and the
direction of the wind, would enable many a lady to judge for
herself, and not, after inquiry on inquiry, regardless of all
warnings, go out on the first appearance of a strip of blue sky,
and come home wet through, with what she calls "only a chill," but
which really means a nail driven into her coffin--a probable
shortening, though it may be a very small one, of her mortal life;
because the food of the next twenty-four hours, which should have
gone to keep the vital heat at its normal standard, will have to
be wasted in raising it up to that standard, from which it has
fallen by a chill.

Ladies, these are subjects on which I must beg to speak a little
more at length, premising them by one statement, which may seem
jest, but is solemn earnest--that, if the medical men of this or
any other city were what the world now calls "alive to their own
interests"--that is, to the mere making of money; instead of
being, what medical men are, the most generous, disinterested, and
high-minded class in these realms, then they would oppose by all
means in their power the delivery of lectures on natural
philosophy to women. For if women act upon what they learn in
those lectures--and having women's hearts, they will act upon it--
there ought to follow a decrease of sickness and an increase of
health, especially among children; a thrift of life, and a thrift
of expense besides, which would very seriously affect the income
of medical men.

For let me ask you, ladies, with all courtesy, but with all
earnestness--Are you aware of certain facts, of which every one of
those excellent medical men is too well aware? Are you aware that
more human beings are killed in England every year by unnecessary
and preventable diseases than were killed at Waterloo or at
Sadowa? Are you aware that the great majority of those victims
are children? Are you aware that the diseases which carry them
off are for the most part such as ought to be specially under the
control of the women who love them, pet them, educate them, and
would in many cases, if need be, lay down their lives for them?
Are you aware, again, of the vast amount of disease which, so both
wise mothers and wise doctors assure me, is engendered in the
sleeping-room from simple ignorance of the laws of ventilation,
and in the schoolroom likewise, from simple ignorance of the laws
of physiology? from an ignorance of which I shall mention no other
case here save one--that too often from ignorance of signs of
approaching disease, a child is punished for what is called
idleness, listlessness, wilfulness, sulkiness; and punished, too,
in the unwisest way--by an increase of tasks and confinement to
the house, thus overtasking still more a brain already overtasked,
and depressing still more, by robbing it of oxygen and of
exercise, a system already depressed? Are you aware, I ask again,
of all this? I speak earnest upon this point, because I speak
with experience. As a single instance: a medical man, a friend
of mine, passing by his own schoolroom, heard one of his own
little girls screaming and crying, and went in. The governess, an
excellent woman, but wholly ignorant of the laws of physiology,
complained that the child had of late become obstinate and would
not learn; and that therefore she must punish her by keeping her
indoors over the unlearnt lessons. The father, who knew that the
child was usually a very good one, looked at her carefully for a
little while; sent her out of the schoolroom; and then said, "That
child must not open a book for a month." "If I had not acted so,"
he said to me, "I should have had that child dead of brain-disease
within the year."

Now, in the face of such facts as these, is it too much to ask of
mothers, sisters, aunts, nurses, governesses--all who may be
occupied in the care of children, especially of girls--that they
should study thrift of human health and human life, by studying
somewhat the laws of life and health? There are books--I may say
a whole literature of books--written by scientific doctors on
these matters, which are in my mind far more important to the
schoolroom than half the trashy accomplishments, so-called, which
are expected to be known by governesses. But are they bought?
Are they even to be bought, from most country booksellers? Ah,
for a little knowledge of the laws to the neglect of which is
owing so much fearful disease, which, if it does not produce
immediate death, too often leaves the constitution impaired for
years to come. Ah the waste of health and strength in the young;
the waste, too, of anxiety and misery in those who love and tend
them. How much of it might be saved by a little rational
education in those laws of nature which are the will of God about
the welfare of our bodies, and which, therefore, we are as much
bound to know and to obey, as we are bound to know and obey the
spiritual laws whereon depends the welfare of our souls.

Pardon me, ladies, if I have given a moment's pain to anyone here:
but I appeal to every medical man in the room whether I have not
spoken the truth; and having such an opportunity as this, I felt
that I must speak for the sake of children, and of women likewise,
or else for ever hereafter hold my peace.

Let me pass on from this painful subject--for painful it has been
to me for many years--to a question of intellectual thrift--by
which I mean just now thrift of words; thrift of truth; restraint
of the tongue; accuracy and modesty in statement.

Mothers complain to me that girls are apt to be--not intentionally
untruthful--but exaggerative, prejudiced, incorrect, in repeating
a conversation or describing an event; and that from this fault
arise, as is to be expected, misunderstandings, quarrels, rumours,
slanders, scandals, and what not.

Now, for this waste of words there is but one cure: and if I be
told that it is a natural fault of women; that they cannot take
the calm judicial view of matters which men boast, and often boast
most wrongly, that they can take; that under the influence of
hope, fear, delicate antipathy, honest moral indignation, they
will let their eyes and ears be governed by their feelings; and

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