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A Plea for Athletics.



The atrocious war, which was persistently waged for so many centuries against the human body and its proper treatment, was most disastrous in its physical, intellectual and moral results. It destroyed the roots of ancient beauty and symmetry, and produced a series of corporeal deformities, distortions, disfigurements, weaknesses and imperfections in both shape and development, which, transmitted from generation to generation, are still conspicuous in the great masses of people. Happily a reaction in favor of the Greek point of view with regard to the relations of body and mind set in, and the "gray-eyed morning" of a new era smiled on the frowning night. Roussean, the great apostle of freedom, hurled the thunders of his fiery eloquence against the strongholds of mental despotism and traditional authority with terrible effect, and on their ruins he laid the corner stone of a new educational empire. Roussean's Emile was the great event of the last century prior to the French revolution. Its boldness of thought and language startled the whole world. While reading it, Kant, the sage of Koenigsberg, was so fascinated that, for the first time, he forgot the walk which he had been in the habit of taking at a certain hour every day of his life. Through his labors gymnastics ceased to be the stock-in-trade of clowns and acrobats and assumed their wonted dignity and importance.

These principles very soon developed themselves in Germany, and Professor Jahn of Berlin and his pupils, during the War of Independence, gave them a sudden and important celebrity. To the enthusiasm and skill of these young men, who formed the vanguard of Blucher's army, much of the fervent spirit of national resistance to the domination of the French is undoubtedly to be ascribed. The favor with which gymnastics were then regarded was universal. Kings and people vied with each other in extolling their worth and importance. But in the troublous times that followed the triumpus of the battle-field they fell into disrepute, at least with the governments of Germany. Not only were the promises recalled which had been proclaimed in an hour of need, but the gymnasia throughout the country, with the exception of those of Wurtemburg, were closed in 1819. Jahn and his disciples, the Turners, were denounced as liberals and enemies to the State. The former was thrown into prison and kept there until 1825.

Gymnastics, expatriated from Germany in some degree, were well received in France, and there formed an integral part of education. An attempt made by Prof. Volker, a pupil of Jahn, to transplant them into England was not crowned with equal success. In the meantime all official opposition to them ceased in Germany, and they were finally introduced into the public schools from the lowest to the highest grades in 1842, when Turner's societies, into whose organization the quickening genius of Jahn breathed the life and growth, were flourishing all over the country. Soon after this, physical culture won its way to recognition on both hemispheres as an indispensable part of sound education, and as a preserver of health and restorer of strength, and it has spread very rapidly. During the past twenty-five years due homage has been paid to it in Europe and America, and the magnificent temples and humble tabernacles, which are expressly built in various institutions of learning and in other places for its worship, multiply year by year.

The restoration of gymnastics is one of the most auspicious signs of the times, and the rich results already obtained by their practice are full of meaning and promise for the future. They indicate that the revival of the Greek idea,- that body and mind are two well fitting halves of a perfect whole, and that each of them has its distinct and urgent claims to nurture and development-aided by the exact methods of modern science and guided not by the lamp of observation alone but also by the light of physiological knowledge, will eradicate the seeds and blot out the remaining marks of mediaeval barbarism, and equip the members of the human family for the exigencies of the campaign of life and the demands of civilization.

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