The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 36
The Testimony of Science and of the Medical Profession
The Testimony of Science and of the Medical Profession.
An English writer, who is declared by Governor Andrew in his remarkable argument in favor of a license law, before a committee of the Massachusetts Legislature, April 4, 1867, probably the ablest and most eloquent presentation of the views of those opposed to prohibitory laws ever made in the world, to be "one of the most able English scientific critics," etc., and who is opposed to teetotalism, says in the Cornhill Magazine of September, 1862:
And first as to the effect of long continued habits of alcoholic excess upon the general health of the body, these may be summed up in brief by one we rd—degeneration. Degeneration of structure and chemical composition is the inevitable fate of the tissues of the drunkard. Apart from moral influences, all that we see of physical misery, of weakened intellect of shortened life in the habitual drunkard, is due to this defeneration of tissue, which is gradually, but infallibly brought about by alcoholic excess. Even the very blood, the beginning of all tissues, is affected in a similar way, as we might expect.
There is no doubt that in excessive doses, alcohol, if it be a food at all, is a very bad one, and we must remember that the drunkard does in fact test its capacity to act as food; for by his habits he so impairs his appetite that he can take very little, if any, ordinary food.
This writer represents that class of medical gentlemen whose scientific views are most friendly to alcohol, and he states his conclusions thus:
On the part of alcohol, then, I venture to claim that, though we all acknowledge it to be a poison, if taken during health in any but quite restricted doses, it is also a most valuable medicine food.
It will be observed that I make no attack upon it as a medicine. This is the most favorable statement of the nature of alcohol in its effects upon the human organism which can be found, based upon respectable medical authority. It is that adduced by Governor Andrew in his great argument against prohibition, and I venture to say that there is not a particle of dispute in the medical world that it is true so far as it goes. I am not aware of the existence of any medical authority which admits that the use of distilled alcoholic liquors, as page 7 a common daily drink, does not inevitably tend to destroy the human system. True, there are a few exceptional instances recorded where men, after having destroyed the normal functions of their organism, so that all healthy and natural foods are rejected by it, have lived for a time almost wholly upon alcohol itself. But in all cases where its action is favorable, it finds a diseased or unnatural condition to which it adapts itself, like the surgeon's knife to the tumor or to the shattered limb. There are exceptional organisms which prove the rule. But from this circumstance to argue that it is beneficial to the healthy normal state of child or man, is like feeding a man upon the drugs of the apothecary, because, as medicines, they have been instrumental in restoring healthy digestion to the dyspeptic. I cheerfully grant that there is a large though lessening array of eminent medical authorities, which, while vigorously condemning the use of distilled liquor, as a beverage, declares its belief that the fermented wines and other mild forms of alcoholic liquor are, on the whole, beneficial when used in moderate quantities; but I am not dealing with these at all, and reiterate the statement that the medical world is a unit in declaring that the common use of distilled liquors operates as a poison, and not as a food, and destroys the mind and body of man.
While conceding that many chemists and physicians are advocates of the moderate use of light wines and fermented drinks, it is only fair, however, to say that I think that the weight of medical opinion, based upon the latest scientific investigation and observation, is against the position that alcohol, even in fermented forms, ever operates otherwise than as a poison. But this is not important to the argument, for that rests upon the undisputed verdict of the medical world, that "alcohol, except when taken in quite restricted doses, is poisonous to a person in health
Dr. Willard Parker, a very eminent name among the physicians of America, writes the present year:
Alcohol has no place in the healthy system, but is an "irritant poison," producing a diseased condition of body and mind.
The International Medical Congress, the highest medical body in the world, held its last session at Philadelphia, in September, 1876, and I find the following in the official report of its proceedings on the 16th of that month:
The following is the report from the section on medicine, on the paper of Dr. E. M Hunt, on "Alcohol in its therapeutic relations as a food and a medicine."
First. Alcohol is not shown to have a definite food value by any of the usual methods of chemical analysis or physiological investigation.
Second. Its use as a medicine is chiefly as a cardiac (relating to the heart) stimulant, and often admits of substitution.
Third. As a medicine it is not well fitted for self-prescription by the laity, and the medical profession is not accountable for such administration or for the enormous evils resulting there from.
Fourth. The purity of alcoholic liquors is in general not as well assured as that of articles used for medicine should be. The various mixtures when used as medicine should have definite and known composition, and should not be interchanged promiscuously.
Please note that this supreme authority says that alcohol is not known to have food value, and that its principal use as a medicine is to stimulate the heart, not to create power by nutrition, but to use up the capital of the body with unnatural rapidity, and even for this purpose something else might generally be substituted.
Adopting the lowest estimate which has been given of the daily work of the heart, namely, as equal to one hundred and twenty-two tons lifted one foot, the heart during the alcoholic period did daily work in excess equal to lifting fifteen and eight-tenth tons one foot, and in the last two days did extra work to the amount of twenty-four tons lifted as far. * * * It will seem at first sight almost incredible that such an excess of work could be put upon the heart, but it is perfectly credible when all the facts are known. The heart of an adult man makes, as we see above, seventy-three and fifty-seven-tenths strokes per minute. This number multiplied by sixty for the hour, and again by twenty-four for the day, would give nearly 106,000 as the number of strokes per day. * * * And speaking generally, we may put the average at 100,000 in the entire day. With each of these strokes the two ventricle* of the heart, as they contract, lift up into their respective vessels three ounces of blood each that is to say, six ounces with the combined stroke, or 600,000 in the twenty-four hours. The equivalent of work rendered by this simple calculation would be one hundred and sixteen foot-tons, and if we estimate the increase of work induced by alcohol we shall find that four ounces of spirit (daily) increase it one-eighth part, six ounces one-sixth part, and eight ounces one-fourth part.
Alcohol contains no nitrogen; it has none of the qualities of these structure-building foods; it is incapable of being transformed into any of them; it is therefore not a food in the sense of its being a constructive agent in the building up of the body. In this respect I believe there is now no difference of opinion among those who have most carefully observed the action of alcohol.
Further on he disproves the common notion that alcohol develops an increase of animal heat. In the first stage of its operation it drives the blood to the surface by temporary stimulation of the heart, creating a flush, while the internal heat is being actually diminished, and demonstrates that though in the "first and third stages of alcoholic disturbance there is often muscular excitement which passes for increased muscular power, the muscles being rapidly stimulated into motion by the nervous tumult, yet the muscular power is actually enfeebled."
Discussing the adidteration of alcoholic liquors, he says, page 124:
A bona fide wine, derived from the fermentation of grapes purely, can not contain more than 17 per cent, of alcohol; yet our staple wines by an artificial process of fortifying and brandying, which means the adding of spirit, are brought up in sherries to 20 and in ports to even 25 per cent.
The admitted addition of some actively poisonous substances to alcohol, in order to produce a new luxury, is the evil most disastrous. The drink sold under the name of absinthe is peculiarly formidable. In this liquor five drachms of the essence of absinthe, or we rmwood, are added to one hundred parts of alcohol, * * * which has been discovered to exert the most powerful and dangerous action upon the nervous functions. Indeed such are the terrible consequences incident to this agent, that I agree with Dr. Decoisne in maintaining that it ought by legal provisions to be forbidden as an article of human consumption in all civilized communities. Until recently absinthe has not been publicly offered for sale in this country on a large scale. But now, unhappily, the poison is openly announced even here, and the consumption is on the increase. (Pages 125, 126.)
The most solemn fact of all bearing upon these mental aberrations produced by alcohol, and upon the physical not less than the mental, is that the mischief inflicted on man by his own act and deed can not fail to be transferred to those who descend from him and who are thus irresponsibly afflicted. Among the many inscrutable designs of nature none is more manifest than this: that physical vice, like physical feature and physical page 9 virtue, descends in line. It is, I say, a solemn reflection for every man and every we man, that whatever we do to ourselves so as to modify our own physical conformation and mental type, for good or for evil, is transmitted to generations that have yet to be. Not one of the transmitted wrongs, physical or mental, is more certainly passed on to those yet unborn than the wrongs which are inflicted by alcohol. We, therefore, who live to reform the present age, in this respect are stretching forth our powers to the next, to purify it, to beautify it, and to lead it toward that millennial happiness and blessedness which in the fullness of time shall visit even the earth, making it, under an increasing light of knowledge, a garden of human delight, a paradise regained.
This chemical substance, alcohol, an artificial product, devised by man for his purposes, and in many things that lie outside his organism a useful substance, is neither a food nor a drink suitable for his natural demands. Its application as an agent that shall enter the living organization is properly limited by the learning and skill possessed by the physician—a learning that itself admits of being recast and revised in many important details, and perhaps in principles. If this agent do really for the moment cheer the weary and import a flush of transient pleasure to the unwearied who crave for mirth, its influence (doubtful even in these modest and moderate degrees) is an infinitesimal advantage by the side of an infinity of evil for which there is no compensation and no human cure.
The following statement of the result of a whole year's experiment at brickmaking, made by two sets of men—the one working on the abstinent, the other on the moderate system—is given by a gentleman of Uxbridge, England. Out of upwards of 23,000,000 of bricks made in 1841, by the largest maker in the neighborhood, the average per man, made by the beer-drinkers in the season, was 760,269, while the average of the teetotalers was 795,400; which is 35,131 in favor of the latter per man. The highest number made by a beer-drinker was 880,000; by a teetotaler, 800,000. The lowest number made by a beer-drinker was 659,500; the lowest number by a teetotaler was 746,000, leaving 87,000 in favor of the latter. Satisfactory as this account appears, I believe it would have been much more so if the teetotalers could have obtained the whole gang of abstainers, as they were frequently hindered by the drinking of some of the gang; and when the order is thus broken, the work cannot go on.
I am informed that the experience of the armies and navies of England and America demonstrate that the soldier or sailor who abstains from the use of alcohol is, as a rule, more vigorous and healthy than the user, braver and more reliable in action, and far more capable of enduring the hardships of war.
Reference has been made by the doctor to the dire effects so often seen by medical men in the persons of the children of those addicted to habits of intoxication—epilepsy, idiocy, and insanity, congenital or subsequently developing themselves, with or without any apparent exciting cause. He has not, however, I think, sufficiently held up to the victims of this baleful thirst the terrible curse they thus deliberately entail upon their descendants.
It is hardly necessary to remark that Dr. Storer, the distinguished professor of obstetrics and diseases of we men in Berkshire Medical College, is inferior to no other authority upon whatever relates to his own specialty in the practice of the healing art.
That prolific cause is the common habit of taking alcohol into the system, usually as the basis of spirits, wine, or beer. * * * The basis being the same in all, the constitutional effects are about the same. The use of alcohol materially modifies a man's bodily condition; and, so far as it affects him individually, it is his own affair; but if it affects also the number and condition of his offspring, that affects society. If its general use docs materially influence the number and condition of the dependent and criminal classes, it is the duty of all who have thought and care about social improvement to consider the matter carefully, and it is the special duty of those having official relations with those classes to furnish facts and materials for public consideration. It is well known that alcohol acts unequally upon man's nature; that it stimulates the lower propensities and weakens the higher faculties, * * * and represses the functions which manifest themselves in the higher or human sentiments which result in will. If the blood, highly alcoholized, goes to the brain, its functions become subverted; the man does not know and does not care what he says or docs. If this process is often repeated * * * the man is no longer under control of his voluntary power, but has come under the dominion of automatic functions, which are almost as much beyond his control as the beating of his heart. Any morbid condition of body frequently repeated becomes established by habit * * * and makes him more liable to certain diseases, as gout, scrofula, insanity, and the like. This liability or tendency he transmits to his children just as surely as he transmits likeness in form or feature. * * * Now the use of alcohol certainly does induce a morbid condition of body. It is morally certain that the frequent or the habitual overthrow of the conscience and will, or the habitual weakening of them, soon establishes a morbid condition, with morbid appetites and tendencies, and that those appetites and tendencies are surely transmitted to the offspring.
Again, it is admitted that an intemperate mother nurses her babe with alcoholized milk - but it is not enough considered that a father gives to his offspring certain tendencies which lead surely to craving for stimulants. These cravings once indulged grow to a passion, the vehemence of which passes the comprehension of common men.
Among the Greeks, the prohibition of intoxicating wines (distilled liquors were unknown) was enforced by the severest penalties. "Plato, Aristotle, Plutarch, and others have noticed the hereditary transmission of intemperate propensities, and the legislation that imposed abstinence upon we men had unquestionably in view the greater vigor of the offspring—'healthy minds in a healthy body' That indulgence in the use of strong drink by expectant mothers would be injurious to them and their offspring was known to the learned and wise among the ancients." "The Romans had a prohibitory law which forbade intoxicating wine, while it allowed the pure juice." (See the very learned treatise of Rev. Dr. William Patton, of New York City, upon Bible wines, published in 1874, for a great mass of valuable information upon this subject).
What is Alcohol? The answer is, a poison. It is so regarded by the best writers and teachers on toxicology. I refer to Orfila, Christison, and the like, who class it with arsenic, corosive sublimate, and prussic acid. Like these poisons when introduced into the system, it is capable of destroying life without acting mechanically. Introduced into the system it induces a general disease, as well marked as intermittent fever, small-pox, or lead poison.
And in a public address the same distinguished gentleman declares "that one-third of all the deaths in the city of New York are the result, directly or indirectly, of the use of alcohol; and that within the last thirty-eight years 100,000 persons in that city have died of its use, either by themselves or their parents."
Alcohol is the one evil genius, whether in wine, or ale, or whisky, and is killing the race of men. Stay the ravages of this one poison, alcohol, that king of poisons, the mightiest weapon of the devil, and the millennium will soon dawn.
Attributing the fact largely to intoxicating liquors primarily and indirectly, the Board of State Charities of Pennsylvania state that "in careful breeding of cattle at least 96 per cent, come to maturity, and of horses 95 per cent, in our northern climate, while of the infinitely more precious race of men at least 33 per cent, perish in the bud of infancy or blossom of early youth."
Great God! I stagger in the effort to grasp these statistics of death. Are these the dreams of scientific madmen? Truth is not only stranger than fiction, but infinitely more horrible. And the tide of testimony rolls on.
It is admitted by every one that alcohol is the cause of more than half the insanity we have. I am not so familiar with the facts on this subject here as I should naturally be at the other side of the Atlantic. * * * I know this: that Lord Shaftesbury, the chairman of our commission on lunacy in England, has said in a parliamentary report on the subject, that six out of ten lunatics in our asylums are made lunatic by the use of alcohol. It is a fact which can not be disputed that diseases of the liver, diseases of the lungs, diseases of the tissues of the body, are induced directly by the use of alcohol, and that as a general rule you may say that where you have alcohol used most largely and most frequently, there these diseases and degenerations in the tissues of the body become most marked. I could give you very authoritative facts bearing upon this matter from sources which are not open to the imputation of any kind of moral bias, as the utterances of some of our temperance friends may be open to.
Now recollect that food is that which puts strength into a man, and stimulant is that which gets strength out of a man; so that when you want to use stimulant, recollect that you are using that which will exhaust the last particles of strength, with a facility with which your body would not otherwise part with them. If a man takes a pint of brandy what do we see? It intoxicates, it poisons him. Of course you know intoxicant is a modification of the Greek word toxicon. The man who is intoxicated is poisoned; we simply use a Greek instead of a Saxon word for it. We see a man intoxicated. What are the phenomena we see then? A man lies on his back snoring, helpless, senseless. If you set him up, he falls down again like a sack of potatoes. If you try to rouse him, you get nothing out of him but a grunt. Is that the effect of a stimulant, do you think? I should think it is the effect of a paralyzer that you have—mind, and body, and nerve, and muscle all equally and uniformly paralyzed right through. * * * Alcohol in a large dose is a narcotic poison, which paralyzes the body and stupefies the mind. If a man takes a somewhat larger dose, what do you see then? You sec that snoring and breathing come to at end—you see that the soft, flabby pulsation of the heart ceases; that the spark of life goes out, and the man can not be resuscitated. In fact, there are more men killed, so far as I know English statistics, more men poisoned in that way by alcohol than are poisoned by all other poisons put together. We have a great horror of arsenic and fifty other things; the fact is, that all these other things are a mere bagatelle in relation to the most direct, absolute, immediate, and certain poisonings which are caused by alcohol.
Colonel J. G. Dudley, of New York City, has published a valuable pamphlet reviewing this subject and carefully collating the opinions of the leading medical writers of the last fifty or seventy-five years, such as Orfila, Christison, Dr. Taylor, Pereira, Professor Binz, Dr. Lallemand, Perrin, Dr. Willard Parker, Professor Edmund A. Parkes, Professor Duroy Dumorel, Magnus, Dunglison, Dr. James Edmunds, Powell, Professor N. S. Davis, Dermarquay, Wetherbee, Burns, Dickinson, and others, all of whom agree in deciding that alcohol is a narcot ico-acrid poison.
Take now the following table from Neison's Vital Statistics, which Professor Parkes adopts and indorses in his great work on hygiene, page 270. These deductions were drawn from observations upon the lives of three hundred and fifty-seven persons.
Whatever else the American Congress and people may disagree upon I think it will generally be conceded that life-insurance companies know what they are about.page 12
Take now the following tables upon the basis of which they do business, and which are unquestionably as reliable as the keenest observation continued for many years can construct. This first table is prepared by Dr. Edward Jarvis, a distinguished American statist.
|Ages of persons.||Deaths in 100,000.||Comparative rate of mortality.|
|15 to 20 years||1,342||730||18||10|
|20 to 30 years||4,953||974||51||10|
|30 to 40 years||4,620||1,110||42||10|
|40 to 50 years||5,992||1,452||41||10|
|50 to 60 years||6,418||2,254||29||10|
|60 to 90 years||46,174||33,260||13||10|
|Comparative rate of deaths in equal numbers of intemperate and temperate persons of all ages, the same year||32||10|
|Policies issued.||Number of deaths.||Equal to—|
|Company A||944||14||15 per thousand.|
|Company B||1,901||27||14 per thousand.|
|Company C||838||11||13 per thousand.|
|Company D||2,470||65||26 per thousand.|
|Temperance provident institution||1,596||12||7 ½ per thousand.|
The first table shows an average mortality more than three times as large among the intemperate as among the temperate, and the other more than two and one-half times larger in the general companies than in the temperance institution.
Dr. Carpenter also indorses a certificate, of which the following is one paragraph, which he says was signed by more than two thousand physicians of all grades and degrees, from the court physicians and leading metropolitan surgeons to the humble country practitioner:
We the undersigned are of opinion—
First. That a very large proportion of human misery, including poverty, disease, and crime, is induced by the use of alcohol or fermented liquors as beverages.
The evidence of this character is entirely inexhaustible, and I close it with the following "declaration" by the uncontradicted voice of the medical profession of New York City and vicinity: