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Are We A Dying Race?

Creator: J.H. Kellogg (author)
Date: 1897
Source: Wellesley College Archives

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Another mischief-working influence to which the attention of physicians is constantly drawn is that to which the eminent Darwin forcibly calls attention in the following words: "A man scans with scrupulous care the character and pedigree of his horses, cattle, and dogs before mating them; but when it comes to his own marriage, he rarely or never takes any such care." In a paper read before the Academy of Medicine at Buffalo, a few months ago, Dr. Rulison gave statistics showing clearly that the criminal, the insane, and the defective classes are increasing at a most alarming rate. To use his own words: "The unhealthy and vicious class is increasing more rapidly than the desirable one. In the days of Malthus the danger lay in the population's increasing more rapidly than the means of subsistence; this danger no longer threatens, but a more serious one, in the survival and overwhelming increase of imperfect physical and mental beings."


Dr. Rulison suggests as a remedy that in every community a medical examining board should be constituted, and that society should be divided into three classes: first, those who are physically, mentally, and morally sound, having good habits and no hereditary disease for at least three preceding generations; second, those having the same physical qualifications, but with a family history extending back only to their grandparents; third, those not included in the preceding classes. He would have such laws enacted as would prohibit the intermarriage of persons of different classes. The effect of this would be to create an aristocracy of health. The inquiry would be, not, "How much is the young man or young woman worth in bonds, bank stock, or real estate?" but, "How much is he worth within himself?" not, "How much gold does he expect to inherit?" but, "What sort of a constitution has he inherited?" Royal blood would thus be red blood, and not blue blood. When the importance of these facts, to both the individual and to the race, comes to be recognized fully, it will result in the establishment of a nobility of health, rather than a nobility based upon wealth or position.


Dr. Rulison's idea respecting the regulation of marriage by law is doubtless Utopian and impracticable, but this is true only because the importance of this matter is neither understood nor appreciated, and is not likely to receive due recognition for a long time to come.


So-called luxuries and unhealthful recreations are certainly chargeable with no inconsiderable share of the damage inflicted upon our degenerating race. Superfluities in diet, so-called dainty foods, rich, complicated, and consequently indigestible dishes, -- pies and desserts, the rich sauces and entrées innumerable in name and composition, but nearly uniform in indigestibility, -- are just about as well adapted to the making of bones and brains and muscles as to the making of a house.


Some years ago an itinerant clergyman, traveling through a Western State, spent the night with a farmer, and in the morning sat down with the rest around the breakfast table, to prepare for the long horseback journey which lay before him. The host invited him to ask a blessing upon the food about to be eaten. The reverend gentleman glanced over the table, taking a mental inventory of the food prepared for the dozen hungry mouths awaiting it. There were hot biscuits steaming from the oven, semitransparent with lard and yellow with saleratus; there were savory mince-pies, rich preserves, pickles green as grass, coffee black as ink, fried pork, fried eggs, fried potatoes, and a generous supply of doughnuts on the sideboard. Pausing a moment, after his survey of the indigestible viands, with a solemn voice the clergyman said, "Friends, this breakfast is not worth a blessing," and concluding that a breakfast not worth a blessing was not worth eating, he went on his journey without it. The farmer doubtless considered the blunt preacher a very ungrateful guest, and it is doubtful whether the lesson was of any practical value to him; but certain it is that a great share of the breakfasts and dinners eaten are not fit to be blessed or to be swallowed.


Theater-going, fashionable parties, and the giddy round of so-called pleasures furnish another cause which has ruined the constitutions of thousands of men and women. The wholesome, simple, sensible measures of our grandparents are no longer tolerated by the precocious youth of the present day.


Another most important factor in the deterioration of civilized races is to be found in the unnatural conditions imposed during the school-going period of life, -- many long hours spent in poring over books, sitting in an unnatural posture in an overheated and ill-ventilated schoolroom, the cramming system too much in vogue in all public schools, the distaste which the cultivated habit of inactivity develops for vigorous muscular work, together with wrong conceptions of life which are the natural result of our medieval system of education, turn out, every year, at the season for college and university commencements, a growing army of school cripples, lean, cadaverous young men and women, "sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought," and maimed for life unless an unusually vigorous constitution or extraordinarily favorable circumstances enable them to recover from the damaging influences to which they have been subjected.

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