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LVIII. Useful Hints for Learning to Swim. By Benjamin Franklin,
LL.D. F.R.S. In a Letter to a Friend. DEAR SIR, I CANNOT be of opinion with you, that it is too late in life for you to learn to swim ; the river near the bottom of your garden, affords a most convenient place for the purpose. And, as your new employment requires your being often on the water, of which you have such a dread, I think you would do well to make the trial; nothing being so likely io remove those apprehensions, as the consciousness of an ability to swim to the shore in case of an accident, or of supporting yourself in the water till a boat could come to
I do not know how far corks or bladders may be useful in learning to swim, having never seen much trial of them. Possibly they may be of service in supporting the body while you are 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 some confidence in the power of the water to support you; I would, therefore, advise the acquiring that confidence in the first place, especially as I have known several who, by a little of the practice necessary for that purpose, have insensibly acquired the stroke, taught as it were by nature.
The practice I mean is this ; chusing a place where the water deepens gradually, walk coolly into it till it is up to your breast, then turn round your face to the shore, and throw an egg into the water, between you and the shore ; it will sink to the bottom, and be easily seen there, as your water is clear. It must lie in the water so deep as that you cannot reach it to take it up but by diving for it. To encourage yourself in order to do this, reflect that your progress will be from deeper to shallower 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 for. ward till within reach of it. In this attempt 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 afterwards used in swinming 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 the directions I gave you relating to it. The surprise may put all out of your mind. For, though we value our. selves 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 scarcely a glimmer. ing 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 possi. bly imprint them so in your memory, as, on occasion, to be of some ųse to you.
First, that, 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 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, whilst the mouth and nostrils are under water.
2dly, 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.
3dly, That, therefore, a person throwing himself on his back in salt water, and extending his arms, inay 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.
4thly; That, in fresh water, if a man throws himself on
bis back, near the surface, he cannot long continue in that situation, but by a proper action of his hands on the water, If he uses no such action, the legs and lower part of the body will gradually siuk till he comes into an upright posi, tion, in which he will continue suspended, the hollow of the breast keeping the head uppermost.
5thly, But if in this erect position the head is kept upright above the shoulders, as when we stand on the ground, the inmersion 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 bis head in that position.
6thly, The body continued suspended as before, and upright, if the head be leaned quite back, so that the face looks upwards, all the back part of the head being then under water, and its weight, consequently, in a great mea. sure 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 as that the water may come over the mouth.
7thly, 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 oc, casion, but learn fairly to swim, as I wish all men were taught to do in their youth ; they would, on many occur, rences, be the safer for having 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 whole. some an exercise. Soldiers particularly should, methinks, all be taught to swim; it might be of frequent use either in şurprising an enemy, or saving themselves. And, if I now had 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.
I am, &c.
LIX. Account of the Burning a Gentoo Woman with her deceased
Broomhead. IT being asserted by Mr. Guthrie, in his Geographical Grammar, and some other authors, that the custom of the Gentoo women burning themselves with their deceased hus. bands was disused in India, I desire you would insert the following Extract of a Letter from Mr. Joseph Wilson, at Azumabad, (lately called Cansbang,) in the kingdom of Bengal, by which it appears that custom is yet kept up and practised, in your next Magazine. I give it in his own words. It is dated March 1, 1777.
“ I was last September an eye-witness to a Gentoo woman burning with her husband; and as I stood by all the time, and took notes of all that passed, you may depend upon the following narration to be strictly true; I mean the ceremonies that were used by these people, who had always got their bread by their labour, and indeed were so very poor, that the son was obliged to go from house to house to beg fire-wood to burn them with: the richer people are more curious, and have their piles made of a sweet-scented wood called sandal, and much larger than the people I am speaking of can possibly afford.
“ The Account of Jananca, Wife of Otram Gose, who was
burnt alive with her Husband, Sept. 2, 1776, at the Head of the Bazaar, at Cansbang.
“ As soon as her husband was given over by the Doctor, she sent for a Bramin, and declared her intentions to burn herself, son, and daughter, (which' was the whole of the family together,) which some neighbours endeavoured as much as possible to dissuade her from, but all to no purpose, and from that time she refused eating any thing, except a few plantains and betel-nuts. She sent for all her friends, who staid with her all night, and with whom she was very merry. In the morning the man died, and his son came to me to ask leave to burn his father and mother in the Bazaar
(or market-place,) as it belongs to the plantation, and is close to my house. I told him, very well ; but that I should take care no force was used to make her burn against her will. He told me he was so far from forcing, that he had offered her two rupees a month for life; but yet could not help saying it would reflect an honour on his family for his mother to burn. The man was scarcely cold before he and his wife were carried upon men's shoulders, she sitting by him; and having provided herself with some couries (small shells which go current for money here,) she distributed them amongst the
populace, together with rice fried in butter and sugar, very plentifully, as she passed from her house to the place of burning; where, when she arrived, they had not begun to make the pile: so she was set down, too gether with her dead husband, and gave several orders to the people in making the pile, and was so far from being in the least afraid, that she rejoiced much. I went up to her, and asked her, if it was her own free will and consent? She told me it was, and that she was much obliged to me for giving her liberty to burn in that place, and desired I would not offer to oppose it, as she would certainly make away with herself, was she prevented. She sat there, talking with her friends and neighbours, till the pile was ready, which was above an hour, and then went a little distance off, where the deceased was also carried, and were both washed with Ganges water, and had clean clothes put on them. The son of the deceased then put a painted paper crown, or cap, on his father's head, of the same kind as is usual for them to wear at their marriages; and a Bramin woman brought four lamps burning, and put one of them into the woman's hand, and placed the other three round her upon the ground : all the time she held the lamp in her hand the Bramin woman was repeating some prayers to her ; which, when finished, she put a garland of Howers round her head, and then
gave the son of the deceased, who was standing close by, a ring made of brass, which she put upon one of his fingers, and an earthen plate full of boiled rice and plantains mixed up together, which he immediately offered to his deceased father, putting it three times to his mouth, and then in the same manner to his mother, who did not taste it. The deceased was supported all this time, and set upon his breech close by his wife, who never spoke after this, but made three selams to her husband, by putting her hands upon the soles of his feet, and then upon her own head. The deceased was then carried away and laid upon the pile, and his wife immediately followed, with a pot under her arm, containing twenty-one couries, twenty-one pieces of saffron, twenty