The Young Man's Guide to the Harmonious
Development of Christian Character

by Harvey Newcomb, 1847


The reader will perhaps laugh at the idea of educating the body. But a moment's reflection will show that no part of man more needs education than the body. The design of education, as I have already said is, to form the character, and prepare us, in early life, for what we are to do in future. For this purpose, the body needs discipline as well as the mind. An ill body makes an ill mind and a sad heart. The health of the body is necessary to the healthy operation of the mind; and a healthy body is secured by activity. But the body not only needs health, but discipline. The fingers must be taught all manner of handiwork, and exercised upon it, in order to accustom them to the use that is to be made of them; the feet must be taught to perform their appropriate duties, in a graceful and proper manner; and all the muscles of the body must be exercised, in due proportion, to give them strength and solidity. The proper discipline of the several members of the body is necessary, not only to prepare them for useful occupation, but to give them a graceful, natural, and easy motion, and so promote good manners and a genteel carriage.

I shall not be very particular in what I have to say on this subject, but only give a few gentle hints.

1. DISCIPLINE THE BODY TO OBEY THE WILL. You would not think, to see some young folks, that the will had anything to do with the movements of the body; for it moves in all imaginable ways, with all sorts of contortions. First flies out a foot, then a hand, then there's a twirl or a swing, then a drumming of the fingers, a trotting of the foot, or some such odd figure. This arises from leaving the body to control itself, by its own natural activity, the mind taking no supervision of its motions. Now, if you early accustom yourself to exercise a strict mental supervision over the body, so as never to make any movement whatever, except what you mean to make, you will find this habit of great consequence to you; for, besides saving you the mortification of a thousand ungraceful movements which habit has rendered natural, it will enable you to control your nerves, the necessity for which you will understand better hereafter than you do now. Make the will the ruling power of your body, so as never to do anything but what you mean to do, and you will never get the reputation of being nervous.

2. AVOID LATE HOURS. It would seem hardly necessary to give such a direction to young people still under the control of their parents. But facts too plainly show that parents do not always sufficiently consider the injurious effects of late hours upon the fair and healthy development of the human body. And the disposition of young people to seek amusement overcomes, with them, the dictates of prudence. But the practice of sitting up late, and especially of being abroad late at night, is a war upon nature. It interrupts the regular course of things. It turns night into day and day into night. If you would be pale-faced, sickly, nervous, and good for nothing—sit up late at night.

3. RISE EARLY. To rise early, before the atmosphere has become heated with the summer's sun, and walk abroad, snuffing the cool breeze, listening to the music of the feathered tribe, and joining in the sweet harmony of nature, hymning forth praise to the Creator—certainly tends to promote health of body and cheerfulness and serenity of mind. And these will make a blooming countenance, and clothe very plain features with an aspect of beauty.

4. USE PLENTY OF WATER. The body cannot be kept in a healthy state, without frequent bathing. It should be washed all over, with cold water, at least once every day, to promote health and cleanliness. One who has never tried it can have no idea of its invigorating effects; and it seems hardly possible that the human system can keep long in order, while this is neglected. The machinery of a watch, after a while, gets dirty, so that it will not run until it is taken to pieces and cleaned. But the machinery of the human body is vastly more intricate than that of a watch. It is made up of an endless number of parts, of various patterns, some of them of the most delicate texture and exquisite workmanship, but all parts of a great machine that is constantly in motion. And there is provision made for carrying off all the dirt that accumulates on its wheels and bands, in little tubes, which discharge it upon the surface of the skin. But unless frequently washed off, it accumulates, and stops up the ends of these little tubes, and prevents their discharging, so that the offensive and poisonous matter which they would carry off is kept in the system. Let this go on a little while, and it cannot fail to produce disease. Therefore, I say, use plenty of water.

5. TAKE CARE OF YOUR TEETH. The teeth have a very important office to perform in the bodily economy—that of preparing the food for the stomach. What is not done by the teeth must be done by the digestive organs. Therefore, your health is deeply concerned in the preservation of a good set of teeth. The voice and the countenance, also, plead with you to take care of your teeth. In almost all cases, teeth may be saved from decay, if attended to in time. The best directions I can give for preserving the teeth are, to clean them every day with a brush, and pick them after every meal with a pointed quill, so as to remove all the particles of food from between them, and the tartar that adheres to the surface;—cleanliness, as well as the safety of the teeth, requires this. You ought to have your teeth examined and attended to, by a dentist, once or twice a year. Keeping them clean preserves them from decay; and if decay commences, a dentist can stop it, if he can attend to them in season.

6. BE ACTIVE. The body was made for use. Every part of it is formed for activity. But anything made for use will suffer injury—if it lies still. The human body, especially, if allowed to remain inactive, becomes useless. Activity strengthens the parts. If you would have more strength, you must use what you have, and it will increase. The right use of your members, also, must be learned by practice. Much practice is necessary, for instance, to train the fingers to the various uses in which they are to be employed, so as, (to use a homely phrase,) to make them handy. The body, likewise, needs exercise, to keep it in a healthy state. The various parts of its machinery have a great work to do, every day, in turning your food into nutrition, and sending it a great many thousand times, in a vast number of little streams, to every part of the body. But this machinery will not work, if the body is all the time inactive. It requires motion, to give it power. There is nothing, therefore, so bad for it as laziness. It is like a dead calm to a windmill, which stops all its machinery.

7. LEARN, AT PROPER TIMES, TO BE STILL. All nature needs repose. If the human system were always kept in the utmost activity, it would soon wear out. For this reason, God has given us periodical seasons of rest—a part of every day, and one whole day in seven. There are times, also, when it is not proper to be active; as, when you are at your devotions, or at family worship, or in the house of God. So, likewise, at school, or in company, or when you sit down with the family at home, as well as in many other cases, activity is out of place. Your body, therefore, will never be educated, until you have obtained such control over it, as to be able, at proper times, to be still. And I may say, it is a great accomplishment in a young person, to know just when to be still, and to have self-control enough to be still just at the proper time.

8. BE CAREFUL TO KEEP THE BODY IN ITS NATURAL POSITION. This is necessary, not only to preserve its beauty, but to prevent deformity. Sitting at school, or at any sedentary employment, is liable to produce some unnatural twist or bend of the body. The human form, in its natural position, is a model of beauty. But, when bad habits turn it out of shape, it offends the eye. Avoid a stooping posture, or an inclination to either side. But sit and stand erect, with the small of the back curved in, the chest thrown forward, the shoulders back, and the head upright. A little attention to these things every day, while the body is growing, and the bones and muscles are in a flexible state, will give your form a beauty and symmetry, which you can never acquire afterwards, if you neglect it at this time of life. And it will do more, a thousand times, to keep you in health, than all the doctor's pill-boxes.

9. AVOID TIGHT-DRESSING, AS YOU WOULD A BLACK SNAKE. You will, perhaps, smile at this. But if you know anything of the black snake, you will recollect that it assaults not with deadly venom, but winds itself around its victim, stops the circulation of the blood, and, if it reaches high enough, makes a rope of itself, to strangle him. I need not tell you that the effects of tight-dressing are similar. Whatever part of the body—whether neck, chest, arms, limbs or feet—is pinched with tight covering, is subject to the same strangling process produced by the black snake. It obstructs the free circulation of the blood, and produces a tendency to disease in the part so compressed. If you feel an unpleasant tightness in any part of your dress, remember the black snake.

10. DISCIPLINE THE MUSCLES OF THE FACE. You may think this a queer direction; but I assure you it is given with all gravity. If you allow every temper of the heart to find a corresponding expression in the muscles of the face, you will be sure to spoil the fairest countenance. How would you feel, if you were to see an accomplished young person, with fine features, and a beautiful countenance; but on coming near, should discover little holes in the face, from which, every now and then, vipers and venomous serpents were thrusting out their heads and hissing at you? Well, the evil tempers of the heart, such as pride, vanity, envy, jealousy, etc., are a nest of vipers; and, when indulged, they will spit out their venom through the countenance. How often do we see a proud, scornful, sour, morose, or jealous expression, that has fairly been worn into the features of the countenance! And what is this but the hissing of vipers that dwell within? Strive to acquire such self-control, as to keep a calm; serene expression upon your countenance; and you cannot tell how much it will add to your appearance.

11. BE TEMPERATE. To be strictly temperate is, to avoid all excess. Not only abstain from eating and drinking what is hurtful, but use moderation in all things—in eating and drinking, in running and walking, in play, in amusement.