Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 12.djvu/52

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42
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

ries, and counting-houses. In Northwestern Europe and the Eastern States of North America, eleven million human beings, a fourth of that number minors, are performing their daily toil in an atmosphere that saps the vigor of their souls and bodies more effectually than a diet of potatoes and water could do it in the same time. A full third of the cotton-spinners of Lancashire and Massachusetts are girls and boys in their teens! They do not complain to a stranger, unless he should be able to interpret the language of their haggard faces and weary eyes; but no one who has fathomed the depth of their misery will charge me with exaggeration if I say that, to the vast majority of the unfortunates, loss of feeling and of reason would be a blessing. What do they feel but unsatisfied hunger in a hundred forms, and what can reason tell them but that they have been defrauded of their birthright to happiness; that not only their opportunity but their capacity for enjoyment is ebbing away; and that, whatever after-years may bring, their life has been robbed as a day of its morning or a year of its spring-time?

The opium-habit may be acquired in less than half a year, and the natural repugnance to alcohol and tobacco is generally overcome after four or five trials; but the factory-slave has to pass through ten or fifteen years of continual struggle against his physical conscience, before the voice of instinct at last becomes silent, and the painful longing for out-door life gives way to that anæsthesia by which Nature palliates evils for which she has no remedy. In more advanced years the habit becomes confirmed, and we find old habitués who actually enjoy the effluvia of their prisons, and dread cold air and "drafts" as they would a messenger of death. They avoid cold instead of impurity, just as tipplers on a warm day imagine that they would "catch their death" by a draught from a cool fountain, but never hesitate to swallow the monstrous mixtures of the liquor-vender.

Rousseau expresses a belief that any man, who has preserved his native temperance for the first twenty-five years, will afterward be pretty nearly proof against temptation, because very unnatural habits can only be acquired while our tastes have the pliancy of immaturity, and I think the same holds good of the troglodyte-habit: no one who has passed twenty or twenty-five years in open air can be bribed very easily to exchange oxygen for miasma.

Shamyl-ben-Haddin, the Circassian hero chieftain, who was captured by the Russians in the winter of 1864, was carried to Novgorod and imprisoned in an apartment of the city armory, which resembled a comfortable bedchamber rather than a dungeon, and was otherwise treated with more kindness than the Russians are wont to show their prisoners, as the Government hoped to use his influence for political purposes. But a week after his arrival in Novgorod the captive mountaineer demanded an interview with the commander of the armory, and offered to resign his liberal rations and subsist on bread and cab-