Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 18.djvu/473

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tipple. Swallow a tablespoonful of laudanum or a few grains of arsenious acid every night: at first your physical conscience protests by every means in its power; nausea, gripes, gastric spasms, and nervous headaches warn you again and again; the struggle of the digestive organs against the fell intruder convulses your whole system. But you continue the dose, and Nature, true to her highest law to preserve life at any price, finally adapts herself to an abnormal condition—adapts your system to the poison at whatever cost of health, strength, and happiness. Your body becomes an opium-machine, an arsenic-mill, a physiological engine moved by poison, and performing its vital functions only under the spur of the unnatural stimulus. But by and by the jaded system fails to respond to the spur, your strength gives way, and, alarmed at the symptoms of rapid deliquium, you resolve to remedy the evil by removing the cause. You try to renounce stimulation, and rely once more on the unaided strength of the vis vitæ. But that strength is almost exhausted. The oil that should have fed the flame of life has been wasted on a health-consuming fire. Before you can regain strength and happiness, your system must readapt itself to the normal condition, and the difficulty of that rearrangement will be proportioned to the degree of the present disarrangement; the further you have strayed from Nature, the longer it will take you to retrace your steps. Still, it is always the best plan to make your way back somehow or other, for, if you resign yourself to your fate, it will soon confront you with another and greater difficulty. Before long the poison fiend will demand a larger fee; you have to increase the dose. The "delightful and exhilarating stimulant" has palled, the quantum has now to be doubled to pay the blue-devils off, and to the majority of their distracted victims that seems the best, because the shortest, road to peace. Restimulation really seems to alleviate the effects of the poison-habit for a time. The anguish always returns, and always with increased strength, as a fire, smothered for a moment with fuel, will soon break forth again with a fiercer flame.

By these symptoms the disease of the poison-habit may be identified in all its disguises, for the self-deception of the poor lady who seeks relief in a cup of the same strong tea that has caused her sick headache is absolutely analogous to that of the pothouse sot who hopes to drown his care in the source of all his misery, or of the frenzied opium-eater who tries to exorcise a legion of fiends with the aid of Beelzebub. There are few accessible poisons which are not somewhere abused for the purpose of intoxication: the Guatemala Indians fuddle with hemlock-sap, the Peruvians with coca, the Tartars with fermented mare's milk, the Algerians with hasheesh; but, wherever men have dealings with the "fiend that steals away their brains," there are always Ancient Lagos who mistake him for a "good familiar creature," till he steals their health and wealth as well as their wits. Their woes are not the penalty of their persistent blindness, but of their first open-