Thus it is that among the Greenlanders and Laplanders, though they live along the fringe of European civilization, no distant intellectual or moral progress marks the course of centuries.
They show great skill in hunting the seal and in the few other industries that the intense cold allows them to practice; but their manners and customs are those of savages.
It is in the temperate countries of northern Europe that the beneficial effects of cold are most clearly manifest. A cold climate seems to stimulate energy by acting as an obstacle.
In the face of an insuperable obstacle our energies are numbed by despair; the total absence of obstacles, on the other hand, leaves no room for the exercise and training of energy; but a struggle against difficulties that we have a fair hope of overcoming, calls into active operation all our powers.
In like manner, while intense cold numbs human energies, and a hot climate affords little motive for exertion, moderate cold seems to have a bracing effect on the human race. In a moderately cold climate man is engaged in an arduous, but not hopeless struggle with the inclemency of the weather.
He has to build strong houses and procure thick clothes to keep himself warm. To supply fuel for his fires, he must hew down trees and dig coal out of the bowels of the earth.
In the open air, unless he moves quickly, he will suffer pain from the biting wind. Finally, in order to replenish the expenditure of bodily tissue caused by his necessary exertions, he has to procure for himself plenty of nourishing food.
Quite different is the lot of man in the tropics, In the neighborhood of the equator there is little need of clothes or fire, and it is possible, with perfect comfort and no danger to health, to pass the livelong day stretched out on the bare ground beneath the shade of a tree.
A very little fruit or vegetable food is required to sustain life under such circumstances, and that little can be obtained without much exertion from the bounteous earth.
We may recongnize much the same difference between ourselves at different seasons of the year, as there is between human nature in the tropics and in temperate climates. In hot weather we are generally languid and inclined to take life easily; but, when the cold season comes, we find that we are more inclined to vigorous exertion of our minds and bodies.
The energy produced in cold climates by the continual struggle with nature, has the further effect of inspiring a spirit of sturdy independence that refuses tamely to submit to oppression. “Wherever snow falls,” Emerson remarks, “there is usually civil freedom.”
The shortest survey of the political condition of the various countries of the earth gives support to his generalization. We find most civil liberty in such cold countries as Canada, the United States of America, the United Kingdom, Australia and Japan.
There is one great exception in Russia; but even among the Russians a violent spirit of liberty is being developed which must in time burst the chains of despotism.