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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 19.djvu/470

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

waning life, waning at last to a state of callous vegetation, Nature is reduced to the alternative of ending an evil for which she has no remedy.

But while the ebb of life alternates with a tide, the struggle against a natural instinct is the struggle of Prometheus against the vulture of Jove; in the intervals of torment the martyr may forget his misery, but the torturer returns, and the poisoned arrows of the interventor can bring only a temporary relief. Man can not conquer a God-sent instinct, though he may for a time defy it—with poison; the most incurable victims of intemperance are those who resort to stimulants less for the sake of intoxication than for the benumbing after-effect which helps them to stifle the voice of outraged Nature. It is a significant circumstance that the consumption of intoxicating poisons increases in times of famine and general distress; the Christian dogma of the reformatory value of misery has, indeed, been refuted by the most dreadful arguments of the world's history; the unhappiest nations are not only the most immoral, but the most selfish and the meanest in every ugly sense of the word: virtues do not flourish on a trampled soil. The same with individuals; injustice, disappointment, and bodily pain, can turn the noblest man into a querulous tyrant, a harmless kitten into a spiteful cat. Happiness, on the other hand, is the sunshine that decks the moral world with flowers; making earth a heaven would be the surest way of turning men into angels; the hardest heart will melt under the persistent rays of kindness and happiness. Happy children have no time to be wicked; it is not worth their while to waste the merry hours on vices. Genius, too, is a child of light; the Grecian worship of joy favored the development of every human science, while the monastic worship of sorrow produced nothing but monsters and chimeras; for to modern science Christianity bears about the same relation as the plague to the quarantine.

But, aside from all this, mirth has an hygienic value that can hardly be overrated while our social life remains what the slavery of vices and dogmas has made it. Joy has been called the sunshine of the heart, yet the same sun that calls forth the flowers of a plant is also needed to expand its leaves and ripen its fruits; and without the stimulus of exhilarating pastimes perfect bodily health is as impossible as moral and mental vigor. And, as sure as a succession of uniform crops will exhaust the best soil, the daily repetition of a monotonous occupation will wear out the best man. Body and mind require an occasional change of employment, or else a liberal supply of fertilizing recreations, and this requirement is a factor whose omission often foils the arithmetic of our political economists.

To the creatures of the wilderness affliction comes generally in the form of impending danger—famine or persistent persecution; and under such circumstances the modifications of the vital process seem to operate against its long continuance; well-wishing Nature sees her