Page images
PDF
EPUB

thriftlessness would let him buy them. Gibbon was a giant among bookish men-a library in himself, bound in the costliest morocco and gorgeously gilded. “My invincible love of reading,” he says, “I would not exchange for the treasures of India."

We would fain end here, with the last romantic age of English literature; but in the century which has since elapsed, there have been so many eloquent lovers of books, that we are tempted to prolong our paper yet a little. We cannot pass without mention of Coleridge, whose life was spent between the two worlds of books and dreams; or Wordsworth, who has glorified those worlds with the magic of his sonnet-verse; still less of De Quincey, the visionary Montaigne of these later days. What lover of literature has not often seen in his mind's eye the library of the English Opium-eater?

Paint me a room seventeen feet by twelve, and rot more than seven and a half feet high. . . . Make it populous with books; and, furthermore, paint me a good fire ; and furniture plain and modest, befitting the unpretending cottage of a scholar. Hazlitt's bookroom, in the cottage on Salisbury Plain, with its shadowy tenants, ruffed and peak-bearded, is another well-known scene. We are acquainted with every nook of the little back study at Bloomsbury, where Charles Lamb's quaint collection is stored. We know the shelf where “Browne on Urn Burial” should rest, and the corner that holds old Raymund Lully. The folio of the fantastic Duchess is familiar to us, and the stately back of Lord Brooke seems even now before oiir eyes. Leigh Hunt's Italian study is another delightful haunt—there is a glimpse of waving green through the half-opened casement, and the southern sunlight steals airily over Theocritus, and Spenser, and the gay “ Arabian Nights."

We will close this paper with a glance at Sir Walter Scott, undoubtedly the most illustrious bibliomaniac of modern times. Even if we did not know from Lockhart's biography of him how enthusiastic a collector he was-if Abbotsford, with its “rowth of auld nicknackets," were not yet standing to remind us, the description of the Antiquary's library would be a sufficient proof of its author's tastes. It is in vain that Scott affects to laugh at the good laird's mania-he lets drop the mask and becomes enthusiastic in the midst of his satire :

See this bundle of ballads, not one of them later than 1700, and some of them an hundred years older. I wheedled an old woman out of these, who loved them better than her psalm-book. Tobacco, sir, snuff, and the Complete Syren, were the equivalent ! For that mutilated copy of the “Complaynt of Scotland," } gat out the drinking of two dozen bottles of strong ale with the late learned

proprietor, who in gratitude bequeathed it to me by his last will. These little Elzevirs are the memoranda and trophies of many a walk by night and morning through the Cowgate, the Canongate, the Bow, Saint Mary's Wynd, —wherever, in fine, there were to be found brokers and trokers, those miscellaneous dealers in things rare and curious. Scott himself! you exclaim—and you are right.

The authors we have quoted all speak in praise of books. On the other side of the question, there is but one formidable saying that we can recollect. Solomon grumbled that “of making many books there was no end." The best comment on this text is that pithy one of Bishop Hall's~" It were pity there should.”

ROBERT AITKEN.

[blocks in formation]

SCIENCE NOTES.

THE UTILITY OF DRUNKENNESS.

N the early argumentative struggles between the advocates of

total abstinence from alcohol and their opponents, the latter believed they settled the question by affirming that “these things are sent for our use," and therefore that it was flying in the face of Providence to refuse a social glass. This and many similar arguments have subsequently been overturned by the abstainers, who have unquestionably been victorious "all along the line," especially since Dr. B. W. Richardson has become their Commander-in-Chief.

In spite of this, I am about to charge their serried ranks armed with an entirely new weapon forged by myself from material supplied by the late Dr. Darwin, my thesis being that the drunkenness which prevails at the present day is promoting civilisation and the general forward progress of the human race.

Malthus demonstrated long ago that man, like other animals, has a tendency to multiply more rapidly than the means of supporting his increasing numbers can be multiplied; he and his followers regarded this tendency as the primary source of poverty and social degradation. Darwin, starting with the same general law, deduces the very opposite conclusion respecting its influence on each particular species, though his antagonism to Malthus does not prominently appear, seeing that his inferences were mainly applied to the lower animals. Darwin shows that the onward progress, the development, or what may be described as the collective prosperity of the species, is brought about by over-multiplication, followed by a necessary struggle for existence, in the course of which the inferior or unsuitable individuals are weeded out, and "the survival of the fittest" necessarily follows; these superior or more suitable specimens transmit more or less of their advantages to their offspring, which still multiplying excessively are again and again similarly sifted and improved or developed in a boundless course of forward evolution.

In the earlier stages of human existence, the fittest for survival were those whose brutal or physical energies best enabled them to

struggle with the physical difficulties of their surroundings, to subjugate the crudities of the primæval plains and forests to human requirements. The perpetual struggles of the different tribes gave the dominion of the earth to those best able to rule it ; the strongest and most violent human animal was then the fittest, and he survived accordingly.

Then came another era of human effort gradually culminating in the present period. In this, mere muscular strength, brute physical power, and mere animal energy have become less and less demanded as we have, by the aid of physical science, imprisoned the physical forces of nature in our steam boilers, batteries, &c., and have made them our slaves in lieu of human prisoners of war. The coarse muscular, raving, yelling, fighting human animal that formerly led the war dance, the hunt, and the battle, is no longer the fittest for survival, but is, on the contrary, daily becoming more and more out of place. His prize-fights, his dog-fights, his cock-pits, and bull-baiting are practically abolished, his fox-hunting and bird-shooting are only carried on at great expense by a wealthy residuum, and by damaging interference with civilised agriculture. The unfitness of the remaining representatives of the primæval savage is manifest, and their survival is purely prejudicial to the present interests and future progress of the race.

Such being the case, we now require some means of eliminating these coarser, more brutal or purely animal specimens of humanity, in order that there may be more room for the survival and multiplication of the more intellectual, more refined, and altogether distinctively human specimens. It is desirable that this should be effected by some natural or spontaneous proceeding of self-extinction, performed by the animal specimens themselves. If this self-immolation can be a process that is enjoyable in their own estimation, all the objections to it that might otherwise be suggested by our feelings of humanity are removed.

Now, these conditions are exactly fulfilled by the alcoholic drinks of the present day when used for the purpose of obtaining intoxication. The old customs that rendered heavy drinking a social duty have passed away, their only remaining traces being the few exceptional cases of hereditary dipsomania still to be found here and there among men and women of delicate fibre and sensitive organisation.

With these exceptions, the drunkards of our time are those whose constitutions are so coarse, so gross and brutal that the excitement of alcoholic stimulation is to them a delicious sensual delirium, a wild saturnalia of animal exaltation, which they enjoy so heartily that every new raving outbreak only whets their appetite for a repetition. While sober they actually arrange and prepare for a forthcoming holiday booze; work and save money for the avowed purpose of purchasing the drink and its consequent ecstasies, which constitute the chief delights of their existence. When a professional criminal has “served his time," and is about to be released from prison, his faithful friends club together to supply him with the consolation of an uninterrupted course of intoxication; the longer its duration the greater his happiness and the deeper his obligations of gratitude to the contributing pals.

We know that such indulgence has swept away the Red Indian savage from the American continent, and prepared it for a higher civilisation, as the mammoth and grisly bear have made way for the sheep and oxen; and this beneficent agent, if allowed to do its natural work, will similarly remove the savage elements that still remain as impediments to the onward progress of the more crowded communities of the old world. If those who love alcoholic drinks for the sake of the excitement they induce are only supplied with cheap and abundant happiness, our criminal and pauper population will be reduced to a minimum.

It is commonly supposed that because nearly all criminals are drunkards, therefore drunkenness is the chief cause of crime. This is a confusion of cause with effect. Crime and drunkenness go together because they are concurrent effects of the same organisation. Alcoholic stimulation merely removes prudence and brings out true character without restraint or disguise. The brute who beats his wife when drunk would do so when sober if he dared and could ; but what we call the sober state is with him a condition of cowardly depression and feebleness due to the reaction of intoxication. If a number of quarrelsome men assemble and drink together, they finish with fighting. If a similar number of kindly disposed men drink together, they overflow with generosity, profuse friendliness, and finally become absurdly affectionate. The citizen who would have subscribed but one guinea to a charity before dinner will give his name for five after the “toast of the evening."

My general conclusion is that all human beings (excepting the few dipsomaniacs above-named), who are fit to survive as members of a civilised community, will spontaneously avoid intemperance, provided no artificial pressure of absurd drinking customs is applied to them, while those who are incapable of the general self-restraint demanded by advancing civilisation, and cannot share its moral and intellectual

« PreviousContinue »