Bitten by Four Rattlesnakes!
George Everard, 1882
In tropical climates there is often found to be exceeding peril to life from the multitude of reptiles and the wounds they inflict. In India alone, the danger from snake-poisoning is greater than from any other natural cause. In a single year seventeen thousand people are known to have perished through their bite.
In view of this terrible evil, a brave doctor set himself to discover a means by which the body might be rendered proof against the deadly effects of their poison. Having procured one of these rattlesnakes suited to his purpose, he prepared himself by certain remedies, and then permitted himself to be bitten by it. Trying various species, he made the experiment no less than four times, more than once bringing himself into the extreme danger in consequence of the poison he had imbibed.
It was a rare example of devotion to the call of duty and of willingness, if need, to lose his own life in the desire to save the lives of hundreds and of thousands.
Would that more were willing in this spirit to do good to their fellow-creatures, and putting all thought of self aside, to live or die for the welfare of the bodies or souls of those around them!
Nor should we fail to be reminded of the Great and Good Physician, who was wounded and suffered even unto death — that He might thus rescue and save perishing sinners from the venom and poison of the old serpent, the devil, and preserve them unto life everlasting.
But the thought of this brave, self-sacrificing man, led my thoughts to something else. It led me to think of those who give themselves up to be bitten where there is no possible good to be obtained, but only dire, terrible injury and evil to themselves, and many beside. Ah! there are deadly reptiles, adders, serpents, rattlesnakes, or whatever else you may call them — whose venom and poison touches both body and soul. Instead of yielding to their influence, your only wise plan is to flee from them and keep as far from them as you can!
Let me name four of these deadly foes. May every young man who reads these pages be kept from their power!
Horse racing and gambling,
the snare of strong drink,
and profligate habits —
these four rattlesnakes slay their thousands and tens of thousands of young men in every grade of society, engulfing them in moral ruin, blasting all their prospects in life, and involving mothers and fathers, wives and children, brothers and sisters, in the misery they have brought upon themselves.
Of these four, I shall speak of the last in another chapter. Let me touch on the other three.
1. With many, strong drink is the foe they have most to fear. What a sight it would be if you could gather together the young men you may see in any large town, wrecks of their former selves, squalid in their dress, hanging about the corner of some dirty street, with neither life, nor hope, nor energy left! Then ask, as you look at them, "Who slew all these?" It was the dragon of drink that did it! It has . . .
blighted their prospects,
ruined their health, and
cast them high and dry on the shore of poverty and want.
In face of this great danger, which often lies in wait for the most kindly, congenial young fellow — consider well what you ought to do? Might it not be well to join the Temperance army, and, for the sake of others as well as for yourself, deny yourself entirely the use of alcohol? Perhaps you are able to resist the snare, but another may be saved from danger if you abstain. On the other hand, though you may take it in moderation — he may gradually be overcome by the love of drink, and, following your example at first, may at length fall into the very depths of evil. Should you not regret this?
If you could swim well, and plunged into a broad river and reached the other side in safety — another might be led to attempt it through your example, and then be drowned in the endeavor. Should you not reproach yourself as having been the cause of his death?
One thing I am sure of. For the present emergency, while this sin is doing such terrible mischief, it is a wise and good thing to keep on the safe side. Neither can you tell how much you may influence others, by your own conduct in this matter. But if you are not willing to abstain entirely, I beg you, friend, keep within the very narrowest limits. Watch yourself very closely, and keep very far from the brink of the precipice.
2. What shall I say about a second point? What shall I advise as to frequenting the theater, the concert-hall, and similar places of amusement? You may tell me that many respectable, well-meaning people go to them. You may tell me that even clergymen are found in the theater, and argue in favor of dramatic performances.
However, I must say what I think. As they are at present, and are likely to remain for many a long year, I believe they do an amount of harm to young people that I could not exaggerate.
They bring them into contact with bad company.
They stir up evil passions.
They deaden and destroy religious impressions.
Very careful should you be to nourish and guard every good and holy desire that God may give you. I have seen the blossom on peach and apricot trees carefully covered over with cloth during frosty nights because a single sharp frost may destroy it all. And so, I am sure, we do well to guard the blossoms of piety and religion. Don't let the frost of worldliness and the atmosphere of ungodliness and irreligion hinder the blessed fruit you may bear for Christ. Rather guard it well by such habits and associations as will conduce to your spiritual welfare.
But how often has the theater been a pitfall to a young man, bringing him down to misery or death? A young man of good prospects in America was persuaded to go to a theater. The attraction once felt was too powerful to be resisted. For seventeen nights he went almost in succession, and at the end of that time he had lost character and position, and all peace of mind. It was a fall from which there was no recovery.
Let me mention another case. An actor was led, in a very remarkable way, to renounce his profession and to enter the ministry of the English Church. He gave up a lucrative employment and became comparatively a poor man. But he found an abundant recompense. In Christ and His cross, he found riches far outweighing gold and silver.
One day he was called to see a young gentleman who was dangerously ill. He lay on a luxurious couch, surrounded by every indication of wealth. With difficulty of utterance he said to the clergyman: "You have come to see the wreck you have made. You have ruined me!" he said. "Here on this sick bed I lie, prayerless, Christless, dying! You have done it. Enthralled by your power, I followed you like a slave, until I was happy nowhere but in the atmosphere of that accursed theater. It has drained me of every good, sapped my virtue, and destroyed my soul! I have lost all that makes men honored," he added. "I might have lived years, long years. But I am going to the grave a shame, and a grief to my mother, a disgrace to my name. And lying here, day after day, I have thought how through you I learned to love the enticements of the stage."
At length he died, not without hope. The one who formerly led him into evil, led him at last to the Savior. The stage ruined him, but Christ saved him and enabled him to rest his soul on Him.
3. But side by side with the theater goes the excitement of gambling. Of this too I must speak, and at some length.
Betting and gambling in every form and shape is injurious and ought to be avoided. Whether it be at the billiard-table or in a game of whist, on the race-course or elsewhere, nothing good will ever come of it.
Many have seen the pictures, a year or two ago, in the Royal Academy called "The Gamester's Course." The young man at college takes the first step by betting on horses for the Derby — then step by step he is drawn on until he loses everything, and at length in an attic, where nothing but utter poverty stares him in the face, is seen the pistol with which he takes his life.
Gambling is an evil which takes such a firm grip of a young man. Like the cobra, it coils round him, and he cannot get free. If he wins, it urges him on to win more. If he loses, he will often borrow, beg, or steal, in the hope of making up for what he has lost.
It is a pursuit which becomes so engrossing, that a man cares for little else. After a time, when the victim of this vice is thoroughly bitten, everything else in common life seems too tame for him to give much thought to it. Plain business duties, which are the surest road to an honest livelihood, are neglected or slurred over; no pains and trouble are taken about the details of the shop or the warehouse; so everything soon goes to rack and ruin, while a man is off to some race or discussing some coming event with sporting companions.
It makes a man so utterly selfish. He never stops for a moment to think of the wives and children of those from whom he may win a large sum. He never thinks of the misery he is bringing on those who are dependent upon him, when risking the money which has to provide all they need. Too often the betting man, with the iron hoof of covetousness, tramples down all thought of charity, of kindly feeling, yes, often even of truth, justice, and fair play — doing all lengths to fill his coffers with money which does not belong to him.
I quote the words of one who had a very large heart for young men, and wrote from considerable knowledge of the horse races: "Betting and gambling of every kind is in itself wrong and immoral. Betting is wrong, because it is wrong to take your neighbor's money without giving him anything in return. Earn from him what you will, and as much as you can; all labor, even the lowest drudgery, is honorable. But betting is not laboring nor earning — it is getting money without earning it; and more, it is getting money, or trying to get it, out of your neighbor's ignorance!"
If you and he bet on any event, you think your horse will win: he thinks that his will — in plain English, you think that you know more about the matter than he; you try to take advantage of his ignorance, and so to conjure money out of his pocket into yours — a very noble and friendly attitude in which to stand to your neighbor, truly!
That is the plain English of it! Look at it upwards, downwards, sideways, inside out, you will never make anything out of betting, but this — that it is taking advantage of your neighbor's supposed ignorance.
But says someone: "That is all fair — he is trying to do as much by me."
Just so, and that is a very noble attitude for two men who have no spite against each other — a state of mutual distrust and unmercifulness, looking each selfishly to his own gain, regardless of the interest of the other. Thus betting is founded on selfishness, and the consequence is that men who live by betting are, and cannot help being, the most selfish of men, and, I would think, the most unhappy and pitiable. For if a man who is given up to selfishness, distrust, and cunning — who is tempted every hour to treachery and falsehood, without the possibility of one noble or purifying feeling, or the consciousness that he has done the slightest good to a human being — if that man is not a pitiable object, I know not what is.
I hold, then, that betting is more or less wrong and immoral, but it is no less foolish.
Young men stake their money on this horse or that. "They know what the horse has done already." "They have special information, and have heard some wonderful secrets." "They send their money to a prophet in the sporting paper, in whom they have the highest confidence; or perhaps a young man "has a private friend, who is connected with Lord So-and-So's table, and he has put him up to a thing or two."
Ah! beguiled by their own folly. In nine cases out of ten it is all a mistake, and you learn too late to rue the money you have thrown away.
The following letter to his son, a public school boy, was written by Mr. Charles Kingsley, from whose words of advice the previous extracts have been taken.
"My Dearest Boy,
There is a matter which gave me much uneasiness when you mentioned it. You said you had put into some lottery for the Derby and had hedged to make safe.
"Now all this is bad, bad, nothing but bad. Of all habits, gambling is the one I hate most and have avoided most. Of all habits, it grows most on eager minds. Both success and loss alike make it grow. Of all habits, however much civilized men may give way to it, it is one of the most intrinsically savage. Historically it has been the excitement of the lowest brutes in human form for ages past. Morally it is unchivalrous and unchristian.
"1. It gains money by the lowest and most unjust means, for it takes money out of your neighbor's pocket — without giving him anything in return.
"2. It tempts you to use what you imagine your superior knowledge of a horse's merits — or anything else — to your neighbor's harm.
"If you know better than your neighbor, you are bound to give him your advice. Instead, you conceal your knowledge to win from his ignorance; hence come all sorts of concealments, dodges, deceits — I say the Devil is the only father of it!
"I hope you have not won. I would not be sorry for you to lose. If you have won, I shall not congratulate you. If you wish to please me, you will give back to its lawful owners, the money you have won.
"Recollect always that the stock argument is worthless. It is this: 'My friend would win from me if he could — therefore I have an equal right to win from him.' Nonsense. The same argument would prove that I have a right to maim or kill a man — if only I give him permission to maim or kill me if he can and will.
"I have spoken my mind once and for all on a matter on which I have held the same views for more than twenty years, and trust in God you will not forget my words. I have seen many a good fellow ruined by finding himself one day short of money, and trying to get a little by betting — and then the Lord have mercy on his simple soul, for simple it will not remain long.
"Mind, I am not the least angry with you. Betting is the way of the world. So are all the seven deadly sins under certain rules and pretty names — but to the Devil they lead if indulged in, in spite of the wise world and its ways. Your loving father, Charles Kingsley."
Two instances from real life may illustrate the reality of this evil. The first is from Paris, given as printed in the daily paper; the second from our own country.
"A few days ago a miserably-clad man was picked up in the streets insensible and conveyed to the hospital. Restoratives were administered, and when the poor creature was able to articulate a word he explained that he had eaten nothing for several days — an hour later he expired. The police charged with the duty of establishing his identity, discovered that he belonged to a good family and had formerly possessed a fine fortune. This he had entirely squandered at gambling-tables, but until about fifteen years ago he had contrived to keep himself above absolute beggary. At that epoch, he lost three hundred thousand francs in one day of gambling, and was left almost penniless. He had a wife living and two sons established in business, but shame or pride prevented him from applying to them, and he took to the streets as a beggar. This had been his calling for twelve years, the alms given him being used to satisfy his ruling passion at some of the base gambling dens still to be found in Paris, in spite of the vigilance of the authorities. Ultimately he died of hunger, and his family having been apprised of the event, he was buried in the family vault of Pere la Carriage."
Another example from real life, for the exact truth of which I can vouch, may serve instead of many words to show young men that I am drawing no imaginary picture in speaking of the fatal character of gambling.
A man in a middle rank of life had worked hard and made his way. He had carefully brought up his two sons and settled them out in life. For the elder son, he purchased a junior partnership in a wholesale business, and became surety for the younger in the situation where he placed him.
But this terrible vice laid hold of both. Horse-racing, billiards, and bad connections led the elder to rob his partner. To cover and conceal the crime, the aged father and mother sold their houses and went into lodgings with an income reduced to £70 per annum, both of them verging on seventy years of age.
Scarcely a year passed after this, but a second blow came, even heavier than the first. The younger son was charged with forging two checks, together amounting to nearly £100. Like Absalom, he was handsome, clever, and very talented in many ways — but he was godless in the extreme. The tears of that aged man and woman fell fast when sin had smitten their second son. Lodged in one of the cells of a prison, that mother found her boy. It was a terrible meeting. The weather was intensely cold. Christmas day came, and he was waiting his trial. The poor broken-hearted mother left her rooms and her husband, who was lying ill at the time, and through blinding snow and bitter cold, she reached the prison door with a Christmas dinner for her son. When friends dissuaded her from going she said, "It will be the last Christmas dinner he will ever have from his mother's hand, and come what may, I must get to him."
Many a bruise did she receive among the ruffians waiting around the door, which she carried about with her for weeks. The sight of his dear mother on such a morning, her wornout look, her snow-soaked clothes, and her strong unchanged love toward him, caused him utterly to break down. With intense bitterness he spoke of his past life and the sins he had committed. "Seeing my mother's sufferings and her deep love for me, is the most acute punishment I can feel. Would that I had died, before I had meddled with sin! Oh, that I could recall the bitter past! Drink and billiards have led me to all this misery!"
The trial came on and he was found guilty, and he is still undergoing the sentence passed. His father lies heart-broken in the silent grave. The mother still waits her call, ever thinking and praying for her erring, but still dearly-loved children. Never did two sons start with better prospects, but all life's hopes marred by sin, and their parents' love repaid by anguish and sorrow that followed them to the grave.
Young man, are you entering upon the same course? Oh, stop at once! Cast off the hateful "viper into the fire" (Acts 28:5). And Christ will heal the wound — and yet make you blessed and a blessing. Pray for pardon of the past — pray for grace to resist every temptation in the future.
Hear we the Shepherd's voice,
Pray, brother, pray;
Would you His heart rejoice?
Pray, brother, pray!
Sin calls for ceaseless fear,
Weakness needs the Strong One near,
As long as you struggle here,
Pray, brother, pray!