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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. Then plunge under it with your eyes open, throwing yourself towards the egg, and endeavouring, by the action of your hands and feet against the water, to get forward till within reach of it. In this at
mpt you will find that the water buoys you up against your inclination; that it is not so easy a thing to sink as you imagined; that you cannot, but by active force, get down to the egg. Thus you feel the power of the 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 afterward used in swimming to support your head higher above water, or to go forward through it.
I would the more earnestly press you to the trial of this method, because, though I think I satisfied you that your body is lighter than water, and that you might float in it a long time, with your mouth free for breathing, if you would put yourself in a proper posture, and would be still and forbear struggling, yet, till you have obtained this experimental confidence in the water, I cannot depend on your having the necessary presence of mind to recollect that posture and directions I gave you relating to it. The surprise may put all out of your mind. For though we value ourselves on being reasonable, knowing creatures, reason and knowledge seem, on such occasions, to be of little use to us; and the brutes, to whom we allow scarce a glimmering of either, appear to have the advantage of us.
I will, however, take this opportunity of repeating those particulars to you which I mentioned in our last conversation, as, by perusing them at your leisure, you may possibly imprint them so in your memory as, on occasion, to be of some use to you.
1. That though the legs, arms, and head of a human body, being solid parts, are specifically something 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 together, is too light to sink wholly under water, but some part will remain above until the lungs become filled with water, which happens from drawing water into them instead of air, when a person, in the fright, attempts breathing while the mouth and nostrils are under water.
2. That the legs and arms are specifically lighter than salt water, and will be supported by it, so that a human body would not sink in salt water, though the lungs were filled as above, but from the greater specific gravity of the head.
3. That, 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 his hands, may prevent turning if he should perceive any tendency to it.
4. That in fresh water, if a man throws himself on his back near the surface, he cannot long continue in that situation but by proper action of his hands on the water. If he uses 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 the breast keeping the head uppermost.
5. But if, in this erect position, the head is 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 water, reach above the mouth and nostrils, perhaps a little above the eyes, so that a man cannot long remain suspended in water with his head in that position.
6. 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 be. ing then under water, and its weight, consequently, in a great measure supported by it, the face will remain above water quite free for breathing, will rise an inch higher every inspiration, and sink as much every expiration, but never so low that the water may come over the mouth.
7. If, therefore, a person unacquainted with swimming, and falling accidentally 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 would come. For as to the clothes, their additional weight, while immersed, is very inconsiderable, the water supporting it, 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 occurrences, be the safer for hav. ing that skill, and on many more the happier, as freer from painful apprehensions of danger, to say nothing of the enjoyment in so delightful and wholesome an exercise. Soldiers particularly should, methinks, all be taught to swim; it might be of frequent use either in surprising an enemy or saving themselves. And if I had now boys to educate, I should prefer those schools (other things being equal) where an opportunity was afforded for acquiring so advantageous an art, which, once learned, is never forgotten.
To Miss Stephenson.
METHOD OF CONTRACTING CHIMNEYS.-MODESTY IN DIS-,
Craven-street, Saturday evening, past 10. The question you ask me is a very sensible one, and I shall be glad if I can give you a satisfactory
There are two ways of contracting a chimney; one by contracting the opening before the fire, the other by contracting the funnel above the fire. If the funnel above the fire is left open in its full dimensions, and the opening before the fire is contracted, then the coals, I imagine, will burn faster, because more air is directed through the fire, and in a stronger stream ; that air which before passed over it and on each side of it, now passing through it. This is seen in narrow stove chimneys, when a sacheverell or blower is used, which still more contracts the narrow opening. But if the funnel only above the fire is contracted, then, as a less stream of air is passing up the chimney, less must pass through the fire, and, consequently, it should seem that the consuming of the coals would rather be checked than augmented by such contraction. And this will also be the case when both the opening before the fire and the funnel above the fire are contracted, provided the funnel above the fire is more contracted in proportion than the opening before the fire. So, you see, I think you had the best of the argument; and as you, notwithstanding, gave it up in complaisance to the company, I think you had also the best of the dispute. There are few, though convinced, that know how to give up even an error they have been once engaged in maintaining; there is, therefore, the more merit in dropping a contest where one thinks one's self right; it is at least respectful to those we converse with. And, indeed, all our knowledge is so
imperfect, and we are, from a thousand causes, so perpetually subject to mistake and error, that positiveness can scarce ever become even the most knowing; and modesty in advancing any opinion, however plain and true we may suppose it, is always decent, and generally more likely to procure assent. Pope's rule,
To speak, though sure, with seeming diffidence, is therefore a good one; and if I had ever seen in your conversation the least deviation from it, I should earnestly recommend it to your observation I am, &c.,
To M. Dubourg.
OBSERVATIONS ON THE PREVAILING DOCTRINES OF LIFE
* * Your observations on the causes of death, and the experiments which you propose for recalling to life those who appear to be killed by lightning, demonstrate equally your sagacity and your humanity. It appears that the doctrines of life and death, in general, are yet but little understood.
A toad buried in sand will live, it is said, till the sand becomes petrified : and then, being enclosed in the stone, it may still live for we know not how many ages. The facts which are cited in support of this opinion are too numerous and too circumstantial not to deserve a certain degree of credit. As we are accustomed to see all the animals with which we are acquainted eat and drink, it appears to us difficult to conceive how a toad can be supported in such a dungeon : but if we reflect that the necessity of nourishment, which animals experience in their ordinary state, proceeds from the continual waste of their substance by perspiration, it will appear less