(Editor’s Note) This chapter contains some pretty offensive, elitist, racist language, so please be advised.
This chapter is a recitation of horrors, in particular the terrible price that infants and children pay for toxic substances ingested by their mothers before and during pregnancy. The damage done by using toxic Opium-based quack “medicines” to keep infants quiet and manageable was a world-wide phenomenon in the 1800’s, directly attributable to ruthless exploitation of gullible women promoted through the advertising of hundreds of tonics and elixirs. These “medicines” did indeed contain opium, but not fresh, pure opium gathered directly from the poppy. The manufacturers of these toxic brews used instead the cheapest dregs of global Opium commerce along with alcohol, morphine, heroin, and other popular toxins like mercury and bromine to boost the sedative effects of their “infant syrups”.
Interestingly enough, in 19th Century accounts of opium growing villages where people used pure opium from infancy, and where babies were fed opium straight from the field primarily because it dulled hunger, although everybody in these villages were opium addicts in the sense that they were daily lifetime users, the accounts that describe the rural poverty and primitive living conditions don’t describe the horror and degradation of addiction, but often report – somewhat bemusedly – widespread longevity and good health. Starvation, poverty and disease seem to have been the biggest obstacle to living long healthy lives in these villages, not Opium addiction. For the most part in these disparaging and racist 19th Century reports, scenes of degeneration and human degradation due to Opium addiction are confined to the cities, far away from the poppy fields and far down the chain of toxic adulteration of the opium and inhuman exploitation of the people.
Calkins joins others of his age and class and is at his judgmental, racist worst in those parts of this chapter where he analyzes the degeneration of the human race under the influence of opium, but that does not reduce the usefulness of his observations of life in America as he encountered it in his medical practice. Neither does the racism and smug superiority of the observers he quotes from around the world negate the factual component of their observations of the effects of cheap, adulterated, toxic Opium on poor, ignorant and castaway people compared with the relative good health and longevity of people in the rural Opium-growing villages.
In reading this chapter what strikes me the most clearly is that virtually none of the terrible fates of the people that Calkins describes were created through moderate consumption of pure, natural Opium; they are instead quite obviously victims, people whose lives are equal parts misery, pain and hopelessness, and who turned to whatever they believed would give them even a moment’s peace, regardless of the consequences for them or their children. That is the horror described here, although Dr. Calkins does not quite have the perspective to see the true nature of the horrors he describes. We can’t condemn him for this shortcoming – how many of us, were we living in 1870 and seeing the world that he experienced every day, would know any better?
What I find unforgivable is that today, 150 years later, the ruling classes whose wealth comes largely from exploitation of helpless people are still successfully convincing the “good people” of every society to blame both the victims and the substances that the victims use to escape their painful lives, and to ignore the plain evidence of their rulers’ greed and consummate evil. The continuing success of this transparent mind manipulation and the failure of society’s institutions to call this class of despotic parasites to justice is the most solid evidence I can find (along, of course, with nuclear and biological weapons in the hands of madmen) that the human race is quite likely doomed – not the fact that frightened, suffering people continue to try to escape the calculated misery of their lives in any way they can.
“And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” Matthew 19:24
Chapter XI: Immature Development And Family Degeneracy
“Sevior armis – Luxuria.” – Juvenal.
“O Luxury, thou cursed by heaven’s decree!
How do thy potions, with insidious joy, diffuse their pleasures only to destroy!” – Goldsmith
Morel, while admitting that the medium term of life has doubled within three centuries, contends nevertheless that the race, taken as a whole, is degenerating. The idea, far from being paradoxical, derives a certain speciousness of support certainly from the general fact, that there are numerous deteriorating agencies perpetually at work, whose operation is purely pernicious, and whose end is destruction. Peoples, like individuals, their climacteric attained and the solid buttresses of a rigid temperance and a severe morality once undermined, verge by rapid slides towards disintegration and decay. In the stolid visage of the organ grinder from the Tyrol, or in the stupid grimace that greets you from the upturned faces of a group of Neapolitan lazzaroni – “Proles docta ligonibus Versare glebas” – is there discernible, in faintest tracery only, one solitary vestige of lineament that perchance links their pedigree with the Gracchi and the Metelli of old?
“Poor, paltry slaves! yet born midst noblest scenes;
Why, Nature, waste thy wonders on such men?”
When Vasco da Gama and Albuquerque voyaged to Malacca, there to plant colonies that should reflect lustre upon their ancient mother, little prescience had they even in dim shadow of the debasement and apathy into which these settlements were eventually to sink. Here upon this Peninsula, says Dr. Yvan, where the Portuguese settlers number at most but three thousand, one may see on every street boys with etiolated complexion and puny limb, who if perchance they survive the period of childhood will pass at once to that of adult life (for here there is no intervening season of youth), to lapse ere long into a premature decrepitude. An enemy, subtle as the serpent, more malignant than war and pestilence combined, has wrought out the mischief.
So, too, Formosa (Isle of Beauty) presents the spectacle of a race once hardy and warlike, but now sunken in an emasculating decline through subjection to the same pestilent invader. Of the children in Malacca whose parents have been habituated to opium, says Surgeon Smith, “They go about with the physical expression of general enervation, and in their mental aspect the imprint of dullness and fatuity. So of the boys in Amoy, whose index marks are watery eyes, sunken cheeks, and sallow faces, an idiotic expression, and a mopy gait”
Verily, “the iniquities of the father’s development a curse visited upon the children even unto the third and fourth generations.”
Assam, as appears from the account by Bruce, presents an equally ugly picture. “Opium is the plague that threatens to depopulate this beautiful country. Here is a people, once vigorous and thriving, now the most demoralized and degenerate of all the tribes of India.
As in China, where population has fallen off from an annual advance of three percent, to one-third this, so here the natural increase is visibly kept down through impaired fecundity; and as for old men, there are very few indeed. Deplorable as is the physical corruption of the Assamese, their moral debasement is even worse. Eking out existence in a miserable effeminacy, and utterly impervious to any sense of shame, they will recklessly go to any excess for the procuring of their stimulus, even to the bartering of wife and children. The doctrine of hereditation, in which is implied neither the transmission of vice actual (personal transgression involving will), nor yet the certain perpetuation of any one definite appetite before every other, but only a proclivity to someone kindred taste or habit, meets us as far back as when Plato speculated and Aristotle dogmatized, if indeed we do not find the germ of the same in the story of “ man’s first disobedience.”
Hippocrates presents the main idea thus: “Patrum in natos abcunt cum semine mores.” with Mercatus, “Habitus per assuetudinem acquisitus, transit in naturam.” Lucretius also long since enunciated the same idea, and he at a later day is followed by Valsalva: “Animal simile simili generat, secundum naturam in actu.”
Synd Ahmed Bahador, a pundit of the day, claims for the Brahminical Mishna the original promulgation of the doctrine. Vouatt finds an analogy obtaining in the inferior animals. As exemplifications of development in the human constitution may be instanced, oinomania, boulimia, nymphomania; in the moral, not unfamiliar examples are, pseudomania, kleptomania, phonomania. The “corruption of blood” as indicated in the general physiognomy, works in either of two ways: by directly obstructing the proper evolution of the brain-substance, or else by bringing about at a later period an impaired integrity of structure, and by consequence an enfeebled vitality, and besides a circumscribed power of intellection.
Dr. Palmer of Ontario, speaking of women addicted to opium, observes that they seldom venture upon marriage, for that barrenness and disappointment in other respects are the results in prospect. Mrs. P., a patient of his, who made her beginning two years before marriage, that is, ten years ago, was divorced after a time. No children came of this union, and there was no sufficient explanation of the fact other than in the existence of the habit. This person, notwithstanding her “general denial” is known to be using morphine to the amount of a drachm per week.
Most toxic agents, of whatever name, appear to possess some common property, by virtue of which they determine primarily to the brain or the spinal axis. The observation is borne out by various pathologic evidences. Prof. Ogston of Aberdeen, upon examining the brain of a woman who in a drunken fit had just drowned herself, found in the cerebral ventricles a fluid that in physical properties corresponded essentially to alcohol. In the Illinois Journal of Medicine is recorded the case of a man, also drowned while intoxicated, from whose brain, on removal of the calvarium, there emanated an odor distinctly alcoholic. The consequences to be expected under similar conditions are thus expressed by Morel: “Sous l’influence des alcooliques et quelques narcotiques (telles que opium) il se produit des perversions si grandes dans les fonctions du systeme nerveux, qu’il en resulte des veritables degenerescences, soit par la force directe de Tagent toxique, soit par la seule transmission hereditaire.”
Two cases from Prof. Z. Pitcher, M.D., of Detroit, evince very considerable diversities of effect under the operation of the same narcotic – opium. Mrs. P. E. A., now twenty-eight years of age, was the mother of two children. Phlegmasia dolens after each confinement, and a general hyperesthesia existing which each return of the menstrual period always aggravated, had got into the using of opium, periodically only at first, but by-and-by continuously, until the habit had become settled. After a few years, the narcotic not being found to suffice the nervous craving, alcohol became an additional resort and in large and increasing amounts. Nutrition was not essentially interfered with by these excesses, nor was she disqualified for supervising the affairs of the household through infirmity, cither physical or mental, and, besides, she had been able to nurse and rear the children independently of help. Upon the cessation of the menstrual function, the addiction to both stimuli grew upon her more and more; and for the rest of her life or to her 64th year, the daily dose, somewhat irregular, was often a scruple. The temperament of this patient might have led to the use of whiskey independently of the existing causes.
Mrs. H. B., now about forty-five years of age, and mother of eight children, was married at twenty. Health continued good until the birth of the youngest child (eight years since). Embolia of the uterine sinuses (pursuant upon the last birth) with its attendant sufferings led to the practice of taking morphia daily in small doses, but with much regularity, though in quantities increased as time advanced. At intervals the alkaloid has been somewhat reduced in amount from the substitution of alcoholic liquors; but lately both stimuli have gone on together and to extravagance. Conspicuous upon all occasions is a growing imbecility of mind, the more evident now from being in painful contrast with the natural moral force once so brilliant and strong in her habitual demeanor.
The idea of an influence of some sort transmitted from a corrupted fountain rests upon a foundation stronger than mere presumption. In Norway, “…in 1825, the spirit-duty was taken off, and in ten years from that the increase in percentage of congenital idiocy was ascertained to be as 150 to 100.” Dr. Howe, in a Report to the Legislature of Massachusetts rendered in 1848, makes return of one hundred idiots, whose parents to nearly one-half were found upon inquiry to have been habitual drunkards. According to the second Report of the Binghamton Asylum, it was ascertained that out of 1406 persons who had suffered delirium tremens, the parents or else the grandparents on one side or the other had been drunkards in 980 instances. Dr. Down in the London Lancet for 1859 records two cases pertinent to the main inquiry. In one family there was a child five years old with the intelligence of a nine months’ infant, but without deformity of body. Several of the children showed corresponding defects. In another family a part of the children were growing up healthy in look and of normal stature, and the last of the entire group also presented as good an appearance, in the intervening period, and after the father had become a habitual drunkard, two children were born, markedly distinguished from the rest in their stinted arms, big bellies, and bulgy heads. There was ground for believing that in both instances procreation had been effected inter paroxysm.
The proper view to be taken of these and other analogous cases is this undoubtedly; not that a certain physical appetite or organic vitiation, nor that a definite moral proclivity is certainly determined, but rather what Dr. Parrish has termed it, “an inherited condition of system.”
Nero, says Petronius, in the beginning of his reign deported himself soberly and in the exercise of a mild, forbearing spirit; but ere long, “tel racine, telle feuille”, throwing off all disguise, he rushed headlong into wild and even unnatural excesses, as if he would subvert the very order of nature, nursing his high-blown vanity and malignancy of temper in the practice of cruelties, such as were to have been expected of the monster brood born of an Agrippina. “Can a fountain send forth from the same mouth both sweet water and bitter?”
Hartley Coleridge, who followed his father in propensity to excesses, though in a collateral course rather, is forced in the agony of his desperation to exclaim, “ O woeful impotence of weak resolve!”
But we are not compelled to halt upon analogy, however significant that may be viewed as negative, pregnant evidence. There are facts confirmatory of this sort of foetal susceptivity where opium also has been the toxic used. Upon an inquest held at Walpole by Dr. Macnish, it appeared that a child, five years of age, though to appearance only so many weeks old, had never been able to walk nor so much to utter an articulate sound. The mother during her gestation (as was in evidence) had taken to morphine, using a drachm a day in the months just preceding her demise. The child, born before the habit had become fixed, showed a normal development and the aspect of general health
A confirmatory case is by H. Vanarsdale, M.D.. of New York. In this instance the parties, both of them, were healthy and robust by original constitution and by habits of life too, with the exception that the woman had for a very considerable period been in the practice of using morphine regularly and to great excess. An infant born subject to the liabilities had only a very imperfect physical organization with weak intellectual indications.
Pestilent as opium is upon the brain developed in its maturity, yet more pernicious, times over, is the reaction when it falls upon immature years. Whether the child suck in the poison mediately through the natural lacteal channels, or whether it receive the same pure and undiluted as measured out by the teaspoon, contamination is equally assured. “Mourir en fleur ou vivre bien petit” – such is the slippery tenure of life, such the inexorable necessity imposed. In view of such prospects, what shall be thought of a fashion obtaining among families of distinction in China, that of encouraging boys yet within the age of puberty in the use of the opium-pipe, with the fallacious expectation that such habit may perchance exert a resistive force against appetites and indulgences of a more sensual character? The furnishing of laudanum by their impoverished parents to children employed in the cotton mills of Lancashire may make a plausible show of excuse; but what can be said in palliation of practices, as in some of the lace factories for instance, where the infant incumbrances, fruits of the “ impermissa gaudia” enjoyed in their liaisons de convenance, are put upon Godfrey as precedent to the stronger alcoholic tincture, by which together they are used up in about six months?
Dr. Harper says of the Fen districts, where laudanum is given extensively, that the infant mortality is at an excessively high figure, and his account is corroborated by the doctors and the clergy of the parochial districts all over England
A pertinent case is from Prof. Pitcher. J.W. A., a young man at the time and a midshipman in the Navy (about 1825), had contracted the habit of intemperate drinking. His father, with the view to his reclaiming, sent him into the Indian country in charge of an attache of the American Fur Company. Having reached Sault de St. Marie he had an attack of delirium tremens, and to get rid of the horrors of his hallucinations he one day made a plunge into the Falls. Rescued from this peril, he renounced whiskey for eight years, or during his residence in this region, having substituted in its place tobacco, of which he used large quantities.
Soon after reaching the wintering-ground of the detachment, he married a half-breed Chippewa, by whom he had one child, a daughter, with feeble intellect and scrofulous habit. On his return to Detroit, in 1835, Dr. P. met him again. Meantime he had taken a second wife, one-fourth Shawnee, and, as appeared, had become habituated to opium in connection with his tobacco, though as yet and for some time after he was able to keep his habit disguised.
At the outbreak of epidemic cholera in 1849, being in painful dread of an attack, he voluntarily and without advice gave up all his narcotics; but there followed upon the change an appalling fit of delirium as before, with accompanying spectral illusions indescribably terrible. Recovering again, he resumed his opium, now in the form of morphine, increasing the amount until he had reached 20 grains. From this time onward there proceeded a gradual decay of intellectual power, the will especially becoming extremely feeble. The habit continued until 1856, broken only by death.
In his case the appetite for alcoholic stimuli – the reverse order is the common one – preceded the opium. The children born after the second marriage did not all inherit the infirmity of the parent; the two that were of his own temperament showed a tendency to phthisis. Both became intemperate drinkers, and one died such; the other, having substituted opium for alcohol, still survives, the progress of the original malady being apparently arrested.
In relation to hereditary transmission generally, Dr. P. is of opinion that the liability is greater when referable to the mother. A case of Dr. Palmer’s seems to incline to the doctrine of qualified hereditation. The youngest child of a family, now arrived at his majority nearly, has grown up an illiterate dullard, from sheer incapacity to learn anything. Following the mother but on a different line, he has thus early taken to dissipated ways, with the prospect of dying a sot. The mother, Mrs. H., now of the age of 50, has used opium for half this period, though never exceeding a drachm for the week.
There came under the writer’s notice, not long since, an invalid eighteen years old perhaps, of scrofulous habit somewhat, with an obscure indication of choreic tendency, and in intellect decidedly below par. This girl, the fifth in the series, was born after an interval of half a dozen years, by which time the habit of the mother (which had had its beginning soon after marriage, if not considerably earlier) was thoroughly established and in more palpable development. No indications of taint were noticeable in the older children.
The reckless employment of opiated preparations to the imperiling of infant life almost exceeds belief. There was a woman in Singapore, a desperate smoker at the rate of 36 grains of the chandoo daily, with two young children to care for, which she managed only this wise. To stay their noise (for they would whine and moan all the day if left to themselves) she would breathe over their faces a whiff or two of opium smoke. This practice (a common one in her country, as she represented to Surgeon Smith) allowed her to go to her task in the fields, unincumbered and unembarrassed.
Parrish of Philadelphia knew of a mother who used to give her child (it was but two years old) for a morning-potion a tablespoonful of laudanum, and for a similar purpose.
Paregoric, that household bane so empirically and yet so lavishly dispensed by imprudent mothers, whether for its present sedative efficacy, or whether for its supposed prophylactic virtue, has been, as an instrument of retributive evil, the very Nemesis of the nursery.
Here is an enumeration of particulars by a medical correspondent of the “Morning Chronicle”;
“Serious suffusion of the brain, if not degenerescence of the substance, with disruption of the cranial sutures, extreme nervousness and a lowered vis vitae, a sallow, corrugated skin, a tympanitic abdomen, limbs shrunken and shrivelled, a mopy gait, the faces hippocratica as of the death-spook in the window, youth in fine already transformed into the ugliness of decrepit age, with tabes mesenterica or dropsy in the not distant future — such are the appearances, such the prospects.”
“Could our mortuary registers reveal more of the hidden causes that are unremittedly operating to the impairment of the physical constitution ere the primal period has passed, they would tell of children sacrificed in hecatombs year in and out, the passive victims of syrups and elixirs whose labels are as audaciously false as the gilding is vulgarly profuse.”
“A case in point once fell under the observation of the writer of these pages. Mrs. B., a matron of a New England town, had taken for adoption into the family a boy then two years old. The child, from excess of solicitude and out of a mistaken kindness, was pampered with candies and other entremets during the day, so that by the time night had come it had got gorged to repletion. Restive now under its colicky pains it was not to be amused with cradle rockings, and so the dernier resort, the infallible paregoric vial, was taken into service. The dose, ten drops for a start, soon grew to a teaspoonful, and such supply was continued unremittedly through several months. As in similar cases, brief was the course and urgent the close – hydrocephalus in the sixth year. “So fades the lovely blooming flower.”
“Purpureus veluti cum flos, succisus aratro, Languescit moriens.” – Virgil.