This section is from the book "The Transmission Of Life. Counsels On The Nature And Hygiene Of The Masculine Function", by George H. Napheys. Also available from Amazon: The Transmission of Life.
A masked pestilence, a subtle infection is stealing upon the health of the nation, poisoning its blood and shorten-ing its life, spreading from husband to wife, from parent to offspring, from nurse to infant, working slowly but with a fatal and an inexorable certainty. This pestilence is the specific contagion of diseases which arise from impure intercourse.
Were this its only source, and did it stay its ravages with the guilty parties, we might say, it is a just penalty, and calls for little sympathy. But this is not so. By the inscrutable law of God, which decrees that the sins or the father shall be visited on the children, even unto the third and fourth generation, these diseases work attainder of blood, become hereditary, and blight the offspring. They pass from the guilty to the innocent by lawful intercourse, by vaccination, by circumcision, by nursing, by utensils, even by a kiss. Hundreds of examples are recorded in medical literature, where the infection has spread by just such means. Not a single physician of experience who has not witnessed wife and children poisoned by the husband's infidelity.
Here again we fear that we shall be called alarmists, and severely criticized for exciting unnecessary apprehension.
We care not. This is no imaginary evil we combat, nor is it any paltry or insignificant one. We do but repeat, and with moderated emphasis, what others have already said. We have before us a work which is anything but sensational, and which was written by men who stand second to none in our land for professional and personal character. It is the Fifth Annual Report of the Board of State Charities of Massachusetts (1868). The Board are speaking (p. lvi.) of " that hideous disease which must have come from the most venomous fang of the serpent which bit the heel of mankind," and they go on to say: -
"Woe to the bodily tabernacle in which it once enters; for it is one of those evil spirits which not even prayer and fasting can cast out. With slow, painless, insidious, resistless march, it penetrates into the very marrow of the bones, and poisons the fountain of life beyond purification. All may look fair without and feel fair within, but the taint is there, and it affects the offspring. The effects of this disorder in corrupting the human stock, and predisposing offspring to disease, are more deadly than is usually believed. They are hardly exceeded by the effects of alcohol. Nature readily 'forgives unto the sons of men other sins and blasphemies wherewith soever they may blaspheme,' but this one, like ' him that blasphemeth against the Holy Spirit, hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation, for he hath an unclean spirit.' "
And this is said, be it remembered, in a public document, for general distribution. Can we then be blamed if we remove without compunction the veil which hides the hideous features of this malady ? Would we not deserve extremest censure in a work of this nature if we hesitated so to do ?
We would gladly add, to counterbalance what we have to say on this point, that such maladies are rare. But who would believe it ? Is it not notorious that there is no hamlet so remote, no frontier settlement so isolated, that it is free of this scourge ? In the great cities it is fearfully prevalent. Including both sexes and all grades of society we do not doubt that more than twenty-five per cent. of their whole population is more or less tainted with it, and the greater number innocently. Nor is it at all confined to the indigent and the degraded. Its hold is just as firm, though concealed and held in check, in the fashionable clubs and stately mansions of the opulent, as in the alleys and back slums of the dregs of our population. No man, no woman, we care not what his position or his life may be, is secure from its loathsome touch.
How great, therefore, is the error of those who speak of it as a penalty which is confined to low vice only ? And how short-sighted the policy which bids us to " Skin and film the ulcerous place, Whiles rank corruption, mining all within, Infects unseen."
This social problem interests the public. They must appreciate the danger, they must unite and act, they must take up arms in solemn earnest, and determine to curb and limit, and if any way possible utterly stamp out, this spreading evil. What information seems to us of use for this purpose we shall proceed to give.