Sisterly Discourse with John's Wife Concerning John,
The Family Purse,
The Parable of the Rich Woman and the Farmer's Wife,
Little Things that are Trifles,
A Mistake on John's Part,
Must-haves and May-bes,
What Good Will It Do?
Shall I Pass It On?
"Only Her Nerves,"
The Rule of Two,
The Perfect Work of Patience,
According to His Folly,
Is Marriage Reformatory?
And Other Relations-in-Law,
A Timid Word for the Step-mother,
Children as Helpers,
Children as Burden-bearers,
Our Young Person,
Getting Along in Years,
The Gospel of Conventionalities,
Familiar, or Intimate?
Cheerfulness as a Christian Duty,
The Family Invalid,
A Temperance Talk,
A Parting Word for Boy,
Homely, But Important,
A TEMPERANCE TALK.
(Frank and Personal.)
A correspondent sends me, under cover of a personal letter, this request:
"Will Marion Harland show her hand upon the temperance question? The occasional mention of wine, brandy, etc., in her cookery-books, and her silence upon a subject of such vital moment to humanity, may predispose many to doubt her soundness as to the apostle's injunction to be 'temperate in all things.'"
To clear decks for action, I observe that the text quoted by my catechist contains no "injunction" but an impersonal statement of the truth that "Every man that striveth for the mastery" (or in the games) "is temperate in all things." The apostle is likening the running and wrestling of the Olympic games to the Christian warfare, and throws in the pregnant reminder that he who is training for race or fight must, as he says elsewhere, "Keep his body under." The same rules hold good with the athlete of to-day. While training, he neither drinks strong liquors nor smokes.
The stringency of the regulation, I interject in passing, is a powerful argument laid ready to the hand of the advocates of total abstinence. A habit that so far injures the physical powers as to tell upon the action of heart, brains, lungs or muscles, must be an evil to any human being, however healthy.
The Chief Apostle, in another place, admonishes his neophytes to let their "moderation" be known of all men. The revised version translates the word "forbearance" or "gentleness." We will try to keep both texts in mind during the informal homily that is the outcome of the question put to my surprised self.
"Surprised," because in the course of thirty-odd years of literary life I have had so many opportunities of "showing my hand" upon this and other great moral issues, and have improved them so diligently that my readers should by now be tolerably familiar with the platform on which I stand. Not being a card player, and knowing absolutely nothing of the technicalities of the game, I am at a loss whether or not to look for an implication of underhand work in the phrase chosen by the inquisitor. If she means that I have kept aught back which that part of the reading public that does me the honor to be interested in my work has a right to know, I hope in the course of this paper to disabuse her mind of the impression.
As a means to this end, I wish to put upon record disapproval that amounts to detestation of the practice of drinking anything that, in the words of the old temperance pledge I "took" when a child, "will make drunk come." That was the way it ran. The Rev. Thomas P. Hunt, one of the best known temperance lecturers in America, used to make us stand up in a body and chant it, he keeping time with head and hand, and the boys imitating him.
"We do not think We'll ever drink Brandy or rum, Or anything that makes drunk come"
I have never changed my mind on that head. What I thought then, I know now, that for half a century I have seen what desolation drunkenness has wrought in our land. I never see a boy toss off his "cocktail," or "cobbler", or "sling," or by whatever other name the devil's brew is disguised, with the mannish, knowing air that proves him to be as weak as water, when he would have you think him strong as--fusel oil!--that I do not recall the vehement outburst in Mrs. Mulock-Craik's "A Life for a Life," of the old clergyman whose only son had filled a drunkard's grave:
"If I had a son, and he liked wine, as a child does, perhaps--a pretty little boy, sitting at table and drinking healths at birthdays; or a schoolboy, proud to do what he sees his father doing--I would take his glass from him, and fill it with poison--deadly poison--that he might kill himself at once, rather than grow up to be his friends' curse and his own damnation--a drunkard!"
I lack words in which to express my contempt for the petty ambition, rooted and grounded in vanity, that urges a young fellow to prove the steadiness of his brain by tippling what he does not want, or even like. For not one in fifty of those who take "nips" and "coolers," cared for the taste of the perilous stuff at the first or twentieth trial. He proved himself a man, one of the stronger parts of creation, by pouring liquid fire down his quailing throat until he could do so without winking. He swears and smokes cigarettes at street corners for the same reason.
"I love a dog!" exclaimed a lively young girl, patting a big St. Bernard.
"Would I were a dog!" sighed an amorous dude.
"Oh, you'll grow!" retorted the fair one, consolingly.
I feel like plagiarizing the saucy hit, in witnessing the desperate efforts aforementioned on the part of our mistaken boy. Sometimes (let us thank a merciful heaven that this is so!) he does grow out of the folly, and into manly self-contempt at the recollection of it. Often--ah!--the pity and the shame of it!
If somebody were to make it fashionable to take belladonna, aconite or prussic acid in "safe" doses, three, or six, or a dozen times a day in defiance of all the medical science in the world, the would-be man would never be content until he had overcome natural repugnance to the "bitters," and rate himself as so much higher in the scale of being by the length of time his constitution could hold out against the deadly effect of the potation--plume himself upon his superiority to men who killed themselves by taking a like quantity. To drink one glass of wine or spirits a day is to venture upon thin ice; when the one glass has become the three that our boy must have, it is but a question of time how soon the treacherous crust will give way.
Clearly, then--so clearly that it is difficult to see how anybody, however blinded by self-conceit, can fail to perceive it--the only safe thing is to let liquor as a beverage alone. The practice is, at the best, like kindling the kitchen fire every morning with kerosene. Insurance agents are slow to take risks upon property where this is the rule.
Nobody is so besotted as to ask, "Does dram-drinking pay?" There is not a sane man or woman in America who would hesitate in the reply, and the answers would all be the same.
If he is a fool who tempts the approach of appetite that may--that does in seventy-five times out of one hundred--become deadly and incurable disease, what shall we say of the "strong head" that espies no sin in social convivialities with the weak brother? Let me tell one or two stories of the score that rush upon my memory with the approach to this part of my subject.
Forty years ago I sat down to the dinner-table of a man who stood high in the community and church. He was a liberal liver, as his father had been before him. That father had taken his toddy tri-daily for seventy years, and died in the odor of sanctity. They could do such things in that day, and never transcend the three-glass limit. My godly grandfather did the same, and was never one whit the worse for liquor in his life. Their sons and grandsons cannot do it without ruining themselves, body and soul.
I italicize the sentence. I wish I could write it in letters of fire over the door of every liquor saloon.
It may be the climate; it may be the high-pressure, fever-heated rate of modern living; it may as well be that those honest men who made their own apple whiskey and peach brandy, by their daily dram-drinking transmitted the taste which adulterated liquors, in the generation following, were to lash into uncontrollable appetite.
But to my story. My father, one of the first in his day to set the example of total abstinence "for his brethren and companions' sake," had spoke repeatedly in my presence of the harm done by social drinking, and what influence women could exert for or against the custom. So I declined wine upon general principles when it was offered by the courtly host. No verbal comment was made upon my singular conduct, but the pert fifteen-year-old son of the house took occasion to drink my health with a dumb grimace, and beckoned the butler audaciously to fill up his glass, and a distinguished clergyman, whose parishioner the host was, looked polite astonishment across the table at the girl who dared. He took his wine gracefully--pointedly, it seemed to me--an example imitated by his curate, a much younger man. When we returned to the drawing-room, the master of the house sought me out, and began to rally me upon the attentions of a young man in the company to myself, in such a fashion that my cheeks flushed hotly with indignant astonishment. Lifting my eyes to his, I saw that he was drunk! The horror and dismay of the discovery were inconceivable. The rest of the interview, which was ended by his wife's appearance upon the scene to coax him off to his room, left an indelible impression upon my mind. The Spartans had a way of "drenching" a helot with liquor, then parading him in his drunken antics before the boys of the town to disgust them with dram-drinking. My object-lesson was the more striking because I had honored the inebriate.
The eloquent rector read the burial service over him ten years ago. For over twenty years he had been a hopeless sot, beggared in fortune, wrecked in reputation--a by-word and a hissing in a town where he had once stood among the best and purest. He outlived his son, who drank himself to death before he was thirty.
Another and later experience was in a fine old farm-house in the Middle States. There had been a birthday celebration, and neighbors and friends gathered about a board laden with country dainties, and congratulated the worthy couple who presided over the feast upon the four stalwart sons who, with their wives and children, were settled upon and about an estate that had been for six generations in the family. Hale, merry fellows they were--a little more red of face and loud of talk than was quite seemly in a stranger's eyes, but industrious and "forehanded," and kind of heart to parents, wives and babies. After dinner we sat under the cherry trees upon the lawn, and one of the sons brought out a round table, another a tray of glasses, another a monster bowl of milk punch.
Everybody pledged the patriarch's health in the creamy potation except myself. Again, I acted upon general principles. Were I a wine-bibber I should never touch glasses with a young man, or offer him anything "that could make drunk come." Disliking spirituous draughts of all kinds, and with the object-lesson of my girlhood branded upon memory, I refused to taste the brimming glass, even when the pastor of the household, a genial "dominie," rallied me upon my abstinence. He offered gallantly, when he found me obdurate, to drink my share, and had his glass replenished by the reddest-faced and loudest-mouthed of the farmer-sons.
"You're the right sort, dominie!" he said, with a roar of laughter, filling the tumbler until it ran over and into the pastor's cuffs. Whereat the farmer laughed yet more uproariously.
One of the four young men died a while ago of delirium tremens, and not one of the other three has drawn a sober breath in years. The parents are dead, the old farm is sold, and the brothers are all poor. Rum has done it all.
I do not imply that either of these scenes had any marked influence upon the destiny of the slaves of appetite, except as they were encouraged to pursue a course tacitly approved by the wise and good. But I am thankful that I did not lend the weight of a straw to the downward slide. "Woe unto him that putteth the cup to his neighbor's lips!" says the Book of books. There might be subjoined, "Or helps to hold it there when the neighbor's own hand has lifted it!"
Had I my way, not one drop of intoxicating liquors should be sold, except by druggists, and then only by a physician's prescription. For--and here comes the answer to the second part of my querist's appeal--I hold that pure brandy, wine and whiskey are of inestimable value as medicine. I know that the judicious use of them as restoratives has saved many lives. I know, too, how nearly worthless they are where the system of the patient is used to them as daily or frequent beverages.
I hold, furthermore, that there is no sin or even danger--unless the taste be already enkindled--in the occasional use of them in the kitchen, as one would handle vanilla, lemon or bitter-almond flavoring extracts. I do not believe that a single drunkard was ever made by the tablespoonful of wine that goes into a half pint of pudding-sauce, or the wineglassful that "brightens" a quart of jelly. Every house-mother knows for whom she is catering. If one of her family or guests already loves and craves the stimulant, it is prudent to omit it. The same man would be tempted by the wine of the consecrated cup. When the disease of inebriety has gone thus far she cannot save him, but she can look to it that her hand does not give the final touch, which is death.
I have written frankly, and I think temperately. I am not a "crank" upon this--I hope not upon any subject. I am a temperance woman who does not scruple to avow what is her practice, as well as her belief. That thousands of better people than I will think my creed goes too far, and as many that it stops short of temporal and spiritual safety, ought not to trouble me. Upon the individual conscience lies the responsibility of principle and action. Yet holding as I do that each of us is his brother's keeper, I lift my hand in protest against the crying sin of the age, and the mistaken toleration of good people with that which leads to it.