Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 12.djvu/56

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46
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

or travelers in a crowded stage-coach will protest if one of their number ventures to open a window after sundown, no matter how glorious the night or how oppressive the effluvia of the closed apartment. Pious men they may be, and most anxious to distinguish good from evil, but they never suspect that God's revelations are written in another language than that of the Hebrew dogmatist. Here, as elsewhere, men suppress their instincts instead of their artificial cravings. If we have learned to interpret the fact that a child whose mind is not yet biased by any hearsays is sure to prefer pure and cold air to the miasmatic "comfort" of a close room, the troglodyte-habit will disappear, as intemperance will vanish if we recognize the significance of that other fact—that to every beginner the taste of alcohol is repulsive, and that only the tenth or twelfth dosis of the obnoxious substance begins to be relished; just as the Russian stage-conductor relishes the atmosphere of his ambulant dungeon, whatever may have been his feelings of horror on the first trip.

If ever we recognize a truth which was familiar enough to the ancients, but seems to have been forgotten for the last ten or twelve centuries, viz., that our noses were given us for some practical purpose, the architecture of our dwellings, our factories, school-rooms, and places of worship, will be speedily corrected; and even the builder of an immigrant-ship will find a way to modify that floating Black Hole of Calcutta called the steerage. Prisons, too, will be modeled after another plan. Our right to diet our criminals on the ineffable mixture of odors which they are now obliged to accept as air depends on the settlement of the question whether the object of punishment is reform or revenge? In the latter case the means answer the purpose with a vengeance indeed: in the first case there is no more excuse for saturating the lungs of a prisoner with the seeds of tuberculosis than there would be for feeding him on trichinæ or inoculating him with the leprosy-virus.

The exegesis of consumption very nearly justifies Michelet's paradox—that the greatest evils might be easiest avoided. "There is no excuse for famine," says Varnhagen von Ense; "we could all live in clover if we did not misapply a large portion of our arable land to the production of tobacco, opium, and other poisonous weeds, and send ship-loads of our breadstuffs to the distillery. I am sure that if the spontaneous productions of the soil furnished us mountains of grain and rivers of honey, we would still manage to use it up in the manufacture of intoxicating poisons, and complain of hunger as before. If any one should doubt this, let him reflect on the fact that, while we are surrounded by a respirable atmosphere of more than 800,000,000 cubic miles, civilization has contrived a famine of air!"