People, with a few unfortunate exceptions, have each two hands. We should not mention this fact, were it not that in the education of youths, only one seems to be generally considered. Children are told to hold their knives in the right hand when cutting their food, and when this necessary operation is completed, to lay it down and use their forks while eating, still employing the right hand. The only further instruction they receive in regard to the left hand, is to keep it clean in common with the right hand, and not to get into the habit of thrusting it into their pockets. They are taught that whenever one hand only is required, the preference is to be given to the right. Thus the left hand is, with the large majority of people, a comparatively useless member, employed only to supplement the other in all manual operations. Without pausing to inquire into the origin of this senseless custom, it is sufficient for our purpose to say that it has no foundation in the anatomy of the hand, or in any natural peculiarity of the human mind. To the anatomist both hands are alike gifted by nature, and constitute most beautiful and complex machines. So much does the power and dominion of man over inferior animals, crude materials, and natural forces, depend upon the hand, that were it possible to deprive the human race of this important member, and put in its stead a mere paw, or a hoof, it might well be asserted that man would soon find a common level with the beasts, notwithstanding his superior intellect. This assertion, of course, does not admit the possibilty of using the foot as a substitute for the hand, which has been successfully done in several remarkable instances. Should any one of our accomplished book-keepers, editors, or any other class of professional men, accustomed all his life to write with his right hand only, get that hand crushed by an accident on his way home some evening, the inconvenience, loss of time, and perhaps loss of lucrative position that would be likely to accrue before he could recover its use, or in case of its total loss, before he could acquire the art of writing with his left hand, would be a serious matter. Many a young man found the loss of the right hand a serious matter during the recent war, and many another has thanked God while submitting to the surgeon's knife, that it was only the left arm that had to be sacrificed. As well might we teach children to hop about on the right foot, to keep the left eye closed, and to stop the left ear with cotton, as to teach them to magnify the value of the right hand at the expense of the left Nor, in renouncing this absurdity, would it be necessary to violate existing social con-tionalities. The fork may be held in the right hand when eating, and the knife may take its place in cutting food. These are small matters, observed only for conventional reasons. In driving on country roads we always turn out to the right, but on that account we do not consider a spavin on a horses left leg, any less serious than one on his right leg. The first thing then to be considered in the education of the hand is the establishment of both hands on an equal footing. We may next pass to the consideration of its uses and structure. The hand is essentially the organ of touch. Few people appreciate the vast amount of information we obtain through this one avenue to the mind ; what subtile ideas of texture and quality in material, of comparative weight, of unseen motion and temperature, are obtained solely through the sense of touch. Fewer still appreciate to what an extent this sense can be educated. The blind substitute it for sight, and are enabled to gain ideas, and perform feats of manual skill through its exercise which are indeed surprising to those who see. Surgeons cultivate this sense till by laying a finger upon an artery throbbing under a stratum of overlying tissues, they can judge how deep to make the incision over it, without endangering the blood-vessels. Moreover, all very skillful surgeons use the knife in either hand with equal facility. Such nicety of touch is essential in all very nice and delicate manipulations. And here let us note a fact first brought to our notice by a very skillful German watchmaker, to wit, that the practice of punishing cbildren with the ratan or ferule on the hand, prevalent in many of our schools, must necessarily be detrimental to this sense. It was his custom when taking his children to school, to request the teacher to adopt some other mode of punishment than this barbarous method, explaining that as his children were to be bred to the art of watchmaking, it was essential that their delicacy of touch should remain unimpaired. While we do not intend to discuss here the much debated question of the necessity of corporal punishment, in the training of children, we will say that if such punishment is ever needed, nature seems to us to have provided for the emergency, and that no delicate nerves, muscles, and bones need be endangered in its administration. We should extend this article too much, were we to attempt a minute analysis of the anatomy of the hand ; but we assert that the most complete education and development of its powers can only be obtained through a perfect knowledge of its parts, and their offices. This fact has been appreciated by at least one of the authors of piano-forte methods now in use in the schools, and also by private music teachers ; and in a long experience and obse-vation upon this subject we have found that pupils progress much more rapidly both in music and penmanship, who are first prepared by a knowledge of the structure of the hand, and by special exercises calculated to develop the weaker muscles, and to render each independent of the others. In the education of the fingers, the first thing the instructor has to surmount, is not only natural but artificial inequalities in their strength and mobility. The fingers are not naturally of equal power, and the relative dis ability of the weaker ones is increased by the employment of the stronger, and disuse of the weaker ones. In the playing of musical instruments, it is necessary to eliminate inequali-ties of power, and render tlie fingeis, as nearly as may be, of eipial power, without vi-ealiening tlie naturally stronger ones. In otinr words, the iveak fingers should at least be as rela-tively strong as is natural, while all ought to be much stronger than any would be without a thorough course of education. It is a fact known to all good teachers that excellence in penmanship—ease and rapidity being assumed as indispensable elements of excellence—is only obtained by first securing a proper position for the hand and arm while holding the pen. All teachers must have obsnrved how diflicult of attainment a proper position is with the majority of pupils. One pupil finds it impossible to flex the thumb properly without aiding the feeble muscles, thus called almost for the first [ time into play, by gripping the pen as though it were to be pinched in two. Another brae-s tlio hand Ijy sticking out the third and fourth fiog irs upon the jsaper, and almost drops the pen ?vhen he attempts to withdraw them; his muscles will not act indep(mdent]y. Others seem to have only the power to open and close the fingers all together, and clutch the pen as though it were a miniature club, with wiich the j fair sheet before them is to be thrashed. Their efforts are absolutely painful to them, and are apt to be uncharitably looked upon by teachers. As well migiit they be expected to stand upon one foot Avith ease and comfort as to control the feeble, undisciplined, aching, and tremblingmuscles, upon wlfich these new and extraordinary demands are made. A common sense view oi this subject suggests that long j before the hand grasps a pen, or the fingers touch the keys of a piano, the weak muscles should be gradually strengthened by proper xerclse ; ;md while it is not our purpose to specify such a cour.-ie oi oserciscs, we suggest to those now engaged in pronio'jug physical eduration in our schools, that they ought to jircp-ire proper exercises designed to meet the requirements of tlie case. They might easily be adapted to music, and introduced into the schools, and coul . be practiced by oven the youngest, while singing, or with the accompaniment of an instrument. If proof Avere wanted of the generally deficient education of the hand, notliing bettor couid be adduced than the fact that, notwithstanding writing is one of the most important and universal of manual operations, it is on the average perhaps the most imperfectly executed. There are many men who can peg shoes, or do fine sewing, or piiy a violin for many hours together ; but there are comparatively few wlio can write ini-ny Ciinse.-ative letters without great fatigue. ??", the conii-er, the extent to Avhich its powers can te developed is sho\in ill the manipulations of jugglers, and in very many important mechanical operations. Tl;e Hulject of j'.Iiysical education is now attracting imi-verFal atteulinn, eiui ils m qiortaiicc is generally admitted. It has, liowcvi r, been too exciusivoly considered in its relation to health, and instruction has len confined principally to the develoiimeiit of the larger muscles of the body and increase of general strength. This is all right so far as it goi-s, but it ought not to be forgott( m that in the emergencies of life the hand plays by far the. most important part of all the members, and that to enlarge its iiowcrs, is to add directly to the resources of its possessor. If legs are lost, skillful hands can supply partial sulistitut'S. If eyes are extinguished, the hand if educated can still supjily the physical necessities of the Idhid. If hearing fails, the hands replace spoken language by an inferior but inielligible language of signs, but if the hands are lost what can in any measure compensate for this overwhelming cala oily The feet can only in ameasure take file xlace of hands after many years of ])ractice, and immunity from the severe labor oi walking ; and it is very doubtful whether any atiult could ever succeed in making toes do the work of fingers, although children born without arms have been knowm to do so. What excuse can there l;e i-hen, for neglecting the early and careful instrui'tion of ???? hands. We are not speaking of an impracticable thing when we say it is possible to rear children so that wliatevcr one haul Oi'u do the other may do equally ???G?. VVe know this lias b. ca accomplislied iu many notable inptanros, whiie the disubihiy of the left hand has been rsctificil, in siiite of all obstacles arising from bad habits acquird in childhood. Wo liavo seen surgeons transfer an instrumeiit from one hand to the other during an operation whenever convenience required it, vithout the least awk-Avardness. We have seen draftsmen using both hands in coloring drawings, an imineiise advantage both to rapidity of work and evciiess of Siiading. We have seen woodmen chop timber '-right or left i'ari'iod," and one carpenter vho used a hammer or saw witli cither hand vith nearly equal facility. In all these eases, the ue of the loil hand in common with the n.9.-!it gave verv mucu greaier efficiency. W h L ce 1 anv i of children whose parents V I'- M y imoiig- children of American 111 1 If J e of tioir parents, or of their id we aro confident tliat the t\li aitici 1 such cases as easily as one would be. Tlie same ease would undoulitedly atiend the learning to use either hand for all neci s.-iary .manipulations, so that no fear that both vrould become a-.vkward need be apprehended. Thus tiie rcsourc-s of those dependent u.pon manual labor for subsistence would bo nearly doubled, much time and expense would be saved in tlie acquirement of arts specially requiring the emiiloyment ot the left band, and the superior grace and dignity attending complete and symmetrical development would be in a much larger measure attained. Much more might be said in regard to the education, of thu hand, but as this article is only intended to arouse the attention of thinking people to a radical defect in physical education, we may appropriately close our remarks with the following quotation from that admirable poem " The Hand and its Work," by Mrs. Hale. “All wants that from our nature rise, Life'8 commoa cares, the hand supplies It tends and clothes our myriad race, And forms for each a reeting place; And ceaseless mlalstrydoth keep From cradle dream to coffin sleep.”
This article was originally published with the title "The Education of the Hand"