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Source: The Book Of Sports
Category: SWIMMING.

No boy should be unable to swim, because it is essential to the
preservation of life; but the attainment of the art has been held to be
difficult, and the number of good swimmers is very small. The whole
science of swimming consists in multiplying the surface of the body by
extensive motions, so as to displace a greater quantity of liquid. As
the first requisite of oratory was said to be action; the second,
action; and the third, action; so the first, second, and the third
requisite in learning to swim, is COURAGE. Now there is a vast
difference between courage and temerity; courage proceeds from
confidence, temerity, from carelessness; courage is calm and collected,
temerity is headstrong and rash; courage ventures into the water
carefully, and throws himself off with a firm and vigorous lounge
forward, and a slow and equable stroke; temerity begins to dive before
he knows whether he can swim or sink, and after floundering about for a
minute or two, finds that he can swim farthest where it is deepest.
Therefore, let the young swimmer mark the distinction between courage
and temerity, and he will speedily become a swimmer.

Before, however, we proceed to offer any remarks on swimming as an art,
we cannot refrain from calling the attention of our young friends to the
observations of a celebrated medical doctor who has thought profoundly
on the subject. "Immersion in cold water," says he, "is a custom which
lays claim to the most remote antiquity; indeed it must be coeval with
man himself. The necessity of water for the purpose of cleanliness, and
the pleasure arising from its application in hot countries, must have
very early recommended it to the human species; even the example of
other animals was sufficient to give the hint to man; by instinct many
of them are led to apply cold water in this manner, and some, when
deprived of its use, have been known to languish, and even to die."

The cold bath recommends itself in a variety of cases, and is peculiarly
beneficial to the inhabitants of populous cities who indulge in idleness
and lead sedentary lives: it accelerates the motion of the blood,
promotes the different secretions, and gives permanency to the solids.
But all these important purposes will be more easily answered by the
application of salt water; this also ought not only to be preferred on
account of its superior gravity, but also, "for its greater power of
stimulating the skin, which prevents the patient from catching cold."

It is necessary, however, to observe, that cold bathing is more likely
to prevent than to remove obstructions of the glandular or lymphatic
system; indeed, when these have arrived at a certain height, they are
not to be removed by any means; in this case, the cold bath will only
aggravate the symptoms, and hurry the unhappy patient into an untimely
grave. It is, therefore, of the utmost importance, previously to the
patient entering upon the use of the cold bath, to determine whether or
not he labours under any obstinate obstruction of the lungs or other
viscera, and when this is the case, cold bathing ought strictly to be

In what is called a plethoric state, or too great fulness of the body,
it is likewise dangerous to use the cold bath without due preparation.
In this case, there is danger of bursting a blood-vessel, or occasioning
an inflammation.

The ancient Romans and Greeks, we are told, when covered with sweat and
dust, used to plunge into rivers without receiving the smallest injury.
Though they might escape danger from this imprudent conduct, yet it was
certainly contrary to sound reason; many robust men have thrown away
their lives by such an attempt. We would not, however, advise patients
to go in the cold water when the body is chilled; as much exercise at
least ought to be taken as may excite a gentle glow all over the body,
but by no means so as to overheat it.

To young people, and particularly to children, cold bathing is of the
utmost importance; it promotes their growth, increases their strength,
and prevents a variety of diseases incident to childhood.

It is necessary here to caution young men against too frequent bathing,
as many fatal consequences have resulted from the daily practice of
plunging into rivers, and continuing there too long.

The most proper time of the day for using the cold bath is, no doubt,
the morning, or at least before dinner, and the best mode, that of quick
immersion. As cold bathing has a tendency to propel the blood to the
head, it ought always to be a rule to wet that part as soon as possible.
By due attention to this circumstance, there is reason to believe that
violent head-aches, and other complaints which frequently proceed from
cold bathing, might be often prevented.

The cold bath, when too long continued, not only occasions an excessive
flux towards the head, but chills the blood, cramps the muscles, relaxes
the nerves, and wholly defeats the intention of bathing; hence expert
swimmers are often injured, and sometimes lose their lives. All the
beneficial purposes of cold bathing are answered by one immersion at a
time, and the patient ought to be rubbed dry the moment he comes out of
the water, and should continue to take exercise some time after.

Doctor Franklin, who was almost always a practical man, says, "that the
only obstacle to improvement in this necessary and life-preserving art,
is fear; and it is only by overcoming this timidity, that you can expect
to become a master of the following acquirements. It is very common for
novices in the art of swimming, to make use of corks or bladders to
assist in keeping the body above the water; some have utterly condemned
the use of them. However, they may be of service for supporting the body
while one is learning what is called the stroke, or that manner of
drawing in and striking out the hands and feet that is necessary to
produce progressive motion; but you will be no swimmer till you can
place confidence in the power of the water to support you. I would
therefore advise the acquiring that confidence in the first place, as I
have known several who, by a little practice necessary for that purpose,
have insensibly acquired the stroke, taught as if it were by nature. The
practice I mean, is this--choosing a place where the water deepens
gradually, walk coolly in it until it is up to your breast, then turn
your face towards the shore and throw an egg into the water between you
and the shore, it will sink to the bottom and will easily be seen there
if the water is clear; it must lie in the water so deep that you cannot
reach to take it up without diving for it. To encourage yourself to do
this, reflect that your progress will be from deep to shallow water, and
that at any time you may, by bringing your legs under you and standing
on the bottom, raise your head far above the water; plunge under it with
your eyes open, which must be kept open before going under, as you
cannot open your eyelids from the weight of water above you, throw
yourself towards the egg and endeavour by the action of your feet and
hands against the water, to get forward till within reach of it. In this
attempt you will find that the water buoys you up against your
inclination, and that it is not so easy to sink as you imagine, and
that you cannot, but by active force, get down to the egg. Thus you feel
the power of water to support you, and learn to confide in that power,
while your endeavours to overcome it and to reach the egg, teach you the
manner of acting on the water with your feet and hands, which action is
afterwards used in swimming to support your head higher above the water,
or to go forward through it.

"I would the more earnestly press upon you the trial of this method,
because, though I think I shall satisfy you that your body is lighter
than water, and that you might float for a long time with your mouth
free for breathing, if you would put yourself into a proper posture, and
would be still and forbear struggling, yet till you have obtained this
experimental confidence in the water, I cannot depend upon your having
the necessary presence of mind to recollect the posture and the
directions I gave you relating to it; the surprise may put all out of
your mind.

"Though the legs, arms, and head of a human body, being solid parts, are
specifically somewhat heavier than fresh water, yet the trunk,
particularly the upper part, from its hollowness, is so much lighter
than water, as that the whole of the body, taken altogether, is too
light to sink wholly under water, but that some parts will remain above
until the lungs become filled with water, which happens from drawing
water to them instead of air, when a person in the fright attempts
breathing while the mouth and nostrils are under water.

"The legs and arms are specifically lighter than salt water, and will be
supported by it, so that a human body cannot sink in salt water, though
the lungs were filled as above, but for the greater specific gravity of
the head. Therefore, a person throwing himself on his back in salt
water, and extending his arms, may easily lie so as to keep his mouth
and nostrils free for breathing, and by a small motion of the hand may
prevent turning if he should perceive any tendency to it.

"In fresh water, if a man throw himself on his back near the surface, he
cannot continue in that situation but by proper action of his hands in
the water; if he have no such action, the legs and lower part of the
body will gradually sink till he comes into an upright position, in
which he will continue suspended, the hollow of his breast keeping the
head uppermost.

"But if in this erect position, the head be kept upright above the
shoulders, as when we stand on the ground, the immersion will, by the
weight of that part of the head that is out of the water, reach above
the mouth and nostrils, perhaps a little above the eyes, so that a man
cannot long remain suspended in the water with his head in that

"The body continuing suspended, as before, and upright, if the head be
leaned quite back, so that the face look upward, all the back part of
the head being under water, and its weight consequently being in a great
measure supported by it, the face will remain above water quite free for
breathing, will rise an inch higher at every inspiration, and sink as
much at every expiration, but never so low that the water may come over
the mouth.

"If, therefore, a person unacquainted with swimming, falling into the
water, could have presence of mind sufficient to avoid struggling and
plunging, and to let the body take this natural position, he might
continue long safe from drowning, till, perhaps, help should come; for
as to the clothes, their additional weight, when immersed, is very
inconsiderable, the water supporting them, though when he comes out of
the water he would find them very heavy indeed.

"But, as I said before, I would not advise you or any one to depend on
having this presence of mind on such an occasion, but learn fairly to
swim, as I wish all men were taught to do in their youth: they would on
many occasions be the safer for having that skill, and on many more, the
happier, as being free from painful apprehensions of danger, to say
nothing of the enjoyment in so delightful and wholesome an exercise.
Soldiers, particularly, should all be taught to swim; it might be of
particular use either in surprising an enemy or saving themselves, and
if I had any boys to educate, I would prefer those schools in which an
opportunity was afforded for acquiring so advantageous an art, which
when once learned, is never forgotten.

"I know by experience, that it is a great comfort to a swimmer who has a
great distance to go, to turn himself sometimes on his back, and to vary
in other respects the means of procuring a progressive motion.

"When he is seized with the cramp in the leg, the method to drive it
away, is to give the parts affected a sudden, vigorous and violent
shock, which he may do in the air as he swims on his back.

"During the great heats in summer, there is no danger in bathing,
however warm he may be, in rivers which have been thoroughly warmed by
the sun; but to throw one's-self into cold spring water when the body
has been heated by exercise in the sun, is an imprudence which may
prove fatal. I once knew an instance of four young men, who, having
worked at harvest in the heat of the day, with a view of refreshing
themselves, plunged into a spring of cold water; two died upon the spot,
a third next morning, and the fourth recovered with great difficulty. A
copious draught of cold water, in similar circumstances, is frequently
attended with the same effect in North America.

"When I was a boy, I amused myself one day with flying a paper kite, and
approaching the bank of a lake which was near a mile broad, I tied the
string to a stake, and the kite ascended to a very considerable height
above the pond while I was bathing. In a little while, being desirous of
amusing myself with my kite and enjoying at the same time the pleasure
of swimming, I returned, and loosening from the stake the string with
the little stick which was fastened to it, went again into the water,
where I found, that by lying on my back and holding the stick in my
hand, I was drawn along the surface of the water in a very agreeable
manner. Having thus engaged another boy to carry my clothes round the
pond to a place which I pointed out to him on the other side, I began to
cross the pond with my kite, which carried me quite over without the
least fatigue and with the greatest pleasure imaginable. I was only
obliged occasionally to halt a little in my course and resist its
progress, when it appeared that by following too quick I lowered the
kite too much; by doing thus occasionally, I made it rise again. I have
never since that time practised this singular mode of swimming, though I
think it not impossible to cross in this manner from Dover to Calais.
The packet boat is, however, preferable."

Next: Preliminary Exercises In Swimming

Previous: Observations

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