Изображения страниц
[ocr errors][ocr errors]

in the fears, the ignorance, and the pagan superstition that still linger among us, in bigh classes as well as in low, to the shame of a Christian civilization. To what extent the common med. ical practice of James's time was involved with idolatrous or superstitious incantations, we have some curious indications surviving to our own day. In his excavations in Babylon Mr. Layard found a curious collection of bowls inscribed within with adjurations of all sorts of spirits by name, and bearing unmistakable indications of the medicinal liquids they had once held. The capital R with which your family physician heads his prescription, believing it to stand for “Recipe,” in James's time was seriously understood to be an appeal to Jupiter for luck. This command, “anointing with oil in the name of the Lord "the Lord that made heaven and earth, whose is the course of nature, in whose hand are the springs of life and of death-ig at once a rebuke to the base superstitions that are at the root of all quackery, and the warrant of a devout, sober, and reasonable science of medicine.

3. Some of the good, honest souls who are counted among the devotees of the Faith Cure will be shocked or grieved, or outraged and indignant, at being told, what is nevertheless true, that what they vaunt as a high and noble form of faith, from which they look down with gentle pity upon their fellow-Christians, is really a subtle form of practical atheism. “Do you not, then, believe in divine healing?" is the question compassionately put to us by these well-meaning folk, in a tone which conveys an implied threat of praying for us. Certainly, we answer, we do not believe in any other kind of healing. We have learned from the Apostle James that all healing is divine; that when the trained sagacity of experienced physicians has been employed, and the treatment which the best science of the time approves has been faithfully applied, with trustful and filial prayer, we are still to remember that not the physician nor the treatment has been the supreme and deciding cause, but a Power above and behind and in them all; that it is the prayer of faith that has healed the sick.

It is a keen remark of a woman whom no one will accuse of an unreasoning zeal for orthodoxy—of Frances Power Cobbethat there are some minds so illogically constituted that when they discover the method and means by which a thing is done, they leap at once to the conclusion that no one has done it. The remark was originally aimed at the scientific atheism which dismisses God from the creation. But it is hardly less applicable to that very superlative sort of Christian faith that is ever “seek. ing after a sign," that cannot see God in common things, in clear and customary and intelligible sequences of visible cause and effect, and that conceives that nothing can be really divine unless it is queer.



WHEN Sir Emerson Tennent established his residence in Colombo, Ceylon, one of his neighbors lost a Cingalese cook under circumstances justifying the theory that the old woman had appropriated a dose of monkey-poison. The predatory habits of the Macacus monkeys, infesting the park of his bungalow, had induced the proprietor to treat them to a mixture of strychnine and rice pudding, and the success of the experiment seemed to have suggested the idea of applying the same remedy to the evils of life in general, for only a week before a young herder had poisoned himself to avoid the trouble of hunting up a horse that had strayed from the stubble-pasture of his employer. At all events, the husband of the departed cook could have proved an undoubted alibi, but, having been subpoenaed as a witness, he obviated further complications by committing suicide." Is there anything in the climate of this coast-land that depreciates the value of longevity?" asks Sir Emerson; "for up to a certain age the natives seem as lively as their fellow-monkeys in the treetops, but the noon of life appears to beget a desire for a siesta in the shade of a Upas tree. Their pseudo-civilization, though, may have something to do with it, for suicide is alınost unknown among the wild Veddahs of the hill-country.”

Similar reflections might often suggest themselves in studying the tendencies of that rather composite civilization which sums up the maxims of its philosophy in the motto, "a short life and a merry one." Tenets of that sort sometimes undergo a curious kind of metempsychosis. With the exception of the primitive Veddahs, the natives of Ceylon are votaries of Buddhism, and the founder of that irremediable creed made the vanity of earthly existence the corner-stone of his ethics, and does not even seem to have sweetened the acerbity of that doctrine with any hopes of a compensating Elysium; for the peace of Nirvana, as defined by the first disciples of the Nepaulese prophet, was only a dispensation from the doom of re-birth, and had to be earned by a systematic suppression of the instinct which a French translator of the “ Tripitaka " calls le vitalisme—the propensity to pursue the phantoms of life, or even the love of life itself. The westward spread of that dogma undoubtedly tinged the creed of the Syrian anchorites and their successors, the world-renouncing monks and hermits of the Middle Ages; but our mediæval self-deniers were adversaries of nature, rather than of the vital principle. "Whatever is natural is wrong," was the shibboleth of their creed, but their Nirvana was a considerable modification of the Oriental prototype, and they contrived to reconcile the unworldliness of their tenets not only with the hope of an indefinitely protracted life in a pleasant hereafter, but with a temporal indulgence in all sorts of spiritual and spirituous luxuries.

A surfeit of those luxuries has since produced a reaction, involving a still further departure from the standards of the Nepaulese world-despiser. The mistrust in the value of life and its terrestrial purposes still clouds our moral atmosphere like the trail of a poison vapor, and our modern anti-naturalists still vaguely admit the expediency of renouncing the blessings of secular existence, but they prefer to facilitate that renunciation by previous experiments, pushed to the verge of that familiarity supposed to beget contempt. The earth of their ethical theories is still a vale of tears, a scene of delusive joys and preordained disappointment, but they withal hope to outwit the spite of life by crowding its sweets into the shortest possible span of time. In other words, they still deplore the illusiveness of temporal existence, but. prefer to shorten that illusion by a course of health-destroying pleasures, rather than of health-destroying penances. They would drown in wine, rather than in tears.

Buddha Sakyamuni would bave protested that the goal of final emancipation can be reached only by the thorny path of a desire-killing askesis : but science might add a more cogent objection by questioning the possibility of combining even temporal happiness with the practice of life-shortening habits. The epidemic of the poison-vice seems somehow to have begot the idea. that by the use of abnormal stimulants our capacity for enjoyment.


could be abnormally increased, thus, as it were, tricking nature: out of an amount of happiness not otherwise attainable. The immature libertine, the spice-loving gourmand, the wine-bibber, all delude themselves with the hope of stealing a march on fortune; of anticipating her favors by enbancing the blessings of the certain present at the expense of an uncertain future. "The excesses of youth," says a British moralist, "are drafts on the health of old age, payable with heavy interest some twenty or thirty years after." But the truth is, that such mortgages are not only apt to be foreclosed, but that the extortion of the grievous interest is rarely postponed beyond the end of each day. For nature never fails to resent the insult by a depressing reaction, far more protracted than the abnormal exaltation, thus making the net result of the experiment a decrease, rather than an increase, of our normal share of happiness. Life, therefore, cannot be made worth living by devouring the seed-corn of its harvest; nay, the “draft on old age” robs the present as well as the future, after a fashion which might, indeed, justify a doubt whether the preponderance of pain over pleasure is not aggravated by the delusion of the life-shortening Sybarite more than by the infatuation of the life-shortening ascetic. For habit, which dulls the pungency of debauching stimulants, also blunts the sting of selfdenial-of a self-denial perhaps compensated by moments of mental ecstasy, while the surfeits of the pleasure-seeker avenge themselves by the misery of moral and physical indigestion. The pursuit of a “short and merry” life is apt to miss its main purpose.

And moreover, to the highest attainable degree of earthly happiness, longevity, or its promise, is a condition, as well as an addition. The end of individual existence may come suddenly, in unavoidable and incalculable accidents; but premature death, in that form, does not darken life with its premonitory shadows The ravages of a gnawing worm may for years blight the life of a tree with the doom of a lingering death; while the stout young oak, felled by lightning, may to the last have enjoyed all the advantages of potential longevity. Longevity is worth deserving.

Yet thousands, even of those who have learned to admit that life repays the pursuit of its secular blessings, have as yet not

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »