This country is greatly benefited by German immigration. The peculiarly philosophical tendency of German mind, the calm patience with which it investigates all questions of importance, the independence with whieh it rejects what it considers false, and asserts what it believes to be true, are elements of character and good citizenship anywhere, but are particularly valuable in a mixed population like the American. In a recent conversation with a German friend upon the state of modern society, he made the following very forcible remark : " Excitement is disease. Man does not need it. He ought not to have it. What a healthy mind most craves is placidity; to do its work in perfect calm, without any stimulus except that afforded by perfect bodily health. Mind and body healthy, each will give all the stimulus the other needs without resort to artificial means." There is so much meaning in this that it will bear considerable amplification. Mental dissipation and physical debauchery are alike disastrous in their effects ; alike breed a fierce appetite for more, an appetite that will not be appeased except by deeper and deeper drafts, which finally ruin body, mind, and soul. The taste for mental excitement now prevalent through all classes of society, is strongly evinced in the theatrical performances, the prominent literature of the times, the morbid taste for sensational displays, involving danger to human life, the detailed accounts of crimes and executions demanded of the press by the public, and the general personal uneasiness to be observed when people have nothing in particular to do. Pew Americans, comparatively, can sit down and content themselves in quiet thought. The sensational novel is one of the mildest stimulants resorted to by a large mass of our people to "kill time," as it is called. A philosophical work would reduce them to the last stages of mental exhaustion. A discussion upon any solid topic is ineffably wearying. Their mental motions are, so to speak, shaky and uncertain till they have had their intellectual grog. They look with wonder upon a man or woman who can do hard mental work, and stand it without recourseto any stimulus, without at all comprehending that it is not work,but worry and excitement which kill. This state of things is so wide spread that we are justified in calling it a disease of modern society. Its symptoms are erotic suicides, speculative manias, gambling, embezzlement, and crimes of a more henious type. What is the remedy ? This is a question easily asked but terribly hard to answer. Religion, legislative enactments, ?social philosophy, all seem powerless to effect a cure. We are sometimes disposed to think that the only way is to let the disease run its course' like smallpox, producing its unsightly and foetid erruption, until the poison eliminates itself from the body politic. Society, as at present organized, may die of the disease, or peradventure it may survive to enjoy better health af .erward. The social science conventions do not seem to get at the root of the matter at all. They persist in isolating single Symptoms and looking upon them as the disease itself. One member will tell you that the inordinate love of wealth is the matter, taking for a text the familiar but utterly false maxim, " The love of money is the root of all evil," and propose to enact laws that shall prohibit the accumulation of giant fortunes. Another will hold up to view what has been with an unjustifiable shrinking from plain speech, styled " the social evil," and attribute all the evils of society to the morbid influence of illicit desire. Another assigns the evils of society to drunkenness, and so on. These things are results—not causes. We do not profess ability to prescribe a cure for the universal malady of the age. It will require the sober study of philosophers for years to come, but of one thing we feel very certain ; namely, that all systems of ethics which place faith in the emotional nature of mankind, only substitute one form of excitement for another without even approximating a cure. The world has everything to hope from the men who believe religion and philosophy should go hand in hand, and much to fear from the misguided philanthropists who appeal only to feeling.
This article was originally published with the title "Excitement a Disease of Society" in Scientific American 20, 24, 378 (June 1869)