Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 33.djvu/47

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37
THE MORAL INFLUENCE OF CLIMATE.

humanity rose to a higher level; each great movement being accompanied by social disturbances of great magnitude and serious import, but which experience proved were but temporary in their nature and infinitesimal in their influence for evil in comparison with the good that followed. And what the watchman standing on this higher eminence can now see is, that the time has come when the population of the world commands the means of a comfortable subsistence in a greater degree and with less of effort than ever before; and what he may reasonably expect to see at no very remote period is, the dawn of a day when human poverty will mean more distinctly than ever physical disability, mental incapacity, or unpardonable viciousness or laziness.


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THE MORAL INFLUENCE OF CLIMATE.

By FELIX L. OSWALD, M.D.

A PHILOSOPHIC advocate of religious tolerance holds that "the most effective way to explode a popular fallacy is to explain it." If we should apply that method to the exorcism of the mediæval specters that still haunt the by-ways of the nineteenth century, we might say that the moral aberrations of the middle ages sprang chiefly from the tendency to underrate the moral effects of physical causes. If the chronic despondency of a mediæval dyspeptic reached the phase of suicidal temptations, his confessor would advise him to defeat the wiles of the arch-fiend by devoting his leisure to the recitation of a few thousand paternosters. If peppered hash and want of exercise had vitiated the temper of his wife to an unbearable degree, he was instructed to consider the visitation a judgment incurred by his unbelief, or by his opposition to an extra assessment of the tithe-collector. The epidemic increase of the alcohol-habit was persistently treated as a disorder amenable to the influence of prayer-meetings. For nearly a thousand years the history of European morals was, indeed, the history of the efforts and failures of visionaries who hoped to reconcile the promotion of ethical reform with a total neglect of physiological studies.

Since the revival of naturalism, however, the tendencies of educational reform make it probable that the progress of moral philosophy will become identified with the development of a new science, thus far only outlined in a few incidental treatises on the interaction of body and mind. The possibilities of that science are suggestively indicated by the results of the statistical studies devoted to one of its branches — the moral influence