The trouble was, and still is, that it did not end with lending him an ear. It ended in self-reproach and discipline, and mankind, however sick it may otherwise be, suffers besides from two livelong failings — vanity and indolence. Hence the vogue, the glorious reign of bacteriology! Readily as a man may acknowledge the fact of moral depravity and hate it in others and sometimes even in himself, he finds it hard to believe in physical depravity and, what is more, always wishes to keep to habits, however vile, which belong to the life that he knows.
Orthodox medicine could not, therefore, have lighted on a brighter ruse than the belief in bacteria as the beginning of illness. By means of it, medical men could assure most sick people that, not only was their ailment not their own fault, since it was the work of a “bug,” but also that they need do nothing whatsoever about it beyond giving science a free, hand. Thus, at one stroke, both their vanity and indolence were spared, and medicine nourished.
This was not the way of the Newton of Health. He fell upon the vanity and indolence of those who stopped to lend him an ear, so that even their small number in each year was quickly winnowed by the chilling truths they heard. He showed them, proved to them, that a great deal of their ailing was physical depravity and, no less than their moral depravity, their own fault. He demonstrated to them, on their own selves, that since they breathed, stood, moved, and even rested in the most villainous way imaginable, nothing but painstaking self-discipline under his teaching could cleanse them of their corruption.
This was wounding. Worse still, it was arduous. Thus, although, with all its difficulties, the secret of the art was incredibly simple, many among those who had lent an ear left to go back to the throng of the depraved.
The few who had the steadiness and, above all, the love of health strong enough, in them, stayed to undergo the discipline. And these had their reward. Month by month, perhaps week by week for some of them, they saw the slow realization of the teacher’s forecasts in their own organisms and, in the fulness of time, began to feel themselves aloof.
But the crowd from whom they felt aloof was not wholly to blame. Each member of it had his or her own guide on what was or was not important. In the daily newspaper each trusted, the big headlines set forth every day what had to be carefully heeded. Every name in these big thick letters must belong to the great. The names not printed in this way, or not printed at all, whatever claim to greatness their owners might have, must be negligible. Besides, editors knew their people, and only discoveries, events and comments that spare vanity and indolence are News. Everything that falls ruthlessly upon both is not News.
Thus F. Matthias Alexander’s name remained but a whisper in a world that fusses only over short-lived wonders. His books are beginning to be widely read. But how widely?
Before me lies a copy of the second edition of his latest book, “The Universal Constant in Living,” said it was [sic] first published in 1942. Would this have satisfied Edgar Wallace or Hall Caine?
In it he tells once more of his discovery and of the world’s need of it, and gathers together a record of his forty years of work. He also tells us of orthodox science at last beginning to uphold the leading principles in his teaching, and of the testimony to its value spoken by some of the most enlightened of modern men.
Belated scientific acknowledgment is better than none at all! When, however, we bear in mind that books on health still pour from the press, giving no hint of one of the most essential conditions of well-being, and still holding up sound food as the one and only need; when we learn that many of these books are by men of science, how far may we boast of scientific acknowledgment?
So much fuss has of late been made in some of these scientific health books about the importance to human well-being of sound food grown on sound soil, that echoes of it readied the House of Lords last year. Now, qua health, Mr. Alexander’s discoveries are at least as important as any of the discoveries about sound food from sound soil. Can anyone remember a debate on the educational and health aspects of the Use of the Self in the Upper House?
Far be it from me to hint that here again the old failings, vanity and indolence, may have been at work! But it is surely not fanciful to suppose that reforms do tend to follow the line of least resistance; and, in the hopeless mess we have made of our psycho-physical selves, it is safer, easier, and better form to dwell only on impersonal things like soil, humus or sound cultivation, than to harp on "Dear Brutus!"
I shall deal as fully as space allows with the nature of Alexander’s discoveries in a further article.