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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 36

An Inbred Enemy

An Inbred Enemy.

There is an old proverb which says that "What is bred in the bone will never come out of the flesh." The proverb is not quite correct anatomically. It should have said, "What is bred in the brain will never come out of the flesh." Even then it would be imperfect, physiologically, and should read, "What is bred in the brain will never come out of the flesh in one generation." The proverb, with all its faults, is impressive and expressive. It tells correctly enough that those sins which are engrafted into men are not readily eradicated. In this question of alcohol and the errors of life and taste depending upon it, the saying is signally correct. In communities which take wine, as a general custom, there exists a system of breeding the custom, which is not dispelled in one, nor completely in two, generations. This is a peculiarity of the action of alcohol on the nervous organisation, or on that essence of nervous organisation subtler than the mere nerve-matter into which the impressions are instilled, that the impression it makes remains, and is transmitted, like feature, and taste, and disease, from the parent to the child. Of the nature of the inscrutable design, by which attributes and faculties, evil as good and good as evil, pass from the born to the unborn, I protend to know nothing beyond the fact. But to mo it always seems, as I think it must to you, one of the most solemn passages of human knowledge. To know that even in this world we none of us ever die. That our acts, our virtues, our failures, our physical conditions, appetites, passions, pass on to other generations. That the forms we mould ourselves to by acts original to ourselves, pass on to other generations. That habits and passions we subdue in ourselves are subdued, as far as we are concerned, in other generations that spring from us.

Therefore, in relation to the influence of this destroying agent, alcohol, one of the primary reasons for its continued use is that the desire, or appetite, or passion, for it has been transmitted to us by our predecessors. If there were no such foundation of appetite and passion for it, any one of the arguments against it to which I have adverted were sufficient to destroy its potency. With such foundation all the arguments, and as many mere equally cogent, were of no direct avail with the masses that are influenced.

Happily the virtues are transmitted not less readily than the errors of mankind j and so in considering this primary cause of the continued power of the destroyer we are not driven as men without hope to doubt our efforts for the destruction of the power. Our efforts, in every page 7 instance where they succeed in the present, are multiplied so many times into the future, that a generation or two will plant a new order, and make what is to us the most difficult portion of our labour the easiest part of the future emancipation.

In every effort it is always best to look the gravest difficulty first in the face; and I put this difficulty in view at once, that all may see and detect for themselves the mode of removing it. Detect that its removal is certain, and some day rapid, if the course of reformation be steadfastly pursued: detect also that patience is necessary, and that time spent is not time lost, but is time employed, in the most useful way, for securing the harvest of good results, the success that will assuredly follow.