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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
Essay on Tar-Water
By George Berkeley (1685–1753)
From ‘Siris’

THE SEEDS of things seem to lie latent in the air, ready to appear and produce their kind, whenever they light on a proper matrix. The extremely small seeds of fern, mosses, mushrooms, and some other plants, are concealed and wafted about in the air, every part whereof seems replete with seeds of one kind or other. The whole atmosphere seems alive. There is everywhere acid to corrode, and seed to engender. Iron will rust, and mold will grow, in all places. Virgin earth becomes fertile, crops of new plants ever and anon show themselves, all which demonstrate the air to be a common seminary and receptacle of all vivifying principles….  1
  The eye by long use comes to see, even in the darkest cavern; and there is no subject so obscure, but we may discern some glimpse of truth by long poring on it. Truth is the cry of all, but the game of a few. Certainly where it is the chief passion, it doth not give way to vulgar cares and views; nor is it contented with a little ardor in the early time of life; active, perhaps, to pursue, but not so fit to weigh and revise. He that would make a real progress in knowledge, must dedicate his age as well as youth, the later growth as well as first fruits, at the altar of truth….  2
  As the nerves are instruments of sensation, it follows that spasms in the nerves may produce all symptoms, and therefore a disorder in the nervous system shall imitate all distempers, and occasion, in appearance, an asthma for instance, a pleurisy, or a fit of the stone. Now, whatever is good for the nerves in general is good against all such symptoms. But tar-water, as it includes in an eminent degree the virtues of warm gums and resins, is of great use for comforting and strengthening the nerves, curing twitches in the nervous fibres, cramps also, and numbness in the limbs, removing anxieties and promoting sleep, in all which cases I have known it very successful.  3
  This safe and cheap medicine suits all circumstances and all constitutions, operating easily, curing without disturbing, raising the spirits without depressing them, a circumstance that deserves repeated attention, especially in these climates, where strong liquors so fatally and so frequently produce those very distresses they are designed to remedy; and if I am not misinformed, even among the ladies themselves, who are truly much to be pitied. Their condition of life makes them a prey to imaginary woes, which never fail to grow up in minds unexercised and unemployed. To get rid of these, it is said, there are who betake themselves to distilled spirits. And it is not improbable they are led gradually to the use of those poisons by a certain complaisant pharmacy, too much used in the modern practice, palsy drops, poppy cordial, plague water, and such-like, which being in truth nothing but drams disguised, yet coming from the apothecaries, are considered only as medicines.  4
  The soul of man was supposed by many ancient sages to be thrust into the human body as into a prison, for punishment of past offenses. But the worst prison is the body of an indolent epicure, whose blood is inflamed by fermented liquors and high sauces, or rendered putrid, sharp, and corrosive by a stagnation of the animal juices through sloth and indolence; whose membranes are irritated by pungent salts; whose mind is agitated by painful oscillations of the nervous system, and whose nerves are mutually affected by the irregular passions of his mind. This ferment in the animal economy darkens and confounds the intellect. It produceth vain terrors and vain conceits, and stimulates the soul with mad desires, which, not being natural, nothing in nature can satisfy. No wonder, therefore, there are so many fine persons of both sexes, shining themselves, and shone on by fortune, who are inwardly miserable and sick of life.  5
  The hardness of stubbed vulgar constitutions renders them insensible of a thousand things that fret and gall those delicate people, who, as if their skin was peeled off, feel to the quick everything that touches them. The remedy for this exquisite and painful sensibility is commonly sought from fermented, perhaps from distilled liquors, which render many lives wretched that would otherwise have been only ridiculous. The tender nerves and low spirits of such poor creatures would be much relieved by the use of tar-water, which might prolong and cheer their lives. I do therefore recommend to them the use of a cordial, not only safe and innocent, but giving health and spirit as sure as other cordials destroy them.  6
  I do verily think there is not any other medicine whatsoever so effectual to restore a crazy constitution and cheer a dreary mind, or so likely to subvert that gloomy empire of the spleen which tyrannizeth over the better sort (as they are called) of these free nations, and maketh them, in spite of their liberty and property, more wretched slaves than even the subjects of absolute power who breathe clear air in a sunny climate, while men of low degree often enjoy a tranquillity and content that no advantage of birth or fortune can equal. Such indeed was the case while the rich alone could afford to be debauched; but when even beggars became debauchees, the case was altered.  7
  The public virtue and spirit of the British legislature never showed itself more conspicuous in any act, than in that for suppressing the immoderate use of distilled spirits among the people, whose strength and numbers constitute the true wealth of a nation: though evasive arts will, it is feared, prevail so long as distilled spirits of any kind are allowed, the character of Englishmen in general being that of Brutus, Quicquid vult valde vult [whatever he desires he desires intensely]. But why should such a canker be tolerated in the vitals of a State, under any pretense, or in any shape whatsoever? Better by far the whole present set of distillers were pensioners of the public, and their trade abolished by law; since all the benefit thereof put together would not balance the hundredth part of its mischief….  8
  This tar-water will also give charitable relief to the ladies, who often want it more than the parish poor; being many of them never able to make a good meal, and sitting pale and puny, and forbidden like ghosts, at their own table, victims of vapors and indigestion.  9
  Studious persons also, pent up in narrow holes, breathing bad air, and stooping over their books, are much to be pitied. As they are debarred the free use of air and exercise, this I will venture to recommend as the best succedaneum to both; though it were to be wished that modern scholars would, like the ancients, meditate and converse more in walks and gardens and open air, which upon the whole would perhaps be no hindrance to their learning, and a great advantage to their health. My own sedentary course of life had long since thrown me into an ill habit, attended with many ailments, particularly a nervous colic, which rendered my life a burden, and the more so because my pains were exasperated by exercise. But since the use of tar-water, I find, though not a perfect recovery from my old and rooted illness, yet such a gradual return of health and ease, that I esteem my having taken this medicine the greatest of all temporal blessings, and am convinced that under Providence I owe my life to it.  10

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