Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 43.djvu/278

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266
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.
EDITOR'S TABLE.


SOCIAL PROBLEMS.

WE have read with considerable interest a book by Mr. Henry M. Boies, elsewhere noticed in this number, having for its title Prisoners and Paupers. We have read it not only with interest but with sympathy, for Mr. Boies is much in earnest, and his aim is the noble one of serving the community by checking the evils of criminality, pauperism, and mental and physical degeneration, which in these latter years have been assuming so threatening proportions. With much that the author says we entirely agree, and many of his suggestions seem to be of a very practical and useful kind. Here and there is perhaps a touch of undue national vaingloriousness which does not harmonize very well with the fact that the book is in the main a revelation of the weaknesses of American society. Here and there, too, the author seems to contradict himself, as where, on page 95, he speaks of the upward tendencies in this country being more powerful than the downward ones, and afterward (page 258) says that, while "we are listening to the delusive enchantments of physical prosperity and national growth, millions of remorseless teredos from the lower depths are honeycombing the hull of our ship of state"; and again (page 259) that "the condition politically is desperate, but not hopeless"; and again (page 278) that "signs of a general degeneracy are attracting public attention." The important thing, however, is that, in the statements and observations he makes, Mr. Boies gives us plenty to think about, and makes it very plain that something more than thinking is called for — that prompt, strenuous, and intelligent action is an urgent necessity of the moment.

It all amounts to this, that, while the men of this generation are eating and drinking and taking their ease, marrying and giving in marriage, running political machines, and blowing hot or cold, as the case may be, upon the stock market; while luxury is on the increase, and practical Science is recording her most magnificent triumphs, the foundations of society are being sapped by the incessant growth of unsound social elements. In early ages mankind, in only less degree than the lower animal tribes, had the benefit of the rude but effective surgery of Nature to keep them up to a certain level of physical efficiency; and in a later period the extreme severity of the laws had the effect of removing from the community large numbers of those who were least adapted for citizenship. As a result of these processes the civilization of to-day, with its more humane and philanthropic spirit, became possible; but it is now beginning to be found out that philanthropy, as heretofore practiced, is no match, so far as the physical purification of society is concerned, for the methods of Nature, as described by Malthus and Darwin, or even for the penal discipline of our forefathers. Mr. Boies fully accepts this view of the matter, as the following extract from his book will show:

"The civilized man is the product of the survival through all the ages of the strongest, most stalwart, and capable savages. In the progress of his civilization the development of the sentiment of human brotherhood and the principles of Christianity has caused an interference with the natural law provided for the extinction of the unfit by impelling the strong to maintain and care for the weak and defective. At the same time, advances in the sciences of hygiene, medicine, and surgery enable many of the unfit to survive the tests of child-