The Construction and Reconstruction of the Human Body
From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia
The Construction and Reconstruction of the Human Body is a book written by Eugen Sandow published in june 1907 by John Bale, Sons and Danielsson Ltd. and including a foreword written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Foreword by Arthur Conan Doyle
In the course of a fairly busy literary life, in which I have essayed most things within the scope of a writer, I have never once had the experience of getting between an author and his audience by saying a few words in advance. There is an obvious impertinence in the intrusion. And yet here I find myself not only doing this very thing, but even going out of my way to volunteer for it. I can only excuse myself by my conviction of the good work, the national work, which Mr. Eugen Sandow has done in this country, which makes it a duty to say a word, when one can, on its behalf.
If there were any antagonism between matter and spirit the case would he very different. If it could be shown that the body developed at the expense either of the mind or of the character then physical degeneration might be accepted as the price which the human race must pay for its mental and spiritual advance. But the facts are the very opposite. Vice and ignorance arc the companions of ugliness. That which is physically beautiful stands in the main for that which is mentally sane and spiritually sound. The classic ages of Greece, which showed the highest intellectual average seen in this world in a single population, produced also the finest physical types which the sculptor has ever committed to marble. The man who can raise the standard of physique in any country has done something to raise all other standards as well.
This maintenance of the standard of physique is accomplished in most continental countries by that service in the army which gives every adult some years of hard work and gymnastics. I still shrink from the thought of compulsory service in this country, but the one great argument to set against its many disadvantage's is this very fact that it would fill out and straighten our degenerates, and to that extent improve our national efficiency not merely in war but in the work of peace. Such a departure from our national traditions can never be effected in cold blood from within, and will only result under the pressure of sonic evident and imminent danger from without. But could we not meanwhile get the good without the evil, could we not get the physical improvement without the military service? I believe that we could, and that Eugen Sandow is the man to show us the way.
The strength of a nation is measured by the sum total of the strength of all the units which form it. It is a truism that anything which raises any portion of a man, his body, his character.,his intelligence, increases to that extent the strength of the country to which he belongs. Therefore, since the State is so interested in these matters, it has every reason to examine into than and to regulate them. The truth is an obvious one, but it is only within our own lifetimes that it has been practically applied. "Parents may do what they like with their children. A man may do what he likes with himself." So ran the old heresy, which ignored the fact that the State must look after the health of its own component parts. Then came the Education Act of 1870. It was a great new departure. What it said was : "No, your mind is not your own. It belongs to the State You may wish to keep it ignorant. But ignorant minds are a danger to the State. Therefore we must force you to keep yourself in better order." That is as far as we have got yet in State ownership of the individual. But it is evident that the same principle may be applied to the body as well as the mind.
In the days to come the State will — and should — assert its part ownership in the body of every citizen. We may well eliminate one of our £2,000 a year sinecures, and have in its place a minister of physical education with his proper staff of inspectors, who will find the material for a system of national gymnasia. The adult will then be compelled to care for his body as the child for his mind, and it will be much to the advantage both of the individual and of the State. Such an inspector would have a certain scale of heights, weights and chest measurements approaching the healthy normal. He would have the power of accosting the obvious offender, and of saying to him: "Your back, sir, is too rounded, your chest is too cramped, your knees are too bent. You are not an efficient physical unit of this State." The remedy is simple and not onerous. For a month the culprit would be ordered to place himself for half an hour a day in the hands of the public gymnastic instructor. At the end of that month his case would be reconsidered. If he failed to obey the ruling of the inspector, a magistrate's order and a fine would be the consequence. Such is the direction in which we should go if we desire to achieve the better results of conscription without the worse.
Meanwhile Mr. Eugen Sandow and his schools are doing something — as much as a great expert can do — to fill this national want. He has first arrested the attention of our public, shown it the pristine perfection of the human body, and systematised the methods by which it may be preserved. It is my appreciation of the national quality of his services and the really vital aim towards which they have been directed, which must be my excuse if for a moment I have intruded upon the patience of his readers. It is my firm conviction that few men have done more for this country during our generation than he, and that his gymnastic schools have appreciably improved our physique. Every word which he writes upon the subject deserves the most careful consideration not only of the general public, but also of the medical faculty with whom he has always loyally worked.
ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE.