Baltimore Evening Sun (17 June 1913): 6.


The Rev. Dr. Romilly F. Humphries, rector-elect of Grace and and St. Peter’s Protestant Episcopal Church, to a reporter of the estimable Evening News:

Can we make men good by legislation? * * * The answer to that question is Panama. By legislation, which is enforced community action, you can make conditions wholesome and pure. You can make men live in cleanliness and decency, and you can reduce to the minimum the ravages of yellow fever. * * * In the realm of morals we need not hesitate to enter. * * * Experience has shown that the ubiquitous saloon, etc., etc. * * *

A shining example of that seductive super-logic which is at once the delight and the quagmire of uplifters. Is it reasonable thus to liken yellow fever to the saloon? Is it even ordinarily intelligible? I doubt it. No two things, indeed, could be more assertively unlike, despite their common corroding of the liver. Yellow fever is something that every sane man flees instinctively. In the whole world there is not a single man who feels that he needs it, or who argues that he gets any good out of it, or who regards it as a source of recreation or pleasure, or who wants to have anything to do with it. Its chief and only character is it obnoxiousness. It hasn’t a friend in Christendom.

Is the saloon similarly hated and dreaded? Of course it is not. The chief mark of the saloon, in truth, is not its disagreeableness at all, but its charm. The reason why it is insidious and dangerous is precisely that it serves a universal human need, that it gratifies an ineradicable instinct, that it is no more repellant, in itself, than the lodge-room or the church. No sumptuary law, however harsh and barbarous, will ever take away its attraction. Whatever the penalties laid upon saloonkeepers, a vast majority of healthy men will still feel the impulse to meet their fellows over a social glass, and so long as that perfectly normal and decent impulse survives in them, the saloon itself, in one form or other, will also survive. The effect of repression. however determined, will not be to make it better, but merely to make it worse. The one practicable way to dispose of it will be to invent something which meets its uses without presenting its dangers. So far, as we all know, that something has not been invented.

The loose and shallow thinking of the current uplifters would be amusing if its consequences did not threaten to be so serious. The air of profundity with which they announce the obvious puts them in the front rank of moralists. It is truly affecting to hear them publish the epoch-making discovery that prostitution is an evil or that the saloon is far from perfect or that starvation wages make for sin. But what good is accomplished by all that solemn mouthing of platitudes? How is the world benefited by such laborious proclamations of the indubitable? The thing the truly thoughtful men of the nation are trying to determine is what to to be done about it--and here the uplifters have nothing better to offer than the policeman’s club. But the policeman’s club, alas, will not destroy the impulses which lie at the bottom of these evils, and so long as those impulses remain they will inevitably work their way to some sort of satisfaction. Destroy the saloon and you set up the blind tiger. Destroy the brothel and you give us something worse.

The thing to be remembered constantly in dealing with all these pet targets of the chemically pure is that the human appetites and impulses behind them, whatever their occasional perversions, are essentially healthy and normal. The desire to drink a seidel of beer or a high-ball or two in congenial company may conceivably lead a man to a drunkard’s grave, but in itself that desire is not unhealthy, nor is it even immoral. On the contrary, it is actually a sign of normality, and the man in whom it is present, all other things being equal, is apt to be a more tolerant and useful member of society than the man in whom it is not present. And so with the impulses which lie at the bottom of the social evil, and of all its fearful consequences. Those impulses, in themselves, are so thoroughly normal that their absence is universally recognized as a sign of disease.

And yet our moralists constantly proceed upon the assumption that all these desires, instincts and impulses are shameful and criminal, and that society is bound to oppose them and stamp them out. For example, I once heard Dr. Howard A. Kelly argue for the militant suppression of the social evil, despite its admitted failure to suppress, on the ground that civilized societies have always combatted homicide in the same way. The doctor, as always, was perfectly serious and very much in earnest--and yet it would have been difficult for any man, I fancy, to have devised a more dubious syllogism. The impulse to do murder is not only very rare in man, but also essentially pathological. A sane and healthy man, at least in civilization, does not kill his enemy. But the other impulse is the very reverse of pathological and the very reverse of rare. As well compare pyromania and laughter, or treason and patriotism.

So with Dr. Humphries and his pointless parallel between yellow fever and the saloon. The only imaginable opposition to measures against yellow fever comes from the ignorant--for example, Christian Science healers, chiropractors and the lower classes of negroes. The sufficient remedy for that ignorance, supposing it to be uncomplicated by downright imbecility, is education. Show any sane man how the destruction of the mosquito stamps out yellow fever, and he will immediately approve that destruction. He has nothing to gain by opposing it. He has no desire or instinct or impulse contrary to it.

But it is impossible, by any conceivable process of education, to rid man of his social instinct. Nor is it possible, by any marshaling of unimpeachable evidence, to convince him that the moderate use of alcohol either kills him or makes a brute of him. As a matter of fact the more competent he is to examine into the matter, the more sure he grows that no such results need be feared. Such bogus experts as the Hon. William H. Anderson are full of proofs that alcohol is the cause of all human ills. But such genuine experts as Sir William Osler are convinced that it is nothing of the sort. As for me, I prefer the opinion of Dr. Osler, on a question of physiology or pathology, to the massed opinions of all the Andersons on both sides of the Styx. And on a question of civilized government and the social relation, I prefer the net experience of mankind in all ages to the well-intended but vacuous sophistries of my good friend the Rev. Dr. Humphries.