Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 2.djvu/435

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419
NERVOUS HEALTH AND MORAL HEALTH.

and keep their minds fixed on tranquillizing objects of contemplation. That was the physiological ethics arrived at from a different side—from that side of the mind which yearns after unshaken intellectual dignity, after calm self-possession. In other words, penitence for sin of any thorough kind should be carefully eschewed, for it involves strong emotion; and the inexhaustible craving after a perfection that cannot be attained should also be kept down, for that implies an inward gnawing of the heart which is dangerous to intellectual calm. Thus, what the physiologist reaches through the doctrine of "tissue," the apostle of culture reaches through the idolatry of intellectual calm. Does it need to be said that any genuine ethical doctrine, while it will listen to and not despise the lesson of physiology and the cultus of serenity, will regard both the one and the other as utterly subordinate considerations in relation to the moral ideal? As it may be right to lay down the life for others, so it may be right to endanger health, to draw too heavily on the supplies of nervous tissue, to face the possibility of a sacrifice of intellectual calm, in a word to run counter to the admonitions both of physiology and of culture. We should say, for instance, that to look any pain that naturally befalls us—intellectual, moral, or only of the heart—steadily in the face, and realize fully what it is and means, is one of the most imperative of inward duties, and that one is sensible of a certain unmanly cowardice in all the expedients for escaping from it by taking refuge in lower though perfectly innocent excitements, for hiding it away from one's self without learning all it means. And yet to grasp the full meaning of any real pain, whether due to one's own unexpected intellectual or moral shortcomings—whether it arises from shrinking of will, or failure of faculty, or the sin which brings remorse, or simply from the unfaithfulness of others, or from death—is one of the most "depressing" of the duties of the inward life, and one from which the natural man usually turns away without the need of warning from the physiologist. And if the comparative clearness of physiological science should ever lead to the substitution of a physiological for a truly moral code of conduct, we are quite sure that the very first result would be to render men less sincere with themselves, not only less able to govern themselves, but less willing even to face that which is painful or evil in their own natures. Nervous health is one things and moral health is another. We suspect that what is good for the one is often bad for the other, and that the doctrine which discourages the simple suppression of feelings that are beneath us, and the steady encounter with forms of inward pain from which Nature tempts us to escape, as a shying horse starts away from an object it dreads, is a doctrine which would sacrifice the highest part of man—that for which life is given—to the conservation of the tissues of the brain, and the cultivation of that coolness of temperament which is the best security for a somewhat ignoble longevity.—London Spectator.