Copyright
Benjamin Ward Richardson.

Ten lectures on alcohol online

. (page 8 of 23)
Online LibraryBenjamin Ward RichardsonTen lectures on alcohol → online text (page 8 of 23)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


produced by the spirit, some additional stimulus
might be communicated by it to the muscular fibre.
There is nothing in what we see relating to the
action of alcohol in man that would lead us to
suppose it capable of giving an increased muscular
power, and it is certain that animals subjected even
for short periods of time to its influence lose theii
power for work in a marked degree. Indeed, if
we were to treat our domestic animals with this
agent in the same manner that we treat ourselves,
we should soon have none that were tamable,
none that were workable, and none that were
edible. I thought it, nevertheless, worth the in-
quiry whether at any stage of the alcoholic excite-
ment living muscle could be induced to show an
extra amount of power. I therefore submitted
muscle to this test. I gently weighted the hinder
-limb of a frog until the power of contraction was
just overcome then by a measured electrical cur-



ect on Muscular Power. 119



rent I stimulated the muscle to extra contraction,
and determined the increase of weight that could
thus be lifted. This decided upon in the healthy
animal, the trial was repeated some days later on
the same animal after it, had received alcohol in
sufficient quantities to induce the various stages of
alcoholic modification of function. The result was
that through every stage the response to the elec-
trical current was enfeebled, and so soon as narco-
tism was developed by the spirit, it was so en-
feebled that less than half the weight that could be
lifted in the previous trial, by the natural effort of
the animal, could not now be raised even under the
electrical excitation.

In man and in animals, during the period be-
tween the first and third stages of alcoholic distur-
bance, there is often muscular excitement, which
passes for increased muscular power. The muscles
are then truly more rapidly stimulated into motion
by the nervous tumult, but the muscular power is
actually enfeebled.

HYGIENIC LESSONS.

The facts I have endeavored to bring forward
in this as well as in the last lecture will suggest to
the mind many thoughts bearing upon the health
of individuals and communities, in so far as health
is affected by the potent agent, alcohol. I need
hardly, indeed, presume to offer any suggestions,
but one or two of a specially practical and every-
day character may be ventured.

I am bound to intimate that the popular plan of
administering alcohol for the purpose of sustaining



I2O On Alcohol.

the animal warmth is an entire and dangerous
error, and that when it is brought into practice
during extremely cold weather it is calculated to
lead even to fatal consequences, from the readiness
with which it permits the blood to become con-
gested in the vital organs. I cannot too forcibly
impress the fact that cold and alcohol act, physio-
logically, in the same manner, and that, combined
in action, every danger resulting from either agent
is doubled.

Whenever we see a person disposed to meet the
effects of cold by strong drink it is our duty to en-
deavor to check that effort, and whenever we see
an unfortunate person under the influence of alco-
hol it is our duty to suggest warmth as the best
means for his recovery. These facts prompt many
other useful ideas of detail, in our common life.
If, for instance, our police were taught the simple
art of taking the animal temperature of persons
they have removed from the streets in a state of
insensibility, the results would be most beneficial.
The operation is one that hundreds of nurses now
carry out daily, and applied by our police-officers,
at their stations, it would enable them not only to
suspect the difference between a man in an apo-
plectic fit and a man intoxicated, but would sug-
gest naturally the instant abolition of the practice
of thrusting the really intoxicated into a cold and
damp cell, which to such a one is actually an ante-
room to the grave.*



* Since the delivery of this lecture I am informed that in th
London Metropolitan District the cells in which the intoxicated



Hygienic Lessons. 1 21

Once more : I would earnestly impress that the
systematic administration of alcohol for the pur-
pose of giving and sustaining strength is an entire
delusion. I am not going to say that occasions do
not arise when an enfeebled or fainting heart is
temporarily relieved by the relaxation of the
vessels which alcohol, on its diffusion through the
blood, induces ; but that this spirit gives any per-
sistent increase of power by which men are en-
abled to perform more sustained work is a mistake
as serious as it is universal.

Again, the belief that alcohol may be used with
advantage to fatten the body is, when it is acted
upon, fraught with danger. For if we could suc-
cessfully fatten the body we should but destroy it
the more swiftly and surely ; and as the fattening
which follows the use of alcohol is not confined to
the external development of fat but extends to a
degeneration through the minute structures of the
vital organs, including the heart itself, the danger
is painfully apparent.

In conclusion, whatever good can come from
alcohol, or whatever evil, is all included in that
primary physiological and luxurious action of the
agent upon the nervous supply of the circulation
to which I have endeavored so earnestly to direct
your attention. If it be really a luxury for the
heart to be lifted up by alcohol ; for the blood to
course more swiftly through the brain ; for the
thoughts to flow more vehemently ; for words to



Me received are not open to the objections named. I am g'ad
to be able tc make this correction;



122 On Alcohol.

come more fluently ; for emotions to rise ecstati-
cally, and for life to rush on beyond the pace set
by nature ; then those who enjoy the luxury must
enjoy it, with the consequences.



LECTURE V.

THE SECONDARY ACTION OF ALCOHOL ON THE
ANIMAL FUNCTIONS, AND 'ON THE PHYSICAL DE-
TERIORATIONS OF STRUCTURE INCIDENT TO ITS
EXCESSIVE USE.

IT is my business in this course of lectures to
treat upon the specific action of absolute alcohol.
I have therefore specially avoided all reference to
the spirituous drinks of which it forms a part. As
a rule in every form of strong drink the source of
the action of it, for good or for evil, is the spirit it
contains, and the influence of the drink is potent
according to the amount of that spirit present in
it. To put the matter simply, if all the liquors
sold under various names wine, brandy, gin, rum,
whisky, ale, stout, perry, cider, were divested of
their alcoholic spirit, they would contain compara-
tively little of anything that would affect those
who partook of them.

DELETERIOUS ADDITIONS TO ALCOHOLIC DRINKS.

As I am, however, about to speak of the dele-
terious action of alcohol, it is fair I should admit
that some bad effects do spring from so-called wine
and kindred drinks independently of the pure
spirit they contain. Something less of evil than
now obtains would be secured if none but natural
wines and ales were taken by the people. To

3



124 On Alcohol.

return ti the times before brantwein was distilled
and to have no intoxicating beverages save pure
wine and round ale, were doubtless an improve-
ment on the state of things which now exists ; for,
in truth, at the present time the characters of pure
ethylic wine are hardly known. A bcrA-fide wine
derived from th^ fermentation of the grape purely,
cannot contain i tore than seventeen per cent, of
alcohol, yet our staple wines, by an artificial pro-
cess of fortifying i nd brandying, which mears the
adding of spirit, arc brought up in sherries to
twenty, and in ports to even twenty-live per cent.
Some wines and spirits are believed to be charged
with amylic alcohol. Other wines are charged
with foreign volatile substances to impart what IP
called bouquet, and still other so-called wines \
allude specially to the effervescing liquids sold
under that name are actually often undergoing
the fermenting process at the time they are im-
bibed, and thus are invited to complete their fer-
mentation in that sensitive bottle, the human
stomach.

If the subject were specially looked into, a verv
important chapter of facts might be collected
bearing upon the injurious effects of these addi-
tions to ales, wines, and spirits. I have noticea
the evils that follow upon the administration of an
alcoholic drink that has been adulterated with
amylic alcohol, and have shown that they are
exceedingly serious. The disturbances excited by
the other faults, when they do not arise from ex-
cess of absolute alcohol, are shown in symptoms
of indigestion and in the promotion of an acia



Absinthe. 125

condition of tne secretions of the body, beyond
what is natural.

Presuming therefore it be actually determined
by any one that he will take some alcoholic fluid,
he will do nearest to that which is most wise if he
takes wines or other spirituous drinks in which
the quantity of alcohol is simply confined to the
natural amount, in which the process of fermenta-
tion has ceased, and in which no foreign substance
lias been introduced to add either bouquet, body,
piquancy, narcotising influence, or other artificial
quality.

ABSINTHE.

The admitted addition of some actively poison-
ous substances to alcohol, in order to produce a
new luxury, is the evil most disastrous. The drink
sold under the name of absinthe is peculiarly for-
midable. In this liquor five drachms of the es-
sence of absinthium, or wormwood, are added to one
hundred quarts, of alcohol. Thus the liquor is not
only very strong as a mere alcoholic drink, but it is
charged with another agent which has been dis-
covered to exert the most powerful and dangerous
action upon the nervous functions. The essence
of absinthium in doses of from thirty to fifty grains
produces in dogs and rabbits signs of extreme
terror and trembling, followed by stupor and in-
sensibility. In larger doses it causes epileptiform
convulsions, foaming at the mouth, and stertor of
the breathing. Its effects, as they occur from the
taking of it in the form of absinthe in man, have
been most ably described to me by one who in-



126 On Alcohol.

dulged in it until it induced in him the peculiar
epileptiform seizure. He described the effects as
resembling those produced by haschish, the nar-
cotic of the East which has been known for ages
as the nepenthes of Homer, and which owes its
properties to extract of Indian hemp or Cannabis
indica. The partial insensibility caused by the
absinthe is attended with the ideal existence of
long intervals of time, in which the events of a
whole life are arrayed and appreciated, to be suc-
ceeded by terrific hallucinations and intellectual
weakness, ending in unconscious struggling as if
for life. In time, if the use of the absinthe be
continued, these phenomena become permanently
established and the result is inevitably fatal.

The doubly poisonous absinthe is made the
more seductive to its victims by the fact that it
excites a morbid craving for food which is never
felt except when it is tempted by the destroying
agent. Indeed such are the terrible consequences
incident to this agent, that I agree with Dr. De-
caisne in maintaining that it ought, by legal pro-
vision, to be forbidden as an article for human
consumption in all civilized communities. Even
in small quantities taken daily, say one or two
wineglassfuls, it causes quickly a permanent dys-
pepsia, and, what is of still more consequence, it
tempts its victims on and on, so that they cannot
take food until absinthe has prompted the desire
for it, by which time they are too often hopelessly
and mortally in its power.

Until recently absinthe has not been publicly
offered for sale in this country on a large scale.



Addition of Other Agents. 127

But now, unhappily, the poison is openly an-
nounced even here, and the consumption is on the
increase ; I am doing therefore a public duty in
denouncing its use solemnly from this platform,
whence so much that is beneficial to society has
for a century past been spoken.

ADDITION OF OTHER AGENTS.

The intentional additions of poisonous agents to
the alcohol of ales, wines, and spirits pale when
absinthe appears in sight, but they are not to be
ignored. It is true that we very often hear ac-
counts of the effects for evil of bad wine, when, in
fact, the evil is due to the excess of ordinary alco-
hol that has been taken by the complainant. At
the same time it is not to be denied that there
exists in our midst a system of mixing, compound-
ing, blending, and reducing wines and spirits,
which, carried even to artistic perfection, is ad-
ditionally prejudicial to the business of selling the
various alcoholic beverages.

To be just to our own age, this artistic per-
formance is not an invention of it. The adultera-
tion of wine is indeed one of the oldest devices,
extending from the Greeks and Romans onwards
to this day. In the Middle Ages many prohibitory
acts were passed against it by various govern-
ments. As late as the close of the seventeenth
century an act was passed by Duke Everhard
Louis of Wiirtemberg making it an offence pun-
ishable with death and confiscation of property to
adulterate wine with bismuth, sulphur, or the salt
of lead called litharge, now known as the yellow



128 On Alcohol.

protoxide of lead. In the year 1705-6, John Jacob
Ernhi, of Eslingen, was actually beheaded for
carrying out adulteration with the forbidden
poisonous lead compound.

Into our modern civilization a different system
of treating strong drinks, in order to rectify bad
qualities or to impart new, is, as a rule, followed.
The plan of using gypsum or sulphate of lime to
remove the acidity of wine, a practice that was
followed both by the Greeks and Romans, is, how-
ever, still resorted to ; so also is the practice of
using lime for the same purpose, and for which
Jack Falstaff so severely criticises the landlord of
the '"Boar's Head":

" You rogue, here's lime in this sack : There is
nothing but roguery to be found in villanous man :
yet a coward is worse than a cup of sack with
lime in it ; a villanous coward."

But, on the whole, the new day has brought
new plans and new intentions, having reference to
the different forms of drinks, namely, ales, wines,
and spirits, which pass from the hands of the ven-
dor to the consumer.

ALES.

The practice of adulteration the least hurtful is
carried on in ales ; that at all events is my ex-
perience of the ales sold in London, and I speak
from a practical knowledge of the facts. A few
years ago a well-known statist asked me to under-
take for him a research on the ales sold in London,
with a view to the detection of the adulterations
in them. For many weeks this gentleman himself



Ales. 129

collected beers and ales from different retail houses
in the most diverse parts of this metropolis, and
neither trouble nor expense was spared in the ex-
amination of these samples, in order to arrive at
correct results as to the composition of the fluids
thus retailed. I may state at once that I did not
in any one instance find a truly dangerous adultera-
tion. I found that to many samples common salt
had been added, and to some sugar ; but the grand
adulteration was water, by which the consumer
was, if I may so express it, fraudulently benefited
and the government proportionately defrauded. If
this aqueous adulteration were not carried on, our
registrars of deaths and collectors of revenues
would both show heavier totals.

There is a prevailing notion that to malt liquor,
bitter substances, such as strychnine, or narcotic
substances, such as cocculus indicus, are added.
Neumann says that in his time, that is just one
hundred years ago, clary, cocculus indicus, and
Bohemian rosemary were added to matt liquors in
order to increase their intoxicating powers, and he
states that the last-named substance, Bohemian
rosemary, produced a raving intoxication. I know
it is also urged, in this day, that there is no known
application for the quantity of cocculus indicus that
is sold except it be for the adulteration of malt
liquors. I will not dispute the matter, but I con-
tent myself with stating that I have never detected
any foreign body of the kind, and that in the whole
of my experience of the effect of malt liquors on
man, I have never known a symptom produced
indicative of the effects of such substances.



I jo On Alcohol.

The stronger ales and stouts are injurious main-
ly from the alcohol they contain. Those which
have not ceased fermenting, and from which
gas is escaping, produce a persistent dyspepsia
in persons who indulge in them, a dyspepsia at-
tended with flatulency, painful distension of the
stomach, and with loss of proper muscular power
of the stomach, by which deficiency the trituration
of food is impeded and rendered imperfect. At
the same time the action of the gastric fluids upon
the food is made less effective. There is at the
present day in the market a substance used as an
addition to ales, which is called saccharina. It is
sold in the form of the ordinary sugar-loaf. It is
made by the action of diluted sulphuric acid upon
starchy matter, and is, in fact, a grape sugar. It
gives to the ale body and sweetness. It is in itself
a fattening food, and as it is the same as that form
of sugar which is found in those who suffer from
the disease called diabetes, and which produces the
symptoms of that disease, it cannot be taken in
quantity without some indirect risk of danger.

.WINES.
/

The evils arising from wines, apart from those
which are due to the natural ethylic alcohol they
should contain, are derived from several sources.
The wine that has not ceased to ferment, and \\ hen
uncorked is found to be charged with gas, is often
as injurious as beer in which the fermentation has
not ended. It produces a fermenting process
"within the body, and gives rise to those phenome-
na of dyspepsia tc which allusion has already been



Wines. 131

made. Wine that has once been acid and has been
treated with lime in order that the acidity may be
neutralised, is open to the objection of an excess
of salts of lime. It has been urged against wines
treated in this manner that they lead to calculous
disease when they are taken in quantity for long
periods. I must answer to this suggestion that I
have not had experience of the slightest evidence
that would support it, nor do I think there is suf-
ficient of such wine consumed to warrant any con-
clusion of the kind. Wine if adulterated with
amylic alcohol is unquestionably dangerous, owing
to those physiological effects produced by the
adulterant to which I specially directed attention
in the second lecture of this course. Wines that
are beaded are injurious, owing to the foreign
mixture for beading that has been added to them,
and which I shall presently describe.

Some substances that form in natural wines ex-
ert an effect on the animal body when they are
taken into it. These substances are principally
aldehyde and acetic acid. Aldehyde when it is
present in wine communicates to it a natural bou-
quet. You will find on the table a pure specimen
of aldehyde, and you will also find specimens of
natural wines, kindly lent to me by Mr. Denman,
in which this change of alcohol by oxidation has
taken place, In the year 1848 the late Sir James
Simpson, of Edinburgh, discovered that aldehyde
would produce anaesthetic sleep when its vapor
was inhaled, and I have since submitted it to ex-
periment with a view of testing its action on the
living body. I find it is a rapidly intoxicating



132 On Alcohol.

agent, sharp to the nerves of sense, and acting
with greater rapidity than alcohol, and with a less
prolonged effect, for it is soluble in water, and is
so volatile that it boils at 72 Fahr. It is there-
fore quickly diffused and quickly eliminated from
the body. The action of aldehyde upon the liv-
ing body has been as yet insufficiently studied.
It has a close relation to the narcotic action of al-
cohol, and the symptoms it produces are so similar
I am inclined to believe that the narcotism which
follows the administration of alcoholic spirit is
partly due to its production.

The presence of acetic acid in wines is on the
whole not injurious, if the wine in other respects
be free of adulteration. The tendency of this acid
itself is to promote the digestion of albuminous
foods, and I have sometimes observed in persons
whose digestive power is feeble, signs of improve-
ment under its use. In saying this I do not how-
ever wish to convey that therefore a rough acid
wine should be taken for indigestion, for the acid
in such instances may be administered without the
wine and perhaps Avith greater advantage. I only
wish to record that acidity of wine, in which fer-
mentation has ceased, is not a source of additional
injury. The astringent acid called tannic of
some wines has been advanced as useful in the
cases of certain persons who suffer from laxity of
body, and who require astringent remedies. It
would be wrong to dispute that there may be in
\vinc a virtue of this kind, but it is not peculiar
to wine. It can be secured when it is wanted
without wine at all, and in a more certain way;



Spirits. 133

This remark holds equally good in respect to what
may be favorably spoken of as the saline substan-
ces which some wines naturally present. I mean
to say that the saline constituents can be adminis-
tered with more certain and therefore with better
effect, independently of wine.

SPIRITS.

Into the different spirits commonly sold, several
substances are introduced which exert more or
less of baneful influence on the body that receives
them. The addition of amylic alcohol has been
already condemned and need not again be men-
tioned, and I omit intentionally, for the sake of
brevity, a great number of other added substances
which do not seem to me to be active for evil,
though they were possibly better left out of the
animal organism. After these are withdrawn there
remain many other agents which cannot fairly be
omitted from our consideration. There is oil of
juniper, oil of bitter almonds, potassa, alum, nitric
acid, oil of vitriol, or sulphuric acid, and butyric
acid. In even small quantities every one of these
agents is injurious to the body if it be taken for
any long continued period of time. The oil of
juniper is an active diuretic, and thereby is inju-
rious to the excreting power of one of the most
important of the vital organs. The oil of bitter
almonds contains, unless it be specially purified,
hydrocyanic or prussic acid, and exerts then in
small and often-repeated quantities a prejudicial
influence on the nervous functions. Potassa causes



134 On Alcohol.

a dry and caustic action upon the mucous mem-
brane of the mouth, throat, and stomach, for the
production of which action it is actually added
systematically, that it may give the peculiar sharp,
ness called " biting the palate."

Alum is a powerful astringent, producing con-
stipation, and sustaining a persistent dyspepsia so
long as it is being swallowed. Nitric acid is an
astringent, exerting also a physiological action on
the liver. Sulphuric acid is an astringent; and
butyric acid, as I found in an original research
which I once conducted with it, causes a congested
or inflammatory condition of the whole track of
the mucous membrane.

Thus each one of these agents added to the al-
coholic drinks increases the evils that are likely to
arise from the alcohol itself. Let us admit that
the added evils are small, nay, I had nearly said,
infinitesimal, when considered by the measure-
ment of one administration. But who can mea-
sure by that standard ? When once the taste for
any of these unnatural substances is acquired it
grows by what it feeds on, and that which was
infinitesimal at the beginning becomes after long
continuance a serious charge for the body to bear
daily.

The spirit in common use that is most subject
to the chemicals I have named is gin. Gin has to
be made cordial, to be sweetened, to be rendered
creamy and smooth, to be flavored, to be made
biting to the palate, to be beaded, and *vaat not
else. To be made "cordial" it must be charged
with oil of juniper, with essence of angelica, with



Spirits. 135

oil of bitter almonds, with oil of coriander, and
with oil of carraway. To sweeten it, it must be
treated with oil of vitriol, oil of almonds, oil of
juniper, spirits of wine and loaf sugar ; to " force


1 2 3 4 5 6 8 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23

Online LibraryBenjamin Ward RichardsonTen lectures on alcohol → online text (page 8 of 23)