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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 35.djvu/649

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THE WASTES OF MODERN CIVILIZATION.

For what else is the tyranny of the laws by which, nine tenths of our fellow-citizens are robbed of their scant chance of recreation and obliged at the expense of their mental and physical health to toil like criminals, whose only alternative of labor is the dreary inactivity of their prison-cells—all in order to retain a conventional mark of deference to the joy-hating insanity of the middle ages—or, perhaps, to enhance by the charm of contrast the prerogatives of the privileged few, whose abundance of leisure days enables them to dispense with the blessing of a free Sunday?

It is true that the rigor of mediæval ethics has been modified in several important respects. The duty of abstaining from work and relying on prayer has been abrogated in favor of our taxpaying national industries. The duty of despising the danger of defilement by things that enter, the mouth has been generally remitted in favor of candidates for the temperance vote. The obligation of despising the vanities of secular science does not prevent the Rev. Tollemach-Tollemach from collecting his tithes by telephone; but the duty of renunciation, of submissive abstinence from worldly and physical enjoyments, is still enforced at the expense of every laborer whose financial circumstances preclude the luxury of extra-Sabbatarian leisure days.

In the course of the last twenty years several hundred appeals for the abrogation of our anachronistic blue laws have been calmly ignored as below the notice of legislators engaged in such important reforms as the dredging of Catfish Bayou, though it might be questioned if the total amount of misery entailed on our workingmen by the systematic suppression of public recreation has ever been surpassed by the results of the most inhuman alliance of mediæval bigotry and despotism. The Spanish Inquisition enforced its mandates regardless alike of fear and pity; but its victims were selected from a class forming, after all, only a small fraction of the total population—one scapegoat, perhaps, in a herd of ten thousand—while at least a hundred-fold proportion of our countrymen feel the galling yoke of the Sabbath despots. The Scotch ascetics of David Hume's time filled their churches by a system of penal statutes which made financial and social ruin almost the only alternative of conformity; but the Caledonian peasant who had passed a week among the flocks of his Highland home might easily endure a day of confinement in the man-pen of his kirk, while the bigots of our manufacturing communities enforce their asceticism upon men who need recreation and outdoor sports as they need food and sunlight, and whose numbers include thousands for whom the promise of a post-mortem Utopia has lost its compensating value.

A few Sundays ago I accompanied a friend on a stroll across a