Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 1.djvu/252

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author has made narcotics and anaesthetics a matter of special scientific study and physiological experiment; and, although his hypothesis of a “nervous ether” is regarded as fanciful, yet his statement of the way alcohol influences the system is independent of that speculation, and will be found instructive.

The evils that arise to individuals and to society, through the agency of alcoholic drinks, are universally admitted, but the question what is to be done to remedy them proves most difficult. It has been asked in this country and in England, for half a century, without eliciting any satisfactory reply, and the same question is being now very seriously proposed by the French. There seems to have been an enormous increase in the consumption of spirits in France, a great reduction of cost, and a deterioration of quality. In 1820, there were consumed 7,700,000 gallons of alcoholic drink; in 1869, it had risen to 21,500,000 gallons. In 1850, nine-tenths came from the distillation of the products of the vine, while in 1869 the vine furnished only three-tenths of it—the remainder coming from beet-root and grain. So a gallon of liquor, which in 1850 cost nine francs, sells to-day for two and a half francs. It is alleged that suicides and insanity have increased during this period in a rapid ratio.

To arrest this tendency of things, the French are fertile in projects. They would tax cheap liquors, they would extirpate the vine, they would make public drunkenness criminal, they would pledge men to total abstinence from—ever setting foot in a café.

But, what is more to the purpose, a society has been organized in Paris, embracing a large number of physicians and scientists, who propose to instruct the people by the press and lectures as to the evils which flow from the habitual use of alcoholic drinks. They will not insist on teetotalism or prohibition, but urge the substitution for the stronger liquors of such beverages as coffee, native wines, cider, and beer.

It is not to be disguised that the problem here proposed, and with which civilization is now confronted, is one of the most refractory that philanthropy has yet encountered. Slavery was a local and anomalous institution, based upon legislation, and, when the turf of moral suasion failed to dislodge it, the stones of war proved effectual. But the evil of intemperance cannot be terminated by burning gunpowder. The craving for stimulation and for stimulants, in one or another of their innumerable forms, is not a local, unusual, arbitrary, or statutory thing, but a rooted and universal passion of human nature. It is not confined to special communities, but pervades alike the civilized and uncivilized races all over the world; varying in different types of humanity, but common to all. Some races take to opium, others to hashish, others to alcohol. It is this deep basis of the propensity in human nature that gives to the subject its mystery and its perplexity.

The rationale of stimulation is indeed not so puzzling. Food builds up and maintains the vital activity of the whole animate creation in its working state, but that is not enough for man. He leads a life of high and complex feeling, subject to wide fluctuations, while his intellect furnishes him with the means of influencing his emotional states. He therefore seeks those agencies which act to arouse pleasurable emotion, and these are stimulants. Capable of appreciating the immediate pleasure, but incapable of realizing adequately the distant pain, the habit is formed, and use runs into abuse.

What, then, is to be done? Here logic is soon at fault, for the headlong reformer, who fixes his attention upon some special phase of the evil, and would eradicate it root and branch, is soon found to be himself involved in something not very unlike what he so