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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 36


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A special Public Meeting of the National Temperance League, to advocate the introduction of temperance teaching into the ordinary curriculum of Elementary Schools, was held in Exeter Hall on Wednesday evening, February 13th, 1878, under the presidency of the Eight Rev. the Lord Bishop of Exeter. The audience included a large number of teachers, and others who are practically engaged in promoting the education of the young.

The Right Rev. the Lord Bishop of Exeter opened the meeting with prayer, and then proceeded to deliver the following address:

I must begin by expressing my regret that one or two whom we hoped to see here this evening, and whose advocacy would have been of great use to us, have been prevented from coming. The Dean of Bangor intended to be here, but has been called suddenly away to the South of Europe. We rather expected also to have heard Canon Farrar—(cheers)—but he is unfortunately absent from London; and I have also a letter from one who sympathises much with this cause, and who perhaps might have given us very good advice on the subject—Canon Duckworth—(cheers)—and there are others besides these whose hearts are with us, although it is not possible for them to give us the advantage of their bodily presence and their spoken words. Nevertheless, there are not a few whom I think you will be very glad to hear on such an important subject as this is, because the fact is that there is a great deal to encourage us in the progress of the movement in which we are all interested; but at the same time there is a great deal to impress upon us, more than ever before, the absolute necessity of not slackening our exertions, but that time after time we must seek for new modes of operation, in order to continue to maintain, with the same vigour as has been maintained hitherto, the steady progress of this great cause, on which so much of the happiness and of the prosperity of our country depends. (Cheers.) I do not doubt that we are making steady progress. Day by day I see plain indications in all ranks of society that the cause of temperance is better and better understood. Day by day we can see what effect the advocacy of the cause has even upon those who once resisted it, and resisted it not page 3 only by simply turning a deaf ear to what was said, but by openly objecting, and in some cases scoffing at the arguments that were used. I can see all through society a greater willingness to examine into this matter, and I can see that even those who are not prepared as yet to say anything in our favour, nevertheless quietly, in their own persons, do a great deal to discourage very much of the mischief that is now done by the drinking customs of society. Those customs are surely but gradually giving way. Those customs are already modified to a very great degree, and the modification is unquestionably due to the exertions of those who have given themselves to this cause.

I regret to say that I cannot think that the drinking or the drunkenness (when you take it as a whole) is diminishing. I am afraid that in very large districts of the country it has even increased. I am afraid that the larger wages paid to the labouring class have to a very great extent been diverted into this channel, and that what ought to have been the greatest possible blessing to them has become one of the worst of curses. (Hear, hear.) I regret to say that I think every day's experience of the working of this matter on both sides shows very plainly that we are approaching a real crisis, that there is a very real danger, that before long it may become a very serious political question—(cheers)—a far more serious political question than it ever was before—how it shall be possible to deal with those great interests, those great pecuniary interests, that have been allowed to grow up in this country—(hear, hear)—and to be enlisted on the wrong side. (Cheers.)

It is always ridiculous to find fault with those who are defending their pecuniary interests; it is ridiculous to expect that men will not contend very earnestly for that which touches their means of livelihood; it is absurd to suppose that men will not feel it a positive duty to do their very utmost to secure that the business in which they have staked their property should be not only protected, but encouraged—to the utmost of their power to procure that protection and encouragement; and therefore it is a very serious thing that such interests as these have been allowed to grow up. (Hear, hear.) It is a very serious thing, and, I am sure, will give us very serious trouble. (Hear, hear.) Indeed, I am afraid that that trouble will be of no ordinary kind, because I fear that many who would be quite willing to support our cause with their utmost power will be exceedingly unwilling to touch great interests, and will feel a very real hesitation lest, perchance, in the attempt to do right, they should be driven to do wrong. But all this on both sides makes it the more important that we should not slacken in our endeavours—(cheers)—that we should still persevere in the attempt to enlighten the public mind; that we should endeavour not only to influence the Legislature—for that we must undoubtedly do— page 4 (cheers)—but still more, that we should endeavour gradually to instruct the great mass of the people—(cheers)—until they themselves shall understand what is the true nature of the question at issue, and they themselves shall take up in their own interest that which we are constantly charged with taking up out of a fanatical desire to support a theory. It is for this reason that this meeting has been called here to-night to vindicate one particular method which, perhaps, has not hitherto received that attention which it ought to have received, of thus leavening the whole mass of public opinion. It is impossible to question that a great deal of the drunkenness of this country, and, what is perhaps of more importance, a great deal of the resistance that is constantly opposed to all efforts on the part of the advocates of temperance to improve the customs and to improve the legislation that affects this matter—I say that a great deal of it is due to ignorance, and to ignorance only—(hear, hear)—and that one large part of our work must consist in the endeavour steadily to remove that ignorance, and to convert the mass till they shall understand what is the real truth of the case. I am thankful to say that the perpetual discussion of this matter has already had the effect of converting to a very large degree the students of science and the medical profession. (Cheers.) I hold students of science and the medical profession in very high honour. I hold them in very high honour, both for the profession which serves such noble purposes in the discharge of its duty to mankind, and also for the steady progress which it is perpetually making in new knowledge for the benefit of all alike; but simply because the studies of this kind are so exceedingly long, simply because the science extends over so wide a range, simply because many of the questions that science has to deal with are so subtle and so difficult, it is almost inevitable that a great deal will be quietly put aside and left unexamined, unless public attention is strongly directed to it. Failing this, scientific men and medical men will be content simply to accept the traditions of their forefathers unless we loudly demand that they should examine the facts over again for themselves. (Loud cheers.) It is because the advocates of temperance have made this demand so loudly and so persistently, that it is now undeniable that a great change has come over physiological science and the medical profession in this matter.

I do not doubt the honesty of those who not so very long ago were perpetually prescribing stimulants. I do not doubt that they honestly believed in the value of their prescriptions; I do not complain that at a time when no special attention was directed to the matter, they were content simply to accept what had come down as a tradition from the past; I do not complain that in consequence of that, they very often were misled, and we can now see by the evidence of the medical profession in the present day how completely they were misled. I complain not of that, but I page 5 do claim for the advocates of temperance that even before the students of science had made any such discovery they so persistently insisted that this question must be examined, and examined to the bottom, that at last the medical profession could not refuse to undertake the examination, and the result of that examination has been the conversion that we have witnessed. (Loud cheers.) There cannot be any doubt that at the present day the medical profession are very much more on our side than they ever were before—(cheers)—and I believe, for myself, that as time goes on we shall find them still further on our side, and that day by day the prescribing of stimulants will become more and more rare, and that we shall, not very many years hence; find the medical profession ceasing entirely to tell us that boys at school must have alcoholic liquors because they are growing too fast, or because there is some weakness of the stomach, or because they require more "generous living." I believe myself that all this is a mistake, and I believe that the progress of science will eventually prove it to be a mistake. (Cheers.) Possibly it may discern some few marked exceptions here and there, enough to show exactly where the line is to be drawn; but those exceptions are so few that, as a general rule, all prescriptions of this kind will disappear, and the increased study of the science of physiology and the art of therapeutics will end at last in almost entirely banishing from everything like ordinary treatment of human weakness the prescribing of any such indulgences whatsoever. (Cheers.)

But having won all this from the men of science—and, at any rate, we are sure of one thing, that in the long run science will be true to itself, and that no prejudices will prevent the time students of science from speaking the exact truth in this matter—having won all this from the students of science simply by perpetually calling upon them to look into this for themselves, we feel that the time has now come for advancing one step further. We wish, if we can, to make immediate practical use of that which has thus been discovered—to work it up into the ordinary popular apprehension—to make it a part of the ordinary stock-knowledge of ordinary people. (Cheers.) We wish, if we can, everywhere throughout the country, to make even those who have very little education still to know what it is that the science of physiology teaches, and what are the lessons which we have to learn from that science in regard to this important matter—the keeping of our bodies in true temperance.

Now, if you have followed at all the reasoning which I have endeavoured to submit to you, you will see why it is that we seek, if we can, to introduce this instruction into the elementary teaching of the country—(cheers)—because it is the most direct means that can be used for thus making this instruction universally useful. We do not advocate dogmatising on the subject of temperance, as if we page 6 were calling upon people to accept our own opinions upon this matter; indeed, there is one aspect of the subject which, perhaps, we ought to have presented even to the learners in the schools long before this. I say perhaps long before this we ought to have made it one of the ordinary lessons in our elementary schools, that one of the most awful evils that ever afflicted the country is to be found in the prevalent use of intoxicating liquors. (Cheers.) It may be that long before this, without any reference to these physiological questions, we might have pressed even upon children's minds the great lessons that have to be learned from the awful evil that attends this sin of drunkenness. We ought, perhaps, long before this to have made it a cardinal point in the teaching of the young; but even if there is anything to be said against such instruction as that, lest perhaps it might seem that we are simply dogmatising, and endeavouring to force upon others our own opinions upon this matter, nothing, at any rate, can possibly be said against our advocating the introduction into schools of those lessons which are taught us by scientific study, which do not belong to one party or another party, which stand above all questions of dispute, which are nothing but reading the works of God as the book lies open before us— (cheers)—which are no more than the inferences which He allows us to draw from the study of his own creation. In regard to this, the question is not between the advocates of one cause and the advocates of another, but between scientific truth and the falsehood of ignorance. (Renewed cheers.) It is undeniable that a very large part of the evil is due to this ignorance at this moment. It is quite undeniable that all over the country you may find prevailing amongst uneducated, and I am sorry to say amongst the educated people too—(hear, hear)—the most extraordinary ignorance of the truth in this matter; sometimes taking such strange forms, as the belief that is commonly to be found amongst the labouring classes, that drinking strong drinks makes a man strong; sometimes taking the form which is not so absurd in its expression, but, I believe, is equally false in its substantial statement, that it is by the aid of intoxicating liquors that men are able to bear privation and exposure, whereas all science points to the very opposite conclusion—(cheers)—and not only all science, but even the practical experience of those who have tried it, and who have not had the opportunity of making a scientific study of it. What is more common than the belief that if a man is to bear cold and wet, and if he is to go on working for a long time, the best protection for him is to "warm himself," as it is said, with some stimulant; and yet we know that those who have to bear the very greatest exposure, those who have to face the Arctic snows and all the darkness and the severity of Arctic winters, find positively that their safety much more consists in total abstinence from any such liquors at all than in any use of them. (Cheers.)

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I do wish we could, at any rate, bring all this knowledge to bear upon the whole mass of the community; but it is true that it is very difficult to remove prejudices from the minds of those who have grown up in them from their childhood, and therefore our great hope is that if we could make these truths—these unquestionable scientific truths—a part of the ordinary teaching of elementary schools, we might hope that those who are thus taught would, as they grow up, be more ready to receive the argument that we perpetually press upon their minds, that they" will be able more readily to understand what we mean when we tell them that it is an entire mistake to suppose that any of these stimulants have any value whatever in enabling them to do their work, or enabling them to bear exposure, and that, on the contrary, they do no good at all, or else, if ever they enable a man to do somewhat more work than he would otherwise have been able to do, it is always a case of burning the candle at both ends. (Cheers.) The man may gain for a moment, but he pays a double price for his gain; and if he goes on long thus, enabling himself to work a little more than he otherwise could do, it is at the cost of shortening his life in the end, and assuredly shortening the period during which he can labour.

Such truths as these (if we could instil them into the minds of the growing children of our population) might in course of time at last form a part of the ordinary furniture of their understandings, and when that was accomplished, I do believe that a great deal would be done to enable us to carry with us the whole population of the country, and when we can carry the public with us, we know that our cause is won. (Loud cheers.)