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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 36

Dr. Richardson's Speech

Dr. Richardson's Speech.

Dr. B. W. Richardson, F.R.S., who was received with loud cheer?, said:—Mr. President, ladies, and gentlemen, it is one of the peculiarities belonging to those who take part in public affairs, and speak 011 questions such as this in public, that their sayings are frequently changed in a manner sometimes to their disadvantage and sometimes to their ad- page 9 vantage. At the present time, I stand fortunately in the position of a public speaker who has had a saying changed greatly to his advantage. In the Times of the 3rd February you will find a report of a speech made by a gentleman whom our friend Mr. Sawyer most admirably describes as one of the best members of the Parliament of this great country. You will find Mr. Walter speaking on the subject of temperance at Newbury, and quoting me to this effect—that I have said, "Alcohol is the devil in solution." (Laughter.) Now, ladies and gentlemen, I assure you I have never said so good a thing. (Cheers and laughter.) I have called alcohol a bonâ fide devil, but I never expressed so happy a thought as that alcohol is, what it is—the devil in solution. More than that, I notice that Mr. Walter accepts the proposition; so I am doubly grateful to him for correcting or improving what I have said, and for accepting it. (Laughter.) I think that this is a text most proper to the present occasion—(hear, hear)—for it is one of the arts of the devil, as we know him, always to approach by slow and steady degrees towards his great objects. When we read of him in that wonderful record, which, whether we take it as symbolical or real, matters not; when we read of his first appearance on this planet, we find him talking to the common mother of mankind in this most beguiling, artful manner. He does not, while they are discoursing about death, tell her of all the horrors of death; he says not a word of great plagues, of great battles, of suicides, of murders, of hangings, of broken hearts, following the dead. Not at all: all that is hidden. But when the woman says, "If I partake of this I shall die"; he says, in reply, "No, you shall not surely die, but you shall be as gods knowing good from evil." Now, it strikes me that the "devil in solution" always appeals to man in that same manner. (Cheers.) He does not take the young drinker, who is going in for moderate drinking, to the picture of extreme drinking, drawn by our illustrious and veteran artist, George Cruik-shank, by my side—(cheers)—he does not show to the youth that wonderful picture, and point to the lunatic asylum, to the man tied to the whipping-post, to the victim suspended from the gallows: not at all; but he begins by telling him that a little drop won't hurt—that one glass will do harm; or he speaks to him in such merry-like language as this:

"Wrap yourselves up, and make yourselves warm,
A little good liquor will do you no harm."

Or, precisely as he did to our first mother, he insinuates that "wine makes a mortal half divine." Thus he leads on the man; and so, I say again, I think this is a proper text for this occasion.

Ladies and gentlemen, my experience is that moderate drinking is the moral mainspring of the whole organisation of drunkenness and all the crime that results from it. (Cheers.) When we look at a great river, we think not, perhaps, at the moment of the rivulet from which it came, and over which we in childhood may have leaped; but that great river sprang from the rivulet. When we look at our public-houses, from which the drunken men over whom we expend so much pity pour forth, we are apt to forget that those houses are but the outlets of the rivulets of the great stream of intemperance which had their origins in the page 10 million little centres we call the domestic shrines. (Cheers.) We must approach moderate drinking, then, and speak of it, and think of it, as something which is the cause of all the evil; and this League did never do a better thing than when, at the instance, I believe, of its indefatigable secretary, Mr. Rae—(cheers)—it suggested that we should tackle this question from the simple point, with the knowledge that if we can suppress the evil at its source, we shall suppress it altogether. There are many pleas in favour of moderate drinking. Moderate drinking is, indeed, a very plausible position to defend, and in the future remarks I shall make I shall try to expose certain of these pleas, and show where they are wrong.

And first, I notice that the moderation argument is plausible on this point, that it asserts that alcohol is a necessity—a necessity as a food for man. It never presumes to assert that it is necessary as a food for any inferior animal—(laughter)—but it says that for man it is a necessity, and that he must take it as a food. I make a very clean breast on this matter at all times. I freely confess that many men took the lead of me in showing the fallacy of this argument: that they learned the fallacy from their own experience, from their own moral sense; while others before me also showed it up scientifically, amongst whom is Dr. Edmunds, who is with us to-night. (Cheers.) We thus enjoy the light of experiment, as well as of experience, and so we are doubly lighted towards what is the truth; and although many of you may have read what I am about to say, yet I shall not, I hope, weary you if I somewhat repeat myself, and so speak to the larger public outside. I am recording a matter of history—of personal history—on this question when I say that I for one had once no thought of alcohol except as a food. I thought it warmed us. I thought it gave additional strength. I thought it enabled us to endure mental and bodily fatigue. I thought it cheered the heart and lifted up the mind into greater activity. But it so happened that I was asked to study the action of alcohol along with a whole series of chemical bodies, and to investigate their bearing in relation to each other. And so I took alcohol from the shelf of my laboratory, as I might any other drug or chemical there, and I asked it in the course of experiments extending over a lengthened period "What do you do?" I asked it, "Do you warm the animal body when you are taken into it?" The reply came invariably, "I do not, except in a mere flush of surface excitement. There is, in fact, no warming, but, on the contrary, an effect of cooling and chilling the body." Then I turn round to it in another direction, and ask it: "Do you give muscular strength?" I test it by the most rigid analysis and experiment I can adopt. I test muscular power under the influence of it in various forms and degrees, and its reply is, "I give no muscular strength." I turn to its effect upon the organs of the body, and find that while it expedites the heart's action it reduces tonicity, and turning to the nervous system I find the same reply; that is to say, I find the nervous system more quickly worn out under the influence of this agent than if none of it is taken at all. I ask it, "Can you build up any of the tissues of the body?" The answer again is in the negative. "I build nothing. If I do anything, I add fatty matter to the body, but page 11 that is a destructive agent, piercing the tissues, destroying their powers, and making them less active for their work." Finally, I sum it all up. I find it to be an agent that gives no strength, that reduces the tone of the blood-vessels and heart, that reduces the nervous power, that builds up no tissues, can be of no use to me or any other animal as a substance for food. (Cheers.) On that side of the question my mind is made up—that this agent in the most moderate quantity is perfectly useless for any of the conditions of life to which men are subjected, except under the most exceptional conditions, which none but skilled observers can declare.

Next, I turn round to the facts of experience. I think—Well, as I have come to the above conclusion, I will experiment on myself. I do so. 1 gave up that which I thought warmed and helped me, and I can declare, after considering the whole period in which I have subjected myself to this ordeal, I never did more work; I never did more varied work; I never did work with equal facility—with so much facility; I never did work with such a complete sense of freedom from anxiety and worry as I have done during the period that I have abstained altogether. (Loud cheers.) Let this fallacy, then, as to the necessity of moderate drinking be removed. But alcohol is said to be necessary for the happiness of man. ("Oh!" and laughter.) "It cheers the heart," it is said; "it lifts the man for a time above himself, and makes him joyous and brilliant, happy and merry." Well, there is a mad kind of excitement, if that be happiness, which alcohol brings; but who is there who has gone through that who forgets the morning that follows? (Hear, hear.) I can assure you all, as my experience—and I doubt not it is yours also—that there is nothing like the refined happiness, the consistent happiness, the happiness under varied circumstances—I had almost said the happiness under adverse circumstances—the happiness which follows from totally abstaining from alcohol. (Cheers.)

There is another fallacy connected with moderate drinking to which I specially wish to refer, and that is to its undefinability. (Hear, hear.) What is moderate drinking? What is a moderate dose of the "devil in solution"? (Laughter.) I have asked this question of a great many people, and I have written down a few notes of certain persons who declare themselves very moderate. I will not give names, but I will put them down as B, C, and D. B is a moderate man, and, what is more, he is a rigidly regular man. He takes one pint of malt liquor at dinner; he takes one or two whiskies at bedtime, and he takes half-a-pint of wine regularly at dinner. (Laughter.) I find that represents 6 ozs. of alcohol; and then I turn to the physiological side of the question, and I find the alcohol does this for the man—it makes his heart beat 18,000 times a-day beyond what it ought to do, and it makes that unfortunate heart raise what would be equivalent to 19 extra tons weight one foot from the earth. That is the effect of his moderation. I turn to another moderate man, who says he is "very moderate." He tells me he takes one pint of Cooper—I don't know what that is, but it is what he says—(laughter)—(it is whispered to me that Cooper is a mixture of stout and bitter ale; but in a teetotal meeting we have 110 business to know these things). (Laughter.) He says he takes a pint of Cooper; one "B. and page 12 S." in the course of the day, if he feels flagging; a pint of claret at dinner—for that he considers the soundest wine—and a couple of glasses of sherry or port with dessert. That man takes at least 4 ozs. of alcohol a-day, the physiological effect of which is to force his heart to 12,000 extra beats, and to make it do about 14 foot tons of extra work. I pass to another man, who is called "a very, very, moderate drinker." He is really moderate. He takes two glasses of sherry at luncheon and one pint of claret at dinner. That would represent 3 ozs. of alcohol, and would give 10,000 extra strokes to the heart, and 9 extra foot tons of work. Perhaps you will say, "If the heart beats 100,000 times in the course of the twenty-four hours, this is not a great additional labour put upon it, in the last case, at all events." I have calculated it in a simple way. In a ton there are 35,840 ozs. Now, suppose you had this gross weight of nine tons divided into 9 oz. weights before you, and you used your hand, which is not quite so strong as your heart, or your hand and arm, for the purpose of raising each weight of nine ounces one foot, 35,840 times. You would find, in the course of twenty-four hours, that your arms would be paralysed with work before you had got to the end of the labour. Yet that is the extra work we put upon the heart when we indulge in moderate drinking to this comparatively small extent.

There is another evil connected with moderate drinking, which is this, that it induces false and bad automatic acts. Men do things in drinking, and repeat drinkings without ever intending to do so, from a habit or automatic movement. I was driving into Canterbury in an open carriage in the course of my holiday last summer, and was sitting on the box by the driver. The horse stopped at an inn, and the driver said, "If you were to drive past this place twenty times a-day, the horse would invariably stop here." I said, "Why?" "Because always at this place we give him a pint of beer." That was a good representation of what men constantly do. Men are accustomed just to go near a public-house until they cannot pass it. It becomes automatic to go in, and all through their lives they fall into that defined habit. Moderate drinking leads on to that, and in such respect it is extremely bad, not only in regard to the individual himself, but because it induces a habit which passes from the generation that is, into that which is to be.

I see another evil in moderate drinking, that it generates a taste and a desire for alcohol—(Hear, hear)—and here I have made some research of a physiological and of a psychological kind, which is extremely interesting. So long as any portion of alcohol remains in the body and has to be eliminated, though the quantity be ever so minute, the desire for the continuance of alcohol is present, and present in the strongest degree, so that we may say of a confirmed alcoholic, he is never safe from the desire until the whole of the alcohol has been eliminated.

There are still more serious influences. There is the influence on the mind. Why, not one of you can wear a ring, a married woman, for instance, and have it taken away without feeling the sense that it is still there, or that it ought to be there. Such is the effect of the impression. So it is with regard to alcohol, even taken in the most moderate way possible; it generates the impression for it, and it is one of the most determined page 13 banes of those who begin by indulging in its moderate use, that they must resort to it as if it were a support. (Cheers.) Now, all this is unnecessary, and this taste is unnecessary. If I were to take you through the whole world of life from the first development of life in the minute amoeba floating simply in its fluid, onward through the whole range of animal life up to man, and if I were to expound to you the organisation of all that life, I should show you that Nature, in her supreme and divine wisdom, has arranged for no form or kind of fluid support for living organisation except water. (Cheers.) Further, I should show you that when anything else is introduced, immediately the organisation begins to change. Therefore, when a man introduces alcohol to take the place of water for the building up of his body, for the constitution of his organic parts, for the arrangement of his thoughts and actions, he becomes a new organisation—an alcoholic organisation, differing in temper, in power, in mode of thought, in characteristics of the most important kind, from that which he would be if he let nature have her supreme control. (Cheers.)

Once more, this system of moderate drinking is, to my mind, injurious in that it keeps up in the minds of those who indulge in it one persistent course of self-deception. I am quite sure there is not a man or woman who indulges in alcohol, even slightly, who, if he or she retires, shuts out the world, locks up the senses, and lets no passion enter to warp the reason—I say there is not one who thinks over the matter in this way who remains unconvinced in his own inner soul that he can do perfectly well without strong drink, and that whenever he indulges in it for the sake of the support it is reputed to give, or for any other reason whatever, he is simply deceiving himself, and is taking that which he knows to be of no service whatever. (Cheers.) It cannot be good that this system of self-deception should go on, and we, in opposing its beginnings, are doing the greatest work towards the conversion of man to sober and wholesome thought. To sum up, ladies and gentlemen, I say that the agent which employs and carries with it a false necessity, a false idea of happiness, false action, false organisation, false belief in self, self-deception, is a bad agent. (Hear, hear.) No priest, no physician, no poet, no painter, ever clothed the devil in more telling attributes of evil. We are sometimes told it is fanatical, it is unpractical, it is contrary to the interests of individual men, or classes of men, to speak these things and oppose alcohol. Be it so. In another age it will be a wonder that such arguments as those which we are obliged to use were ever necessary to convert an unwilling world. (Cheers.) In the meantime, undeterred by any of those specious pleas, it is our duty, whether it be called fanatical or philosophical, practical or unpractical, advantageous to class interests or opposed to them, to unite, body and mind, heart and soul, in suppressing this evil at its root, and in endeavouring to make this earth something nearer heaven, by pulling down from his high place the demon who still reigns so triumphantly in the sphere in which we live. (Loud and prolonged applause.)