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Like certain poison plants, the stimulant habit flourishes best in a sickly soil. Whatever tends to undermine the stamina of the physical or moral constitution, helps to prepare the way for an inroad of intemperance, by weakening the resistance of the protective instincts. Hence the notorious fact that gambling-dens and houses of ill-fame are rank hot-beds of the alcohol-vice.
Asceticism has not yet ceased to be an indirect obstacle to the success of temperance reform. The children of Nature need no special holidays; to them life itself is a festival of manifold sports. Hunting, fishing, and other pursuits of primitive nations become the pastimes of later ages. For the abnormal conditions of civilized life imply the necessity of providing special means of recreation, out-door sports, competitive gymnastics, etc., in order to satisfy the craving of an importunate instinct; and too many social reformers have as yet failed to recognize the truth, that the suppression of that instinct avenges itself by its perversion, by driving pleasure-seekers from the playground to the pot-house, as despotism has turned freemen into bandits and outlaws. “Every one who considers the world as it really exists," says Lecky, “must have convinced himself that in great towns, where multitudes of men of all classes and all characters are massed together, and where there are innumerable strangers, separated from all domestic ties and occupations, public amusements of an exciting order are absolutely necessary, and that to suppress them is simply to plunge an immense portion of the population into the lowest depths of vice.” (Appendix II.)
“I am a great friend to public amusements,” says Boswell's Johnson, "for they keep people from vice.” A home missionary in the character of a promoter of harmless recreations would double the popularity of our tenets, and, by vindicating our people against the charge of joy-hating bigotry, deprive our opponents of their most effective weapon. The free reading-rooms and gymnasiums of the New York Young Men's Associations have done more to promote the cause of temperance than the man-hunts of Sir Hudibras and all his disciples. We must change our tactics. While our anchorite allies have contrived to make virtue repulsive, our opponents have proved themselves consummáte masters of the art of masking the ugliness of vice; they have strewn their path with roses, and left us the thorns. Yet I hope to show that we can beat them upon their own ground, for it is not difficult to make health more attractive than disease.
But the most obstinate obstacle to a successful propagation of total abstinence principles is the drug fallacy, a delusion founded on precisely the same error which leads the dram-drinker to mistake a process of irritation for a process of invigoration. During the infancy of the healing art all medical theories were biased by the idea that sickness is an enemy whose attacks must be repulsed à main forte, by suppressing the symptoms with fire, sword, and poison—not in the figurative but in the literal sense—the keystone dogma of the primitive Sangrados having been the following heroic maxim:“What drugs won't cure, must be cured with iron” (the lancet); “if that fails, resort to fire.” (Quod medicamenta non curant ferrum curat, quod
non curat ferram ignis curat.) But with the progress of the physiological sciences the conviction gradually gained ground that disease itself is a reconstructive process, and that the suppression of the symptoms retards the accomplishment of that reconstruction. And ever since that truth dawned upon the human mind the use of poison drugs has steadily decreased. A larger and larger number of intelligent physicians had begun to suspect that the true healing art consists in the removal of the cause, and that where diseases have been caused by unnatural habits, the reform of those habits is a better plan than the old counter-poison method; when homeopathy proved practically (though not theoretically) that medication can be entirely dispensed with. The true effect of the more virulent drugs (opium, tartar emetic, arsenic, etc.) was then studied from a physiological standpoint, and experiments proved what the medical philosopher Asclepiades conjectured eighteen hundred years ago, namely, that if a drugged patient recovers, the true explanation is that his constitution was strong enough to overcome both the disease and the drug. Bichat, Schrodt, Magendie, Alcott, R. T. Trall, Isaac Jennings, and Dio Lewis arrived at the conclusion that every disease is a protest of Nature against some violation of her laws, and that the suppression of the symptoms means to silence that protest instead of removing its cause; so that we might as well try to extinguish a fire by silencing the fire-bells, or to cure the sleepiness of a weary child by pinching its eyelids—in short, that drastic drugs, instead of “breaking up” a disease, merely interrupt it, and lessen the chance of a radical cure.
Are there reasons to suppose that alcohol, or any other poison, makes an exception from that general rule? We must reject the idea in toto, and I hope to show that it is refuted :
1. By the testimony of our instincts.
3. By the direct or indirect concessions of the ablest physiologists.
Our instincts protest against medication. Against ninety-nine of a hundred “remedial drugs” our sense of taste warns us as urgently as against rotten eggs, verdigris, or oil of vitriol. Shall we believe that Nature repudiates the means of salvation ? or that our protective instincts forsake us in the hour of our sorest need—in the hour of our struggle with a lifeendangering disease? And the same instincts that protest against other poisons warn us against all kinds of alcoholic drugs. Is it an exception to that rule that the depraved taste of a drunkard may relish a glass of medicated wine, or a bottle of “Hostetter's Bitters” (rye brandy)? If it is certain beyond all limits of doubt that the health of the stoutest man is no safeguard against the bane of the wretched poison, shall we believe that he can encounter it with impunity when his vital strength is exhausted by disease ?
Has the stimulus of alcoholic beverages any remedial or prophylactic effect? How does alcohol counteract the contagion of climatic fevers? In precisely the same way as those fevers arrest, or rather suspend, the progress of other disorders. The vital process can not compromise with two diseases at the same time. A fit of gastric spasms interrupts a toothache. A toothache relieves a sick headache. The severest cold in the head temporarily yields to an attack of small-pox. Temporarily, I say, for the ap parent relief is only a postponement of an interrupted process. During the progress of the alcohol fever (the feverish activity of the organism in its effort to rid itself of a life-endangering poison) Nature has to suspend her operations against a less dangerous foe. But each repetition of that factitious fever is followed by a reaction that suspends the prophylactic effect of the stimulus, and sooner or later the total exhaustion of the vital energies not only leaves the system at the mercy of the original foe, but far less able to resist his attacks. “There is but one appalling conclusion to be deduced from hospital records, medical statistics, and the vast array of facts which bear upon the subject,” says Prof. Youmans; “it is, that among no class of society are the ravages of contagious diseases so wide-spread and deadly as among those who are addicted to the use of alcoholic beverages.”
Is alcohol a digestive tonic ? Can we cure an indigestion by the most indigestible of all chemical products ! If a starving man drops by the roadside, we may get him on his legs by drenching him with a pailful of vitriol, but after rushing ahead for a few hundred steps he will drop again, more helpless than before, by just as much as the brutal stimulus has still further exhausted his little remaining strength. Thus alcohol excites, and eventually tenfold exhausts, the vigor of the digestive system. We can not bully Nature. We can not silence her protests by a fresh provocation. Fevers can be cured by refrigeration;