Part 1 out of 5
THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY, VOL. X, NO. LVIII--AUGUST, 1862
A MAGAZINE OF LITERATURE, ART, AND POLITICS.
THE NEW GYMNASTICS.
Physical culture is on the top of the wave. But the movement is as yet
in the talk stage. Millions praise the gymnasium; hundreds seek its
blessings. Similar incongruities make up the story of human life. But
in this case inconsistency is consistent.
Evidences of physical deterioration crowd upon us. Fathers and mothers
regard their children with painful solicitude. Not even parental
partiality can close the eye to decaying teeth, distorted forms,
pallid faces, and the unseemly gait. The husband would gladly give his
fortune to purchase roses for the cheeks of the loved one, while
thousands dare not venture upon marriage, for they see in it only
protracted invalidism. Brothers look into the languishing eyes of
sisters with sad forebodings, and sisters tenderly watch for the
return of brothers, once the strength and hope of the fatherless
group, now waiting for death. The evil is immense. _What can be
done?_ Few questions have been repeated with such intense anxiety.
My object is to submit, for the consideration of the readers of the
"Atlantic," a new system of physical training, adapted to both sexes,
and to persons of all ages and degrees of strength. I have an ardent
faith that in it many will find an answer to the important question.
The common remark, that parents are too much absorbed in the
_accomplishments_ of their daughters to give any attention to
their health, is absurd. Mothers know that the happiness of their
girls, as well as the character of their settlement in life, turns
more upon health and exuberance of spirits than upon French and
music. To suppose, that, while thousands are freely given for
accomplishments, hundreds would be refused for bodily health and
bloom, is to doubt the parents' sanity. If the father were fully
satisfied that Miss Mary could exchange her stooping form, pale face,
and lassitude for erectness, freshness, and elasticity, does anybody
suppose he would hesitate? Fathers give their daughters Italian and
drawing, not because they regard these as the best of the good things
of life, but because they form a part of the established course of
education. Only let the means for a complete physical development be
organized, and announced as an integral part of our system of
education, and parents would be filled with grateful satisfaction. The
people are ready and waiting. No want is so universal, none so deeply
felt. But how shall symmetry and vigor be reached? What are the
means? Where is the school? During the heat of the summer our
city-girls go into the country, perhaps to the mountains: this is
good. When in town, they skate or walk or visit the riding-school:
all good. But still they are stooping and weak. The father, conscious
that their bodies, like their minds, are susceptible of indefinite
development, in his anxiety takes them to the gymnasium. They find a
large room furnished with bars, ladders, and swings. They witness the
wonderful performances of accomplished gymnasts and acrobates, admire
the brilliant feats; but the girls see no opportunity for themselves.
They are nearly right. The ordinary gymnasium offers little chance for
_girls_, none for _old_ people, but little for _fat_ people of any age,
and very little for small children of either sex.
Are not these the classes which most require artificial training? It
is claimed that the common gymnasium is admirable for young men. I
think there are other modes of training far more fascinating and
profitable; but suppose it were true that for young men it is the best
of all possible modes. These young men we need in the gymnasium where
young women exercise. If young women are left by themselves, they will
soon lose interest. A gymnasium with either sex alone is like a
ball-room with one sex excluded. To earn a living, men and women will
labor when separated; but in the department of recreation, if there be
lack of social stimulus, they will soon fall off. No gymnasium,
however well managed, with either sex excluded, has ever achieved a
large and enduring success. I know some of them have long lists of
subscribers; but the daily attendance is very small. Indeed, the only
gymnasium which never lacks patronage is the ball-room. Dancing is
undeniably one of the most fascinating exercises; but the places where
even this is practised would soon be forsaken, were the sexes
Some lady-reader suggests that ladies of delicate sensibilities would
scarcely be willing to join gentlemen in climbing about on ladders. I
presume not; but are such exercises the best, even for men?
I do not doubt that walking with the hands, on a ladder, or upon the
floor, head down, is a good exercise; but I think the common prejudice
in favor of the feet as a means of locomotion is well founded. Man's
anatomy contemplates the use of the legs in supporting the weight of
the body. His physical powers are most naturally and advantageously
brought into play while using the feet as the point of support. It is
around and from this centre of support that the upper part of the body
achieves its free and vigorous performances.
The deformities of gymnasts, to which Dr. Dixon and many others have
called attention, are produced in great part by substituting arms for
legs. I need scarcely say that ring, dumb-bell, club, and many other
similar exercises, with cane and sword practice, boxing, etc., are all
infinitely superior to the ladder and bar performances. In the new
system there is opportunity for all the strength, flexibility, and
skill which the most advanced gymnasts possess, with the priceless
advantage that the two sexes may mingle in the scene with equal
pleasure and profit.
I can but regard the common gymnasium as an institution of organized
selfishness. In its very structure it practically ignores woman. As I
have intimated, it provides for young men alone, who of all classes
least need a gymnasium. They have most out-door life; the active
games and sports are theirs; the instinct for motion compels them to a
great variety of active exercises, which no other class enjoys. Is it
not a strange mistake to provide a gymnasium for these alone?
But it is said, if you introduce women into the gymnasium, men will
have no opportunity for those difficult, daring feats which constitute
the charm of the place. If by this is meant that there can be no
competition between the sexes in lifting heavy weights, or turning
somersets, the objection holds good. But are not games of skill as
attractive as lifting kegs of nails? Women need not fall behind men in
those exercises which require grace, flexibility, and skill. In the
Normal Institute for Physical Education, where we are preparing
teachers of the new gymnastics, females succeed better than
males. Although not so strong, they are more flexible. There are in my
gymnasium at this time a good many ladies with whom the most ambitious
young man need not be ashamed to compete, unless the shame come from
his being defeated. Gentlemen will sacrifice nothing by joining their
lady-friends in the gymnasium. But suppose it costs them something; I
greatly mistake the meaning of their protestations of devotion, if
they are not quite willing to make the sacrifice.
Before proceeding farther, I desire to answer a question which wise
educators have asked:--"Do children require special gymnastic
training?" An eminent writer has recently declared his conviction that
boys need no studied muscle-culture. "Give them," he says, "the
unrestrained use of the grove, the field, the yard, the street, with
the various sorts of apparatus for boys' games and sports, and they
can well dispense with the scientific gymnasium."
With all our lectures, conversations, newspapers, and other similar
means of mental culture, we are not willing to trust the intellect
without scientific training. The poorest man in the State demands for
his children the culture of the organized school; and he is right. An
education left to chance and the street would be but a disjointed
product. To insure strength, patience, and consistency, there must be
methodical cultivation and symmetrical growth. But there is no need of
argument on this point. In regard to mental training, there is,
fortunately, among Americans, no difference of opinion.
Discriminating, systematic, scientific culture is our demand. No man
doubts that chess and the newspaper furnish exercise and growth; but
we hold that exercise and growth without qualification are not our
desire. We require that the growth shall be of a peculiar kind,--what
we call scientific and symmetrical. This is vital. The education of
chance would prove unbalanced, morbid, profitless.
_Is not this equally true of the body?_ Is the body one single
organ, which, if exercised, is sure to grow in the right way? On the
contrary, is it not an exceedingly complicated machine, the
symmetrical development of which requires discriminating, studied
management? With the thoughtful mind, argument and illustration are
scarcely necessary; but I may perhaps be excused by the intelligent
reader for one simple illustration. A boy has round or stooping
shoulders: hereby the organs of the chest and abdomen are all
displaced. Give him the freedom of the yard and street,--give him
marbles, a ball, the skates! Does anybody suppose he will become
erect? Must he not, for this, and a hundred other defects, have
Before our system of education can claim an approach to perfection, we
must have attached to each school a professor who thoroughly
comprehends the wants of the body, and knows practically the means by
which it may be made symmetrical, flexible, vigorous, and enduring.
Since we have, unhappily, become a military people, the soldier's
special training has been much considered as a means of general
physical culture. Numberless schools, public and private, have already
introduced the drill, and make it a part of each day's exercises.
But this mode of exercise can never furnish the muscle-culture which
we Americans so much need. Nearly all our exercise is of the lower
half of the body: we walk, we run up and down stairs, and thus
cultivate hips and legs, which, as compared with the upper half of the
body, are muscular. But our arms, shoulders, and chests are ill-formed
and weak. Whatever artificial muscular training is employed should be
specially adapted to the development of the upper half of the body.
Need I say that the military drill fails to bring into varied and
vigorous play the chest and shoulders? Indeed, in almost the entire
drill, are not these parts held immovably in one constrained position?
In all but the cultivation of erectness, the military drill is
singularly deficient in the requisites of a system of muscle-training
adapted to a weak-chested people.
Dancing, to say nothing of its almost inevitably mischievous
concomitants, brings into play chiefly that part of the body which is
already in comparative vigor, and which, besides, has little to do
directly with the size, position, and vigor of the vital organs.
Horseback exercise is admirable, and has many peculiar advantages
which can be claimed for no other training; but may it not be much
indulged while the chest and shoulders are left drooping and weak?
Skating is graceful and exhilarating; but, to say nothing of the
injury which not unfrequently attends the sudden change from the
stagnant heat of our furnaced dwellings to the bleak winds of the icy
lake, is it not true that the chest-muscles are so little moved that
the finest skating may be done with the arms folded?
I should be sorry to have any of these exercises abandoned. While some
of them demand reform, they are all, on the whole, exceedingly useful.
What I would urge is this: As bodily _symmetry_ is vital to the
highest physiological conditions, and as departure from symmetry is
the rule among all classes, but especially with Young America, we
must, to secure this symmetry, introduce into our system of physical
education a variety of special, studied means.
The new gymnastics are all adapted to music. A party may dance without
music. I have seen it done. But the exercise is a little dull.
Exercises with the upper extremities are as much improved by music as
those with the lower extremities. Indeed, with the former there is
much more need of music, as the arms make no noise, such as might
secure concert in exercises with the lower extremities.
A small drum, costing perhaps five dollars, which may be used as a
bass-drum, with one beating-stick, with which any one may keep time,
is, I suppose, the sort of music most classes in gymnastics will use
at first. And it has advantages. While it is less pleasing than some
other instruments, it secures more perfect concert than any other. The
violin and piano are excellent, but on some accounts the hand-organ is
the best of all.
Feeble and apathetic people, who have little courage to undertake
gymnastic training, accomplish wonders under the inspiration of
music. I believe three times as much muscle can be coaxed out, with
this delightful stimulus, as without it.
I have selected the dumb-bell as perhaps the happiest means by which
to illustrate the mischievous consequences of "heavy weights."
Thoughtful physiologists deeply regret the _lifting_ mania. In
every possible case, _lifting_ is an inferior means of physical
training, and for women and children, in short for nine-tenths of the
people, it is positively mischievous. I introduce the dumb-bell
exercises to illustrate and enforce this doctrine.
Heretofore dumb-bells have been made of metal. The weight in this
country has usually been considerable. The general policy at present
is to employ those as heavy as the health-seeker can "put up." In the
great German gymnastic institutes dumb-bells were formerly employed
weighing from fifty to one hundred pounds; but now Kloss and other
distinguished authors condemn such weights, and advocate those
weighing from two to five pounds. I think those weighing two pounds
are heavy enough for any man; and as it is important that they be of
considerable size, I introduced, some years ago, dumb-bells made of
wood. Every year my faith grows stronger in their superiority.
Some years since, before I had seen the work of Professor Kloss on the
Dumb-Bell, I published a paper upon the use of this piece of
apparatus, in which I stated the best weight for men as from two to
five pounds, and gave at length the reasons for the employment of such
light weights, and the objections to heavy ones. I was filled, not
with pride, but with profound satisfaction, while engaged in
translating Kloss's work recently, to find, as fundamental with this
great author, identically the same weights and reasons.
In my early experience as a teacher of gymnastics I advocated the use
of heavy dumb-bells, prescribing those weighing one hundred pounds for
persons who could put up that weight. As my success had always been
with heavy weights, pride led me to continue their use long after I
had begun to doubt the wisdom of such a course.
I know it will be said that dumb-bells of two pounds' weight will do
for women and children, but cannot answer the requirements of strong
The weight of the dumb-bell is to be determined entirely by the manner
in which it is used. If only lifted over the head, one or two pounds
would be absurdly light; but if used as we employ them, then one
weighing ten pounds is beyond the strength of the strongest. No man
can enter one of my classes of little girls even, and go through the
exercises with dumb-bells weighing ten pounds each.
We had a good opportunity to laugh at a class of young men, last year,
who, upon entering the gymnasium, organized an insurrection against
the wooden dumb-bells, and through a committee asked me to procure
iron ones; I ordered a quantity, weighing three pounds each; they used
them part of one evening, and when asked the following evening which
they would have, replied, "The wooden ones will do."
A just statement of the issue is this: If you only lift the dumb-bell
from the floor, put it up, and then put it down again, of course it
should be heavy, or there is no exercise; but if you would use it in a
great variety of ways, assuming a hundred graceful attitudes, and
bringing the muscles into exercise in every direction, requiring skill
and followed by an harmonious development, the dumb-bell must be
There need be no controversy between the light-weight and the
heavy-weight party on this point. We of the light-weight party agree,
that, if the dumb-bell is to be used as the heavy-weight party uses
it, it must be heavy; but if as we use it, then it must be light. If
they of the heavy-weight party think not, we ask them to try it.
The only remaining question is that which lies between all heavy and
light gymnastics, namely, whether strength or flexibility is to be
preferred. Without entering upon a discussion of the physiological
principles underlying this subject, I will simply say that I prefer
the latter. The Hanlon brothers and Heenan are, physiologically
considered, greatly superior to heavy-lifters.
But here I ought to say that no man can be flexible without a good
degree of strength. It is not, however, the kind of strength involved
in heavy-lifting. Heenan is a very strong man, can strike a blow
twice as hard as Windship, but cannot lift seven hundred pounds nor
put up a ninety-pound dumb-bell. William Hanlon, who is probably the
finest gymnast, with the exception of Blondin, ever seen on this
continent, cannot lift six hundred pounds. Such men have a great fear
of lifting. They know, almost by instinct, that it spoils the muscles.
One of the finest gymnasts in the country told me that in several
attempts to lift five hundred pounds he failed, and that he should
never try it again. This same gymnast owns a fine horse. Ask him to
lend that horse to draw before a cart and he will refuse, because such
labor would make the animal stiff, and unfit him for light, graceful
movements before the carriage.
The same physiological law holds true of man: lifting great weights
affects him as drawing heavy loads affects the horse. So far from
man's body being an exception to this law, it bears with peculiar
force upon him. Moving great weights through small spaces produces a
slow, inelastic, inflexible man. No matter how flexible a young man
may be, let him join a circus-company, and lift the cannon twice a day
for two or three years, and he will become as inflexible as a
cart-horse. No matter how elastic the colt is when first harnessed to
the cart, he will soon become so inelastic as to be unfit to serve
before the carriage.
If it be suspected that I have any personal feeling against
Dr. Windship or other heavy-lifters, I will say that I regard all
personal motives in a work of such magnitude and beneficence as simply
contemptible. On the contrary, I am exceedingly grateful to this class
of gymnasts for their noble illustration of the possibilities in one
department of physical development.
Men, women, and children should be strong, but it should be the
strength of grace, flexibility, agility, and endurance; it should not
be the strength of a great lifter. I have alluded to the gymnastics of
the circus. Let all who are curious in regard to the point I am
discussing visit it. Permit me to call special attention to three
performers,--to the man who lifts the cannon, to the India-rubber man,
and to the general performer. The lifter and the India-rubber man
constitute the two mischievous extremes. It is impossible that in
either there should be the highest physiological conditions; but in
the persons of the Hanlon brothers, who are general performers, are
found the model gymnasts. They can neither lift great weights nor tie
themselves into knots, but they occupy a position between these two
extremes. They possess both strength and flexibility, and resemble
fine, active, agile, vigorous carriage-horses, which stand
intermediate between the slow cart-horse and the long-legged,
"Strength is health" has become a favorite phrase. But, like many
common saws, it is an error. Visit the first half-dozen circuses that
may come to town, and ask the managers whether the cannon-lifter or
the general performer has the better health. You will find in every
case it is the latter. Ask the doctors whether the cartmen, who are
the strongest men in the city, have better health than other classes,
who, like them, work in the open air, but with light and varied
labor. You will not find that the measure of strength is the measure
of health. Flexibility has far more to do with it.
Suppose we undertake the training of two persons, of average
condition. They have equal strength,--can lift four hundred
pounds. Each has the usual stiff shoulders, back, and limbs. One lifts
heavy weights until he can raise eight hundred pounds. Inevitably he
has become still more inflexible. The other engages in such exercises
as will remove all stiffness from every part of the body, attaining
not only the greatest flexibility, but the most complete
activity. Does any intelligent physiologist doubt that the latter will
have done most for the promotion of his health? that he will have
secured the most equable and complete circulation of the fluids, which
is essentially what we mean by health, and have added most to the
beauty and effectiveness of his physical action?
With heavy dumb-bells the extent of motion is very limited, and of
course the range and freedom of action will be correspondingly
so. This is a point of great importance. The limbs, and indeed the
entire body, should have the widest and freest range of motion. It is
only thus that our performances in the business or pleasures of life
become most effective.
A complete, equable circulation of the blood is thereby most perfectly
secured. And this, I may remark, is in one aspect the physiological
purpose of all exercise. The race-horse has a much more vigorous
circulation than the cart-horse. It is a fact not unfamiliar to
horsemen, that, when a horse is transferred from slow, heavy work to
the carriage, the surface-veins about the neck and legs begin at once
to enlarge; when the change is made from the carriage to the cart, the
reverse is the result.
And when we consider that the principal object of all physical
training is an elastic, vigorous condition of the nervous system, the
superiority of light gymnastics becomes still more obvious. The
nervous system is the fundamental fact of our earthly life. All other
parts of the organism exist and work for it. It controls all, and is
the seat of pain and pleasure. The impressions upon the stomach, for
example, resulting in a better or worse digestion, must be made
through the nerves. This supreme control of the nervous system is
forcibly illustrated in the change made by joyful or sad tidings. The
overdue ship is believed to have gone down with her valuable,
uninsured cargo. Her owner paces the wharf, sallow and wan,--appetite
and digestion gone. She heaves in sight! She lies at the wharf! The
happy man goes aboard, hears all is safe, and, taking the officers to
a hotel, devours with them a dozen monstrous compounds, with the
keenest appetite, and without a subsequent pang.
I am confident that the loyal people of this country have eaten and
digested, since Roanoke and Donelson, as they had not before since
Could we have an unbroken succession of good news, we should all have
good digestion without a gymnasium. But in a world of vexation and
disappointment, we are driven to the necessity of studied and unusual
muscle-culture, and other hygienic expedients, to give the nervous
system that support and vitality which our fitful surroundings deny.
If we would make our muscle-training contributive in the highest
degree to the healthful elasticity of our nerves, the exercises must
be such as will bring into varied combinations and play all our
muscles and nerves. Those exercises which require great accuracy,
skill, and dash are just those which secure this happy and complete
intermarriage of nerve and muscle. If any one doubts that boxing and
small-sword will do more to give elasticity and tone to the nervous
system than lifting kegs of nails, then I will give him over to the
Another point I take the liberty to urge. Without _accuracy_ in
the performance of the feats, the interest must be transient. This
principle is strikingly exemplified in military training. Those who
have studied our infantry drill have been struck with its simplicity,
and have wondered that men could go through with its details every day
for years without disgust. If the drill-master permit carelessness,
then, authority alone can force the men through the evolutions; but if
he insist on the greatest precision, they return to their task every
morning, for twenty years, with fresh and increasing interest.
What precision, permit me to ask, is possible in "putting up" a heavy
dumb-bell? But in the new dumb-bell exercises there is opportunity
and necessity for all the accuracy and skill which are found in the
most elaborate military drills.
I have had experience in boxing and fencing, and I say with
confidence, that in neither nor both is there such a field for fine
posturing, wide, graceful action, and studied accuracy, as is to be
found in the new series of dumb-bell exercises.
But, it is said, if you use dumb-bells weighing only two pounds, you
must work an hour to obtain the exercise which the heavy ones would
furnish in five minutes. I need not inform those who have practised
the new series with the light dumb-bells that this objection is made
in ignorance. If you simply "put up" the light implement, it is true;
but if you use it as in the new system, it is not true. On the
contrary, in less than five minutes, legs, hips, back, arms,
shoulders, neck, lungs, and heart will each and all make the most
emphatic remonstrance against even a quarter of an hour's practice of
At this point it may be urged that those exercises which quicken the
action of the thoracic viscera, to any considerable degree, are simply
exhaustive. This is another blunder of the "big-muscle" men. They seem
to think you can determine every man's constitution and health by the
tape-line; and that all exercises whose results are not determinable
by measurement are worthless.
I need scarcely say, there are certain conditions of brain, muscle,
and every other tissue, far more important than size; but what I
desire to urge more particularly in this connection is the importance,
the great physiological advantages, of just those exercises in which
the lungs and heart are brought into active play. These organs are no
exceptions to the law that exercise is the principal condition of
development. Their vigorous training adds more to the stock of
vitality than that of other organs. A man may stand still and lift
kegs of nails and heavy dumb-bells until his shoulders and arms are
Samsonian, it will contribute far less to his health and longevity
than a daily run of a mile or two.
Speaking in a general way, those exercises in which the lungs and
heart are made to go at a vigorous pace are to be ranked among the
most useful. The "double-quick" of the soldier contributes more in
five minutes to his digestion and endurance than the ordinary drill in
I have said an elastic tone of the nervous system is the physiological
purpose of all physical training. If one may be allowed such an
analysis, I would add that we exercise our muscles to invigorate the
thoracic and abdominal viscera. These in their turn support and
invigorate the nervous system. All exercises which operate more
directly upon these internal organs--as, for example, laughing, deep
breathing, and running--contribute most effectively to the stamina of
the brain and nerves. It is only the popular mania for monstrous arms
and shoulders that could have misled the intelligent gymnast on this
But finally, it is said, you certainly cannot deny that rapid motions
with great sweep exhaust more than slow motions through limited
spaces. A great lifter said to me the other day,--
"Do you pretend to deny that a locomotive with a light train, flying
at the rate of forty miles an hour, consumes more fuel than one with a
heavy train, moving at the rate of five miles?"
I did not attempt to deny it.
"Well, then," he added, with an air of triumph, "what have you to say
now about these great sweeping feats with your light dumb-bells, as
compared with the slow putting up of heavy ones?"
I replied by asking him another question.
"Do you pretend to deny, that, when you drive your horse ten miles
within an hour, before a light carriage, he is more exhausted than by
drawing a load two miles an hour?"
"That's my doctrine exactly," he said.
Then I asked,--
"Why don't you always drive two miles an hour?"
"But my patients would all die," replied my friend.
I did not say aloud what was passing in my mind,--that the danger to
his patients might be less than he imagined; but I suggested, that
most men, as well as most horses, had duties in this life which
involved the necessity of rapid and vigorous motions,--and that, were
this slow movement generally adopted, every phase of human life would
be stripped of progress, success, and glory.
As our artificial training is designed to fit us for the more
successful performance of the duties of life, I suggest that the
training should be, in character, somewhat assimilated to those
duties. If you would train a horse for the carriage, you would not
prepare him for this work by driving at a slow pace before a heavy
load. If you did, the first fast drive would go hard with him. Just so
with a man. If he is to lift hogsheads of sugar, or kegs of nails, as
a business, he may be trained by heavy-lifting; but if his business
requires the average activity and free motions of human occupations,
then, upon the basis of his heavy, slow training, he will find himself
in actual life in the condition of the dray-horse who is pushed before
the light carriage at a high speed.
Perhaps it is not improper to add that all this talk about expenditure
of vitality is full of sophistry. Lecturers and writers speak of our
stock of vitality as if it were a vault of gold, upon which you cannot
draw without lessening the quantity. Whereas, it is rather like the
mind or heart, enlarging by action, gaining by expenditure.
When Daniel Boone was living alone in Kentucky, his intellectual
exercises were doubtless of the quiet, slow, heavy character. Other
white men joined him. Under the social stimulus, his thinking became
more sprightly. Suppose that in time he had come to write vigorously,
and to speak in the most eloquent, brilliant manner, does any one
imagine that he would have lost in mental vigor by the process? Would
not the brain, which had only slow exercise in his isolated life,
become bold, brilliant, and dashing, by bold, brilliant, and dashing
A farm-boy has slow, heavy muscles. He has been accustomed to heavy
exercises. He is transferred to the circus, and performs, after a few
years' training, a hundred beautiful, splendid feats. He at length
reaches the matchless Zampillacrostation of William Hanlon. Does any
one think that his body has lost power in this brilliant education?
Is it true, either in intellectual or physical training, that great
exertions, under proper conditions and limitations, exhaust the powers
of life? On the contrary, is it not true that we find in vigorous,
bold, dashing, brilliant efforts the only source of vigorous, bold,
dashing, and brilliant powers?
In this discussion I have not considered the treatment of
invalids. The principles presented are applicable to the training of
children and adults of average vitality.
I will rest upon the general statement, that all persons, of both
sexes, and of every age, who are possessed of average vitality,
should, in the department of physical education, employ light
apparatus, and execute a great variety of feats which require skill,
accuracy, courage, presence of mind, quickness of eye and hand,--in
brief, which demand a vigorous and complete exercise of all the powers
and faculties with which the Creator has endowed us; while deformed
and diseased persons should be treated in consonance with the
philosophy of the _Swedish Movement-Cure_, in which the movements
are slow and limited.
It is but justice to the following series of exercises with dumb-bells
to state that not only are they, with two or three exceptions, the
writer's own invention, but the wisdom of the precise arrangement
given, as well as the balance of exercise in all the muscles of the
body and limbs, has been well proved by an extensive use during
By way of illustrating the new system of dumb-bell exercises, I
subjoin a few cuts. The entire series contains more than fifty
The pupil, assuming these five positions, in the order presented,
twists the arms. In each twisting, the ends of the dumb-bells should,
if possible, be exactly reversed. Great precision will sustain the
interest through a thousand repetitions of this or any other
exercise. The object in these twisting exercises is to break up all
rigidity of the muscles and ligaments about the shoulder-joint. To
remove this should be the primary object in gymnastic training. No one
can have examined the muscles of the upper half of the body without
being struck with the fact that nearly all of them diverge from the
shoulder like a fan. Exercise of the muscles of the upper part of the
back and chest is dependent upon the shoulder. It is the centre from
which their motions are derived. As every one not in full training has
inflexibility of the parts about the shoulder-joint, this should be
the first object of attack. These twistings are well calculated to
effect the desired result. While practising them, the position should
be a good one,--head, shoulders, and hips drawn far back.
In our attempts to correct stooping shoulders, one good series of
exercises is found in thrusting the dumb-bells directly upwards. While
performing this the positions must be varied. A few illustrations are
As effective means by which to call into vigorous play neck,
shoulders, back, hips, arms, and legs, I submit the following
THE GYMNASTIC CROWN.
Bearing burdens on the head results in an erect spine and
well-balanced gait. Observing persons, who have visited Switzerland,
Italy, or the Gulf States, have noticed a thousand verifications of
this physiological law.
Cognizant of the value of this feature of gymnastic training, I have
employed, within the last twelve years, various sorts of weights, but
have recently invented an iron crown, which I think completely
satisfactory. I have it made to weigh from five to thirty pounds. It
is so padded within that it rests pleasantly on the head, and yet so
arranged that it requires skill to balance it.
The skull-cap, which is fitted to the top of the head, must have an
opening of two inches in diameter at the crown, so that that part of
the head shall receive no pressure. If this be neglected, many persons
will suffer headache. The skull-cap should be made of strong cotton,
and supported with a sliding cord about the centre. With such an
arrangement, a feeble girl can easily carry a crown, weighing ten or
fifteen pounds, sufficiently long, morning and evening, to secure an
erect spine in a few months.
The crown which I employ is so constructed as to admit within itself
two others, whereby it may be made to weigh nine, eighteen, or
twenty-seven pounds, at the pleasure of the wearer. This is a
profitable arrangement, as in the first use nine pounds might be as
heavy as could be well borne, while twenty-seven pounds could be as
easily borne after a few weeks.
The crown may be used at home. It has been introduced into schools
with excellent results.
Instead of this iron crown, a simple board, with an oblong rim on one
side so padded with hair that the crown of the head entirely escapes
pressure, may prove a very good substitute. The upholsterer should so
fill the pad that the wearer will have difficulty in balancing it. It
may be loaded with bags of beans.
RULES FOR WEARING THE CROWN OR OTHER WEIGHT ON THE HEAD.
Wear it five to fifteen minutes morning and evening. Hold the body
erect, hips and shoulders thrown far back, and the crown rather on the
front of the head.
Walk up and down stairs, keeping the body very erect. While walking
through the hall or parlors, first turn the toes inward as far as
possible; second, outward; third, walk on the tips of the toes;
fourth, on the heels; fifth, on the right heel and left toe; sixth, on
the left heel and right toe; seventh, walk without bending the knees;
eighth, bend the knees, so that you are nearly sitting on the heels
while walking; ninth, walk with the right leg bent at the knee, rising
at each step on the straight left leg; tenth, walk with the left leg
bent, rising at each step on the straight right leg.
With these ten different modes of walking, the various muscles of the
back will receive the most invigorating exercise.
Wearing the crown is the most valuable of all exercises for young
people. If perseveringly practised, it would make them quite erect,
give them a noble carriage of the head, and save them from those
maladies of the chest which so frequently take their rise in drooping
EXERCISES WITH RINGS.
After the exercises with the crown, those with the new gymnastic ring
are the best ever devised. Physiologists and gymnasts have everywhere
bestowed upon them the most unqualified commendation. Indeed, it is
difficult to conceive any other series so complete in a physiological
point of view, and so happily adapted to family, school, and general
If a man were as strong as Samson, he would find in the use of these
rings, with another man of equal muscle, the fullest opportunity to
exert his utmost strength; while the frailest child, engaged with one
of equal strength, would never be injured.
There is not a muscle in the entire body which may not be brought into
direct play through the medium of the rings. And if one particular
muscle or set of muscles is especially deficient or weak, the exercise
may be concentrated upon that muscle or set of muscles.
Wherever these rings are introduced, they will obtain favor and awaken
The rings are made of three pieces of wood, glued together with the
grain running in opposite directions. They are round, six inches in
diameter with body one inch thick, and finished with a hard, smooth
The first series with the rings consists of a number of twisting
exercises with the arms. Not only are these valuable in producing
freedom about the shoulder-joint, which, as has been explained, is a
great desideratum, but twisting motions of the limbs contribute more
to a rounded, symmetrical development than any other exercises. If the
flexors and extensors are exercised in simple, direct lines, the
muscular outlines will be too marked.
In twisting with the rings, the arms may be drawn into twenty
positions, thus producing an almost infinite variety of action in the
arm and shoulder.
Two of the positions assumed in this series are shown in the cuts.
It is our policy in these exercises to pull with a force of from five
to fifty pounds, and thus add indefinitely to the effectiveness of the
To illustrate a few of the many hundred exercises possible with rings,
the subjoined cuts are introduced.
In this exercise, the rings are made to touch the floor, as shown, in
alternation with the highest point they can be made to reach, all
without bending the knees or elbows.
The hands are thrust upward, outward, and downward with force.
The hands are thrust forward and drawn backward in alternation as far
as the performers can reach.
It will be understood that in none of these exercises are the
performers to maintain the illustrated positions for a single
moment. As in dancing, there is constant motion and change, while the
music secures concert. When, by marks on the floor, the performers are
kept in linear rank and file, the scene is most exhilarating to
participants and spectators.
The above are specimens of the many _charges_ with the
rings. Shoulders, arms, back, and legs receive an incomparable
training. In constant alternation with the charges, the pupils rise to
the upright position; and when the company move simultaneously to the
music, few scenes are so brilliant.
_In most exercises there must be some resistance. How much better
that this should be another human being, rather than a pole, ladder,
or bar! It is social, and constantly changing._
EXERCISES WITH WANDS.
A straight, smooth stick, four feet long, (three feet for children,)
is known in the gymnasium as a _wand_. It is employed to
cultivate flexibility, and is useful to persons of all ages and
degrees of strength.
Of this series there are sixty-eight exercises in the new system, but
I have space only for a few illustrations.
EXERCISES WITH BEAN-BAGS.
The use of small bags filled with beans, for gymnastic exercise, was
suggested to my mind some years since, while attempting to devise a
series of games with large rubber-balls. Throwing and catching objects
in certain ways, requiring skill and presence of mind, not only
affords good exercise of the muscles of the arms and upper half of the
body, but cultivates a quickness of eye and coolness of nerve very
desirable. Appreciating this, I employed large rubber-balls, but was
constantly annoyed at the irregularities resulting from the difficulty
of catching them. When the balls were but partially inflated, it was
observed that the hand could better seize them. This at length
suggested the bean-bags. Six years' use of these bags has resulted in
the adoption of those weighing from two to five pounds, as the best
for young people. The bags should be very strong, and filled
three-quarters full with clean beans. The beans must be frequently
removed and the bags washed, so that the hands and dress may not be
soiled, nor the lungs troubled with dust.
Forty games have been devised. If managers of schools are unwilling to
_study_ these games, and organize their practice, it is hoped
they will reject them altogether. If well managed, a school of young
ladies will use the bags half an hour every day for years, and their
interest keep pace with their skill; but mismanaged, as they generally
have been, it is a marvel, if the interest continues through a single
The following cuts may serve to illustrate some of the
bag-exercises. It will be observed that the players appear to be
looking and throwing somewhat upward. Most of the exercises
illustrated are performed by couples,--the bags being thrown to and
fro. It has been found advantageous, where it is convenient, to
suspend a series of hoops between the players, and require them to
throw the bags through these hoops, which, being elevated several
feet, compel the players to assume the positions seen in the figures.
With the bean-bags there are numberless possible games, requiring eye
and hand so quick, nerves so cool, skill and endurance so great, that
the most accomplished has ever before him difficulties to be
In a country where pulmonary maladies figure so largely in the bills
of mortality, a complete system of physical training must embrace
special means for the development of the respiratory apparatus. The
new system is particularly full and satisfactory in this
department. Its spirometers and other kindred agencies leave nothing
to be desired.
Physiologists and teachers believe that the new system of gymnastics
is destined to establish a new era in physical education. It is
ardently hoped that events may justify their confidence.
I cannot tell who built it. It is a queer piece of architecture, a
fragment, that has been thrown off in the revolutions of the wheel
mechanical, this tower of mine. It doesn't seem to belong to the
parsonage. It isn't a part of the church now, if ever it has been. No
one comes to service in it, and the only voiced worshipper who sends
up little winding eddies through its else currentless air is I.
My sister said "I will" one day, (naughty words for little children,)
and so it came to pass that she paid the penalty by coming to live in
the parsonage with a very grave man. And he preaches every Sunday out
of the little square pulpit, overhung by a great, tremulous
sounding-board, to the congregation, sitting silently listening below,
within the church.
I come every year to the parsonage, and in my visiting-time I occupy
this tower. It is quite deserted when I am away, for I carry the key,
and keep it with me wherever I go. I hang it at night where I can see
the great shadow wavering on the ceiling above my head, when the jet
of gas, trembling in the night-wind below, sends a shimmer of light
into my room.
It is a skeleton-key. It wouldn't open ordinary homes. There's a
something about it that seems to say, as plainly as words _can_
say, "There are prisoners within"; and as oft as my eyes see it
hanging there, I say, "I am your jailer."
On the first day of March, in the year one thousand eight hundred and
sixty, I arrived at the parsonage. It was early morning when I saw the
little wooden church-"steeple," in the distance, and the sun was not
risen when she who said the "naughty words" and the grave minister
came out to welcome me.
Ere the noontide came, I had learned who had gone from the village,
all unattended, on the mysterious journey, since last I had been
there. There were new souls within the town. And a few, that had been
two, were called one. These things I heard whilst the minister sat in
his study up-stairs, and held his head upon his hands, thinking over
the theology of the schools; his wife, meanwhile, in the room below,
working out a strange elective predestination, free-will gifts to be,
for some little ones that had strayed into the fold to be warmed and
clothed and fed. At length the village "news" having all been imparted
to me, I gave a thought to my tower.
"How is the old place?" asked I, as my sister paused a moment in the
cutting out of a formula for a coat, destined for a growing boy.
"Don't get excited about the tower yet, Sister Anna," she said; "let
it alone one day."
"Oh, I can't, Sophie!" I said; "it's such a length of days since I sat
in the grated window!"--and I looked out as I spoke.
Square and small and high stood the tower, as high as the church's
"What could it have been built for?"
I knew not that I had spoken my thought, until Sophie answered,--
"We have found out recently that the tower was here when the first
church was built. It may have been here, for aught we know, before
white men came."
"Perhaps the church was built near to it for safety," I suggested.
"It has been very useful," said Sophie. "Not long ago, the first
night in January, I think, Mr. Bronson came to see my husband. He
lived here when he was a boy, and remembers stories told by his father
of escapes, from the church to the tower, of women and children, at
the approach of Indians. One stroke of the bell during service, and
all obeyed the signal. Deserted was the church, and peopled the
tower, when the foes came up to meet the defenders outside."
"I knew my darling old structure had a history," said I. "Is there
time for me to take one little look before dinner?"
"No," somewhat hastily said Sophie; "and I don't wish you to go up
"Don't wish me to go alone, Sophie? Why, I have spent hours there,
and never a word said you."
"I--believe--the--place--is--haunted," slowly replied she, "by living,
"Never! Why, Sophie, think how absurd! Here's the key,--a great,
strong, honest key; where could another be found to open the heavy
door? Such broad, true wards it has,--look, and believe!"
As if unhearing, Sophie went on,--
"I certainly heard a voice in there one day. Old Mother Hudson died,
and was buried in the corner, close beside the church. My husband went
away as soon as the burial was over, and I came across the graveyard
alone. It was a bright winter's day, with the ground all asnow, and no
footstep had broken the fleecy white that lay on my way. As I passed
under the tower I heard a voice, and the words, too, Anna, as plainly
as ever spoken words were heard."
"What were they, Sophie?"
"'But hope will not die; it has a root of life that goes down into the
granite formation; human hand cannot reach it.'"
"Who said it?" I asked.
"That is the mystery, Anna. The words were plainly spoken; the voice
was that of one who has sailed out into the region of great storms,
and found that heavy calms are more oppressive."
"Was it voice of man?"
"Yes, deep and earnest."
"Where did it come from?"
"From the high window up there, I thought."
"And there were no footsteps near?"
"I told you, none; my own were the first that had crossed the
church-yard that day."
"You know, Sophie, we voice our own thoughts sometimes all
unknowingly; and knowing the thought only, we might dissever the
voice, and call it another's."
Sophie looked up from the table upon which she had been so
industriously cutting, and holding in one hand an oddly shapen sleeve,
she gave a demonstrative wave at me, and said,--
"Anna, your distinctions are too absurd for reason to examine
even. Have I a voice that _could command an army_, or shout out
orders in a storm at sea? Have I the voice of a man?"
Sophie had a depth of azure in her eyes that looked ocean-deep into an
interior soul; she had softly purplish windings of hair around a low,
cool brow, that said, "There are no torrid thoughts in me." And yet I
always felt that there was an equator in Sophie's soul, only no mortal
could find it. Looking at her, as thus she stood, I forgot that she
Lad questioned me.
"Why do you look at me so?" she asked. "Answer me! Have I the voice of
a man? Listen now! Hear Aaron up-stairs: he's preaching to himself, to
convince himself that some thorn in theology grows naturally: could I
"Your voice, I fancy, can do wonders: but about the theology, I don't
believe you like thorns in it; I think you would break one off at
once, and cast it out";--and I looked again at the rough tower, and
ran my fingers over the strong protective key in my hands.
"Don't look that way, Anna,--please don't!--for your footsteps have an
ugly way of following some will-o'-the-wisp that goes out of your
eyes. I know it,--I've seen it all your life," Sophie urged, as I
shook my head in negation.
"Will you lend me this hood?" I asked, as I took up one lying near.
"If you are determined to go; but do wait. Aaron shall go with you
after dinner; he will have settled the thorn by that time."
"What for should I take Aaron up the winding stairs? There is no
parishioner in want or dying up there."
And I tied the hood about my head, and in a wrapping-shawl, closely
drawn,--for cold and cannon-like came the bursts of wind down through
the mountain valleys,--I went out. Through the path, hedged with
leafless lilac-shrubs, just athrob with the mist of life sent up from
the roots below, I went, and crossed the church-yard fence. Winding in
and out among the graves,--for upon a heart, living and joyous, or
still and dead, I cannot step,--I took my way. "Dear old tower, I have
thee at last!" I said; for I talk to unanswering things all over the
world. In crowded streets I speak, and murmur softly to highest
But I quite forgot to tell what my tower was built like, and of what
it was made. A few miles away, a mountain, neither very large nor very
high, has met with some sad disaster that cleaved its stony shell, and
so, time out of memory, the years have stolen into its being, and
winter frosts have sadly cut it up, and all along its rocky ridges,
and thickly at its base, lie beds of shaly fragments, as various in
form and size as the autumn-leaves that November brings.
I've traced these bits of broken stone all the way from yonder
mountain hither; and that once my tower stood firm and fast in the
hill's heart, I know.
There are sides and curves, concaves and convexities, and angles of
every degree, in the stones that make up my tower. The vexing question
is, What conglomerated the mass?
No known form of cement is here, and so the simple village-people say,
"It was not built by the present race of men."
On the northern side of the tower leaves of ungathered snow still lay.
In the key-hole all winter must have been dead, crispy, last-year
leaves, mingled with needles of the pine-tree that stands in the
church-yard corner; for I drew out fragment after fragment, before I
could find room for my key. At last the opening was free, and my
precious bit of old iron had given intimation of doing duty and
letting me in, when a touch upon my shoulder startled me.
'T was true the wind was as rude as possible, but I knew it never
could grasp me in that way. It was Aaron.
"What is the matter?" I asked; for he had come without his hat.
My brother-in-law, rejoicing in the authoritative name of Aaron,
looked decidedly foolish, as I turned my clear brown eyes upon him,
standing flushed and anxious, with only March wind enveloping his hair
all astir with breezes of Theology and Nature.
"Sophie sent me," he said, with all the meekness belonging to a former
family that had an Aaron in it.
"What does Sophie wish?" I asked.
"She says it's dinner-time."
"And did she send you out in such a hurry to tell me that?"
"No, Anna,"--and the importance of his mission grew upon him, for he
spoke quite firmly,--"Sophie is troubled and anxious about your visit
to this tower; please turn the key and come away."
"I will, if you give me good reason," I said.
"Why do you wish to go up, just now?"
"Simply because I like it."
"To gratify a passing fancy?"
"Nothing more, I do assure you; but why shouldn't I?"--and I grasped
the key with a small attempt at firmness of purpose.
"Because Sophie dislikes it. She called to me to come and keep you
from going in; there was distress in her manner. Won't you come away,
He had given me a reason. I rejoice in being reasonable. I lent him a
bit of knitting-work that I happened to have brought with me, with
which he kept down his locks, else astray, and walked back with him.
"You are not offended?" he asked, as we drew near to the door.
Sophie hid something that had been very close to her eyes, as we went
My brother-in-law gave me back my strip of knitting-work, and went
"You think I'm selfish, Anna," spoke Sophie, when he was gone.
"You can't help it, I think."
"But I can. I recognize a law of equilibrium that forbids me to think
"How? What is the law like?"
"Did you ever go upon the top of a great height, whether of building
"Oh, yes,--and I'm not afraid at all. I can go out to the farthest
edge, where other heads would feel the motion of the earth, perhaps,
and I stand firm as though the north-pole were my support."
"That is just it," replied I. "Now it puts all my fear in action, and
imagination works indescribable horrors in my mind, to stand even upon
a moderate elevation, or to see a little child take the first steps at
the head of a staircase; and I think it would be the height of cruelty
for you to go and stand where it gave me such pain."
"I wouldn't do it knowingly,"--and the blue in Sophie's eyes was misty
as she spoke.
"How did you feel about my going into the tower a few moments ago?"
"As you would, if you saw me on a jutting rock over the age-chiselled
chasm at Niagara."
"Thus I felt that it would be wrong to go in, though I had no
fear. But you will go with me, perhaps, this afternoon; I can't quite
give up my devotion."
"If Aaron can't, I will," she said; but a bit of pallor whitened her
face as she promised.
I thoroughly hate ghosts. There is an antagonism between mystery and
me. My organs of hearing have been defended by the willingest of
fingers, from my childhood, against the slightest approach of the
appearance or the actions of one, as pictured in description. I think
I'm afraid. But in the mid-day flood of sunlight, and the great sweep
of air that enveloped my tower, standing very near to the church,
where good words only were spoken, and where prayers were prayed by
true-hearted people, _why_ should my cool-browed sister Sophie
deter me from a pleasure simple and true, one that I had grown to
like, weaving fancies where I best pleased? I asked myself this
question, with a current of impatience flowing beneath it, as I waited
for Sophie to finish the "sewing-society work," which must go to
Deacon Downs's before two of the clock.
I know she did not hasten. I know she wished for an interruption; but
none came. The work-basket was duly sent off, whither Sophie soon must
follow; for her hands, and her good, true heart, were both in the work
she had taken up to do. Sophie won't lay it down discouraged; she
sees plains of verdure away on,--a sort of _mirage_ of the
mind. I cannot. It is not given unto me.
I had prepared the way to open the door of the tower when Aaron
interrupted me in the morning. I didn't keep Sophie standing long in
the wind, but she was trembling when I said,--
"Help me a little; my door has grown heavy this winter."
It creaked on its hinges, rusted with the not-far-away sea-air; and a
good strong pull, from four not very strong hands, was necessary to
admittance. Darkness was inside, except the light that we let in. We
stood a little, to accustom our eyes to the glimmer of rays that came
down from the high-up window, and those that went up from the open
door. At length they met, and mingled in a half-way gloom. There were
broad winding stairs, with every inch of standing-room well used; for
wherever within a mortal might be, there was fixed a foundation.
"What's the use of going up, Anna? It's only a few minutes that we
Sophie looked pale and weary.
"You shall not," I said; "stay here; let me reconnoitre: I'll come
I left her standing outside,--or rather, I felt her going out, as I
ran lightly on, up the rude stairway. Past a few of the landings, (how
short the way seemed this day!) and I was beside the window. I looked
across into the belfry of the church, lying scarce a hundred feet
away. I thought it was bird-time; but no,--deserted were the beamy
rafters and the spaces between.
What is this upon the window-bar? A scrap, a shred of colored
fabric. "It has been of woman's wear," thought I, as I took the little
bit from off its fastening-hook; "but how came it here? It isn't
anything that I have worn, nor Sophie. A grave, brown, plaid morsel of
a woman's dress, up here in my tower, locked all the winter, and the
key never away from me!"
Ah! what is that? A paper, on the floor. I got down from the high
window-ledge, where I had climbed to get the piece of cloth, and
picked up an envelope, or as much of one as the mysterious visitor had
left. The name, once upon it, was so severed that I could not link the
I heard a voice away down the winding stair. It was Sophie, calling,
because I stayed so long. I hid the trophies of my victory, for I
considered my coming to be a style of conquering, and relieved her
waiting by my presence.
"Perhaps you were afraid to come up?" I asked, as I joined her.
"I was, and I was not," she said; "but please hurry, Anna, and lock
the door, for we shall be late at 'Society.'"
"No one knows that I am here as yet," I pleaded, "and I feel a little
weary with having been last night on the steamboat. Suppose you let
me stay quietly at home. I don't feel like talking, and you know I'm
not of much assistance in deeds of finger-charity."
"And will you not get lonely?"
"Not a bit of it,--or if I do, there's Aaron up-stairs; he doesn't
mind my pulling his sermons in pieces, for want of better amusement."
Thus good sister Sophie let me escape scrutiny and observation on the
first day of March, 1860. How recent it is, scarcely a week old, the
Sophie went her way to Deacon Downs's farm-house up the hill, to tire
her fingers out with stitches put in, to hear the village grievances
told over, and to speak her words of womanly kindness. I walked a
little of the way with her; then, in turning back, I remembered that
Aaron would think me gone with Sophie; so I had the time, four full
hours, to dream my dreams and weave my fancies in.
I took out my envelope, and tried to find a name to fit it among the
good people whose names were known to me. The wind was blowing in my
face. A person came up and passed me by, as I, with head bent over the
paper, walked slowly. I only noticed that he turned to see what I was
doing. At the paper bit he cast only the slightest glance.
The church-door was open. This was the day for sweeping out the Sunday
dust. "Is there any record here, any old, forgotten list of deeds
done by the early church?" I questioning thought. "There's a new
sexton, I heard Aaron say,--a man who used, years ago, to fulfil the
duties; perhaps he'll know something of the tower. I'll ask him this
In the vestibule lay the brooms and brushes used in renovating the
place, the windows were open, but no soul was inside. I walked up the
central aisle, and read the mortuary tablets on either pulpit-side. We
sometimes like to read that which we best know, and the words on these
were written in the air wherever I went, still I chose the
marble-reading that day.
A little church-mouse ran along the rail, and stopped a moment at the
baptismal basin, but, finding no water left by careless sexton there,
it continued its journey up the pulpit-stairs, and I saw the hungry
little thing go gnawing at the corner of the Book wherein is the Bread
of Life. I threw a pine-tree cone that I had gathered in my walk up at
the little Vandal, and went out.
"I'll wait for the sexton in my tower," thought I; "he'll not be long
away, and I can see him as he comes."
I looked cautiously up at the study-windows ere I went into the
tower. I took out the key, for it fastened only on the outside, and
closed myself tightly in. A moment of utter darkness, then the thread
of light was let down to me from above. I caught at it, and, groping
up the stairs, gained my high window-seat. Without the tower, I saw
the deep-sea line, crested with short white waves, the far-away
mountain, and all the valley that lay between, while just below me,
surging close to the tower's base, were the graves of those who had
gone down into the deeper, farther-away Sea of Death, the terrible
sea! What _must_ its storms be to evolve such marble foam as that
which the shore of our earth receives?
"O Death, Death! what art thou?" my spirit cried out in words, and
only the dream of Life answered me. In the midst of it, I saw the
person who had passed me as I examined the envelope coming up the
street churchward. Not a sound of life or of motion came from the
building, and I must have heard the slightest movement, for my window
was only of iron bars. Losing sight of this face new to me, I lost the
memory of it in my dream. Still, this figure coming up the silent
village-street on that afternoon I found had unwoven the heavier part
of my vision; and to restore it, I took from my pocket, for the second
time, my two treasures.
Oh, how I did glory in those two wisps of material! The fragment of
envelope had come from a foreign land. What contained it once? joy or
sorrow? Was the recipient worthy, or the gift true? And I went on
with the imaginary story woven out of the shreds of fabric before me
until it filled all my vision, when suddenly fancy was hushed to
repose,--for, as sure as I sat there, living souls had come into the
All was darkness down there; not one ray of light since I shut the
door. Why did I do it?
It was the fear that Aaron in his study would see me.
Voices, confused and indistinct, I heard, sending bubbling words up
through the sea of darkness down below. At first I did not try to
hear; I listened only to the great throbbings of my own heart, until
there came the sound of a woman's voice. It was eager, anxious, and
pained. It asked,--
"Did he see you?"
A man's voice, deep and earnest, answered,--
"No, no; hush, child!"
"This is dreadful!"
"But I know I was not seen. And here you are sure no one ever comes?"
--and I heard a hand going over the great door down there, to find the
"Yes, no one ever comes but the minister's wife's sister. She takes a
fancy to the dreariness, and always carries the key with her. She's
away, and no one can get in."
"Shall we go up higher, nearer to the window?"
"No. I must wait but a moment; I have something yet to do."
I heard the deep voice say,--
"Oh, woman's moments, how much there is in one of them! Will you sit
on this step? But you won't heed what I have to say, I know."
"I always heed you, Herbert. What have you to say? Speak quickly."
"Sit here, upon this step."
A moment's rustling pause in the darkness down below, and then the
far-out-at-sea voice spoke again.
"Do you send me away?"
"Indeed you must go; it is terrible to have you here. Think, what if
you had been seen!"
"I know, I know; but you won't go with me?"
"Why are you cruel, uselessly?" said the pleading voice of woman.
"Cruel? Who? I cruel?"
"What is it that keeps me? Answer me that!"
"Your will is all."
Silence one moment,--two,--and an answer came.
"Herbert! Herbert! is it _you_ speaking to _me_? My will
keeping me? Who hath sinned?"
The sound of a soul in torture came eddying up in confused words; all
that came to the mortal ear, listening unseen, were, "Forgive--I--I
A few murmurous sounds, and then the voice that had uttered its
confession in that deep confessional of a gloomy soul said, and there
was almost woman's pleadingness in it,--
"When can I come again?"
"I will write to you."
"When will you write?"
"When one more soul is gone."
"Oh, it's wicked to shorten life by wishes even! but when one has done
one terrible wrong, little wickednesses gather fast."
Woman has a pathos, when she pleads for God, deeper than when she
pleads for anything on earth. That pleading,--I can't make you hear
it,--the words were,--
"Herbert! Herbert! don't you see, _won't you see_, that, if you
leave the one great sin all uncovered, open to the continual attrition
of a life of goodness, God _will_ let it wear away? It will
lessen and lessen, until at the last, when the Ocean of Eternity beats
against it, it shall go down, down into the deeps of love that no
mortal line can fathom. Oh, Herbert, come out with me!--come out into
this Infinity of Love!"
"With you? yes, anywhere!"
"Oh, oh! this is it!--_this is man!_ It isn't _my_ love that
you want; it isn't the little one-grained thing that the Angel of Life
takes from out of Heaven's granary and scatters into the human soul;
it is the great Everlasting, a sempiternity of love, that _you_
"And you can't give it to me?"
"No, I will ask it for you; and you will ask it for yourself?"
"Only tell me how."
"You know how to ask for human love."
"Yours, yes; but then I haven't sinned against you."
"Have you not, Herbert?"
"Well,--but not in the same way. I haven't gone beyond the measure of
your affection, I feel that it is larger than my sin, or I could not
"Tell me how you know this. What is the feeling like?"
"What is it like? Why, when I come to you, I don't forever feel it
rising up with a thousand speary heads that shut you out; it drowns in
your presence; the surface is cool and clear, and I can look down,
down, into the very heart of my sin, like that strange lake we looked
into one day,--do you remember it?--the huge branches and leafless
trunks of gigantic pines coming up stirless and distinct almost to the
surface; and do you remember the little island there, and the old
tradition that it was the feasting-place of a tribe of red men, who
displeased the Great Spirit by their crimes, and in direful
punishment, one day, when they were assembled on their mountain, it
suddenly gave way beneath them, and all were drowned in the flood of
waters that rushed up, except one good old squaw who occupied one of
the peaks that is now the island?"
"And so I am the good old squaw?" said the lady.
"For all that I can see in the darkness."
"But that makes me better than the many who lie below;--the squaw was
good, you remember. But how did she get off of the island? Pity
tradition didn't tell us. Loon's Island, in Lake Mashapaug in
Killingly, wasn't it?"
A little silence came, broken by the words,--
"It's so long since I have been with you!"
"Yes, and it's time that I was gone."
"Not a few moments more?--not even to go back to the old subject?"
"No,--it's wrong,--it perils you. You put away your sin when you come
to the little drop of my love; go and hide it forever in the sea that
every hour washes at your feet."
I heard a sound below, like the drawing of a match across a stone;
then a faint bit of glimmer flickered a moment. I couldn't see where
they were. I bent forward a little, in vain.
"My last match," said the lady. "What shall we do? We can't go
through in the darkness."
"We must. I will go first. Give me your hand. Now, three steps down,
then on; come,--fear nothing."
A heavy sound, as of some ponderous weight let fall, and I knew that
the only living soul in there was hers who sat with hands fast hold of
frosty bars, high up in the window of the tower.
I left fragments of the skin of my fingers upon the cold iron, in pay
for the woollen bit I had taken thence.
I ventured down a step or two. Beyond was inky darkness. If only a
speck of light were down below! Why did I shut the door? Go on I could
not. I turned my face upward, where the friendly light, packing up
its robes of every hue for the journey of a night, looked kindly
in. And so I went back, and sat in my usual seat, and watched the
going day, as, one by one, she took down from forest-pegs and
mountain-hooks breadths of silver, skirts of gold, folding silently
the sheeny vestments, pressing down each shining fold, gathering from
the bureau of the sea, with scarcely time enough for me to note, waves
of whitely flowing things, snowy caps, crimpled crests, and crispy
laces, made by hands that never tire, in the humid ocean-cellar. A
wardrobe fit for fair Pre-Evites to wear lay rolled away, and still I,
poor prisoner in my tower, watched in vain the dying day. It sent no
kind jailer to let me free. No footstep crossed the church-yard. The
sexton had put the windows down before my visitors went away. He must
have gone home an unusual way, for I waited in vain to hear him go.
I saw, when just enough of light was left to see, my sister Sophie
coming down the hill. Strange fancy,--she went as far from the tower
as if it were a ghostly quarantine. She did not hear me call in a very
human voice, but went right on; and I heard the parsonage door-latch
sharply close her in.
Would they look for me, now I was not there? I waited, and a strange,
unearthly tremor shook both blood and nerves, until tears were wrought
out, and came dropping down, and in the stillness I heard one fall
upon a stone below.
A forsaken, forgotten, uncared-for feeling crept up to me, half from
the words of woful meaning that I that afternoon had heard, and half
the prisoned state, with fear, weak and absurd, jailing me in.
The reverberations from my fallen tear scarce were dead in my ears
when I heard footsteps coming. I called,--
Aaron's own true voice answered me,--
"Where are you, Anna?"
"In the tower. Open the door, please."
"Give me the lantern," Sophie said, "whilst you open the door."
I, thoughtlessly taking the key, had left nothing by which to draw it
out. Aaron worked away at it, right vigorously, but it would not
"Can't you come down and push?" timidly asked Sophie, creeping round
the corner, in view of tombstones.
"It's very dark inside; I can't," I said; and so Aaron went on,
pulling and prying, but not one inch did the determined door yield.
Out of the darkness came an idea. I came in with the key,--why not
they? and, calling loudly, I bade them watch whilst I threw it from
the window. In the lantern's circle of light it went rushing down; and
I'm sorry to tell that in its fall it grazed an angel's wing of
marble, striking off one feather from its protecting mission above a
The door was opened at last; at last a circle of light came into this
inverted well, and arose to me. Can you imagine, any one, I ask, who
is of mortal hue and mould,--can you imagine yourself deep down in a
well, such a one as those living on high lands draw their water from,
holding on with weary fingers to the slimy mosses, fearing each new
energy of grasping muscle is the last that Nature holds in its store
for you; and then, weary almost unto death, you look up and see two
human faces peering above the curbstone, see the rope curling down to
you, swinging right before your grasp, and a doubt comes,--have you
life enough to touch it?
So, could I get down to them, to the two friendly, anxious faces that
peered up at me? You who have no imaginary fears, who never press the
weight of all your will to weigh down eyelids that something tells
you, if uplifted, would let in on the sight a something nameless, come
from where you know not, made visible in midnight darkness, can never
know with what a throbbing of heart I went weakly down. If I did not
know that the great public opinion becomes adamant after a slight
stratum of weakness, I would say what befell me when Sophie's fingers,
tired with stitching, clasped mine.
Aaron and Sophie were not of the questioning order of humanity, and I
was left a few moments to my own way of expressing relief, and then
Aaron locked the tower as usual, and we went away. He, I noticed, put
the key in his pocket, instead of delivering it to me, self-constituted
its rightful owner.
"Will you give me my key?" I said, with a timid tenacity in the
direction of my right.
"Not enough of the dreary, ghoul-like place yet, Anna? And to give us
such an alarm upon your arrival-day!"
The key came to me, for Aaron would not keep it without good reason.
It was around the bright, cheerful tea-table that Sophie asked,--
"Why did you not come down, Anna? Did you choose staying up so late?"
"No, Sophie,"--and I looked with my clear brown eyes as fearlessly at
them both as when I had listened to reason in the morning,--"I shut
the door when I went up, and afterwards, when I would have come down,
I felt afraid invisible hands were weaving in the blackness to seize
me. I believe it would have killed me to come out, after I had been an
hour up there."
"And you don't mind confessing to such cowardice?" asked Sophie,
evidently slightly ashamed of me.
"I never did mind telling the truth, when it was needful to speak at
all. I don't cultivate this fear,--I urge reason to conquer it; but
when I have most rejoiced in going on, despite the ache of nerve and
brain, after it I feel as if I had lost a part of my life, my nature
doesn't unfold to sunny joys for a long time."
"'Tis a sorry victory, then!" said Aaron.
"You won't mind my telling you what it is like?"
"It's like that ugly point in theology that hurt you so, last autumn;
and when you had said a cruel _Credo_, you found sweet flowers
lost out of your religion. I know you missed them."
"Don't interrupt me; let me finish. It's like making maple-sugar: one
eats the sugar, calling it monstrous sweet, and all through the
burning sun of summer sits under thin-leaved trees, to pay for the
condensation. The point is, it doesn't pay,--the truest bit of
sentiment the last winter has brought to me."
"Is this Anna?" asked the minister.
"Yes, Aaron, it is I, Anna."
"You're not what you were when last here."
"Quite a different person, Sir. But what is your new sexton's name?"
"That is more sensible. His name is Abraham Axtell."
"What sort of person is he?"
"The strangest man in all my parish. I cannot make him out. Have you
"No. Is there any harm in my making his acquaintance?"
"What an absurd question!" said Sophie.
"You are quite at liberty to get as many words out of him as he will
give, which I warn you will be very few," said the sexton's friendly
"Is he in need of the small salary your church must give its sexton?"
"The strangest part of the whole is that he won't take anything for
his services; and the motive that induces him to fight the spiders
away is past my comprehension. He avoids Sophie and me."
So much for my thread of discovery: a very small fibre, it is true,--a
church-sexton performing the office without any reward of gold,--but I
twisted it and twirled it round in all the ideal contortions plausible
in idealic regions, and fell asleep, with the tower-key under my
pillow, and the rising moon shining into my room.
I awoke with my secret safely mine,--quite an achievement for one in
no wise heroic; but I _do delight_ in sole possessions.
There is the sun, a great round bulb of liquid electricity, open to
all the eyes that look into the sky; but do you fancy any one owns
that sun but I? Not a bit of it! There is no record of deed that
matches mine, no words that can describe what conferences sun and I do
hold. The cloudy tent-door was closed, the sun was not "at home" to
me, as I went down to life on the second day of March, 1860.
Sophie seemed stupid and commonplace that morning. Aaron had a
headache, (that theologic thorn, I know,) and Sophie must go and sit
beside him, and hold the thread of his Sunday's discourse to paper,
whilst with wrapped brow and vision-seeing eyes he told her what his
people ought to do.
Good Sophie! I forgave her, when she put sermons away, and came down
to talk a little to me. It is easy to forgive people for goodness to
others, when they are good to one's self _just afterwards_.
"Do you know any Herbert in Redleaf?" I ventured to ask, with as
careless a tone as I knew.
"No, Anna;--let me think;--I thought I knew,--but no, it is not
"It doesn't matter. I thought there might be a person with that
name.--Don't you get very tired of this hum-drum life?"
"But it isn't hum-drum in the least, except in bee-time, and on
"Oh, Sophie! you know what I mean."
"Well, I confess to liking a higher development of intellectual nature
than I find in Redleaf, but I feel that I belong to it, I ought to be
here; and feeling atones for much lack of mind,--it gets up higher,
nearer into the soul. You know, Anna, we ought to love Redleaf. Look
across that maple-grove."
"What is there?"
"Well, what of them?"
"There was smoke in them once,--smoke rising from our father's fires,
you know, Anna."
"But so long ago, one scarcely feels it."
"Only sixteen years; we remember, you and I, the day the fires were
"Yes, I remember."
"Don't you think we ought to love the place where our lives began,
because our father lived here too?"
"It's a sorry sort of obligation, to ought to love anything."
"Even the graves, out there, in the church-yard?"
"Yes, even them. I would rather love them through knowing something
that some one tenant of them loved and suffered and achieved than to
love them merely because they hold the mortal temples that once were
columns in 'our family.' The world says we ought to love so much, and
our hearts tell us we ought to love foolishly sometimes, and I say one
oughtn't to love at all."
"I haven't got any Aaron, Sophie, to teach me the 'ought-tos.'"
There was a morsel of pity outgleaming from Sophie's eyes, as she went
to obey a somewhat peremptory call. She needn't have bestowed it on
me; I learned not to need it, yesterday.
Satisfied that the tower wouldn't give me any more information, and
that the visit of "the two" was the last for some time to come, I
closed down my horizon of curiosity over the church-steeple, a little
round, shingly spire with a vane,--too vain to tell which way the wind
might chance to go.
Ere Sophie came back to me, there was a bell-stroke from the
belfry. She hurried down at the sound of it.
"Will you come with me, Anna? Aaron wants to know who is dead."
"Who rings the bell?"
"The sexton, of course."
We were within the vestibule before he had begun to toll the years.
A little timidly, Sophie spoke,--
"Mr. Wilton wishes to know who has died."
The uncivil fellow never turned an inch; he only started, when Sophie
began to speak. I couldn't see his face.
"Tell Mr. Wilton that my mother is dead, if he wishes to know."
Sophie pulled my sleeve, and whispered, "Come away!"--and the man,
standing there, began to toll the years of his mother's life.
"Don't go," I said, outside; "_don't_ leave him without saying,
'I am sorry': you didn't even ask a question."
"You wouldn't, if you knew the man."
"Which I mean to do. You go on. I'll wait upon the step till he is
done, and then I'll talk to him."
"I wouldn't, Anna. But I must hurry. Aaron will go up at once."
Dutiful little wife! She went to send her headaching husband half a
mile away, to offer consolation, unto whom?
I sat upon the step until he had done. The years were not many,--half
a score less than the appointed lot.
Would he come out? He did. I heard him coming; but I would not move.
I knew that I was in his way, and wanted him to have to speak to me. I
sat just where he must stand to lock the door.
"Are you waiting to see me?" he asked. "Is there anything for the
sexton to do?"
I arose, and turned my face toward him.
"I am waiting to see if I can do anything for you. I am your
minister's wife's sister."
What could have made him shake so? And such a queer, incongruous
answer he gave!
"Isn't it enough to have a voice, without a face's coming to torment
It was _not_ the voice that spoke in the tower yesterday. It was
of the kind that has a lining of sentiment that it never was meant by
the Good Spirit should be turned out for the world to breathe against,
making life with mortals a mental pleurisy.
"I hope I don't torment you."
"When did your mother die?"
"There! I knew! _Will_ you take away your sympathy? I haven't
anything to do with it."
"You'll tell me, please, if I can do anything for you, or up at your
house. Do you live near here?"
"It's a long way. You can't go."
"Oh, yes, I can. I like walking."
He locked the door, and dropped the key when he was done. I picked it
up, before he could get it.
A melodious "Thank you," coming as from another being, rewarded me.
"Let me stop and tell my sister, and I'll go with you," I said,
believing that he had consented.
The old voice again was used as he said,--
"No, you had better not"; and he quickly walked on his way.
Completely baffled in my expectation of touching this strange being by
proffers of kindness, I turned toward the parsonage. Aaron was
already gone on his ministerial mission.
"What strange people one does find in this world!" said Sophie, as I
gave her the history of my defeat. "Now this Axtell family are past my
"Ah! a family. I didn't think him a married man."
"Neither is he."
"Then what is the family?"
"The mother, a sister, and himself."
"Do you know the sister?"
"Just a little. She is the finest person in mind we have here, but
wills to live alone, except she can do deeds of charity. I met her
once in a poor farmer's house. The man had lost his wife. Such a
soft, sweet glamour of comfort as she was winding in and out over his
sorrow, until she actually had the poor fellow looking up with an
expression that said he was grateful for the good gift Heaven had
gained! She stopped as soon as I went in. I wish she would come out in
"And the mother?"
"A proud old lady, sick these many years, and, ever since we've been
here, confined to her room. I've only seen her twice."
"And now she's dead?"
Sophie was silent.
"Who'll dig her grave?"
One of my bits of mental foam that strike the shore of sound.
"Anna, how queer you are growing! What made you think of such a
"I don't think my thoughts, Sophie."
But I did watch the church-yard that
day. No one came near it, and my knitting-work
grew, and my mystery in the
tower was as dark as ever, when at set
of sun Aaron came home.
"There is a sorry time up there," he said. "The old lady died in the
night, and Miss Lettie is quite beside herself. Doctor Eaton was
there when I came away, and says she will have brain-fever."
"Oh, I hope not!" said Sophie.
"Who is there?" I asked.
"No one but Abraham. I offered to let Sophie come, but he said no."
"That will never do, Aaron: one dead, and one sick in the house, and
only one other."
"Of course it will not, Sophie,--I will go and stay to-night," said I.
"You, Anna? What do you know of taking care of sick people?"
"I? Why, here, let me take this,"--and I picked up Miss Nightingale's
new thoughts thereon. "Thus armed and fortified, do you think they'll
ask other reference of their nurse?"
"It's better for her than going up to stay in the tower; and they
_are_ in need, though they won't say it. Let it be, Sophie."
And so my second night in March came on. A neighbor's boy walked the
way with me, and left me at the door.
"I guess you'll repent your job," he said, as I bade him good-night.
"Mr. Axtell will not send me back alone," I thought; and I waited just
a little, that my escort might get beyond call before I knocked.
It was a solemn, great house under whose entrance-porch I
stood. Generation after generation might have come, stayed, and gone,
like the last soul: here last night,--to-night, oh! where?
I looked up at the sombre roof, dropping a little way earthward from
the sides. Mosses hung from the eaves. Not one sound of life came to
me as I stood until the neighbor's boy was out of sight. I knocked
then, a timid, tremulous knock,--for last night's fear was creeping
over me. The noise startled a dog; he came bounding around the corner
with a sharp, quick bark.
I am afraid of dogs, as well as of several other things. Before he
reached me the door opened.
A little maid stood within it. Fear of the dog, scarce a yard away,
impelled me in.
"Away, Kino! Away, I say! Leave the lady alone!"
Kino went back to his own abode, and I was closed into the hall of
this large, melancholy house. The little maid waited for some words
from me. Before I found any to bestow, the second door along the hall
opened, and the voice that had been so uncivil to me in the morning
"What aroused Kino, Kate?"
"This lady, Sir."
The little Kate held a candle in her hand, but Mr. Axtell had not seen
me. Strange that I should take a wicked pleasure in making this man
ache!--but I know that I did, and that I would have owned it then, as
now, if I had been accused of it.
"What does the lady want?"
"It is I, who have come to stay with your sister. Mr. Wilton says
"She's sick, that's true; but I can take care of her."
"And you won't let me stay?"
"_Won't let you_? Pray tell me if young ladies like you like
taking care of sick people."
"Young ladies just like me do, if brothers don't send them away."
Did he say, "Brothers ar'n't Gibraltars"? I thought so; but
immediately thereafter, in that other voice, out of that other self
that revolved only in a long, long period, came,--
"Will you come in?"
He had not moved one inch from the door of the room out of which he
had come; but I had walked a little nearer, that my voice might not
disturb the sick. The one lying dead, never more to be disturbed,
where was she? Kate, the little maid, said,--
"It is in there he wants you to go."
Abraham Axtell stood aside to let me enter. There was no woman there,
no one to say to me, in sweet country wise,--"I'm glad you're
come,--it's very kind of you; let me take your things."
I did not wait, but threw aside my hood, the very one Sophie had lent
me to go into the tower, and, taking off my shawl and furs, I laid
them as quietly away in the depths of a huge sofa's corner as though
they had hidden there a hundred times before.
"I think I scarcely needed this," I said, putting upon the
centre-table, under the light of the lamp, Miss Nightingale's good
book,--and I looked around at a library, tempting to me even, as it
spread over two sides of the room.
He turned at my speaking; for the ungrateful man had, I do believe,
forgotten that I was there.
He took up the book, looked at its title, smiled a little--scornfully,
was it?--at me, and said of her who wrote the book,--
"She is sensible; she bears the result of her own theories before
imposing their practice upon others; but," and he went back to the
thorn-apple voice, "do you expect to take care of my sister by the aid
of this to-night?"