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understand each other. But there is one thing I have to say, and that is, that your article ought to be ready.”
“Ah, well, then,” said I, “like other great writers, I shall make capital of my own sins, and treat of the second little family fox; and his name is— Irritability.
X.—THE SAME SUBJECT CONTINUED. 1. Irritability is, more than most unlovely states, a sin of the flesh. It is not, like envy, malice, spite, revenge, a vice which we may suppose to belong equally to an embodied or a disembodied spirit. In fact, it comes nearer to being physical depravity than anything else I know of. There are some bodily states, some conditions of the nerves, such that we could not conceive of even an angelic spirit, confined in a body thus disordered, as being able to do any more than simply endure. It is a state of nervous torture; and the attacks which the wretched victim makes on others, are as much the result of a disease, as the snapping and biting of a patient convulsed with hydrophobia.
2. Then, again, there are other people who go through life, loving and beloved, desired in every circle, held up in the church as examples of the power of religion, who, after all, deserve no credit for these things. Their spirits are lodged in an animal nature so tranquil, so cheerful,—all the sensations which come to them are so fresh and vigorous and pleasant,that they cannot help viewing the world charitably, and seeing everything through a glorious medium. The illtemper of others does not provoke them; perplexing business never sets their nerves to vibrating; and all their lives long they walk in the serene sunshine of perfect animal health.
3. Look at Rover, there. He is never nervous, never cross, never snaps or snarls, and is ready, the moment after the grossest affront, to wag the tail of forgiveness,—all because kind nature has put his dog's body together so that it always works harmoniously. If every person in the world were gifted with a stomach and nerves like his, it would be a far better and happier world, no doubt. The man said a good thing who made the remark that the foundation of all intellectual and moral worth must be laid in a good, healthy animal.
4. Now I think it is undeniable that the peace and happiness of the home circle are very generally much invaded by the recurrence, in its members, of those states of bodily irritability. Every person, if he thinks the matter over, will see that his condition in life, the character of his friends, his hopes and expectations, are all very much modified by these things. Cannot we all remember going to bed as very ill-used, persecuted individuals, all whose friends were unreasonable, whose life was full of trials and crosses, and waking up, on a bright, bird-singing morning, to find all these illusions gone with the fogs of the night? Our friends are all nice people, after all; the little things that annoyed us look ridiculous by bright sunshine; and we are fortunate individuals.
5. The philosophy of life, then, as far as this matter is concerned, must consist of two things: first, to keep ourselves out of irritable bodily states; and, second, to understand and control these states, when we cannot ward them off.
Of course, the first of these is the most important; and yet, of all things, it seems to be least looked into and understood. We find abundant rules for the government of the tongue and temper; it is a slough into which, John Bunyan has it, cart-loads of wholesome instruction have been thrown; but how to get and keep that healthy state of brain, stomach, and nerves, which takes away the temptation to ill-temper and anger, is a subject which moral and religious teachers seem scarcely to touch upon.'
6. Now, without running into technical, physiological language, it is evident, as regards us human beings, that there is a power by which we live and move and have our being, - by which the brain thinks and wills, the stomach digests, the blood circulates, and all the different provinces of the little man-kingdom do their work. This something — call it nervous fluid, nervous power, vital energy, life-force, or anything else that you will — is a perfectly understood, if not a definable, thing. It is plain, too, that people possess this force in very different degrees; some generating it as a highpressure engine does steam, and using it constantly, with an apparently inexhaustible flow; and others there are who have little, and spend it quickly.
7. We have a common saying, that this or that person is soon used up. Now, most nervous, irritable states of temper are the mere physical result of a used-up condition. The person has over-spent his nervous energy, like a man who should eat up, on Monday, the whole food which was to keep him for a week, and go growling and faint through the other days; or the quantity of nervous force which was wanted to carry on the whole system in all its parts, is seized on by some one monopolizing portion, and used up, to the loss and detriment of the rest.
8. Thus, with men of letters, an exorbitant brain expends, on its own workings, what belongs to the other offices of the body: the stomach has nothing to carry on digestion; the secretions are badly made; and the imperfectly assimilated nourishment, that is conveyed to every little nerve and tissue, carries with it an acid, irritating quality, producing general
restlessness and discomfort. So men and women go struggling on through their three score and ten years, scarcely one in a thousand knowing, through life, that perfect balance of parts, that appropriate harmony of energies, that make a healthy, kindly animal condition, predisposing to cheerfulness and good-will.
XI.—THE SAME SUBJECT CONCLUDED. 1. We Americans are, to begin with, a nervous, excitable people. Multitudes of children, probably the great majority in the upper walks of life, are born into the world with weakness of the nervous organization, or of the brain or stomach, which makes them incapable of any strong excitement, or prolonged exertion, without some lesion or derangement; so that they are continually being checked, laid up, and invalided in the midst of their doings. Life here, in America, is so fervid, so fast, our climate is so stimulating, with its clear, bright skies, its rapid and sudden changes of temperature, that the tendencies to nervous disease are constantly aggravated.
2. Under these circumstances, unless men and women make a conscience, a religion, of saving and sparing something of themselves, expressly for home-life and home-consumption, it must follow that home will often be merely a sort of refuge for us to creep into when we are used up and irritable.
Papa is up and. off, after a hasty breakfast, and drives all day in his business, putting into it all there is in him, letting it drink up brain and nerve and body and soul, and coming home jaded and exhausted, so that he cannot bear the cry of the baby, and the frolics and pattering of the nursery seem
horrid and needless confusion. The little ones say, in their plain vernacular, “Papa is cross.”
3. Mamma goes out to a party that keeps her up till one or two o'clock in the morning, breathes bad air, cats indigestible food, and the next day is so nervous that every straw and thread in her domestic path is insufferable.
Papas that pursue business thus, day after day, and mammas that go into company, as it is called, night after night — what is there left in or of them to make an agreeable fire-side with, to brighten their home and inspire their children? •
Truc, the man says he cannot help himself,— business requires it. What is the need of rolling up money at the rate at which he is seeking to do it? Why not have less, and take some time to enjoy his home, and cheer up his wife, and form the minds of his children? Why spend himself, down to the last drop, on the world, and give to the dearest friends he has, only the bitter dregs ?
4. Much of the preaching which the pulpit and the church have leveled at fashionable amusements, has failed of any effect at all, because wrongly put. A cannonade has been spent upon dancing, for example, and for all reasons that will not, in the least, bear looking into. It is vain to talk of dancing as a sin, because practiced in a dying world, where souls are passing into eternity. If dancing is a sin for this reason, so is playing marbles, or frolicking with one's children, or enjoying a good dinner, or doing fifty other things which nobody ever dreamed of objecting to.
5. If the preacher were to say that anything is sin which uses up the strength we need for daily duties, and leaves us fagged out and irritable, at just those times, and in just those places when and where we need most to be healthy, cheerful, and self-possessed, he would say a thing that none