ALCOHOLIC LIQUORS: THEIR ESSENTIAL NATURE AND NECESSARY EFFECTS ON THE HUMAN CONSTITUTION
ALCOHOL. is a peculiar combination of Hydrogen, Oxygen and Carbon. It is a compound unknown to Nature, but evolved by art from certain vegetable substances in a peculiar stage of dissolution. The first step toward producing Alcohol is the death of the Grain or Fruit destined to yield it. When the life of any organic substance is destroyed, that substance tends by a law of the universe to decay and dissolution. More accurately, with the cessation of organic life the laws of vitality, by which the peculiar assimilation of elements forming the Grape, the Apple, the berry of Wheat or Rye, was created and sustained, now lose their power over this matter, and the opposite laws of chemical affinity take effect upon it, causing its several constituents to enter into new combinations with each other and with other substances wherewith they are brought in contact by the action of air, water, and otherwise. Thus the Sugar, which, in the form of Starch or Gluten, forms one of the bases of certain Grains and Fruits, is dissolved in an early stage of the process of decay, and, combining with other substances, ferments, or effervesces and enters upon the stage known as that of Vinous Fermentation. In this stage Alcohol is produced, a fiery volatile, nearly transparent liquid, which, imbibed by itself, is a most undoubted and deadly poison to mankind,
[p. 92]as well as to nearly or quite every animal constitution. Had Alcohol been originally and uniformly produced and imbibed independently of other fluids, there can be no question that it would have been recognized and shunned as a bane deadly as any other vegetable poison.
But Alcohol does not manifest itself independently of other substances. The water which forms so large a portion of the Grape, the Apple, the Peach, the Potato, and which must be commingled with the Grains in order to produce the Vinous Fermentation, remains combined with the Alcohol after the fermentation has produced it. Some small portion also of the other constituents of the original organic substance are held in solution or chemical combination by their affinities with the Water or Alcohol, or both united. Indeed, it was not till the ninth century that Alcohol was separated and recognized as a distinct substance by an Arabian chemist. Fermentation has been very generally practised, more or less rudely, front a very early age, and Alcoholic beverages of course produced; and Intoxication just as naturally followed; how or why seems to have been scarcely considered. But the Arabian's discovery induced or blended with the art of Distillation. Thenceforward, Alcoholic Spirits, more or less pure, began to find a place in the bottles of the apothecary, and, in minute quantities, among the physician's prescriptions. It was not till the sixteenth century, however, that Distilled Liquors began to be commonly used as a beverage or stimulant by persons in health.
Distillation is a more potent process, superinduced on Fermentation, rendering its liquid product more fiery, acrid and stimulating. In other words, it is the art of reducing the proportion of Water, &c. and increasing that of Alcohol in a given quantity of the stimulating fluid. Of the earlier stimulants, Ale and Porter contain but one-twenty fifth of Alcohol, and Palm Wine one-twentieth; Cider, Perry, Elder and some of the milder Grape Wines about one-tenth. [It can hardly be necessary here to remark that none of these contain Alcohol nor any principle of Intoxication until they have fermented or 'worked,' as the cider-makers say, and that many if not most of the ancient Wines were drank unfermented. That these were known to the Hebrews by a different word from that used to designate Alcoholic or fermented Wines has been fully shown by recent critical investigations, and the seeming contradiction between those passages of Scripture which mention approvingly and those which severelly condemn Wine, is thus shown to be no contradiction at all. In the one case, a mild, harmless, palatable beverage, 'which cheereth God and man;' in the other a raging 'mocker,' a heating, corrupting, infuriating poison, was indicated. Those who have any doubt on this subject may dissipate it by consulting 'Bacchus,' 'Anti-Bacchus,' E. C. Delavan's essays, and other elaborate treatises in exposition and defence of Total Abstinence.]
The difference between Fermented and Distilled Liquors is one purely of degree. Alcohol, the intoxicating and poisonous quality, is precisely the same in the two, but there is more of it in an equal quantity of the Distilled spirit. While the different kinds of Beer contain from one-twenty-fifth up to one-fourteenth of Alcohol, and the Fermented Grape Wines from one-tenth to one-fourth, the Distilled Liquors known as Brandy, Rum, Gin, &c., are generally a little more than half Alcohol. Sometimes they are reduced for below this standard, by the introduction of Water to increase the seller's profits; but this is very unlikely to diminish their poisonous properties, because the diminution of 'strength' improperly
[p. 93]so called, must be disguised by the infusion of drugs, often as poisonous as Alcohol and sometimes more concentrated Whiskey, for example, generally commands from twenty to twenty-five cents per gallon at wholesale in this City, yet it is known that what passes for Whiskey(and often for Gin, Brandy and Rum as well,) in the lowest haunts of dissipation among us, is so concocted and 'doctored' as to cost its manufacturers but fourteen cents per gallon. The vile and baleful ingredients employed to conceal the infusion of so much water as will reduce the cost per gallon to this standard are such as, if fully exposed, would utterly shock credibility.
They greatly mistake who in this country hope to live longer by drinking Wines or Malt liquors than they would expect to if addicted instead to Distilled Spirits. True, there is less Alcohol in the same quantity of the Fermented beverages, but the same quantity will not content them. Deceive themselves as they may, it is the Alcoholic stimulus that their depraved appetites exact, and, if indulged at all, they will be indulged to the constantly receding point of satisfaction. The single glass of Wine or Beer per day which sufficed at the beginning, will soon be enlarged or repeated. It was enough to start the blood into a gallop yesterday, but falls short to-day, and will not begin to do to-morrow. And, even were the fact otherwise, the Wines and Malt Liquors drank in this country are nearly all so adulterated that drinking them would be fool-hardy, even if those liquids, when pure, were naturally wholesome instead of being the poisons they are known to be. White Lead, Red Lead, (Litharge,) Copperas, Sugar of Lead, Rhatany, Logwood, Alum, Elder-Berries, Opium, Henbane, Quassis, Aloes, Tobacco, Nux Vomica, Oil of Vitriol, Cocculus, Indicus, Grains of Paradise, and even Arsenic, besides many comparatively harmless ingredients, are all in current use among the preparers of Wines, Malt and distilled Liquors for consumption. Few of the Wines drank out of the Wine-producing districts are even comparatively pure, white nine-tenths of the liquids imbibed by the drinkers of this country never smelt of a grape. Even in the Wine-producing districts of France and Germany, there have been formidable and fatal epidemics, raging through a lifetime, caused solely by the adulteration of wines with lead. So with Cider in England and Rum in Jamaica, in the very regions where these beverages were respectively produced. 'Lead Colic' is a well known disease, whereof drinking drugged liquors is the source. The facts here stated do not rest upon anti-Alcoholic authority. In the standard Vintner's Guides, Brewers' Manuals, &c. you will find directions for correcting accidity, producing paleness, clearness, briskness, body, color, head, &c. by the use of the notoriously poisonous substances above enumerated. Sometimes the reader is warned against liquors so drugged, or the practice of using such deadly poisons is condemned and less objectionable substitutes are suggested; but the manufacturers take the hint. British Custom-house returns show indisputably that the use of Nux Vomica, Cocculue, Indicus, &c. has rapidly increased of late in England, as it doubtless has also in this and other civilized countries. Nine-tenths of these poisons are consumed in the form of drugged liquors, and that alone. The British Channel Islands are not subject to the British Tariff of Duties, and are consequently places of deposit for wines destined for British consumption, which the dealers choose to have within easy reach, while they defer the payment of duties as long as practicable. The official returns show
[p. 94]that for every pipe of wine imported into those islands some ten or twelve pipes are in due season exported thence to London. It is the same the world over, save that the farther the liquors are transported the greater is their probable adulteration. In Southern Europe, half the wines consumed may contain no other poison than the Alcohol; but in more Northern countries, it is not probable that one-fourth are thus uncorrupted; while in America not one bottle in ten is free from gross adulteration. Our home-made Whiskey, New Rum, &c. is a little better; our Porter, Ale and other Malt Liquors generally worse. Adulteration with regard to these it the law; purity the exception. Of Liquors ostensibly imported, observing, experienced drinkers habitually observe that they grow worse as you recede from the sea-board, so that the pretended French Brandy, Holland Gin or Jamaica Rum which is a tolerable imitation of the genuine in New-York or Boston, becomes one-fourth Whiskey and drug at Albany to Syracuse, half ditto thence to Buffalo, three-fourths ditto to Chicago and Milwaukee, beyond which points it is difficult to detect the flavor of the genuine article at all. How, while this fact does not necessarily imply the pernicious character of Alcohol, it does show that the use of Alcoholic Liquors is pernicious and perilous. If we waive altogether the proof that Alcohol is essentially a poison, the fact that it is habitually mingled in beverages, with ingredients whose poisonous qualities no man ever disputed, should induce us to let it carefully alone. Partridges are naturally wholesome and savory; but they sometimes eat obnoxious berries which render their flesh a poison. When it is known that some of them have done so to any locality, the eating of Partridges in that locality is at once desisted from by all but the grossly ignorant and stupid; and if it shall ever become a habit with these birds to eat the poisonous berries freely and generally, so that their bodies shall be usually poisonous, who can doubt that their flesh will be generally rejected and uneaten! In nothing else do sensible, moral, intelligent men act so irrationally as when they persist in the habitual use of Alcoholic Liquors.
The first production of Alcoholic Liquids was doubtless accidental--caused by the spontaneous fermentation of Grape-juice, Milk, or Grain, under peculiar circumstances, finally evolving a fiery, transparent fluid. (When we term Alcohol an unnatural product, we simply place it in the same category with carrion, malformations, idiots, &c. which are not produced in the regular and healthy course of Nature, but evidence her defeat and disappointment.) Ten thousand times this phenomenon may have occurred unnoted, before some stern necessity of thirst, faintness, and destitution induced some one to imbibe cautiously of the product, in spite of the reluctance and revolt of the senses. The effect was immediate and palpable--elasticity, energy, courage, invigoration,--the first pair and the apple over again. The depression, prostration, and pain came afterward, and could be forgotten or referred to some other cause. If the first bold experimenter in Alcohol did not choose to repeat the dose, the second, the fifth, or the tenth was doubtless less wise. It crept gradually into use--first as a medicine or wonderful elixir, capable of curing almost any disease; and very soon repaid the confidence reposed in it by creating many new disorders and aggravating those previously known. While it may have been medically employed in some cases with effect, it has unquestionably created a thousand pains where it ever removed one, and caused more deaths than all the medicines on earth have postponed or prevented.
Throw a fierce bloodhound into the cage of a young leopard or tiger, and, although neither ever before saw an animal of the other's species, each instantly, instinctively recognizes the presence of a deadly foe. Each summons every energy for the imminent and deadly encounter, places himself in his best attitude, rallies all his strength; quickens his circulation--'bristles up' as we say; he is more strongly nerved, resolute, formidable now than he was a minute since, precisely because he feels himself confronted by an implacable enemy, before whom to quail is immediate death.
So with the use of Alcohol. A man swallows a glass of Alcoholic Spirits--his first. At once his whole vital economy recognizes the presence of an unnatural intruder--a deadly enemy. The stomach, disturbed in all its functions, says, 'You must not stop here--I cannot digest you'--and throws it off upon the liver, which repels it as peremptorily, and thrusts it toward the heart, which with like emphasis repels it. It is thus hurried from one to another of the vital organs, and repulsed by them all; but the necessity of disposing of it is pressingly imperative, and it is expelled in one way or another--partly through the kidneys, partly through the lungs, and partly through the pores of the skin. Unless the outrage be repeated, a short time sees the enemy banished, but only through an extraordinary exertion, an unnatural activity of all the vital forces. The pulse bounds, the blood gallops, the heart quickens its movements, and even the endangered brain is goaded to unwonted exertion. Of all these exhausting efforts, the mind perceives only the impulse, the exhilaration. The happy neophyte almost walks on air--he feels richer, more generous, and of more consequence than hitherto-- he has a great mind to give somebody a fortune. (The illusive exhalation produced by opium and some other poisons is known to be even more intellectual and etherial than that produced by Alcoholic Liquors.) But all this elevation of spirits is not really created, by the stimulus--it is simply so much vivacity and elation of spirits borrowed at ruinous usury, and of which payment is sure to be demanded to-morrow. To-morrow comes, and the demand with it; but the debauched consciousness fails to attribute the intolerable exhaustion and depression to its real cause. 'When the liquor was present, and potent,' it perversely reasons, 'all was better than usual; but, now that it is gone, I feel horribly.' 'Take more,' chimes in the depraved appetite, and the counsel is deferred to. More is taken, and momentary relief thereby secured, by means which shall necessitate a still more abject prostration on the morrow, which will require a still stronger potion to overcome it. And thus the blind victim goes on, cherishing the adder which daily stings him, and fancying he is revived and upheld by that which is constantly depressing and destroying him.
But it is said that very many drink moderately and guardedly through a long course of years, preserving to old age a sound constitution and vigorous intellect, which could not be the case if the natural effects of Alcoholic Drinks were such as has been depicted.
Now that some men live long in spite of moderate drinking no more proves that practice safe and healthful than the fact that some soldiers who fought through all Napoleon's wars are still alive proves fighting a vocation conducive to longevity. That some persist in drinking, without drinking immoderately, is true; but the natural tendency of drinking at all is, nevertheless, from less to more,
[p. 96]and from more to indisputable excess. There are many vices of which the natural, obvious penalty is not inflicted on every one who commits them, yet no man doubts the connection between the sin and the punishment. Some men steal so moderately and slily that they are never detected by man; yet no one doubts that stealing is a crime, and that every crime meets its proper punishment. That some men drink liquors yet do not die drunkards is true, as it also is that some habitual drunkards live to old age; and yet it is none the less true that drinking leads to drunkenness, and drunkenness shortens life. The laws of the universe are vindicated alike by their usual consequences and the apparent exceptions. There may be men who begin to drink one glass of liquor per day forty years ago, and whom one glass per day still suffices; but if so they are exceptions to a law almost universally vindicated; and it is safe to assume of them that a less amount of self-denial than was requisite to keep their allowance down to one glass per day would have preserved them from drinking at all. And if any moderate drinker of forty year' standing will recall to mind the subsequent career of the fifteen or twenty associates in whose company he began to drink, he will, if well informed and candid, admit that seven-eights of them are now dead, and that full three-fourths, whether now living or dead, have been seriously injured by drinking.
If what has been said of the nature and essential properties of Alcoholic Liquors be correct, there can be no such thing as a temperate or moderate use of them as beverages. No man in the enjoyment of health and vigor can need such beverages, nor innocently imbibe them, whether in large or small quantities. The whole controversy properly hinges on this question--"Is Alcohol naturally a poison to the human constitution!" If the proper answer be Yes, then it can never be innocently and safely inbibed, except where it is medically prescribed as an antidote to some still more dangerous and deadly evil which it is calculated to dislodge. If Alcohol be naturally a poison to man, then there can be no more temperate and innocent use of it as a beverage than temperate forgery, adultery, or murder. Is Alcohol, then, essentially a poison! I have already expressed my own conviction, which is that of the advocates of Total Abstinence generally, I will proceed to quote a very few Medical authorities in support of that conviction. I can not quote one in a hundred, but I affirm that no candid, intelligent adversary will deny that the great mass of the scientific and able writers who have investigated and treated of the subject concur substantially in the views here presented.
Sir Astly Cooper who has no superior as a British Medical authority, observes:
"I never suffer Ardent Spirits in my house, thinking them evil spirits; and if the poor could witness the white livers, the dropsies, the shattered nervous which I have seen, as the consequences of drinking, they would be aware that spirits and poisons are synonymous terms."
Dr. Wm. Beaumont, Surgeon in the U. S. Army, was stationed at Mackinac, Lake Huron, in 1822, when Alexis St. Martin, a robust French Canadian, eighteen years of age, was severely wounded in his side by the accidental discharge of a musket within a yard of him, whereby part of a rib and a large portion of his side were blown off, lacerating one of his lungs and perforating his stomach. His life was nevertheless saved, and the wound was healed but not closed; the
[p. 97]stomach finally forming a sort of fold or overlap, which prevented any exudation of its contents through that orifice, but did not forbid the introduction nor withdrawal of nutritive substances by way of it; nor did such operation occasion any pain. The whole process of digestion was thence observed and experimented upon by Dr. Beaumont, just as plainly as you may observe the working of bees in a glass hive. The time required for the digestion of any substance eaten by St. Martin; the effects of various combinations of food or of different liquids with any one or more of them; the diseases of the stomach and their causes--all were watched and the results noted through a series of years. Dr. Beaumont's book is purely scientific; it has no theory to establish, no party nor school to subserve; it simply details his experiments and observations and draws the obvious deductions therefrom. St. Martin frequently drank Alcoholic Liquors, though not what is called intemperately, and this is Dr. Beaumont's statement of the consequences of such drinking observed by him:
"The mucous membrane of the stomach was covered with inflammatory and ulcerous patches; the secretions were vitiated, and the gastric juice diminished in quantity, and of an unnatural viscidity; yet he described himself as perfectly well and complained of nothing. Two days subsequent to this, the inner membrane of the stomach was unusually morbid, the inflammatory appearance more extensive, the sports more livid than usual; from the surface some of them exuded small drops of grumous blood; the ulcerous patches were larger and more numerous; the mucous covering thicker than usual, and the gastric secretions much more vitinted. The gastric fluids extracted were mixed with a large proportion of thick, ropy mucus, and a considerable muco-purnlent discharge, alightly tinged with blood, resembling discharges from the bowels in some cases of dysentery. Yet, notwithstanding this diseased appearance of the stomach, no very essential aberration of its functions was manifested. St. Martin complained of no symptoms indicating any general derangement of the system, except an uneasy sensation and tenderness at the pit of the stomach, and some vertigo, with dimness and yellowness of vision, on stooping down and rising up again."
Dr. Beaumont farther remarks that
"The free use of Ardent Spirits, Wine, Seer, or any other intoxicating liquors, when continued for some days, has invariably produced these changes..... The use of Ardent Spirits always produces disease of the stomach if persevered in," &c. &c.
Is there on the face of the earth any tangible evidence in conflict with this testimony! I know of none.
Dr. Muzzy, an eminent American physiologist, says:
"That alcohol is a poison to our organization is evident from observation..... What is poison? It is that substance, in whatever form it may be, which, when applied to a living surface, disconcerts life's healthy movements. * * * * Such a poison is Alcohol; such in all its forms, mix it as you may. It is never digested and convened into nourishment."
Dr. Doda, an eminent English physician, being called before a Committee of the House of Commons, testified as follows:
"Writes on Medical Jurisprudence rank Alcohol among narcotic-acrid poisons," of which "small quantities, if repeated, always prove more or less injurious," and that "the morbid appearances even after death occasioned by Ardent Spirits exactly agree with those which result from poisoning caused by any other substance of the same class."
Dr. Dods, is the course of his testimony, farther says:
"The effects of Alcohol on the blood-vessels seems to be two-fold--increased excitement and
[p. 98]contraction in the diameter of the vessels; this tends to produce enlargement in some parts of the blood-vessels, or effasion, should their coats give way at any part of their course. Diseased deposits are frequently farmed where a branch is given off, or in some wider portion of the blood-vessels, which give rise to the most painful symptoms, such as are common in gout or rheumatism."
It would be as easy to multiply quotations of a similar purport--far easier than to refrain. But to keep within the necessary limit of a tract I am compelled to stop here. Let the candid and reasonable drinker say whether he can safely and innocently imbibe Alcoholic beverages in any quantity.
"How is it," asks a doubter, "if Alcohol be so poisonous, that the best doctors often use it in their medical prescriptions!"--The question implies ignorance in the querist that other poisons, and indeed most poisons, are likewise used as medicines, including the most deadly. Mercury, Opium, Nightshade, Hemlock, Arsenic, and even Prussic Acid, are in daily use by the ablest physicians for the cure of human maladies, and, though often abused and misapplied, there can be no doubt that each and all of them may be and are prescribed by the experienced and skillful to remove pain and preserve life. But who thence argues that these articles may be harmlessly and beneficially swallowed by men to health as their own fancy or depraved appetite may prompt! The laws of Health and those of Disease are so different that the foot of a particular substance being useful in certain stages or forms of disease, would rather argue its unfitness to be profusely swallowed in health merely for the sake of a sensual gratification. But I do not press that argument. Suffice it that the fact of Alcohol being sometimes useful as a medicine does not and can not prove that it is innocent as a beverage.
I have aimed to demonstrate the physical evils of Temperate Drinking (as it is improperly called, since no drinking of liquids essentially poisonous, for the sake of a sensual gratification, can be truly Temperate) by other considerations than those connected with Drunkenness. It is very true that he who drinks, however moderately, is in danger of dying a drunkard; bat if there were no such thing as drunkenness it would still be most unwise and culpable to drink. Indeed, it has been forcibly argued that the physical evils of drinking would be greater if Drunkenness were unknown. Inebriety dethrones the reason, often making of a naturally inoffensive, good-natured man, a furious, raging fiend; but it does not originate the mischief--it rather serves to expel and finish it. It is the demoniac spirit tearing his victim because commanded to come out of him. Thousands die prematurely every year in consequence of drinking who never were thoroughly drunk in their lives. One man drinks three glasses and loses his reason; another drinks six, or even ten, and seems wholly unaffected. Men say of the latter, "He has a strong head;" and cigar-puffing, wine-bibbing youngsters are apt to envy him; yet he is far more likely to die in consequence of drinking than his neighbor whom three glasses knock over. The former retains the poison in his system, and it silently preys upon him: in the latter, Nature, revolted at the deadly potion, makes a convulsive effort and throws it off. He is damaged by the liquor, but not by its ejectment, whatever he may fancy. Intoxication is a kindly though ungentle ministration whose object is relief and recovery. Drinking is not evil because it produces Intoxication, but Intoxication is ordained to limit the physical evils of Drinking. Let no free drinker, therefore, glory in his
[p. 99]ability to drink much without Intoxication; for, in the natural course of events, he will need his coffin much sooner than if liquor easily overcame him.
If the propositions affirmed in this essay be true, how can any youth read them and yet become or continue a drinker of Alcoholic Liquors! Banish, if you can, all thought of God and His judgments--forget or deny your immortality--deride the idea of restricting or qualifying your own gratification for the sake of kindred, friends, country, or race--regard yourself merely as an animal that has happened here to sport a brief summer, then utterly perish--and still is it not a palpable mistake to drink anything that intoxicates! Why should it intoxicate if it be not essentially a poison! Is there any other substance claimed to be innocent and wholesome in moderate quantities which drowns the reason if the amount taken be increased! Why seek enjoyment in such a perilous and dubious way--a path paved with the bones of millions after millions who have fallen in pursuing it-- when innocent and healthful pleasures eveywhere surround and invite you! Lived there ever a human being who regretted at death that he had through life refrained from the use of stimulating drinks! And how countless the millions who have with reason deplored such use, as the primary, fatal mistake of their lives! Surely, from the radiant heavens above us, from the dust once quickened beneath us, comes to the attentive ear a voice which impressively admonishes, BY WISE WHILE IT IS CALLED TO-DAY.
It is regretted that the name of the author, the Hon. HORACE GREELEY, through mistake, has been omitted at the head of this article, in part of this edition.
[NOTE-The writer does not pretend to know anything on the subject of Temperance which others have not known und well said before him. He acknowledges his obligations for ideas herein presented to Sylvester Graham, Rev. B. Parsons, and several others, beside those he has expressly quoted in the foregoing pages.]