Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 1.djvu/227

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WHEN, the other day, a juror in one of the Westfield suits refused to award damages against the steamboat company, on the ground that the disaster could have happened only by the direct will of God, and was simply an inscrutable Providence, the community heard him with a suppressed titter, which, if it implied tolerance for his convictions, implied equal contempt for his understanding. For it was patent to every mind but his own that a worn-out boiler must explode at the very instant when all conditions favored that catastrophe, and that the men who knew thatthat instant was imminent, yet hourly solicited travellers to a possible death, were morally guilty, not only of criminal neglect and deceit, but of murder.

But many candid men, who saw clearly the accountability of the Westfield owners and managers, shake their heads just now over what seems to them a really mysterious visitation of God—the Persian famine. And because all great and inexplicable calamities pain loving hearts, and sadden, if they do not obscure the faith of many souls, it seems worth while to look a moment at this subject of Inscrutable Providences.

Here is this case of the Persian famine. For unknown years the Persians have been cutting off their trees, and diminishing their rainfall thereby. Nay, not only has the removal of the forests decreased the supply, but it has wasted whatever rain fell. For the roots of the trees, and of all the innumerable shrubs and bushes and vines and ferns that thrive in their shadow, kept the ground open and held the water in countless natural wells for the use of the soil in droughts. But all the undergrowth dying when its protecting forests were felled, the scanty showers percolated into the streams at once, causing rare floods and frequent droughts. The droughts yielded no harvests, and no harvests were followed by pestilence, famine, and death. Now, for three years no rain has fallen on the blistered fields, and a nation apparently is dying. The very first drought was the kindly warning of Heaven against the violation of natural laws. Men were too heedless or too ignorant to accept it; and the sins of the fathers are to-day visited on the children, not in the vengeance of an awful Power, but in the discipline of relentless law. Is not this a Providence so scrutable that he who runs may read?

When, in Chicago, a night's fire undid a generation's toil, spreading misery and death broadcast, was that horror in the least degree inexplicable? Every man who, within thirty years, had put up a wooden house in a city whose familiar breezes were gales, and whose gales were hurricanes, solicited that rain of fire. They who, hasting to be rich, fell into the snare of cheap and dangerous building, digged, every man, a pit for his neighbor's feet as well as for his own. The inscru-