Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - The Seven Curses of London, by James Greenwood, 1869




Its Power.

The crowning Curse—No form of sin or sorrow in which it does not play a part—The "Slippery Stone" of Life Statistics—Matters not growing worse —The Army Returns—The System of Adulteration.

    Whatever differences of opinion may arise as to the extent and evil operation of the other curses that, in common with all other cities, afflict the city of London, no sane man will contest the fact that drunkenness has wrought more mischief than all other social evils put together. There is not a form of human sin and sorrow in which it does not constantly play a part. It is the "slippery stone" that in countless instances has betrayed the foot careless or over­confident, and the downhill-path is trod never to be retraced. As Dr. Guthrie writes: "Believe me, it is impossible to exaggerate, impossible even truthfully to paint, the effect of this evil, either on those who are addicted to it or on those who suffer from it; crushed husbands, broken-hearted wives, and, most of all, those poor innocent children that are dying under cruelty and starvation, that shiver in their rags upon our streets, that walk unshod the winter snows, and, with their matted hair and hollow cheeks, and sunken eyes, glare out on us wild and savage-like from patched and filthy windows. Nor is the curse confined to the lowest stratum of society. Much improved as are the habits of the upper and middle classes, the vice may still be met in all classes of society. It has cost many a servant her place, and yet greater loss —ruined her virtue; it has broken the bread of many a tradesman; it has spoiled the coronet of its lustre, and sunk the highest rank into contempt."
    It is satisfactory, however, to discover that matters are not growing worse. In the number of persons "summarily proceeded against" for divers offences, we find a steady decrease during the last three years in the numbers charged with "drunkenness" and being "drunk and disorderly," the respective figures being 105,310, 104,368, and 100,357, showing a diminution in the three years of nearly 5,000 cases per annum. In the total number of inquests for 1867, viz. 24,648, there is a decrease of 278, as compared with the number in the preceding year. In the verdicts of murder there is a decrease of 17, and of manslaughter 44, or 19.7 per cent, follow­ing a decrease of 59, or 20.9 per cent, as compared with the num­ber in 1865. Under "natural death," as compared with the numbers for 1866, there is a decrease of 51, or 13.6 per cent, in the verdicts "from excessive drinking," following a decrease of 12 in 1866, as compared with the number in 1865. The number of persons com­mitted or bailed for trial for indictable offences during the year, as shown in the police-returns, was 19,416, and of these it may be calculated that about 14,562 (75 per cent being about the usual proportion) would be convicted. To this number is to be added (in order to show the total number of convictions during the year) 335,359 summary convictions before the magistrates (280,196 males and 55,163 females). A large proportion of these cases were, it is true, for offences of a trifling character. They include, how­ever, 74,288 cases of "drunkenness" and being "drunk and dis­orderly" (59,071 males and 15,217 females), and 10,085 offences against the Licensed Victuallers' and Beer Acts, viz. 6,506 by beer-shop-keepers (5,792 males and 714 females); 3,258 by licensed victuallers (2,944 males and 314 females); the remaining 321 (293 males and 28 females) consisting of other offences under the above Acts. The total number of convictions for offences against the Refreshment Houses' Act was 3,032, viz. 2,871 males and 161 females.
    This as regards civilians and those over whom the police have control. The army-returns, however, are not so favourable.
    The last annual report of Lieutenant-Colonel Henderson, R.E., the Inspector-General of Military Prisons, reveals the startling fact that, "during four years the committals for drunkenness have steadily increased as follows: 1863, 882; 1864, 1,132; 1865, 1,801; 1866, 1,926.
    The Inspector-General observes that the explanation of this in­crease "is to be found in the fact that soldiers who formerly were summarily convicted and sentenced to short periods of imprison­ment in regimental cells by their commanding officers for drunken­ness are now tried by court-martial and sentenced to imprisonment in a military prison." But precisely the same explanation was given, in the report for the preceding year, of the increase of the committals in 1865 over those in 1864. Therefore, however ap­plicable this consideration might have been to a comparison with former periods when drunkenness was not dealt with by court-martial, it totally fails to account for the further increase which has occurred since the change was made.
    It must not be supposed that the 1,926 cases in the year 1866 were cases of simple drunkenness, such as we see disposed of in the police-courts by a fine of five shillings. The offence was "habitual drunkenness," of which there are several definitions in the military code; but much the largest portion of the committals are for having been drunk "for the fourth time within 365 days." In order, therefore, to form a just idea of the prevalence of this vice in the army, we must add to the cases brought before a court-martial the far more numerous instances in which the offenders are discovered less than four times a year, and are punished by their commanding officers, or in which they are not discovered at all. Drunkenness is the vice of the army. The state of feeling which pervaded society two generations ago still survives in the army. That species of "good fellowship," which is only another name for mutual indulgence in intoxicating drink, is still in the ascendant in the most popular of English professions, and from this vantage-ground it exercises an injurious influence over the moral condition of the entire community.
    The following order, relative to the punishment of drunkenness in the army, as directed by the Horse Guards, has just been pub­lished:
    "First and second acts, admonition or confinement to barracks at the discretion of the commanding officer. For every subsequent act of drunkenness within three months of former act, 7s. 6d.; if over three and within six months, 5s.; if over six and within nine months, 2s 6d.; if over nine and within twelve months, company entry; if over twelve months, to be treated as the first act. When the four preceding acts have been committed in twelve months, 2s 6d. to be added to the foregoing amounts, and the maximum daily stoppage is to be 2d."
Drink, strong drink, is responsible for very much of the misery that afflicts our social state; but it is scarcely fair to much-abused Alcohol—a harmless spirit enough except when abused—to attri­bute to it all the ruin that flows from the bottle and the public­house gin-tap. Alcohol has enough to answer for; but there can be no doubt that for one victim to its intoxicating qualities, two might be reckoned who have "come to their death-bed" through the various deadly poisons it is the publican's custom to mix with his diluted liquors to give them a fictitious strength and fire. Let us here enumerate a few of the ingredients with which the beer-shop-keeper re-brews his beer, and the publican "doctors" his gin and rum and whisky.
    As is well known, the most common way of adulterating beer is by means of cocculus indicus. This is known "in the trade" as "Indian berry," and is the fruit of a plant that grows on the coast of Malabar. It is a small kidney-shaped, rough, and black-looking berry, of a bitter taste, and of an intoxicating or poisonous quality. It is extensively used to increase the intoxicating proper­ties of the liquor.
    Fox-glove is a plant with large purple flowers, possessing an intensely bitter nauseous taste. It is a violent purgative and vomit; produces languor, giddiness, and even death. It is a poison, and is used on account of the bitter and intoxicating qualities it imparts to the liquor among which it is mixed.
    Green copperas, a mineral substance obtained from iron, is much used to give the porter a frothy top. The green copperas is supposed to give to porter in the pewter-pot that peculiar flavour which drinkers say is not to be tasted when the liquor is served in glass.
    Hartshorn shavings are the horns of the common male deer rasped or scraped down. They are then boiled in the worts of ale, and give out a substance of a thickish nature like jelly, which is said to prevent intoxicating liquor from becoming sour.
    Henbane, a plant of a poisonous nature, bearing a close re­semblance to the narcotic poison, opium. It produces intoxication, delirium, nausea, vomiting, feverishness, and death, and appears chiefly to be used to increase the intoxicating properties of intoxicating liquors; or, in other words, to render them more likely to produce these effects in those who use these liquors.
    Jalap, the root of a sort of convolvulus, brought from the neigh­bourhood of Xalapa, in Mexico, and so called Jalap. It is used as a powerful purgative in medicine. Its taste is exceedingly nauseous; and is of a sweetish bitterness. It is used to prevent the intoxicat­ing liquor from turning sour; and probably to counteract the binding tendency of some of the other ingredients.
    Multum is a mixture of opium and other ingredients, used to increase the intoxicating qualities of the liquor.
    Nut-galls are excrescences produced by the attacks of a small insect on the tender shoots of a tree which grows in Asia, Syria, and Persia. They are of a bitter taste, and are much used in dyeing. They are also used to colour or fine the liquor.
    Nux vomica is the seed of a plant all parts of which are of a bitter and poisonous nature. The seeds of this plant are found in the fruit, which is about the size of an orange. The seeds are about an inch round and about a quarter of an inch thick. They have no smell. It is a violent narcotic acrid poison, and has been used very extensively in the manufacture of intoxicating ale, beer, and porter.
    Opium is the thickened juice of the white poppy, which grows most abundantly in India, though it also grows in Britain. It is the most destructive of narcotic poisons, and it is the most intoxicat­ing. It has been most freely used in the manufacture of intoxicat­ing liquors, because its very nature is to yield a larger quantity of intoxicating matter than any other vegetable.
Oil of vitriol, or sulphuric acid, is a mineral poison of a burning nature. In appearance it is oily and colourless, and has no smell. It is used to increase the heating qualities of liquor.
    Potash is made from vegetables mixed with quick-lime, boiled down in pots and burnt—the ashes remaining after the burning being the potash. It is used to prevent the beer souring, or to change it, if it has become sour.
    Quassia is the name of a tree which grows in America and the West Indies. Both the wood and the fruit are of an intensely bitter taste. It is used instead of hops to increase the bitter in the liquor.
    Wormwood is a plant or flower with downy leaves, and small round-headed flowers. The seed of this plant has bitter and stimu­lating qualities, and is used to increase the exciting and intoxicat­ing qualities of liquors.
    Yew tops, the produce of the yew-tree. The leaves are of an extremely poisonous nature, and so are the tops, or berries and seeds. It is used to increase the intoxicating properties of the liquors.
    The quantities of cocculus-indicus berries, as well as of black extract, brought into this country for adulterating malt liquors, are enormous. The berries in question are ostensibly destined for the use of tanners and dyers. Most of the articles are transmitted to the consumer in their disguised state, or in such a form that their real nature cannot possibly be detected by the unwary. An extract, said to be innocent, sold in casks containing from half a cwt. to five cwt. by the brewers' druggists, under the name of "bittern," is composed of calcined sulphate of iron (copperas), extract of cocculus-indicus berries, extract of quassia and Spanish liquorice. This fraud constitutes by far the most censurable offence committed by unprincipled brewers.
    To both ale and porter an infusion of hops is added, and in general porter is more highly hopped than ale. New ale and porter, which are free from acid, are named mild; those which have been kept for some time, and in which acid is developed, are called hard. Some prefer hard beer; and to suit this taste, the publicans are accustomed, when necessary, to convert mild beer into hard by a summary and simple process, to wit, the addition of sulphuric acid. Again, others prefer mild beer; and the publicans, when their supply of this is low, and they have an abundance of old or hard beer, convert the latter into mild, by adding to it soda, potash, carbonate of lime, &c. Various other adulterations are practised. The narcotic quality of hop is replaced by cocculus inducus; sweetness and colour by liquorice (an innocent fraud); thickness by lint-seed; a biting pungency by caraway-seed and cayenne­pepper. Quassia is also said to be used, with the latter view. Treacle is likewise employed to give sweetness and consistency; while to give beer a frothy surface, sulphate of iron and alum are had recourse to. Such is the wholesome beverage of which nine-tenths of the English people daily partake!
    Nor is the more aristocratic and expensive liquid that assumes the name of wine exempt from the "doctor's" manipulations. Mr. Cyrus Redding, in his evidence before a select committee, describes the mode by which wines are made by manufacturers in London. He stated that brandy cowl—that is, washings of brandy-casks— colouring, probably made of elder-berries, log-wood, salt-of-tartar, gum-dragon, tincture of red sanders or cudbear, were extensively used in preparing an article which sells as port. The entire export of port-wine is 20,000 pipes, and yet 60,000, as given in evidence, are annually consumed in this country. As regards champagne, the same authority says, "In England, champagne has been made from white and raw sugar, crystallised lemon or tartaric acid, water, home-made grape-wine, or perry, and French brandy. Cochineal or strawberries have been added to imitate the pinks. Such a mixture at country balls or dinners passes off very well; but no one in the habit of drinking the genuine wine can be deceived by the imposi­tion. The bouquet of real champagne, which is so peculiar, it is repeated, cannot be imitated—it is a thing impossible. Acidity in wine was formerly corrected in this country by the addition of quicklime, which soon falls to the bottom of the cask. This fur­nished a clue to Falstaff's observation, that there was ‘lime in the sack,' which was a hit at the landlord, as much as to say his wine was little worth, having its acidity thus disguised. As to the sub­stances used by various wine-doctors for flavouring wine, there seems to be no end of them. Vegetation has been exhausted, and the bowels of the earth ransacked, to supply trash for this quack-
    ery. Wines under the names of British madeira, port, and sherry are also made, the basis of which is pale salt, sugar-candy; French brandy and port-wine are added to favour the deception. So impudently and notoriously are the frauds avowed, that there are books published called Publicans' Guides, and Licensed Victual­lers' Directors, in which the most infamous receipts imaginable are laid down to swindle their customers. The various docks on the Thames do not secure purchasers from the malpractices of dis­honest dealers; in this many are deceived. It has been naturally, yet erroneously, imagined that wine purchased in the docks must be a pure article. Malaga sherry is constantly shipped to England for the real sherry of Xeres, Figueras for port, and so on. Port-wine being sent from the place of its growth to Guernsey and Jersey, and there reshipped, with the original quantity tripled for the English market, the docks are no security."
    Professor C. A. Lee, of New York, informs us that "a cheap Madeira is made by extracting the oils from common whisky, and passing it through carbon. There are immense establishments in this city where the whisky is thus turned into wine. In some of those devoted to this branch of business, the whisky is rolled-in in the evening, but the wine goes out in the broad daylight, ready to defy the closest inspection. A grocer, after he had abandoned the nefarious traffic in adulterations, assured me that he had often purchased whisky one day of a country merchant, and before he left town sold the same whisky back to him turned into wine, at a profit of from 400 to 500 per cent. The trade in empty wine-casks in this city with the Custom-house mark and certificate is im­mense; the same casks being replenished again and again, and al­ways accompanied by that infallible test of genuineness, the Custom-house certificate. I have heard of a pipe being sold for twelve dollars. There is in the neighbourhood of New York an extensive manufactory of wine-casks, which are made so closely to imitate the foreign as to deceive experienced dealers. The Custom­house marks are easily counterfeited, and certificates are never wanting. I have heard," said Dr. Lee, "dealers relate instances in which extensive stores were filled by these artificial wines; and when merchants from the country asked for genuine wines, these have been sold them as such, assuring them there could be no doubt of their purity. It is believed," he observes, "that the annual importation of what is called port-wine into the United States far exceeds the whole annual produce of the Alto-Douro."
    Mr. James Forrester, an extensive grower of wines in the Alto­Douro and other districts of the north of Portugal, and another witness, stated that there was a mixture called jeropiga, Composed of two-thirds ‘must,' or grape-juice, and one-third brandy, and which brandy is about twenty per cent above British brandy. proof, used for bringing up character in ports. He further declared that sweetening-matter, in every variety, and elder-berry dye, is administered for the purpose of colouring it and giving it a body. Moreover, Mr. Forrester testified that, by the present Portuguese law, no unsophisticated port-wine is allowed to reach this country. "If any further colouring-matter be absolutely requisite by the speculator—I would not suppose by the merchants (for the mer­chants generally do not like, unless they are obliged, to sell very common wines, and do not like to have recourse to these prac­tices)—then the elder-berry is, I believe, the only dye made use of in this country, and costs an enormous lot of money."
Dr. Munroe of Hull, the author of The Physiological Action of Alcohol, and other scientific works, gives evidence as follows of the danger attending the use of alcoholic drinks as medicine:
    "I will relate a circumstance which occurred to me some years ago, the result of which made a deep impression on my mind. I was not then a teetotaler—would that I had been! —but I con­scientiously, though erroneously, believed in the health-restoring properties of stout. A hard-working, industrious, God-fearing man, a teetotaler of some years' standing, suffering from an abscess in his hand, which had reduced him very much, applied to me for advice. I told him the only medicine he required was rest; and to remedy the waste going on in his system, and to repair the damage done to his hand, he was to support himself with a bottle of stout daily. He replied, ‘I cannot take it, for I have been some years a teetotaler.' ‘Well,' I said, ‘if you know better than the doctor, it is no use applying to me.' Believing, as I did then, that the drink would really be of service to him, I urged him to take the stout as a medicine, which would not interfere with his pledge. He looked anxiously in my face, evidently weighing the matter over in his mind, and sorrowfully replied, ‘Doctor, I was a drunken man once; I should not like to be one again.'
    "He was, much against his will, prevailed on to take the stout, and in time he recovered from his sickness. When he got well, I of course praised up the virtues of stout as a means of saving his life, for which he ought ever to be thankful; and rather lectured him on being such a fanatic (that's the word) as to refuse taking a bottle of stout daily to restore him to his former health. I lost sight of my patient for some months; but I am sorry to say that .on one fine summer's day, when driving through one of our public thoroughfare, I saw a poor, miserable, ragged-looking man leaning against the door of a common public-house drunk, and incapable of keeping an erect position. Even in his poverty, drunkenness, and misery, I discovered it was my teetotal patient whom I had, not so long ago, persuaded to break his pledge. I could not be mis­taken. I had reason to know him well, for he had been a member of a Methodist church; an indefatigable Sunday-school teacher; a prayerleader whose earnest appeals for the salvation of others I had often listened to with pleasure and edification. I immediately went to the man, and was astonished to find the change which drink in so short a time had worked in his appearance. With mani­fest surprise, and looking earnestly at the poor wretch, I said, ‘S—, is that you?' With a staggering reel, and clipping his words, he answered, ‘Yes, it's me. Look at me again. Don't you know me?' ‘Yes, I know you,' I said, ‘and am grieved to see you in this drunken condition. I thought you were a teetotaler?' 
    "With a peculiar grin upon his countenance, he answered, ‘I was before I took your medicine.' ‘I am sorry to see you disgracing yourself by such conduct. I am ashamed of you.' Rousing himself, as drunken people will at times, to extraordinary effort, he scoffingly replied, ‘Didn't you send me here for my medicine?' and with a delirious kind of chuckle he hiccupped out words I shall never forget. ‘Doctor, your medicine cured my body, but it damned my soul!'  
    "Two or three of his boozing companions, hearing our conversa­tion, took him under their protection, and I left him. As I drove away, my heart was full of bitter reflections, that I had been the cause of ruining this man's prospects, not only of this world, but of that which is to come.  
    "You may rest assured I did not sleep much that night. The drunken aspect of that man haunted me, and I found myself weeping over the injury I had done him. I rose up early the next morn­ing and went to his cottage, with its little garden in front, on the outskirts of the town, where I had often seen him with his wife and happy children playing about, but found, to my sorrow, that he had removed some time ago. At last, with some difficulty, I found him located in a low neighbourhood, not far distant from the public-house he had patronised the day before. Here, in such a home as none but the drunkard could inhabit, I found him laid upon a bed of straw, feverish and prostrate from the previous day's debauch, abusing his wife because she could not get him some more drink. She, standing aloof with tears in her eyes, broken down with care and grief, her children dirty and clothed in rags, all friendless and steeped in poverty! What a wreck was there!  
    "Turned out of the church in which he was once an ornament, his religion sacrificed, his usefulness marred, his hopes of eternity blasted, now a poor dejected slave to his passion for drink, with­out mercy and without hope!  
    "I talked to him kindly, reasoned with him, succoured him till he was well, and never lost sight of him or let him have any peace until he had signed the pledge again.  
    "It took him some time to recover his place in the church; but I have had the happiness of seeing him restored. He is now more than ever a devoted worker in the church; and the cause of tem­perance is pleaded on all occasions.  
    "Can you wonder, then, that I never order strong drink for a patient now?"  
    One of the most terrible results of hard drinking is that kind of insanity that takes the name of "delirium tremens;" and its characteristic symptoms may be described as follows: Muscular tremors—more especially of the hands and of the tongue when protruded—along with complete sleeplessness, and delirium of a muttering, sight-seeing, bustling, abrupt, anxious, apprehensive kind. The afflicted patient has not the ability to follow out a train of thought, to explain fully an illusion or perverted sensation, or to perform any act correctly; for he may be one moment rational and the next incoherent, now conscious of his real condition and of surrounding realities, and then again suddenly excited by the most ridiculous fancies—principally of a spectral kind—such as strange visitors in the shape of human beings, devils, cats, rats, snakes, &c.; or by alarming occurrences, such as robberies, fires, pursuits for crimes, and the like. He is easily pleased and satisfied by gentleness and indulgence, and much fretted and agitated by restraint and opposition. The face is generally of a pale dirty colour and wearing an anxious expression; eyes startled but lustre-less, sometimes considerably suffused, and the pupils not contrac­ted unless considerable doses of opium have been administered, or very decided arachnitic symptoms have supervened; skin warm and moist, often perspiring copiously; tongue sometimes loaded, but generally pale and moist, occasionally remarkably clean; appetite small, but the patient will often take whatever is presented to him; thirst by no means urgent, and seldom or never any craving for spirituous liquors; urine scanty and high-coloured, and, in some cases which Dr. Munroe (from whose volume this description is derived) tested, containing a large quantity of albumen, which, however, disappears immediately after the paroxysm is over; alvine evacuations bilious and offensive; and the pulse generally ranges from 98 to 120, generally soft, but of various degrees of fulness and smallness, according to the strength of the patient and the stage of the affection. The precursory symptoms are by no means peculiar or pathognomonic, but common to many febrile affec­tions, implicating the sensorium in the way of repeatedly-distur­bed and sleepless nights, with perhaps more of a hurried and agitated manner than usual for some days previously. The paroxysm which is distinguished by the phenomena above described— occurring with remarkable uniformity, independently of age and constitutionusually runs its course, if uncomplicated and prop­erly treated, on the second or third day, though sometimes earlier, and it seldom extends beyond the fifth day. It then terminates in a profound natural sleep, which may continue for many hours, and from which, if it even lasts for six hours, the patient awakes weak and languid, but quite coherent. The casualties of the disease are convulsions or coma, which, if not immediately fatal, are apt to leave the sufferer a wreck for the remainder of life.