Child Health

Rousseau's famous Emile, ou, L'Education (1762), a health book in the form of a novel, can be credited with the invention of the vis medica naturae at the heart of the Romantic movement. His determination to restore natural medicine sprang, he said, from his own unhappy and confined childhood;and John Locke gave him the physiological framework of nervous and innate sensation that he built on. His concise opinion of nature and nurture was contained in the opening paragraph: 'The inner growth of our organs and faculties is the education of nature;the use we make of this growth is the education of men; what we gain by our experience of our surroundings is the education of things.'52 Emile and Sophy, his girl partner and 'helpmeet', were to be given back all their natural sensations, in full. They were breastfed, never swaddled, lived hardily mainly outdoors, and were allowed to run, jump, shout, laugh, and question freely and instinctively, learning through play—Rousseau's axiom was that 'children learn nothing from books that experience cannot teach them'. Even regimen was another of those rigid conventions that bound men hand and foot in society;over-careful habits were artificial, and 'the only habit the child should be allowed to contract is that of having no habits'. Rousseauian experiments throughout Europe later inspired the Pestalozzian school of educational philosophy, for which Emile was considered to be 'the children's charter'.

Rousseau was certainly a wake-up call to newly conscience-stricken mothers in the eighteenth century. The role of the 'Devoted Mother' was strengthened: she was a new partner in the education of the child. Old nurses who fussed and fretted and knew nothing of higher scientific, moral, or educational motives were out. Rational mothers, fathers, tutors, and doctors were in:

We write to Reason: Hence ye doating train Of Midwives and of Nurses ignorant!... Thine is the nursery's charge; Important trust!...

To this then bend thy care, O parent Mind;

Array thy Child in Health. Wouldst thou thy children blest? The sacred voice of Nature calls thee; Where she points the way, Tread confident...53

Large numbers of mothers apparently followed Rousseau's programme to the letter, taking to breastfeeding and vegetarianism along with everything else.54 The French Romantic poet Lamartine, for example, was a vegetarian, having been brought up by a Rousseauian vegetarian mother:

[I had] a philosophical education corrected and softened down by motherly feelings. Physically, this education flowed in a great measure from Pythagoras and Emile. Consequently the greatest simplicity in dress and the most rigorous frugality in food formed its basis . . . Mother was convinced that killing animals to feed on their flesh was wrong and barbarous, and implanted hard-heartedness.55

Like Emile, she took him to a slaughterhouse at an early age, in order to disgust him (which it did). A whole new generation of Rousseauian-educated children became young men and women in late eighteenth-century Europe, deeply inspired by personal freedom, political liberty, democracy, poetry, science, and a love of 'sublime' nature. In England vegetarianism reappeared on the revolutionary agenda at the end of the century, as 'a necessary step in the moral perfection of humanity', part of a utopian New Age in which animal rights were to be fully equal with human democratic rights.56 John Oswald's Jacobin-inspired text The Cry of Nature; or, An Appeal to Mercy and Justice, on Behalf of the Persecuted Animals (1791) stimulated a new group of English vegetarian radicals such as Thomas Young (An Essay on Humanity to Animals, 1798), Joseph Ritson (Essay on Abstinence from Animal Foods as a Moral Duty, 1802), John Frank Newton (The Return to Nature, or, A Defence of the Vegetable Regimen, 1811), and, not least, the hardy and unconventional nature poets enrapturing the London ton at the turn of the century: notably Coleridge (1772-1834), Lord George Byron (17881824), and Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822). Shelley was the author of the influential vegetarian essay Vindication of a Natural Diet (1813), the atheistic poem Queen Mab, and the pacifist poem The Revolt of Islam (which influenced George Bernard Shaw and Mahatma Ghandi), all of which made him a famously romantic vegetarian, especially after his early death.57

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