Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 24.djvu/812

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

When a conflagration rages, do we "obey" and "co-operate" with Nature by adding fuel to the flames? When pestilence is abroad, do we try to increase its deadly activity? When we stumble, do we make a point of yielding to the law of gravitation and throwing ourselves headlong? When the winter winds are howling, do we throw open doors and windows that we may feel all the force and bitterness of the blast? Or do we, in these and all other cases, seek to modify the action of one law by that of another—a process his lordship calls "thwarting"—in order that their combined or balanced action may yield us, as nearly as possible, the results we desire? We throw water on the fire. We use disinfectants and prophylactics against the plague. We set muscular force against that of gravitation. We oppose warmth to cold. In none of these cases do we ask what Nature wants; we are content to know what we want. We don't really believe that Nature wants anything; so we have no hesitation or compunction in letting our wants rule. In the matter of the weak and sickly, they might perish if unconscious forces alone were at work, or even in certain conditions of human society; but it does not suit our interests, for very obvious reasons, to let them perish. To do so would strike at all human affections, and would so far weaken the bonds of society and render the whole social fabric less secure. Moreover, a sick man is very different from a sick animal. The latter is inevitably inferior as an animal, whereas the former may not only not be inferior, but may be superior as a man, and capable of rendering much service to society. Two instances occur to me as I write—that of the late Professor Cairnes, in England, and of the late Professor Ernest Bersot, in France, both smitten with cruel and hopeless maladies, but both fulfilling, in an eminent degree, the highest intellectual and moral offices of men. What the well do for the sick is of course obvious, and attracts sufficient attention; but what the sick do for the well, not being so obvious, attracts less attention than it deserves. Yet how many lessons of patience, fortitude, and resignation—lessons that all require—come to us from the sick-bed, or at least from those whom weakness of constitution or perhaps some unhappy accident has robbed of a normal activity and health! At times we see superiority of intellectual and moral endowment triumphing over the most serious physical disabilities; as in the case of the present Postmaster-General of England, who accidentally lost his sight when quite a youth. The late M. Louis Blanc, a man of splendid talents, never advanced beyond the stature of a child. The ancient Spartans might have exposed one of so feeble a frame on Taygetus; for with them every man had to be a soldier; but, in modern life, with its greatly diversified interests, many a man too weak to be a soldier can yet render splendid service to the community. It will, therefore, I trust, be sufficiently obvious, first, that Nature has no commands to give us in this matter; and, secondly, that there are excellent reasons why we should not treat the sick and