Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - Some Habits and Customs of the Working Classes, by Thomas Wright, 1867 - Part 2 - Work and Play - Teetotal Advocates and Advocacy
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TEETOTAL ADVOCATES AND ADVOCACY.
IT is a prevalent idea that in free and happy England the
days have long since passed away in which a man was subjected to persecution on
account of his opinions; and I can only say, happy are those whose experience
justifies them in entertaining a belief in the truth of this idea - mine does
not. Whether it is that my case is an exceptional one, and I have been a
"martyr" to circumstances, or whether the old spirit of persecution is
not so thoroughly eradicated from the human heart as is generally supposed, I am
not able to determine; all that I know with that absolute certainty which alone
justifies a positive and unqualified assertion is, that for some considerable
time past I have been persecuted in a manner almost worthy of the good old
times, for refusing to be "convinced" against my will that my own
opinions upon a subject to which I shall presently refer are utterly erroneous,
and those of sundry of my acquaintances infallibly correct. I am well aware that
a man with a grievance is a bore and a social nuisance; and even apart from this
restraining knowledge, I would not think for a moment of attempting to
"ventilate" a mere grievance; for I scorn the idea of crying out about
any of those petty annoyances of every-day life which are exaggerated by
grumblers until they assume the proportions of a grievance. I am no
grievance-monger. I never wrote to the Times on the subject of
"The Hotel Nuisance, although I [-132-] once had to pay a tavern bill for
bed and breakfast which, in point of extortion, surpassed any transaction of the
"sixty per-centers" of which I have ever heard or read, and which
induced a sporting gentleman who had been charged a like amount for the same
accommodation, to tell the proprietor of the tavern, that although he (the
sporting man) did not know his (the proprietor's) exact pedigree, he was
confident he was full brother to a robber. So far, indeed, from being a
grievance-monger, I may say for myself that I am a particularly long-suffering
individual, and have borne, with fortitude or indifference, annoyances that
would have driven any person of a less philosophical turn of mind than myself to
despair and the police-courts. I have been importuned and abused by garotter-like
mendicants, to whom I have given alms instead of handing them over to the
police. I have been threatened and derided by the coarsest cabmen, with whose
demands (generally about double their legal fare) I have complied, when others
would have taken their number and "made an example of them." I
have even been taken before a bench of magistrates upon suspicion of being a
burglar; this last decidedly unpleasant event occurring through the stupidity of
a policeman, who stopped me as I was leaving my work late one winter night,
carrying the implements of my trade (which certainly have a strong resemblance
to the implements of a house-breaker) in a small bag. Into this bag A1 insisted
upon looking, and laughed to scorn the explanation which I offered to him,
saying that I must tell that tale to the natives, and advising me to "come
along quietly," or he would put "the darbies" on me. With this
inexorable guardian of the night I accordingly went, and was speedily consigned
to a cell in which bed and board were synonymous terms, and from whence I was
taken in the [-133-] morning to be examined by the sitting magistrates, to some
of whom I was fortunately known, and was consequently immediately discharged,
thus escaping any of the inconveniences arising out of the "law's
delays," while my captor, whose mistake was after all a very natural one,
was severely censured in open court; one of "the great unpaid" going
so far as to stigmatize him as a useless blockhead. These, and as many more of
the small ills of life as would fill a volume, I have borne without a murmur,
already convinced that "such is life."
Having thus, I trust, sufficiently demonstrated that I can "suffer and be strong" under the ordinary annoyances of life, and having incidentally mentioned a few of those annoyances that have fallen to my lot, but of which, be it understood, I do not complain, I will now speak of the persecution of which I do complain.
To begin, then, I belong to that portion of the community who are sometimes vaguely and collectively spoken of as "intelligent artisans," and I am engaged in the workshops of a firm who employ about five hundred men. Among such a number of working men, it will readily be believed that there are some of almost every degree of intemperance, from the confirmed and frightful-example description of drunkard, to the one who only gets "elevated" upon rare and festive occasions, such as his own or an intimate friend's marriage, or a public banquet, at which he generally insists upon making a speech, proposing a toast, or taking some other active but uncalled-for and unappreciated part in the proceedings. But though it must be admitted that intemperance is but too prevalent a vice among working mechanics, it is by no means a prominent characteristic of the class. On the contrary, taken in the aggregate, they are a very temperate body of men, and [-134-] among them may be found numerous representatives of "total abstinence" in all its extremes and modifications; from the "total abstainer," who has always been one, never having tasted intoxicating drinks, to the sensation-craving, procession-forming, medal-wearing, pledge-signing, and altogether ignoble "teetotaller," who is generally a recently-reclaimed drunkard of the worst class, and upon whose continuance in his regenerated state but little reliance can be placed.
Now it is some half-dozen of these rabid sons of abstinence who have become the bane of my existence by their fanatical attempts to induce me to sign "the pledge." There is a proverb which says that "there's a medium in all things;" but then there is another proverb to the effect that "there is no rule without an exception," and so, despite the dictum laid down in the first of these sayings, it is justifiable to conclude that there are things in which there is no medium; and one of them most undoubtedly is, the intolerant spirit with which the disciples of total abstinence seek to enforce their doctrines and practices upon all other members of society. To strive to promote the interests of what you conceive to be a good cause is highly commendable. But to insinuate that those who by reasoning you have failed to convert to your opinion will end their career on the gallows or in the madhouse, and that the transition stages to those undesirable consummations will consist of wife-beating, bankruptcy, moral degradation, premature physical decay, and unutterable sottishness, is to show a decided want of that medium which ought to characterize discussions of all matters of opinion. And it is this want of medium in the no doubt well-meant endeavours of my persecutors to induce me to sign "the pledge" that has converted what might have been a friendly discussion into a harassing [-135-] persecution. "Well, why don't you sign it ?" asks Bodgers (who is the spokesman and chief of the band), in a tone of exasperation, after ineffectually endeavouring to convince me that a person who partakes of malt liquor, however sparingly, is little, if anything, better than a murderer. "Come, give us your reasons, if you've got any," persists the indignant Bodgers, greatly disgusted that I do not instantly explain myself. In vain, when thus interrogated, I submissively express my conviction that in its place - that is, applied to incorrigible drunkards, or those who are conscious of a want of self-restraint where intoxicating drinks are concerned - the total abstinence pledge is a most praiseworthy institution. In vain I argue that even strong drinks may have their beneficial uses. In vain I urge that I am a man of temperate habits, that I believe the little drink that I do take does me good, and that even if I found it injured me, or I had any other motive for abstaining from it, I could and would do so without signing any pledge. To hear none of these or the other numerous reasons I bring forward in support of my refusal doth the obdurate Bodgers seriously incline. Moderation, Bodgers sententiously informs me, is the mother of intemperance, and to be good yourself, says the same authority, is not sufficient; you must set the example to others, and try to make them good. "So that, you see, you have not got a leg to stand on," remarks another abstainer. "Oh, he knows he's wrong," observes a third, "only he's too pig-headed to say so." And the rest of them give it as their joint opinion that "that (the last remark) is about the size of it," and that I would "have my own pig-headed way if a saint (and only to a saint's do they consider Bodgers' eloquence second) were to come and tell me I was wrong."
[-136-] Day after day am I subjected to attacks of this kind - attacks that, in addition to destroying my peace of mind, are rapidly impairing my digestion, as they are generally made while I am at dinner, which meal I take, in common with my persecutors and many others, in the dining-room connected with the establishment in which I am employed. To be catechized, to be spoken to, and spoken at in this manner is bad enough, but the active part of my persecution is by no means the worst part of it. No it is when I consider "what manner of men they be" who subject me to this treatment that my cup of bitterness becomes full. When I remember that the abusive and dogmatic Bodgers of to-day is the same Bodgers who but one short year before was wont to sneak to his work by circuitous routes, in order to avoid the threats and entreaties of a number of publicans to whom he was indebted for drink, - the same Bodgers who met you in the street, and noisily importuned you to "stand a glass," or lend him "the price of a pint," and who loudly, sometimes blasphemously, resented any attempt to remonstrate with him upon his disgraceful conduct: when, again, I remember that Sturge (who calls me pig-headed) is the same person who a few months ago figured in the local newspapers under the heading of "an old offender," or " Sturge again," and whose case generally appeared at the head of Monday's police intelligence in this style :- "John Sturge," a drunken and dissipated-looking man, well known at this court, was placed at the bar, charged for the ¾teenth time with being drunk and incapable. Police-constable B4 deposed to finding the prisoner, &c., &c.-Fined five shillings;" when I remember, I say, that these are the men who assume the part of mentor, and rail not only against intemperance, but also against the moderate [-137-] use of strong drinks, then I become enraged, threaten to thrash Sturge, and challenge Bodgers to pugilistic combat.
My would-be converters were regular attendants at the weekly meetings of a total abstinence society of which they were members ; and to these meetings they were constantly alluding in my presence, remarking to each other in a tone of voice loud enough for me to hear, that Jones (myself) ought to have been at "the meeting," and he would have heard something that would have done him good, and suggesting that I would not go to their meetings because I knew that if I did I would hear that which would compel me to alter my opinion on the subject of the pledge. Goaded to desperation by the continual taunts and impertinences of these persecuting abstainers, I at length, in the hope of obtaining peace, entered into a treaty with them; the terms of the treaty (which were proposed by themselves) being, that I was to accompany them to three of their meetings, and if after what I heard and saw at those meetings I still failed to see that it was the duty of every right-thinking person to take the pledge, they would, to use the phrase of one of their number, "give it up for a bad job," and cease to importune me any further upon the subject. To these terms I readily agreed, promising upon my part to weigh, without prejudice or partiality, all that I heard, and that I would not allow any feeling of personal opposition to Bodgers or others to interfere with my judgment. In order that I might not be at a loss to understand the proceedings at these meetings, it would be necessary, Bodgers informed me, for him to explain to me the formation and object of the society. From his explanation I learned that the society consisted of about three hundred members, each of [-138-] whom paid a small weekly contribution to a fund established for the purpose of rendering pecuniary assistance to any of the members whose case required it. The society had divided the town into twelve districts, the members in each of which were called a life-boat crew, and a captain was appointed over each crew. The duties of a captain were to look after the members in his district, and prevent, as far as lay in his power, any backsliding upon their part, to gain as many proselytes as possible, and to come forward at the weekly meetings of the society, and report upon the state of the crew, and the progress (if any) of "the cause in the district under his control.
Bodgers, I need scarcely say, was a captain; and as in that capacity he was required upon the platform, he was unable to accompany me to the first of the three meetings, to which I was escorted by Sturge. The business of the meeting was to commence at eight o'clock, and about ten minutes before that hour I arrived at the meeting-house. The instant I entered the room I became painfully aware of the fact that I was regarded as the lion of the evening, for I had scarcely got through the doorway when a most significant murmur pervaded the room, and several loudly-whispered expressions of "That's him," "Him with Sturge," "Here he is," and others of a like nature, reached my ears; and I felt that every eye was upon me as I followed Sturge to a seat near the platform. When the excitement caused by my entrance had somewhat abated, I ventured to take a glance at the audience who had done me the honour of looking so intently at me, and I am bound to say that the result of my scrutiny was of anything but a gratifying nature. There were about two hundred persons present, and among them some highly respectable-looking individuals; [-139-] but the predominant characteristic of a great majority of the countenances of the abstainers who formed the audience was dissipation - dissipation of a more or less marked character; and it was an unnecessary proceeding upon the part of the speaker, who in the course of the evening addressed the meeting, to assure his hearers that a great number of those present had once been slaves to drink, as that was to be plainly seen in dozens of cases, and the emancipation of many of them was evidently of a very recent date.
Having finished my survey of the audience, I turned my gaze upon the platform, just in time to witness the entrance of the chairman and captains upon it. The chairman upon this occasion (a fresh one was chosen each evening) was a stout, coarse-looking individual with a very red face, and a profusion of still redder hair. He was attired in a suit of seedy, ill-fitting black, and wore a rather cloudy-looking white neckcloth; and this dress, and the circumstance that his nose was of an unmistakably "jolly" cast, gave him the appearance of one of the mutes attached to the staff of an economic funeral company. This mutish-looking gentleman, Sturge informed me in a whisper, was Mr. Bidder, the furniture-broker, who once nearly killed himself by drinking, for a wager, a pint of raw rum in five minutes, and who, before he signed the pledge, seldom went to bed sober. Advancing to the front of the platform, the chairman, in a severe tone of voice, cried "Silence!" and having obtained silence, he then gave out the words of a teetotal hymn, which was sung to the tune of "Ole Virginia Shore," and the burden of which was-
"I've done my best, I've done my best, and I cannot do any more,
But I'll carry the seeds of temperance to every drunkard's door."
The hymn being finished, and a short prayer said, the [-140-] business of the evening then commenced. Selecting one from a roll of papers that he held in his hand, Mr. Bidder, after again crying "Silence !" and "Order !" proceeded to say that, at the request of a number of the members, the committee of the society had written to that celebrated advocate of total abstinence the Whistling Waggoner, requesting to be informed when he could make it convenient to give one of his entertainments in this town. He now held in his hand the reply of the Waggoner, which was to the effect that he would be able to accommodate them in the course of a fortnight, and they might at once proceed to "bill him." This announcement was received with great cheering, amid which the chairman sat down. When the applause had subsided, the chairman called out, "Captain of Number One life-boat crew, please to stand forward." In reply to this call, one of "the twelve" left his seat and advanced to the front of the platform, and said that all was going on smoothly in his district, and that the crew of which he had the honour to be captain were one and all steadfast in "the good cause." Captains Two, Three, and Four reported to the same effect, and almost in the same words. This succession of good reports put the audience into quite a happy frame of mind. But human happiness is, alas but transitory. The report of the fifth captain completely extinguished, for a time at least, the exultation raised by the four previous reports. The wobegone expression of Number Five's countenance plainly indicated that his report would be of an unfavourable nature, and he evinced great reluctance to face his audience. So slow, indeed, was he in coming to the front, that loud cries of Time, "Toe the mark," "Come up to the scratch," "Go in and win," and other phrases that are only to be found in [-141-] the vocabulary of "our pugilistic reporter," arose from all parts of the room. Seeing that his hesitation was producing an unfavourable effect upon his auditors, Number Five summoned up his courage, dashed to the front, and abruptly commenced the delivery of his report. His intelligence, lie was sorry to say, was of a very disheartening nature. They all knew Finigan, the big Irishman who had joined their society about a month ago (cries of "Yes, yes"). Well, as some of them were probably aware, the committee had a few days since, at his (the captain's) recommendation, advanced the sum of two pounds to Finigan, to enable him to start in business as a greengrocer; but instead of expending the money in vegetables, Finigan had got drunk with it. He had then gone home, turned his mother out of doors, severely beaten his wife, and attempted to bite a policeman's nose off for which series of offences he was then undergoing a punishment of a month's imprisonment with hard labour (cries of " Serve him right"). "The worst part of the business," continued the captain, "is that there will be no chance of us ever getting the two pounds back again, and that is what grieves me; for the last party to whom the committee made an advance, upon my recommendation, cheated them out of thirty shillings." This recital of the brutal and ungrateful conduct of Finigan, together with the knowledge of the pecuniary loss sustained by the society in consequence thereof, served to throw a deep gloom over the meeting - a gloom which the ordinarily favourable reports of the next six captains failed to dispel. But all joy had not departed from among them in the report of the last of the captains was consolation found. The manner of captain Number Twelve, as he came forward in obedience to the call of the chairman, [-142-] startled the audience out of the sullen calmness into which they had sunk. There was an elasticity and lightness in his gait, and an expression of cheerfulness and triumph upon his countenance, that would have been a positive insult to his hearers unless accompanied by intelligence of an unusually pleasing character ; and, happily for the peace of the meeting, his information was of a nature that fully justified the triumphant manner he assumed in giving it. The reports of the other captains had been made in the briefest possible manner; but Number Twelve, who evidently imagined himself an orator, spoke at considerable length. He commenced by observing that "they had all heard some very discouraging intelligence that evening," and then went on to say that "the ungrateful behaviour of some of the individuals whom the society had assisted and befriended was almost enough to deter them from attempting to reclaim or benefit others. But though," he continued, "their kindness to those whom drink had brought to poverty and want was, alas but too often repaid by the blackest ingratitude, and though their efforts to show the drunkard the error of his way had, in many instances, met with ridicule, scorn, and even blows, yet they could point with pride and pleasure to cases in which their humble endeavours had been productive of good-lasting and permanent good." After giving short biographies of several of the "rescued" persons in whom the society had been the means of effecting "lasting and permanent good," Number Twelve proceeded to inform his hearers that, since their last meeting, a name had been added to the list of "the rescued that few would have ever thought of seeing there, and he was sure that when they heard that name they would feel amply compensated for any disappointment they had experienced when they heard of [-143-] Finigan's case. The person whose name he alluded to - he would use the name by which he was best known to the public - was "Fighting Joe!" The utterance of this name created an immense sensation, and the speaker's voice was lost amid bursts of cheering and cries of " No, no," "It can't be," "He'll break," which arose on all sides. When silence was at length restored, Number Twelve concluded his report by repeating most emphatically that, however improbable it might appear to some of them, it was nevertheless true that Fighting Joe had taken the pledge, and he for one firmly believed that he would keep it. The reports of the captains being finished, the chairman again came forward and announced that "one of their most highly-valued members had kindly consented to address them that evening."
The entrance of the "highly-valued member" was the signal for another energetic burst of cheering, which he acknowledged by a bow that showed that that was not his first appearance on any stage; on the contrary, as I afterwards learned, he was the crack speaker of the society, and had been specially selected to astonish me. His subject was the " Evils of Moderation," and his discourse soon showed that he had been coached for the occasion by Bodgers. He was evidently bent on converting me by sarcasm, and at each fresh stab that he made at moderation, the abstainers regarded me with glances which said, " as plain as whisper in this ear," How do you like that, my fine fellow? and I could see that it was generally expected that I would show temper under the severe handling of the highly-valued member. In this expectation the disciples of abstinence were, however, doomed to disappointment. I kept my temper perfectly unruffled, which was easy enough to do, since the whole harangue of the speaker was a mere repetition of the proverbs and arguments [-144-] I had heard from Bodgers scores of times, and they consequently failed either to anger or interest me. The address on the evils of moderation being concluded, and a vote of thanks awarded to the deliverer of it, the chairman dissolved the fleeting, and the audience quietly dispersed. Outside of the meeting-house I was joined by Bodgers, who immediately began to try and draw me into a discussion, when I reminded him that one of the conditions of our treaty was, that tee-totalism was to be a forbidden subject between us till I had attended the three meetings, but it was not till I had threatened to decline attending the other two meetings that Bodgers relinquished his efforts to "renew the subject."
The next meeting I attended was the one at which the Whistling Waggoner was to give his entertainment. The audience upon this occasion numbered upwards of three hundred, many of the general public being there in addition to the members; the admission this time being by payment, and the ordinary business of the weekly meetings being dispensed with. At the hour appointed for the commencement of the entertainment the Waggoner was ushered on to the platform, and was most enthusiastically received. When the plaudits evoked by his appearance had ceased, the chairman of the meeting introduced him to the audience as "one of the warmest and most able teetotal advocates we have;" and then modestly retired into the background, leaving the warm, able, and whistling advocate of tee-totalism the observed of all observers. The Waggoner was, to use the language of my newspaper, "a thickset and powerful-looking man, somewhat below the middle height," and his plump and sleek appearance testified to his being a good liver. His face was too fleshy to admit of any expression, while his eyes were so small and so deeply sunk in his head as to preclude [-145-] the possibility of catching their expression if they had any. His "get up" was a decided attempt at the clerical, and an equally decided failure; his whole appearance and manner being too suggestive of the waiter at one of those Gravesend establishments that supply tea and shrimps for ninepence.
The Waggoner's entertainment, of course, embraced the usual unauthenticated statistics, stock anecdotes, and pieces of clap-trap oratory of the professional teetotal lecturers. Drink once more destroyed its sixty thousand victims annually, slew more than the sword, filled our prisons and workhouses, our hospitals and asylums, and caused all our disease and poverty; and, in a word, drink was held up as the origin of " all the ills that flesh is heir to," and the great bar to human happiness here below. The old stone-breaker who drank ale in the summer to cool him, and in the winter to warm him, was again brought forward. The man who boasted that he had drunk his bottle of port every day for forty years was again silenced by being asked, "Where are all your companions ?" and the prisoner in the condemned cell, when asked what brought him there, again exclaimed, "Drink! drink !" "The first fatal glass" was descanted upon at considerable length; and it was, of course, implied that all who took that glass ultimately came to poverty and grief, and were fortunate if they escaped penal servitude or the madhouse.
The only original feature in the entertainment was the introduction of a number of teetotal songs, which were very well sung by the Waggoner, who possessed a good though uncultivated voice. These "songs of teetotahism" were of a wretchedly doggerel character. Compared with them, even "The Perfect Cure " would have appeared a sensible and. elegant composition: [-146-] however, they seemed to please the audience, who joined lustily in the chorus of the two entitled "I'll Drink Cold Water" and "No Alcohol for Me." At the termination of the entertainment, thanks to the crush at the door, I managed to elude Bodgers, who I knew would want to "renew the subject," and I had already had more than enough of it for one evening.
As there was no immediate prospect of another professional teetotal advocate visiting the town, it was agreed that I should attend the next ordinary meeting of the society, more by way of fulfilling the terms of the treaty into which I had entered than from any hope my persecutors now had of influencing my opinions; for when I informed them that the lecture of the Waggoner had in no way altered my views upon the subject of the pledge, they seemed to abandon all hope of my conversion. The chairman at this, the last of the three meetings "nominated in the bond," was no other than Sturge, who performed his duties in a highly creditable manner. The captains, with one exception, were all there, and each reported that all was well in his district. The absent captain was Number Twelve, who was unable to attend, owing to the effects of a severe thrashing he had received from Fighting Joe; Joe, as we learned from the statement of the chairman, having, in addition to breaking the pledge, broken the nose of, and otherwise maltreated the unfortunate captain of Number Twelve lifeboat crew. Joe, it appeared, had gone to the races, and was returning from them in a state of intoxication, when he was met by the captain, who taunted him with having so soon broken his promise; whereupon Joe instantly assaulted him in the manner described by the chairman. After the reports had been delivered and the absence of Number Twelve accounted for, a number of the members came upon the platform to [-147-] give an account of their "rescue," or speak of their "experiences." Some of them had. taken the pledge because their friends had promised to pay their debts procure them employment, or confer some other benefit upon them if they would do so; others for the purpose of saving money; and some for special reasons affecting only their particular eases; one man assigning the novel reason that he had been stung by the ingratitude of a publican whose house he had been in the habit of frequenting, in refusing to support him and his wife and family when he was out of work: nor did it seem to occur to him that the baker with whom he had been in the habit of dealing would probably have acted in the same ungrateful manner.
The experiences were as various as the reasons for taking the pledge. Some of the speakers had "for years been drunk every night," others had been in the habit of spending the greater portion of their earnings in the public-house, and, on some occasions, the whole of their week's wages had been consumed in the payment of the past week's "shot" and a Saturday night's "spree." Some had lost good situations through their habits of intoxication, and one villanous-looking character gleefully informed his hearers that he used to get drunk every Saturday night, and then go home and "whop" his wife, and smash the crockery; and, to judge by his countenance, he seemed capable of doing even worse things. The last of the speakers, after observing that for many years he had scarcely ever had a decent rag to his back, and was often without food, "all through drink," proceeded to dilate upon the fruits of teetotalism: the fruits in his case being, to use his own words, "this slap-up suit of black and this watch," pulling the latter article out of his pocket. He entered into a detailed account of [-148-] the manner in which he had accumulated the money to purchase the clothes and watch with, told the price of each separate article and the cost of the whole, turned his back to the audience to enable them to obtain a back view of the coat, exclaiming at the same time, "There's the fruits of teetotalism for you, and concluded a somewhat lengthy and perfectly idiotical address by holding the watch above his head and shouting, "Who wouldn't be a teetotaler?"
Some of these speakers had, according to their own confession, broken the pledge two, three, and one of them even five times ; but the most painful part of this disgraceful exhibition was the absence of shame with which these men paraded the disgusting and brutal episodes of their lives before their fellow-men. That such men as these should be brought from a state of habitual and degrading drunkenness to one of total abstinence from intoxicating drinks is a great blessing, not only to themselves, but to society at large, and those who bring about the reformation of such men are justly regarded as benefactors of their race. But that such men, while the stamp of their bestial habits is yet uneffaced from their countenances, should inveigh against the moderate use of the stimulants which they had so grossly abused, is a most impudent proceeding, and one that tends to bring contempt upon the (in its proper sphere, the reclamation of habitual drunkards) truly Christian cause of teetotalism. And even in the case of those conscientious teetotalers who have never been drunkards, and those who, by years of unswerving consistency in their reformed habits, have earned the right to advocate the cause they profess, I think it an ill-advised proceeding to try to force their doctrines upon those who are, and always have been of temperate habits, more especially as there is so ex-tensive a field for their labours in weaning men from the curse of drunkenness.
On the morning after this last meeting my teetotal foes again made an attack upon me. One of them began by asking me if I still intended to "be stupid," and on my replying that I did not intend to take the pledge, Sturge reminded them that he had told them that I would have my own pig-headed way. Bodgers, however, upon this occasion came to my rescue, and commanded "those of his inclining" to hold their noise while he and Jones reasoned the matter over. Bodgers' reasoning and arguments would have been very good had they been applied to a drunkard, but they were not at all applicable to my case, as Bodgers himself, and even the most fanatical of his admirers, were perfectly willing to admit that I never got drunk, never spent my evenings in a public-house, never neglected nay duty for the sake of drink, and that I certainly was a temperate man. "Still," urged Bodgers, "you ought to take the pledge, for you are not sure that you will always be able to remain the same moderate man that you now are, and, even if you are, you will still be doing a great injury to the cause of teetotalism, for unreflecting drunkards will point to such as you as a proof that drink may be taken without any evil resulting from it. But, that evil will come of it," concluded Bodgers, emphatically, "is as sure as that eggs are eggs." Although Bodgers spoke with greater sense and moderation upon this occasion than be had ever done before, his eloquence was unavailing, and the result of our discussion was that I told him respectfully, but firmly, that I must positively, and once for all, decline joining a body of men who wore medals, formed processions, and otherwise took credit to themselves for simply doing what was the duty of [-150-] every man, namely, keeping sober. This decision by no means pleased my persecutors, who, despite the terms of our treaty, immediately renewed, and have since continued, their persecution of me.
A year has passed since I attended the last of the three teetotal meetings, and though during that time Bodgers has returned to his "former habits," and now exercises his persuasive eloquence in inducing reluctant landlords to give him credit for "just another pot," and negotiating loans for "the price of a pint," and Sturge has several times made his appearance at the police-court on the old familiar charge of being "drunk and incapable," those of my persecutors who have remained true to "the good cause," and the more recently "rescued" individuals who have joined their ranks, continue their persecuting efforts with unabated fierceness. And they joyfully look forward to that teetotalers' millennium (which, with the fatuity peculiar to bigots and fanatics, they assert to be near at hand) when the Permissive Bill shall reign supreme. And that bill once made law, they cheerfully assure me I must be prepared to bid a long farewell to that glass of XX which, in the summer months, is often the only thing that gives me an appetite for the solid food which, from the hot and laborious nature of my daily employment, I stand in need of, or which enables me to continue at my work when, from the effects of the combined heat of a July sun and a large blacksmith's shop, I am unable to take a sufficient quantity of food. My persecutors suggest dinner pills as a substitute for porter; but I have an extreme aversion to drugs under any circumstances, and certainly shall not take them while so pleasant a black draught as bottled stout has "the desired effect." They also bring forward a number of total-abstinence theories to show that it cannot [-151-] be the stout or pale ale that I drink which does me so much good, because (according to their theories) all alcoholic drinks are injurious to health. As not only doctors, but theorists also, disagree upon this question, I shall not attempt to decide it. But I may observe, as a matter of fact, that I enjoy as good health as any teetotaler that I have ever met, and better health than the majority of them; though this may be because the constitutions of many of them are impaired through early excesses, or illness consequent upon a sudden transition from a state of chronic drunkenness to one of total abstinence. And I have invariably noticed that among working men, those who drink from half a pint to a pint of ale or porter with their mid-day meal, but who rarely touch stimulating drinks at other times, require a less quantity of solid food than teetotalers. The appetite of a teetotaler often borders on the voracious, and the quantity of bread that some of them eat is "a caution." This great appetite is one of their proudest boasts, but in my opinion it is a mistaken one, for sick-headaches and the numerous other complaints arising from indigestion, prevail to a marked extent among the teetotalers in the working classes, and the feeling of excessive repletion caused by their inordinate meals often interferes materially with their activity and capability of enduring fatigue.
To conclude, then, my persecutors lead me a terrible life still, but they do not have matters all their own way; for when one of them "breaks out," or when I can show them the newspaper containing an account of an additional appearance upon the part of Sturge at the police-court, or inform them that the landlord of the "Lame Duck" is waiting outside the workshop gate to effect the capture of Bodgers, against whom he has "a long chalk," I have my hour of triumph.
[-nb. grey numbers in brackets indicate page number, (ie. where new page begins), ed.-]
In my belief, it is the tremendous steam and effervescence of
language indulged in by the advocates of total abstinence that keeps them from
making more headway. The facts they give us, like the drunkard’s grog, are
generally “hot and strong,” though with very, very
little of the sugar of forbearance. I find, for instance, in the
temperance records before me, frequent allusion to the great number of drunkards
who nightly are thrown out at the doors of public-houses where they have been
passing the evening, and left to wallow in the kennel. Not only do we read of
this in books, we have it from the mouths of preachers in the pulpit, and
speakers on public platforms and in temperance lecture-halls. But I venture to
declare that whoever believes anything of the kind, believes what is not true.
Every man has a right to speak according to his experience; and I speak from
mine. I think that I may lay claim to as extensive a knowledge of the ways of
London—especially the bye and ugly ways—as almost any man; and I can
positively say that it has never once been my lot to witness the throwing
(“throwing” is the expression) of a man from a public-house-door, followed
by his helpless wallowing in the kennel. What is more, it was by no means
necessary for me to witness such a hideous and disgusting spectacle to convince
me of the evils of intemperance, and of how necessary it was to reform the
existing laws as applying to the reckless granting of licenses in certain
neighbourhoods. It is quite enough, more than enough, to satisfy me of what a
terrible curse a bestial indulgence in gin and beer is, when I see a human
creature turned helpless from the public-house, and left to stagger home as he
best may. To my eyes, he is then no better than a pig; and if he took to
wallowing in the gutter, it would be no more than one might expect; but he does not “wallow in the gutter;” and it is not necessary to picture
him in that wretched predicament in order to bring home to the decent mind how
terrible a bane strong drink is, or to shock the man already inclined to
inebriation into at once rushing off to a teetotal club and signing the
And now I must be permitted to remark that no man more than myself can have a higher appreciation of the efforts of those who make it the duty of their lives to mitigate the curse of drunkenness. What vexes me is, the wrong-headed, and not unfrequently the weak and ineffectual, way in which they set about it. As I view the matter, the object of the preacher of total abstinence is not so much the reclamation of the drunkard already steeped and sodden, as the deterring from reckless indulgence those who are not averse to stimulative liquors, but are by no means drunkards. Therefore they appeal as a rule to men who are in the enjoyment of their sober senses, and in a condition to weigh with a steady mind the arguments that are brought forward to induce them to abandon alcoholic stimulants altogether. Now, it must be plain to these latter—sound-headed men, who drink beer, not because they are anxious to experience the peculiar sensations of intoxication, but because they conscientiously believe that they are the better for drinking it—it must be evident to these that teetotal triumphs, exhibited in the shape of converted drunkards, are at best but shallow affairs. “Any port in a storm,” is the wrecked mariner s motto; and no doubt the wretched drunkard, with his poor gin-rotted liver, and his palsied limbs, and his failing brain, with perhaps a touch of delirium trem ens to spur him on, might be glad, indeed, to escape to a teetotal harbour of refuge; and it is not to be wondered at, if, reclaimed from the life of a beast and restored to humanity, he rejoices, and is anxious to publish aloud the glad story of his redemption. As a means of convincing the working man of the wrong he commits in drinking a pint of fourpenny, the upholder of total-abstinence principles delights to bring forth his “brand from the burning”—the reclaimed drunkard—and get him, with a glibness that repetition insures, to detail the particulars of his previous horrible existence—how he drank, how he swore, how he blasphemed, how he broke up his home, and brutally ill-treated his wife and children. All this, that he may presently arrive at the climax, and say, “This I have been, and now look at me! I have a black coat instead of a ragged fustian jacket; my shirt-collar is whiter and more rigid in its purity even than your own. See what teetotalism has done for me, and adopt the course I adopted, and sign the pledge.”
To which the indulger in moderate and honest fourpenny replies, “I see exactly what teetotalism has done for you, and you can’t be too grateful for it; but there is no demand for it to do so much for me. If I was afire, as you say that you once were, and blazing in the consuming flames of drunkenness,—to use your own powerful language—no doubt I should be as glad as you were to leap into the first water-tank that presented itself. But I am not blazing and consuming. I am no more than comfortably warm under the influence of the pint of beer I have just partaken of; and though I am glad indeed to see you in the tank, if you have no objection, I will for the present keep outside of it.”
Again, from the tone adopted by certain total-abstinence professors, people who are compelled to take such matters on hearsay —the very people, by the way, who would be most likely, “for his good,” to join the majority of two-thirds that is to shut up taverns —would be made to believe that those who frequent the public-house are drunkards as a rule; that though occasionally a few, who have not at present dipped very deep in the hideous vice, may be discovered in the parlour and the taproom bemusing themselves over their beer, the tavern is essentially the resort of the man whose deliberate aim and intention is to drink until he is tipsy, and who does do so. The moderate man—the individual who is in the habit of adjourning to the decent tavern-parlour, which is his “club,” to pass away an hour before supper-time with a pipe and a pint of ale and harmless chat with his friends—is well aware of this exaggerated view of his doings; and it is hardly calculated to soften his heart towards those who would “reform” him, or incline him to listen with any amount of patience to their arguments. He feels indignant, knowing the imputation to be untrue. He is not a drunkard, and he has no sympathy with drunkards. Nay, he would be as forward as his teetotal detractor, and quite as earnest, in persuading the wretched reckless swiller of beer and gin to renounce his bestial habit. It is a pity that so much misunderstanding and misrepresentation should exist on so important a feature of the matter in debate, when, with so little trouble, it might be set at rest. If public-houses are an evil, it must be mainly because the indolent and the sensual resort thither habitually for convenience of drinking until they are drunk. Is this so? I have no hesitation in saying that in the vast majority of cases it is not. The question might easily be brought to the test; and why has it not been done? Let a hundred public-houses in the metropolis be selected at random, and as many impartial and trustworthy men be deputed to keep watch on the said public-houses every night for a week. Let them make note particularly of those who are not dram-drinkers, but who go to the public-house for the purpose of passing an hour or so there; let them mark their demeanour when they enter and again when they emerge; and I have no doubt that, by a large majority, the working man in search simply of an hour’s evening amusement and sociable society will be acquitted of anything approaching sottishness, or such an inclination towards mere tipsiness even, as calls for the intervention of the Legislature.
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James Greenwood, The Seven Curses of London, 1869