Page images
PDF
EPUB

fermented liquors may have no sensible injury, or even may produce great apparent advantages. But they must aggravate all habitual and constitutional diseases. The relief from pain or uneasiness which they procure is induced only by a species of stupefaction; and the strength that they give is from stimulation merely, and induces premature and permanent weakness. In all diseases tending to death, and in which therefore there must be a radical loss of power, this stimulation must do harm. It excites action, which must further impair the strength and accelerate the fatal issue of the disease.

This is a distinction which ought never for a single moment to be out of view. A want of attention to, or ignorance of the opposite effects of the same treatment in different states of the constitution, is what causes such diversity of opinion and inconsistent practices. A feeble child, with some external scrofulous disorder, for example, is made to use animal food and wine. Its color improves; it grows stronger; and if the disorder is unaffected, the child at least appears in better health. The same practice therefore is transferred to another child, also said to be scrofulous, but with some much more formidable disease-a white swelling we may say, or a psoas abscess. Here it is impossible but this practice must be highly noxious. The inherent powers of the system are weakened ; and mere stimulation can never impart radical strength. On the contrary, it abbreviates life; and the mischief done must in such cases be very great and very sensible.

The habitual use of fermented liquors is a cause of destruction sufficient of itself to counteract all the good effects of diet by no means insalubrious, and of situation which is more than commonly healthful. In the Pays de Vaud, in Switzerland, half who are born live to forty-one. Very nearly a fourth part live to three years of age, the great mortality being in the first year. But notwithstanding these strong indications of general salubrity, after forty the probabilities of living in this country decrease very fast; and after sixty-five they appear to be rather lower than is common. “Mr. Muret,” Dr. Price observes, “has taken notice of this fact, and ascribes it to the particular prevalence of drunkenness in bis country. He had,” he says, “once the curiosity to examine the register of deaths in one town, and to mark those whose deaths might be imputed to drunkenness, and he found the number so great as to incline him to believe that hard drinking kills more of mankind than pleurisies and fevers, and all the most malignant distempers."

The species of torpor or impaired sensibility, which I have attributed to the use of fermented liquors, is not a consequence of this practice only. Animal food produces it likewise, as is obvious from the improvement of the senses consequent upon relinquishing it, and using vegetable food only. As the putrescent matter or Septic Poison of water is powerful enough to induce palsy (as I shall show hereafter), this substance, it is evident, must have an analogous effect. We may extend this remark to the digesting powers. The disuse of fermented liquors, the relinquishment of animal food, and the use of purified water, all increase the appetite and appear to strengthen the digestion. We may conclude then, that fermented liquors, animal food, and impure water injure the digesting powers. The same observation may be applied to the secreting powers, and the derangement of the other functions of the body.

It must follow from these facts that these effects of diminishing the sensibility of the nervous system, impairing the digestion, and deranging the other functions of the body are not to be deemed specific effects of these peculiar matters. They are rather to be deemed common effects and common signs of an injured vitality; and it seems probable that any applications or agents whatever, which diminish the powers of life and tend ultimately to destroy them, would have similar intermediate effects.

This leads me to remark that the specific effects of fermented liquors upon the body have not been hitherto precisely determined. At least the diseases which are ascribed, and with great justice, to spirituous potations, often occurring where this evil custom cannot be traced, it is obvious to suspect that the liquors are not the sole agents, but are to be esteemed only as an accelerating and concurring cause in the production of these diseases.

Physicians assert that the use of fermented liquors occasions dropsy, epilepsy, palsy, insanity, and other the greatest calamities incident to human nature. A multitude of observations which are constantly occurring to any man who looks round him, give great probability to these opinions. For example, I was well acquainted with a gentleman who had been afflicted for eight years or more with the most acute and agonizing pains of the stomach attended with sickness and vomiting, and recurring at intervals. These pains finally ceased from no other cause, as far as it could be ascertained, than his becoming much more temperate, and wholly relinquishing the use of spirits and water. Another person whom I well knew, a large, full man, advanced in years, was subject to attacks very nearly approaching to apoplexy. He lived in Herefordshire, and drank much cider. One year the crop of apples totally failed; and the man being in reduced circumstances, his supply of cider failed likewise. The consequence was that during this time he escaped his customary attacks.

Still, however, as these great diseases cannot be warded off by the strictest temperance, they cannot be deemed the specific effect of the poison of alcohol, but rather must be regarded as the ultimate effect of various and concurring morbific powers, acting on different persons according to the susceptibility and predisposition of each individual. It can hardly be doubted that every agent has a distinct and peculiar effect as well as a general effect. It is highly desirable that these should be duly defined. But I do not feel competent to this task, nor to elucidate the peculiar agency of each matter, further than by a relation of the facts, which I propose to form the sequel of this work.

That fermented liquors should be deleterious, induce disease, and shorten life, is so far from affording a reasonable ground of complaint against the order of nature, that it is a proof of the wisdom and beneficence of the over-ruling: Power. Were it otherwise, the rich would be enabled absolutely to starve the poor, by their wasteful consumption of the articles of first necessity. To make a pint of wine, I suppose at least three or four pounds of grapes are used, enough amply to support a man for a day. The man, therefore, who drinks only his pint of wine daily, uses his own proper quantity of food, and destroys at the same time what might have been the food of another man. As the power of swallowing down wine is almost unlimited, to what an extent would this mischief spread, if it did not find its natural boundary in the destruction of life which such habits occasion ? All but the proprietors of the soil, and those living by their sufferance, would be swept from the surface of the earth. Property under such circumstances would be an evil wholly insufferable.

The distilleries are reckoned servicable as being a resource against famine in unfavorable seasons. But are not the evils which they induce much greater than those which they are thought to counteract ? Do they not keep up a perpetual famine among the wives and families of thousands of mechanics, by the dissolute habits of the fathers which they engender, the loss of health, and early deaths ? To convert the bread of the poor into poison, of all the abuses of the bounties of Providence, is the most flagrant and abominable.

I must repeat on this what has been already asserted with regard to other morbific agents, that its action is not the less real because it is slow, and the impression for a time is hardly perceptible. A wine drinker, on hearing his favorite liquor called a slow poison, is reported to have replied, “A very slow poison indeed; I have used it daily these fifty years, and it has not killed me yet.” And this is thought to be a very trium phant answer. But the same defence may be made of every bad habit whatever. Many bear them with impunity, which proves, not the salubrity of the habit, but the flinty hardiness of a constitution with which they are blessed.

The objections which are urged against the use of fermented liquors do not seem applicable to spices. However hot and fiery these are in the mouth, they do not appear to be delete: rious. They do not derange the brain, nor stupefy the nervous system; they do not even appear to heat the body, nor greatly to accelerate the pulse. There cannot, therefore, be any objection to the moderate use of such substances. The experience and opinions of Mr. Bruce on this subject are, I think, worthy of attention, though not so immediately applicable to our own climate as to the more tropical regions. This writer asks :

“But did they ever feel themselves heated by ever so great a quantity of black pepper? Spirits, they think, substituted for this, answer the same purpose. But does not the heat of your skin, the violent pain in your head, while the spirits are filtering through the vessels of your brains, show the difference? When did any ever feel a like sensation from black pepper, or any pepper eaten to excess in 'every meal ?

"I lay it down, then, as a positive rule of health, that the warmest dishes the natives delight in are the most wholesome strangers can use in the putrid climates of Lower Arabia, Abys. sinia, Senaar, and Egypt itself, and that spirits and all fermented liquors should be regarded as poisons.”

Having condemned water, and attempted to show experimentally its noxious influence upon the system ; having condemned spirituous and fermented liquors, from the authority of the most enlightened medical writers and the common experience of mankind, it must follow that there is no species of drinking which I approve. And, indeed, I have already ventured to assert that all drinking is an unnatural habit ; in other words, that man is not naturally a drinking animal.

To those who cannot raise their views above the passing scene, who think that human nature must necessarily be in

every situation the same as they observe it in their own town or village; to those, in short, who look for knowledge in the prattling of the drawing-room, or the gossip of the grocer's shop, I know that this appears a strange, if not a ridiculous assertion. We say, with great confidence, that water is absolutely necessary both to man and beast. But the strength of the evidence is not equal to the positiveness of the assertion.

In fact, we know very little about the habits of animals, except of those whose natures we have changed and corrupted by domestication. All that the natural historian can do with regard to the wild species, is to describe their forms, and such of their qualities as have fallen under observation; these last must of necessity be very imperfect. Imperfect, however, as it is, we know enough to be certain that the assertion of the necessity of the use of water to animals is, to the extent to which it is carried, absolutely groundless.

“I have known an owl of this species,” (the brown owl) says M. White,“ live a full year without any water. Perhaps the case may be the same with all birds of prey.” There was a Llama of Peru shown in London, a year or two ago, which lived wholly without liquids; it would not touch water. In some of the small islands on our coast, on which there is not a drop of water to be found, there are, I am told, rabbit-warrens. Bruce says, “That although Zimmer (an island of the Red Sea) is said to be without water, yet there are antelopes upon it, and also hyenas in numbers." To account for this, he suspects that there must be water in some subterraneous caves or clefts of the rocks. This, however, is only supposition. The argali, or wild sheep, from the country in which it is found, it is certain, does not drink. Mr. Pallas says of it, “ This animal lives upon desert mountains, which are dry and without wood, and upon rocks where there are many bitter and acrid plants." He further says of it, “ There are no deer so wild as the argali; it is almost impossible to come near it in hunting. They have an astonishing lightness and quickness in the chase, and they hold it a long time.” How wonderfully, therefore, is this animal deteriorated by domestication, and by being forced to live in situations and to adopt habits unsuited to its nature !

Let us therefore consider man again, for a moment, as we may suppose him fresh from the hands of his Maker, and depending upon his physical powers only for his subsistence. We must suppose every animal so circumstanced, to be furnished by nature with organs. suited to its physical necessities. Now I see that man has the head elevated above the ground, and to

[graphic]
« PreviousContinue »