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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 36

Mr. E. Baines' Speech

Mr. E. Baines' Speech.

Mr. Edward Baines: Sir Henry Thompson, ladies and gentlemen, the judicious officers of the National Temperance League have wisely determined that you should not be detained to a late hour, and they have done so by intimating to the speakers very delicately how long a time page 20 they may, for the general convenience, employ in their speeches. Most heartily approving of a recommendation of this kind, and determined not in my own case to infringe upon it, I think that my wisest course would be to condense my thoughts and facts into a small compass of writing, and to read, if I might be permitted, my own personal experience, which will be like that grain of sand to which Canon Farrar has alluded, and of which a sufficient number built up forms a barrier that will be absolutely impregnable. I therefore will, with the permission of the chairman of this meeting, venture to read a very snort paper; and I especially desire the kind and impartial consideration of those sincere friends of Temperance who would not object to be called or to be considered moderate drinkers. There are scores of thousands of good men and women, rich and poor, who, if they could really believe that alcoholic liquors were absolute superfluities, and also dangerous as well as useless, would discontinue their use. I remember when I thought a glass of good sherry must necessarily help digestion, and that a glass of old port must pour strength into the veins. Happily for myself, I was led to put the matter to the test of fair experiment; and it will be in accordance with the object of this meeting that I should tell the result. Wishing to save a man addicted to drink from impending ruin, and knowing that persuasion would be useless without example, I resolved to try total abstinence for a month. Finding myself just as well at the end of the month as at the beginning, I repeated the experiment for a second month, and with the same satisfactory result. It then occurred to me that it would be useful to know how long I could dispense with strong liquor without affecting my health and strength. But had to wait a long time for the final conclusion of this experiment, and I have not yet arrived at it. (Cheers.) More than nine-and-thirty years have passed, and I declare that I have the same consciousness of sound health, though not of youthful elasticity, in the year 1877, that I had in the year 1837. (Loud applause.) I find that He who made the human frame made it so wisely that it does not need the stimulus of beverages which, when taken in excess, blind the reason, inflame the blood, sow the seeds of disease, and implant an unconquerable craving for the fatal poison. The kitchen and the dairy, with the cheering and fragrant drinks which we owe to China and the Indies, supply every want of animal life, and keep all its springs in motion. To the doctor it speaks volumes when I say that I never sit down to table without an appetite, and never rise from bed with a headache. When I hear total abstainers designated as ascetics, I smile at the ignorant blunder, because it has always been my firm conviction that I enjoy the pleasures of the palate much more than if I had taken wine of any kind or in any quantity; and for this good reason, that the digestive organs are in a healthier state than they would have been with that indulgence. (Cheers.)

If examined as to my mode of life, I may humbly and thankfully say that it has been one of no small activity, at first as a pretty close student, and afterwards having taken part in the public questions and controversies that have stirred one of the most exciting periods of our history. After many years of editorial and political work, I was called, at the age of fifty-nine, to enter Parliament; where I spent fifteen years in charge page 21 of the business of a great borough, and taking interest in the concerns of the empire, through several eventful Parliaments. (Applause.) When I entered the House of Commons, I was told by one of my predecessors that I should not be able to go through the business without the help of wine. My judicious medical adviser knew better; he did not recommend any alcoholic drink, and only laid upon me one injunction—namely, that whatever late hours the House might keep, I should every night lie in bed seven hours. The advice was worth more to me than all the wine in the London Docks. (Cheers.) Not one glass of wine or ale ever touched my lips; and, in consequence—not in spite of it, but in consequence, I say—I was able to do almost as much work as any man in the House. (Renewed cheers.) I am perfectly certain—every organ of my body and function of my mind tell me—that I should have been much more likely to suffer from Parliamentary worry, from late hours, hurried meals, bad air, party strife, and anxious responsibilities, with wine, even in moderate quantity, than without it. I left Parliament absolutely unscathed, and all but unworn. I need scarcely say that this simple statement owes whatever value it may possess to the fact that it disproves the necessity or usefulness of alcoholic drinks to the human frame, and therefore to men in general as well as to me. For I am an ordinary and average person; I think my constitution is sound, but not particularly strong; and 1 am as fair a subject for experiment as Dr. Richardson himself could desire. If wine or ale were needful, as so many men and women imagine, to help them through the hours from breakfast to dinner, or through a moderate railway journey, I should have found it out long since. If these drinks were necessary to make blood, or muscle, or nerve, or sinew, or bone, I must, for want of them, have experienced constant deterioration, and by this time have wasted away. If they even imparted cheerfulness, or inspired thought, or kindled affection, I must without them have dried up into a log. How can it be accounted for that, well advanced in the eighth decade of life, my pulse beats as firmly, that I walk up hill nearly as fast, and that I play with my grandchildren as merrily, as ever?

But if my testimony should be disregarded, I believe there are thousands who have abstained from liquor as long or longer than I have, and who would give the same testimony to the well-working of the regimen. And if we go to the Eastern world, we shall find hundreds of millions of lifelong abstainers, and among them many of the finest races upon the earth. I have asserted, perhaps to the astonishment of the moderate drinker, that the total abstainer has more enjoyment of the palate than he could receive from the choicest wines. But he will perhaps be still more astonished if I assert that the moderate drinker is compelled to practice far more of painful self-denial than the teetotaler. Yet I do assert it unhesitatingly. If any propositions are beyond question, they are these, that wine is the most seductive of drinks, and that the thirst for it grows stronger with indulgence. Therefore, the moderate drinker, if he continues moderate, has every day to put a constraint upon himself, and to deny himself in that which he enjoys most keenly. He is constantly tempted to go beyond moderation into excess, and without knowing the boundary line where safety ends and danger begins. (Hear, hear.) He page 22 has "looked on the wine when it was red;" he has drunk of the Circæan cup; and how to tear himself from its enchantment he knows not. I put him on the horns of this dilemma. If his enjoyment of the cup is great, his danger in tasting it and his pain in leaving it are proportionately great. If, on the contrary, his enjoyment is trifling, why, for a trifling pleasure, should he run any risk at all? The abstainer, on the other hand, has never landed on Circe's isle; has never tasted her cup of sorceries; and he no more craves it than he craves a thing un-thought of or unknown. (Cheers.) Or if at any former time he should have fallen into that swinish bondage, he has now escaped; and, unless he is demented, he is too grateful for the deliverance again to dally with the sorceress, or to think of her without dread and disgust.

One word more to the moderate drinker, and I have done. By taking strong liquors, he not only continues in danger himself, but he sets an example that may be fatal to others. A professional gentleman once followed me at a temperance meeting, and said that he was older than I was, yet he had lived as a moderate drinker. He thought the reply was conclusive; but it was not. He died a moderate drinker, but i dare not tell how many of his children became confirmed drunkards. Could he have foreseen this, he would not for worlds have touched the drink. I fear there are not many families in England from which the demon of intemperance has not selected one or more victims; and it is said that the annual sacrifice of precious lives and souls by this vice may be reckoned by scores of thousands. If this be so, is it considerate, is it humane, is it Christian, to continue the practice which leads to issues so dreadful? (Loud cheers.)