Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 1.djvu/236

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226
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

In these moments alcohol cheers. It lets loose the heart from its oppression, it lets flow a brisker current of blood into the failing organs; it aids nutritive changes, and altogether is of temporary service to man. So far alcohol is good, and if its use could be limited to this one action, this one purpose, it would be among the most excellent of the gifts of Nature to mankind.

It is assumed by most persons that alcohol gives strength, and we hear feeble persons saying daily that they are being kept up by stimulants. This means actually that they are being kept down, but the sensation they derive from the immediate action of the stimulant deceives them and leads them to attribute lasting good to what, in the large majority of cases, is persistent evil. The evidence is all-perfect that alcohol gives no potential power to brain or muscle. During the first stage of its action it may enable a wearied or feeble organism to do brisk work for a short time; it may make the mind briefly brilliant; it may excite muscle to quick action, but it does nothing at its own cost, fills up nothing it has destroyed as it leads to destruction.

On the muscular force the very slightest excess of alcoholic influence is injurious. I find, by measuring the power of muscle for contraction in the natural state and under alcohol, that, so soon as there is a distinct indication of muscular disturbance, there is also indication of muscular failure, and if I wished, by scientific experiment, to spoil for work the most perfect specimen of a working animal, say a horse, without inflicting mechanical injury, I could choose no better agent for the purpose of the experiment than alcohol. But alas! the readiness with which strong, well-built men slip into general paralysis under the continued influence of this false support, attests how unnecessary it were to put a lower animal to the proof of an experiment. The experiment is a custom, and man is the subject.

It may be urged that men take alcohol, nevertheless, take it freely and yet live; that the adult Swede drinks his average cup of twenty five gallons of alcohol per year, and yet remains on the face of the earth. I admit force even in this argument, for I know that under the persistent use of alcohol there is a secondary provision for the continuance of life. In the confirmed alcoholic, the alcohol is in a certain sense so disposed of that it fits, as it were, the body for a long season, nay, becomes part of it; and yet it is silently doing its fatal work; all the organs of the body are slowly being brought into a state of adaptation to receive it and to dispose of it; but in that very preparation they are themselves undergoing physical changes tending to the destruction of their function and to perversion of their structure. Thus, the origin of alcoholic phthisis, of cirrhosis of the liver, of degeneration of the kidney, of disease of the membranes of the brain, of disease of the substance of the brain and spinal cord, of degeneration of the heart, and of all those varied modifications of organic parts