The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 36
The Rev. H. Sinclair Paterson, M.D.: Having the courage of my convictions, and believing as I do in the endurance of total abstainers, I rise at this late hour to make a speech. (Laughter.) Permit me to say that it has been my belief for a number of years, that there is no absolutely certain method by which we can banish national drunkenness except by the method of national total abstinence, whether voluntary or compulsory. Now the question just rests entirely on that simple fact—the question that we meet to discuss to-night. If we are prepared to allow drunkenness to continue, then we may accept moderate drinking as a right and proper thing, but if we are resolved, if this country is in earnest, if Christian men and philanthropists are decidedly of one mind in this matter, that drunkenness should cease, then we ought to set ourselves with united heart and life against all moderate drinking—(cheers)—for there is nothing surer than that drunkenness follows in the wake of moderate drinking. There are some who are able to continue moderate drinkers throughout a long life, but there are others, as any physiologist can tell us, who cannot continue in that particular state. They must either be abstainers or drunkards, and so long as we have this practice of moderate drinking condoned or allowed by the Christian Church, so long must we every year and every generation have a certain number of drunkards. I think I would have met the difficulty which you sir, have encountered in a rather different way. I must confess that page 26 I am somewhat sceptical about the numerous cases in which men have lived to extreme old age whilst indulging in drinking habits, and I certainly would not admit a single case unless I had good evidence placed before me. But supposing that I accept such cases as are printed in the public journals from time to time of men who have been "three-bottle men," and "four-bottle men," and have lived to the age of eighty, or ninety, or 100 years, what does it prove? It proves that drunkenness is safe if it proves anything. These are not cases in support of moderate drinking, but cases in support of drunkenness, and that is entirely aside from the question to-night. (Hear, hear.) No physiologist would listen to any such cases as any proof of the safety of drunkenness for a single instant. They are out of court.
Now allow me to say that the true state of the question as it presents itself to my mind is this': Is moderate drinking safe, and is it right? (Hear, hear.) The question of the Tightness and the safety of total abstinence is not before us. I venture to say that there are very few indeed, now, who would dare to call in question the one or the other. Total abstinence is both safe and right. (Cheers.) Those of us who are and continue to be total abstainers can never be drunkards, and we are at perfect liberty to put on or keep off our tables whatever we please. (Cheers.) If I, for instance, find it is not good to use intoxicating drink, surely no one can quarrel with me if I choose not to use them; but the question is—and let moderate drinkers understand it—is moderate drinking safe, and is it right? They are on the defensive—not we. They have to make good their position—not we. Matters are changed very markedly, and after the testimony to which we have listened tonight, I think no one here can fail to perceive that it must be difficult to find good reasons why moderate drinking should still continue. I cannot argue against likings. (Cheers.) I can venture to stand up against arguments and answer them, but likings!—no, I cannot deal with them. (Hear, hear.) If people like to drink moderately, let them say so, and let them continue to do so in the face of the tact that they are extending drunkenness into the next, generation and into all coming generations who follow their example—(cheers)—but if we are to deal with them as reasonable men, let them produce their strong reasons that we may examine them in the light of common-sense and of experience. They say they do not want to be ascetic, forsooth: they do not want to be dull and stupid as we total abstainers are. Ah! we do not need to dull our memories or to deaden our consciousness before we begin to get merry; they do. (Laughter and cheers.) We do not require to stupefy ourselves before we can enjoy ourselves, because there are thoughts and feelings that must be kept in check, otherwise we cannot give the animal spirits fair and free play. Asceticism! We do not need any help to our enjoyment. We are able to enter upon the possession of the whole field of gladness that God has given to us, and we know, for we have proved it, that the will of God is good and perfect and acceptable. (Hear, hear.)
I was very much interested in Dr. Richardson's cases of moderate drinking. The least of them was 3 ozs. of alcohol per day. We used to bear some years ago that two ounces was the limit that could be safely page 27 taken, and that as far as appeared anyone might take two ounces without damage; but it would appear that three ounces is the lowest limit to which our moderate drinkers in many cases condescend to come. Well, I venture to make this statement, that, although there are thousands of moderate drinkers who do keep within the limits of what any physiologist would call temperance; that is to say, they do not lose their reason, they do not confuse or stupefy their brains by the excessive use of this poison, still there are many—and I won't give the percentage, because I don't want to be thought uncharitable—who are in the habit of drinking moderately, who once a-year, or once in their lifetime, do get beyond the limit of moderate drinking into what physiologists would call drunkenness. (Laughter.) A total abstainer cannot do that without ceasing to be a total abstainer. We can shake ourselves free entirely from all connection with this sin—not that we are sinless, the Lord knoweth, but in regard to this sin we have no participation in it. I was going to make this observation in regard to the two ounces—viz., the thought has been expressed repeatedly that within that limit there is no marked appearance of mischief. Now do not all physicians know that there is soil required as well as seed in order to the manifestation of disease: that not only must you have the particular exciting cause brought to bear upon the patient, but also that there must be a preparedness and an adaptation within the body for that exciting cause, and that in a great many instances you have tshe seeds of disease or the exciting causes of disease present, and yet because the patient who subjects himself to these causes has no soil to give the seed lodgment he escapes unharmed. We venture to say, as Sir Henry Thompson has already said in his celebrated letter, that moderate drinking is one of the most frightful preparers of the soil: that it does it perhaps insensibly, but surely, gradually, not perceptibly, because slowly and steadily the soil is being produced into which the seed in due time falling manifests its power by its destructive harvest and fruitage. (Cheers.) Now, that can only be avoided by our ceasing to use these drinks. I wonder our sanitary reformers have not thought of this. (Hear, hear.) Some of them have. I do not mean to say, for instance, that Dr. Richardson has not done so—(cheers)—but while they are taking so much care in other directions to secure us against infectious disease, why should they not endeavour to extirpate the preparedness into which the seeds fall and spring up to yield such awful and such abundant returns?
"But," it is said, "there is no apparent mischief done by two ounces daily." I found a very curious thing the other day in the Lancet, which is one of the oldest and most respectable of our journals. If I recollect rightly, many of the medical papers not many years ago said that we ought not to reason upon anything within those limits of 2 ozs., because nothing within them could do harm; only where it begins to show marked harm have we any right to call in question the usefulness of the substance taken. You know that only a few days ago the question was raised as to the rightfulness or wrongfulness of the adulteration of certain substances with salts of copper. These salts give a beautiful green colour to the article, and make it look much more palatable than it would other- page 28 wise do, and it was argued that such a small quantity of copper could not possibly do any harm. Here is what the Lancet says:—
"It is just now, curiously enough, a vexed question how much copper—a foreign and, under certain conditions, poisonous substance, with which preserved peas are adulterated, to impart a fine green colour to the article—may be taken by the consumer without actual injury. This is a novel mode of looking at the subject. How much lead can be introduced into hair-dyes without afflicting those who use them with lead-colic or lead-palsy? How much arsenic may be spread over wall-paper without seriously affecting those who inhabit apartments in which such deleterious decorations are employed? How long may a man go on eating dishes poisoned with minute doses of antimony before he succumbs? Common-sense suggests that it would be wise to eliminate poisons such as lead, arsenic, antimony, and copper from our food, especially when they are only required for colouring purposes. We think it would be well if the law simply registered and applied the dictates of common-sense." Long live the Lancet. Only let me add alcohol, and I subscribe heartily to the whole of the statement. I wonder if our friends who have talked so much about the innocuousness of alcohol when it does not produce these marked effects will just apply this kind of reasoning (which appears to me to be, as the writer terms it, common-sense) to alcohol, as they do to the other things. (Cheers.)
If I may venture to speak longer to the meeting, there is one other point—the moral point—which I think is of exceeding great importance. We are bound, I take it, to set a right and a true example in regard to this matter as well as all others, and it has been said in very high quarters, to which I generally—not always—pay the utmost respect, for I never respect error, no matter from what source it comes—(cheers)—though oftentimes it is unconsciously and unintentionally uttered—it has been said by some persons that moderate drinking is a better and far nobler thing than total abstinence. Aye! it has been said by very wise men, men wiser than some of us—although we do not choose to agree with this particular statement—men whose motives cannot be questioned, and who are earnest and true, and in regard to whom I desire to speak with the utmost reverence and charity—it has been said by them that moderate drinking is a nobler and a better thing than total abstinence. Well, it may be that a man who can take intoxicating drinks within certain limits, and who never does allow himself to exceed these limits, is a nobler and a better man than one who cannot, and who therefore must either abstain or exceed, although I would not like to claim that as my title to nobility, for I would think it sounded suspiciously like this: "Stand by thyself, for I am holier than thou," and I would always pray to remember that I have nothing I have not received, and that if my nervous system or will is stronger than that of my neighbour I ought not to boast of myself or to despise him. (Cheers.) But suppose it to be true that these men are nobler and better in their ability to use intoxicating drinks than others who cannot take them without abusing them; let me remind them that they are not dealing with the facts of the case in instituting this comparison. The comparison is not between the moderate drinker and the drunkard, but between the page 29 moderate drinker and the voluntary abstainer. Many of us could drink moderately if we chose, though we prefer to abstain for the sake of our fellow-men. (Prolonged applause.) I dare them to say that their conduct is nobler than ours. Our conduct is the conduct of Christ and of Paul, and of all the martyrs and the host of men who have borne testimony by self-denial and self-sacrifice for the sake of others from the beginning until this good hour. Let the question be fairly stated, and there can be no doubt as to where the nobility and betterness is to be found.
"The quality of mercy is not strained;
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice blessed:
It blesseth him that gives, and him that takes:
'Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown:
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings,
But mercy is above this sceptred sway;
It is on throned in the hearts of kings:
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God's
When mercy seasons justice. . . .
That, in the course of justice, none of us
Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy;
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy."
(Loud cheers and prolonged applause.)