Attempts to Arrest It.
The Permissive Liquors Bill—Its Advocates and their Arguments—The Drunkenness of the Nation Temperance Facts and Anecdotes—Why the Advocates of TotalAbstinence do not make more headway—Moderate Drinking —Hard Drinking— The Mistake about childish Petitioners.
There has recently appeared on the temperance stage a set of well-meaning
gentlemen, who, could they have their way, though they would sweep every
public-house and beershop from the face of the land, are yet good-natured enough
to meet objectors to their extreme views a "third" if not "half-way."
Sir Wilfred Lawson is the acknowledged head and champion of the party, and its
views on the all-important subject are summed up in a Permissive Prohibitory
Liquor Bill. It may be mentioned that the said Bill was rejected in the House
of Commons by a very large majority, and is therefore, for the present, shelved.
It stands, however, as an expression of opinion on the part of eighty-seven
members of parliament, backed by 3,337 petitions, more or less numerously
signed, from various parts of the kingdom, as to what should be done to check
the advancing curse of drunkenness, and, as such, its merits may be here
The Permissive Prohibitory Liquors Bill, as Sir Wilfred Lawson describes it, provides that no public-houses shall be permitted in any district, provided that two-thirds of its population agree that they should be dispensed with. If there are thirty thousand inhabitants of a parish, and twenty thousand of them should be of opinion that public-houses are a nuisance that should be abolished, the remaining ten thousand may grumble, but they must submit, and either go athirst or betake themselves to an adjoining and more generous parish.
Sir W. Lawson, in moving the second reading of his Bill, said "that no statistics were needed to convince the House of Commons of the amount of drunkenness, and consequent poverty and crime, existing in this country; and even if here and there drunkenness might be diminishing, that did not affect his argument, which rested upon the fact that drunkenness in itself was a fertile and admitted source of evil. The Bill was called a ‘Permissive Bill;' but had the rules of the House permitted, it might with truth be called a Bill for the Repression of Pauperism and of Crime. The measure was no doubt unpopular in the House, but it was a consolation to him that, although honourable members differed in opinion as to the efficacy of the remedy proposed, they all sympathised with the object its promoters had in view. The trouble to which he feared honourable members had been put during the last few days in presenting petitions and answering letters showed the depth and intensity of the interest taken in the question out of doors. No less than 3,337 petitions had been presented in favour of the Bill. It would be remembered that in the parliament before last a bill similar in its character had been defeated by an overwhelming majority, all the prominent speakers in opposition to it at that time declaring that they based their hopes as to the diminution of drunkenness upon the spread of education. He agreed in that opinion, but the education, to be successful, must be of the right sort; and while an army of schoolmasters and clergymen were engaged in teaching the people what was good, their efforts, he feared, were greatly counteracted by that other army of 150,000 publicans and beersellers encouraging the people to drinking habits. All these dealers in drink had been licensed and commissioned by the Government, and were paid by results; they had, consequently, a direct pecuniary interest in promoting the consumption of as large an amount of drink as possible. Naturally, if a man entered into a trade, he wished to do as large a trade as possible; and he had always felt that the advocates of temperance did more harm than good in using hard language against the beersellers, when it was the law which enabled them to engage in the trade, which was primarily responsible for the result."
The honourable member explained that the Bill did not in any way interfere with or touch the licensing system as at present existing; where it was the wish of the inhabitants that licenses should be granted, licenses would continue to be granted as at present. But what the measure sought to do was, to empower the inhabitants of a neighbourhood, or the great majority of them, to vote within that neighbourhood the granting of any licenses at all —to crystallise public opinion, as it were, into law. The first objection that had been taken to the measure was, that it would be impossible to carry out prohibition in England; but why should that be impossible in this country which had been successfully carried out in America, in Canada, and in Nova Scotia? All he had to say upon the revenue question was, that no amount of revenue to be derived from the sale of intoxicating drinks should be allowed for a moment to weigh against the general welfare of the people; and that, if the present Bill were passed, such a mass of wealth would accumulate in the pockets of the people, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would meet with no difficulty in obtaining ample funds for carrying on the government of the country. It was further objected that great inconvenience would be inflicted upon the minority by the operation of the Bill; but there, again, the balance of advantage and disadvantage must be looked at, and the convenience of the few should not be allowed to counterbalance the benefit that would be conferred upon the great mass of the people. Then it was said that every year there would be a great fight upon the question; but was not an annual moral contest better than nightly physical conflicts at the doors of the public-houses? The movement in favour of prohibiting the sale of liquor had proceeded from the poor, and it had been supported by what he might call the aristocracy of the working-classes. He asked the House whether it would not be wise, when the future of this country must be in the hands of the working-classes, to pay some attention to their demand for a straightforward measure of this sort, which was intended to put an end to an acknowledged evil of great magnitude.
"What," says the Times, when commenting on Sir Wilfred Lawson's argument, "would it matter to Sir Wilfred Lawson, or to any of the gentlemen who figure on the temperance platform, if all the public-houses of their districts were closed to-morrow? Their own personal comfort would be in no way affected; not one of them probably enters a public-house, except at canvassing times, from one year's end to another. But it would matter a great deal to those humbler and poorer classes of the population who make daily use of the public-house. If it were closed, their comfort would be most materially affected. A large proportion of them use strong liquor without abusing it, and have therefore as much right to it, both legal and moral, as they have to their meat or clothes. Many of them could not get through the work by which they gain their own and their children's bread without it; and their only means of procuring it is provided by the present public-house system. They have not usually capital enough to lay in for themselves a stock of liquor; and even if they had, this plan would be not only wasteful and inconvenient, but would tempt them to commit the very crime which it was employed to avoid. They find it both cheaper and more comfortable to get their liquor in small quantities as they want it, and they can only do this at a public-house. Besides, it should not be forgotten—though well-to-do reformers are very apt, from their inexperience, to forget it—that to many of these poor people living in overcrowded, ill-ventilated ill -lighted rooms, the public-house is the only place in which they can enjoy a quiet evening in pleasant, and perhaps instructive, intercourse with their neighbours after a hard day's work. To drive them from this genial place of resort would be in some cases almost as great a hardship as it would be to the rich man to turn him out of both private house and club. We shall perhaps be told that all this may be true, but that the question reduces itself to a choice of evils, and that, on the whole, much more misery results to the poorer classes from the use of the public-house than would result if they were deprived of it. But, even if we grant this for the sake of argument, it seems to us strangely unjust to debar one man forcibly from a privilege at once pleasant and profitable to him simply because another abuses it. The injustice, too, is greatly heightened by the fact that those who take the most prominent and influential part in debarring him feel nothing of the suffering they inflict."
Following Sir Wilfred Lawson in the House of Commons came Mr. Besley, who declared that something like one hundred millions sterling was annually expended in this country in intoxicating drinks; and in our prisons, our lunatic asylums, and our workhouses, large numbers of the victims of intemperate indulgence in those drinks were always to be found. Mr. Besley believed that the present mode of restricting the sale of liquors was anything but a satisfactory one. In this respect the people would be the best judges of their own wants—of what their own families and their neighbourhoods required; and he believed that if the decision placed in their hands, as it would be by this Bill, the evils of intoxication would be very much mitigated. He did not entertain the hope that we should ever make people sober by Act of Parliament, but he did believe that it was in the power of the Legislature to diminish the. evil to a very great extent. Supposing the expenditure on intoxicating drinks were reduced one-half, how usefully might not the fifty millions thus saved be employed in the interests of the poor themselves! He believed that dwellings for the poor would be among the first works undertaken with that money. For fifty millions they might erect 250,000 dwellings, costing 2001. each, and this was an expenditure which would cause an increased demand for labour in a variety of trades.
I cannot do better than wind up these brief extracts by reproducing the loudly-applauded objections of the Home Secretary, Mr. Bruce, to the Permissive Prohibitory Liquor Bill.
"The most complete remedy for drunkenness was to be found in the cultivation among the people of a better appreciation of their own interests, rather than in legislation. This had undoubtedly been the cause of the almost complete disappearance of drunkenness among the upper classes, coupled with an increased desire for and consequent supply of intellectual amusement among them. But, although education in its largest sense was the true remedy for drunkenness, there was no reason against the introduction of repressive or preventive measures in behalf of those in our manufacturing districts, especially that large class irregularly employed and often oscillating between starvation and occasional well-doing, to whom drunkenness was a refuge from despair. The question was, in whom should the power of restriction be reposed? Some thought in the resident ratepayers, others in the magistrates, and others in a body elected for the purpose. He could not say which proposal should be adopted, but confessed that there was some reason in the demand, that the number of public-houses should be uniformly regulated according to the population. He had been asked whether he would undertake to deal with the matter. To deal with the matter in the manner proposed by the honourable baronet would at once deprive some portion of the people of means of enjoyment, and the owners of public-houses of their property. That would be a proceeding unnecessary and unjust, because, although the admitted evils of drunkenness were very grievous, there was no doubt that public-houses, especially when well managed, really did furnish to a large portion of the people a means of social comfort and enjoyment. His objection to the Bill was, that it would not only cause a great deal if disturbance in many parts of the country, but would almost inevitably cause riot. Certainly the rigorous treatment proposed by the Bill was unsuited to people whose only pleasures were sensuous. The honourable member proposed that a majority of two-thirds of the ratepayers of a borough should be able to put the Bill in operation; but in this proposal he ignored a large proportion of those most interested. Two-thirds of the ratepayers left much more than one-third of the population on the other side, and the more important portion of the population as regards this matter, because it was made up in a great measure by those who lived in all the discomfort of lodgings. Again, it was suggested that the settlement of the question might in each case be left to a majority of the population; but here, again, it might be said that the question would probably be decided by a majority of persons least interested in the question—interested, that was, only as regards peace and order, and careless how far the humbler classes of society were deprived of their pleasure. What the Legislature had to do was, not to deprive the people of means of innocent enjoyment, but to prevent that means being used to foster crime and gross self-indulgence."
However much one might feel disposed, in the main, to agree with Sir Wilfred Lawson and his colleagues, it is not easy to grant him the position he assumes at the commencement of his argument, that "statistics are unnecessary." It is a singular fact, and one that everyone taking an interest in the great and important question of the drunkenness of the nation must have noticed, that amongst the advocates of total-abstinence principles "statistics" invariably are regarded as "unnecessary." This undoubtedly is a grave mistake, and one more likely than any other to cast a deeper shade of distrust over the minds of doubters. It would seem either that the great evil in question is so difficult of access in its various ramifications as to defy the efforts of the statistician, or else that total abstainers, as a body, are imbued with the conviction that the disasters arising from the consumption of intoxicating drinks are so enormous, and widespread, and universally acknowledged, that it would be a mere waste of time to bring forward figures in proof. Perhaps, again, the drunkard is such a very unsavoury subject, that the upright water-drinker, pure alike in mind and body, has a repugnance to so close a handling of him. If this last forms any part of the reason why the question of beer-drinking v. water-drinking should not be laid before us as fairly and fully as two and two can make it, the objectors may be referred to social subjects of a much more repulsive kind, concerning which many noble and large-hearted gentlemen courageously busy themselves, and studiously inquire into, with a view to representing them exactly as they are discovered. In proof of this, the reader is referred to the sections of this book that are devoted to the consideration of Professional Thieves and of Fallen Women.
There can no question that, in a matter that so nearly affects the domestic economy of a people, statistics are not only necessary but indispensable. No man's word should be taken for granted, where so much that is important is involved. The man may be mistaken; but there is no getting away from figures. A man, in his righteous enthusiasm, may exaggerate even, but a square old-fashioned 4 can never be exaggerated into 5, or a positive 1 be so twisted by plausible argument as to falsely represent 2. Yet, somehow, those who urge even so complete a revolution in the ancient and sociable habit of drinking as to make it dependent on the will of Brown and Robinson whether their neighbour Jones shall partake of a pint of beer out of the publican's bright pewter, afford us no figures in support of their extreme views.
Nor is this deficiency observable only in those unaccustomed persons who mount the platform to make verbal statements, and with whom the handling of large and complicated numbers might be found inconvenient. Practised writers on teetotalism exhibit the same carelessness. I have before me at the present moment a goodly number of total-abstinence volumes, but not one furnishes the desired information. Among my books I find, first, John Gough's Orations; but that able and fervent man, although he quotes by the score instances and examples that are enough to freeze the blood and make the hair stand on end of the horrors that arise from indulgence in alcoholic drinks, deals not in statistics. Dr. James Miller writes an excellent treatise on alcohol and its power; but he deals in generalities, and not in facts that figures authenticate. Here is a volume containing a Thousand Temperance Facts and Anecdotes; but in the whole thousand, not one of either tells us of how many customers, on a certain evening, visited a single and well-used public-house, went in sober, and came out palpably drunk. It would be coming to the point, if such information—quite easy to obtain—was set before us. Lastly, I have the Temperance Cyclopaedia. Now, I thought, I am sure, in some shape or another, to find here what I seek; but I searched in vain. The volume in question is a bulky volume, and contains about seven hundred pages, in small close type. In it you may read all about the physical nature of intemperance, and the intellectual nature of intemperance, and of the diseases produced by the use of alcohol, and of the progress of intemperance amongst the ancient Greeks and Romans, together with the history and origin of the teetotal cause in America; but as to the number of drunkards brought before the magistrates and fined, or of the number of crimes shown at the time of trial to have been committed through drunkenness, the Cyclopaedia is dumb. This last is an oversight the more to be deplored because we very well know that if the said numbers were exhibited, they would make a very startling display. It may be urged that, since we already have the testimony of magistrates, and jail-governors, and judges, of the enormous amount of crime that is attributable to strong drinks, it is unreasonable to ask for more; but this objection may be fairly met by the answer, that magistrates themselves, even when discussing the temperance question, occasionally make unreasonable remarks; as did a metropolitan magistrate the other day, who in open court declared, that "if publicans were compelled to shut up their shops, there would be no further use for his." He must have known better. If it were as the worthy magistrate stated, it was equivalent to saying that teetotalers never appeared at his bar; but I think that he would hardly have ventured to that length.
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 pledge.
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.
And now, while we are on the subject of statistics, and the peculiar influences it is the custom of the total abstainer to bring to bear against his erring brother the moderate drinker, I may mention what appears to me the highly objectionable practice of enlisting the cooperation of boys and girls—mere little children— in the interest of their cause. In the parliamentary discussion on the Permissive Prohibitory Liquor Bill, Colonel Jervis remarked, on the subject of the 3,337 petitions that were presented in its support: "I do not know whether the petitions that have been presented in its favour are properly signed; but certainly I have seen attached to one of those petitions which come from my neighbourhood names that I do not recognise. The signatures might, perhaps, be those of Sunday-school children; but I do not think that petitions from children should carry a Bill of this kind." Were it any other business but teetotal business, one might feel disposed to pass by as meaningless the hint conveyed in Colonel Jervis's words. None but those, however, who are conversant with the strange methods total abstainers will adopt to gain their ends will be inclined to attach some weight to them. The children are a weapon of great strength in the hands of the teetotal. Almost as soon as they begin to lisp, they are taught sentences condemnatory of the evils that arise from an indulgence in strong drink; soon as they are able to write, their names appear on the voluminous roll of total abstainers. At their feasts and picnics they carry banners, on which is inscribed their determination to refrain from what they have never tasted; and over their sandwiches Tommy Tucker, in his first breeches, pledges Goody Twoshoes in a glass from the crystal spring, and expresses his intention of dying as he has lived—a total abstainer. I am not a bachelor, but a man long married, and with a "troop of little children at my knee," as numerous, perhaps, as that which gathered about that of "John Brown," immortalised in song. But I must confess that I do chafe against children of a teetotal tendency one occasionally is introduced to. I have before made allusion to a recently-published volume entitled A Thousand Temperance Facts and Anecdotes. This is the title given on the cover; the title-page, however, more liberally reveals the nature of its contents. Thereon is inscribed, "One Thousand Temperance Anecdotes, Facts, Jokes, Riddles, Puns, and Smart Sayings; suitable for Speakers, Penny Readings, Recitations, &c." And, to be sure, it is not in the least objectionable that the teetotaler should have his "comic reciter;" nor can there be a question as to the possibility of being as funny, as hilarious even, over a cup of wholesome, harmless tea as over the grog-glass. But I very much doubt if any but total abstainers could appreciate some of the witticisms that, according to the book in question, occasionally issue from the mouths of babes and sucklings. Here is a sample:
"A CHILD'S ACUMEN.—'Pa, does wine make a beast of a man?'
‘Pshaw, child, only once in a while!'
‘Is that the reason why Mr. Goggins has on his sign—Entertainment for man and beast?'
‘Nonsense, child, what makes you ask?'
‘Because ma says that last night you went to Goggins's a man, and came back a beast! and that he entertained you.'
‘That's mother's nonsense, dear! Run out and play; papa's head aches!'"
I may have a preposterous aversion to a development of cuteness of a certain sort in children, but I must confess that it would not have pained me much had the above brilliant little anecdote concluded with a reference to something else being made to ache besides papa's head.
Again: "Two little boys attended a temperance meeting at Otley in Yorkshire, and signed a pledge that they should not touch nor give strong drink to anyone. On going home, their father ordered them to fetch some ale, and gave them a can for the purpose. They obeyed; but after getting the ale neither of them felt inclined to carry it; so they puzzled themselves as to what they could do. At last they hit upon an expedient. A long broom-handle was procured, and slinging the can on this, each took one end of the broom-handle, and so conveyed the liquor home without spilling it."
One really cannot see what moral lesson is to be deduced from these two "funny" teetotal stories, unless it is intended to show that, from the lofty eminence of total abstinence, a child may with impunity look down upon and "chaff" and despise his beer-drinking parent. It would rather seem that too early an indulgence in teetotal principles is apt to have an effect on the childish mind quite the reverse of humanising. Here is still another instance quoted from the "smart-saying" pages:
"Two poor little children attending a school in America, at some distance from their home, were shunned by the others because their father was a drunkard. The remainder at dinner-time went into the playground and ate their dinner; but the poor twins could only look on. If they approached near those who were eating, the latter would say, ‘You go away; your father is a drunkard.' But they were soon taught to behave otherwise; and then it was gratifying to see how delicate they were in their attention to the two little unfortunates."
If such contemptible twaddle enters very largely into the educational nourishment provided for the young abstainer, we may tremble for the next generation of our beer-imbibing species. It appears, moreover, that those doughty juveniles, when they are well trained, will fearlessly tackle the enemy, alcohol, even when he is found fortified within an adult being; and very often with an amount of success that seems almost incredible. However, the veracious little book of temperance anecdotes vouches for it, and no more can be said. Here following is an affecting instance of how, "once upon a time," a band of small teetotal female infants were the means of converting from the error of his ways a full-blown drunkard:
"We used to furnish little boys and girls with pledge-books and pencils, and thus equipped, they got us numerous signatures. A man was leaning, much intoxicated, against a tree. Some little girls coming from school saw him there, and at once said to each other, ‘What shall we do for him?' Presently one said, ‘0, I'll tell you: let's sing him a temperance song.' And so they did. They collected round him, and struck up, ‘Away, away with the bowl!' And so on, in beautiful tones. The poor drunkard liked it, and so would you. ‘Sing again, my little girls,' said he. ‘We will,' said they, ‘if you will sign the temperance pledge.' ‘No, no,' said he, ‘we are not at a temperance meeting; besides, you've no pledges with you.' ‘Yes, we have, and pencils too;' and they held them up to him. ‘No, no, I won't sign now; but do sing to me!' So they sang again, ‘The drink that's in the drunkard's bowl is not the drink for me. ‘O, do sing again!' he said. But they were firm this time, and declared they would go away if he did not sign. ‘But,' said the poor fellow, striving to find an excuse, ‘you've no table. How can I write without a table?' At this one quiet, modest, pretty little creature came up timidly, with one finger on her lips, and said, ‘You can write upon your hat, while we hold it for you.' The man signed; and he narrated these facts before 1,500 children, saying, ‘Thank God for those children!—they came to me as messengers of mercy.
It is to be hoped this affecting, not to say romantic, episode in the history of "conversions," will not be so lightly read that its chief beauties will be missed. It presents a picture full of the loveliest "bits" that to be thoroughly enjoyed should be lingered over. First of all, let us take the drunkard, too "far gone" for locomotion, leaning "against a tree." Leaning against a tree, with an idiotic leer on his flushed and tipsy face, and maybe trying to recall to his bemuddled memory the burden of the drinking-song that he recently heard and participated in in the parlour of the village alehouse. "What shall we do with him?" "O, I'll tell you: let us sing him a temperance song." There you have a prime bit of the picture complete. The sot with his back to the tree, the swaying green boughs of which have tilted his battered hat over his left eye, and the band of little girls gathered in a semi-circle about him, and rousing him to consciousness by the first thrilling note of "Away, away with the bowl!" The words sound as though they would go best with a hunting-tune, a sort of "heigh-ho, tantivy!" and one can imagine the intoxicated one first of all mistaking it for that roistering melody, and gently snapping his thumbs at it, he being for the present somewhat hampered as regards his vocal abilities. One can imagine him chuckling tipsily and snapping his thumbs—feebler and still more feeble as he discovers his error. It is not a hunting-song; it is a temperance ditty of the first, the purest water! His heart is touched. His now disengaged thumbs seek the corners of his eyes, and the scalding tears steal shimmering down his red-hot nose! "Sing—sing it again!" he gasps. But no; the artless chanters have gained a step, and they mean to retain it. "Not till you sign the pledge," say they. However, he begs so hard that they concede to the extent of a verse and a half. Still he is obdurate; but he gradually yields, till, driven into a corner, he falters, "But you have no table." Then comes the crowning triumph of the picture—the incident of the hat. "You can write upon your hat— we will hold it for you." And the deed was done!
The same volume reveals another story of so similar a kind that it would almost seem that the children of the first story had confided their miraculous experience to the children of the second story.
"A CRYSTAL-PALACE INCIDENT.—The following pleasing incident was related to me by a youthful member of the choir, at the recent Crystal-Palace fête. It seems that some of the young choristers were amusing themselves in the grounds, and saw a poor man lying on the grass partially intoxicated. Their medals attracted his attention, and he began to dispute the motto, "Wine is a mocker." This led to conversation, and the children endeavoured to induce him to become an abstainer, and sang several melodies. One of the conductors was also present. The man seemed much affected during the singing, and cried, my young informant said, until he was quite sober. He confessed that he had once been a teetotaler for three years, during which time he had been much benefited; but had broken his pledge through the influence of his companions. However, he was happily prevailed upon to sign again, and to put down his name in a pledge-book at hand, and before they separated he thanked the young people heartily, saying, ‘I did not come here expecting to sign the pledge. I shall now be able to go home to my wife and children and tell them and to-morrow I shall be able to go to my work, instead of being at the public-house.' What a blessing it may prove to that wife and family should the poor man keep to his resolution! Let no child despair of doing something towards reclaiming the drunkard, but let all endeavour, by loving, gentle persuasion whenever opportunity offers, to help to make the wretched drunkard blessed by living soberly."
I should be sorry indeed to "make fun" of any attempt earnestly and heartily made by anyone for a fellow-creature's good, but really there is so much that is of questionable sincerity in such effusions as those above quoted, that one feels by no means sure it is not intended as a joke. Just, for instance, take that one feature of the drunkard "lying on the grass," and "crying himself sober," while, led by their conductor, the youthful members of the choir sang him all the songs they knew! Such a scene would make the fortune of a farce with Mr. Toole to play the tipsy man.