Popular Physiology

Health reformers from both sides of the professional fence moved instinctively into the new cheaper magazine market to reach a new mass audience of urbanites apparently desperate for all forms of self-help information. The term 'popular physiology' described a type of middle-of-the-road health philosophy that required no severe ascetic practices, had no membership requirements, and excluded no one. 'Popular physiology' was the new title, but the modern works fitted seamlessly into the old genre of health handbooks. The burst of middle-class 3d. to 1s. monthly health magazines shows how successful these large, slim, well-decorated publications were; when bound at the end of their run, with additional illustrations, they also made a handsome health encyclopedia.22 Magazines such as The Family Oracle of Health; Economy, Medicine, and Good Living; Adapted to All Ranks of Society, from the Palace to the Cottage (1824-6) give a strong impression of popular health concerns. The Oracle was a jolly little publication, full of wise-cracking jokes which carefully trod the professional middle way, its main aim being to moderate drug-taking and promote self-help and personal hygiene in its broadest sense. It was packed with small, easy-to-read essays, and was calendrical—always starting with 'Problems of the Month':

Diseases of August; Hydrophobia or water-fear; Philosophy of Bathing, No. 2; Poultry buying; Pimples; Art of Medical Training, No. 1; Training adapted to Ladies; Beauty training; Ruined constitutions; Indigestion; Diseases of the unmarried state (green sickness); Cock a leeky soup; Mrs Pringle—quack; Philosophy of the Hour, No. 4; Hereditary dunces and Borough Jobbery.

Diseases of September; Fever; Sauces; Indigestion; Effects of Drugging on Beauty; Coughs and consumptions; Typhus fever; Weak moving; Venison and grain; Art of Medical Training No. 2; Choosing spectacles; School diseases from school vices; Evils of boarding schools exposed...Examination of food, exercise, etc. in 11 fashionable schools; Economical elder wine; The Philosophy of Hearing...23

One major innovation in popular physiology was the teaching of 'popular anatomy'. Dr Andrew Combe's best-seller The Principles of Physiology Applied to the Preservation of Health, and the Improvement of Physical and Mental Education (1833) went into five editions in three years (with American, German, and French editions). It combined a moderate vitalist regimen with simple anatomy (describing in detail the structures and functions of the skin, muscles, bones, lungs, and nervous system). By the late 1840s, readers of domestic medicine could marvel at the microscopic anatomy of the skin, and thrill to the functions of the insensible perspiration:

...I counted the perspiratory pores in the palm of the hand, and found 3528 in a square inch. Now each of these pores being an aperture of a little tube about a quarter of an inch long, it follows that... there exists a length of tube equal to 882 inches, or 73 and a half feet. Surely such an amount of drainage as 73 feet every square inch of skin... is something wonderful, and the thought naturally intrudes itself—what if this drainage were obstructed? The number of square inches of surface in a man of ordinary height and bulk is 2,500; the number of pores therefore is 300,000 and the number of inches of perspiratory tube 1,750,000, that is 145,833 feet, or 48,600 yards, or nearly 28 miles... from this explanation the necessity and value of cleanliness to health must be self-evident.24

In Combe exercise was now firmly linked to mental training— 'the physiology of mind as well as body';Combe's brother was George Combe, whose Constitution of Man (1828) imported the controversial and astonishingly popular mental 'phrenology'

of Franz Joseph Gall and J. C. Spurzheim, which linked the brain's organic structure to its mental powers (diagnosed through bumps on the skull).25 The principles of hygiene had long been used to treat the unbalanced passions of the insane, the hysteric, or the depressed; it was only another short step to apply the principle of mens sana in corpore sano to stressed-out urban civilians.

From the 1830s onwards, middle-class families faced a barrage of indoctrination on the subject of sober, temperate personal hygiene—now often called the 'economic' life;fewer drugs and less food (the 'economic' diet);leanness instead of corpulency-training instead of relaxation-mental and physical fitness. As always, obesity problems were closely connected with rising standards of living, and the message was the same: 'If exercise conduces to throw off all superfluities in the system, temperance in diet prevents their accumulation and renders it less necessary; if exercise cleans the vessels, temperance neither satiates nor overstrains them.' People were exhorted to plan regular daily patterns of physical exercise. Swimming, walking, and other sports were already well established; but the great craze in the 1820s and 1830s was gymnastics (or 'callisthenics' as it was more frequently called), which was imported into Britain and America from Per Henrik Ling's Gymnastiska Cen-tralinstitut in Stockholm-followed later by Friedrich Ludwig Jahn's 'Turnplatz' ('Turning') equipment, with wooden beams, bars, and horses (the type of gymnastics that we now see in the Olympics) which in Germany were often situated outside in natural forest settings. Military-style outdoor gymnastic 'drill', which was simply brisk walking in disciplined formations, became highly popular with schoolteachers; and all gymnastic exercise routines were thought to be particularly suitable for children and women, producing a mild strength, suppleness, and graceful lines, rather than visible muscles. To start with women's callisthenics and 'turning' were the hobby of the health enthusiast;but gymnastics provided the future foundation for sports in girls' schools.26

In Britain, the popular physiologists saw exercise not only as a personal hygienic discipline but as a public hygiene requirement, which they busily and actively promoted via the so-called 'Rational Recreation' movement. Village sports and entertainments were dying as their populations shrank, and in the towns there was nothing to replace them, reformers argued, but the public alehouse. Rational Recreationists encouraged the building of pleasure parks, sports fields, baths, libraries, museums, and meeting halls. Local, national, and international sports leagues were developed between 1820 and 1890;and every single British county had a football league by the 1880s. Much of this popular success was to do with the acculturation of school sports. School hygiene had already been raised by popular physiologists at the beginning of the century, and organized school sports were originally conceived as rational recreation for boys. Thomas Arnold, headmaster at Rugby in the 1840s, recognized that the discipline would be useful against the unfettered 'vandalism' of the boys (who were traditionally allowed to roam free in the afternoons) and allowed his masters to develop it. Rugby produced a new generation of notably athletic British public schools, with a strong ethos of 'muscular Christianity' that was also later exported into the American sporting college system. In 1855 Dr Oliver Wendell Holmes compared the rosy, muscular, well-fed, and large British visitors that he saw with puny, pale-faced, American youths: 'They fill their coats vigorously, they walk more briskly... they are warm, jolly, and athletic.'27 However, popular physiology, rational recreation, and sanitary reform were all very much part of the same hygienic project. From the 1840s onwards the broad popular front of sanitary reform turned its attention to two remedies for filth that were long overdue: the provision of clean water, and cleansing public baths.

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