Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 24.djvu/56

This page has been validated.
46
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

made it a grievous addition to the evils it proposed to cure. More than fifteen hundred years ago the Emperor Julian, and even St. Clemens Alexandrinus, denounced the absurdities of the Marcionite Gnostics, who "abstained from marriage, the pursuit of worldly advantages, and all temporal pleasures." The original rigor of those dogmas could not maintain itself against the healthier instincts of mankind; but what they lost in consistency they made up in aggressiveness: an influential sect of the last century attempted to enforce upon others what the Marcionites practiced in private, and, while the Syrian ascetics preferred the desert to the world, the Scotch ascetics tried to turn the world into a desert.

"According to that code," says the author of the "History of Civilization," "all the natural affections, all social pleasures, all amusements, and all the joyous instincts of the human heart, were sinful. They looked on all comforts as wicked in themselves, merely because they were comforts. The great object in life was to be in a state of constant affliction; . . . whatever pleased the senses was to be suspected. It mattered not what a man liked; the mere fact of his liking it made it sinful. Whatever was natural was wrong. It was wrong to take pleasure in beautiful scenery, for a pious man had no concern with such matters. On Sunday it was sinful to walk in the fields, or in the meadows, or enjoy fair weather by sitting at the door of your own house."

"Whatever was natural was wrong"—though even the extremists of that school might have shrunk from the consistency of their Syrian exemplar, who forbade his anchorites to sleep twice under the same tree, lest their spiritual interests should be imperiled by an undue affection for any earthly object!

If it were possible that such dogmas could ever again overpower the common sense of mankind, we should welcome the poison-mania as the lesser evil, for it is better to seek happiness by a wrong road than to abandon the search altogether. It is better to taste a forbidden fruit than to destroy all pleasant trees. But it is impossible that such chimeras should have survived their native night. After the terrible experience of the middle ages, it is impossible that any sane person should fail to recognize the significance of the mistake, and we can not hope to maintain the field against the opponents of temperance till we have deprived them of their most effective weapon: we must furnish practical proofs that they, not we, are the enemies of human happiness; that we make war upon vice, and not upon harmless pleasures.

It is a significant fact that in every civilized country of this earth drunkenness is rarest among the classes who have other and better convivial resources. In the United States, where the "almighty dollar" confers unlimited privileges, the well-to-do people are the most temperate in the world, the poor the most intemperate. In Turkey, where the lower classes are indulged in many pastimes which are considered