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An essay by Thomas De Quincey

Temperance Movement

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Title:     Temperance Movement
Author: Thomas De Quincey [More Titles by De Quincey]

The most remarkable instance of a combined movement in society, which history, perhaps, will be summoned to notice, is that which, in our own days, has applied itself to the abatement of intemperance. Naturally, or by any _direct_ process, the machinery set in motion would seem irrelevant to the object: if one hundred men unite to elevate the standard of temperance, they can do this with effect only by improvements in their own separate cases: each individual, for such an effort of self-conquest, can draw upon no resources but his own. One member in a combination of one hundred, when running a race, can hope for no cooperation from his ninety-nine associates. And yet, by a secondary action, such combinations are found eminently successful. Having obtained from every confederate a pledge, in some shape or other, that he will give them his support, thenceforwards they bring the passions of shame and self-esteem to bear upon each member's personal perseverance. Not only they keep alive and continually refresh in his thoughts the general purpose, which else might fade; but they also point the action of public contempt and of self-contempt at any defaulter much more potently, and with more acknowledged right to do so, when they use this influence under a license, volunteered, and signed, and sealed, by the man's own hand. They first conciliate his countenance through his intellectual perceptions of what is right; and next they sustain it through his conscience, (the strongest of his internal forces,) and even through the weakest of his human sensibilities. That revolution, therefore, which no combination of men can further by abating the original impulse of temptations, they often accomplish happily by maturing the secondary energies of resistance.

Already in their earliest stage, these temperance movements had obtained, both at home and abroad, a _national_ range of grandeur. More than ten years ago, when M. de Tocqueville was resident in the United States, the principal American society counted two hundred and seventy thousand members: and in one single state (Pennsylvania) the annual diminution in the use of spirits had very soon reached half a million of gallons. Now a machinery must be so far good which accomplishes its end: the means are meritorious for so much as they effect. Even to strengthen a feeble resolution by the aid of other infirmities, such as shame or the very servility and cowardice of deference to public opinion, becomes prudent and laudable in the service of so great a cause. Nay, sometimes to make public profession of self-distrust by assuming the coercion of public pledges, may become an expression of frank courage, or even of noble principle, not fearing the shame of confession when it can aid the powers of victorious resistance. Yet still, so far as it is possible, every man sighs for a still higher victory over himself: a victory not tainted by bribes, and won from no impulses but those inspired by his own higher nature, and his own mysterious force of will; powers that in no man were fully developed.

This being so, it is well that from time to time every man should throw out any hints that have occurred to his experience,--suggesting such as may be new, renewing such as may be old, towards the encouragement or the information of persons engaged in so great a struggle. My own experience had never travelled in that course which could much instruct me in the miseries from wine, or in the resources for struggling with it. I had repeatedly been obliged indeed to lay it aside altogether; but in this I never found room for more than seven or ten days' struggle: excesses I had never practised in the use of wine; simply the habit of using it, and the collateral habits formed by excessive use of opium, had produced any difficulty at all in resigning it even on an hour's notice. From opium I derive my right of offering hints at all upon the subjects of abstinence in other forms. But the modes of suffering from the evil, and the separate modes of suffering from the effort of self-conquest, together with errors of judgment incident to such states of transitional torment, are all nearly allied, practically analogous as regards the remedies, even if characteristically distinguished to the inner consciousness. I make no scruple, therefore, of speaking as from a station of high experience and of most watchful attention, which never remitted even under sufferings that were at times absolutely frantic.

I. The first hint is one that has been often offered; viz., the diminution of the particular liquor used, by the introduction into each glass of some inert substance, ascertained in bulk, and equally increasing in amount from day to day. But this plan has often been intercepted by an accident: shot, or sometimes bullets, were the substances nearest at hand; an objection arose from too scrupulous a caution of chemistry as to the action upon lead of the vinous acid. Yet all objection of this kind might be removed at once, by using beads in a case where small decrements were wanted, and marbles, if it were thought advisable to use larger. Once for all, however, in cases deeply rooted, no advances ought ever to be made but by small stages: for the effect, which is insensible at first, by the tenth, twelfth, or fifteenth day, generally accumulates unendurably under any bolder deductions. I must not stop to illustrate this point; but certain it is, that by an error of this nature at the outset, most natural to human impatience under exquisite suffering, too generally the trial is abruptly brought to an end through the crisis of a passionate relapse.

 

II. Another object, and one to which the gladiator matched in single duel with intemperance, must direct a religious vigilance, is the _digestibility_ of his food: it must be digestible not only by its original qualities, but also by its culinary preparation. In this last point we are all of us Manichaeans: all of us yield a cordial assent to that Manichaean proverb, which refers the meats and the cooks of this world to two opposite fountains of light and of darkness. Oromasdes it is, or the good principle, that sends the food; Ahrimanes, or the evil principle, that everywhere sends the cooks. Man has been repeatedly described or even defined, as by differential privilege of his nature, 'A cooking animal.' Brutes, it is said, have faces,--man only has a countenance; brutes are as well able to eat as man,--man only is able to cook what he eats. Such are the romances of self-flattery. I, on the contrary, maintain, that six thousand years have not availed, in this point, to raise our race generally to the level of ingenious savages. The natives of the Society and the Friendly Isles, or of New Zealand, and other favored spots, had, and still have, an _art_ of cookery, though very limited in its range: the French [Footnote: But judge not, reader, of French skill by the attempts of fourth-rate artists; and understand me to speak with respect of this skill, not as it is the tool of luxury, but as it is the handmaid of health.] have an art, and more extensive; but we English are about upon a level (as regards this science) with the ape, to whom an instinct whispers that chestnuts may be roasted; or with the aboriginal Chinese of Charles Lamb's story, to whom the experience of many centuries had revealed thus much, viz., that a dish very much beyond the raw flesh of their ancestors, might be had by burning down the family mansion, and thus roasting the pig-stye. Rudest of barbarous devices is English cookery, and not much in advance of this primitive Chinese step; a fact which it would not be worth while to lament, were it not for the sake of the poor trembling deserter from the banners of intoxication, who is thus, and by no other cause, so often thrown back beneath the yoke which he had abjured. Past counting are the victims of alcohol, that, having by vast efforts emancipated themselves for a season, are violently forced into relapsing by the nervous irritations of demoniac cookery. Unhappily for _them_, the horrors of indigestion are relieved for the moment, however ultimately strengthened, by strong liquors; the relief is immediate, and cannot fail to be perceived; but the aggravation, being removed to a distance, is not always referred to its proper cause. This is the capital rock and stumbling-block in the path of him who is hurrying back to the camps of temperance; and many a reader is likely to misapprehend the case through the habit he has acquired of supposing indigestion to lurk chiefly amongst _luxurious_ dishes. But, on the contrary, it is amongst the plainest, simplest, and commonest dishes that such misery lurks, in England. Let us glance at three articles of diet, beyond all comparison of most ordinary occurrence, viz., potatoes, bread, and butcher's meat. The art of preparing potatoes for _human_ use is utterly unknown, except in certain provinces of our empire, and amongst certain sections of the laboring class. In our great cities,--London, Edinburgh, &c.--the; sort of things which you see offered at table under the name and reputation of potatoes, are such that, if you could suppose the company to be composed of Centaurs and Lapithae, or any other quarrelsome people, it would become necessary for the police to interfere. The potato of cities is a very dangerous missile; and, if thrown with an accurate aim by an angry hand, will fracture any known skull. In volume and consistency, it is very like a paving-stone; only that, I should say, the paving-stone had the advantage in point of tenderness. And upon this horrid basis, which youthful ostriches would repent of swallowing, the trembling, palpitating invalid, fresh from the scourging of alcohol, is requested to build the superstructure of his dinner. The proverb says, that three flittings are as bad as a fire; and on that model I conceive that three potatoes, as they are found at many British dinner-tables, would be equal, in principle of ruin, to two glasses of vitriol. The same savage ignorance appears, and only not so often, in the bread of this island. Myriads of families eat it in that early stage of sponge which bread assumes during the process of baking; but less than sixty hours will not fit this dangerous article of human diet to be eaten. And those who are acquainted with the works of Parmentier, or other learned investigators of bread and of the baker's art, must be aware that this quality of sponginess (though quite equal to the ruin of the digestive organs) is but one in a legion of vices to which the article is liable. A German of much research wrote a book on the conceivable faults in a pair of shoes, which he found to be about six hundred and sixty-six, many of them, as he observed, requiring a very delicate process of study to find out; whereas the possible faults in bread, which are not less in number, require no study at all for the defection; they publish themselves through all varieties of misery. But the perfection of barbarism, as regards our island cookery, is reserved for animal food; and the two poles of Oromasdes and Ahrimanes are nowhere so conspicuously exhibited. Our insular sheep, for instance, are so far superior to any which the continent produces, that the present Prussian minister at our court is in the habit of questioning a man's right to talk of mutton as anything beyond a great idea, unless he can prove a residence in Great Britain. One sole case he cites of a dinner on the Elbe, when a particular leg of mutton really struck him as rivalling any which he had known in England. The mystery seemed inexplicable; but, upon inquiry, it turned out to be an importation from Leith. Yet this incomparable article, to produce which the skill of the feeder must co-operate with the peculiar bounty of nature, calls forth the most dangerous refinements of barbarism in its cookery. A Frenchman requires, as the primary qualification of flesh meat, that it should be tender. We English universally, but especially the Scots, treat that quality with indifference, or with bare toleration. What we require is, that it should be fresh, that is, recently killed, (in which state it cannot be digestible except by a crocodile;) and we present it at table in a transition state of leather, demanding the teeth of a tiger to rend it in pieces, and the stomach of a tiger to digest it.

With these habits amongst our countrymen, exemplified daily in the articles of widest use, it is evident that the sufferer from intemperance has a harder quarantine, in this island, to support during the effort of restoration, than he could have anywhere else in Christendom. In Persia, and, perhaps, there only on this terraqueous planet, matters might be even worse: for, whilst we English neglect the machinery of digestion, as a matter entitled to little consideration, the people of Teheran seem unaware that there _is_ any such machinery. So, at least, one might presume, from cases on record, and especially from the reckless folly, under severe illness, from indigestion, of the three Persian princes, who visited this country, as stated by their official _mehmander_, Mr. Fraser. With us, the excess of ignorance, upon this subject, betrays itself oftenest in that vain-glorious answer made by the people, who at any time are admonished of the sufferings which they are preparing for themselves by these outrages upon the most delicate of human organs. They, for _their_ parts, 'know not if they _have_ a stomach; they know not what it is that dyspepsy means;' forgetting that, in thus vaunting their _strength_ of stomach, they are, at the same time, proclaiming its coarseness; and showing themselves unaware that precisely those, whom such coarseness of organization reprieves from immediate and seasonable reaction of suffering, are the favorite subjects of that heavier reaction which takes the shape of _delirium tremens_, of palsy, and of lunacy. It is but a fanciful advantage which _they_ enjoy, for whom the immediate impunity avails only to hide the final horrors which are gathering upon them from the gloomy rear. Better, by far, that more of immediate discomfort had guaranteed to them less of reversionary anguish. It may be safely asserted, that few, indeed, are the suicides amongst us to which the miseries of indigestion have not been a large concurring cause; and even where nothing so dreadful as _that_ occurs, always these miseries are the chief hinderance of the self-reforming drunkard, and the commonest cause of his relapse. It is certain, also, that misanthropic gloom and bad temper besiege that class, by preference, to whom peculiar coarseness or obtuse sensibility of organization has denied the salutary warnings and early prelibations of punishment which, happily for most men, besiege the more direct and obvious frailties of the digestive apparatus.

The whole process and elaborate machinery of digestion are felt to be mean and humiliating when viewed in relation to our mere animal economy. But they rise into dignity, and assert their own supreme importance, when they arc studied from another station, viz., in relation to the intellect and temper; no man dares, _then_, to despise them: it is then seen that these functions of the human system form the essential basis upon which the strength and health of our higher nature repose; and that upon these functions, chiefly, the general happiness of life is dependent. All the rules of prudence, or gifts of experience that life can accumulate, will never do as much for human comfort and welfare as would be done by a stricter attention, and a wiser science, directed to the digestive system; in this attention lies the key to any perfect restoration for the victim of intemperance: and, considering the peculiar hostility to the digestive health which exists in the dietetic habits of our own country, it may be feared that nowhere upon earth has the reclaimed martyr to intemperance so difficult a combat to sustain; nowhere, therefore, is it so important to direct the attention upon an _artificial_ culture of those resources which naturally, and by the established habits of the land, are surest to be neglected. The sheet anchor for the storm-beaten sufferer, who is laboring to recover a haven of rest from the agonies of intemperance, and who has had the fortitude to abjure the poison which ruined, but which also, for brief intervals, offered him his only consolation, lies, beyond all doubt, in a most anxious regard to everything connected with this supreme function of our animal economy. And, as few men that are not regularly trained to medical studies can have the complex knowledge requisite for such a duty, some printed guide should be sought of a regular professional order. Twenty years ago, Dr. Wilson Philip published a valuable book of this class, which united a wide range of practical directions as to the choice of diet, and as to the qualities and tendencies of all esculent articles likely to be found at British tables, with some ingenious speculations upon the still mysterious theory of digestion. These were derived from experiments made upon rabbits, and had originally been communicated by him to the Royal Society of London, who judged them worthy of publication in their Transactions. I notice them chiefly for the sake of remarking, that the rationale of digestion, as here suggested, explains the reason of a fact, which merely _as_ a fact, had not been known until modern times, viz., the injuriousness to enfeebled stomachs of all fluid. Fifty years ago--and still lingering inveterately amongst nurses, and other ignorant persons--there prevailed a notion that 'slops' must be the proper resource of the valetudinarian; and the same erroneous notion appears in the common expression of ignorant wonder at the sort of breakfasts usual amongst women of rank in the times of Queen Elizabeth. 'What robust stomachs they must have had, to support such solid meals!' As to the question of fact, whether the stomachs were more or less robust in those days than at the present, there is no need to offer an opinion. But the question of principle concerned in scientific dietetics points in the very opposite direction. By how much the organs of digestion are feebler, by so much is it the more indispensable that solid food and animal food should be adopted. A robust stomach may be equal to the trying task of supporting a fluid, such as tea for breakfast; but for a feeble stomach, and still more for a stomach _enfeebled_ by bad habits, broiled beef, or something equally solid and animal, but not too much subjected to the action of fire, is the only tolerable diet. This, indeed, is the one capital rule for a sufferer from habitual intoxication, who must inevitably labor under an impaired digestion; that as little as possible he should use of any liquid diet, and as little as possible of vegetable diet. Beef, and a little bread, (at the least sixty hours old,) compose the privileged bill of fare for his breakfast. But precisely it is, by the way, in relation to this earliest meal, that human folly has in one or two instances shown itself most ruinously inventive. The less variety there is at that meal, the more is the danger from any single luxury; and there is one, known by the name of 'muffins,' which has repeatedly manifested itself to be a plain and direct bounty upon suicide. Darwin, in his 'Zoonomia,' reports a case where an officer, holding the rank of lieutenant-colonel, could not tolerate a breakfast in which this odious article was wanting; but, as a savage retribution invariably supervened within an hour or two upon this act of insane sensuality, he came to a resolution that life was intolerable _with_ muffins, but still more intolerable _without_ muffins. He would stand the nuisance no longer; but yet, being a just man, he would give nature one final chance of reforming her dyspeptic atrocities. Muffins, therefore, being laid at one angle of the breakfast-table, and loaded pistols at another, with rigid equity the Colonel awaited the result. This was naturally pretty much as usual: and then, the poor man, incapable of retreating from his word of honor, committed suicide,--having previously left a line for posterity to the effect (though I forget the expression), 'That a muffinless world was no world for him: better no life at all than a life dismantled of muffins.'--Dr. Darwin was a showy philosopher, and fond of producing effect, so that some allowance must be made in construing the affair. Strictly speaking, it is probable that not the especial want of muffins, but the general torment of indigestion, was the curse from which the unhappy sufferer sought relief by suicide. And the Colonel was not the first by many a million, that has fled from the very same form of wretchedness, or from its effects upon the genial spirits, to the same gloomy refuge. It should never be forgotten that, although some other more overt vexation is generally assigned as the proximate cause of suicide, and often may be so as regards the immediate occasion, too generally this vexation borrowed its whole power to annoy, from the habitual atmosphere of irritation in which the system had been kept by indigestion. So that indirectly, and virtually, perhaps, all suicides may be traced to mismanaged digestion. Meantime, in alluding at all to so dreadful a subject as suicide, I do so only by way of giving deeper effect to the opinion expressed above, upon the chief cause of relapse into habits of intemperance amongst those who have once accomplished their deliverance. Errors of digestion, either from impaired powers, or from powers not so much enfeebled as deranged, is the one immeasurable source both of disease and of secret wretchedness to the human race. Life is laid waste by the eternal fretting of the vital forces, emanating from this one cause. And it may well be conceived, that if cases so endless, even of suicide, in every generation, are virtually traceable to this main root, much more must it be able to shake and undermine the yet palpitating frame of the poor fugitive from intemperance; since indigestion in every mode and variety of its changes irresistibly upholds the temptation to that form of excitement which, though one foremost cause of indigestion, is yet unhappily its sole immediate palliation.

 

III. Next, after the most vigorous attention, and a scientific attention to the digestive system, in power of operation, stands _exercise_. Here, however, most people have their own separate habits, with respect to the time of exercise, the duration, and the particular mode, on which a stranger cannot venture to intrude with his advice. Some will not endure the steady patience required for walking exercise; many benefit most by riding on horseback; and in days when roads were more rugged, and the springs of carriages less improved, I have known people who found most advantage in the vibrations communicated to the frame by a heavy rumbling carriage. For myself, under the ravages of opium, I have found walking the most beneficial exercise; besides that, it requires no previous notice or preparation of any kind; and this is a capital advantage in a state of drooping energies, or of impatient and unresting agitation. I may mention, as possibly an accident of my individual temperament, but possibly, also, no accident at all, that the relief obtained by walking was always most sensibly brought home to my consciousness, when some part of it (at least a mile and a half) has been performed before breakfast. In this there soon ceased to be any difficulty; for, whilst under the full oppression of opium, it was impossible for me to rise at any hour that could, by the most indulgent courtesy, be described as within the pale of morning, no sooner had there been established any considerable relief from this oppression, than the tendency was in the opposite direction; the difficulty became continually greater of sleeping even to a reasonable hour. Having once accomplished the feat of walking at nine A. M., I backed, in a space of seven or eight months, to eight o'clock, to seven, to six, five, four, three; until at this point a metaphysical fear fell upon me that I was actually backing into 'yesterday,' and should soon have no sleep at all. Below three, however, I did not descend; and, for a couple of years, three and a half hours' sleep was all that I could obtain in the twenty-four hours. From this no particular suffering arose, except the nervous impatience of lying in bed for one moment after awaking. Consequently, the habit of walking before breakfast became at length troublesome no longer as a most odious duty, but, on the contrary, as a temptation that could hardly be resisted on the wettest mornings. As to the quantity of the exercise, I found that six miles a day formed the _minimum_ which would support permanently a particular standard of animal spirits, evidenced to myself by certain apparent symptoms. I averaged about nine and a half miles a day; but ascended on particular days to fifteen or sixteen, and more rarely to twenty-three or twenty-four; a quantity which did not produce fatigue, on the contrary it spread a sense of improvement through almost the whole week that followed; but usually, in the night immediately succeeding to such an exertion, I lost much of my sleep; a privation that, under the circumstances explained, deterred me from trying the experiment too often. For one or two years, I accomplished more than I have here claimed, viz., from six to seven thousand miles in the twelve months. Let me add to this slight abstract of my own experience, in a point where it is really difficult to offer any useful advice, (the tastes and habits of men varying so much in this chapter of exercise,) that one caution seems applicable to the case of all persons suffering from nervous irritability, viz., that a secluded space should be measured off accurately, in some private grounds not liable to the interruption or notice of chance intruders; for these annoyances are unendurable to the restless invalid; to be questioned upon trivial things is death to him; and the perpetual anticipation of such annoyances is little less distressing. Some plan must also be adopted for registering the number of rounds performed. I once walked for eighteen months in a circuit so confined that forty revolutions were needed to complete a mile. These I counted, at one time, by a rosary of beads; every tenth round being marked by drawing a blue bead, the other nine by drawing white beads. But this plan, I found in practice, more troublesome and inaccurate than that of using ten detached counters, stones, or anything else that was large enough and solid. These were applied to the separate bars of a garden chair; the first bar indicating of itself the first decade, the second bar the second decade, and so on. In fact, I used the chair in some measure as a Roman abacus, but on a still simpler plan; and as the chair offered sixteen bars, it followed, that on covering the last bar of the series with the ten markers, I perceived without any trouble of calculation the accomplishment of my fourth mile.

A necessity, more painful to me by far than that of taking continued exercise, arose out of a cause which applies, perhaps, with the same intensity only to opium cases, but must also apply in some degree to all cases of debilitation from morbid stimulation of the nerves, whether by means of wine, or opium, or distilled liquors. In travelling on the outside of mails, during my youthful days, for I could not endure the inside, occasionally, during the night-time, I suffered naturally from cold: no cloaks, &c.; were always sufficient to relieve this; and I then made the discovery that opium, after an hour or so, diffuses a warmth deeper and far more permanent than could be had from any other known source. I mention this, to explain, in some measure, the awful passion of cold which for some years haunted the inverse process of laying aside the opium. It was a perfect frenzy of misery; cold was a sensation which then first, as a mode of torment, seemed to have been revealed. In the months of July and August, and not at all the less during the very middle watch of the day, I sate in the closest proximity to a blazing fire; cloaks, blankets, counterpanes, hearthrugs, horse-cloths, were piled upon my shoulders, but with hardly a glimmering of relief. At night, and after taking coffee, I felt a little warmer, and could sometimes afford to smile at the resemblance of my own case to that of Harry Gill. [Footnote: 'Harry Gill:'--Many readers, in this generation, may not be aware of this ballad as one amongst the early poems of Wordsworth. Thirty or forty years ago, it was the object of some insipid ridicule, which ought, perhaps, in another place, to be noticed. And, doubtless, this ridicule was heightened by the false impression that the story had been some old woman's superstitious fiction, meant to illustrate a supernatural judgment on hard-heartedness. But the story was a physiologic fact; and, originally, it had been brought forward in a philosophic work, by Darwin, who had the reputation of an irreligious man, and even of an infidel. A bold freethinker he certainly was: a Deist, and, by public repute, something more.] But, secretly, I was struck with awe at the revelation of powers so unsearchably new, lurking within old affections so familiarly known as cold. Upon the analogy of this case, it might be thought that nothing whatever had yet been truly and seriously felt by man; nothing searched or probed by human sensibilities, to a depth below the surface. If cold could give out mysteries of suffering so novel, all things in the world might be yet unvisited by the truth of human sensations. All experience, worthy of the name, was yet to begin. Meantime, the external phenomenon, by which the cold expressed itself, was a sense (but with little reality) of eternal freezing perspiration. From this I was never free; and at length, from finding one general ablution sufficient for one day, I was thrown upon the irritating necessity of repeating it more frequently than would seem credible, if stated. At this time, I used always hot water; and a thought occurred to me very seriously that it would be best to live constantly, and, perhaps, to sleep in a bath. What caused me to renounce this plan, was an accident that compelled me for one day to use cold water. This, first of all, communicated any lasting warmth; so that ever afterwards I used none _but_ cold water. Now, to live in a _cold_ bath, in our climate, and in my own state of preternatural sensibility to cold, was not an idea to dally with. I wish to mention, however, for the information of other sufferers in the same way, one change in the mode of applying the water, which led to a considerable and a sudden improvement in the condition of my feelings. I had endeavored to procure a child's battledore, as an easy means (when clothed with sponge) of reaching the interspace between the shoulders; which interspace, by the way, is a sort of Bokhara, so provokingly situated, that it will neither suffer itself to be reached from the north, in which direction even the Czar, with his long arms, has only singed his own fingers, and lost six thousand camels; nor at all better from the south, upon which line of approach the greatest potentate in Southern Asia, viz., No.--, in Leadenhall Street, has found it the best policy to pocket the little Khan's murderous defiances and persevering insults. There is no battledore long enough to reach him in either way. In my own difficulty, I felt almost as perplexed as the Honorable East India Company, when I found that no battledore was to be had; for no town was near at hand. In default of a battledore, therefore, my necessity threw my experiment upon a long hair-brush; and this, eventually, proved of much greater service than any sponge or any battledore; for, the friction of the brush caused an irritation on the surface of the skin, which, more than anything else, has gradually diminished the once continual misery of unrelenting frost; although even yet it renews itself most distressingly at uncertain intervals.

 

IV. I counsel the patient not to make the mistake of supposing that his amendment will necessarily proceed continuously, or by equal increments; because this, which is a common notion, will certainly lead to dangerous disappointments. How frequently I have heard people encouraging a self-reformer by such language as this:--'When you have got over the fourth day of abstinence, which suppose to be Sunday, then Monday will find you a trifle better; Tuesday better still,--though still it should be only by a trifle; and so on. You may, at least, rely on never going back; you may assure yourself of having seen the worst; and the positive improvements, if trifles separately, must soon gather into a sensible magnitude.' This may be true in a case of short standing: but, as a general rule, it is perilously delusive. On the contrary, the line of progress, if exhibited in a geometrical construction, would describe an ascending path upon the whole, but with frequent retrocessions into descending curves, which, compared with the point of ascent that had been previously gained and so vexatiously interrupted, would sometimes seem deeper than the original point of starting. This mortifying tendency I can report from experience many times repeated with regard to opium; and so unaccountably, as regarded all the previous grounds of expectation, that I am compelled to suppose it a tendency inherent in the very nature of all self-restorations for animal systems. They move perhaps necessarily _per saltum_, by, intermitting spasms, and pulsations of unequal energy.

V. I counsel the patient frequently to call back before his thoughts-- when suffering sorrowful collapses, that seem unmerited by anything done or neglected--that such, and far worse, perhaps, must have been his experience, and with no reversion of hope behind, had he persisted in his intemperate indulgencies; _these_ also suffer their own collapses, and (so far as things not co-present can be compared) by many degrees more shocking to the genial instincts.

 

VI. I exhort him to believe, that no movement on his own part, not the smallest conceivable, towards the restoration of his healthy state, can by possibility perish. Nothing in this direction is finally lost; but often it disappears and hides itself; suddenly, however, to reappear, and in unexpected strength, and much more hopefully; because such minute elements of improvement, by reappearing at a remoter stage, show themselves to have combined with other elements of the same kind: so that equally by their gathering tendency and their duration through intervals of apparent darkness, and below the current of what seemed absolute interruption, they argue themselves to be settled in the system. There is no good gift that does not come from God: almost his greatest is health, with the peace which it inherits; and man must reap _this_ on the same terms as he was told to reap God's earliest gift, the fruits of the earth, viz.: 'in the sweat of his brow,' through labor, often through sorrow, through disappointment, but still through imperishable perseverance, and hoping under clouds, when all hope seems darkened.

 

VII. It is difficult, in selecting from many memoranda of warning and encouragement, to know which to prefer when the space disposable is limited. But it seems to me important not to omit this particular caution: The patient will be naturally anxious, as he goes on, frequently to test the amount of his advance, and its rate, if that were possible. But this he will see no mode of doing, except through tentative balancings of his feelings, and generally of the moral atmosphere around him, as to pleasure and hope, against the corresponding states, so far as he can recall them from his periods of intemperance. But these comparisons, I warn him, are fallacious, when made in this way; the two states are incommensurable on any plan of _direct_ comparison. Some common measure must be found, and, _out of himself_; some positive fact, that will not bend to his own delusive feeling at the moment; as, for instance, in what degree he finds tolerable what heretofore was _not_ so--the effort of writing letters, or transacting business, or undertaking a journey, or overtaking the arrears of labor, that had been once thrown off to a distance. If in these things he finds himself improved, by tests that cannot be disputed, he may safely disregard any sceptical whispers from a wayward sensibility which cannot yet, perhaps, have recovered its normal health, however much improved. His inner feelings may not yet point steadily to the truth, though they may vibrate in that direction. Besides, it is certain that sometimes very manifest advances, such as any medical man would perceive at a glance, carry a man through stages of agitation and discomfort. A far worse condition might happen to be less agitated, and so far more bearable. Now, when a man is positively suffering discomfort, when he is below the line of pleasurable feeling, he is no proper judge of his own condition, which he neither will nor can appreciate. Tooth-ache extorts more groans than dropsy.

 

VIII. Another important caution is, not to confound with the effects of intemperance any other natural effects of debility from advanced years. Many a man, having begun to be intemperate at thirty, enters at sixty or upwards upon a career of self-restoration. And by self-restoration he understands a renewal of that state in which he was when first swerving from temperance. But that state, for his memory, is coincident with his state of youth. The two states are coadunated. In his recollections they are intertwisted too closely. But life, without any intemperance at all, would soon have untwisted them. Charles Lamb, for instance, at forty-five, and Coleridge at sixty, measured their several conditions by such tests as the loss of all disposition to involuntary murmuring of musical airs or fragments when rising from bed. Once they had sung when rising in the morning light; now they sang no more. The _vocal_ utterance of joy, for _them_, was silenced for ever. But these are amongst the changes that life, stern power, inflicts at any rate; these would have happened, and above all, to men worn by the unequal irritations of too much thinking, and by those modes of care


That kill the bloom before its time,
And blanch without the owner's crime
The most resplendent hair,

not at all the less had the one drunk no brandy, nor the other any laudanum. A man must submit to the conditions of humanity, and not quarrel with a cure as incomplete, because in his climacteric year of sixty-three, he cannot recover, entirely, the vivacities of thirty- five. If, by dipping seven times in Jordan, he had cleansed his whole leprosy of intemperance; if, by going down into Bethesda, he were able to mount again upon the pinions of his youth,--even then he might querulously say,--'But, after all these marvels in my favor, I suppose that one of these fine mornings I, like other people, shall have to bespeak a coffin.' Why, yes, undoubtedly he will, or somebody _for_ him. But privileges so especial were not promised even by the mysterious waters of Palestine. Die he must. And counsels tendered to the intemperate do not hope to accomplish what might have been beyond the baths of Jordan or Bethesda. They do enough, if, being executed by efforts in the spirit of earnest sincerity, they make a life of _growing_ misery moderately happy for the patient; and, through that great change, perhaps, more than moderately useful for others.

IX. One final remark I will make:--pointed to the case, not of the yet struggling patient, but of him who is fully re-established; and the more so, because I (who am no hypocrite, but, rather, frank to an infirmity) acknowledge, in myself, the trembling tendency at intervals, which would, if permitted, sweep round into currents that might be hard to overrule. After the absolute restoration to health, a man is very apt to say,--'Now, then, how shall I use my health? To what delightful purpose shall I apply it? Surely it is idle to carry a fine jewel in one's watch-pocket, and never to astonish the weak minds of this world, by wearing it and flashing it in their eyes.' 'But how?' retorts his philosophic friend; 'my good fellow, are you not using it at this moment? Breathing, for instance, talking to me, (though rather absurdly,) and airing your legs at a glowing fire?' 'Why, yes,' the other confesses, 'that is all true; but I am dull; and, if you will pardon my rudeness, even in spite of your too philosophic presence. It is painful to say so, but sincerely, if I had the power, at this moment, to turn you, by magic, into a bottle of old port wine, so corrupt is my nature, that really I fear lest the exchange might, for the moment, strike me as agreeable.' Such a mood, I apprehend, is apt to revolve upon many of us, at intervals, however firmly married to temperance. And the propensity to it has a root in certain analogies running through our nature. If the reader will permit me for a moment the use of what, without such an apology, might seem pedantic, I would call it the instinct of _focalizing_, which prompts such random desires. Feeling is diffused over the whole surface of the body; but light is focalized in the eye; sound in the ear. The organization of a sense or a pleasure seems diluted and imperfect, unless it is gathered by some machinery into one focus, or local centre. And thus it is that a general state of pleasurable feeling sometimes seems too superficially diffused, and one has a craving to intensify or brighten it by concentration through some sufficient stimulant. I, for my part, have tried every thing in this world except '_bang_,' which, I believe, is obtained from hemp. There are other preparations of hemp which have been found to give great relief from _ennui_; not ropes, but something lately introduced, which acts upon the system as the laughing gas (nitrous oxide) acts at times. One farmer in Mid- Lothian was mentioned to me, eight months ago, as having taken it, and ever since annoyed his neighbors by immoderate fits of laughter; so that in January it was agreed to present him to the sheriff as a nuisance. But, for some reason, the plan was laid aside; and now, eight months later, I hear that the farmer is laughing more rapturously than ever, continues in the happiest frame of mind, the kindest of creatures, and the general torment of his neighborhood. Now, I confess to having had a lurking interest in this extract of hemp, when first I heard of it: and at intervals a desire will continue to make itself felt for some deeper compression or centralization of the genial feelings than ordinary life affords. But old things will not avail, and new things I am now able to resist. Still, as the occasional craving does really arise in most men, it is well to notice it; and chiefly for the purpose of saying, that this dangerous feeling wears off by degrees; and oftentimes for long periods it intermits so entirely as to be even displaced by a profound disgust to all modes of artificial stimulation. At those times I have remarked that the pleasurable condition of health does _not_ seem weakened by its want of centralization. It seems to form a thousand centres. This it is well to know; because there are many who would resist effectually, if they were aware of any natural change going on silently in favor of their own efforts, such as would finally ratify the success. Towards such a result they would gladly contribute by waiting and forbearing; whilst, under despondency as to this result, they might more easily yield to some chance temptation.

Finally, there is something to interest us in the _time_ at which this temperance movement has begun to stir. Let me close with a slight notice of what chiefly impresses myself in the relation between this time and the other circumstances of the case. In reviewing history, we may see something more than mere convenience in distributing it into three chambers; ancient history, ending in the space between the Western Empire falling and Mahomet arising; modern history, from that time to this; and a new modern history arising at present, or from the French Revolution. Two great races of men, our own in a two-headed form--British and American, and secondly, the Russian, are those which, like rising deluges, already reveal their mission to overflow the earth. Both these races, partly through climate, or through derivation of blood, and partly through the contagion of habits inevitable to brothers of the same nation, are tainted carnally with the appetite for brandy, for slings, for juleps. And no fire racing through the forests of Nova Scotia for three hundred miles in the direction of some doomed city, ever moved so fiercely as the infection of habits amongst the dense and fiery populations of republican North America.

But it is remarkable, that the whole _ancient_ system of civilization, all the miracles of Greece and Rome, Persia and Egypt, moved by the machinery of races that were _not_ tainted with any such popular _marasmus_. The taste was slightly sowed, as an _artificial_ taste, amongst luxurious individuals, but never ran through the laboring classes, through armies, through cities The blood and the climate forbade it. In this earliest era of history, all the great races, consequently all the great empires, threw themselves, by accumulation, upon the genial climates of the south,--having, in fact, the magnificent lake of the Mediterranean for their general centre of evolutions. Round this lake, in a zone of varying depth, towered the whole grandeurs of the Pagan earth. But, in such climates, man is naturally temperate. He is so by physical coercion, and for the necessities of rest and coolness. The Spaniard, the Moor, or the Arab, has no merit in his temperance. The effort, for _him_, would be to form the taste for alcohol. He has a vast foreground of disgust to traverse before he can reach a taste so remote and alien. No need for resistance in his will where nature resists on his behalf. Sherbet, shaddocks, grapes, these were innocent applications to thirst. And the great republic of antiquity said to her legionary sons:--'Soldier, if you thirst, there is the river;--Nile, suppose, or Ebro. Better drink there cannot be. Of this you may take "at discretion." Or, if you wait till the _impedimenta_ come up, you may draw your ration of _Posca_' What was _posca_? It was, in fact, acidulated water; three parts of superfine water to one part of the very best vinegar. Nothing stronger did Rome, that awful mother, allow to her dearest children, _i. e._, her legions. Truest of blessings, that veiling itself in seeming sternness, drove away the wicked phantoms that haunt the couches of yet greater nations. 'The blessings of the evil genii,' says an Eastern proverb, 'these are curses.' And the stern refusals of wisely loving mothers,--these are the mightiest of gifts.

Now, on the other hand, our northern climates have universally the taste, latent if not developed, for powerful liquors. And through their blood, as also through the natural tendency of the imitative principle amongst compatriots, from these high latitudes the greatest of our modern nations propagate the contagion to their brothers, though colonizing warm climates. And it is remarkable that our modern preparations of liquors, even when harmless in their earliest stages, are fitted, like stepping-stones, for making the transition to higher stages that are _not_ harmless. The weakest preparations from malt, lead, by graduated steps, to the strongest; until we arrive at the intoxicating porter of London, which, under its local name (so insidiously delusive) of '_beer_,' diffuses the most extensive ravages.

Under these marked circumstances of difference between the ruling races of antiquity and of our modern times, it now happens that the greatest era by far of human expansion is opening upon us. Two vast movements are hurrying into action by velocities continually accelerated--the great revolutionary movement from political causes concurring with the great physical movement in locomotion and social intercourse, from the gigantic (though still infant) powers of steam. No such Titan resources for modifying each other were ever before dreamed of by nations: and the next hundred years will have changed the face of the world. At the opening of such a crisis, had no third movement arisen of resistance to intemperate habits, there would have been ground for despondency as to the amelioration of the human race. But, as the case stands, the new principle of resistance nationally to bad habits, has arisen almost concurrently with the new powers of national intercourse; and henceforward by a change equally sudden and unlooked for, that new machinery, which would else most surely have multiplied the ruins of intoxication, has become the strongest agency for hastening its extirpation.


[The end]
Thomas De Quincey's essay: Temperance Movement

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