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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 36

Sir James Sulivan's Speech

Sir James Sulivan's Speech.

Admiral Sir B. James Sulivan, K.C.B.: I feel that, though perhaps one of the oldest abstainers in our Service, I ought not to have taken the place of one who has had much more experience than myself, for this reason, that my naval career has ended for many years, during which years the greatest progress in total abstinence has been made amongst our seamen. There are some, like my friend on the left, Sir William King Hall—(cheers)—and one I can recollect, who I wish was here, Admiral Prevost, who paid off a frigate of eighty officers and men at Plymouth, one-third of whom were teetotalers. I cannot allude to temperance in the navy without also recalling the name of a very dear fellow-surveyor of mine, the late Admiral Otter, who, long before the Russian War, had a large temperance society connected with his vessel on the Western Highlands of Scotland, where large numbers of the Celtic race joined in the temperance society named after his vessel. He afterwards, about twelve or fifteen years ago, paid off a vessel at Plymouth, a surveying vessel, with every officer and man in her a total' abstainer. (Cheers.) I will not refer but slightly to what we have all heard lately—the wonderful superiority in the matter of health and strength of the abstainers in the Arctic regions. In that, as in one or two other cases I will allude to, I wish you to see that abstainers compare favourably with the most moderate of moderate drinkers, because in those regions page 23 they only have a very small allowance of the very best and purest Jamaica rum, which is said to be one of the purest of spirits. Therefore it is impossible that the drinking could have been other than the most moderate, and yet what do we find? Some years since, when an Arctic Expedition was lost for four years, under the late Sir John Ross, they went through sufferings such as never an Arctic expedition experienced before, They were reduced at last to fall back upon the provisions of a wrecked Arctic ship—some of the part}' carrying the rest on their backs, so reduced were they in health and strength. They there found ample provisions, and some of one very best naval rum that could be found in those days, which had been weakened by lying there—for it always loses its strength by keeping—and what was the result? In trying in boats to reach the whalers, they suffered unheard-of trials, and failed in their object. As the result they had to go back and pass another winter in those regions; but from the fact of Sir John Ross standing the work apparently better than the others, and he being the only abstainer among them, he suggested giving up that small allowance of rum which they were accustomed to have. Their health was so benefited by abstinence that, though it lay alongside them, they didn't take it again. At that time it seemed extraordinary how such a thing could be, because there was prevalent the old fallacy that a glass of grog warmed you; but now we know that, in those Arctic regions especially, it would be dangerous, because every drop or alcohol lowers the temperature.

Then, if we go to the Antarctic regions with Sir James Ross, who was one of those who served under his uncle in that voyage, we find this remarkable testimony. Dr. J. D. Hooker, now the President of the Royal Society, writes thus:—"Several of the men on board our ship, and amongst them some of the best, never touched grog during one or more of the Antarctic cruises." Many had laid in for themselves large quantities of coffee, and gladly would the others have exchanged their grog for this beverage. In the same letter he says:—"I do think that the use of spirits in cold weather is generally prejudicial. I speak from my own experience. It is very pleasant at the time, for the glass of grog warms the mouth, the throat, and the abdomen; and this, when one is wet and cold, with no fire, and just before turning into damp blankets, is very enticing. But it never did me an atom of good; the extremities are not warmed by it; and when a continuance of exertion or endurance is called for, the spirit does harm, for then you are colder or more fatigued a quarter or half-an-hour after it, than you would have been without it." There is a remarkable, valuable, and disinterested testimony from Dr. Hooker, which, coming from such a man as he is, must have great weight with the general public.

I happen to know one remarkable case of the evil of medical men recommending moderate drinking, which I will narrate. (Cheers.) Agentleman connected with a large mercantile business, who worked his rain very much, and who had been a very moderate drinker, at fifty years of age began to show signs of an overworked brain—in fact, incipient tokens of paralysis. He was told by his medical man, "It you don't take a little more stimulant you will have a stroke of paralysis," page 24 and every now and then he was induced to take a little more. That went on for five years, when the stroke came so heavily that he nearly died. When able to be moved he was carried to a hydropathic establishment. Ten years later, when on a visit, I saw him in that establishment a healthy man at sixty-five; and two years ago I saw him again, a healthy man at seventy-five. He had never put a drop of alcohol, in any form, inside his lips from the time he had that paralytic seizure; so that while the alcohol could not prevent it, the water kept it from returning for twenty years. (Cheers.) I will tell you another remarkable fact: six years after his first attack he had a very slight symptom of sleepless night*, which alarmed his wife. She sent for the doctor who had done him so much good before. He took him out of bed, and poured two buckets of tepid water over his head in a tub. He then had him rubbed with a rubbing-sheet, and put him to bed, where he slept for sixteen hours without waking—(laughter)—and when I saw him last, which was fourteen years after he had that slight symptom, he told me that he had not had another symptom of the kind since. I believe he is now alive and well, at seventy-seven, and I should think from what I saw of him, though his hair has got white, that he is likely to live, humanly speaking, some years yet to come. I will give you a remarkable medical testimony the other way.

Some eighteen or nineteen years since, I was dining with a large party at Cheltenham. After the ladies left the table, the gentlemen began discussing this question, because I did not drink any wine, and they declared that at least elderly people could not give it up without danger, if they had been accustomed to it. There sat at the table one of the most eminent physicians in the place, but he said nothing. I did not think of appealing to him, because I thought in those days the doctor was sure to give the verdict against me. One of the gentlemen at last appealed to him. To my astonishment, he took my side, and he gave these facts as his reason. He said, "I have had for years among my patients here, old Indians, and old retired officers, and others, of perhaps from sixty to seventy years of age, who have been invalids, and I have honestly told them that, as they had been in the habit of taking something all their lives, it would not at that time of life be safe to give it up, and therefore I encouraged their taking a moderate amount of wine. During the last few years I have seen so many of my patients that I honestly gave that advice to go to Malvern, and return in a few months looking stronger and healthier by far, that I have asked them, 'Do you take any wine?' They have replied, 'No.' I have then asked them, 'Do you feel any evil effects from not taking it?' and the reply has also been 'No'; and I have seen those men live alongside of me in better health than before; so that I cannot, as an honest man, but allow that even old men, however much accustomed to it, can give it up with benefit." (Cheers.) That was a very rare testimony from a physician seventeen or eighteen years ago, I am afraid.

And now I would say a word about the tenfold danger of moderate drinking to females. We know that intemperance is increasing sadly amongst women, and often it has had its first beginning in the pre- page 25 scriptions of medical men. I have known in my own acquaintance two friends and brother officers of mine, of very high position, whose wives died of drink, through having first been made to take it by medical men when suffering pain, and I am sure there is, if possible, more danger (not perhaps as regards numbers) in the drinking amongst females and their influence on families than there is among men, and for this reason—all of us who know anything about the working of local temperance societies, can count the men drunkards sawed by dozens and even hundreds; but ask them where they have seen a woman drunkard saved, and but one or two at the most they can speak of, if so many. (Hear, hear.) Does that not show that moderate drinking is a greater danger to females than to males? (Hear, hear.) I will give you one instance of that. A gentleman who took very high classical honours at Oxford, and who became a Fellow, was called to the Bar. He got quickly into practice, and became in a position to marry a lady who was considered a good match for him. His friend, from whom I heard the story, heard nothing of him for several years, but one day he received a letter from him asking him to go and see him in a lodging-house in the East of London. He found him there, dying of drink, and on that deathbed, he told him this:—"I never had the slightest tendency to drink; I had a horror of it, but after I married that beautiful girl, in whom I thought I had found such a valuable wife, I found she was a secret drunkard, and her drinking drove me to drink. She is dead, and now you see me dying." I think such an incident as this is enough to show the dreadful danger of moderate drinking to females as well as to men. ("Hear, hear," and cheers.)