|Alken, The Infant|
Well into the 20th century, a great many children did not survive infancy. In this context, the idea of "strengthening" and "hardening" a child makes sense, though we may find some of the practices a little alarming.
A child is constitutionally weak and irritable to a high degree: hence we should endeavour to strengthen, and diminish this irritability, in order to procure it the greatest happiness of life,—a firm body, which may resist all the influence of air and weather. Such management is highly advantageous, as it will enable children, when adults, to support every species of fatigue and hardship...
All attempts to render children hardy, must, therefore, be made by gradual steps. Nature admits of no sudden transitions. For instance, infants should by imperceptible degrees be inured to the cool, and then to the cold bath…
The child's skin is to be kept perfectly clean, by washing its limbs morning and evening, and likewise its neck and ears; beginning with warm water, till, by degrees, he will not only bear, but like to be washed with cold.
After he is a month old, if he has no cough, fever, nor eruption, the bath should be colder and colder, (if the season is mild) and gradually it may be used as it comes from the fountain. After carefully drying the whole body, head, and limbs, another dry soft cloth, a little warmed, should be used gently, to take all the damp from the wrinkles, or fat parts that fold together. Then rub the limbs; but when the body is rubbed, take special care not to press upon the stomach or belly. On these parts, the hands should move in a circle, because the bowels lie in that direction. If the skin is chafed, hair-powder is to be used. The utmost tenderness is necessary in drying the head, and no binding should be made close about it. Squeezing the head, or combing it roughly, may cause dreadful diseases, and even the loss of reason. A small soft brush, lightly applied, is safer than a comb. Clean clothes every morning and evening, will tend greatly to a child's health and comfort.—The Female's Friend, and General Domestic Adviser 1837
Image: Thomas Henry Alken, The Infant, from Shakespeare’s Seven Ages of Man (1824), courtesy Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Fund.
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