Bells Weekly Messenger 1886

The original heading of "Bells Weekly Messenger"

Part one, Monday January 11, 1886, No. 4528)[1]:


Transcription by Jorgen Malling Christensen.




(A Copenhagen correspondent of the Times describes experiments in weight and stature of children given below. Might not investigations of a similar character be conducted, with hope of learning lessons of some value, relative to the growth and development of young animals?  We commend the subject to the attention of breeders and feeders, in connection with the all-important question of economical early maturity. – Ed[2].)


The following relates to experiments of the Rev. Malling Hansen of the Danish Institution for the Deaf and Dumb, concluded for three years upon 72 boys and 58 girls: -


The common impression is, no doubt, that increase in bulk and height of the human body during the years of growth progresses evenly all through the year. This is not so. Three distinct periods are marked out, and within  them some thirty lesser waverings  have been observed. As for bulk, the maximum period extends from August until December; the period of equipoise lasts from December until the middle of April; and then follows the minimum period until August. The lasting increase of bulk or weight is all accumulated during the first stage; the period of equipoise adds to the body about a fourth of that increase, but this gain is almost entirely spent or lost again in the last period. The increase in height of the children shows the same division into periods, only in a different order. The maximum period of growth in height corresponds to the minimum period of increase in bulk, and vice versa. In September and October a child grows only a fifth of what it did in June and July. In other words, during part of the year, autumn and beginning of winter, the child accumulates bulk, but the height is stationary; in the early summer the bulk remains nearly unchanged, but the vital force and the nourishment are expended to the benefit of height. While the body works for bulk there is rest for the growth, and when the period of growth comes the working for bulk is suspended.


The human body has, consequently, the same distinctly-marked periods of development as the plants. Mr Hansen has extended his daily measurements also to a number of trees in the garden of the institution, and has convinced himself that here also is a period of growth in length, as represented by the branches, twigs, and tops, alternates with another of increase in bulk – that is, in the circumference of the trunk, followed by a third period of equipoise or rest. In April and May the entire force of the tree was expended in lengthening the branches, while the thickness of the trunk remained stationary; all through May the most exact measurements failed to discover any increase of bulk. But in June, until the middle of July, when the new twigs had been all formed, it was the trunk that absorbed the nourishment from the roots and bulged out. Then came the period of rest and inactivity.


It was state above that, within the three chief periods of the human (or rather the infantile) body, the observations had pointed out some thirty smaller waverings of a more passing nature. The ordinary movement may be subject to disturbances, a swifter or a slower increase, sometimes even positive loss. These waverings prove to be subject to constant laws and independent of accidental or local influences; they return exactly exactly in the same manner and present the same features. One constant relation can be pointed out between these waverings and the movements of temperature in the outer air. If the thermometer rises steadily through several days, the increase in weight also becomes greater, but not equally from day to day; the second day the increase becomes double, the third day three times as much, and so on, until there is a fall of the temperature. If it grows colder there is a decrease in weight (or a lesser increase), but again on the second day double, the third day three times as much, and so on, until a new change of temperature intervenes.


Part two, Monday, January 18, 1886, No. 4529:




Dr. W.R.Miller, surgeon to the West Riding Convict Prison, made a series of observations, extending over the years 1844-1857, on 4,000 prisoners under his care. As the ages of the prisoners ranged from 16 to 50, his observations were confined to variations in weight or bulk. The season of maximum increase in weight in children is from August to December, in adults from April to August; the minimum in children from April to August, and in adults from September to March. Mr. Hansen has found that an increase of temperature caused an increase of weight, but in children the demands of growth in stature overshadowed, as it were, this disposition to grow heavier in warm weather. Dr. Miller’s concluding remarks show how far he had anticipated Mr. Hansen’s inquiries. “There can be little doubt”, he says, “that variations of temperature, light, &c[3], are the principal agents in causing these changes, but I believe it will be found that in addition to the direct influences of these physical agents, a periodic action occurs in the system which adds to or diminishes the effects of the physical agents.” The seasonal or periodic changes in the growth of children pointed out by Mr. Hansen are very much what we might expect from our knowledge of the periodic changes in animals[4]. The season of growth, which is sometimes completed in a few months, and of reproduction, which are correlative functions, is the spring and early summer; that of fattening, the autumn; and that of equipoise (or hibernation in some animals), the winter.


[1] JMC: According to Wikipedia, Bell’s Weekly Messenger was a British Sunday newspaper that began publication in 1786. As from 1799 the London edition was reprinted on Monday for nationwide distribution. By 1803, it was selling 6,000 copies a week. The newspaper continued under the title Bell’s Weekly Messenger until March 1896, after which it was continued as Country Sport.

[2] JMC: The comment of the editor suggests that a substantial part of the readership had some interest and/or their livelihood in animal breeding. He makes a relevant and intelligent connection between the results of the RMH research and the possible application in the field of animal husbandry.  Not far-fetched at all!

[3] JMC: An abbreviation for “etcetera”

[4] JMC: This is a very interesting comment by the prison surgeon. Apparently the seasonal growth patterns found by Malling-Hansen corresponded to growth patterns already seen in animal production, and this is yet another piece of evidence in support of his findings. It would be relevant to find out whether there is further research evidence in veterinary scientific research to corroborate this.

The original articles in Bells Weekly Messenger, 1886.