Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 2.djvu/434

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.

sion of the depressing emotions is far more hurtful than that of the pleasurable. Grief, disappointment, or envy, when restrained from external display, has a marked tendency to exert a very hurtful influence upon the nervous system of organic life, which governs the processes of secretion and of repair." Now, if we take this doctrine along with the other, which denies to man all power over the physiological conditions of life, most men will infer that physiology is a far better source of guidance than any considerations of right and wrong. If the will has no power over the physiological conditions of life, while the physiological conditions of life have great power over the will, naturally we shall seek the guidance of the latter, and not try to find rules for the guidance of the former. Here, for instance, is a new rule of the physiological sort at once: "The suppression of all emotions, but especially of depressing emotions, is injurious." Therefore, in place of attempting to repress and conquer selfish anger by an inward effort, one ought, in deference to one's nervous physiology, to go and bang the door of some empty room at least, or indulge in a flood of tears with the women and children. Or, if envy—one of the most depressing of passions, as the exponent of the physiological rules for long life justly remarks—preys upon an ambitious or vain spirit, the depressing effect ought, we suppose, to be guarded against by inventing some similar safety-valve. If the sufferer from that passion be literary or artistic, an anonymous satire or bitter caricature would become a personal duty, in order to avoid the injurious gnawing of a "depressing emotion." If there be no access to literature and art, to secure a confidant to whom backbiting speeches can be safely made, without danger of their being retailed, would not seem so much an ignoble indulgence as a medical precaution. Where is this doctrine, that the complete restraint of the "depressing emotions" is injurious to the nervous system, to lead us to, in the absence of any code of right and wrong that assumes the freedom of the will, and the power of obeying or infringing a divine moral law? It would suggest a perfectly new law of conduct, according to which we should shape our inward life, not with relation to any spiritual ideal within us, but in relation to the expediency of letting off dangerous physiological steam, by expressing whatever it might be injurious to repress. Quilp's device of keeping a wooden effigy, on which to let loose his evil passions, might become a serious suggestion in this physiological school of ethics; and what it might lead to in the direction of physical passion it is not even tolerable to contemplate.

Certainly there is one tenet of the Physiological school of ethics which is more and more frequently recommended to the world for its acceptance, not only by the apostles of these doctrines, but by the partisans of culture. Goethe was the first famous teacher who not only taught, but systematically acted upon, the teaching that men should deliberately turn away from all sources of disturbing emotion,