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combating a moral derangement, and his dilemma
is most trying. If he maintain the soundness of
the principle of abstinence, and give every assur-
ance of safety, he often fails in carrying conviction,
since h is arguing with the most subtle and obsti-
nate of human frailties fear. If he give way and
yield his assent to the return to the assumed pro-
tecting and sustaining enemy, he constantly gives
up his too willing patient to the danger of further
encroachment, to confirmed adhesion to danger,
and to certain injury.

And yet, ladies and gentlemen, in these cases, in
all but the most exceptional instances due to physi-
cal disease, the course to be insisted on is, after all,
clear, and that course is to enforce the abstinence.
Nothing is wanting but time to assure and sustain
the most nervous and timid nature in the absolute
safety and advantage of abstinence. In a few weeks
there is hope ; in a few months there is victory. A
few repetitions of trials of strength without alcohol
confirm the effort, and with the certain confirma-
tion the new habit of self-trust and confidence be-
comes the natural condition. Like one who, hav-
ing learned to swim, has given up the belt or other
artificial support, and wonders why he ever needed
such unnecessary assistance, so the perfected ab-
stainer wonders why he ever required s MSta'.mment
from alcohol.

48 The Action of Alcohol

Touching the mental condition of those who arc
held to alcohol by the tie of appetite for it and
fondness for the surreptitious cheeriness which it
seems to impart, the same kind of argument against
the indulgence applies as does to the condition of
the timorous. Indeed, the two conditions are not
infrequently in combination in the same person.
It must, however, be said of them in whom the lik-
ing is strongly developed that they are almost in-
variably in actual danger. They have become the
slaves of the tyrant. They tell you with mock
triumph, what their own hearts assure them is false,
that they prefer to live a shorter life if it be but
merrier. In this stage they are just on the verge
of that mental incapacity, by physical disorganiza-
tion, from which nothing but total abstinence can
save them. Most commonly they sink deeper and
deeper, and die from organic disease.

Touching the fourth and fifth classes of persons
to whom I directed attention those who hold to
alcoholic drinks with automatic consistency and
prejudice of custom, and those who hold to them
as a means for mere recreative gratification their
mental condition is of a kind that can only be
reached by clear and often-repeated statements of
the truth respecting alcohol. Many of this class
are acting simply under the impulse of ignorance,
or the feeling of good nature, and though they are
slavish to prejudice, they are not inaccessible to rea-
son. These have to be educated, the first by a
long, the second by a short course, and they are
now being educated hour by hour and day by day.
This fact is apparent in every phase of social life,

On the Mind. 49

At the dinner-table wine is no longer pertinaciously
and almost vulgarly forced on every guest, as once
it was ; neither is every total abstainer a marked
man, to be made the unhappy victim of rude jest
because of his conscientious determination to live
according to natural rule. The atrocious calumny
against Nature that she sent wine for the use of
man is certainly less frequently declared ; and the
idea that men who do not drink can not be merry
of the merriest, as well as wise of the wisest, is be-
ing so determinately corrected by practical ob-
servations as to be passing into ignorant badinage.

Still, much information has to be instilled into the
masses before a true and proper frame of mind is
acquired in respect to alcohol, socially considered.
That terrible habit of false hospitality which pre-
sumes that a man has not done by his neighbor as
he would be done by until he has asked him " what
he will drink," sadly needs reforming. The insane
idea that every new task and every renewed rest
must be supplemented and complemented by a
glass of something strong, sadly needs reforming.
That equally insane practice of transacting every
bit of business by a preliminary draught of the
great mental disqualifier for all business, most
solemnly calls for reformation. The notion that
everybody who is ailing or exhausted must at once
be dosed with some stiff cordial, has to be banished
not only from the heart, but from the mind. For
these reforms we can only wait, and teach, and re-
cast a mental constitution which, erring only from
the heart, admits of definite improvement.

Touching, lastly, the argument of those who

5O The Action of Alcohol

maintain that the desire for alcohol rests on an in-
stinctive basis, the reply is easy. The historical
evidence which is adduced in favor of the instinct-
ive view breaks down on all fours. There have
been nations which have never shown the instinct
described. The lower animals, which are mainly
instinctive, have never shown the instinct. Those
nations which have exhibited a predilection for
some foreign agent influencing the natural life have
exhibited no consistent method of selection of such
an agent. Some have used a stimulant ; others a
pure narcotic ; others a direct mental depressant.
All have taken, by mere accident of place and
mode of life, the agent which they have introduced
into common usage. Ail, moreover, who have thus
temporized with life have been but as the children
of the world, whose childish instincts in matter of
cooking, of dwelling, of fighting, of playing, the
most rabid alcoholic advocate would scarcely care
to follow. In short, this argument of instinct is
mere excuse for sake of excuse, and when it is tried
by the facts of current experience, with or without
the history of the past, it is nowhere. The present
experience, and I believe the most ancient experi-
ence also, is clear as daylight viz., that the habit
of drinking all strong drinks is an acquired habit ;
that all young children instinctively dislike such
drinks and shrink from them ; that much training
is required to beget the liking for any one drink;
and that no alcoholic scholar is ever so accom-
plished as to accept every drink with equal favor.
What is more, it is obvious not only that Nature
has provided no instinct in any young animal for

On the Mind. 51

alcohol, but that she has not herself provided the
alcohol for the instinct. Measured by the perfec-
tion of her other designs, and her unerring mode of
fitting one thing into another when she intends
ooth to act together, it is, I think, inconceivable
that she would have .forgotten both the instinctive
desire for a particular agent, as well as the agent
itself, if she had designed that man should require
Che agent either for his wants or his pleasures.


This discourse on the action of alcohol on the
mind would be incomplete if it did not add some-
thing respecting the direct influence of alcoholic in-
dulgence, in its various degrees, on the mental
powers, reasoning and instinctive. I would, there-
fore, offer a few concluding notes from derived
practiced observation on this point.

I think I see three distinct effects of alcohol on
the mind, which effects I shall term the supersti-
tious, the demonstrative, and the destructive.
They are as distinct as any of the physical effects
which I have traced, and I daresay they rest on a
physical basis, but they admit of study and descrip-
tion as mental phenomena, apart from the intrica-
cies of their origin.

The superstitious feelings engendered or excited
by alcohol have the widest range. They extend to
the whole of the alcohol-drinking population, but
are usually most pronounced amongst those of the
population who are most moderate, or, to use their
own words, most strictly temperate in their habits.
These, at all events, express most clearly the effects

52 The Action of Alcohol

I am now denoting. They tell you, Viith a kind of
regret, that while they are fully cognizant of the
evils produced by alcohol, of the desolation pro-
duced by it, the pity is that such a potent cause'of
evil can not be safely given up. They themselves
would give it up if they could, if they had the reso-
lution, but to them it is so necessary. They can re-
duce it to any ridiculously small amount, but they
must have a little, or they would break down. I
was sitting at dinner, during the present season, by
the side of a gentleman whose mind was full}' imbued
with this impression. " You see," he said to me,
" I am almost, but not quite, of your persuasion, for
that is my daily potion of wine, and that has been
my potion for over twenty years." Thereupon he
poured out in a' glass about two ounces of a villain-
ous compound which is publicly sold under the
name of sherry. " Well," I replied, " that is not
more than from three to four drachms of alcohol.
It will, I confess, do you neither good nor harm, be-
cause there is really not enough to produce a
physiological effect on one of your age and size."
4< Nevertheless," said he, '' I couldn't do without it."
"What effect has it?" I inquired. " What effect,
for example, does that which you have just taken
produce ? " " Ah," he responded, " this is common
wine, very bad wine indeed, and promises, I fear,
to give me heartburn, as bad wine always does; a
sort of acidity, I suppose, which such wine invaria-
bly causes in me. Still I couldn't do without even
this. I should miss something; I shouldn't sleep
without it ; but what it does for me I really do not
know. The worst it does is the heartburn and that

On the Mind. 53

is usual except at my own table, where I get the
wine that I know suits me. " And then he went off
at a tangent to say that it was so sociable to be able
to take a little wine; that when you are at Rome
you must do as Rome does ; that more people in-
jure themselves by eating than by drinking; that
this is an artificial age, in which artificial means are
demanded ; and that il such a magnificent gift of
God to man as wine including, I suppose, the
sherry which every one at the table was heartily
cursing were to be cast aside, what next would be
tossed away and despised? As a last and crushing
fling, he threw at me the latest utterances which
Mr. Worldly Wiseman I beg pardon, I mean Dr.
Worldly Wiseman for since I last spoke of that
worthy, I see he has taken up the doctor's degree
in physic which Dr. Worldly Wiseman has said
in a professional point of view respecting alcohol,
and from which he deduced that a daily dose of
alcohol which would of a certainty shorten the lives
of nine-tenths of those who indulged in it might, on
my own evidence, be taken with impunity as well
as pleasure. Certainly he had not read what I had
written, but this is what he understood, and he be-
lieved that some understood the original facts of an
author better than the author did himself.

This is a fair sample of the superstition, of the
firm belief in the unreal always weak, plausible,
selfish, illogical which alcohol excites in the minds
of men and women who are accustomed to its use.
The same superstition once hung about charms and
amulets, and is hardly dead yet. In this superstition
lies the secret power of that moderation fallacy by

54 The Action of Alcohol

which the public btxly is inoculated with the per-
sistent plague of drunken-mania. It is the origin
of all the evil.

The demonstrative effects of alcohol are shown in
the proceedings of those who confessedly or con-
cealedly indulge in alcohol beyond what can be
called, in any sense, moderation. Such persons are
not, of necessity, drunkards ; they may only be free
in the use of alcohol, or reckless in its use. But, as
if they were so many specimens of experiment, they
are demonstrations of its effects on the mental as
well as the physical constitution.

An analysis of the condition of mind induced and
maintained by the free daily use of alcohol as a
drink, reveals a singular order of facts. The mani-
festation fails altogether to reveal the exaltation of
any reasoning power in a useful or satisfactory di-
rection. I have never met with an instance in which
such a claim for alcohol was made. On the contrary,
confirmed alcoholics constantly say that for this or
that work, requiring thought and attention, it is
necessary to forego some of the usual potations in
order to have a cool head for hard work.

On the other side the experience is unfortunately
overwhelming in favor of the observation that the
use of alcohol sells the reasoning power, makes
weak men and women the easy prey of the wicked
and strong, and leads men and women who should
know better into every grade of misery and vice.
It is not poor repenting Cassio alone who cries out
in agony of despair, " O, that a man should put an
enemy into his mouth to steal away his brains ! " It
is thousands upon thousands of Cassios who say the

On the Mind. 55

same thought, if not the same words, every day,
every hour. I doubt, indeed, whether there is a
single man or woman who indulges or who has in-
dulged in alcohol who could not truthfully say the
same; who could not wish that something he had
unreasonably said or expressed under the excitation
from alcohol had not been given forth.

If, then, alcohol enfeebles the reason, what part
of the mental constitution does it exalt and excite ?
It exalts and excites those animal, organic, emo-
tional centers of mind which, in the dual nature of
man, so often cross and oppose that pure and ab-
stract reasoning nature which lifts man above the
lower animals, and, rightly exercised, little lower
than the angels. Exciting these animal centers, it
lets loose all the passions, and gives them more or
less of unlicensed domination over the whole man.
It excites anger, and when it does not lead to this
extreme it keeps the mind fretful, irritable, dissatis-
fied, captious. The flushed face of the red-hot angry
man, how like it is to the flushed face of the man in
the first stage of alcoholic intoxication. The face,
white with rage, and the tremulous, agitated mus-
cles of the body, how like both are to the pale face
and helpless muscles of the man deep in intoxica-
tion from alcohol. The states are not simply simi-
lar, they 'are identical, and the one will feed the

From this same mode of action, alcohol admin-
isters to the fears of mankind. The term " pot
valor," vulgar as it is, how faithfully it expresses
the truth. Before this paralyzing influence the
reasoning power, which is the essence of resource

56 The Action of Alcohol

and effort and continuous endurance, fails, and
then the mere animal, beset with clangers he can
not see how to escape from, sinks and falls. From
the same mode of action, alcohol increases and in-
tensifies grief, and maddens joy ; makes life a wild
excitement of wanton mirth, a deep, unfathomable
sea of misery. The man who can enjoy no taste, no
sight, no sound, no light, no shade of sense until he
is primed to the perception by alcohol, loses half the
joyousness and refinement of life. The man who
takes into his senses the outward nature with the
centers of his mind clear for the perception, has a
double life ; every perception is more finely caught
and fixed, every sensibility is more finely and ten-
derly touched and cherished.

As men under the chilling northern wind shrink
and sink more easily when they fly to alcohol for
false support, so men under the chilling wind of
adversity shrink and sink more easily under the
factitious, tempting aid of the same agency. It is
the eober in both cases, the all-abstaining sober
who go through both trials most easily, and sur
mount them least impaired.

And if I were to take you through all the pas-
sions that remain to be named, love and lust, hate
and envy, avarice and pride, I should but show you
that alcohol ministers to them all ; that, paralyzing
the reason, it takes from off these passions that fine
adjustment of reason which not only places man
above the lower animals, but, when celestially at-
tuned, places him little Tower than the angels.

The demonstrative evidence of alcohol in its in-
fluence on the mind is then most clear. From the

On the Mind. 57

beginning to the end of its influence it subdues
reason and sets free passion. The analogies, phys-
ical and mental, are perfect. That which loosens
the tension of the vessels which feed the body
with due order of precision, and thereby lets loose
the heart to violent excess of unbridled motion,
loosens also the reason and lets loose the passions.
In both instances heart and head are for a time out
of harmony ; their balance broken. The man de-
scends closer and closer to the lower animals.
From the angels he glides further and further

The destructive effects of alcohol on the human
mind present, finally, the saddest picture of its in-
fluence. The most aesthetic artist can find no angel
here. All is animal, and animal of the worst type.
Memory irretrievably lost, words and very elements
of speech forgotten, or words displaced to have no
meaning in them. Rage and anger persistent and
mischievous, or remittent and impotent. Fear at
every corner of 'life, distrust on every side, grief
merged into blank despair, hopelessness into per-
manent melancholy. Surely no Pandemonium
that ever poet dreamt of could equal that which
would exist if all the drunkards of the world were
driven into one mortal sphere.

As Z have moved among those who are physi-
cally stricken with alcohol, and have detected
under the various disguises of name the fatal dis-
eases, the pains and penalties it imposes on the
body, the picture has been sufficiently cruel. But
even that picture pales as I conjure up, without
any stretch of imagination, the devastations which

58 The Action of Alcohol on the Mind.

the same agent inflicts on the mind. Forty per
cent., the learned superintendent of Colney Hatch,
Dr. Shepherd, tells us, forty per cent, of those who
were brought into that asylum during the year
1876, were so brought because of the direct or in-
direct effects of alcohol. If the facts of all the
asylums were collected with" equal care, the same
tale would, I fear, be told. What need we further
to show the destructive action of this one instru-
ment of destruction on the human mind? The
Pandemonium of drunkards : the grand transforma-
tion scene of that pantomime of drink, which com-
mences with moderation ! Let it be never more
forgotten by those who love their fellow-men until,
through their efforts, it is closed forever.





WHEN you are walking through a sculpture gal-
lery, say in the Crystal Palace, or in the British
or Kensington Museums, your eye lights ever and
igain on some all but living figure in dead marble
or stone. You stay to look at that voiceless statue,
and as you take in its features you ask yourselves :
If it could only speak, what would it tell ? If the
lips had language, what tale would they unfold ?
I will undertake to say that in this audience there
is scarcely a man or woman who has not expe-
rienced this sensation. It is, in a secret kind ol
way, the spring of the fascination that fixed you to
look and admire.

Your minds are in this manner brought into
communion with many faces and figures, and as
they can not reply to your mental inquiries, you
answer for yourselves, gathering your impressions
from them in their dumb eloquence. You see that
laughing face, and you think if it could speak now
it might make me rend my sides with laughter
Wny can't the laughing genius set me off? You

* A Lecture delivered in Exeter Hall, December 14, 1878.

4 Moderate Drinking.

wander on, and meet a face of quite a different kind ;
it is worn with care and sorrow ; it grieves hope-
lessly over something lost ; there is in its expression
a shadow of a fixed, a horrible despair. Ah! say
you, as you sigh in sympathy: If that dead silence
could utter its story, how my soul would sink and
shudder ; how my eyes would weep, my heart
palpitate, my breathing sob ; and, glad that
the statue is so silent and yet impressed with a
sense of solemnity, you once more move away.
In both cases you have been spoken to, to the heart.
Your sympathies have been quickened, and feelings
of the deepest character have been called forth by
one influence the influence of art on your finest,
purest passions, on that which makes you sentient :
sentiment expressed by and through art.

While the passion so inspired lasts, you move on
again, and so you come upon another of these dead
artistic forms of matter. What inscrutable figure is
this? It has the face of a woman, the wings of a
bird, the talons of a griffin. The face expresses
everything, yet nothing that is explicable; in every
view of it, it changes as if it could adapt its features
to every subject, yet in no position does it suggest
a realizable thought. There is no mirth in it, no
sorrow no care, and still, though even care is
absent, there is solemnity. Its ideal of motion gives
it the appearance that on those wings, it could
fly even beyond the confines of space if it willed.
Us ideal of position and rest rivets you to the belief

Moderate Drinking. j

..hat by those talons of it, it car, seize and hold every-
thing it clutches, so that the very earth itself is in
its ruthless grasp. To the ignorant this figure is a
monster, ruthless as nature, and yet with a calm
beneficence that seems to declare, You may trust
me also like nature. You say, If that form could
speak, what would it tell? It would excite no
laughter, it would call forth no tears, but as solemn-
ly as surely it would proclaim the truth. Once
more you wander away, wondering at what you
have seen. Your reason this time has been quick-
ened, and feelings of the deepest character have
been called forth by one influence. The element
of wonder in your nature which ma.kes you long to
seize, to know, has been touched in you. Science
has approached you this time through art.

All the riddles of this figure, says Lord Bacon,
haver two conditions annexed : laceration through
and through to those who do not solve them, and
empire to those that do. It is the Sphinx of the
ancient, the Science of the modern world.

If from the gallery of the sculptor you transport
yourselves into every-day life, you meet the same
influences. These two powers of sentiment and
reason, of passion and science, are in every sphere.
They touch every question, and no question more
than that with which we are now concerned. The
custom of drinking intoxicants has been built up on
passion or sentiment solely and absolutely. The
laughing and the crying figures have been its chiei

6 Moderate Blinking.

commentators. They chiefly have been read, and
their views proclaimed.

Until lately in the history of man the laughing
genius has alone been listened to on this grave
matter. The mournful, stricken genius has, it is
true, never been silent, but he has been overpowered.
At last his story, too, has been caught, and zealous
listeners to it, burning with sacred fire of elo-
quence like Father Mathevv and John B. Gough
have echoed and re-echoed the terrible story told
by the stricken, until the world has been obliged
to hear voices louder than the shouts of the laughers
and the yells of the profane. Passion at last has
met passion in deadly contest, and as the contest
still rages, the victory of the long-neglected sor-
rowful seems to hang in the balance. The pande-
moniumites no longer have it all their way.

Meanwhile, what says that third authority that
silent, passionless Sphinx ? She for ages past has
watched the trial. Has she never, through any of
her interpreters, spoken her mind ? She has often
spoken. She has spoken in parable ; she has spoken
in proverb ; she has spoken in fact.

It is to her we appeal to-day ; and as she is pas
sionless and without prejudice, so let us be. Le
us for the passing hour

" Retire, the world shut out, our thoughts call home ;
Imagination's airy wing suppress.
Shut up our senses, let no passion stir ;
Leave all to reason, let her reign alone."

Moderate Drinking. 7

Thus may we learn what the silent, reasoning
nature, Science, has said, and is saying, by parable,
proverb, and fact, concerning the use of wines and
strong drink by mankind.


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Online LibraryBenjamin Ward RichardsonTen lectures on alcohol → online text (page 15 of 23)