Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 22.djvu/752

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

But what is of importance to notice in this place is that the growing disposition to consult past and surrounding facts before inaugurating change belongs to the strictly scientific habit of mind; and if it is true that much laborious investigation seems for the time to be thrown away, yet it seldom happens that complicated and far-reaching changes are encountered without the assistance of a previous impartial and deliberate inquiry of the kind here adverted to. The scientific method, in Politics as elsewhere, is slowly and surely getting the better of the empiric.

 

THE ECONOMIC FUNCTION OF VICE.
By JOHN McELROY.

FOR some inscrutable reason, which she has as yet given no hint of revealing, Nature is wondrously wasteful in the matter of generation. She creates a thousand where she intends to make use of one. Impelled by maternal instinct, the female cod casts millions of eggs upon the waters, expecting them to return after many days as troops of interesting offspring. Instead, half the embryotic gadi are almost immediately devoured by spawn-eaters, hundreds of thousands perish in incubation, hundreds of thousands more succumb to the perils attending ichthyic infancy, leaving but a few score to attain to adult usefulness, and pass an honored old age, with the fragrance of a well-spent life, in a country grocery.

The oak showers down ten thousand acorns, each capable of producing a tree. Three fourths of them are straightway diverted from their arboreal intent, through conversion into food by the provident squirrel and the improvident hog. Great numbers rot uselessly upon the ground, and the few hundreds that finally succeed in germinating grow up in a dense thicket, where at last the strongest smothers out all the rest, like an oaken Othello in a harem of quercine Desdemonas.

This is the law of all life, animal as well as vegetable. From the humble hyssop on the wall to the towering cedar of Lebanon—from the meek and lowly amœba, which has no more character or individuality than any other pinpoint of jelly—to the lordly tyrant, man, the rule is inevitable and invariable. Life is sown broadcast, only to be followed almost immediately by a destruction nearly as sweeping. Nature creates by the million, apparently that she may destroy by the myriad. She gives life one instant, only that she may snatch it away the next. The main difference is that, the higher we ascend, the less lavish the creation, and the less sweeping the destruction. Thus, while probably but one fish in a thousand reaches maturity, of every 1,000 children born 604 attain adult age. That is, Nature flings aside 999