( Originally Published 1923 )
IF there were no sexual instinct, vanity would not exist on this earth, either. For naturally it can be only a result of the sexual instinct if, in man or animals, the male or female tries hard to captivate the attention of the opposite sex. Man and the animals have, indeed, learned how to do this from their great teacher, nature. She is the secret promoter of vanity, through which she furthers her ends, and to which she clings with the utmost tenacity in order to ensure the conservation of the species.
With an eye to this, her sacred aim, she utilizes, among other means which in their cleverness must excite the admiration of even the most impious atheist and materialist, vanity, in order to excite the sexual appetite of the opposite sex, the co-operation of which is indispensable in attaining her object.
Accordingly, she makes the peacock spread its tail in order to solicit the admiration of the female through the sight of the wonderful brilliancy of its feathers, which are of almost unrivalled beauty. Unlike the human race, in the peacock species it is not the female that deserves to be called the "fair sex," for she is clothed by nature in very modest and by no means pretentious garments.
Again, to promote the mating of the bird of paradise, nature induces the males to dance a pirouette before the females, meanwhile exhibiting the wonderfully rich coloring of their plumage.
She even goes so far as to make a certain species of woodcock, found in South America, construct a kind of dance hall in his endeavor to obtain the favors of his beloved, so that here, just as with man, the path to marriage frequently leads through the ball room.
This shows us that Terpsichorean art was in reality invented by Mother Nature for the purpose of serving the sexual instinct. Indeed, I believe I have demonstrated in my book on "Building Human Intelligence" that the fine arts owe their origin to the sexual instinct as the underlying motive. This applies also to the art of singing and to music in general.
This is plainly shown by the fact that nature has given the greater gifts in singing only to the males among the singing birds. Thus the male nightingale sings his most superb note only in the service of sex. The same is true of the other songsters. The males attempt to drive their rivals from the field by their finest songs, and the one that sings the best is favored with the love of his elected mate. When the victory has been gained, however, it means also the end of the beautiful songs; there-after the males sing no more, except perhaps to entertain their mates while building their nests and as a stimulant to the diligence of their little help-mates.
One might show similarly that the art of painting was likewise originated by nature. It likewise serves her purposes in promoting sex excitement and insuring the conservation of the species.
To this end nature makes use of the finest colors at her command. To the fish a creature looked upon as a frigid, cold-blooded animal, but not with justice, for at least in a metaphoric sense, warm blood does, indeed, course through his veins nature lends, under the influence of sexual excitement, the most brilliant colors though only to the males. For in her great sagacity and pre-occupation for the conservation of the species, it is, in general, to the males that she has given the greater appetite in the sexual sphere, and to the female rather a sense of moderation and reserve, so that stronger means are required to arouse her sex desires.
In the waters of India there occurs a fish which nature has fitted out with the finest possible colors, the rainbow fish. When the season arrives for this fish to lay its eggs, the male swims about the female and turns himself in all directions just like a conceited dandy who is trying to win his lady with his charms. In doing so he permits his elected one to admire the great beauty of his scales, radiant with the most wonderful colors, his entire body glowing in a kind of brilliant fire. All this in order to tempt her to enter his nest.
How human these creatures are, or how much we are like animals ! Just as lavishly has nature lent her most brilliant hues to the world of plants to assist in their propagation. For this purpose she uses the most striking and conspicuous colors at her command, colors such as will be seen from a great distance, to attract the attention of the in-sects adapted as intermediaries in the act of fertilization, e.g., bees, butterflies, flies of different kinds, etc.
With her usual admirable foresight, nature has lavished the most striking colors upon the flowers of the mountain meadows. The reason for this and it shows with what wonderful perspicacity nature does her work is that in the high mountains the summer season lasts only a very short time and the insects must be stimulated by some extra means to the highest pitch of industry and speed in order to profit as much as possible from the short time at their disposal.
To this end nature attracts the fertilizing insects with the most brilliant hue that she possesses in her box of colors, a special kind of red of great brilliancy, called anthokyan. This color, like conspicuous colors in general, and like the most pungent perfumes and finest aromas of flowers, is a result of the purest sunshine, the sun's rays in the mountains containing far more of the most active rays, the so-called "ultra-violet" rays, than elsewhere. These rays are the special producers of pigments and colors.
Nor does benevolent nature forget those organ-isms which are not allowed to enjoy the enlivening rays of the sun, the mushrooms that grow in the dark shadows of deep forests. To these she gives a lamp which glows at night in order to attract their worshippers. There is one of them, a species found in Brazil, called Dictyophora phalloidea, which resembles a little lady, most eccentrically clad. At night she puts on a little mantle which looks like a lace veil and which emits a glowing light to attract the insects. The people of Brazil call this mushroom "the lady with the white veil" (a Senhora con a mantilha branca).
In addition to these lights revealed at night time, some mushrooms possess an attraction of another kind for the insects, viz., an odor. This odor is very repellent to human nostrils, being a kind of cadaveric odor, but for the insects which disseminate the spores of these mushrooms it seems to represent all the perfumes of Araby. "Naturalia non sun turpia" (natural things are not vile things), says the Latin. Herein we find but an-other manifestation of the great sagacity of Mother Nature in the interest of the conservation and propagation of the species. To this purpose she applies not only the most striking colors, but also the strongest odors, which she uses where it is necessary to attract the greatest possible number of insects.
Here again, I would like to point out how closely all this is related to things human. Those ladies who sprinkle themselves with the most powerful perfumes, dress very conspicuously ("en se faisant remarquer," as the French would say), and put a red flag on their faces (as Thackeray would say), are following, unwittingly, indeed instinctively, natural models. They are merely following pat-terns which nature created already thousands of years ago, long before man made his appearance on this earth. They are, as a matter of fact (and poor things, they are unaware of it!), simply pup-pets, which nature causes to dance as she pulls the strings.
Verily, one who knows how to read the great book that nature has written, even if he be a "doubting Thomas" of a most impious disposition, cannot help admiring this marvellous foresight of nature and her great kindness to all her creatures, even the humblest. If only the theologians would occupy themselves a little more with natural history! Indeed, I think they could establish a most intimate relationship between theology and natural history. With one of the arguments above mentioned I believe they could convert more people to a belief in a wise, benevolent Creator than with a hundred arguments of a metaphysical nature.
But, I am sorry to say, some of the masters of divinity do not favor teleological arguments, and, if I may judge from my own experience, the protestant clergymen are, as a whole, more averse to such proofs of the existence of God than are the Roman Catholic priests. Indeed, according to Dr. Nisius, S. J., Professor in the widely known High School of Theology at Innsbrück (Tyrol), there is nothing in the teachings of the Roman Catholic church that would exclude the use of such arguments, drawn from nature.
Since, according to the above mentioned facts, vanity is founded upon entirely natural principles, being, so to speak, an institution nature herself created, it would seem perhaps out of place here to describe it as one of the ten chief causes of premature death; indeed, it would appear as if the satisfaction of vanity could not lead to consequences that might prove deleterious to health. This may be the case, to be sure, when the satisfaction of vanity does not exceed ordinary limits, for example, when a person is merely trying by innocent means to place his person and his qualities in the most favorable light.
After all, nature herself does the same thing when she imparts striking colors to the plants in order to assist in their fertilization. Indeed, she utilizes her strongest agencies, her most impressive colors, only when special circumstances demand it. Thus, the modest violet certainly passes into the haven of matrimony without the necessity of having recourse to intoxicating odors to entice her worshippers, like the ill-smelling mushrooms that grow in the depths of the dark forest. These demure little flowers do not need to advertise themselves by conspicuous means a fact which may serve as a hope and comfort to their human sisters.
Vanity becomes very harmful to us and one of the chief causes of premature death only when weapons of a less innocent kind are applied to satisfy the craving to please only when the question is no longer one of placing in a favorable light qualities that already exist, but when such qualities as do not exist at all are simulated by deception. Such is the case, for example, when a woman insists upon forcing her stout body into tight clothing, so that violence is done to her respiratory and circulatory organs which thereafter develop marked pathological disturbances. A number of life-shortening disorders are promoted in this manner. Particularly serious consequences may result where, as is unfortunately often the case, such women expect to become mothers and nevertheless want to continue to appear slim, or, on the other hand, instead of being proud of the state of motherhood, desire to prevent it.
Very serious effects on the liver and bile circulation may be caused by tight lacing. Actual grooves in the liver may be produced by tight corsets, as has often been noted in autopsies on the bodies of women. It is clear that the circulation in the vessels of the liver, which plays an important part in the elaboration of the bile, is markedly hindered by such tight wearing apparel. Aside from this, as well as from the hindrance offered to the circulation of bile owing to pressure upon the bile ducts, stagnation of the bile may also be produced as a result of the obstacle to the respiratory function of the diaphragm consequent upon the pressure of the corset. Under normal conditions the movements of the diaphragm promote the circulation of bile. It is not surprising, moreover, that in such women as is very frequently the case a serious and also very painful condition may develop as a result of the stagnation of bile, viz., inflammation of the bile passages or gallstones. The extremely severe pain which then occurs constitutes, indeed, a chastisement for the sin of vanity.
Still more dreadful pains may, however, be induced through vanity from the use of paints and hair dyes if they contain lead. When women and girls, otherwise grudgingly dealt with by nature, attempt to improve their unattractive, muddy and yellowish complexions or to impart some degree of freshness to their ageing features, we may condone such an attempt as a natural, human procedure, and as the author of "Old Age Deferred" I should be the last one to cast aspersions upon it. It is quite unpardonable, on the other hand, when, as is unfortunately often the case, very young women make it a practice to paint. It is not merely that they are thus nearly always made to look older and an otherwise healthy-looking complexion always harmed, frequently to an irremediable extent, but what is still more unfortunate, serious ill-health may result where, as is often the case with the most effective white paints and powders, the preparations used contain lead. Even small quantities of this toxic substance may cause poisoning if the paints and powders containing it are used for some length of time. Poisoning may occur even more readily if the hair is dyed with preparations containing lead, which are very effective in changing the color of the hair or beard to brown or black.
The worst feature of this is that such poisoning in many instances comes on in a slow, insidious manner, until finally, one day, an extremely painful attack of lead colic sets in. Often such an attack is later repeated, but its true nature is not infrequently overlooked, so that the disorder is given an opportunity to exert further harmful effects in the body effects often utterly irremediable until finally the true cause of the disorder is successfully detected. Not a few of these cases later terminate fatally.
Persons previously in the best of health and robust in appearance are thus transformed into pale, emaciated beings constituting mere shadows of once beautiful women or well-nourished men.
From the effects of the deadly poison, lead, there may develop serious and dangerous changes in the brain, heart, blood-vessels, digestive organs, and liver, as well as in the kidneys. The condition is also one of the most important causes of the excessive formation of uric acid, with its harmful consequences. Mental disturbances may also be present.
Above all, the victim of this chronic lead poisoning the result of vanity may be dreadfully tormented by the attendant pain. As I lately had occasion to observe in the case of a retired officer who had dyed his hair and beard for a number of years, this pain may occur in the same manner and with the same intensity as the painful paroxysms of tabes dorsalis, so that the making of a correct diagnosis may be attended with difficulty. In the case of the officer just mentioned, repeated examinations of the blood with the Wassermann reaction regularly gave negative results, and syphilitic infection was categorically denied, so that I was compelled to consider the dye containing lead as the cause of the severe attacks of pain. Besides, the man had become so strikingly thin as to be merely skin and bones, although as a landowner he had been able to eat plenty of food during the war.
Serious harm may likewise be done to the health when, as in the case of many ladies who are most ardently desirous of acquiring a slim figure, every possible means is taken to further this end. For this purpose the food taken may be reduced to the lowest possible amount; in young persons, in particular, whose growth has not been completed, this procedure may have very prejudicial results. If the body fails to receive enough of proteins, carbohydrates and fats in the diet, as well as of mineral substances, such as lime, for its proper development, serious effects on the health ensue, and in their wake follow a number of diseases dangerous to life.
We have already alluded to the dangers of over-eating; but far greater are the risks attendant upon under-nutrition, for under these conditions the body lacks the very substances which protect it against various infections. In this manner, especially in young individuals, one of the diseases causing the greatest mortality, viz., tuberculosis, may easily become established.
I have often found it necessary to recommend arsenic and iron in anemic women and girls these being the very best drugs for such instances but have been met with a refusal to take them on account of a superstitious fear that they would make their waists larger.
It should be borne in mind in this connection, however, that small medicinal doses of these drugs, used in conjunction with a suitable diet, could hardly exert any such effect, and that, on the other hand, their ingestion will as a rule promote a healthy and youthful appearance.
The women, however, do not draw their conclusions from the general run of cases, as do men, but judge rather by the isolated, exceptional in-stances that have befallen one of their friends. In many women vanity reaches such a pitch that they would rather continue ill than be restored to health
and present a healthy appearance. In many, indeed, morbid vanity is such that they voluntarily give up the greatest blessing at the disposal of the young married woman, viz., motherhood.