By FELIX L. OSWALD, M.D.
IN the tragedy of errors, called the history of the human race, ignorance has often done as much mischief as sin; and the erroneous theories of the cause—and, consequently, the proper cure—of the Poison-Vice have caused nearly as much misery as that vice itself. They have made intemperance an all but incurable evil; they have helped to originate the dogma of natural depravity, the confidence in the efficacy of anti-natural remedies, and that baneful mistrust in the competence of our natural instincts that still vitiates our whole system of physical education.
Physiology is a true thaumaturgic science—a description of wonders. The veriest savage must dimly recognize the fact that man can not measure his cunning against the wisdom of the Creator, and, if the development of science should continue at the present rate of progress for a thousand generations, the accumulated knowledge of all those ages would convince its inheritors that a blade of grass is a greater marvel than all the products of human skill. No human artificer can imitate the mechanism of a motor-nerve; the structural devices which the microscope reveals in the tissue of the meanest moss are perfect hyperboles of wisdom and plastic skill. But the greatest miracles of that wisdom manifest themselves in the self-protecting contrivances of a living organism. Our nervous system performs its functions by a combination of alarm-signals that apprise us of an infinite variety of external dangers and internal needs, in a language that has a distinct expression for every want of our alimentary and respiratory organs, for every distress of our tissues, sinews, and muscles, for every needed reaction against the influence of abnormal circumstances; our skin protests against every injurious degree of heat and cold, our lungs against atmospheric impurities, our eyes against the intrusion of the smallest insect; the human body is a house that cleanses its own chambers and heats its own stoves, opens and shuts its windows at proper intervals, expels mischievous intruders, and promptly informs its tenant of every external peril and internal disorder.
How, then, can it be explained that the wonderful architect of that living house has provided no better safeguard against such a dreadful danger as the alcohol-habit? Millions of our fellow-men complain that they owe their temporal and eternal ruin to the promptings of an irresistible appetite—as if Nature herself had lured them