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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 35.djvu/538

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

fruits and edible roots, devour the toil of many million laborers and the productive value of at least one million square miles. The fertility of that enormous area is thus not only wasted, but turned from a blessing into a concentration of curses. Mankind, indeed, would gain by the result if the fruitful fields of that poison-harvest were wholly withdrawn from human use; but if even only half their surface were devoted to the production of wholesome food, pauperism would disappear before the blessings of an unparalleled abundance—an abundance far exceeding the prosperity of the happiest provinces of pagan Italy or Moorish Spain. Adding the indirect benefits resulting from the decrease of disease and crime, it is no exaggeration to say that half the weight of human misery would thus be lifted from the scale of weal and woe.

Our political economists would be scandalized by studying the free-and-easy financial methods of ancient empires whose rulers often permitted a large percentage of the public taxes to cling to the pockets of ill-controlled collectors; but the live-and-let-live carelessness of those potentates was associated with a belief in the justice of the general claim to earthly happiness, and the evils of absolutism were mitigated by the liberality of the absolute Cæsars. Every city of the Roman Empire had its free wrestling-ring and foot-race course; every provincial metropolis a free circus, with accommodation for many thousand spectators. Free baths were thought as indispensable as free public fountains of pure drinking-water. Holidays were multiplied to satisfy the needs of an increasing population deprived of the rustic sports of their ancestors. Every community had its weekly and monthly festivals. In Greece even the hostilities of civil wars were suspended to insure free access to the plains of Corinth, where the Olympic games were celebrated with a regularity that made their period the basis of chronological computation for a space of nearly eight hundred years. When Rome became the capital of the world, the yearly disbursements for the subvention of free public recreations equaled the tribute of a wealthy province. As a consequence, discontent with the rule of such autocrats was so rare, that the peace of an empire equal in extent to the entire area of modern Europe could be preserved with a standing army of less than one hundred thousand men.

The modern alliance of canting hypocrisy and bullying despotism has tried a different plan. Enjoyments are reserved for aristocrats by the grace of the orthodox Deity, while the worship of sorrow is enforced on millions of toilers, whose desire of recreation is suppressed as a revival of impious worldliness. The Cæsars silenced the clamors for liberty with free bread and free circus games; the Czars silence them with the knout; but those cowed victims of knout and cross can not be expected to die in