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PHYSIOLOGICAL EFFECTS OF THE POISON-HABIT.
“The stimulant-vice is the principal cause of human degeneration."
-Haller. SCIENCE tells us that there is a general progressive tendency in Nature. According to the opinion of some modern biologists, all plants and animals have been developed from lower and less perfect organisms, and still continue their upward progress. We may reject that view, or accept it with considerable modifications; but one thing remains certain—Nature does not go backward of her own accord. Wherever the harmony of creation has not been willfully disturbed, the trees are as tall as of yore, the fruits as sweet, and the flowers as fragrant. The eagle soars as high as ever; the song-thrush has not forgotten her anthems, nor the swallow her swift flight; the ostrich still scorneth the horse and his rider; it still requires a Samson to rend a young lion. How, then, can it be explained that the noblest work of Nature makes a sad exception to that rule? How is it that man alone is sinking in misery and disease, growing weaklier and sicklier from century to century, from generation to generation? War has not dealt us those wounds; famine and pestilence can not explain our “ailments and pains, in form, variety, and degree beyond description.” The influence of all transient causes of evil is counteracted by the healing agencies of Nature. See the children of the wilderness, how soon they recover from hurts and wounds, how completely from the effects of protracted starvation, their offspring as sound as their ancestors in Eden. No, the cause of our degeneracy must be a permanently active cause, and, with the assurance of a clear and perfect conviction, we can say, That restless enemy of human health and happiness is the poison-vice.
Without the redeeming influence of Nature, the balm of sleep and the regenesis of every new birth, alcohol alone would have effected the destruction of the human race. During the gradual development of the vice, the adaptive faculties of the human system have somewhat modified its influence, but its real significance reveals itself when its flood-gates are opened upon an unprepared race. In Siberia, in Polynesia, and among the aborigines of our own continent, the alcohol plague has raged with the destructiveness of the Black Death; wigwams, villages, nay, entire districts, have been depopulated in the course of a single generation. Among the Caucasian nations, where the vice has gradually progressed from half-fermented must to brandy, its baneful effects are less sudden, but not less certain. From age to age the form created in the image of God has decayed, has shrunk like a building collapsing under the progress of a devouring fire. Wherever intemperance has increased, manhood and strength have decreased. The Anacreons of antiquity indulged in wine only at
occasional festivals. The peasants of the Middle Ages were generally too poor to use intoxicating drinks of any kind. But by and by wages improved. Strong ale and brandy were added to the home-brewed beverages of the working-classes. Habitual stimulation, once the ruin of the idle aristocrat, became the curse of the masses. The poison marasmus became a pandemic plague. The yeomen of ancient England would not recogonize their gin-drinking descendants; a Norman knight could have crushed a Stockholm dandy with a single grip of his fist. Challenge the apostles of lager beer; take them to Nuremberg, to the armory of the old City Hall; let them pick their champion from the ranks of the bloated and sicklylooking citizens; defy them to find a single man able to wield the weapons that were toys in the hands of the old burghers. Or the advocates of “good, cheap, country wine"-take them to Spain, and let them see what the best wine has done for the manliest race on earth. The inhabitants of Castile, of Aragon, Valencia, Barcelona, and Leon are the descendants of the old Visigoths, a race of rude warriors who overpowered the disciplined legions of Rome as easily as the Romans would have quelled a rabble of African rebels. Gibbon describes their first encounter with the Roman armies; how the imperial general invited the Gothic chieftains to a banquet, where he intended to assassinate their guards and attack their camps during the confusion, and how the Goths were saved by the intrepidity of their leaders : “ At these words, Fritigern and his companions drew their swords, opened their passage through the unresisting crowd, and, mounting their horses, hastily vanished from the eyes of the astonished Romans. . The generals of the Goths were saluted by the fierce and joyful acclamations of the camp; war was instantly resolved, the banners of the nation were displayed according to the custom of their ancestors, and the air resounded with the march-signals of the barbarian trumpet.” No painter's magic could more vividly evoke the forms of that giant race, their chieftains making their way through a crowd of shrinking cowards, the tumult of the camp, and the iron-fisted warriors receiving their leaders with exultant shouts! And those men were the ancestors of the modern Spaniards—lions shrunk into cats, eagles into mousing hawks! It is idle sophistry to ascribe that result to climatic influences. In a warmer climate than Spain, the abstemious Arabs, the Afghans, and the Moors, have preserved the vigor of their earliest ancestors. The soil that now produces lazzaroni and musici was once trod by the conquerors of three continents. In the snow-bound wigwams of the North American Indians a cold climate has not prevented the ravages of the alcohol plague. Poison has filled more graves than the sword, more than famine, and the plague, and all the hostile powers of Nature taken together. The poison-vice hsa shortened our average longevity by twenty years,* has turned athletes into cripples, giants into dwarfs.
* Since the end of the seventeenth century-i. e., since a time when medical delusions made every hospital a death-trap-longevity has slightly increased, but, as compared with the first century of our chronological era, it has enormously decreased. Peasants outlive men
Yet that result does not prove the vindictiveness of Nature, but her patience, the infinite patience that has prevented our utter self-destruction by mitigating the consequences of our suicidal follies. At night, while the drunkard sleeps his torpor sleep, the hand of our All-mother cools his fevered brow, the subtle alchemy of the organism allays the effects of the poison while the system performs at least a portion of its vital functions. In every child the influence of ancestral sins is modified by the tendency of redeeming instincts. If it were not for the restless activity of those remedial influences, fire-water alone would have caused more havoc than the Deluge. From a pessimistic point of view, the study of the physical effects of the poison-vice might almost justify the conjecture of the biologist Hoffmann. “Nature" says he, “has set limits to the over-increase of every species of animals. Insects prey upon smaller insects, minnows upon midges, trouts upon minnows, pikes upon trouts, the fish-otter upon pikes, and man himself upon the fish-otter. Man himself has no earthly rival, but Providence (die Vorsehung) has met that difficulty by making him a self-destructive animal !”
If that shocking idea were not at variance with
of letters, and yet the records of the ancients show that more than two thirds of their poets, statesmen, and philosophers were octogenarians. If the years of the patriarchs were solar years, their average longevity was two hundred and eighty years; if they were seasons (of six months), at least one hundred and twenty years. The Bible years were certainly not months, for men who “saw their children and children's children" can not have died before their thirtieth year,