Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 23.djvu/782

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after the first protest: nausea, gripes, nervous headaches, and gastric spasms, warn us again and again. But we repeat the dose, and Nature, true to her highest law of preserving existence at any price, and feeling the hopelessness of the life-endangering struggle, finally chooses the alternative of palliating an evil for which she has no remedy, and adapts herself to the abnormal condition. The human body becomes a poison-engine, an alcohol-machine, performing its vital functions only under the spur of a specific stimulus.

And only then the unnatural habit begets that craving which the toper mistakes for the prompting of a healthy appetite—a craving which every gratification makes more exorbitant. For by-and-by the jaded system fails to respond to the spur; the poison-slave has to resort to stronger stimulants; rum and medicated brandy now mock him with the hope of revived strength; the gathering night still gives way to an occasional flickering-up of the vital flame, till the nervous exhaustion at last defies every remedy: the worshiper of alcohol must consummate his self-sacrifice, the shadow of his doom has settled on his soul, and all the strongest stimulants can now do for him is to recall a momentary glimmering of that light which filled the unclouded heaven of his childhood.

In order to distinguish a poison-stimulant from a harmless and nutritive substance, Nature has thus furnished us three infallible tests:

1. The first taste of every poison is either insipid or repulsive.
2. The persistent obtrusion of the noxious substance changes that aversion into a specific craving.
3. The more or less pleasurable excitement produced by a gratification of that craving is always followed by a depressing reaction.

The first drop of a wholesome beverage (milk, cold water, cider fresh from the press, etc.) is quite as pleasant as the last; the indulgence in such pleasures is not followed by repentance, and never begets a specific craving. Pancakes and honey we may eat with great relish whenever we can get them, but, if we can't, we won't miss them as long as we can satisfy our hunger with bread and butter. In midwinter, when apples advance to six dollars a barrel, it needs no lectures and midnight prayers to substitute rice-pudding for apple-pie. A Turk may breakfast for thirty years on figs and roasted chestnuts, and yet be quite as comfortable in Switzerland, where they treat him to milk and bread. Not so the dram-drinker: his "thirst" can not be assuaged with water or milk, his enslaved appetite craves the wonted tipple—or else a stronger stimulant. Natural food has no effect on the poison-hunger; Nature has nothing to do with such appetites.

The first choice of any particular stimulant seems to depend on such altogether accidental circumstances as the accessibility or cheapness of this or that special medium of intoxication. Orchard countries use distilled or vinous tipples; grain-lands waste their products on malt-liquors. The pastoral Turkomans fuddle with koumiss, or fer-