In forecasting the destiny of any people from the stand-point of physiology, it is necessary to consider the three elements which, by their complex interactions, make up the character of men and of nations, — race, climate, and institutions. Of these three factors the latter must be a resultant of the first and second, though modified, more or less, by the character and institutions of surrounding nations. The coming American will be the product of the races that now occupy or are immigrating to our country; of our peculiar climate as it may be changed by time and civilization and of our political, religious, educational, and social institutions as they have developed, or shall develop, during the process of the adjustment of race to environment. He who would know what manner of man the thirtieth century shall look upon in this land must analyze, with all the tests of science, these three streams, the confluence of which is to determine America’s future.
Of these three streams race is the broadest and deepest, and flows with the strongest current, and long retains its own characteristics, in spite of the force of the streams with which it unites, as the waters of the Amazon are borne with such force into the sea that they can be detected many leagues from its mouth.
The races that have peopled America are at once the best and the worst of Europe. There is no evidence that on the whole the Greeks or the Romans were superior physically to the best of modern Europeans, or to their immediate descendants in this country; for, while new diseases and new varieties of disease have appeared, longevity has been on the increase all along the line of our civilization, and the capacity to endure protracted toil and extremes of temperature, and privations of food and repose and other bodily comforts, has probably never stood severer tests than in Europe and America during the past two hundred years. If, in a comparison, it be allowed that a small body of Grecians may, through a variety of favoring influences, have climbed to loftier heights of artistic culture than the same number in any other age, yet it must also be allowed, without question, that the average culture of Europe and America is better than that of Athens or Rome.
America, then, embarks upon her future under the command of as good officers and crew as any ship of state that has yet been launched; the voyage, however, is to be amid storms which, while dreaded and sure to come, cannot be accurately predicted, and over seas as yet but partly explored.
In limited, historic time race is, then, the one great factor in determining the character and future of any nation, putting under its feet unfriendliness of climate, modifying or assimilating all human institutions. If in unlimited, prehistoric time race be the result of climate and the environment, yet in the short period in which man’s existence on this earth is recorded any race, when once developed, preserves its characteristics for many generations in climates and under institutions of a directly opposite character. The Hebrews have gone to every clime, and have succeeded in all, or nearly all, everywhere maintaining the features and the character of their race: under all governments, surrounded by all forms of religion and superstition; in persecution, in exile, against social ostracism; shut out from many avenues of subsistence and comfort; under temperate, under tropical, skies, they are Hebrews still.
But while the general characteristics of race are preserved, special modifications develop rapidly under diverse climates and institutions. If the white population of this country could be transferred bodily to Central Africa, carrying with it all our institutions of government, of religion, of education and of social life, changes would begin at once, and would proceed quickly in many of the intellectual, moral, and physical elements of the nation: the skin would become bronzed; the mien and expression and voice would grow languid; capacity and willingness to labor would diminish, and forethought and prudence, the cardinal virtues of cold climates, would be superseded by a disposition to let to-morrow take thought for the things of itself; functional nervous diseases, now so common, would disappear or greatly decline, and in their place fevers and inflammations would multiply and become more fatal; religious beliefs and practices, and the special types and standards of morality, would change, in some respects for the better, in others, and mostly, for the worse, — and all these modifications might arise in a century or two, and would fairly begin with the second generation. Already, indeed, a partial experiment of this kind has been going on in our own country for several generations, since the Gulf States, on the borders of the sub-tropics, peopled by the same races that occupy the North and East, have developed, in a degree, all these changes; the functional nervous disorders of New England and the West are, in the latitude of New Orleans and Mobile, comparatively rare, and some are almost unknown; energy, ambition, and economy are, from the puritan point of view, counted among the lost virtues; and the ideas of faith, of conduct, and of culture differ from those of the North as the temperature of the Gulf of Mexico differs from that of the Northern Atlantic.
The races that leave Europe to settle in this country find a climate which, throughout the entire North and West, is distinguished from that of Great Britain, France, Germany, and Italy by these two characteristics, which are probably the main causes of the peculiar nervousness of the Americans, — alternations of extreme heat and cold, and dryness of the atmosphere.
When we wish to obtain a powerful stimulating effect on any part of the body, we apply, in rapid alternation, ice and hot water: used for a short time, this application strengthens; used for a long time, it weakens. What the temporary effect of an alternation of heat and cold to the whole body may be, every one who has taken a Turkish or Russian bath well knows, and what the general effect of such baths kept up constantly, or for a large part of the time, may be, one can without difficulty imagine; there are indeed constitutions that cannot take even a short bath without fainting or weariness. The inhabitants of the Northern and Eastern portion of the United States are subjected to severer and more sudden and frequent alternations of extreme heat and cold than the inhabitants of any other civilized country. Our climate is a union of the tropics and the poles: “half the year we freeze, half the year roast,” and at all seasons a day of painful cold is liable to be followed by a day of painful warmth. Continuous and uniform cold as in Greenland, like continuous and uniform heat as on the Amazon, produces enervation and languor; but repeated alternations of the cold of Greenland and the heat of the Amazon produce energy, restlessness, and nervousness. The climate of England and the Continent differs from that of America, in respect to uniformity, far more than is usually recognized even by those who have passed years abroad: of the cold of our winters, of the heat of our summers, England has but little experience. Invalid travelers who, as is the case with many Americans, are sensitive to cold complain that from the time they leave America to the time of their return they never know what it is to be really warm. A clerical friend of mine, who resided several years in England, tells me that lack of warmth was a constant and severe affliction. All the houses that he visited were kept at a temperature at least ten degrees below what was comfortable for himself and wife; and yet neither of them were invalids, though both were ideal representatives of the American type of susceptibility.
Our extremes give rise, among many other symptoms of nervous impressibility, to sensitiveness to heat and cold; midsummer and midwinter are borne with difficulty, and many whom I have known find it necessary to keep constantly on the run before climatic changes. For such, no section of the country is habitable more than three or four months of the year: in the winter they must take refuge in Florida; in the spring, to escape the heat and malaria, they hasten home, whence, in a few weeks, they are driven to the sea-side or farm-house. To live twelve months in one place is what very few of the brain-working classes of our large cities can endure. In this susceptibility to cold and heat, and the consequent necessity of hot-air furnaces and summer retreats, there has been a vast change within quarter of a century. Our fathers were comfortable in a temperature of sixty degrees, while we require from seventy to seventy-five degrees, and even then suffer half the year from creeping chills and cold extremities. The metropolitan heats they bore right through midsummer, without the need or thought of vacation; and, without taking cold or experiencing severe discomfort, sat for hours in damp and fireless churches. Foreigners often complain of our over-warm rooms, which to them are as annoying as their under-warm rooms are to us; a temperature of sixty degrees contents them, as it did our ancestors half a century or less ago.
Our ups and downs of temperature, with deep snows and smiting heats, make exercise and activity at certain seasons a burden and a peril for all except the strongest, while in England all the year is open to out-door amusements and toil. The English summer is almost always comfortable, — sometimes very cool; all the year overcoats are in demand, and in the evenings fires are desired, as at our summer resorts by the sea and in the mountains. During the summer of 1868 the thermometer in England ranged between eighty-two and eighty-eight degrees, and at one time rose to ninety-two degrees, and all complained of the excessive heat. In the winter ice is not abundant; snow falls only to the depth of two or three inches, and remains on the ground for but a few days; skating and coasting and sleighing are almost forbidden joys. Through the entire year, in midwinter even, the meadows are fresh and green, and there is not a month when the public parks cease to be visited. In the coldest seasons a temperature of zero, or even ten degrees above, is unknown; at Greenwich the average of the thermometer during the month of January for half a century was thirty-seven degrees, a temperature that will not only allow but invite various and active outdoor recreations. The English winter, indeed, is not unlike our March shorn of its bitterness and on its good behavior.
We Americans, on the contrary, for a part of the year are prisoners to our climate: in the summer not daring to walk abroad, for fear of sunstroke; in midwinter hemmed in by biting cold and impassable drifts of snow; at no season able to predict or calculate the temperature for a day, or even half an hour, in advance. These sudden leaps of the American climate from distressing heat to severe cold, or the reverse, are quite unfamiliar to England, where spring slowly unfolds into summer, and summer in turn descends into a moderate winter.
The element of dryness of the air, peculiar to our climate as distinguished from that of Europe, both in Great Britain and on the Continent, is of the highest scientific and practical interest. The evidences of this dry state of our atmosphere are numerous and striking: clothes on the line can be taken in more quickly than in Europe; there is less of mould in libraries, in closets, and on furniture; the specimens of the naturalist keep much longer without injury; wood-work of houses and picture-frames crack more speedily; the hair and beard are drier and stiffer, have less oil and moisture, than in Europe, and pomades are in greater demand.
The causes of this great lack of moisture are found in the relative infrequency of lakes, the vast extent of unbroken territory, and the scarcity of rain. The continent of Europe and the British Isles are not only surrounded, but cut up, by immense bodies of water: hence the air is always freighted with moisture; hence, in part, the ruddiness, the solidity, and the bulk of the representative Englishman. The influence of the Gulf Stream is likewise of importance on the climate of Great Britain.
In regard to the electrical state of a dry atmosphere, this general fact is quite clear: that the electricity which is found in all states of the atmosphere is less evenly and uniformly diffused, and more liable to various disturbances through inequalities of tension, when the air is dry than when it is moist. Moisture conducts electricity, and an atmosphere well charged with moisture, other conditions being the same, will tend to keep the electricity in a state of equilibrium, since it allows free and ready conduction at all times and in all directions. The human body, therefore, when surrounded by a moist atmosphere never has its own electrical condition seriously disturbed, nor is it liable to sudden and frequent disturbances from the want of equilibrium in the air in which it moves.
In regions where the atmosphere is excessively dry, as in the Rocky Mountains, human beings, indeed all animals, become constantly acting lightning-rods, liable at any moment to be made a convenient pathway through which electricity going to or from the earth seeks an equilibrium. Hence it is that in that section, especially in the more elevated portions, the hair of the head and the tails of horses not unfrequently stand erect, and travelers over the mountains are astonished and alarmed by flames of lightning on the rocks, and even on their walking-sticks. In the valley of Sacramento, and, to a less extent, in other sections of the Pacific coast, there occur at certain times what are called “north winds,” which, for some not well-understood reasons, are excessively dry, and consequently, for the causes above given, are attended by important electrical disturbances, similar in kind, but severer in degree, to those that at all times are liable to take place in that section. During the prevalence of these winds, which may last several hours or days, fruits and foliage, especially on the side toward the wind, tend to shrivel and wither; the grass, likewise, shows the effect of the same influence, and human beings and all animals are unwontedly irritable and nervous. Even in the East our neuralgic and rheumatic patients, during and just before thunder-storms, are often suddenly attacked by exquisite pains that at once disappear with the appearance of fair weather. There are those so sensitive that for a hundred miles and more, and for a full day in advance, they can predict without failure the approach of a storm. The atmospheric conditions and disturbances in relation to moisture, dryness, and electricity which these sensitives thus visibly and painfully appreciate, affect us all, though invisibly and painlessly; but through a life-time and through the generations these perpetually acting influences result in nervousness and nervous exhaustion, with all the maladies to which they lead.
A fact of special note is that the exceeding cold of our winters compels us to pass a large part of our time not only in-doors, but in rooms overheated with dry air; thus one of the bad features of our climate plays into the hands of the other, reinforcing, extending, multiplying, its capacity for evil. The high temperature and unnatural dryness of our closed rooms are both harmful, and are both made necessary by excessive external cold, and by the alternations of heat and cold that produce a sensitiveness of organization which can only find comfort in a somewhat high temperature.
Dryness of the air, whether external or internal, likewise excites nervousness by heightening the rapidity of the processes of waste and repair in the organism, so that we live faster than in a moist atmosphere. The rationale of this action of dryness on living beings—for it is observed in animals as in men—is as follows: Evaporation from the surface of the body is accompanied by dissipation of heat, and by the numerous and complex vital changes of which the evolution and dissipation of heat through evaporation are the results. In a moist atmosphere such evaporation takes place slowly, because the air, being already saturated with water, cannot rapidly take up the vapor that comes from the surface of the body; hence this vapor accumulates in the form of sensible perspiration. A dry atmosphere, on the contrary, is eager and hungry for the bodily moisture and rapidly absorbs it, so that it does not accumulate on the surface, but passes off as insensible perspiration. Hence the paradox that we perspire the least when we are apparently perspiring the most; on sultry August days our clothing is soaked, because the moisture of the body has no chance for ready escape, and consequently the vital changes that produce the moisture are obstructed and move with corresponding slowness. A day that is both moist and warm is hotter to the nerves of sensation and far more oppressive than a far warmer day that is also dry, for the conversion of the fluids of the body into insensible vapor, which process takes place so rapidly in dry air, is attended with escape of bodily heat which gives relief. Hence it is that in California and on the Pacific coast and in the Rocky Mountain region, where the thermometer sometimes runs as high as one hundred and ten or even one hundred and twenty degrees in the shade, sunstrokes were formerly unknown, and even now are exceedingly rare. Hence it is that the hot room in the moist Russian bath is so much harder to bear than the hotter rooms of the dry Turkish bath. Hence it is that our August dog-days are so much more wearying and painful than the hotter days of mid-June and of early July.
One great climatic advantage of Europe is the non-existence of dog-day weather, as we, in this country, understand that term; the moisture of the Northern European atmosphere is never, for any considerable time, combined with high temperature.
Dryness of the air is the main cause of the long-observed leanness of the Americans as compared with the Europeans. We are taller, thinner, lanker, than the original stock in England and Germany, mainly because in our dry atmosphere we so rapidly evaporate; the animal fluids disappear into the aerial fluid; we have little chance to accumulate fat. Remembering that the body is composed mostly of water, it is clear that rapid evaporation must be attended by a rapid loss of bodily weight. A thousand Americans, taken at random, weigh less on the average than a thousand Englishmen or Germans of the same ages and social status; even the dark aborigines, in spite of their indolence, were almost always lean.
Our habits and institutions, so far as they are distinctively American, — rapid eating, eager quest for gold, exciting revivals and elections, — are the product of a dry atmosphere and extremes of temperature combined with the needs of a new country and a pioneer life. We are nervous, primarily, because the rapid evaporation in our dry, out-door air and in our overheated rooms, for reasons above given, heightens the rapidity of the processes of waste and repair in the brain and nervous system, and the exhausting stimulation of alternations of torrid heat and polar cold; and, secondarily, because this nervousness is enhanced by the stress of poverty, the urgency of finding and holding means of living, the scarcity of inherited wealth, and the just desire of making and maintaining fortunes. We cannot afford to be calm; for those to whom the last question is whether they shall exist or die there is no time or force for acquiring plumpness of the body. Not How shall we live? but Can we live at all? is the problem that almost every American is all his life compelled to face.
The neuroses, or functional nervous diseases, — of which sick headache, neurasthenia (nervous exhaustion), neuralgia, spinal irritation, and hay fever are types, — are vastly more frequent and more complex in the Northern and Eastern part of the United States than in all the world besides. These maladies are an evolution, a differentiation of the nervous exhaustion, produced by our climate and institutions. They have increased pari passu with the increase of activity and the complexity and friction of our civilization. They did not appear in the first century of the republic, for time must elapse before climatic peculiarities could show, on a wide scale, their special effects on the organization; furthermore, in the last half century the stress and friction of civilization, under the influence of the railway, the newspaper, and the telegraph, have increased to a degree unparalleled in modern or ancient times. From this same cause—civilization—the European as well as the American nerves have been affected, especially in France, though on account of differences of climate and institutions far less than in our own country.
Susceptibility to alcohol and tobacco is one of the most striking characteristics of the many evidences of American nervousness. We cannot bear these stimulants and narcotics as our fathers could; we cannot bear them as can the English, or Germans, or French; indeed, all the Old World can both drink and smoke more than the Americans. Even coffee can be indulged in with freedom only by a minority of the population in the Northern States, and a cup of weak tea is for many a sure prescription for a wakeful night. Foreigners traveling and sojourning here must be far more cautious than is their wont with the purest and mildest liquors; while Americans, when long abroad, can often partake of the native wines, and also of stronger liquors, to a degree that at home would induce intoxication, perhaps lead directly to the symptoms of alcoholism. In truth, this functional malady of the nervous system which we call inebriety, as distinguished from the vice or habit of drunkenness, may be said to have been born in America, has here developed sooner and far more rapidly than elsewhere, and here also has received earlier and more successful attention from men of science. The increase of the disorder has forced us to study it and to devise plans for its relief.
All of the above reasonings apply to the Northern and Eastern portions of the United States far more than to the Southern States or to Canada. In the South, particularly in the Gulf States, there are not the extremes of heat and cold, nor the peculiar dryness of the air, that have been described. The Southern winters are mild, with little or no snow and abundance of rain and dampness, while the summers are never as intensely hot as in the latitude of Boston and New York. Throughout the year the Southern climate is both more equable and more moist than that of the North. Herein is explained the most interesting and suggestive fact that functional nervous diseases of all kinds regularly diminish in frequency and variety as we go South. Canada has extremes of temperature, but more of steady cold than the States, while the air is kept moist by numerous rivers, lakes, and the wide extent of forest; it does not therefore share, to any marked degree, in the nervousness of the Northern United States.
From the vantage-ground of the above facts and philosophy, and with the light afforded by the past and present experience of races and nations, it becomes possible to see, though dimly and for a limited period, into the physical future of the American people. In the thirtieth century, as now, America will be inhabited by all the leading races of modern civilization, although by that time there will have been an enormous advance toward unity. At the present time it is observed that the process of Americanization among our recent foreigners goes on with great rapidity; the peculiarities of our climate being so decided, universal, and impressive that even the second generation of stolid and plethoric Germans often acquires the sharpness of features, delicacy of skin, and dryness of hair that everywhere and for a long period have been rightly looked upon as American characteristics. Some of the most sensitive and impressible among the nervous sufferers that come under my care are Germans of American birth, but whose immediate ancestors came directly from the father-land. I have seen highly nervous Englishmen and Irishmen who early emigrated to this country and engaged in severe mercantile or professional pursuits; such persons are sometimes so changed, even in a half or quarter of a century, as to become almost as sensitive as the majority of indoor-working, native-born Americans. Alcohol they cannot use with any freedom, and must smoke, if at all, very moderately; they may be attacked by a myriad of nervous symptoms, common enough in this land, but in Europe almost unknown and uncredited.
But in spite of these quick and manifest changes wrought by our climate, the dominant characteristics of the general stock by which America is peopled must prevail over environment, not only for a century, but for many centuries. The union of races by marriage, conjoined with the constantly acting automatic forces of social and business intercourse, will tend, it is true, to homogeneity, but the leading race characteristics, mental and physical, will remain.
Very important, at least very radical, changes in our climate cannot be expected; extremes of heat and cold and dryness of the atmosphere will yet be notable features. The forest, like the ocean, is a great equalizer of temperature, making the summers less hot and the winters less cold, breaking the force of winds, preserving moisture, and filling our rivers and lakes. The cutting off of our forests has probably made both our winters and summers more severe; and the increasing number of sunstrokes and heat prostrations during the last decade is very likely the result of this cause, although heightened sensitiveness of organization and greater susceptibility to alcohol must be considered. The move for the preservation of forests, especially in the West, if successful, as in a degree it will be, must have a certain influence on climate during the centuries to come, making the atmosphere moister, and therefore less stimulating and exhausting.
In the future, as in the past, diseases will change in their nature, their symptoms, and their fatality with the changes in the constitution, the habits, and the lives of the people. Already, during the last half century, types and phases and symptoms of disease have visibly changed with the changes above noted in the American physique: acute febrile and inflammatory disorders, once so rapidly and widely fatal among all classes, have, in the higher orders, visibly declined both in frequency and virulence, and in their place have arisen a vast army of nameless nervous symptoms, which to all the centuries prior to the nineteenth were unknown and unimagined. Fearful and once-dreaded epidemics are now limited, local, and as a rule short-lived; sanitary science, with its various appliances and increasing powers, either keeps them at a distance, or else hems them in, surrounds them, and forces an easy surrender. In certain sections of the country malaria, and in nearly all sections typhoid and typhus fevers, are decreasingly common and severe, while in their place we have such distressing but rarely fatal maladies as neuralgia, sick headache, nervous exhaustion, and hay fever, — diseases comparatively so recent that many even now believe them to be subjective and imaginary. Much of disease is not a substance or entity, but a mode of motion of the forces in the organism. It must therefore be modified by, and in a degree correspond to, the changes that the organism undergoes. A nervous man, when attacked by any malady whatsoever, is sick in a different way from the plethoric and the phlegmatic. The nervous diathesis—the dominant type of constitution in the brain-working classes of America—impresses itself on every disease that attacks the system as demonstrably as malaria or syphilis; even our fevers become nervous, and nervous symptoms of a varied and indefinite character complicate all local and general disorder.
This increase of neuroses cannot be arrested suddenly; it must yet go on for at least twenty-five or fifty years, when all of these disorders shall be both more numerous and snore complex than at present. But side by side with these are already developing signs of improved health and vigor that cannot be mistaken; and the time must come—not unlikely in the first half of the twentieth century—when there will be a halt or retrograde movement in the march of nervous diseases, and while the absolute number of them may be great, relatively to the population, they will be less frequent than now.
Accumulated and transmitted wealth is to be in this, as in other countries, one of the safeguards of national health. Health is indeed the offspring of wealth. Always and everywhere abject and oppressed poverty is sickly, or liable to sickness, and on the average is short-lived; febrile and inflammatory disorders, plagues, epidemics, great accidents and catastrophes even, visit first and last and remain longest with those who have no money. The anxiety that is almost always born of poverty; the fear of still greater poverty, of distressing want, of sickness that is sure to come; the positive deprivation of food that is convenient, of clothing that is comfortable, of dwellings that are sightly and healthful; the constant and hopeless association with misery, discomfort, and despair; the lack of education through books, schools, or travel; the absence of all but forced vacations, — the result, and one of the worst results, of poverty, — added to the corroding force of envy and the friction of useless struggle, — all these factors that make up, or attend upon, simple want of money are in every feature antagonistic to health and longevity. Only when the poor become absolute paupers, and the burden of life is taken from them and put upon the state or public charity, are they in a condition of assured health and long life. For the majority of the poor, and for many of the rich, the one dread is to come upon the town; but as compared with many a home the poor-house is a sanitarium. The inmates of our public institutions of charity of the modern kind are often the happiest of men, blessed with an environ meat on the whole far more salubrious than that to which they have been accustomed, and favorably situated for a serene longevity. Here, in a sanitary point of view, the extremes of wealth and poverty meet; both conditions being similar in this, — that they remove the friction which is the main cause of ill health and short life. For the same reasons, well-regulated jails are healthier than many homes, and one of the best prescriptions for the broken-down and distressed is for them to commit some crime.
The augmenting wealth of the American people during the last quarter of a century is already making its impress on the national constitution, and in a variety of ways. A fat bank account tends to make a fat man; in all countries, amid all stages of civilization and semi-barbarism, the wealthy classes have been larger and heavier than the poor. Wealth, indeed, if it be abundant and permanent, supplies all the external conditions possible to humanity that are friendly to those qualities of the physique—plumpness, roundness, size—that are rightly believed to indicate well-balanced health: providing in liberal variety agreeable and nourishing food and drink, tasteful and commodious homes and comfortable clothing; bringing within ready and tempting access education, and the nameless and powerful diversions for muscle and mind that only a reasonable degree of enlightenment can obtain or appreciate; inviting and fortifying calmness, steadiness, repose in thought and action; inspiring and maintaining in all the relations of existence a spirit of self-confidence, independence, and self-esteem, which, from a psychological point of view, are, in the fight for life, qualities of the highest sanitary importance; in a word, minifying, along all the line of the physical functions, the processes of waste, and magnifying the processes of repair. So insalubrious are the hygienic surroundings of the abjectly poor that only a slow adaptation to those conditions makes it possible for them to retain either the power or the desire to live. In India this coincidence of corpulence and opulence has been so long observed that it is instinctively assumed; and certain Brahmins, it is said, in order to obtain the reputation of wealth, studiously cultivate a diet adapted to make them fat.
Herein is the partial, though not the entire, elucidation of the observed fact that, during the last two decades, the well-to-do classes of America have been visibly growing stronger, fuller, healthier. We weigh more than our fathers; the women in all our great centres of population are yearly becoming more plump and more beautiful; and in the leading brain-working occupations our men also are acquiring robustness, amplitude, quantity of being. On all sides there is a visible reversion to the better physical appearance of our English and German ancestors. A thousand girls and boys, a thousand men in the prime of years, taken by accident in any of our large cities, are heavier and more substantial than were the same number of the same age and walk of life twenty-five years ago. It could not, in fact, be different, for we have better food, better homes, more suitable clothing, less anxiety, greater ease, and more variety of healthful activity than even the best situated of our immediate ancestors. So inevitable was this result that had it been otherwise one might well suspect that the law of causation had been suspended.
Poverty has, it is true, its good side from a hygienic as well as from other points of view; for, practically, good and evil are but relative terms, the upper and nether sides of the same substance, and constantly tending to change places. The chief advantage of poverty as a sanitary or hygienic force is that, in some exceptional natures, it inspires the wish and supplies the capacity to escape from it, and in the long struggle for liberty we acquire the power and the ambition for something higher and nobler than wealth; the impulse of the rebound sends us farther than we had dreamed. Stung by early deprivation to the painful search for gold, we often find treasures that gold cannot buy. But for one whom poverty stimulates and strengthens, there are thousands whom it subjugates and destroys, entailing disease and an early death from generation to generation. The majority of our Pilgrim Fathers in New England, and of the primitive settlers in the Southern and Middle States, really knew but little of poverty in the sense in which the term is here used. They were an eminently thrifty people, and brought with them both the habits and the results of thrift to their homes in the New World. Poverty as here described is of a later evolution, following in this country, as in all others, the pathway of a high civilization.
In the centuries to come there will probably be found in America, not only in our large cities, but in every town and village, orders of financial nobility, above the need but not above the capacity or the disposition to work: strong at once in inherited wealth and inherited character; using their vast and easy resources for the upbuilding of manhood, physical and mental; and maintaining a just pride in transmitting these high ideals, and the means for realizing them, to their descendants. Families thus favored can live without physical discomfort, and work without worrying. Their healthy and well-adjusted forces can be concentrated at will, and in the beginning of life, on those objects best adapted to their tastes and talents; thus economizing and utilizing so much that those who are born poor and sickly and ignorant are compelled to waste in oftentimes fruitless struggle. The moral influence of such a class scattered through our society must be, on the whole, with various and obvious exceptions and qualifications, salutary and beneficent. By keeping constantly before the public high ideals of culture, for which wealth affords the means; by elevating the now dishonored qualities of serenity and repose to the rank of virtues, where they justly belong; and by discriminatingly co6perating with those who are less favored in their toils and conflicts, they cannot help diffusing, by the laws of psychical contagion, a reverence for those same ideals in those who are able but most imperfectly to live according to them. Thus they may help to bring about that state of society where men shall no more boast of being overworked than of any other misfortune, and shall no longer be ashamed to admit that they have both the leisure and the desire for thought; and the throne of honor so long held by the practical man shall be filled, for the first time in the history of the nation, by the man of ideas. The germs of such a class have even now begun to appear, and already their power is clearly perceptible on American society.
While all brain work is so far forth healthful and conducive to longevity, yet the different orders of mental activity differ very widely in the degree of their health-giving power; the law is invariable that the exercise of the higher faculties is more salutary and more energizing than the exercise of the lower. The higher we rise in the atmosphere of thought the more we escape the strifes, the competitions, the worryings and exhausting disappointments, in short, all the infinite frictions, that inevitably attend the struggle for bread that all must have, and the more we are stimulated and sustained by those lofty truths for which so few aspire. The search for truth is more healthful as well as more noble, than the search for gold, and the best of all antidotes and means of relief for nervous disease is found in philosophy. Thus it is in part that Germany, which in scientific and philosophic discovery does the thinking for all nations, and which has added more to the world’s stock of purely original ideas than any other country, Greece alone excepted, is less nervous than any other nation; thus it is also that America, which in the same department has but fed on the crumbs that fall from Germany’s table, has developed a larger variety and number of functional nervous diseases than all other nations combined.
The commanding law of evolution—the biggest generalization that the human mind has yet reached—affords indispensable aid in solving the problem we are here discussing. This law, when rightly understood, in all its manifold dependencies, developments, complications, ramifications, divergencies, sheds light on numberless questions of sociology which formerly were in hopeless darkness. It is a part of this law that growth or development in any one direction, or along any one line of a race, family, or tribe, in time reaches its limit, beyond which it cannot pass, and where, unless reinforced by some new or different impression or influence, — a supply of vital force from some centre outside of itself to take the place of that which is expended in the exhausting processes of reproduction and expansion, — it dies utterly away. Not more surely does a branch of a tree subdivide into numerous twigs, all of which must sooner or later reach their respective terminations, than do the various families of any people tend to their own elimination. The capacity for growth in any given direction, physical or mental, is always limited; no special gift of body or mind can be cultivated beyond a certain point, however great the tenderness and care bestowed upon it. The more rapid and luxurious the growth, the sooner the supply of potential force is exhausted; and the faculty or gift, whatever it may be, is lost only to be renewed in an entirely distinct family, or by the injection of the blood and nerve of a radically different race. The infinity of nature is not in the endurance or permanency of any of its elements, — everything is changing, everything is dying, — but in the exhaustlessness of the supply. In horses only a certain rate of speed, in cows only a limited milk-forming power, in fowls but a moderate fertility, can be reached in any line of stock by any degree of mortal prevision and skill. The dying is as natural and as inevitable as the living; declension is as normal as ascension, as truly a part of exceptionless law. In man, that higher operation of the faculties which we call genius is hereditary, transmissible, running through and in families as demonstrably as pride or hay fever, the gifts as well as the sins of the fathers being visited upon the children and the children’s children; general talent, or some special talent, in one or both parents rises and expands in immediate or remote offspring, and ultimately flowers out into a Socrates, a Shakespeare, a Napoleon, and then falls to the ground. In accordance with this law, it is inevitable that many of the strong and great families of America at the present day must perish, and their places be supplied by the descendants of those who are now ignorant and obscure. This does not mean, as many have fancied, the dying out of the American people: the race lives while tribes and families perish; the periodical crops ripen and decay while the tree that produces them is every year adding to its growth.
It is also a part of this law of evolution that the lower must minister to the higher. The strength of the strong must come, in part, from the weakness of the weak; millions perish that hundreds may survive. That a single family may rise to enduring prominence and power, it is needful that through long generations scores of families shall endure poverty and pain, and struggle with cruel surroundings; shall vainly desire and perhaps strive for wealth and fame and position and ease, and sink at last in the conflict. For every brain worker there must be ten muscle workers. Even in Greece, the flower of all the civilizations, the majority of the population were slaves; that a few thousand might cultivate the intellect, hundreds of thousands must cultivate the soil. One cannot imagine a nation in which all should be rich and intelligent; for a people composed wholly of educated millionaires, intelligence would he a curse and wealth the worst form of poverty. For America, as for all people, this law is as remorseless as gravity, and will not go out of its way at the beck either of philanthropy or philosophy. The America of the future, as the America of the present, must be a nation where riches and culture are restricted to the few, — to a body, however, the personnel of which is constantly changing. But although the distance between the extremes of society will still be great, perhaps even greater than in the past, the poor will have comforts and luxuries which now they cannot even picture, and correspondingly their health and comeliness should improve. The conserving and regenerating force of a large body of muscle workers in society is enormous, and for the physical well-being of a nation indispensable, since it not only preserves itself, but supplies the material to be engrafted on branches whose productive power is tending to decay.
Yet further, it is a part of the law of evolution that nations, as well as the individuals of which nations are composed, can in time so fit themselves to unfavorable external conditions as practically to reverse them and make them favorable. This moulding of the internal to the external, with its accompanying disappearance of weak elements and persistence of the strong, is a process that never halts or wearies, but goes on without ceasing so long as there is any want of harmony between the internal and the external in the individual or the nation. A nation thrust into an unusual and hostile environment tends, with all the might of its subjective forces, to fit itself to that environment, and to make itself at home there. Old habits are dropped, new habits take their places; instinctively or rationally, there is constant sacrifice and study and deprivation, until all friction of the internal against the external disappears. Young America finds itself contending with the combined disadvantages of youth, an exhausting climate, and the heightened activity, common to all civilization, made necessary by the introduction of the railroad, the telegraph and the periodical press. In the process of moulding itself to these conditions, it has been found necessary to seek out and develop numberless modes of physical exercise, and reduce the philosophy of enjoyment and recreation to a science and art. Habits of the ages have been shifted, medicine and medical practice revolutionized, while inventive skill everywhere has wearied itself in the constant effort to supply mechanical devices for senses and faculties exhausted through over-confinement, over-excitement, and disproportionate use of the brain and nervous system. In this cruel process thousands have perished, — are perishing to-day; but from the midst of this confusion, conflict, and positive destruction a powerful and stable race has been slowly, almost imperceptibly, evolving.
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