« PreviousContinue »
pel its enemy. The coldness of philosophical inquiry may perhaps lead us to doubt whether the sound it emits, which is no more than a vibration of its wings, is really an index of pain; and whether we ought not to sympathize as much with the hunger of the spider as with the pain of the fly. The emotion, however, is natural and unavoidable. To suffer from the sufferings of any other sentient beings, and to have the sensibility aroused by the expressions of suffering, is, among civilized men, an essential property of human nature; and as such, it ought surely to be a law to man—a guide of human conduct.
How closely the use of a temperate regimen is connected with morality and with intellectual excellence seems to have been perfectly understood by the masters of ancient wisdom. Plato has said that “no one is bad spontaneously ; but that bad morals proceed from some depraved habit of body, or from neglected education.” He must therefore have thought a proper regimen to be a fundamental part of a moral education. Indeed, he has expressly enumerated this among the other instruments of forming the human character: “Of much efficacy are the customs, either political or domestic, in which men are brought up, and the daily manner of life, either fortifying or corrupting the mind; for exposure to the air, simple aliments, gymnastic exercises, and the manners of associates have the greatest influence in disposing either to virtue or vice.”
It is allowed that men should be guided by reason; no truth can be more evident. But let us well understand what is meant by the term. By reason we cannot surely mean that feeble glimmering of light which just enables the mass of mankind to grope through the gloomy paths of life, and to pass a few fretful years in a vain pursuit of happiness. The reason of individuals (if, indeed, it deserves the name) is commonly just sufficient to conduct them through the habitual occupations of the day; but the bulk of mankind are quite unable to comprehend the bearings of a complex argument, and still more to trace effects to their remote causes. Nor is this the case with the vulgar merely, for so limited is the human capacity, that the most exalted genius, and the deepest powers of investigation, have not been able to raise their possessors above the errors and prejudices of their age, on the subjects which have not been made the peculiar objects of their reflections.
Mankind have therefore had recourse to artificial aids to the feebleness of individual reason, as the guides of life, and the preservers of the social order; to the writings of sages; to maxims, proverbs, and apothegms which condense as it wero
the experience of ages; to the institution of wholesome customs; the establishment of just laws; to the sanctions of religious truth.
There is then a superior and more exalted reason, which consists in the perception of truths founded in the constant relations of things, in obedience to the fixed and immutable laws of Nature. This is the reason which has informed the spirit of philosophers, of heroes and legislators, of those who have improved the arts of life, or extended the boundaries of knowledge. This reason we cannot but conceive to be a kind of emanation from the eternal fountain of truth. This the reason, the empire of which ought to be established on earth. The experience of the past gives no very favorable omens for the future; but genuine philanthrophy must prompt us to consider its promotion as the object the most deserving of our exertions, directly tending to diffuse genuine civilization, and all the blessings depending upon it.
On the use of spirituous and fermented liquors.--Spices.--Man by nature
not a drinking animal.
In the use of animal food, man having deviated from the simple aliment offered him by the hand of Nature, and which is the best suited to his organs of digestion, he has brought upon himself a premature decay, and much intermediate suffering which is connected with it. To this habit almost all nations that have emerged from a state of barbarism have united the use of some spirituous and fermented liquors. As the course of my inquiries has taken a range somewhat extensive, I have thought it right not wholly to overlook the effects of these liquors on the human body; but having little that is original to offer on the subject, it shall be comprised in as few words as possible.
The use of fermented liquors is, in some measure, a necessary concomitant and appendage to the use of animal food. Animal food, in a great number of persons, loads the stomach, causes some degree of oppression, fullness, and uneasiness, and if the measure of it be in excess, some nausea, and tendenoy,
to sickness. Such persons say, meat is too heavy for their stomach. Fish is still more apt to nauseate. We find that the use of fermented liquors takes off these uneasy feelings. It is thought to assist the digestion. Probably, its real utility arises from the strong, and at the same time agreeable, impression it makes on the stomach, which counteracts the uneasiness arising from the solid part of our aliment. Thus the food sits lighter on the stomach, and digestion goes on more com. fortably.
It is in vain to attempt to determine the question of the salubrity or insalubrity of these liquors from the evidence and pretended experience of those who use them. Very many persons have enjoyed improved health from the total abandonment of all fermented liquors, and confining themselves to water. These are, of course, enemies of fermented liquors, and preachers of temperance. But others, again, assert, with the same confidence, that they receive benefit from a moderate use of these liquors, and even that they cannot live without them. I do not see why these persons are not as worthy of credit as their opponents. They must be supposed to give a faithful account of their own feelings at least. This conflicting testimony, like so many others with regard to the operation of substances upon the human body, is an additional proof that, in such investigation, we must look beyond the primary effect of things, and can determine little or nothing from the agreeable or uneasy feelings which may immediately arise from them. For the ultimate effect (which it is of the most consequence to determine), we must have recourse to some more correct criterion.
Perhaps the oppugners of fermented liquors weaken their influence by pushing their hostility too far, and contradicting the common experience of mankind. They deny that such liquors give strength, and use some refined arguments to establish their doctrine. The bodily strength furnished by beer, Dr. Franklin said, can only be in proportion to the solid part of the barley dissolved in the water; and from this he argued, that a penny loaf would give more strength than a pint of beer. But men will not be so talked out of their feelings. Universal experience shows, undoubtedly, that fermented liquors, used in moderation, commonly augment for a time the muscular strength. And hence we are taught, that stimulation causes temporary strength.
In fact, food itself raises the muscular strength, in consequence of its application to the surface of the stomach ; for we feel stronger immediately after eating, and before the food is digested, or absorbed into the sanguiferous system. All the muscles of the body sympathize with this membrane.
Fermented liquors raise the strength by impressing the brain in a manner analogous to animal food. For, like animal food, they increase the color of the face, which is an index that they excite and stimulate all the small vessels of the brain. Mr. Strutt, in his View of Manners and Customs (cited by Dr. Beddoes), quotes a play of the time of Henry the Eighth or Elizabeth, in which a citizen declares he has sent his daughter in a morning as far as Pimlico, “to get a draught of ale to put a color into her cheeks.” This increase of color passes for a sign of increased health.
But to estimate the effects of these substances, we must look at the whole of their properties. The first and most important of these properties is, that they diminish the appetite and impair the powers of digestion. Water drinkers are well known) to have much keener appetites than the drinkers of beer. This is commonly used as a proof of the wholesomeness of water, but it really shows only the noxious power of beer. Low women of unprincipled habits give gin even to their infants, that they may eat less bread. It is clear, from these facts, that fermented liquors sap and undermine the very sources of life, All permanent health and strength must be derived from a sound stomach and perfect digestion of the food.
Fermented liquors have also a strong narcotic power. Though they do not cause sleep (at least with the same power and certainty as opium), they remarkably diminish the sensibility of the nervous system. Hence they destroy and diminish many uneasy feelings. They take off the uneasiness of hunger, the uneasiness of lassitude, and the uneasiness of cold. These are some of the greatest evils that the poor man suffers, and, in consequence, he flies to the use of spirits, heedless or ignorant of the ultimate consequence. To so great a degree is the sensibility of the body impaired by spirits, that a drunkard has been known to cut off his fingers in a fit of intoxication, without apparent suffering, and with no recollection of what had happened when the drunken fit was over.
Besides this great, and, as it were, violent diminution of sensibility, under the immediate impression of fermented liquors, there appears also to be a permanent diminution of sensibility, in persons habitually using them, which extends to all the organs. The spirit undergoes no change in the stomach, but it is absorbed into the circulating mass; it is applied to the whole
body, and is finally eliminated by all the excretory organs. If therefore they are habitually used, the body is constantly under their influence in a greater or less degree. The well-known fact, that persons who abstain from fermented liquors have a much greater delicacy of taste than those of opposite habits, may be cited as a proof that the sensibility of the latter is radically impaired. What is true of the tongue and palate is true, probably, of the whole nervous system.
Observations on savages illustrates this fact more strongly. They have been often observed to have a much greater perfection of the senses, as of the eyesight and hearing, than Europeans usually possess. As the fact is sufficiently well known, it will be enough to cite a single observation in proof of it. A writer, mentioning a native of New Zealand, named Moyhanger, says of him, “ It was worthy of remark how much his sight and hearing were súperior to other persons on board the ship; the sound of a distant gun was distinctly heard, or a strange sail readily discernible by Moyhanger, when no other man could hear or perceive them.” Now it certainly has never appeared that negroes, or savages of any sort, brought to Europe, and conforming to European manners, enjoy this or any other superiority over other persons. There is every reason to believe that there is no physical difference between the different tribes of mankind, except what is the result of different habits. As the tribe we are now considering used both flesh and fish in as great abundance as Europeans, the great superiority of the senses which the savage tribes enjoy cannot, with any probability, be attributed to any other cause than to their being unacquainted with the use of fermented liquors.
It is hardly necessary to add that as large quantities of fermented liquors are highly deleterious, producing a total loss of muscular power, and an abolition nearly complete of all sensation; as these symptoms are not unfrequently fatal, the suspicion appears very just, that the perpetual ingurgitation of such matters cannot be innocent, however moderate the quantity may be; and that all the pleasure or the comfort which persons derive from such habits are gained at the ultimate expense of their health, and the abbreviation of their lives.
It appears then that the advantages experienced from fermented liquors, and from animal food, are subject to the same limitations, and regulated by the same laws. There are many diseases of debility in which the radical strength of the constitution is unimpaired, and its powers adequate to the restoration of health. In such diseases the stimulus of animal food and of