THE ETHICS OF DRINK AND OTHER SOCIAL QUESTIONS OR JOINTS IN OUR SOCIAL ARMOUR
BY JAMES RUNCIMAN Author of "A Dream of the North Sea," "Skippers and Shellbacks," Etc
London HODDER AND STOUGHTON 27, PATERNOSTER ROW MDCCCXCII 
THE ETHICS OF THE DRINK QUESTION.
All the statistics and formal statements published about drink are no doubt impressive enough to those who have the eye for that kind of thing; but, to most of us, the word "million" means nothing at all, and thus when we look at figures, and find that a terrific number of gallons are swallowed, and that an equally terrific amount in millions sterling is spent, we feel no emotion. It is as though you told us that a thousand Chinamen were killed yesterday; for we should think more about the ailments of a pet terrier than about the death of the Chinese, and we think absolutely nothing definite concerning the "millions" which appear with such an imposing intention when reformers want to stir the public. No man's imagination was ever vitally impressed by figures, and I am a little afraid that the statistical gentlemen repel people instead of attracting them. The persons who screech and abuse the drink sellers are even less effective than the men of figures; their opponents laugh at them, and their friends grow deaf and apathetic in the storm of whirling words, while cool outsiders think that we should be better employed if we found fault with ourselves and sat in sackcloth and ashes instead of gnashing teeth at tradesmen who obey a human instinct. The publican is considered, among platform folk in the temperance body, as even worse than a criminal, if we take all things seriously that they choose to say, and I have over and over again heard vague blather about confiscating the drink-sellers' property and reducing them to the state to which they have brought others. Then there is the rant regarding brewers. Why forget essential business only in order to attack a class of plutocrats whom we have made, and whom our society worships with odious grovellings? The brewers and distillers earn their money by concocting poisons which cause nearly all the crime and misery in broad Britain; there is not a soul living in these islands who does not know the effect of the afore-named poisons; there is not a soul living who does not very well know that there never was a pestilence crawling over the earth which could match the alcoholic poisons in murderous power. There is a demand for these poisons; the brewer and distiller supply the demand and gain thereby large profits; society beholds the profits and adores the brewer. When a gentleman has sold enough alcoholic poison to give him the vast regulation fortune which is the drink-maker's inevitable portion, then the world receives him with welcome and reverence; the rulers of the nation search out honours and meekly bestow them upon him, for can he not command seats, and do not seats mean power, and does not power enable talkative gentry to feed themselves fat out of the parliamentary trough? No wonder the brewer is a personage. Honours which used to be reserved for men who did brave deeds, or thought brave thoughts, are reserved for persons who have done nothing but sell so many buckets of alcoholized fluid. Observe what happens when some brewer's wife chooses to spend L5000 on a ball. I remember one excellent lady carefully boasting (for the benefit of the Press) that the flowers alone that were in her house on one evening cost in all L2000. Well, the mob of society folk fairly yearn for invitations to such a show, and there is no meanness too despicable to be perpetrated by women who desire admission. So through life the drink-maker and his family fare in dignity and splendour; adulation surrounds them; powerful men bow to the superior force of money; wealth accumulates until the amount in the brewer's possession baffles the mind that tries to conceive it—and the big majority of our interesting race say that all this is good. Considering, then, how the English people directly and indirectly force the man of drink onward until he must of necessity fancy there is something of the moral demi-god about him; considering how he is wildly implored to aid in ruling us from Westminster; considering that his aid at an election may procure him the same honour which fell to the share of William Pitt, Earl of Chatham—may we not say that the community makes the brewer, and that if the brewer's stuff mars the community we have no business to howl at him. We are answerable for his living, and moving, and having his being—the few impulsive people who gird at him should rather turn in shame and try to make some impression on the huge, cringing, slavering crowd who make the plutocrat's pompous reign possible.
But for myself, I cannot be bothered with bare figures and vague abuse nowadays; abstractions are nothing, and neat arguments are less than nothing, because the dullest quack that ever quacked can always clench an argument in a fashion. Every turn that talk can take on the drink question brings the image of some man or woman, or company of men and women, before me, and that image is alive to my mind. If you pelt me with tabular forms, and tell me that each adult in Britain drank so many pints last year, you might just as well recite a mathematical proof. I fix on some one human figure that your words may suggest and the image of the bright lad whom I saw become a dirty, loafing, thievish sot is more instructive and more woeful than all your columns of numerals.
Before me passes a tremendous procession of the lost: I can stop its march when I choose and fix on any given individual in the ranks, so that you can hardly name a single fact concerning drink, which does not recall to me a fellow-creature who has passed into the place of wrecked lives and slain souls. The more I think about it the more plainly I see that, if we are to make any useful fight against drink, we must drop the preachee-preachee; we must drop loud execrations of the people whose existence the State fosters; we must get hold of men who know what drinking means, and let them come heart to heart with the victims who are blindly tramping on to ruin for want of a guide and friend. My hideous procession of the damned is always there to importune me; I gathered the dolorous recruits who form the procession when I was dwelling in strange, darkened ways, and I know that only the magnetism of the human soul could ever have saved one of them. If anybody fancies that Gothenburg systems, or lectures, or little tiresome tracts, or sloppy yarns about "Joe Tomkins's Temperance Turkey," or effusive harangues by half-educated buffoons, will ever do any good, he must run along the ranks of my procession with me, and I reckon he may learn something. The comic personages who deal with the subject are cruelly useless; the very notion of making jokes in presence of such a mighty living Terror seems desolating to the mind; I could not joke over the pest of drink, for I had as lief dance a hornpipe to the blare of the last Trumpet.
I said you must have men who know, if you care to rescue any tempted creature. You must also have men who address the individual and get fast hold of his imagination; abstractions must be completely left alone, and your workers must know so much of the minute details of the horror against which they are fighting that each one who comes under their influence shall feel as if the story of his life were known and his soul laid bare. I do not believe that you will ever stop one man from drinking by means of legislation; you may level every tavern over twenty square miles, but you will not thereby prevent a fellow who has the bite of drink from boozing himself mad whenever he likes. As for stopping a woman by such merely mechanical means as the closing of public-houses, the idea is ridiculous to anybody who knows the foxy cunning, the fixed determination of a female soaker. It is a great moral and physical problem that we want to solve, and Bills and clauses are only so much ink and paper which are ineffective as a schoolboy's copybook. If a man has the desire for alcohol there is no power known that can stop him from gratifying himself; the end to be aimed at is to remove the desire—to get the drinker past that stage when the craving presses hardly on him, and you can never bring that about by rules and regulations. I grant that the clusters of drink-shops which are stuck together in the slums of our big towns are a disgrace to all of us, but if we closed 99 per cent. of them by Statute we should have the same drunken crew left. While wandering far and wide over England, nothing has struck me more than the steady resolution with which men will obtain drink during prohibited hours; the cleverest administrator in the world could not frame a network of clauses that could stop them; one might close every drink-selling place in Britain, and yet those folks that had a mind would get drink when they wanted it. You may ply bolts and bars; you may stop the working of beer-engines and taps; but all will be futile, for I repeat, that only by asserting power over hearts, souls, imaginations, can you make any sort of definite resistance to the awe-striking plague that envenoms the world. With every humility I am obliged to say that many of the good people who aim at reform do not know sufficiently well the central facts regarding drink and drinkers. It is beautiful to watch some placid man who stands up and talks gently to a gathering of sympathizers. The reposeful face, the reposeful voice, the refinement, the assured faith of the speaker are comforting; but when he explains that he has always been an abstainer, I am inclined to wonder how he can possibly exchange ideas with an alcoholized man. How can he know where to aim his persuasions with most effect? Can he really sympathize with the fallen? He has never lived with drunkards or wastrels; he is apart, like a star, and I half think that he only has a blurred vision of the things about which he talks so sweetly. He would be more poignant, and more likely to draw people after him, if he had living images burned into his consciousness. My own set of pictures all stand out with ghastly plainness as if they were lit up by streaks of fire from the Pit. I have come through the Valley of the Shadow into which I ventured with a light heart, and those who know me might point and say what was said of a giant: "There is the man who has been in hell." It was true. Through the dim and sordid inferno, I moved as in a trance for awhile, and that is what makes me so keen to warn those who fancy they are safe; that is what makes me so discontented with the peculiar ethical conceptions of a society which bows down before the concocter of drink and spurns the lost one whom drink seizes. I have learned to look with yearning pity and pardon on all who have been blasted in life by their own weakness, and gripped by the trap into which so many weakly creatures stumble. Looking at brutal life, catching the rotting soul in the very fact, have made me feel the most careless contempt for Statute-mongers, because I know now that you must conquer the evil of evils by a straight appeal to one individual after another and not by any screed of throttling jargon. One Father Mathew would be worth ten Parliaments, even if the Parliaments were all reeling off curative measures with unexampled velocity. You must not talk to a county or a province and expect to be heard to any purpose; you must address John, and Tom, and Mary. I am sure that dead-lift individual effort will eventually reduce the ills arising from alcohol to a minimum, and I am equally sure that the blind groping of half-informed men who chatter at St. Stephen's will never do more good than the chatter of the same number of jackdaws. It is impossible to help admiring Sir Wilfrid Lawson's smiling courage, but I really do not believe that he sees more than the faint shadows of the evils against which he struggles; he does not know the true nature of the task which he has attacked, and he fancies that securing temperance is an affair of bolts, and bars, and police, and cackling local councils. I wish he had lived with me for a year.
If you talk with strong emotion about the dark horror of drink you always earn plenty of jibes, and it is true that you do give your hand away, as the fighting men say. It is easy to turn off a light paragraph like this: "Because A chooses to make a beast of himself, is that any reason why B, and C, and D should be deprived of a wholesome article of liquid food?"—and so on. Now, I do not want to trouble B, and C, and D at all; A is my man, and I want to get at him, not by means of a policeman, or a municipal officer of any kind, but by bringing my soul and sympathy close to him. Moreover, I believe that if everybody had definite knowledge of the wide ruin which is being wrought by drink there would be a general movement which would end in the gradual disappearance of drinking habits. At this present, however, our state is truly awful, and I see a bad end to it all, and a very bad end to England herself, unless a great emotional impulse travels over the country. The same middle class which is envenomed by the gambling madness is also the heir of all the more vile habits which the aristocrats have abandoned. Drinking—conviviality I think they call it—is not merely an excrescence on the life of the middle class—it is the life; and work, thought, study, seemly conduct, are now the excrescences. Drink first, gambling second, lubricity third—those are the chief interests of the young men, and I cannot say that the interests of mature and elderly men differ very much from those of the fledglings. Ladies and gentlemen who dwell in quiet refinement can hardly know the scenes amid which our middle-class lad passes the span of his most impressionable days. I have watched the men at all times and in all kinds of places; every town of importance is very well known to me, and the same abomination is steadily destroying the higher life in all. The Chancellors of the Exchequer gaily repeat the significant figures which give the revenue from alcohol; the optimist says that times are mending; the comfortable gentry who mount the pulpits do not generally care to ruffle the fine dames by talking about unpleasant things—and all the while the curse is gaining, and the betting, scoffing, degraded crew of drinkers are sliding merrily to destruction. Some are able to keep on the slide longer than others, but I have seen scores—hundreds—stop miserably, and the very faces of the condemned men, with the last embruted look on them, are before me. My subject has so many thousands of facets that I am compelled to select a few of the most striking. Take one scene through which I sat not very long ago, and then you may understand how far the coming regenerator will have to go. A great room was filled by about 350 men and lads, all of the middle class; a concert was going on, and I was a little curious to know the kind of entertainment which the well-dressed company liked. Of course there was drink in plenty, and the staff of waiters had a busy time; a loud crash of talk went on between the songs, and, as the drink gathered power on excited brains, this crash grew more and more discordant. Nice lads, with smooth, pleasant faces, grew flushed and excited, and I am afraid that I occupied myself in marking out possible careers for a good many of them as I studied their faces. There was not much fun of the healthy kind; fat, comfortable, middle-aged men laughed so heartily at the faintest indecent allusion that the singers grew broader and broader, and the hateful music-hall songs grew more and more risky as the night grew onward. By the way, can anything be more loathsomely idiotic than the average music-hall ditty, with its refrain and its quaint stringing together of casual filthiness? If I had not wanted to fix a new picture on my mind I should have liked better to be in a tap-room among honestly brutal costers and scavengers than with that sniggering, winking gang. The drink got hold, glasses began to be broken here and there, the time was beaten with glass crushers, spoons, pipes, and walking-sticks; and then the bolder spirits felt that the time for good, rank, unblushing blackguardism had come. A being stepped up and faced a roaring audience of enthusiasts who knew the quality of his dirtiness; he launched out into an unclean stave, and he reduced his admirers to mere convulsions. He was encored, and he went a trifle further, until he reached a depth of bestiality below which a gaff in Shoreditch could net descend. Ah! Those bonny lads, how they roared with laughter, and how they exchanged winks with grinning elders! Not a single obscure allusion to filth was lost upon them, and they took more and more drink under pressure of the secret excitement until many of them were unsteady and incoherent. I think I should shoot a boy of mine if I found him enjoying such a foul entertainment. It was leze-Humanity. The orgie rattled on, to the joy of all the steaming, soddened company, and I am not able to guess where some of the songs and recitations came from. There are deeps below deeps, and I suppose that there are skilled literary workmen who have sunk so far that they are ready to supply the unspeakable dirt which I heard.
There was a merry crowd at the bar when this astounding function ceased, and the lively lads jostled, and laughed, and quoted some of the more spicy specimens of nastiness which they had just heard.
Now, I should not have mentioned such an unsavoury business as this, but that it illustrates in a curious way the fact that one is met and countered by the power of Drink at every turn in this country. Among that unholy audience were one or two worthies who ought by rights to have called the police, and forced the promoters of the fun to appear before the Bench in the morning. But then these magistrates had an interest in Beer, and Brewery shares were pretty well represented in the odious room, and thus a flagrant scandal was gently passed aside. The worst of it is that, after a rouse like this, the young men do not care to go to bed, so they adjourn to some one's rooms and play cards till any hour. In the train next morning there are blotchy faces, dull eyes, tongues with a bitter taste, and there is a general rush for "liveners" before the men go to office or warehouse; and the day drags on until the joyous evening comes, when some new form of debauch drowns the memory of the morning's headache. Should you listen to a set of these men when the roar of a long bar is at its height at night, you will find that the life of the intellect has passed away from their midst. The fellows may be sharp in a small way at business, and I am sure I hope they are; but their conversation is painful in the extreme to any one who wishes to retain a shred of respect for his own species. If you listen long, and then fix your mind so that you can pick out the exact significance of what you have heard, you become confounded. Take the scraps of "bar" gabble. "So I says, 'Lay me fours.' And he winks and says, 'I'll give you seven to two, if you like.' Well, you know, the horse won, and I stood him a bottle out of the three pound ten, so I wasn't much in." "'What!' says I; 'step outside along o' me, and bring your pal with you, and I'll spread your bloomin' nose over your face.'" "That corked him." "I tell you Flyaway's a dead cert. I know a bloke that goes to Newmarket regular, and he's acquainted with Reilly of the Greyhound, and Reilly told him that he heard Teddy Martin's cousin say that Flyaway was tried within seven pounds of Peacock. Can you have a better tip than that?" "I'll give you the break, and we'll play for a bob and the games." "Thanks, deah boy, I'll jest have one with you. Lor! wasn't I chippy this morning? I felt as if the pavement was making rushes at me, and my hat seemed to want a shoehorn to get it on or off for that matter. Bill's whisky's too good." "I'm going out with a Judy on Sunday, or else you'd have me with you. The girls won't leave me alone, and the blessed dears can't be denied." So the talk goes steadily forward. What can a bright lad learn there? Many of the assembly are very young, and their features have not lost the freshness and purity of skin which give such a charm to a healthy lad's appearance. Would any mother like to see her favourite among that hateful crowd? I do not think that mothers rightly know the sort of places which their darlings enter; I do not think they guess the kind of language which the youths hear when the chimes sound at midnight; they do not know the intricacies of a society which half encourages callow beings to drink, and then kicks them into the gutter if the drink takes hold effectually. The kindly, seemly woman remains at home in her drawing-room, papa slumbers if he is one of the stay-at-home sort; but Gerald, and Sidney, and Alfred are out in the drink-shop hearing talk fit to make Rabelais turn queasy, or they are in the billiard-room learning to spell "ruin" with all convenient speed, or perhaps they have "copped it"—that is the correct phrase—rather early, and they are swaggering along, shadowed by some creature—half girl, half tiger-cat—who will bring them up in good time. If the women knew enough, I sometimes think they would make a combined, nightly raid on the boozing-bars, and bring their lads out.
Some hard-headed fellows may think that there is something grandmotherly in the regrets which I utter over the cesspool in which so many of our middle-class seem able to wallow without suffering asphyxia; but I am only mournful because I have seen the plight of so many and many after their dip in the sinister depths of the pool. I envy those stolid people who can talk so contemptuously of frailty—I mean I envy them their self-mastery; I quite understand the temperament of those who can be content with a slight exhilaration, and who fiercely contemn the crackbrain who does not know when to stop. No doubt it is a sad thing for a man to part with his self-control, but I happen to hold a brief for the crackbrain, and I say that there is not any man living who can afford to be too contemptuous, for no one knows when his turn may come to make a disastrous slip.
Most strange it is that a vice which brings instant punishment on him who harbours it should be first of all encouraged by the very people who are most merciless in condemning it. The drunkard has not to wait long for his punishment; it follows hard on his sin, and he is not left to the justice of another world. And yet, as we have said, this vice, which entails such scathing disgrace and suffering, is encouraged in many seductive ways. The talk in good company often runs on wine; the man who has the deadly taint in his blood is delicately pressed to take that which brings the taint once more into ill-omened activity; but, so long as his tissues show no sign of that flabbiness and general unwholesomeness which mark the excessive drinker, he is left unnoticed. Then the literary men nearly always make the subject of drink attractive in one way or other. We laugh at Mr. Pickwick and all his gay set of brandy-bibbers; we laugh at John Ridd, with his few odd gallons of ale per day; but let any man be seen often in the condition which led to Mr. Pickwick's little accident, and see what becomes of him. He is soon shunned like a scabbed sheep. One had better incur penal servitude than fall into that vice from which the Government derives a huge revenue—the vice which is ironically associated with friendliness, good temper, merriment, and all goodly things. There are times when one is minded to laugh for very bitterness.
And this sin, which begins in kindness and ends always in utter selfishness—this sin, which pours accursed money into the Exchequer—this sin, which consigns him who is guilty of it to a doom worse than servitude or death—this sin is to be fought by Act of Parliament! On the one hand, there are gentry who say, "Drink is a dreadful curse, but look at the revenue." On the other hand, there are those who say, "Drink is a dreadful thing; let us stamp it out by means of foolscap and printers' ink." Then the neutrals say, "Bother both your parties. Drink is a capital thing in its place. Why don't you leave it alone?" Meantime the flower of the earth are being bitterly blighted. It is the special examples that I like to bring out, so that the jolly lads who are tempted into such places as the concert-room which I described may perhaps receive a timely check. It is no use talking to me about culture, and refinement, and learning, and serious pursuits saving a man from the devouring fiend; for it happens that the fiend nearly always clutches the best and brightest and most promising. Intellect alone is not worth anything as a defensive means against alcohol, and I can convince anybody of that if he will go with me to a common lodging-house which we can choose at random. Yes, it is the bright and powerful intellects that catch the rot first in too many cases, and that is why I smile at the notion of mere book-learning making us any better. If I were to make out a list of the scholars whom I have met starving and in rags, I should make people gape. I once shared a pot of fourpenny ale with a man who used to earn L2000 a year by coaching at Oxford. He was in a low house near the Waterloo Road, and he died of cold and hunger there. He had been the friend and counsellor of statesmen, but the vice from which statesmen squeeze revenue had him by the throat before he knew where he was, and he drifted toward death in a kind of constant dream from which no one ever saw him wake. These once bright and splendid intellectual beings swarm in the houses of poverty: if you pick up with a peculiarly degraded one you may always be sure that he was one of the best men of his time, and it seems as if the very rich quality of his intelligence had enabled corruption to rankle through him so much the more quickly. I have seen a tramp on the road—a queer, long-nosed, short-sighted animal—who would read Greek with the book upside-down. He was a very fine Latin scholar, and we tried him with Virgil; he could go off at score when he had a single line given him, and he scarcely made a slip, for the poetry seemed ingrained. I have shared a pennyworth of sausage with the brother of a Chief Justice, and I have played a piccolo while an ex-incumbent performed a dance which he described, I think, as Pyrrhic. He fell in the fire and used hideous language in Latin and French, but I do not know whether that was Pyrrhic also. Drink is the dainty harvester; no puny ears for him, no faint and bending stalks: he reaps the rathe corn, and there is only the choicest of the choice in his sheaves. That is what I want to fix on the minds of young people—and others; the more sense of power you have, the more pride of strength you have, the more you are likely to be marked and shorn down by the grim reaper; and there is little hope for you when the reaper once approaches, because the very friends who followed the national craze, and upheld the harmlessness of drink, will shoot out their lips at you and run away when your bad moment comes.
The last person who ever suspects that a wife drinks is always the husband; the last person who ever suspects that any given man is bitten with drink is that man himself. So stealthily, so softly does the evil wind itself around a man's being, that he very often goes on fancying himself a rather admirable and temperate customer—until the crash comes. It is all so easy, that the deluded dupe never thinks that anything is far wrong until he finds that his friends are somehow beginning to fight shy of him. No one will tell him what ails him, and I may say that such a course would be quite useless, for the person warned would surely fly into a passion, declare himself insulted, and probably perform some mad trick while his nerves were on edge. Well, there comes a time when the doomed man is disinclined for exertion, and he knows that something is wrong. He has become sly almost without knowing it, and, although he is pining for some stimulus, he pretends to go without, and tries by the flimsiest of devices, to deceive those around him. Now that is a funny symptom; the master vice, the vice that is the pillar of the revenue, always, without any exception known to me, turns a man into a sneak, and it generally turns him into a liar as well. So sure as the habit of concealment sets in, so surely we may be certain that the dry-rot of the soul has begun. The drinker is tremulous; he finds that light beverages are useless to him, and he tries something that burns: his nerve recovers tone; he laughs at himself for his early morning fears, and he gets over another day. But the dry-rot is spreading; body and soul react on each other, and the forlorn one soon begins to be fatally false and weak in morals, and dirty and slovenly in person. Then in the dead, unhappy nights he suffers all the torments that can be endured if he wakes up while his day's supply of alcohol lies stagnant in his system. No imagination is so retrospective as the drunkard's, and the drunkard's remorse is the most terrible torture known. The wind cries in the dark and the trees moan; the agonized man who lies waiting the morning thinks of the times when the whistle of the wind was the gladdest of sounds to him; his old ambitions wake from their trance and come to gaze on him reproachfully; he sees that fortune (and mayhap fame) have passed him by, and all through his own fault; he may whine about imaginary wrongs during the day when he is maudlin, but the night fairly throttles him if he attempts to turn away from the stark truth, and he remains pinned face to face with his beautiful, dead self. Then, with a start, he remembers that he has no friends. When he crawls out in the morning to steady his hand he will be greeted with filthy public-house cordiality by the animals to whose level he has dragged himself, but of friends he has none. Now, is it not marvellous? Drink is so jolly; prosperous persons talk with such a droll wink about vagaries which they or their friends committed the night before; it is all so very, very lightsome! The brewers and distillers who put the mirth-inspiring beverages into the market receive more consideration, and a great deal more money, than an average European prince;—and yet the poor dry-rotted unfortunate whose decadence we are tracing is like a leper in the scattering effects which he produces during his shaky promenade. He is indeed alone in the world, and brandy or gin is his only counsellor and comforter. As to character, the last rag of that goes when the first sign of indolence is seen; the watchers have eyes like cats, and the self-restrained men among them have usually seen so many fellows depart to perdition that every stage in the process of degradation is known to them. No! there is not a friend, and dry, clever gentlemen say, "Yes. Good chap enough once on a day, but can't afford to be seen with him now." The soaker is amazed to find that women are afraid of him a little, and shrink from him—in fact, the only people who are cordial with him are the landlords, among whom he is treated as a sort of irresponsible baby. "I may as well have his money as anybody else. He shan't get outrageously drunk here, but he may as well moisten his clay and keep himself from being miserable. If he gets the jumps in the night that's his look-out." That is the soaker's friend. The man is not unkind; he is merely hardened, and his morals, like those of nearly all who are connected with the great Trade, have suffered a twist. When the soaker's last penny has gone, he will receive from the landlord many a contemptuously good-natured gift—pity it is that the lost wastrel cannot be saved before that weariful last penny huddles in the corner of his pocket.
While the harrowing descent goes on our suffering wretch is gradually changing in appearance: the piggish element that is latent in most of us comes out in him; his morality is sapped; he will beg, borrow, lie, and steal; and, worst of all, he is a butt for thoughtless young fellows. The last is the worst cut of all, for the battered, bloodless, sunken ne'er-do-well can remember only too vividly his own gallant youth, and the thought of what he was drives him crazed.
There is only one end; if the doomed one escapes delirium tremens he is likely to have cirrhosis, and if he misses both of these, then dropsy or Bright's disease claims him. Those who once loved him pray for his death, and greet his last breath with an echoing sigh of thankfulness and relief: he might have been cheered in his last hour by the graceful sympathy of troops of friends; but the State-protected vice has such a withering effect that it scorches up friendship as a fiery breath from a furnace might scorch a grass blade. If one of my joyous, delightful lads could just watch the shambling, dirty figure of such a failure as I have described; if he could see the sneers of amused passers-by, the timid glances of women, the contemptuous off-hand speech of the children—"Oh! him! That's old, boozy Blank;" then the youths might well tremble, for the woebegone beggar that snivels out thanks for a mouthful of gin was once a brave lad—clever, handsome, generous, the delight of friends, the joy of his parents, the most brilliantly promising of all his circle. He began by being jolly; he was well encouraged and abetted; he found that respectable men drank, and that Society made no demur. But he forgot that there are drinkers and drinkers, he forgot that the cool-headed men were not tainted by heredity, nor were their brains so delicately poised that the least grain of foreign matter introduced in the form of vapour could cause semi-insanity. And thus the sacrifice of Society—and the Exchequer—goes to the tomb amid contempt, and hissing, and scorn; while the saddest thing of all is that those who loved him most passionately are most glad to hear the clods thump on his coffin. I believe, if you let me keep a youngster for an hour in a room with me, I could tell him enough stories from my own shuddery experience to frighten him off drink for life. I should cause him to be haunted.
There is none of the rage of the convert in all this; I knew what I was doing when I went into the base and sordid homes of ruin during years, and I want to know how any justification not fitted for the libretto of an extravaganza can be given by certain parliamentary gentlemen in order that we may be satisfied with their conduct. My wanderings and freaks do not count; I was a Bohemian, with the tastes of a Romany and the curiosity of a philosopher; I went into the most abominable company because it amused me and I had only myself to please, and I saw what a fearfully tense grip the monster, Drink, has taken of this nation; and let me say that you cannot understand that one little bit, if you are content to knock about with a policeman and squint at signboards. Well, I want to know how these legislators can go to church and repeat certain prayers, while they continue to make profit by retailing Death at so much a gallon; and I want to know how some scores of other godly men go out of their way to back up a traffic which is very well able to take care of itself. A wild, night-roaming gipsy like me is not expected to be a model, but one might certainly expect better things from folks who are so insultingly, aggressively righteous. One sombre and thoughtful Romany of my acquaintance said, "My brother, there are many things that I try to fight, and they knock me out of time in the first round." That is my own case exactly when I observe comfortable personages who deplore vice, and fill their pockets to bursting by shoving the vice right in the way of the folks most likely to be stricken with deadly precision by it.
It is not easy to be bad-tempered over this saddening business; one has to be pitiful. As my memory travels over England, and follows the tracks that I trod, I seem to see a line of dead faces, that start into life if I linger by them, and mop and mow at me in bitterness because I put out no saving hand. So many and many I saw tramping over the path of Destruction, and I do not think that ever I gave one of them a manly word of caution. It was not my place, I thought, and thus their bones are bleaching, and the memory of their names has flown away like a mephitic vapour that was better dispersed. Are there many like me, I wonder, who have not only done nothing to battle with the mightiest modern evil, but have half encouraged it through cynical recklessness and pessimism? We entrap the poor and the base and the wretched to their deaths, and then we cry out about their vicious tendencies, and their improvidence, and all the rest. Heaven knows I have no right to sermonize; but, at least, I never shammed anything. When I saw some spectacle of piercing misery caused by Drink (as nearly all English misery is) I simply choked down the tendency to groan, and grimly resolved to see all I could and remember it. But now that I have had time to reflect instead of gazing and moaning, I have a sharp conception of the thing that is biting at England's vitals. People fish out all sorts of wondrous and obscure causes for crime. As far as England is concerned I should lump the influences provocative of crime and productive of misery into one—I say Drink is the root of almost all evil. It is heartbreaking to know what is going on at our own doors, for, however we may shuffle and blink, we cannot disguise the fact that many millions of human beings who might be saved pass their lives in an obscene hell—and they live so in merry England. Durst any one describe a lane in Sandgate, Newcastle-on-Tyne, a court off Orange Street or Lancaster Street, London, an alley in Manchester, a four-storey tenement in the Irish quarter of Liverpool? I think not, and it is perhaps best that no description should be done; for, if it were well done it would make harmless people unhappy, and if it were ill done it would drive away sympathy. I only say that all the horrors of those places are due to alcohol alone. Do not say that idleness is answerable for the gruesome state of things; that would be putting cause for effect. A man finds the pains of the world too much for him; he takes alcohol to bring on forgetfulness; he forgets, and he pays for his pleasure by losing alike the desire and capacity for work. The man of the slums fares exactly like the gentleman: both sacrifice their moral sense, both become idle; the bad in both is ripened into rankness, and makes itself villainously manifest at all seasons; the good is atrophied, and finally dies. Goodness may take an unconscionable time a-dying, but it is sentenced to death by the fates from the moment when alcoholism sets in, and the execution is only a matter of time.
England, then, is a country of grief. I never yet knew one family which had not lost a cherished member through the national curse; and thus at all times we are like the wailing nation whereof the first-born in every house was stricken. It is an awful sight, and as I sit here alone I can send my mind over the sad England which I know, and see the army of the mourners. They say that the calling of the wounded on the field of Borodino was like the roar of the sea: on my battle-field, where drink has been the only slayer, there are many dead; and I can imagine that I hear the full volume of cries from those who are stricken but still living. The vision would unsettle my reason if I had not a trifle of Hope remaining. The philosophic individual who talks in correctly frigid phrases about the evils of the Liquor Trade may keep his reason balanced daintily and his nerve unhurt. But I have images for company—images of wild fearsomeness. There is the puffy and tawdry woman who rolls along the street goggling at the passengers with boiled eye. The little pretty child says, "Oh! mother, what a strange woman. I didn't understand what she said." My pretty, that was Drink, and you may be like that one of these days, for as little as your mother thinks it, if you ever let yourself touch the Curse carelessly. Bless you, I know scores who were once as sweet as you who can now drink any costermonger of them all under the stools in the Haymarket bar. The young men grin and wink as that staggering portent lurches past: I do not smile; my heart is too sad for even a show of sadness. Then there are the children—the children of Drink they should be called, for they suck it from the breast, and the venomous molecules become one with their flesh and blood, and they soon learn to like the poison as if it were pure mother's milk. How they hunger—those little children! What obscure complications of agony they endure and how very dark their odd convulsive species of existence is made, only that one man may buy forgetfulness by the glass. If I let my imagination loose, I can hear the immense army of the young crying to the dumb and impotent sky, and they all cry for bread. Mercy! how the little children suffer! And I have seen them by the hundred—by the thousand—and only helped from caprice; I could do no other. The iron winter is nearing us, and soon the dull agony of cold will swoop down and bear the gnawing hunger company while the two dire agencies inflict torture on the little ones. Were it not for Drink the sufferers might be clad and nourished; but then Drink is the support of the State, and a few thousand of raw-skinned, hunger-bitten children perhaps do not matter. Then I can see all the ruined gentlemen, and all the fine fellows whose glittering promise was so easily tarnished; they have crossed my track, and I remember every one of them, but I never could haul back one from the fate toward which he shambled so blindly; what could I do when Drink was driving him? If I could not shake off the memories of squalor, hunger, poverty—well-deserved poverty—despair, crime, abject wretchedness, then life could not be borne. I can always call to mind the wrung hands and drawn faces of well-nurtured and sweet ladies who saw the dull mask of loathsome degradation sliding downward over their loved one's face. Of all the mental trials that are cruel, that must be the worst—to see the light of a beloved soul guttering gradually down into stench and uncleanness. The woman sees the decadence day by day, while the blinded and lulled man who causes all the indescribable trouble thinks that everything is as it should be. The Drink mask is a very scaring thing; once you watch it being slowly fitted on to a beautiful and spiritual face you do not care over-much about the revenue.
And now the famous Russian's question comes up: What shall we do? Well, so far as the wastrel poor are concerned, I should say, "Catch them when young, and send them out of England so long as there is any place abroad where their labour is sought." I should say so, because there is not a shadow of a chance for them in this country: they will go in their turn to drink as surely as they go to death. As to the vagabond poor whom we have with us now I have no hope for them; we must wait until death weeds them out, for we can do nothing with them nor for them.
Among the classes who are better off from the worldly point of view, we shall have sacrifices offered to the fiend from time to time. Drink has wound like some ubiquitous fungus round and round the tissues of the national body, and we are sure to have a nasty growth striking out at intervals. It tears the heart-strings when we see the brave, the brilliant, the merry, the wise, sinking under the evil clement in our appalling dual nature, and we feel, with something like despair, that we cannot be altogether delivered from the scourge yet awhile. I have stabs of conscience when I call to mind all I have seen and remember how little I have done, and I can only hope, in a shame-faced way, that the use of intoxicants may be quietly dropped, just as the practice of gambling, and the habit of drinking heavy, sweet wines, have passed away from the exclusive society in which cards used to form the main diversion. Frankly speaking, I have seen the degradation, the abomination, and the measureless force of Drink so near at hand that I am not sanguine. I can take care of myself, but I am never really sure about many other people, and I had good reason for not being sure of myself. One thing is certain, and that is that the creeping enemy is sure to attack the very last man or woman whom you would expect to see attacked. When the first symptoms are seen, the stricken one should be delivered from ennui as much as possible, and then some friend should tell, in dull, dry style, the slow horror of the drop to the Pit. Fear will be effective when nothing else will. Many are stronger than I am and can help more. By the memory of broken hearts, by the fruitless prayers of mothers and sorrowing wives, for the sake of the children who are forced to stay on earth in a living death, I ask the strong to help us all. Blighted lives, wrecked intellects, wasted brilliancy, poisoned morality, rotted will—all these mark the road that the King of Evils takes in his darksome progress. Out of the depths I have called for aid and received it, and now I ask aid for others, and I shall not be denied.
VOYAGING AT SEA
A philosopher has described the active life of man as a continuous effort to forget the facts of his own existence. It is vain to pin such philosophers to a definite meaning; but I think the writer meant vaguely to hint in a lofty way that the human mind incessantly longs for change. We all crave to be something that we are not; we all wish to know the facts concerning states of existence other than our own; and it is this craving curiosity that produces every form of social and spiritual activity. Yet, with all this restless desire, this uneasy yearning, only a few of us are ever able to pass beyond one piteously narrow sphere, and we rest in blank ignorance of the existence that goes on without the bounds of our tiny domain. How many people know that by simply going on board a ship and sailing for a couple of days they would pass practically into another moral world, and change their mental as well as their bodily habits? I have been moved to these reflections by observing the vast amount of nautical literature which appears during the holiday season, and by seeing the complete ignorance and misconception which are palmed off upon the public. It is a fact that only a few English people know anything about the mightiest of God's works. To them life on the ocean is represented by a series of phrases which seem to have been transplanted from copy-books. They speak of "the bounding main," "the raging billows," "seas mountains high," "the breath of the gale," "the seething breakers," and so on; but regarding the commonplace, quiet everyday life at sea they know nothing. Strangely enough, only Mr. Clark Russell has attempted to give in literary form a vivid, veracious account of sea-life, and his thrice-noble books are far too little known, so that the strongest maritime nation in the whole world is ignorant of vital facts concerning the men who make her prosperity. Let any one who is well informed enter a theatre when a nautical drama is presented; he will find the most ridiculous spectacle that the mind of man can conceive. On one occasion, when a cat came on to the stage at Drury Lane and ran across the heaving billows of the canvas ocean, the audience roared with laughter; but to the judicious critic the real cause for mirth was the behaviour of the nautical persons who figured in the drama. The same ignorance holds everywhere. Seamen scarcely ever think of describing their life to people on shore, and the majority of landsmen regard a sea-voyage as a dull affair, to be begun with regret and ended with joy. Dull! Alas, it is dull for people who have dim eyes and commonplace minds; but for the man who has learned to gaze aright at the Creator's works there is not a heavy minute from the time when the dawn trembles in the gray sky until the hour when, with stars and sea-winds in her raiment, night sinks on the sea. Dull! As well describe the rush of the turbulent Strand or the populous splendour of Regent Street by that word! I have always held that a man cannot be considered as educated if he is unable to wait an hour in a railway-station for a train without ennui. What is education good for if it does not give us resources which may enable us to gather delight or instruction from every sight and sound that may fall on our nerves? The most melancholy spectacle in the world is presented by the stolid citizen who yawns over his Bradshaw while the swift panoramas of Charing Cross or Euston are gliding by him. Men who are rightly constituted find delight in the very quietude and isolation of sea-life; they know how to derive pure entertainment from the pageant of the sky and the music of winds and waters, and they experience a piquant delight by reason of the contrast between the loneliness of the sea and the eager struggling life of the City. Proceeding, as is my custom, by examples, I shall give precise descriptions of specimen days which anybody may spend on the wandering wastes of the ocean. "All things pertaining to the life of man are of interest to me," said the Roman; and he showed his wisdom by that saying.
Dawn. Along the water-line a pale leaden streak appears, and little tremulous ripples of gray run gently upwards, until a broad band of mingled white and scarlet shines with cold radiance. The mystery of the sea is suddenly removed, and we can watch the strange serpentine belts that twine and glitter all round from our vessel to the horizon. The light is strong before the sun appears; and perhaps that brooding hour, when Nature seems to be turning in her sleep, is the best of the whole day. The dew lies thickly on deck, and the chill of the night hangs in the air; but soon a red arc looms up gorgeously at the sea-line; long rays spread out like a sheaf of splendid swords on the blue; there is, as it were, a wild dance of colour in the noble vault, where cold green and pink and crimson wind and flush and softly glide in mystic mazes; and then—the sun! The great flaming disc seems to poise for a little, and all around it—pierced here and there by the steely rays—the clouds hang like tossing scarlet plumes.
Like a warrior-angel sped On a mighty mission, Light and life about him shed— A transcendent vision!
Mailed in gold and fire he stands, And, with splendours shaken, Bids the slumbering seas and lands Quicken and awaken.
Day is on us. Dreams are dumb, Thought has light for neighbour; Room! The rival giants come— Lo, the Sun and Labour!
After witnessing that lordly spectacle, who can wonder at Zoroaster? As the lights from east and west meet and mingle, and the sky rears its blue immensity, it is hard to look on for very gladness.
I shall suppose that we are on a small vessel—for, if we sail in a liner, or even in an ordinary big steamer, it is somewhat like moving about on a floating factory. The busy life of a sailor begins, for Jack rarely has an idle minute while he is on deck. Landsmen can call in help when their house needs repairing, but sailors must be able to keep every part of their house in perfect order; and there is always something to be done. But we are lazy; we toil not, neither do we tar ropes, and our main business is to get up a thoroughly good appetite while we watch the deft sailor-men going about their business. It is my belief that a landsman might spend a month without a tedious hour, if he would only take the trouble to watch everything that the men do and find out why it is done. Ages on ages of storm and stress are answerable for the most trifling device that the sailor employs. How many and many lives were lost before the Norsemen learned to support the masts of their winged dragons by means of bull's-hide ropes! How many shiploads of men were laid at the mercy of the travelling seas before the Scandinavians learned to use a fixed rudder instead of a huge oar! Not a bolt or rope or pulley or eyelet-hole has been fixed in our vessel save through the bitter experience of centuries; one might write a volume about that mainsail, showing how its rigid, slanting beauty and its tremendous power were gradually attained by evolution from the ugly square lump of matting which swung from the masthead of Mediterranean craft. But we must not philosophise; we must enjoy. The fresh morning breeze runs merrily over the ripples and plucks off their crests; our vessel leans prettily, and you hear a tinkling hiss as she shears through the lovely green hillocks. Sometimes she thrusts away a burst of spray, and in the midst of the white spurt there shines a rainbow. It may happen that the rainbows come thickly for half an hour at a time, and then we seem to be passing through a fairy scene. Go under the main-yard and look away to leeward. The wind roars out of the mainsail and streams over you in a cold flood; but you do not mind that, for there is the joyous expanse of emerald and snow dancing under the glad sun. There is something unspeakably delightful in the rushing never-ending procession of waves that passes away, away in merry ranks to the shining horizon; and all true lovers of the sea are exhilarated by the sweet tumult. Remember I am talking about a fine day; I shall come to the bad weather in good time. On this ineffable morning a lady may come up and walk briskly in the crisp air; but indeed women are the best and coolest of sailors in any weather when once their preliminary troubles are over. The hours fly past, and we hail the announcement of breakfast with a sudden joy which tells of gross materialism. I may say, by-the-way, that our lower nature, or what sentimental persons call our lower nature, comes out powerfully at sea, and men of the most refined sort catch themselves in the act of wondering time after time when meals will be ready. For me I think that it is no more gross to delight in flavours than it is to delight in colours or harmonies, and one of my main reasons for dwelling on the delights of the sea lies in the fact that the voyager learns to take an exquisite, but quite rational, delight in the mere act of eating. I know that I ought to speak as though dinner were an ignoble institution; I know that the young lady who said, "Thanks—I rarely eat," represented a class who pretend to devote themselves to higher joys; but I decline to talk cant on any terms, and I say that the healthy, hearty hunger bestowed by the open sea is one of God's good gifts.
The sweet morning passes away, and somehow our thoughts run in bright grooves. That is the strange thing about the sea—its moods have an instant effect on the mind; and, as it changes with wild and swift caprice, the seafarer finds that his views of life alter with tantalizing but pleasant suddenness. Just now I am speaking only of content and exhilaration; but I may soon see another side of the picture. The afternoon glides by like the morning; no churlish houses and chimney-pots hide the sun, and we see him describe his magnificent curve, while, with mysterious potency, he influences the wind. Dull! Why, on shore we should gaze out on the same streets or fields or trees; but here our residence is driven along like a flying cloud, and we gain a fresh view with every mile! I confess that I like sailing in populous waters, for indeed the lonely tropical seas and the brassy skies are not by any means to be regarded as delightful; but for the present we are supposing ourselves to be in the track of vessels, and there is some new and poignant interest for every hour. Watch this vast pallid cloud that looms up far away; the sun strikes on the cloud, and straightway the snowy mass gleams like silver; on it comes, and soon we see a superb four-masted clipper broadside on to us. A royal fabric she is; every snowy sail is drawing, and she moves with resistless force and matchless grace through the water, while a boiling wreath of milky foam rushes away from her bows, and swathes of white dapple the green river that seems to pour past her majestic sides. The emigrants lean over the rail, and gaze wistfully at us. Ah, how many thousands of miles they must travel ere they reach their new home! Strange and pitiful it is to think that so few of them will ever see the old home again; and yet there is something bright and hopeful in the spectacle, if we think not of individuals, but of the world's future. Under the Southern Cross a mighty state is rising; the inevitable movement of populations is irresistible as the tides of mid-ocean; and those wistful emigrants who quietly wave their handkerchiefs to us are about to assist in working out the destiny of a new world. Dull! The passing of that great vessel gives matter for grave thought. She swings away, and we may perhaps try to run alongside for a while, but the immense drag of her four towers of canvas soon draws her clear, and she speedily looms once more like a cloud on the horizon. Good-bye! The squat collier lumbers along, and her leisurely grimy skipper salutes as we near him. It is marvellous to reflect that the whole of our coal-trade was carried on in those queer tubs only sixty years ago. They are passing away, and the gallant, ignorant, comical race of sailors who manned them has all but disappeared; the ugly sordid iron box that goes snorting past us, belching out jets of water from her dirty side—that is the agency that destroyed the colliers, and, alas, destroyed the finest breed of seamen that ever the world saw! So rapidly do new sights and sounds greet us that the night steals down almost before we are aware of its approach. The day is for joy; but, ah, the night is for subtle overmastering rapture, for pregnant gloom, for thoughts that lie too deep for tears! If a wind springs up when the last ray of the sun shoots over the shoulder of the earth, then the ship roars through an inky sea, and the mysterious blending of terror and ecstasy cannot be restrained. Hoarsely the breeze shrieks in the cordage, savagely the water roars as it darts away astern like a broad fierce white flame. The vessel seems to spring forward and shake herself with passion as the sea retards her, and the whole wild symphony of humming ropes, roaring water, screaming wind, sets every pulse bounding. Should the moon shine out from the charging clouds, then earth has not anything to show more fair; the broad track of light looks like an immeasurable river peopled by fiery serpents that dart and writhe and interwind, until the eye aches with gazing on them. Sleep seems impossible at first, and yet by degrees the poppied touch lulls our nerves, and we slumber without heeding the harrowing groans of the timbers or the confused cries of the wind.
So much for the glad weather; but, when the sky droops low, and leaping waves of mournful hue seem to rear themselves and mingle with the clouds, then the gladness is not so apparent. Still the exulting rush of the ship through the gray seas and her contemptuous shudder as she shakes off the masses of water that thunder down on her are fine to witness. Even a storm, when cataracts of hissing water plunge over the vessel and force every one to "hang on anywhere," is by no means without its delights; but I must candidly say that a ship is hardly the place for a woman when the wild winds try their strength against the works of man. On the whole, if we reckon up the pains and pleasures of life on board ship, the balance is all in favour of pleasure. The sailors have a toilsome life, and must endure much; but they have health. It is the sense of physical well-being that makes the mind so easy when one is on the sea; and refined men who have lived in the forecastle readily declare that they were happy but for the invariable dirt. Instead of trooping to stuffy lodgings, those of my readers who have the nerve should, if not this year, then next summer, go right away and take a cheap and charming holiday on the open sea.
The brisk Pressmen are usually exceedingly busy in calculating the chances of a huge fight—indeed they spend a good part of each year in that pleasing employment. Smug diplomatists talk glibly about "war clearing the air;" and the crowd—the rank and file—chatter as though war were a pageant quite divorced from wounds and death, or a mere harmless hurly-burly where certain battalions receive thrashings of a trifling nature. It is saddening to notice the levity with which the most awful of topics is treated, and especially is it sad to see how completely the women and children are thrust out of mind by belligerent persons. We who have gazed on the monster of War, we who have looked in the whites—or rather the reds—of his loathsome eyes, cannot let this burst of frivolity work mischief without one temperate word of warning and protest.
Pleasant it is to watch the soldiers as they march along the streets, or form in their superb lines on parade. No man or woman of any sensibility can help feeling proudly stirred when a Cavalry regiment goes by. The clean, alert, upright men, with their sure seat; the massive war-horses champing their bits and shaking their accoutrements: the rhythmic thud of hoofs, the keen glitter of steel, and the general air of power, all combine to form a spectacle that sets the pulses beating faster. Then, again, observe the strange elastic rhythm of the march as a battalion of tall Highlanders moves past. The fifes and drums cease, there is a silence broken only by that sinuous beautiful onward movement of lines of splendid men, until the thrilling scream of the pipes shatters the air, and the mad tumult of warlike sound makes even a Southron's nerves quiver. Then, once more, watch the deadly, steady march of a regiment of Guards. The stalwart men step together, and, as the red ranks sway on, it seems as though no earthly power could stand against them. The gloomy bearskins are like a brooding dark cloud, and the glitter of the rifle-barrels carries with it certain sinister terrible suggestions. The gaiety and splendour of Cavalry and Infantry all gain increased power over the imagination since we know that each of those gaily clad fellows would march to his doom without a tremor or a murmur if he received the word. Poor Tommy Atkins is surrounded by a sort of halo in the popular imagination, simply because it is known that he may one day have to deal forth death to an enemy, or take his own doom, according to the chances of combat. I need say little about the field-days and reviews which have caused so many martially-minded young men to take the shilling. The crash of the small-arm firing, the wild galloping of hasty aides-de-camp, the measured movement of serried lines, the rapid flight of flocks of bedizened staff-officers, all make up a very exciting and confusing picture, and many a youngster has fancied that war must be a glorious game. Let us leave the picturesque and theatrical business and come to the dry prose.
So far from being an affair of glitter, excitement, fierce joy, fierce triumph, war is but a round of hideous hours which bring memories of squalor, filth, hunger, wretchedness, dull toil, unspeakable misery. Take it at its best, and consider what a modern engagement really means. Recollect, moreover, that I am about to use sentences accurate as a photograph. The sportive Pressman says, "Vernon began to find the enemy's cloud of sharp-shooters troublesome, so the 5th sought better cover on the right, leaving Brown free to develop his artillery fire." "Troublesome!" Translate that word, and it means this: Private Brown and Private Jones are lying behind the same low bank. Jones raises his head; there comes a sound like "Roo-o-osh—pht!"—then a horrible thud. Jones glares, grasps at nothing with convulsed hands, and rolls sideways with a long shudder. The ball took him in the temple. Serjeant Morrison says, "Now, men, try for that felled log! Double!" A few men make a short rush, and gain the solid cover; but one throws up his hands when half way, gives a choking yell, springs in the air, and falls down limp. The same thing is going on over a mile of country, while the shell-fire is gradually gaining power—and we may be sure that the enemy are suffering at the hands of our marksmen. And now suppose that an infantry brigade receives orders to charge. "Charge!" The word carries magnificent poetic associations, but, alas, it is a very prosaic affair nowadays! The lines move onward in short rushes, and it seems as if a swarm of ants were migrating warily. The strident voices of the officers ring here and there: the men edge their way onward: it seems as if there were no method in the advance; but somehow the loose wavy ranks are kept well in hand, and the main movement proceeds like machinery. "I feel a bit queer," says Bill Williams to a veteran friend. "Never mind—'taint every one durst say that," says the friend. "Whoo-o-sh!" a muffled thump, and the veteran falls forward, dropping his rifle. He struggles up on hands and knees, but a rush of blood chokes him, and he drops with a groan. He will lie there for a long time before his burning throat is moistened by a cup of water, and he knows only too well that the surgeon will merely shake his head when he sees him. The brigade still advances; gradually the sputtering crackle in their front grows into a low steady roar; a stream of lead whistles in the air, and the long lurid line of flame glows with the sustained glare of a fire among furze. Men fall at every yard, but the hoarse murmur of the dogged advance never ceases. At last the time comes for the rush. The ranks are trimmed up by imperceptible degrees; the men set their teeth, and a strange eager look comes over many a face. The eyes of the youngsters stare glassily; they can see the wood from which the enemy must be dislodged at any price, but they can form no definite ideas; they merely grip their rifles and go on mechanically. The word is given—the dark lines dash forward; the firing from the wood breaks out in a crash of fury—there is a long harsh rattle, then a chance crack like a thunder-clap, and then a whirring like the spinning of some demoniac mill. Curses ring out amid a low sound of hard breathing; the ranks are gapped here and there as a man wriggles away like a wounded rabbit, or another bounds upward with a frantic ejaculation. Then comes the fighting at close quarters. Perhaps kind women who are misled by the newspaper-writer's brisk babblement may like to know what that means, so I give the words of the best eyewitness that ever gazed on warfare. He took down his notes by the light of burning wood, and he had no time to think of grammar. All his words were written like mere convulsive cries, but their main effect is too vivid to be altered. Notice that he rarely concludes a sentence, for he wanted to save time, and the bullets were cutting up the ground and the trees all round him. "Patches of the wood take fire, and several of the wounded, unable to move, are consumed. Quite large spaces are swept over, burning the dead also; some of the men have their hair and beards singed, some burns on their faces and hands, others holes burnt in their clothing. The flashes of fire from the cannon, the quick glaring flames and smoke, and the immense roar—the musketry so general; the light nearly bright enough for each side to see the other; the crashing, tramping of men—the yelling—close quarters—hand-to-hand conflicts. Each side stands up to it, brave, determined as demons; and still the wood's on fire—still many are not only scorched—too many, unable to move, are burned to death. Who knows the conflict, hand-to-hand—the many conflicts in the dark—those shadowy, tangled, flashing, moon-beamed woods—the writhing groups and squads—the cries, the din, the cracking guns and pistols, the distant cannon—the cheers and calls and threats and awful music of the oaths, the indescribable mix, the officers' orders, persuasions, encouragements—the devils fully roused in human hearts—the strong shout, 'Charge, men—charge!'—the flash of the naked swords, and rolling flame and smoke? And still the broken, clear, and clouded heaven; and still again the moonlight pouring silvery soft its radiant patches over all."
There is a description vivid as lightning, though there is not a properly-constructed sentence in it. Gruesome, cruel, horrible! Is it not enough to make the women of our sober sensible race declare for ever against the flaunting stay-at-homes who would egg us on to war? By all means let us hold to the old-fashioned dogged ways, but let us beware of rushing into the squalid vortex of war. And now let us see what follows the brilliant charge and bayonet fight. How many ladies consider what the curt word "wounded" means? It conveys no idea to them, and they are too apt to stray off into the dashing details that tell of a great wrestle of armies. One eminent man—whom I believe to have uttered a libel—has declared that women like war, and that they are usually the means of urging men on. He is a very sedate and learned philosopher who wrote that statement, and yet I cannot believe it. Ah, no! Our ladies can give their dearest up to death when the State calls on them, but they will never be like the odious viragoes of the Roman circus. At any rate, if any woman acts according to the dictum of the philosopher after reading my bitterly true words, we shall hold that our influence is departed. Therefore with ruthless composure I follow my observer—a man whose pure and holy spirit upheld him as he ministered to sufferers for year after year.
"Then the camps of the wounded. Oh, heavens, what scene is this? Is this indeed humanity—these butchers' shambles? There are several of them. There they lie, in the largest, in an open space in the woods—from two to three hundred poor fellows. The groans and screams, the odour of blood mixed with the fresh scent of the night, the grass, the trees—that slaughter-house! Oh, well is it their mothers, their sisters, cannot see them, cannot conceive, and never conceived such things! One man is shot by a shell both in the arm and leg; both are amputated—there lie the rejected members. Some have their legs blown off, some bullets through the breast, some indescribably horrid wounds in the head—all mutilated, sickening, torn, gouged out, some in the abdomen, some mere boys." Alas, I have quoted enough—and may never such a task come before me again! The picture is sharp as an etching; it is drawn with a shudder of the soul. Is that grim sedate man right when he says that women are the moving influence that drives men to such carnage? Would you wantonly advocate war? Never! I reject the solemn philosopher's saying, in spite of his logic and his sententiousness.
Who shall speak of the awful monotony of the hospital camps, where men die like flies, and where regret, sympathy, kindness are blotted from the hardened soldier's breast? People are not cruel by nature, but the vague picturesque language of historians and other general writers prevents men and women from forming just opinions. I believe that, if one hundred wounded men could be transported from a battle-field and laid down in the public square of any town or city for the population to see, then the gazers would say among themselves, "So this is war, is it? Well, for our parts, we shall be very cautious before we raise any agitation that might force our Government into any conflict. We can die if our liberties are threatened, for there are circumstances in which it would be shameful to live, but we shall never do anything which may bring about results such as those before us." That would be a fair and temperate mode of talking—far different from the airy babble of the warlike scribe.
An argumentative person may stop us here and ask, "Are you of opinion that it is possible to abolish warfare?" Unfortunately, we can cherish no such pleasing hope. I do emphatically believe that in time men will come to see the wild folly of engaging in sanguinary struggles; but the growth of their wisdom will be slow. Action and reaction are equal; the fighting instinct has been impressed on our nature by hereditary transmission for countless generations, and we cannot hope suddenly to make man a peaceful animal any more than we can hope to breed setters from South African wild dogs. But the conditions of life are gradually changing, and the very madness which has made Europe into a huge barrack may work its own cure. The burden will probably grow so intolerable that the most embruted of citizens will ask themselves why they bear it, and a rapid revolution may undo the growth of centuries. The scientific men point to the huge warfare that goes on from the summit of the Himalayas to the depths of the ocean slime, and they ask how men can be exempt from the universal struggle for existence. But it is by no means certain that the pressure of population in the case of man will always force on struggles—at any rate, struggles that can be decided only by death and agony. Little by little we are learning something of the laws that govern our hitherto mysterious existence, and we have good hopes that by and by our race may learn to be mutually helpful, so that our span of life may be passed with as much happiness as possible. Men will strive against each other, but the striving will not be carried on to an accompaniment of slaughter and torture. There are keen forms of competition which, so far from being painful, give positive pleasure to those who engage in them; there are triumphs which satisfy the victor without mortifying the vanquished; and, in spite of the indiscreet writers who have called forth this Essay, I hold that such harmless forms of competition will take the place of the brutal strife that adds senselessly to the sum of human woe. Our race has outgrown so many forms of brutality, so many deliberate changes have taken place in the course of even two thousand years, that the final change which shall abolish war is almost certain to come. We find that about one thousand nine hundred years ago a polished gentleman like Julius Caesar gravely congratulates himself on the fact that his troops destroyed in cold blood forty thousand people—men, women, and children. No man in the civilized world dare do such a deed now, even if he had the mind for the carnage. The feeling with which we read Caesar's frigid recital measures the arc of improvement through which we have passed. May the improvement go on! We can continue to progress only through knowledge; if our people—our women especially—are wantonly warlike, then our action will be wantonly warlike; knowledge alone can save us from the guilt of blood, and that knowledge I have tried to set forth briefly. By wondrous ways does our Master work out His ends. Let us pray that He may hasten the time when nation shall not rise up against nation, neither shall they draw the sword any more.
I have no intention of imitating those intemperate advocates of temperance who frighten people by their thunderous and extravagant denunciations; I leave high moral considerations on one side for the present, and our discussion will be purely practical, and, if possible, helpful. The duty of helpful men and women is not to rave about horrors and failures and misfortunes, but to aim coolly at remedial measures; and I am firmly convinced that such remedial measures can be employed only by private effort. State interference is always to be deprecated; individual action alone has power to better the condition of our sorely-tempted race. With sorrow too keen for words, I hear of blighted homes, intellects abased, children starved, careers wrecked, wives made wretched, crime fostered; and I fully sympathize with the men and women who are stung into wild speech by the sight of a curse that seems all-powerful in Britain. But I prefer to cultivate a sedate and scientific attitude of mind; I do not want to repeat catalogues of evils; I want to point out ways whereby the intemperate may be cured. Above all, I wish to abate the panic which paralyzes the minds of some afflicted people, and which causes them to regard a drunkard or even a tippler as a hopeless victim. "Hopeless" is a word used by ignorant persons, by cowards, and by fools. When I hear some mourner say, "Alas! we can do nothing with him—he is a slave!" I feel impelled to reply, "What do you know about it? Have you given yourself the trouble to do more than preach? Listen, and follow the simple directions which I lay down for you."
First, I deal with the unhappy beings who are called periodical drinkers. These are generally men who possess great ability and a capacity for severe stretches of labour. They may be artists, writers, men of business, mechanicians—anything; but in nearly every case some special faculty of brain is developed to an extraordinary degree, and the man is able to put forth the most strenuous exertions at a pinch. Let us name some typical examples. Turner was a man of phenomenal industry, but at intervals his temperament craved for some excitement more violent and distracting than any that he could get from the steady strain of daily work. He used to go away to Wapping, and spend weeks in the filthiest debauch with the lowest characters in London. None of his companions guessed who he was; they only knew that he had more money than they had, and that he behaved in a more bestial manner than any of those who frequented the "Fox under the Hill" and other pleasing hostelries. Turner pursued his reckless career, till his money was gone, and then he returned to his gruesome den and proceeded to turn out artistic prodigies until the fit came upon him once more. Benvenuto Cellini was subject to similar paroxysms, during which he behaved like a maniac. Our own novelist Bulwer Lytton disappeared at times, and plunged into the wildest excesses among wretches whom he would have loathed when he was in his normal state of mind. He used to dress himself as a navvy, or as a sailor, and no one would have recognized the weird intellectual face when the great writer was clad in rags, and when the brutal mask of intoxication had fallen over his face. It was during his recovery from one of these terrible visitations that he drove the woman whom he most loved from his house, and brought on that breach which resulted in irreparable misery. Poor George Morland, the painter, had wild spells of debauch, during which he spent his time in boxing-saloons among ruffianly prize-fighters and jockeys. His vice grew upon him, his mad fits became more and more frequent, and at last his exquisite work could be produced only when his nerve was temporarily steadied by copious doses of brandy. Keats, who "worshipped Beauty," was afflicted by seizures like those of Turner and Morland. On one occasion he remained in a state of drunkenness for six weeks; and it is a wonder that his marvellous mind retained its freshness at all after the poison had passed from amid the delicate tissues of the brain. He conquered himself at last; but I fear that his health was impaired by his few mad outbursts. Charles Lamb, who is dear to us all, reduced himself to a pitiable state by giving way to outbreaks of alcoholic craving. When Carlyle saw him, the unhappy essayist was semi-imbecile from the effects of drink; and the savage Scotsman wrote some cruel words which will unfortunately cleave to Lamb's cherished memory for long. Lamb fought against his failing; he suffered agonies of remorse; he bitterly blamed himself for "buying days of misery by nights of madness;" but the sweet soul was enchained, and no struggles availed to work a blessed transformation. Read his "Confessions of a Drunkard." It is the most awful chapter in English literature, for it is written out of the agony of a pure and well-meaning mind, and its tortured phrases seem to cry out from the page that holds their misery. We are placed face to face with a dread aspect of life, and the remorseless artist paints his own pitiable case as though he longed to save his fellow-creatures even at the expense of his own self-abasement. All these afflicted creatures sought the wrong remedy for the exhaustion and the nameless craving that beset them when they were spent with toil. The periodic drinker takes his dive into the sensual mud-bath just at the times when eager exertion has brought on lassitude of body and mind. He begins by timidly drinking a little of the deleterious stuff, and he finds that his mental images grow bright and pleasant. A moment comes to him when he would not change places with the princes of the earth, and he endeavours to make that moment last long. He fails, and only succeeds in dropping into drunkenness. On the morning after his first day he feels depressed; but his biliary processes are undisturbed, and he is able to begin again without any sense of nausea. His quantity is increased until he gradually reaches the point when glasses of spirits are poured down with feverish rapidity. His appetite is sometimes voracious, sometimes capricious, sometimes absent altogether. His stomach becomes ulcerated, and he can obtain release from the grinding uneasiness only by feeding the inflamed organ with more and more alcohol. The liver ceases to act healthily, the blood becomes charged with bile, and one morning the wretch awakes feeling that life is not worth having. He has slept like a log; but all night through his outraged brain has avenged itself by calling up crowds of hideous dreams. The blood-vessels of the eye are charged with bilious particles, and these intruding specks give rise to fearful, exaggerated images of things that never yet were seen on sea or land. Grim faces leer at the dreamer and make mock of him; frightful animals pass in procession before him; and hosts of incoherent words are jabbered in his ear by unholy voices. He wakes, limp, exhausted, trembling, nauseated, and he feels as if he must choose between suicide and—more drink. If he drinks at this stage, he is lost; and then is the time to fix upon him and draw him by main force from the slough.
Now some practitioners say, "Let him drop it gradually;" and they proceed to stir every molecule of alcohol in the system into vile activity by adding small doses of wine or spirit to the deadly accumulation. The man's brain is impoverished, and the mistaken doctors proceed to impoverish it more, so that a patient who should be cured in forty-eight hours is kept in dragging misery for a month or more. The proper mode of treatment is widely different. You want to nourish the brain speedily, and at any cost, ere the ghastly depression drives the agonized wretch to the arms of Circe once more. First, then, give him milk. If you try milk alone, the stomach will not retain it long, so you must mix the nourishing fluid with soda-water. Half an hour afterwards administer a spoonful of meat-essence. Beware of giving the patient any hot fluid, for that will damage him almost as much as alcohol. Continue with alternate half-hourly instalments of milk and meat-essence; supply no solid food whatever; and do not be tempted by the growing good spirits of your charge to let him go out of doors amid temptation. At night, after some eight hours of this rapid feeding, you must take a risky step. Make sure that the drinker is calm, and then prepare him for sleep. That preparation is accomplished thus. Get a draught of hydrate of chloral made up, and be sure that you describe your man's physique—this is most important—to the apothecary who serves you. A very light dose will suffice, and, when it is swallowed, the drugged man should be left in quietude. He will sleep heavily, perhaps for as much as twelve hours, and no noise must be allowed to come near him. If he is waked suddenly, the consequences may be bad, so that those who go to look at him must use precautions to ensure silence. In the morning he will awake with his brain invigorated, his muscles unagitated, and his craving utterly gone. It is like magic; for a man who was prostrate on Sunday morning is brisk and eager for work on Monday at noon. Whenever the cured man feels his craving arise after a spell of labour, he should at once recuperate his brain by rapidly-repeated doses of the easily-assimilated meat-essence, and this, with a little strong black coffee taken at short intervals, will tide him over the evil time. He saves money, he keeps his working power, and he gives no shock to his health. Since a beneficent doctor first described this cure to the British Medical Association, hundreds have been restored and ultimately reclaimed.
And now as to the persons who are called "soakers." Scattered over the country are thousands of men and women who do not go to bestial excesses, but who steadily undermine their constitutions by persistent tippling. Such a man as a commercial traveller imbibes twenty or thirty nips in the course of the day; he eats well in the evening, though he is usually repelled by the sight of food in the morning, and he preserves an outward appearance of ruddy health. Then there are the female soakers, whom doctors find to be the most troublesome of all their patients. There is not a medical man in large practice who has not a shocking percentage of lady inebriates on his list, and the cases are hard to manage. An ill-starred woman, whose well-to-do husband is engaged in business all day, finds that a dull life-weariness overtakes her. If she has many children, her enforced activity preserves her from danger; but, if she is childless, the subtle temptation is apt to overcome her. She seeks unnatural exaltation, and the very secrecy which is necessary lends a strange zest to the pursuit of a numbing vice. Then we have such busy men as auctioneers, ship-brokers, water-clerks, ship-captains, buyers for great firms—all of whom are more or less a prey to the custom of "standing liquors."
The soaker goes on without meeting any startling check for a good while; but, by slow degrees, the main organs of the body suffer, and a chronic state of alcoholic irritation is set up. A man becomes suspected by his employers and slighted by his abstemious friends; he loses health, character, prospects; and yet he is invariably ready to declare that no one ever saw him the worse for drink. The tippling goes on till the resultant irritation reaches an acute stage, and the faintest disturbing cause brings on delirium tremens. There is only one way with people thus afflicted. They must be made to loathe alcohol, and their nerves must at the same time be artificially stimulated. The cure is not precisely easy, but it is certain. If my directions are followed out, then a man who is in the last stage of alcoholic debility will not only regain a certain measure of health, but he will turn with horror from the stuff that fascinated him. In the case of the soaker a little wine may be given at meal-times during the first stages of the cure; but he (or she) will soon reject even wine. Strong black coffee, or tea, should be given as often as possible—the oftener the better—and iced soda-water should be administered after a heavy meal. Take this prescription and let it be made up—Rx Acid. Acet. eight ounces. Sponge down the patient's spine with this fluid until the parts moistened tingle smartly; and let this be done night and morning. Also get the following from your chemist—Rx Ext. Cinch. Rub. Liq. four ounces—and give one teaspoonful in water after each meal. In a week the drinker will cease to desire alcohol, and in a month he will refuse it with disgust. His nerves will resume their healthy action, and, if he has not reached the stage of cirrhosis of the liver, he will become well and clear-headed. Recollect that this remedy is almost infallible, and then even the most greedy of literary students will hardly reproach me for placing a kind of medical chapter in the quarter usually devoted to disquisitions of another kind. From every side rises the bitter cry of those who see their loved ones falling victims to the seductive scourge; from all quarters the voices of earnest men are raised in passionate pleading; and in every great city there are noble workers who strive to rescue their fellow-creatures from drink as from a gulf of doom. My words are not addressed to the happy beings who can rejoice in the cheerfulness bestowed by wine; I have before me only the fortunes of those to whom wine is a mocker. Far be it from me to find fault with the good and sound-hearted men and women who are never scathed by their innocent potations; my attempt is directed toward saving the wreckages of civilization who perish in the grasp of the destroyer.
CONCERNING PEOPLE WHO KNOW THEY ARE GOING WRONG.
Some five years ago a mere accident gave to the world one of the most gruesome and remarkable pieces of literature that has ever perhaps been seen. A convict named Fury confessed to having committed a murder of an atrocious character. He was brought from prison, put on his trial at Durham, and condemned to death. Every chance was given him to escape his doom; but he persisted in providing the authorities with the most minutely accurate chain of evidence against himself; and, in the end, there was nothing for it but to cast him for death. Even when the police blundered, he carefully set them right—and he could not have proved his own guilt more clearly had he been the ablest prosecuting counsel in Britain. He held in his hand a voluminous statement which, as it seems, he wished to read before sentence of death was passed. The Court could not permit the nation's time to be thus expended; so the convict handed his manuscript to a reporter—and we thus have possibly the most absolutely curious of all extant thieves' literature. Somewhere in the recesses of Fury's wild heart there must have been good concealed; for he confessed his worst crime in the interests of justice, and he went to the scaffold with a serious and serene courage which almost made of him a dignified person. But, on his own confession, he must have been all his life long an unmitigated rascal—a predatory beast of the most dangerous kind. From his youth upward he had lived as a professional thief, and his pilferings were various and extensive. The glimpses of sordid villainy which he frankly gives are so poignantly effective that they put into the shade the most dreadful phases in the life of Villon. He was a mean sneaking wretch who supported a miserable existence on the fruits of other people's industry, and he closed his list of crimes by brutally stabbing an unhappy woman who had never harmed him. The fellow had genuine literary skill and a good deal of culture; his confession is very different from any of those contained in the Newgate Calendar—infinitely different from the crude horror of the statement which George Borrow quotes as a masterpiece of simple and direct writing. Here is Borrow's specimen, by-the-way—"So I went with them to a music-booth, where they made me almost drunk with gin and began to talk their flash language, which I did not understand"—and so on. But this dry simplicity is not in Fury's line. He has studied philosophy; he has reasoned keenly; and, as one goes on through his terrible narrative, one finds that he has mental capacity of a high order. He was as mean a rascal as Noah Claypole: and yet he had a fine clear-seeing intellect. Now what does this gallows-bird tell us? Why, his whole argument is intended to prove that he was an ill-used victim of society! Such a perversion has probably never been quite equalled; but it remains there to show us how firmly my theory stands—that the real scoundrel never knows himself to be a scoundrel. Had Fury settled down in a back street and employed his genius in writing stories, he could have earned a livelihood, for people would have eagerly read his experiences; but he preferred thieving—and then he turned round and blamed other people for hounding him on to theft.
There are wrong-doers and wrong-doers; there are men who do ill in the world because they are entirely harmful by nature, and they seek to hurt their fellows—there are others who err only from weakness of will. I make no excuse for the weaklings; a man or woman who is weak may do more harm than the vilest criminal, and, when I hear any one talk about that nice man who is nobody's enemy but his own, I am instantly forced to remember a score or thereabouts of beings whom I know to have been the deadliest foes of those whom they should have cherished. Let us help those who err; but let us have no maudlin pity.
Moralists in general have made a somewhat serious error in supposing that one has only to show a man the true aspect of any given evil in order to make sure of his avoiding it. Of late so many sad things have been witnessed in public and private life that one is tempted to doubt whether abstract morality is of any use whatever in the world. One may tell a man that a certain course is dangerous or fatal; one may show by every device of logic and illustration that he should avoid the said course, and he will fully admit the truth of one's contentions; yet he is not deterred from his folly, and he goes on toward ruin with a sort of blind abandonment. "Blind," I say. That is but a formal phrase; for it happens that the very men and women who wreck their lives by doing foolish things are those who are keenest in detecting folly and wisest in giving advice to others. "Educate the people, and you will find that a steady diminution of vice, debauchery, and criminality must set in." I am not talking about criminality at present; but I am bound to say that no amount of enlightenment seems to diminish the tendency toward forms of folly which approach criminality. It is almost confounding to see how lucid of mind and how sane in theoretical judgment are the men who sometimes steep themselves in folly and even in vice. A wicked man boasted much of his own wickedness to some fellow-travellers during a brief sea-voyage. He said, "I like doing wrong for the sake of doing it. When you know you are outraging the senses of decent people there is a kind of excitement about it." This contemptible cynic told with glee stories of his own vileness which made good men look at him with scorn; but he fancied himself the cleverest of men. With the grave nearly ready for him, he could chuckle over things which he had done—things which proved him base, although none of them brought him within measurable distance of the dock. But such instances are quite rare. The man whose vision is lucid, but who nevertheless goes wrong, is usually a prey to constant misery or to downright remorse. Look at Burns's epitaph, composed by himself for himself. It is a dreadful thing. It is more than verse; it is a sermon, a prophecy, a word of doom; and it tells with matchless terseness the story of many men who are at this hour passing to grim ruin either of body or soul or both. Burns had such magnificent common sense that in his last two lines he sums up almost everything that is worth saying on the subject; and yet that fatal lack of will which I have so often lamented made all his theoretical good sense as naught He could give one every essential of morality and conduct—in theory—and he was one of the most convincing and wise preachers who ever lived; but that mournful epitaph summarises the results of all his mighty gifts; and I think that it should be learned by all young men, on the chance that some few might possibly be warned and convinced. Advice is of scanty use to men of keen reason who are capable of composing precepts for themselves; but to the duller sort I certainly think that the flash of a sudden revelation given in concise words is beneficial. Here is poor Burns's saying—