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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 36


Suppose it were possible for every one in this large assemblage to say with all truthfulness, while recasting the experiences of life, "I know of one particular agent or thing which has directly killed one person whom I knew. The human being thus slain had the slaying agent under his own absolute control. He need not have touched it unless he had willed so to do, and he would never have felt any want for it if he had not been trained to feel the want!"

Suppose this audience, as an English audience merely, were enlarged until it included all who might fairly form an audience capable by experience and years and capacity of mind to make a correct statement on what they had clearly and definitely seen. Suppose every one of them could say, "I, too, know that the same agent has killed one person who lived in my circle of acquaintance, so that taking us all in combination in the span of our lives, which may fairly be included in thirty years, the fatal effects of the said agent have been witnessed by ten millions of observers"!

Suppose we could listen to a foreign voice speaking to us from across the Atlantic, and could hear it declare on the authority of an official census return: "For the last ten years this one agent has imposed upon the nation (The United States) a direct expense of 600,000,000 dols.; an indirect expense of 600,000,000 dols.; has destroyed 300,000 lives; has sent 100,000 children to the poorhouses; has committed at least 150,000 people into prisons and workhouses; has made at least 1,000 insane; has determined at least 2,000 suicides; has caused the loss by fire or violence of 10,000,000 dols. worth of property; has made 200,000 widows, and 1,000,000 orphans"!

Suppose, returning to our own country, we were to discover that among those unhappy persons who fill our asylums for the insane, two out of three were brought there owing to the direct or indirect effects of this destroyer. That amongst the paralysed who sit or lie there day after day until inevitable death takes them away—all of them already in the shroud of a living death, toneless, speechless, helpless, existing only by their mere vegetative part—that nine-tenths of these are brought to the condition in which we see them by the direct or indirect effects of this one destroyer!

Suppose we entered the cells of our prisons, and amongst those we met wearing out their lives in solitude, shame, and misery, so that the noblest of all that is human, work, sank the victims into a sense of deeper degradation: and suppose as we stood that we heard the voice of the most scientific scholar who ever graced the Judicial Bench of England since the days of the illustrious Chancellor, Bacon, saying, as the voice of Mr. Justice Grove lately said, that the most potent influence for securing these incarcerations, and for placing the miserables before us in such terrible position, was this same agent.

Suppose we could at the present moment see before us, passing in page 4 sad panoramic display, some of the broken-heartedness of this still unhappy country. Tortured women, undergoing torture, or listening with palpitating hearts, and with their children scared and hidden away, waiting for the dreaded footsteps of him whose faintest sound ought to be the joy of their expectant lives. Could we see all the weeping mothers and fathers hoping against hope for the reformation of their children; mourning a loss that the grave even will relieve—loss to truth, honour, self-respect, affection, duty, honesty, every virtue on which parents find new life in their offspring. Suppose, seeing these things in their unutterable vastness, we could say they are the work of the one and the same destroyer!

Suppose we could, day by day, keep under our observation for one year the thousand dep⊚ts in which this agent is stored up, and from which it is dispensed in million potions a-day to smite and to slay young and middle-aged and old, rich and poor, deluder and deluded, polluted and polluting. Could we watch the inroads of death into each of those centres of distributing death, and discover that out of them the marauder tore one hundred and thirty-eight to one hundred of his other victims elsewhere, and seeing this fact could recognise that death, more than just, acted on the sellers through the thing sold!

Suppose we took into our consideration the reckoning that the capital which is invested in this destroyer represents in the British Islands alone the sum of £117,000,000 sterling. That the duties paid in one year amount at least to £30,000,000 of money; that each taxpayer who has an income of £500 a-year is assessed £31 towards this imposition, whether he avail himself or not of the means to injure himself by the cause of the imposition!

Suppose we knew of two classes of people who were seeking, in fore-stalment of calamity to their families, to insure their lives, and that the distinction into classes lay simply in one matter:—That a certain class (B) habitually subjected itself, and a certain class (C) did never subject itself, to this particular substance. Suppose it were found in respect to these applicants that Class B showed a mortality of 7 per cent, below the calculated average of life, and Class C a mortality of 26 per cent, below that average: that from bonuses, or returns from amount of premium paid, Class B received 34 per cent., Class C 53 per cent.: that dealers in the particular agent under review were hardly admissible even into Class B, and that their vocation added a mortality of two out of three compared with the vocations of Class C!

Suppose, in passing through our hospitals for the cure of the sick, the physician in attendance were to name all the forms of diseases there, and were to say, as he might most honestly, these names, very different in kind, and seeming to denote very different maladies,—gout, paralysis, albuminuria, apoplexy, delirium tremens, enfeebled heart, eczema, epilepsy, consumption (in one phase of that disease at least), liver disease or cirrhosis, dropsy,—to say nothing of other maladies under dispute as to their origin: these names do truly but indicate various forms of disease originating in one agency to which these afflicted have been directly or indirectly subjected!

Suppose it were possible, after this general survey, to be able to cast up the sum of misery represented in such varying disguises, and to page 5 prove that they are all the work of one common enemy of mankind, should we not hesitate, almost in fear, fear which familiarity itself would not utterly conquer, as we asked ourselves: Is it really true? Is there such an enemy, such a power, such a bonâ fide devil in our midst?

The facts must stand for themselves in all their terrible reality. There is such a devil, though he is not in polite language called so. He assumes various names. The learned,—owing to his infinite subtlety, a subtlety as refined as the impalpable powder with which ancient ladies of the East dressed their hair,—the learned call him alcohol. The unlearned call him beer. The savages call him fire-water. The rollicking scholars call him wine. The slangsters call him B. and S., or cocktail, or gin-sling. Gentler lips, that ought to know less of him and more of botany, sometimes call him cherries. We will call him today, because of his subtlety, and because, after all, the term defines him best for our purpose, alcohol.

In this audience it is unnecessary to go over again, with proofs in hand, the details of the charges I have made against this subtile agent. He has been arraigned for them over and over again: he has been proved guilty of them all over and over again. Yet hath he always escaped scot-free, and continued his marauding, kept together his retinue, and defied his enemies. He has paid his servants in their own coin and his own, making them obey, killing them as they obeyed, and, stretching out his empire over their graves, has imprinted his brand on the offspring they have raised, whether the offspring approved or loathed the badge of his service.