HARVARD has now the most costly building for a Gymnasium in this country; she has students enough who are willing, even anxious, to use it, but no one to wisely assume the direction of fitting it with the apparatus, nor to take charge of it when complete. Judging from the overtures that have been made to several well-known instructors in gymnastics, the want (real or supposed) of money is likely to delay for the present the true use of this fine building, and make it simply an enlarged and better illustrated section of the present Gymnasium, which is so defective in plan, furnishing, and superintendence. If it may be permitted us to breathe a wish in this matter, it would be that a Professor of Hygiene might be appointed, - a man of courage as well as sound learning, - who should lecture to the students and be their adviser; a man who could advise the crews in training, and watch that no man overstepped the limits of his physical powers; a man who could tell the round-shouldered, hollow-chested, crooked-legged, weak-backed, how to remedy their defects, and put them at work on suitable apparatus in the gymnasium; a man who could tell the boating-man, the bicyclist, the base-ball player, what he most needed and what he should avoid; and, with all this, a man who by his character would win the confidence as well as the respect of the students.
Then there should be a superintendent of the Gymnasium, directly subject to the Professor of Hygiene. He should be a good man and an accomplished gymnast, to teach the proper way of executing the prescribed exercises, see that no one undertakes rash feats, and with tact and presence of mind enough to apply immediate remedies in case of accident. He should be competent to teach sparring, fencing, and wrestling, in classes as well as by private lessons, and be an intelligent gentleman, able and ready to carry out the directions of his superior officer, and one with whom the students might associate with profit. He should give his whole time to the college, and give no private lessons during gymnasium hours.
That this is not all imaginary will be seen by all those acquainted with the persons to be named in this connection; but others could be proposed, doubtless, equally able to fill these two positions to the credit of Harvard and the immense advantage of most of her students, who are very far from having the healthy, robust, clear appearance young men of their age should present. Dr. Sargent of New York, a thoroughly educated physician and a gymnast with few equals, has devoted himself to exercise instead of drugs in the practice of his profession, and is meeting with deserved success. Mr. Ferris of Boston is known to very many of the Harvard students and graduates as an admirable superintendent and gymnast as well as an excellent man.
Amherst has in the past fourteen years done much, under the able leadership of the devoted Dr. Hitchcock, to improve the physical (and with it the moral) well being of the college students; but a man single-handed, with no very good gymnasium or apparatus, and without the pecuniary resources Harvard can command, cannot do what might easily be done in the Hemenway Gymnasium, if only the authorities might be induced to take the wise course.
It is not enough to have a medical man of the ordinary type for Professor of Hygiene. Most doctors have been bred in contact with disease, and have no true sympathy for health, and they are usually cramped by the tenets of their own school of therapeutic surmises. Nor is it enough to put over the Gymnasium a man who knows nothing of anatomy and physiology, however good a general gymnast he may be. Such a man may be best fitted to teach how to execute a certain exercise, but never to prescribe what exercise each man needs. A simple teacher of gymnastics without the light of anatomical knowledge to judge of each student's condition and powers by careful examination, would be no improvement on the present state of affairs, and under him all exercises might gradually give place to class-drill or that most worthless form of physical exercise - the military drill.
Let us then have the complete equipment, the learning and experience to organize and direct, the knowledge and ability to carry out, and in five years the physique of Harvard students will show a marked change for the better.