Intemperance and Its Remedy.By Norman S. Kerr, M.D., F.L.S.
London: W. Tweedie & Co. (Limited), 337, Strand. 1877.page break
London: Barrett, Sons and Co., Printers, Seething Lane.
Intemperance and its Remedy.*
"Made choice to rear
His mighty champion, strong above compare,
Whose drink was only from the limpid brook."
It is also mainly through the alcoholic vitiation of the blood that the greater part of the rheumatism and gout which so afflict our population is induced. And I refer to all classes when I make this statement. These two diseases are to be met with as generally amongst the poor as amongst the rich, and I have rarely found them disassociated from the regular drinking of beer, porter, or wine. There is but one cure for all forms of alcoholic rheumatism and gout, and that is total abstinence. Where the disease has existed so long, and the system has become so depraved that a perfect cure is hopeless, still abstinence will alleviate the discomfort and lessen the distress. In 1,540 cases of gout that have fallen to my lot, only one was in the person of a life abstainer, and he inherited the disease as a legacy from his port wine-loving ancestors. The impoverishment and vitiation of the blood lead to the building up of a badly-nourished and weakly frame quite unfitted to withstand, without serious damage, the wear-and-tear of modern civilised life. Every organ in the body is supplied with deficient nourishment, every tissue is deteriorated by the constant and regular use of alcohol even in quantities far short of drunkenness. But, though every part suffers, some organs are more liable to be affected than others. Alcohol has a special affinity for the liver and the brain, and the continued and repeated irritation and congestion of the structure of both these organs leads in the long run to serious functional and organic disease. The heart, however, is perhaps the first sufferer, and certainly has to bear the brunt of the alcoholic attack. The result of well-authenticated experiments shows that the drinking of two glasses of port or sherry in a period of twenty-four hours compels the heart to undergo additional work equivalent to the person having to lift 3 ½ tons one foot high, and even one glass of wine daily causes an excess of four per cent, in the number of the heart's pulsations. Is it not reasonable to conclude, then, that some disease of the heart or blood-vessels must eventually result from a continuous daily over-action such as so limited an allowance of alcohol involves if spread over a lengthened series of years? In addition to the disease induced by constant and persistent overwork, alcohol is a very common cause, indeed the most common cause, of that very frequent affection known as fatty degeneration of the heart, and I have been able to trace three-fourths of all my cases of chronic disease of the heart, whether functional or organic, either to the alcoholic degeneration of tissue, or to the effect of alcoholic overaction, or to both causes combined. I am constantly meeting with cases where young persons have been promaturely, though gradually, cut off by alcoholic page 7 poisoning, one of the most recent being a man whom I found dead in bed, and whose body I found to be a mass of alcoholic fatty degeneration of the muscular tissue. Though only thirty-seven, and though his friends testified that he never was known to be drunk, the verdict of the coroner's jury was "death from alcoholic poisoning." But all these disastrous results put together are as nothing compared with the long array of mental and moral evils which flow from the narcotic action of alcohol on the brain and nervous system.
"Inflaming wine, pernicious to mankind,
Unnerves the limbs, and dulls the noble mind."
Alcohol is, in fact, an anaesthetic, or nerve-paralyser, and the flush that one feels overspread the face immediately after the ingestion of the smallest quantity that will produce this effect on any particular person, is but the first symptom of the paralysis of the vasomotor nerves, and is of the same nature, though greatly less in degree, as the complete paralysis of unconscious and comatose drunkenness. The soothing, comforting sensation consequent on the swallowing of a single glass of wine is, from a scientific point of view, a part of the same physiological effect as is the oblivion in which many drinkers are accustomed to temporarily drown their griefs and cares. And it is this lulling of the senses by the paralysis of brain and nerve that renders the habit of drinking and the downward tendency to more frequent and deeper potations so insidious and dangerous. The restraints of public and social opinion, the hallowed charm of the family circle, and the sacred influence of spiritual considerations guard most of us, by God's grace, from yielding to the narcotic and benumbing fascinations of alcohol, but the number of the victims of both sexes, in all ranks and conditions of life, alike amongst the learned and the unlearned, the accomplished and the ignorant, who have fallen a prey to this "tricksy spirit," attests but too truly the power of this most deadly and subtile poison. After careful investigation, I am satisfied that at least 100,000 are slain directly by intemperance every year in Britain. Mental and moral obliquity, irritable temper, the most brutal crimes, and the most drivelling, as well as the most uncontrollable, insanity are all forms of mental and moral perversion arising from the use of alcohol, and all these evils are wrought mainly through the narcotic and paralysing influence of alcohol on the brain and nervous system. Bear this in mind, and the only radical and effectual remedy is not far to seek. There is but one way to prevent drunkenness, and that is to cease drinking altogether. Let the members page 8 of the Christian Church become abstainers in a body, and no longer uphold the respectability of the habit of ordinary drinking by the ægis of their example; and let, at the same time, the Permissive Bill, or any other efficient method of removing public temptations to drinking, be put in force, and a blow will be dealt at the present rampant power of the whole liquor influence which will lay the tyrant Alcohol low, and stay his destroying ravages on the Church and the nation. And no one need have any hesitation in adopting the practice of total abstinence on the score of health. Many a learned volume has been written on the diseases produced by drinking and drunkenness, as many as forty different ailments having been described by different authors as arising from the use of alcohol; but I have never yet heard of any disease described by any medical author as arising from the practice of total abstinence. All the vital statistics I have been able to procure, whether of insurance societies, sick clubs, or various services—military, naval, and civil—unmistakably bear witness to the fact that deaths and cases of disease amongst drunkards are four times as numerous, and amongst moderate or careful drinkers twice as numerous as the deaths and cases of disease amongst water-drinkers in the same circumstances. I regret to be compelled to say, what I have already stated to medical audiences, that many clergymen and others desirous of throwing in their lot with the abstinence movement have been prevented from so doing only by medical advice, and I therefore feel called upon to record my deliberate opinion that you are just as able as any medical man to judge of the healthful-ness or the contrary of the practice of abstinence. The commonest plea on which good men are generally deterred from taking the "cold-water plunge," is that of a weak heart. How often have I been told, "My doctor tells me I have a weak heart, and I am liable at any moment to fall down and die; and I cannot do without some spirits-and-water." Well, I have already spoken of the tremendous extra labour imposed on the heart by even very small quantities of alcohol, and I put it to you as men and women of common-sense, if the frequent resort to an agent which greatly increases the heart's work can by any possibility be good for that organ, especially when in a weak and enfeebled state. The truth is, that if a heart be weak it should not be subjected to the influence of an agent which will give it more to do, but it ought to be treated as if it were really weak—viz., by rest, freedom from excitement, and non-stimulating and nourishing food. By these means—and by these means alone—even a very weak heart can be kept in a tolerably healthy and serviceable state. And if at any time the heart's page 9 action suddenly flag, I have verified from a not inconsiderable experience that Liebig's extract of meat and Brand's essence of beef, with external warmth, are generally as efficient as, and are decidedly less dangerous than, brandy or any other alcoholic liquid. For those, and I know more than one clergyman who is in this predicament, who feel that they cannot go about with comfort unless they carry in their pocket some cardiac stimulant against an emergency, I am in the habit of recommending a pocket pistol of carbonate of ammonia in camphor water, and I have not yet found reason to regret the advice. We all have weak hearts, and we are all liable to fall down dead at any moment, but let me distinctly state to any sufferers from even organic disease of the heart, that, other things being equal, they will in all probability feel better, physically enjoy life more, and live longer on water than on alcohol and water; while if, as is generally the truth in such cases, the disturbance is functional and not organic, the most of their distressing symptoms will vanish ere they have long foresworn the deceptive anaesthetic. (Several cases were here given, showing the marked improvement in both young and old, suffering from heart disease, following the adoption of total abstinence.) Alcohol, even when in times of bodily and mental weariness it gives a feeling of relief, is but a broken reed after all. To the weary it imparts no strength, to the worn it supplies no real comfort. All that it does is, through its anaesthetic action, to disguise the true state of affairs, and to blunt our sensations of languor and of worry; but, as far as any real strength of body or mind is concerned, the promises of this physical arch-deceiver are nothing but a mockery, a delusion, and a snare. It draws imprudently from the stock of strength and force which ought to be reserved for the emergencies of life, and physiological bankruptcy is but too often the fatal result. (The speaker here stated that three winters ago he was ordered by high medical authority to take certain definite doses of alcohol when worn out and threatened with overpowering pain in the region of the heart. The alcohol, acting as an anaesthetic, warded off the attacks for the moment, but the consequence was that, ere the winter was half over, he was taken suddenly and alarmingly ill, and was quite prostrated. He had become physiologically bankrupt, and narrowly escaped with his life. Since his recovery he had used no alcohol, and had accomplished nearly three times the former amount of professional work, with frequent public efforts in addition, and had not broken down yet while confining his potations to such nourishing and innocent beverages as milk, chocolate, and the only wine worthy of the name, and that page 10 could with any propriety be called "a good creature of God"—unfer-mented and unintoxicating wine). Even in extraordinary circumstances of mental and bodily exhaustion, and when the jaded intellectual worker loathes the very sight of food, alcohol affords no speedier temporary relief than extract of meat, soups, coffee, or other liquid foods, while these latter are free from any dangerous sequela). In the Ashantee Expedition, those who took coffee before the evening meal rose next day less languid and with less headache than those who took rum; but the men who regaled themselves with meat extract, though they found their refresher not quite so pleasing to the palate, awoke with no headache, and stepped out like true British soldiers, clear in head and light in heart, and
"Like to prove most sinewy swordmen."
And then there is the lurking danger in the alcoholic pick-me-up. To no one is a resort to alcohol, in mental or bodily exhaustion, more dangerous than to the brain-worker. "The mind attuned to highest flights of thought" is the most susceptible to the narcotic influence of nerve poisons, and thus amongst the most abandoned of drunkards have been men of the most refined natures and the most cultivated intellects. The fate of Pitt, Sheridan, and Porson shows how utterly unavailing are the defences raised by the loftiest aspirations, the keenest wit, and the most profound learning—
"Boundless intemperance in nature is a tyranny;
It hath been the untimely emptying of the happy throne,
And fall of many kings."
"She knelt before her mother's feet, And
prayed, with folded hands to God."
I thoroughly approve of, and heartily co-operate with, the Association lately formed to ask for compulsory powers from Parliament for the seclusion and detention of habitual drunkards, and I trust that our efforts will ere long be successful; but all the victims we could, by a legal enactment, deprive temporarily of their liberty, form but a comparatively small proportion of the slaves to intemperance. With God all things are possible, but He works through human means, and, so far as our present knowledge and experience go, there is but one remedy which, with Divine aid, will cure the drunkard, and that is the page 12 remedy of total abstinence. The victim must abstain entirely, and his wife, family, friends, and acquaintances must do so too, or he will not have a fair chance of reformation. But this is not enough. The Russian cannonade that mowed down "our noble six hundred" at Balaclava was directed by an enemy, an open, honest, and valiant foe; but the British Government, which ought to be the friend and protector of all its subjects, has planted, more thickly than the guns on the Russian heights, licensed mantraps on every hand to tempt and seduce to their former living death all of our own six hundred thousand drunkards who have, so far, successfully run the gauntlet of the murderous and destroying liquor batteries. To succeed in the prevention and cure of all drunkenness, habitual and occasional, you must spike the guns by total and immediate prohibition, or by that justest, fairest, and most practical of all the measures at present before Parliament—the Permissive Bill. The public-houses can be shut up and the liquor-traffic can be suppressed, as I well know from ten years' happy experience in the birthplace of the Maine Law—the State of Maine, once the most drunken, now the most sober State in the American Union. Much nonsense has been talked about the Maine Law by flying travellers who have passed but a few hours in Maine, but I here publicly declare, as I have repeatedly done before, and dare anyone who has a real acquaintance with the State to contradict me, that this law is now as well carried out as any other law in this now classic State. My most intimate friend and host in America was our distinguished representative, Mr. Consul Murray, who has been frequently, though wrongly, quoted, as stating that the Maine Law was a failure; and his very last official report to the Foreign Office bears ample testimony to the wondrous success of prohibitory legislation over five-sixths of that portion of the American continent within the consular jurisdiction of my old and valued friend. To all who desire to aid in that arduous yet Christ-like work, the reformation of the intemperate, let me earnestly appeal to openly take the pledge of total abstinence, not as a badge of craven servitude, but as an emblem of true freedom, not as a weakness to be ashamed of but a strength to be thankful for, not the manacle of a slave but the sign-manual of a conqueror. For years did I endeavour to haste to the rescue of strong drink's victims, but all my efforts were fruitless and my soul was faint within me till, challenged by a drunkard to the step I was urgently pressing upon him, I took the pledge, and now, thank God, I daily meet with those in whose redemption from this hideous bondage lie has honoured me with some little part. Faith- page 13 fulness to my own conscience, and to the great cause whose claims we are met to advocate, will not allow of the concealment of the fact that I dare not send a drunkard, for aid or advice in his struggle to emancipate himself from the fetters with which he is bound, to any one who is not a personal abstainer. I have seen most disastrous results follow from the adoption of such a course, and painful experience has taught me that it would be safer by far to send such an erring one to a fellow, drunkard, who would be but a beacon to avoid, while the moderate drinker, however sincere and pious he .may be, sets an example which the struggling victim, humanly speaking, has little hope of being able to follow, try he ever so hard. And I would be sadly wanting in the discharge of my duty were I to omit the declaration of my firm conviction, a conviction shared by all medical practitioners who have had experience in the treatment of the intemperate, that in no circumstances whatever, secular or sacred, in health or in disease (unless, it may be, in a state of unconsciousness), can a reformed drunkard ever safely taste of the intoxicating draught. The grace of God alone can enable such to stand fast in any circumstances, and to no penitent is the prayer "lead us not into temptation" more vital, this sin ever leaving a sting behind; the rescued inebriate, physically speaking,
"Bearing away the wound that never healeth,
The scar that will, in spite of cure, remain."
This particular branch of the temperance question I bring forward, not so much for public discussion as for private, personal, prayerful consideration, and I do most solemnly and affectionately ask of you, when alone with God, to think over the names of all your acquaintances, and see whether there be one drunkard, or one in danger of becoming such; and if there be but one I do most earnestly implore you, in the name of our common Master, to ask yourself this question, "Am I setting this falling brother a perfectly safe example?" I have asked myself this question, and the result is that while, as a practical physician and a scientific observer, I am bound to declare any use of alcoholic liquors as beverages to be, in a state of health, not only unnecessary and useless, but also questionable and unsafe, I am not ashamed to confess that, as a professing Christian, bought with a price, I dare now no more drink a social glass of wine than I dare frequent a gambling-house or patronise a racecourse—all these practices, whatever the abstract innocence of the amusements, being, in this our day and generation, fraught with eternal danger to vast multitudes.page 14
'Christian, Christ for thee has died,
And for thy brother too.
See that his soul no woe betide
Through thoughtlessness in you.
Look upon yonder drunken slave,
Fettered in thought and limb,
Whose hopes lie only in the grave:
Go thou and ransom him.'
Such are my views as a physician on the great and growing intemperance of our land. Alcoholic liquor is quite unnecessary to man in a state of health, and all such beverages, in exact proportion to the quantity of alcohol they contain, and the physical capacity of the drinker to resist its poisoning influence, are neither more nor less than disturbers, or poisons. When taken in a large dose, they may quickly destroy life, like any other active poison; they may also destroy life more slowly, though not less surely, when taken in small and constantly-repeated quantities; and even when they do not directly cause death, they may so deteriorate the vital organs and lower the tone of the whole system as to induce various chronic disorders and render the body an easy prey to acute disease which might otherwise have been shaken off with impunity. To such conclusions was I compelled to come more than twenty years ago, when I had the honour of giving public utterance to them, and every day's experience and observation since have confirmed their soundness. Like chloroform, aconite, opium, and other deadly poisons, alcohol may be occasionally useful in medicine, though even here it has been mainly in emergencies that I have seen any benefit accrue from its administration—all the liquor I have thus prescribed during my entire professional career not amounting to as much as would fill a half-pint bottle; but on no scientific or physiological ground can I see the slightest excuse for its ordinary use. You may be aware of some occult spiritual good to be derived from a limited indulgence in alcohol which may outweigh the physical, mental, and moral evil we have seen resulting from its poisonous action on the brain and nervous centres; but, unless you can adduce proof of such counterbalancing advantages, it seems to me that there is but one course open to Christians of every denomination, and that is, to separate themselves altogether from the unclean thing. If we abstain and do all in our power to discountenance the ordinary drinking usages, great good will follow; but so long as we allow licensed public temptations to drinking, the complete cure and prevention of page 15 drunkenness will be an impossible task. Moral suasion, followed up by legal prohibition, will by God's grace prove a prompt and effectual remedy. The clerical and medical professions have, between them, an unlimited power for good in the deformation of the physical, moral, and social habits of the community at large; and let us all earnestly pray that the present increasing interest which the existence of the widespread intemperance around us is arousing in the Church of Christ will never slacken, but go on till it permeate all the Christians and true patriots amongst us with an earnest and irrepressible determination to search out every cause of this appalling evil, and adopt every suitable and lawful means of arresting, and, if possible, abolishing this common foe of our Church, our country, and our race.
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* Read at a meeting in the Pavilion, at Eastbourne, June 13; the Bishop of Chichester in the chair.