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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 36

Canon Farrar's Speech

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Canon Farrar's Speech.

The Rev. Canon Farrar, D.D., who experienced a hearty reception, said: Air. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen,—When I had the honour of being asked to take part in this meeting, I was told that its object was to consider the physiological aspects of the Temperance question, and my chief reason for accepting the invitation was that I might hear the remarks and the researches of those two gentlemen, so pre-eminent in their profession, who have just addressed you. (Cheers.) It is quite obvious that to the physiological aspect of the question, neither you nor I can give any independent contribution. To give any original remark on the subject, would require an expert capable of verifying the researches, and of sifting the conclusions, of men of science, who on the subject are not yet agreed; but at the same time, as Dr. Richardson has just said, we at any rate can each of us contribute to this subject the results of an individual experiment, and all that I have to furnish to this part of the question is only one little grain of evidence; and yet grains of evidence contributed by a large number of persons must not be despised when we remember that, after all, it is the little grains of sand upon the seashore that form at last the sole efficient barrier to the raging of its waves. (Cheers.) Now the only individual grain of experience that we can contribute, is the fact that in so far as any of us have retrenched the very moderate amount of alcohol which many allow themselves, we have distinctly gained by doing so. (Cheers.) If, then, we come to the conclusion—as we do—that we may try the experiment without any danger, I think that it is one worth trying. (Hear, hear.) Now, in prisons and penitentiaries, thousands of people are yearly admitted who may have been in the habit of intoxication probably from their earliest years, and from whom, from the moment of their entrance into the prison, every drop of alcohol is withdrawn—and what is the result? The men, so far from suffering in health, gain in power and force, and the women recover that bloom which often has entirely vanished from faces that have been sodden by intemperance and crime. Every one of us, therefore can, without any sort of danger, try this experiment; and if we can try the experiment, without danger to health; if there be reason to think, as we have heard from two such eminent authorities, that we can try the experiment with a positive gain to health; if by doing so we can contribute a little, be it ever so little, to a noble cause, and do a little, be it ever so little, towards dispelling the nightmare of intemperance that rides upon the breast of England like its deadliest sin—then I do think that it is worth the while of every reasonable and right-minded man to consider whether, instead of turning away from this subject, as they so often do, with disdainful impatience, they might not rather go up into the tribunal of their own consciences, and ask themselves, deliberately and calmly, whether by a small and insignificant sacrifice they might not perhaps do something to further for the benefit of their fellow-creatures an unspeakable blessing, ami do something to save from some of their fellow-creatures an intolerable harm. (Cheers.)

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Now, ladies and gentlemen, it is with deliberate and entire sincerity that I call this a small and insignificant sacrifice. (Hear, hear.) In pamphlet after pamphlet and article after article, I see that total abstainers are sneered at and railed at as though they assumed to themselves an amount of Pharisaic virtue. (Here let me pause to say that I greatly prefer the title "total abstainer" to the wretched and ridiculous word, however much it may have been honoured, of "teetotaler.") Now, so far as that charge has any ground at all, I think we may say in reply. Do not misunderstand us. It may be true that some of us have used language simply from the intensity of our feelings-—(hear, hear)—or from our conviction that nothing but enthusiasm can break the bonds of a colossal tyranny—language which sounds, perhaps, laudatory to ourselves and condemnatory of others; but, so far as we have done so, we hope that that language may be attributed simply to our conviction of the dread fulness of the necessity, and to our conviction of the sacredness of our crusade; and so far from thinking that by becoming total abstainers we have done anything at all great or to be proud of, we are quite convinced that you would not bring that objection against us if you would turn to the subject your unprejudiced and deliberate attention; for when you had faced the overwhelming amount of evidence which is now so easily accessible to all, you would be ready at once to join us in so trivial and effective a self-denial. I call it a "trivial self-denial" because I am sure that no total abstainer would so libel the manhood of myriads of moderate-drinkers as to believe that if they thought it right they would find any sort of difficulty in giving up what is at the best a needless and, perhaps, not very noble luxury: I call the self-sacrifice "effective" because, as Sir Wilfred Lawson says—(loud cheers)—the mitred heads of the whole of the episcopate together could not discover any cause for drunkenness except drinking—(laughter)—and if every total abstainer was only able in different ranks of life to win over a few others by moral suasion and by manly argument to his own view of the case, then the national sin which now sullies the name of England would soon become an extinct and a forgotten shame. (Cheers.)

But, ladies and gentlemen, leaving, therefore, on one side altogether the physiological aspect of the question, I do think that there are two strong reasons why we may begin to assume and to assure people that since alcohol is not, at any rate, as Dr. Richardson and Sir Henry Thompson have just demonstrated, a food, it had better be regarded either as an exceptional luxury or an occasional medicine; those two reasons—and they are all that I shall dwell upon to night, without entering upon the great field of the subject of temperance and all the reasons for it—are public example, and personal security. (Cheers.) I think there is enough in these two grounds to persuade us that total abstinence is an absolute necessity for some, that it is a positive duty for a great many, and that at least as "a counsel of perfection "—at any rate in the present time, and in the present aspect of a great national struggle—it may be desirable for most to give up the habit of moderate drinking, and to take to total abstinence as the general habit of their lives. Now, I do think that there are circumstances at present which would give exceptional force in this matter to a public example. (Hear, page 16 hear.) I am not going over the too-familiar ground of those horrors—horrors disgraceful and unutterable—horrors foul as the reek of the gin-palace, and glaring as its nightly gas—which are the direct consequence, the normal result, of the ramifications of this immense traffic, and of the multiplication of every conceivable facility for propagating what we believe to be a dreadful peril, and perpetuating what we know to be a fearful curse. I think if we are able to resist the evidence given us by gaoler after gaoler, by clergyman after clergyman, by magistrate after magistrate, no evidence on this subject is likely to convince us at all.

I must confess that it is only familiarity with the subject that can at all impress us with its magnitude. In the providence of God, my own life has been passed in quiet country places, and it was not until I came to London, and not until my attention was very deliberately turned by circumstances to it, that I was at all aware of how frightful was the degradation, and how terrible was the curse, which was at work in the midst of us? (Cheers.) It seems to me nothing more nor less than a Fury, withering and blighting the whole fame of England. Every week in the organ of the United Kingdom Alliance, there is published a ghastly column called "Fruits of the Traffic." It is no invention; the is no rhetoric; it is no exaggeration; it is nothing that is disputable; nothing that can be in the least questioned; it is nothing in the world but a series of horribly prosaic cuttings from the accidents and offences, the police and the criminal reports of other newspapers, and it records calamity after calamity, and crime after crime, disease, shipwrecks, conflagrations, murders, the kicking and trampling of women, the maiming and murdering of little children, all of which are directly attributable to the effects of drink, not by any inference of the editor, but by the indignant declarations of judges, by the reiterated testimony of witnesses, and by the constant remorseful confession of the poor criminals themselves. Are we, then, ladies and gentlemen, simply, as it were, to pass from chamber to chamber of this great temple of abominations and look at what we see as though it were a cabinet of curiosities, and gaze coldly on all these scenes of shame and horror which are painted upon its walls? Or are we to be aroused by these facts merely to talk the vague language of philanthropy, and to sigh over wretchedness, while we do not so much as lift a single finger to help the wretched? We send abroad bishops and chaplains and missionaries, and at home build national and Sunday schools; we multiply holidays; we improve wages; we endow churches;—and what happens? Our bishops and chaplains and missionaries bear witness, and cry to us from distant lands, that the contagion of this national sin follows them even there (hear, hear)—that it often blights into extermination the poor ignorant savages, and that in other countries it makes the more thoughtful and polished heathen turn away with scorn and hatred from the very name of a Christian. (Cheers.) And at home this same potent spell of sorcery frustrates our education, empties our churches, throngs our prisons, and crowds our penitentiaries. It makes perfectly useless—nay, it turns even into a bane, our shortened hours of labour, and makes improved wages, at which otherwise we should rejoice with all our hearts, a ruin and not a boon.

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Well, now, if these be the results, even if we shrink from so terrible and fearful an expression as that which Dr. Richardson has at once appropriated and repudiated of calling alcohol "the devil in solution," I am quite sure that we should not shrink from saying that it has a very great deal of bad spirits in reality, and that whether "alcohol" or "Apollyon" be the true name for that multitude of fiends, they would all of them bear testimony with one mouth, and exclaim—in the language of the demoniac of Gadara—Our name is Legion, for we are many." (Cheers.) Now, ladies and gentlemen, what is it, then, that, under these circumstances, we ought to do? Some people will say, "Build better houses for the poor? give them improved means of amusement; pass the Permissive Bill—(cheers)—try the Gothenburg system—("No, no!")—withdraw the grocers' licences—(cheers)—sternly punish adulteration, provide lighter beverages; try to bring public opinion to bear upon the supporters of the trade so that they may rigidly, in God's sight at least, regulate and, if possible, minimise it within what are supposed to be its absolutely necessary limits." Well, try these and thousands of other things (and may God speed every possible effort to combat this colossal evil), but, at any rate, do not let us waste time in mere talk. Let us, at any rate, try to do something. Would to God that the millionaires in England, of whom there are now a considerable number, instead of trying to thrust themselves into the ranks of the landed aristocracy, might only have their hearts moved to try rather to make to themselves friends of the Mammon of unrighteousness, and to aim at the infinitely nobler and better end of lavishing their wealth to do all the good they possibly can in this sternly practical direction to millions of their fellow-creatures. (Cheers.)

While, in the meantime, the Legislature is trying experiments; while conferences are sitting; while congresses are talking; while the requisite thousands are being collected; while efforts are being made to meet this immense and powerful monopoly, all this while thousands and tens of thousands of our stalwart men and fine lads, and our young girls, are simply reeling along that path of fiery pitfalls which ends in the drunkard's grave; and, therefore, let us all try to do something, and if we can do nothing else, we can do this one very little thing—viz., show by our personal example how easy a thing it is, and how beneficial a thing it is, to abstain from that which in extreme moderation may have produced no injurious results, but which is most fatal and most ruinous to thousands who begin with that extreme moderation, and are led by it to fatal excess as by a direct and yet most treacherous avenue. (Cheers).

And, now, if I am not trespassing too long on your attention—("No, no")—I should like to say one word on the other aspect—viz., that of personal security; and, ladies and gentlemen, you must not be either startled or incredulous at my saying anything about it. You may with perfect truth say that all your life long you, like thousands of others, have daily drunk perhaps one or two glasses of wine or beer, and yet have never known in your lives, by personal experience, what it is to exceed moderation, and that may be perfectly true. And yet I do think that if you were to look round you—it may be in your own family circles, and it may be in the range of your personal acquaintance—you page 18 would probably find many very grievous cases which would lead yon to doubt the advisability of the process of moderate drinking; in fact, I am certain that if this great meeting were polled and asked whether they knew of any one man or woman whom drink had ruined, the answer would be that there was not one, or scarcely one, house in which there was not one dead. (Cheers.) Certainly I myself have known many who have been ruined in this way. They began without any thought of excess whatever. I dare scarcely summon either from the living or from the dead these ghosts and shadows of what once they were in order that they may warn us from this peril by the waving of their wasted hands; still I may distantly and dimly describe one or two cases only which I have known in my own rank of life. I think of one young gallant officer, brave as a lion, liberal as the light of day—a man whose name was once not unknown in his country's service, whose career was suddenly cut short, and who died a disgraced and ruined man. 1 think of the case of another—a young University student of brilliant attainments, of unusual promise, who suddenly sank from the same cause to destitution; who used to write begging letters most abject in tone, and yet written in Latin so choice and so eloquent that few could have surpassed it, and who died disowned by his family in the ward of a London hospital of delirium tremens. I think of a lawyer, whose practice once bade fair to be magnificent, indulging in such "pleasures," sinking into dubious practices, losing his place and influence in society, and dying a dishonoured man. I think of another—a clergyman, very eloquent and widely known, whose presence was everywhere desired, who died miserably with a mysterious blight upon his name from the same cause. And I could go on giving many more cases which have come under my own immediate knowledge. There is very near my own parish a common lodging-house, where, if you entered, you might be met by people who would address you in French, or German or Italian, or even Latin, or Greek—men who were men of rank and position, men of culture, captains in the army, teachers in the university, but who, by this cause, have sunk down to the degraded rabble of guilty sufferers.

Well, now, what is the moral of these facts? Surely it is that alcohol, whether you call it a poison or not, has something very peculiar in its nature: that there is about it a sweetness and seductiveness, a sort of serpentile spell of attraction, which gradually draws men on while they do not know it, and which at last they find themselves unable to resist. They begin by admiring the "orient liquor in the crystal glass" of the enchanter, and they go on drinking their wine day by day, and at last the hour of misfortune comes when they are tried by toil or disappointment, when they are tried by sorrow or bereavement, and perhaps on that account alone they drink too much; and although they began life as gay, and proud, and as happy as any of us, they are now sitting amid the entanglement of terrible temptation—amid the very ruins of their former state. Coleridge says: "Evil habit first draws, then drags, and then drives." Or, as an eminent French writer expresses it, "We are insensibly led to yield without resistance to slight temptations which we despise, and gradually we find ourselves in a perilous situation or even falling into an abyss, and then we cry out to God, 'Why hast Thou made page 19 us too weak to rise,' and, in spite of ourselves, a voice answers to our consciences, 'If I made thee too weak by thins own power to rise out of the gulf, it was because I made thee amply strong enough never to have fallen into it.'" (Cheers.) Oh! do not let any of us be so proud as to think we should be safe. If men of the highest genius have fallen under this temptation, if even an Addison, a Burns, a Hartley Coleridge, and hundreds of others, had been tempted by the excess of their intellectual work to rekindle the vestal flame upon the altar of Genius, by the unhallowed fires of alcohol, I, for one, will not be the man to abstain from saving to anyone,—Let him that thinketh he standeth—however superior he may think himself from the same possibility of temptation—still let him beware lest he fall. (Cheers.)

These, then, seem to me to be sufficient reasons, both on the grounds of public example and personal security, why everyone of us might, with perfect rectitude and perfect honour, and without any fanaticism or any folly, try an experiment which can do us no harm, which may do us great good, and which, at any rate, may be the means of enabling us to do good by our example to thousands of others. (Cheers.) Our leading journal told us the other day that speeches on education were tiresome to fatuity. Be it so. It is not possible without persistence and without enthusiasm to carry on a battle like this. (Cheers.) Let our speeches be tiresome and fatuous so long as they be in the slightest degree necessary to the permanence of the glory of England and the preservation of thousands of her sons; however dull our speeches may be, I take it that they are not by a long way so dull as the monotonous wail of misery that rises from thousands of homes which drunkenness has made as intolerable as a wild beast's lair; and however wearisome our speeches may be, I am quite sure that they are not one tithe so wearisome as the pauperism, and crime, and degradation which are handed on from generation to generation, and against which we seem to strive in vain, it may seem to be in vain, but it will not be in vain. (Cheers.) The rock which shatters and flings back the assault of the billows, is gradually undermined by the flowing wave, and as long as we hear the incessant lapping of the water on the crag, we may believe that the tide of public opinion is rising and rising—rising by these very means, rising by these very meetings, rising by these tedious and fatuous speeches—until I venture to prophesy it shall have risen so high, that before another twenty years is over it will have resistlessly swept away the strong rock of opposing interests. It will have risen so high, that it will have utterly overwhelmed, under fathoms of national shame and national indignation, that sunken reef of vice on which we are now suffering so many a gallant and noble vessel to crash, and to be irremediably shipwrecked. (Prolonged cheering.)