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and apparently at the time when the last traces of
alcohol were eliminated, showed in the sphygmo-
graphic tracings signs of unusual feebleness ; and,
perhaps, in consequence of this, when the brandy
quickened the heart again, the tracings showed a
more rapid contraction of the ventricles, but less
power than in the alcoholic period. The brandy
acted, in fact, on a heart whose nutrition had not
been perfectly restored."

It will seem at first sight almost incredible that
such an excess of work could be put upon the
heart, but it is perfectly credible when all the
facts are known. The heart of an adult man

88 On Alcohol.

makes, as we see above, 73.57 strokes per minute.
This number multiplied by sixty lor the hour, and
again by twenty-four hours for the entire day,
would give nearly 106,000 as the number of strokes
per day. There is, however, a reduction of stroke
produced by assuming the recumbent position and
by sleep, so that for simplicity's sake we may take
off the 6,000 strokes, and speaking generally may
put the average at 100,000 in the entire day. With
each of these strokes the two ventricles of the
heart, as they contract, lift up into their respective
vessels three ounces of blood each, that is to say,
six ounces with the combined stroke, or 600,000 in
the twenty-four hours. The equivalent of work
rendered by this simpler calculation would be 116
foot tons ; and if we estimate the increase of work
induced by alcohol we shall mid that four ounces
of spirit increase it one-eighth part ; six ounces,
one-sixth part ; and eight ounces, one-fourth part.
The stage of primary excitement of the circula-
tion thus induced lasts for a considerable time, but
at length the heart flags from its over action, and
requires the stimulus of more spirit to carry it on
in its work. Let us take what we may call a mo-
derate amount of alcohol, say two ounces by vol-
ume, in form of wine, or beer, or spirits. What is
called strong sherry or port may contain as much
as twenty-five per cent, by volume. Brandy over
fifty; gin, thirty-eight; rum, forty-eight; whisky,
forty-three; vin ordinaire, eight; strong ale, four-
teen ; champagne, ten to eleven ; it matters not
which, if the quantity of alcohol be regulated by
the amount present in the liquor imbibed. When

Congestion of Vital Organs, 89

we reach the two ounces, a distinct physiological
effect follows, leading on to that first stage of ex-
citement with which we are now conversant. The
reception of the spirit arrested at this point, there
need be no important mischief done to the organ-
ism ; but if , the quantity imbibed be increased,
further changes quickly occur. We have seen that
all the organs of the body are built upon the vas-
cular structures, and therefore it follows that a
prolonged paralysis of the minute circulation must
of necessity lead to disturbance in other organs
than the heart.

By common observation the flush seen on the
cheek during the first stage of alcoholic excitation
is presumed to extend merely to the parts actually
exposed to view. It cannot, however, be too
forcibly impressed that the condition is universal
in the body. If the lungs could be seen, they too
would be found with their vessels injected ; if the
brain and spinal cord could be laid open to view,
they would be discovered in the same condition ;
if the stomach, the liver, the spleen, the kidneys,
or any other vascular organs or parts could be
exposed, the vascular engorgement would be
equally manifest. In the lower animals I have
been able to witness this extreme vascular condi-
tion in the lungs, and there are here presented to
you two drawings from nature, showing, one the
lungs in a natural state of an animal killed by a
sudden blow, the other the lungs of an animal
killed equally suddenly, but at a time when it was
under the influence of alcohol. You will see, as
if you were looking at the structures themselves,

po On Alcohol.

how different they are in respect to the bx)od
which they contained, how intensely charged with
blood is the lung in which the vessels had been
paralysed by the alcoholic spirit.

I once had the unusual, though unhappy, oppor-
tunity of observing the same phenomenon in the
brain structure of a man who, in a paroxysm of al-
coholic excitement, decapitated himself under the
wheel of a railway carriage, and whose brain was
instantaneously evolved from the skull by the
crash. The brain itself, entire, was before me
within three minutes after the death. It exhaled
the odor of spirit most distinctly, and its mem-
branes and minute structures were vascular in the
extreme. It looked as if it had been recently in-
jected with vermilion. The white matter of the
cerebrum, studded with red points, could scarcely
be distinguished, when it was incised, by its natu-
ral whiteness ; and the pia-mater, or internal vascu-
lar membrane covering the brain, resembled a
delicate web of coagulated red blood, so tensely
were its fine vessels engorged.

I should add that this condition extended
through both the larger and the smaller brain,
the cerebrum and cerebellum, but was not so
marked in the medulla or commencing portion
of the spinal cord.

The action of alcohol continued beyond the first
stage, the function of the spinal cord is influenced.
Through this part of the nervous system we are
accustomed, in health, to perform automatic acts
of a mechanical kind, which proceed systemati-
cally even when we are thinking or speakino- on

Action on the Nervous Centres. 91

other subjects. Thus a skilled workman will con.
tinue his mechanical work perfectly, while his
mind is bent on some other subject ; and thus we
all perform various acts in a purely automatic
way, without calling in the aid of the higher cen-
tres, except something nfore than ordinary occurs
to demand their service, upon which we think be-
fore we perform. Under alcohol, as the spinal
centres become influenced, these pure automatic
acts cease to be correctly carried on. That
the hand may reach any object, or the foot be
correctly planted, the higher intellectual centre
must be invoked to make the proceeding secure.
There follows quickly upon this a deficient power
of co-ordination of muscular movement. | The ner
vous control of certain of the muscles is lost, and
the nervous stimulus is more or less enfeebled.
The muscles of the lower lip in the human sub-
ject usually fail first of all, then the muscles of the
lower limbs, and it is worthy of remark that the
extensor muscles give way earlier than the flex-
ors. The muscles themselves by this time are also
failing in power ; they respond more feebly than
is natural to the nervous stimulus ; they, too, are
coming under the depressing influence of the
paralysing agent, their structure is temporarily
deranged, and their contractile power reduced.

This modification of the animal functions under
alcohol marks the second degree of its action. In
young subjects there is now, usually, vomiting with
faintness, followed by gradual relief from the bur-
den o the poison.

The alcoholic spirit carried yet a further degree,

92 On Alcohol.

the cerebral or brain centres become influenced ;
they are reduced in power, and the controlling" in-
fluences of will and of judgment are lost. As these
centres are unbalanced and thrown into chaos, the
rational part of the nature of the man gives way
before the emotional, passional, or organic part.
The reason is now off duty, or is fooling with duty,
and all the mere animal instincts and sentiments
are laid atrociously bare. The coward shows up
more craven, the braggart more boastful, the cruel
more merciless, the untruthful more false, the carnal
more degraded. "In vino veritas" expresses, even
indeed to physiological accuracy, the true condi-
tion. The reason, the emotions, the instincts, are
all in a state of carnival, and in chaotic feebleness.

Finally, the action of the alcohol still extending,
the superior brain centres are overpowered ; the
senses are beclouded, the voluntary muscular pros-
tration is perfected, sensibility is lost, and the body
lies a mere log, dead by all but one-fourth, on
which alone its life hangs. The heart still remains
true to its duty, and while it just lives it feeds the
breathing power. And so the circulation and the
respiration, in the otherwise inert mass, keeps the
mass within the bare domain of life until the poison
begins to pass away and the nervous centres to re-
vive again. It is happy for the inebriate that, as a
rule, the brain fails so long before the heart that
he has neither the power nor the sense to continue
his process of destruction up to the act of death of
his circulation. Therefore he lives to die another

Thus there are four stages of alcoholic action in

Action on the Nervous Centres. 93

the primary form: (a) A stage of vascular excite-
ment and exhaustion ; (ft) a stage of excitement and
exhaustion of the spinal cord, with muscular per-
turbation ; (c} a stage of unbalanced reasoning
power and of volition ; (d) a stage of complete
collapse of nervous function.

Such is an outline of the primary action of alco-
hol on those who may be said to be unaccustomed
to it, or who have not yet fallen into a fixed habit
of taking it. For a long time the organism will
bear these perversions of its functions without ap-
parent injury, but if the experiment be repeated
too often and too long, if it be continued after the
term of life when the body is fully developed, when
the elasticity of the membranes and of the blood ves-
sels is lessened, and when the tone of the muscular
fibre is reduced, then organic series of structural
changes, so characteristic of the persistent effects of
spirit, become prominent and permanent. Then the
external surface becomes darkened and congested,
its vessels, in parts, visibly large ; the skin be-
comes blotched, the proverbial red nose is denned,
and those other striking vascular changes which
disfigure many who may probably be called mode-
rate alcoholics, are developed. These changes, be-
longing as they do to external surfaces, come under
direct observation ; they are accompanied with
certain other changes in the internal organs, which
we shall discover in a futu' e lecture to be more
destructive still.



THE question that lies before us for discussion
in this lecture is short and definite. It is included
in the three words : Is alcohol food ?

We have studied in the previous lecture the
purely physical action of alcohol on the animal
body, that which stands apart from the action of
food, and we have learned from the study that over
the nervous system and over the vascular supply
this spirit exerts a specific influence. We now in-
quire whether the influence ends there, or whether
there may be, in addition, either a sustaining, and
constructing, or a heat-giving power that is to
say, a force-giving quality in it. If there be, then
the simple physical effects are perchance tolerable,
or at all events are not sufficient to militate against
the advantages which lie on the food side of tke

It may be well to rest for a moment to consider
the position of men and animals upon the earth in
relation to the means given to them for their sup-
port as living, moving, and, in the higher animals,
thinking structures. This position is well-defined.
The theory that man was made originally out of
the dust of the earth is after all, the most scientific

Natural Fluid Foods. 95

tun*. / that has ever been advanced as to his
primeval origin, if the word dust be only extended
so as to include the actual compound substance of
the eartu. For in the earth are to be found not
only all the elements out of which he is constructed,
but even certain of the elements in the same kind of
combination as we find them in him. In the earth
water, salts, and organic matter are found ; in man
the same are found. The man is in many respects
of motion a reflex of the motion of the earth, pre-
senting periodicities of movements, and of move-
ments in a circle in like mode. As if to complete
the analogy, this remains true, that the earth
yields spontaneously to man, either from herself
directly or from the vegetable kingdom which lies
between her and man, all the requirements for
his existence. Whatever, .therefore, man invents,
though it may seem to be a great necessity, is not
a necessity except to those who, being trained to
its use, have been led artificially to believe it
essential. Thus nature has produced water and
milk for man to drink, and they are, in truth, all
the fluids that are essential. This lesson, which
nature teaches by her rule of provision for the
necessities of animal life, is supplemented by many
other facts, each equally authoritative. There is
ever before us the great experiment that all classes
of living beings beneath man require as drink none
other fluids except those I have named. We see
the most useful of these animals performing labori-
ous tasks, undergoing extremes of fatigue, bearing
vicissitudes of heat and of cold, and enduring 1
work, fatigue, and vicissitude for long series of

96 On Alcohol.

years, sustained by their solid food, with no other
fluid than simple water. We see again whole
nations and races of men who labor hard, endure
fatigue and exposure, and who live to the end of a
long and healthy life, taking with their solid sus-
tenance water only as a beverage.

When we turn to the physiological construction
either of man or of a lower animal, we discover
nothing that can lead us to conceive the necessity
for any other fluid than that which nature has
supplied. The mass of the blood is composed of
water, the mass of the nervous system is composed
of water, the mass of all the active vital organs is
made up of the same fluid : the secretions are
watery fluids, and if in any of these parts any
other agent than water should replace it, the re-
sult is an instant disturbance of function that is
injurious in proportion to the displacement.

When we turn therefore to the use of such a
fluid as alcohol under any of its disguises as spirit,
as wine, as beer, as cider, as perry, as liqueur,
we are driven a priori to look upon it as something
superadded to the necessities of life ; to look upon
it, in a word, as a luxury. In such sense it has
always been received amongst those nations which
have most indulged in it. It is something added
to the ordinary life ; something unnecessary, but
agreeable. Wine, added to the meal, transforms
the meal into a feast ; it is supposed to make glad
the heart, but it is never supposed that if the wine
were not possessed the life would be shortened.
When now we offer wine, it is, by the effect of
habit and education, an offering of a thing that is

Constructive Materials of the Body. 97

super-necessitous, and in such wise a compliment,
an indication of desire or oi willingness to be ex-
ceedingly hospitable.

All the evidence of a general kind which can be
gathered from these observations points to the
uselessness, for man, of such an artificial agent as
alcohol. But, after all, an assumption so derived
may be false. We have already seen that when
alcoholic spirit is taken into the animal body it
produces in it exceedingly marked effects ; it may
therefore, by accident, I might almost say, play in
some manner the part of a food and supplement
water. Indeed, it is a form of water in which a
compound of carbon and hydrogen has replaced
hydrogen. Let us, then, ask the question : Can
alcohol be in any sense accepted as performing
any other part in the body save that physical part
which we have considered ? Can it have hap-
pened that man, by his invention, has added, to
nature, a food ? And let us answer the question
as candidly as the facts of experiment and ex-
perience will permit.


The living animal body is constructed out of a
few simple forms of matter which possess, during
life, the power of motion. It is, in its living state,
a noun 'and a verb. Whatever helps to maintain
it in perfect order of construction, whatever en-
ables it to move of its own mere will and motion,
may be considered as a food. The one gives mat-
ter and mass, the other gives force or spirit to the
mass. With the progress of organic chemistry

98 On Alcohol.

after the discovery of the art of organic analysis,
it soon became evident that what are called foods
are divisible into two great classes ; those which
supply material or tissue, and those which supply
heat or other variety of force. Gradually it was
detected that the building foods all contain the
element nitrogen as an essential part, and that the
force-supplying foods are free of nitrogen and are
hydro-carbons, substances that will undergo com-
bustion by oxidation, and liberate force for the
motive uses of the economy. So, foods have for a
long time been sharply classified as nitrogenous
or tissue-feeding, and as respiratory or heat-pro-
ducing. At the present moment this long accept-
ed view is undergoing some modification. It is
being elicited that the nitrogenous foods are to a
certain degree heat-producing ; but I need not at
this stage enter on the nice question involved. I
may safely, for the practical purpose we have in
view, let the division of the classes of foods re-
main as described above.

The nitrogenous foods exist in the animal body
in the form of what is called colloidal matter, the
word colloidal being a term signifying a jelly-like
substance. The purest form of this matter is found
in the blood in the white, elastic, plastic matter,
called fibrine. By repeated washings of a portion
of this substance, I have prepared here, from the
blood of the ox, a beautiful specimen of this col-
loid of the blood. Of a similar colloidal substance
the moving muscles are formed. In a fluid state,
and permanently fluid at the temperature of the
living body, the colloid called albumen forms part

Alcohol as a Fat-forming' Food. 99

of organic structure. Under the names of gela-
tine and chondrine, a nitrogenous colloidal sub-
stance fotrns the organic matter of the skeleton,
of the cartilages, of the sheaths of muscles, of the
tendons. The eye-ball is constructed out of a
series of colloidal tissues. All the membranes
which envelope the visceral organs, and which
possess elasticity, are colloidal. The outer cover-
ing or skin is colloidal, the nails are the same.
Even in the brain and nervous matter there is dis-
tributed a colloid. Thus, if we sum up the various
parts of the body we may say that all the active
masses of structure are nitrogenous and colloidal.

In combination with this active matter there are,
however, two other material ingredients, viz., water
and saline substance. Upon its combination with
water the activity of the colloid depends. Upon
the saline rests the various kinds of combination
of the colloi^ with the water. In bone the gela-
tine is combined with a salt, called phosphate of
lime, with carbonate of lime, and other salts, in
much larger proportion than itself. In fibrine the
colloidal substance is nearly divested of saline ;
but in all parts these three material compounds
make up the animal structures.

Lying outside these structures in the natural
state, but really as an adventitious formation, is
one other animal product, viz., fat ; a substance
detrimental to the motion of the active parts when
present in excess, but at the same time capable of
combustion, and of yielding heat by the process.

We have now before us the constructive or
building parts of the animal body. Excepting the

TOO On Alcohol.

water, the salts, and the fat, they all contain nitro-
gen, and they take their specific quality from that
specific fact. We know that the source of them is
the vegetable kingdom, that they are formed by
nature in that kingdom, are transferred from the
vegetable to the animal, are not made by any na-
tural process within the animal, have not yet been
made by any artificial process known to the che-
mist, and can therefore only be supplied from the
one natural supply.

Alcohol contains no nitrogen, it has none of the
qualities of these structure-building foods ; it is
incapable of being transformed into any of them ;
it is therefore not a food in the sense of its being
a constructive agent in the building up of the body.

In respect to this view there is, I believe, now
no difference of opinion amongst those who have
most carefully observed the action of alcohol.
There is, however, a difference in relation to its
action as a fat-forming food. It appears to be on
evidence that men and 'animals beginning, while
in a perfect state of health, to take in excess cer-
tain fluids containing alcohol become fattened.
Notoriously, ale and beer fatten ; and in some
parts of the country certain animals calves, for
instance are rapidly fattened by the process of
feeding them with a mixture of barley flour and
gin. But through all these apparent evidences
there may run an error. The fattening may not
be due to the alcohol itself, but to the sugar ci the
starchy material that is taken with it. As a mat-
ter of general experience on which I have tried
to arrive at the truth with as much accuracy as

Alcohol as a Fat -forming Food. 101

can be obtained, I am led to the conclusion that
pure spirit drinkers among men, I mean those who
do not mix sugar with the spirit, and who dislike
spirit which is artificially sweetened, are not fat-
tened by the spirit they take. This tallies also
with the observations on the action of absolute
alcohol on inferior animals, for they certainly,
under that influence, if they are allowed liberty
to move freely, do not fatten.

The question of the effect of alcohol in fattening
presents still another difficulty. Alcohol, when it
is largely taken, unless the will of the imbiber be
very powerful, is wont to induce desire for undue
sleep, or at least desire for physical repose. Under
such conditions there is an interference with the
ordinary nutritive processes. The wasted pro-
ducts of nutrition are imperfectly eliminated, the
respiration becomes slower and less effective, and
there is set up a series of changes leading, inde-
pendently of the alcohol as a direct producer of
fat, to development and to deposit of fatty tissue
in the body. All these circumstances militate
against the hypothesis of the origin of fatty ma-
terial direct from alcohol, nor is there any obvious
chemical fact that supports the hypothesis. We
understand chemically the transformation of
starchy matter into one form of sugar, and we
infer that in the animal body sugar is transmu-
table into fat. We know also that we can trans-
mute sugar into alcohol, but as yet we see no way
back from alcohol into sugar ; if we did, the dif-
ficulty of tracing alcohol into fat would probably
be over.

IO2 On Alcohol.

Physiological argument nevertheless lends some
countenance to the view that alcohol may, by an
unknown process, be transferable into fat. It is
true that some confirmed alcoholics who do not
wax fat in the ordinary sense of the term, that is
to say, who do not fill out with fat, from the sepa-
ration of fatty matter in their cellular tissue out-
side the vital organs, do, in certain instances,
undergo a process of fatty change within their or-
ganic structures. Their muscles, including the
heart, become the centres of the degeneration
called "fatty," and by the interposition of cells of
fat in the minute muscular elements, the activity
of the fabric is destroyed, sometimes to a fatal
destruction. The same degenerative change may
extend also to other organs, to the brain and to
>>uch active glands as the liver and the kidney.

At first view it occurs to the mind that here is
evidence of effect upon cause. At the same time
it is not so clear that the effect is direct from al-
cohol ; for when we proceed to examine into all
the data that lie before us, we discover such an
absence of uniformity in differing examples of the
fatty change that we lose alcohol as the clue to
discovery. Some alcoholics truly present the
fatty modification of tissue, other alcoholics do not
present it, so that alcohol may be in active opera-
tion and may neither be promoting the production
of fat from other material nor yielding it. Lastly,
the fatty change of tissue may progress, in the
absence of alcohol, in the tissues of those who

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Online LibraryBenjamin Ward RichardsonTen lectures on alcohol → online text (page 6 of 23)