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Death And Marriage
by [?]

It was with melancholy amusement that I read in the scientific journals that sewer-gas was comparatively innocuous. After the hundreds of sanitary tracts in which the deadliness of sewer-gas has been an axiom of faith, after the thousand-and-one deaths from it in the contemporary novel, it is grimly diverting to learn that sewer-gas may be welcomed without fear to our hearths and homes. The same process appears to be overtaking science with which we are familiar in the sphere of history–all the bad gases are getting purified and the good spirits vilified. The invincible solids are being liquefied, and the aery nothings are being given solid habitations. The Professor tells me that liquid oxygen is obtainable only under great pressure, and at a colossal cost. I beg respectfully to suggest to the millionaires the advisability of laying in quarts of it for their dinner-parties. This sparkling beverage–essence of oxygen, mark you–would not need to be iced, for the North Pole is as a red-hot poker compared with it. Such a beverage would make a sensation and provide paragraphs for the society journals and the “Times” obituary. It is true the guests would not like it, but they would be anxious to quaff it. Have you never noticed the innocent joy which the pop and froth of cheap champagne gives to suburban souls? There is a magic halo about champagne–an aroma of aristocracy–which sanctifies it for people who would be happier with lemonade. Wherefore I doubt not there would be a public to adventure on liquid oxygen, though it were congealed in the attempt. The imbibition thereof might indeed replace suicide and cremation–it would both kill and cure, and our frozen bodies might be preserved in family ice-safes for the edification of scientific posterity. I should not marvel if liquid air or oxygen became an article of the euthanasian creed. As for sewer-gas, we may yet live to see it manufactured artificially for the improvement of the public health, and conveyed to our overcrowded drawing-rooms with all the paraphernalia of pipes and the mendacious meter. Science has turned so many somersaults even in my short lifetime that I am prepared for anything. I have even serious doubts as to the stability of Darwinism, I have seen so many immortal truths die young. I verily believe that the cocksureness of our century is destined to be the amusement of the next, which may not impossibly believe that the ape is descended from man by retrogression.

Our little systems have their day,
They have their day–and come again.

The science of medicine in particular seems to be always in a critical condition, and the bacillus bobs up and down in a manner that is “painful and free.” Like Hamlet’s father’s ghost, it eludes our question: we know not if it is “a spirit of health or goblin damned,” angel or demon or delusion. The microbe of to-day is the myth of to-morrow. Surgery is the only department of medicine which has made real advances in our century. The rest is guesswork and experiment on vile bodies. I do not know why the Peculiar People should be persecuted for refusing vivi-injection. Tolstoi, a friend of his told me, breathes fire and fury against the doctors, and will have none of their drugs or their doctrines, and he is not alone in believing that every tombstone is a monument to some doctor’s skill. “When doctors disagree,” says the proverb. But do they ever agree–unless they consult? I went to an eminent oculist once, who anointed my eyes with cocaine in order to make the pupils dilate. But my pupils refused to obey. He was dumfoundered, and said that such a refusal was unheard of: it contradicted all experience and all the books. I felt quite conscience-stricken. He tried again and again, but my pupils remained obdurately small. I apologised for my originality, and he peered at my eyes minutely, evidently expecting to find the new humour. So I suggested he might try Horror, which I understood from the novelists made the pupils dilate; but he replied that that would not be professional. He told me, however, a fact which I thought well worth his fee. An erudite scientist had devoted a monograph to cocaine, but failed to discover the one fact about it which was worth knowing, and which had raised cocaine to the first rank–to wit, that applied externally it was an anaesthetic, so that if you put a drop on your tongue you might bite your tongue without hurting yourself. Doubtless the poor man was ready enough to bite his tongue when his book was spoilt by the discovery. But I cannot help thinking that his case was typical of science–which is appallingly exhaustive and self-satisfied, but seems just to miss the one essential thing.