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John Locke (1632–1704). Some Thoughts Concerning Education.
The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.

Some Thoughts Concerning Education

Sections 21–30

§ 21. Of all that looks soft and effeminate, nothing is more to be indulg’d children, than sleep. In this alone they are to be permitted to have their full satisfaction; nothing contributing more to the growth and health of children, than sleep. All that is to be regulated in it, is, in what part of the twenty-four hours they should take it; which will easily be resolved, by only saying that it is of great use to accustom ’em to rise early in the morning. It is best so to do, for health; and he that, from his childhood, has, by a settled custom, made rising betimes easy and familiar to him, will not, when he is a man, waste the best and most useful part of his life in drowsiness, and lying a-bed. If children therefore are to be call’d up early in the morning, it will follow of course, that they must go to bed betimes; whereby they will be accustom’d to avoid the unhealthy and unsafe hours of debauchery, which are those of the evenings; and they who keep good hours, seldom are guilty of any great disorders. I do not say this, as if your son, when grown up, should never be in company past eight, nor ever chat over a glass of wine ’till midnight. You are now, by the accustoming of his tender years, to indispose him to those inconveniences as much as you can; and it will be no small advantage, that contrary practice having made sitting up uneasy to him, it will make him often avoid, and very seldom propose midnight-revels. But if it should not reach so far, but fashion and company should prevail, and make him live as others do above twenty, ’tis worth the while to accustom him to early rising and early going to bed, between this and that, for the present improvement of his health and other advantages.

Though I have said, a large allowance of sleep, even as much as they will take, should be made to children when they are little; yet I do not mean, that it should always be continued to them in so large a proportion, and they suffer’d to indulge a drowsy laziness in their bed, as they grow up bigger. But whether they should begin to be restrained at seven or ten years old, or any other time, is impossible to be precisely determined. Their tempers, strength, and constitutions, must be consider’d. But some time between seven and fourteen, if they are too great lovers of their beds, I think it may be seasonable to begin to reduce them by degrees to about eight hours, which is generally rest enough for healthy grown people. If you have accustom’d him, as you should do, to rise constantly very early in the morning, this fault of being too long in bed will easily be reform’d, and most children will be forward enough to shorten that time themselves, by coveting to sit up with the company at night; tho’ if they be not look’d after, they will be apt to take it out in the morning, which should by no means be permitted. They should constantly be call’d up and made to rise at their early hour; but great care should be taken in waking them, that it be not done hastily, nor with a loud or shrill voice, or any other sudden violent noise. This often affrights children, and does them great harm; and sound sleep thus broke off, with sudden alarms, is apt enough to discompose any one. When children are to be waken’d out of their sleep, be sure to begin with a low call, and some gentle motion, and so draw them out of it by degrees, and give them none but kind words and usage, ’till they are come perfectly to themselves, and being quite dress’d you are sure they are thoroughly awake. The being forc’d from their sleep, how gently so ever you do it, is pain enough to them; and care should be taken not to add any other uneasiness to it, especially such that may terrify them.

§ 22. Let his bed be hard, and rather quilts than feathers. Hard lodging strengthens the parts; whereas being bury’d every night in feathers melts and dissolves the body, is often the cause of weakness, and forerunner of an early grave. And, besides the stone, which has often its rise from this warm wrapping of the reins, several other indispositions, and that which is the root of them all, a tender weakly constitution, is very much owing to down-beds. Besides, he that is used to hard lodging at home, will not miss his sleep (where he has most need of it) in his travels abroad, for want of his soft bed, and his pillows laid in order. And therefore, I think it would not be amiss, to make his bed after different fashions, sometimes lay his head higher, sometimes lower, that he may not feel every little change he must be sure to meet with, who is not design’d to lie always in my young master’s bed at home, and to have his maid lay all things in print, and tuck him in warm. The great cordial of nature is sleep. He that misses that, will suffer by it; and he is very unfortunate, who can take his cordial only in his mother’s fine gilt cup, and not in a wooden dish. He that can sleep soundly, takes the cordial; and it matters not whether it be on a soft bed or the hard boards. ’Tis sleep only that is the thing necessary.

§ 23. One thing more there is, which has a great influence upon the health, and that is, going to stool regularly; people that are very loose, have seldom strong thoughts, or strong bodies. But the cure of this, both by diet and medicine, being much more easy than the contrary evil, there needs not much to be said about it; for if it come to threaten, either by its violence or duration, it will soon enough, and sometimes too soon, make a physician be sent for; and if it be moderate or short, it is commonly best to leave it to nature. On the other side, costiveness has too its ill effects, and is much harder to be dealt with by physick; purging medicines, which seem to give relief, rather increasing them than removing the evil.

§ 24. It being an indisposition I had a particular reason to enquire into, and not finding the cure of it in books, I set my thoughts on work, believing that greater changes than that might be made in our bodies, if we took the right course, and proceeded by rational steps.

1. Then I consider’d, that going to stool, was the effect of certain motions of the body; especially of the peristaltick motion of the guts.

2. I consider’d that several motions, that were not perfectly voluntary, might yet, by use and constant application, be brought to be habitual, if by an unintermitted custom they were at certain seasons endeavour’d to be constantly produced.

3. I had observ’d some men, who by taking after supper a pipe of tobacco, never fail’d of a stool, and began to doubt with myself, whether it were not more custom, than the tobacco, that gave them the benefit of nature; or at least, if the tobacco did it, it was rather by exciting a vigorous motion in the guts, than by any purging quality; for then it would have had other effects.

Having thus once got the opinion that it was possible to make it habitual, the next thing was to consider what way and means was the likeliest to obtain it.

4. Then I guess’d, that if a man, after his first eating in the morning, would presently solicit nature, and try whether he could strain himself so as to obtain a stool, he might in time, by constant application, bring it to be habitual.

§ 25. The reasons that made me chuse this time, were,

1. Because the stomach being then empty, if it receiv’d any thing grateful to it (for I would never, but in case of necessity, have any one eat but what he likes, and when he has an appetite) it was apt to embrace it close by a strong constriction of its fibres; which constriction, I suppos’d, might probably be continu’d on in the guts, and so increase their peristaltick motion, as we see in the Ileus, that an inverted motion, being begun any where below, continues itself all the whole length, and makes even the stomach obey that irregular motion.

2. Because when men eat, they usually relax their thoughts, and the spirits then, free from other employments, are more vigorously distributed into the lower belly, which thereby contribute to the same effect.

3. Because, whenever men have leisure to eat, they have leisure enough also to make so much court to Madam Cloacina, as would be necessary to our present purpose; but else, in the variety of human affairs and accidents, it was impossible to affix it to any hour certain, whereby the custom would be interrupted. Whereas men in health seldom failing to eat once a day, tho’ the hour chang’d, the custom might still be preserv’d.

§ 26. Upon these grounds the experiment began to be try’d, and I have known none who have been steady in the prosecution of it, and taken care to go constantly to the necessary-house, after their first eating, whenever that happen’d, whether they found themselves call’d on or no, and there endeavoured to put nature upon her duty, but in a few months they obtain’d the desired success, and brought themselves to so regular an habit, that they seldom ever fail’d of a stool after their first eating, unless it were by their own neglect: for, whether they have any motion or no, if they go to the place, and do their part, they are sure to have nature very obedient.

§ 27. I would therefore advise, that this course should be taken with a child every day presently after he has eaten his breakfast. Let him be set upon the stool, as if disburthening were as much in his power as filling his belly; and let not him or his maid know any thing to the contrary, but that it is so; and if he be forc’d to endeavour, by being hinder’d from his play or eating again ’till he has been effectually at stool, or at least done his utmost, I doubt not but in a little while it will become natural to him. For there is reason to suspect, that children being usually intent on their play, and very heedless of any thing else, often let pass those motions of nature, when she calls them but gently; and so they, neglecting the seasonable offers, do by degrees bring themselves into an habitual costiveness. That by this method costiveness may be prevented, I do more than guess; having known by the constant practice of it for some time, a child brought to have a stool regularly after his breakfast every morning.

§ 28. How far any grown people will think fit to make trial of it, must be left to them; tho’ I cannot but say, that considering the many evils that come from that defect, of a requisite easing of nature, I scarce know any thing more conducing to the preservation of health, than this is. Once in four and twenty hours, I think is enough; and no body, I guess, will think it too much. And by this means it is to be obtain’d without physick, which commonly proves very ineffectual in the cure of a settled and habitual costiveness.

§ 29. This is all I have to trouble you with concerning his management in the ordinary course of his health. Perhaps it will be expected from me, that I should give some directions of physick, to prevent diseases; for which I have only this one, very sacredly to be observ’d, never to give children any physick for prevention. The observation of what I have already advis’d, will, I suppose, do that better than the ladies’ diet-drinks or apothecaries’ medicines. Have a great care of tampering that way, lest, instead of preventing, you draw on diseases. Nor even upon every little indisposition is physick to be given, or the physician to be call’d to children, especially if he be a busy man, that will presently fill their windows with gally-pots, and their stomachs with drugs. It is safer to leave them wholly to nature, than to put ’em into the hands of one forward to tamper, or that thinks children are to be cur’d, in ordinary distempers, by any thing but diet, or by a method very little distant from it: it seeming suitable both to my reason and experience, that the tender constitutions of children should have as little done to them as is possible, and as the absolute necessity of the case requires. A little cold-still’d red poppy-water, which is the true surfeit-water with ease, and abstinence from flesh, often puts an end to several distempers in the beginning, which, by too forward applications, might have been made lusty diseases. When such a gentle treatment will not stop the growing mischief, nor hinder it from turning into a form’d disease, it will be time to seek the advice of some sober and discreet physician. In this part, I hope, I shall find an easy belief; and no body can have a pretence to doubt the advice of one who has spent some time in the study of physick, when he counsels you not to be too forward in making use of physick and physicians.

§ 30. And thus I have done with what concerns the body and health, which reduces itself to these few and easy observable rules: plenty of open air, exercise, and sleep, plain diet, no wine or strong drink, and very little or no physick, not too warm and strait clothing, especially the head and feet kept cold, and the feet often us’d to cold water, and expos’d to wet.