Montreal Gazette – Jul 24, 1943
By ROBERT LYND
Lord Geddes, speaking in the House of Lords this week, uttered what seemed to toe a well-timed warning against regarding a growth in inches as a sign of good health. Referring to the taller young people of the present day, he said: “We are too ready today to measure health by gross outward appearances. . . . We were always being advised to drink more milk and measure the result in inches.”
As I read this, I could not help congratulating myself on the fact that since my fairly early child-hood I had seldom drunk a glass of milk voluntarily.
I disliked milk, probably through an instinctive feeling that, if I acquired a taste for it, I might grow up to the height of a September hollyhock. “Ill weeds grow apace” was one of the proverbs that I had to write down again and again on a page of my copybook, and I had no desire to be an ill weed.
I grew tall in spite of my abstinence from milk, but I could see no reason why anyone should wish to grow tall. The Little Man is supposed by many people to be a twentieth-century invention, but even in my nursery days my favorite hero was a Little Man, then known as Jack the Giant Killer, and I would much rather have been Jack than any of the Giants he killed with their fee-faw-fum nonsense.
In the Bible again I read a story about a Little Man called David, who went out armed with only a few pebbles in a sling and ended by cutting off the head of an all but invincible giant called Goliath.
Hence, as I grew taller, I never felt particularly proud of my inches. As a matter of fact, they made me again and again feel awkward and conspicuous.
More than once, as I was walking home in the darkness of a Saturday night street, I joined a crowd of sightseers surrounding a violently drunk man, and the drunk man observing my head peering above the heads of other people forced his way towards me and, merely because I was the most conspicuous person present, challenged me to combat, saying: “Come on, come on.” And as he shook his fist under my nose shouted: “Smell it. Smell it.” As the last thing in the world I wanted to do was to smell his fist—which, probably, had no smell at all—I could only look blank. Even as I looked blank, however, I had enough presence of mind to wish that I were no more than 5 ft. high.
Further investigation into the question of the relative good of being short or tall all made me decide that it was a gross disadvantage to be a six-footer. Nearly all the great men of whom I read seemed to be of moderate or of low stature. In war there were Napoleon and—the greatest soldier of my own boyhood — Lord Roberts. Among the poets Shakespeare was no giant in height, and Keats was a comparative midget.
Even in the farmyard a bantam cock always seemed to have a spirit beyond that of a Goliath cock four times his size.
I do not wish to discourage any of my tall contemporaries, but we who are on the tall side must recognize the fact that the tallest race of men in the world are the Patagonians, whose average height when grown up is six foot one inch. The next tallest race in the world are Polynesians, who grow in manhood to a height of nearly five foot ten inches. Yet what have the Patagonians or the Polynesians contributed either to the arts of war or to the arts of peace?
The answer is “Nothing.” If there has ever been a Patagonian Shakespeare, you and I have never heard of him. If there has ever been a Polynestan Pericles, you will not find his name in the “Encyclopaedia Britannica.”
The only objection I have to small men is that they are inclined to be uppish. As the blood has so much shorter a journey to make from the heart to the head and heels, they are more quickly vitalized than their taller fellows, and, as a result, become pugnacious and dictatorial.
In the contemporary world the most tolerant statesman is President Roosevelt, whose height is six feet, two inches. The statesman who started all the trouble in modern Europe, on the other hand, is a little fellow called Mussolini, who is only five feet, seven inches or less. Mr. Churchill, I am sure, could never be a dictator, since he is five feet, nine and one-half inches. To be a dictator one has to be more or less of the bantam breed.
One thing in favor of tallness is the fact that no extremely tall man has ever done the world much harm. In the fairy tales all the giants were ultimately killed by the little men, and on the modern world they seem to be quite content with being tall. Some years ago, a Dutchman, 9 ft. 3 in. high. came to London, not to conquer it by force, but merely to show how he could eat 15 eggs at breakfast. Tall men are like that.
The modesty of Scotsmen, I think, is largely due to the fact that they are the second tallest race in Europe, being surpassed only by that other tolerant race, the Swedes.
Tall men are so conscious of the disadvantages of being tall that, instead of acquiring a desire for domination, they long above all things for equality with the less tall men to whom, when talking, they have to stoop. The greatest advocate of equality in our time is a tall man, Mr. Bernard Shaw.
Even when we consider the few virtues of tall men, however, we must admit that short and medium men are luckier. We all must admit that it is better to be a Jack the Giant-Killer than a Carnera. I should not like to see the consumption of milk growing to such an extent that the world of our descendants would be incapable any more of producing a Nelson, a Keats or a Montgomery.