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

by Harvey Newcomb, 1843


A healthy and vigorous state of the body is important to a high degree of usefulness. The services which God requires of us, as laborers in his vineyard, are such as to call for vigor of body and strength of mind. A feeble state of health, other things being equal, must be a hindrance in the divine life. True, the Lord may make use of it as a chastisement, and so overrule it for our spiritual growth. But, with an equal degree of faithfulness, the healthy person has a great advantage over the unhealthy and feeble, in the pious life. When the bodily powers are prostrated, the mind suffers with them; and many of the supposed spiritual maladies, which afflict the people of God, probably arise from bodily infirmity. But especially do we need bodily health, in our endeavors to benefit others. Works of usefulness are generally attended with laborious effort, either of body or of mind, or both; and frequently they require the sacrifice of personal ease, and those comforts of life which are necessary to the invalid. It is true that some individuals have lived very devoted lives, and been eminently useful, with frail and sickly bodies. But this does not prove that, with the same degree of faithfulness, and a sound body, they might not have made much higher attainments, and been much more useful. I think no one can read the memoirs of Baxter, Brainerd, Martyn, and Payson, without receiving the impression that, with the spirit which they possessed, in strong and vigorous bodies, they might have done much more good than they did, and perhaps arrived at a much higher degree of personal sanctification. During much of their lives, they were borne down and depressed by feeble health, and all but one of them died in the prime of life. But suppose them to have been as devoted as they were, with strong and vigorous constitutions, until they had arrived at the period of old age; might they not have brought forth much more fruit? Then God would have been so much the more glorified in them; for Christ says, "Herein is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit."

Is it not our duty, then, to use all proper means for maintaining a sound, healthful, and vigorous bodily constitution? True, life and health, as well as every other blessing, come from God; but he does not bestow them without the intervention of second causes. He has made our physical nature subject to certain fixed laws; and when even his own children violate these laws, he will work no miracle to preserve their health or save their lives. We have no right to act on the supposition that our lives are our own; and that the injury we bring upon our bodies, by imprudence and neglect, concerns nobody but ourselves. Our bodies, as well as our spirits, belong to God, by virtue of creation, preservation, redemption, and personal consecration. We are, therefore, bound to use all lawful means for the preservation of life and health, that both may be prolonged for the glory of God and the benefit of our fellow-creatures.

But, when I speak of the means to be used for the preservation of health, I do not intend that excessive attention to remedies which leads so many people to resort to medicine upon every slight illness. But I mean the study of the laws or principles of our physical existence, and a diligent care to live according to those laws. In short, I mean living according to nature. Disease is the consequence of living contrary to nature; and probably a large proportion of the sickness which prevails might be directly traced to the violation of the great laws which govern our present mode of existence.

Within the compass of a single chapter I cannot be very particular on this subject. But I would recommend to you to read approved writers on health, and endeavor to understand the principles upon which this truly wonderful machine is kept in motion. You will find the subject interesting. You will see the evidence of a mighty intellect in the construction of the human body. You will also be able to draw from it practical lessons to guide you in the most common concerns of life. I am the more earnest in this recommendation, because I think you will discover that many of those habits and customs of society, which are peculiarly under the control of ladies, need reforming. I am seriously of the opinion that the general health of society depends far more upon the ladies than upon the physicians. The former direct the preparation of the daily supplies of food designed to sustain, refresh, and keep in motion the human system. The latter can only give prescriptions for regulating this delicate machinery, when, by mismanagement, it has got out of order.

But, in advising you to read on health, I would caution you against taking up medical writers, containing the description of diseases and their symptoms, and, comparing these descriptions with your own feelings, to ascertain whether you have the symptoms of the diseases of which you are reading. Such a course would almost certainly work on your imagination, and make you hypochondriac, if not actually induce the diseases themselves.

But, without further prologue, I will give a few simple rules for the preservation of health, which, though incomplete, will be of great benefit, if faithfully followed. From experience, study, and observation, you will, no doubt, be able to add to them many improvements.

I. Make attention to health a matter of conscience, as a religious duty. Pray for wisdom and self-denial, that you may be able to avoid whatever is injurious, and to persevere in the judicious use of such means as are necessary to promote sound health and energy of body.

II. Maintain habitual cheerfulness and tranquility of mind. Perhaps few people are fully aware of the influence which this has upon the health of the body. The opinion has been advanced that the stomach is affected chiefly by the influence of the brain on the nervous system. If this theory is correct, it adds very much to the importance of the suggestions under this head. If you are constitutionally inclined to melancholy, endeavor to avoid it as a sin dishonoring to God and destructive of your own health and happiness. It is dishonoring to God, because it is calculated to give the world a gloomy and repulsive idea of religion. It is sinful, because it destroys confidence in God, and leads to repining.

Melancholy differs entirely from sorrow for sin, sympathy for distress, and concern for the perishing. Godly sorrow is a melting exercise, which softens the heart, and brings it low before God; while a sight of the cross of Christ, and a sense of pardoning love, bring a holy calm and heavenly peace over the soul. But despondency comes over us like the withering blasts of winter. It congeals the tender emotions of the heart, and casts an icy gloom over every object. It hides from our view everything lovely. It makes us insensible to the mercies of God which he is daily lavishing upon us. It shuts up the soul to brood alone, over everything dark and hideous. It is no less unfriendly to the exercise of holy affections, than levity of conversation and manners. Although often created by bodily infirmity, it reacts, and renders disease doubly ferocious. Yet it is so far under the control of the will, that grace will enable us to subdue it.

There is a very intimate connection between the mind and body. The one acts upon the other. Depression of spirits enfeebles all the physical powers, and particularly disturbs digestion, thereby deranging the whole system. If, therefore, you ever feel a gloomy depression of spirits, try to bring your mind into a serene and grateful frame, by meditating on the mercies you enjoy, and exercising a cheerful submission to the will of God. Remember that God directs all your ways, and that you have just as much of every comfort and blessing as he sees fit to give you, and infinitely more than you deserve. Rise above yourself, and think of the infinite loveliness of the divine character. But, if this is not sufficient, walk out and view the works of nature, and try to forget yourself in contemplating the wisdom and glory of God, as manifest in them; and the bodily exercise will assist in driving away this disturber of your peace. Or seek the society of some Christian friend, who is not subject to depression of spirits, whose heavenly conversation may lead you to lose sight of yourself in the fullness and glory of God. But avoid, at such times, the society of those who, like yourself, are subject to depression, unless they have made so much progress in subduing this infirmity as to be able not only to sympathize with you, but to give you encouragement. Sympathy alone will but increase the evil. Any violent emotion of the mind, or exercise of strong passions of any kind, is likewise exceedingly injurious to the health of the body.

III. Be REGULAR in all your habits. Ascertain, as nearly as you can, from your own feelings and experience, how many hours of sleep you require. No general rule can be adopted on this subject. Some people need more sleep than others. The lack of sleep—or excessive indulgence in it—alike operate to enervate both body and mind. Probably every constitution may be safely brought between five and eight hours. Of this you will judge, by making a fair trial. That period of sleep which renders both body and mind most energetic and vigorous should be adopted. John Wesley states that he was, in the early part of his life, in the habit of sleeping late in the morning; but that he found himself wakeful and restless in the middle of the night, and nervous all day. He commenced rising earlier every morning, until he could sleep soundly all night, and found himself much improved in health. He went farther, and endeavored still more to diminish his sleep; but the effect was to render him weak and nervous. He continued, through a long life, to rise at four, with improved health and spirits. But young people require more sleep than those in advanced life. If possible, take all your sleep in the night. Fix upon an hour for retiring and an hour for rising, and then conscientiously keep them. Let nothing but stern necessity tempt you to vary from them in a single instance; for you may not be able in a week to recover from the effects of a single derangement of your regular habits.

We are the creatures of habit; but if we would control our habits, instead of allowing them to control us, it would be greatly to our advantage. It is also important that the hours of retiring and rising should be early. Upon the plan proposed, early retiring will be necessary to early rising, which is a matter of the first importance. Early rising promotes cheerfulness, invigorates the system, and in many other ways contributes to health. It also assists devotion. There is a solemn stillness before the dawn of day, in a winter morning, peculiarly favorable to devotional feelings; and nothing is better calculated to fill the mind with grateful and adoring views of the beneficence of the Creator, than the refreshing sweetness of a summer morn. Whoever sleeps away this period, loses half the pleasures of existence. To sally forth and enjoy the calmness and serenity of such a season; to listen to the sweet warbling of the birds; to behold the sparkling dewdrops, and the gayety of the opening flowers, as all nature smiles at the approach of the rising sun; to join the music of creation, in lifting up a song of softest, sweetest melody, in praise of their great Author, is no common luxury.

IV. Spend at least two hours every day in active EXERCISE in the open air. This time may be divided into such portions as you find most convenient. The proper seasons for exercise are, about an hour either before or after a meal. This you may do without regard to the weather, provided you observe the following precautions, when it is cold, damp, or wet: 1. Exert yourself sufficiently to keep moderately warm. 2. Do not stop on your way, or you will get chilled. 3. On returning, change any garment that may be wet or damp, before sitting down. This course will not only keep up your regular habits, but produce a hardiness of constitution which will greatly increase your usefulness in life. It is a great mistake to suppose that exposure to a damp, vapory atmosphere is injurious to health. The danger lies in exposing yourself when the system is in a relaxed state, as it is during rest after exercise. But, while a general action is kept up by vigorous exercise, nature itself will resist the most unfriendly vapors of the atmosphere.

There is a great and growing evil in the education of ladies of the middling and higher classes, at the present day. The tender and delicate manner in which they are bred enfeebles their constitutions, and greatly diminishes their usefulness in every station of life. Many of them are sickly, and few of them are able to endure the slightest hardships. To show that this is the fault of their education, we need only refer to the condition of those young women whose circumstances in life render it necessary for them to labor. In most cases, they possess hale and vigorous constitutions, and are even more capable of enduring hardships than most men of sedentary habits. There may be some exceptions to this remark; but, in these cases, we know not what other causes have contributed to a contrary result. As a general fact, I think the remark will hold good; though it is equally true that excessive labor and exposure, in the period of youth, often destroy the health. I do not see how the delicate training to which I have alluded can be reconciled with Christian principle. If we have devoted ourselves to the Lord, it is our duty not only to do all the good we can in the world, but to make ourselves capable of doing as much as possible. The man in the parable was condemned for not improving and increasing his talent. Anything, then, which has a tendency to diminish our usefulness should be regarded as sin. Exposure to all kinds of weather has this advantage also—it renders a person much less likely to take cold, and, of course, less subject to sickness; for a great proportion of diseases owe their origin to common colds.

No part of a code of health is of more importance than exercise. Without it, everything else will fail. And it is as necessary that it should be regular, every day, and at nearly the same hours every day, as it is that meals should be regular. We might as well omit eating for a day as to neglect exercise. The one is as necessary as the other to promote the regular operations of the physical functions.

But, when your situation will admit of it, I would advise you to take a portion of your exercise in those domestic employments which require vigorous exertion. If you open your windows, you will have the fresh air; at the same time, you will enjoy the satisfaction of rendering your hours of relaxation useful.

Every lady, whatever may be her situation in life, ought to have a practical knowledge of household affairs; and no one will be any the less respected by those whose opinion is worth caring for, on account of employing her hands in any department of housekeeping. Nor will any young lady be more highly esteemed for avoiding labors of this kind, especially if the labors and cares of her mother should in consequence be increased.

V. Bathe frequently. About five-eighths of the food taken into the stomach passes off, by insensible perspiration, through the pores of the skin; and with it is thrown off whatever impure matter is found in any part of the system. When this perspiration is obstructed, general derangement succeeds. It is chiefly to promote this, that exercise is required. But the matter thrown off is of a very poisonous nature, and, if not removed, may be absorbed again into the system. It also collects upon the surface, and obstructs the regular discharge from the pores. Frequent bathing is, therefore, highly necessary.

It is also essential to personal cleanliness. There is an odor in this insensible perspiration, which becomes offensive when the impurities collecting upon the surface of the skin are not frequently removed. The entire surface of the body should be washed every day; and, if this is done, on rising in the morning, with cold water, and followed by brisk rubbing with a coarse towel, it will furnish an effectual safeguard against taking cold. This, however, should be omitted when there is any danger to be apprehended from the sudden application of cold, or serious consequences may follow. Warm water, with soap, should occasionally be used at night, in order to remove all impurities from the skin.

VI. Pay attention to the quality and quantity of FOOD taken into the stomach. Nothing more necessarily affects both the health of the body and the vigor of the intellect. It is from this that the blood is formed, and the continual waste of the system supplied. And through the blood it acts on the brain, which is supposed to be the seat of the intellect. Yet, notwithstanding this, those whose peculiar province it is to direct the preparation of our food, seldom inquire into the chemical effect any such preparation may have upon the stomach, and, through it, upon the whole system. Indeed, the business is generally left to people entirely ignorant of chemistry and the principles which govern the human constitution. It is no wonder, then, that a large proportion of our culinary preparations are decidedly unfriendly to it. But, in relation to this matter, I cannot here be very particular. I will only give some general rules, by which you may discover the bounds of moderation, and what articles of food ought to be avoided.

The effect of an excessive quantity of food is first felt by an uneasiness and oppressive fullness of the stomach. These are succeeded by a general distention or fullness of the blood-vessels, particularly about the head, general lassitude, sluggishness and dullness of intellect, with a great aversion to mental effort. These sensations are accompanied by a general uneasiness throughout the whole system, with more or less pain. It also seriously affects the temper. It makes people fretful, impatient, and peevish. The best disposition may be ruined by the improper indulgence of the appetite. I have been particular in describing these symptoms, because people are often subject to many uncomfortable sensations, for which they cannot account, but which might be traced to this source. A large share of our unpleasant feelings probably arise either from the improper quality or excessive quantity of the food taken into the stomach; and the bounds of moderation are more frequently exceeded by all classes of people than many imagine. But, for a more full examination of this subject, I must again refer you to the works of judicious writers on health, and the means of preserving it. This is a matter so intimately connected with the sphere of a lady's influence, that every female should give it a careful examination.

Take care to observe those articles of food which you find injurious, and avoid them. Observe, also, as nearly as you can, the quantity which agrees with your stomach, and see that you never exceed it. Take no food between your regular meals. The stomach is employed from three to five hours in digesting a meal; and if more food is taken during that time, it disturbs and impedes digestion, making it more laborious. And, after one meal is digested, the stomach needs rest before another is taken. In connection with these general hints, attention to the two following rules will generally be sufficient—

1. Avoid highly-seasoned food, hot condiments, and stimulating drinks.

2. Select the simplest dishes, and make your meal of a single course. Mixed dishes are more likely to be injurious; and a second course will almost certainly lead to excess.

But do not give your attention so much to this subject as to become contentious. The imagination has a great influence upon physical feeling; and, if you are always watching the digestion of your food, you will be sure to find dyspeptic symptoms; and, by humoring your stomach too much, you will weaken its capacity of accommodating itself to the kind of nutriment it receives. Having fixed your principles of regimen, adhere to them as rigidly as you can without inconvenience to others. But, having done this, let your mind dwell as little as possible on the subject, and do not make it a matter of frequent conversation. Especially do not make trouble to the friends who entertain you, when away from home, by excessive particularity. You may find some wholesome dish on the most luxurious table; and, if the table is lean, you need not fear.

As we are commanded, whether we eat or drink, or whatever we do, to do all to the glory of God, it may not be amiss to inquire how we may glorify God in eating and drinking.

1. We may eat for the purpose of strengthening our bodies, to enable us to engage in the active service of the Lord.

2. When we partake, in moderation, of the bounties of Providence, it is right that our animal appetites should be feasted with the delicious taste of the fruits of the earth. But we must see the glory of God in it. Here the benevolence of his character shines forth in the wonderful provision which he has made for the gratification of our appetites. Hence we may argue the ineffable sweetness of the bread of life—the food of the soul. This mortal body is but a tent pitched in the wilderness, for the residence of the soul during its pilgrimage. If, then, God has opened the treasures of the animal and vegetable kingdoms to please the mere bodily taste—how much more abundant the provision for feasting the soul with pure spiritual food—with eternally-increasing knowledge of the divine character and perfections! But we cannot so partake of those rich and hurtful dainties invented by man. The delight thus experienced is the glory of man, not of God. And the effect produced is the destruction of those delicate organs of taste, which he has provided that we may discern the exquisite sweetness of the natural fruits of the earth. By the same means, also, we destroy our health, and unfit ourselves for his service. 3. But I suppose the apostle had in his mind chiefly the idea of acknowledging God when we partake of his bounty, and of honoring him by doing everything in obedience to his commands. Strict and intelligent regard to these points would generally direct us aright in the matter of eating and drinking.

Do not, by any means, think this subject beneath your attention. The greatest and best of men have made it a matter of practical study. Those who have given us the brightest specimens of intellectual effort have been remarkable for rigorous attention to their diet. Among them may be mentioned Sir Isaac Newton, John Locke, and Jonathan Edwards. Temperance is one of the fruits of the Spirit. It is, therefore, the duty of every Christian to know the bounds of moderation in all things, and to practice accordingly. But it may be necessary to throw in a caution here against excessive abstinence. There is a strong tendency, especially in the ardor of youth, to carry everything to extremes. It is a dangerous experiment to live so low as to enfeeble the physical powers. You may, from such imprudence, suffer through life; or, if attacked with an acute disease when the system is very much reduced, there is no room for depletion, and recovery is extremely difficult.

VII. As much as possible, avoid taking medicine. The practice of resorting to remedies for every unpleasant feeling cannot be too strongly reprobated. Medicine should be regarded as a choice of two evils: it may throw off a violent attack of disease, and save life; but it must inevitably, in a greater or less degree, impair the constitution. Medicine is unnatural and unfriendly to the human system. Its very effect, which is to disturb the regular operation of the bodily functions, proves this. But, when violent disease is seated upon any part, this may be necessary; and the injury received from the medicine may be minimal, in comparison with the consequences which would follow if the disease were left to take its course. In such cases, the physician should be called immediately, as delay may be fatal. But the great secret lies in avoiding such attacks by a scrupulous attention to the laws of nature. Such attacks may generally be traced either to violent colds, or the interruption of some of the regular functions of the body. The most important of these may, with proper attention, be brought almost entirely under the control of habit; and all of them may generally be preserved in healthy action by prudence and care, and proper attention to diet and exercise. But careless and negligent habits in these respects will ruin the most hardy constitution, and bring on a train of disorders equally detrimental to mind and body. But, in most cases of moderate, protracted disease, a return to the regular system of living according to nature will gradually restore lost health; or, in other words, a strict examination will discover some violation of the principles of the human constitution as the cause of derangement; and, by correcting this error, nature will gradually recover its lost energies, and restore soundness to the part affected.

It is proper, however, to remark, in qualification of the foregoing observations, that we are living in a world of death. Sin has deranged the course of nature, and the very elements have turned against us. The seeds of disease are often propagated by hereditary descent. The stimulating causes of disease are floating on the breeze, and concealed in the food and drink which we take to nourish our bodies. It is not always possible, therefore, to trace the origin of a particular disease; nor is it always our own fault when we are sick. But our wisdom is, as much as possible, by the care we take of ourselves, not to excite the latent diseases which lurk within us, and to avoid everything which we know tends to their development. It is, therefore, important that we study our own constitution. For this purpose, it may be of great benefit to consult a skillful physician—even in apparent health.

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