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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 24.djvu/61

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A great plurality of all beginners underrate the difficulty of controlling the cravings of a morbid appetite. They remember that their natural inclinations at first opposed, rather than encouraged, the indulgence; they feel that at the present stage of its development they could abjure the passion and keep their promise without any difficulty. But they overlook the fact that the moral power of resistance decreases with each repetition of the dose, and that the time will come when only the practical impossibility of procuring their wonted tipple will enable them to keep their pledge of total abstinence. It is true that by the exercise of a constant self-restraint a person of great will-force may resist the progressive tendency of the poison-habit and confine himself for years to a single cigar or a single bottle of wine per day. But, if all waste is sinful, is not this constant pull against the stream a wicked misuse of moral energy—a wanton waste of an effort which in less treacherous waters would insure the happiest progress, and propel the boat of life to any desired goal?

But, while temperance people, as a class, are apt to underrate the difficulty of a total cure of a confirmed poison-habit, they generally overrate the difficulty of total prevention. The natural inclination of a young child is in the direction of absolute abstinence from all noxious stimulants. I do not speak only of the children of temperate people who strengthen that inclination by moral precepts, but of drunkards' boys, of the misbegotten cadets of our tenement barracks and slum-alleys. All who will make their disposition a special study may repeat the experiments which have convinced me that the supposed effects of hereditary propensities are in almost every case due to the seductions of a bad example, and that the influence of an innate predisposition has been immoderately exaggerated. Watch the young picnickers of an orphan-festival, and see what a great majority of them will prefer sweet cold milk to iced tea, and the lemonade-pail to the ginger-beer basket. Offer them a glass of liquor, and see how few out of a hundred will be able to sip it without a shudder. Or let us go a step further, and interview the inmates of a house of correction, or of a Catholic "protectory" for young vagrants. The superintendent of a penitentiary for adults (in Cologne, Germany) expressed a conviction that a plurality of his prisoners would stretch out their hands for a bottle of the vilest liquor rather than for a piece of gold. In the house of correction I would stake any odds that ninety per cent of all boy-prisoners under fourteen would prefer an excursion-ticket to a bottle of the best wine of Tokay or Johannisberg. At home, in a preparatory school of all vices, they of course imitate their teachers, but only by overcoming almost the same instinctive repugnance which is the best safeguard of the total abstainer's child. At the first attempt even the offspring of a long lineage of drunkards abhors the taste of alcohol as certainly as the child of the most inveterate smoker detests the smell of tobacco.