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THE INFLUENCE OF ARDENT SPIRITS ON THE CONDITION OF THE NORTH AMERICAN INDIANS.
»H ADDRESS READ BEFORE THE CHIPPEWA COUNTY TEMPERANCE SOCIETY, AC SAULT STE-MAP.IE, MAY 8th, 1832.
The effects of intemperance on the character of nations and individuals have been often depicted, within a few years, in faithful colors, and by gifted minds. "Thoughts that breathe and words that burn" were once supposed to be confined, exclusively, to give melody to the lyre, and life to the canvass. But the conceptions of modern benevolence have dispelled the illusion, and taught us that genius has no higher objects than the promotion of the greatest amount of good to man—that these objects come home to the " business and bosoms" of men in their every day avocations—that they lie level to every capacity, and never assume so exalted a character, as when they are directed to increase the sum of domestic happiness and fireside enjoyment—
"To mend the morals and improve the heart."
It is this consideration that gives to the temperance effort in our day, a refined and expansive character—
"Above all Greek, above all Roman fame"— which has enlisted in its cause sound heads and glowing hearts, in all parts of our country—which is daily augmenting the sphere of its influence, and which has already carried its precepts and examples from the little sea-board village,* where it originated, to the foot of Lake Superior. And I have now the pleasure of seeing before me a society, assembled On their first public meeting, who have "banded together," not with such mistaken zeal as dictated the killing of Paul, or assassinating Cffisar, but for giving their aid in staying the tide of intemperance which has been rolling westward for more than three centuries, sweeping away thousands of white and red men in its course—which has grown with the growth of the nation, and strengthened with its strength, and which threatens with an overwhelming moral desolation all who do not adopt the rigid maxim—
"Touch not, taste not, handle not."
The British critic of the last century little thought, while moralizing upon some of the weaknesses of individual genius, that he was uttering maxims which would encourage the exertions of voluntary associations of men to put a stop to intemperance. It was as true then as now, that "in the bottle, discontent seeks for comfort, cowardice for courage, and bashfulness for confidence." It was as true then, as now, that the "neg
* Andover. licence and irregularity" which are the fruits of this habit," if long continued, will render knowledge useless, wit ridiculous, and genius contemptible." "Who," he exclaims, "that ever asked succors from Bacchus, was able to preserve himself from being enslaved by his auxiliary Y"' And is there a species of servitude more pernicious in its influence, more degrading in its character, more destructive of all physical and intellectual power, than the slavery of inebriation 1 The rage of the conflagration—the devastation of the flood—the fury of the tempest, are emblematic of the moral fury of the mind under the influence of alcohol. It is equally ungovernable in its power, and destructive in its effects. But its devastations are more to be deplored, because they are the devastations of human faculties—of intellectual power—of animal energy—of moral dignity—of social happiness—of temporal health—of eternal felicity.
Intemperance is emphatically the parent of disease, mental and physical. Its direct effects are to blunt the faculty of correct thinking, and to paralyze the power of vigorous action. Nothing more effectually takes away from the human mind, its ordinary practical powers of discrimination and decision, without which man is like a leaf upon the tempest, or the chaff before the wind. Dr. Darwin has aptly compared the effects of spirituous liquors upon the lungs to the ancient fable of Prometheus stealing fire from heaven, who was punished for the theft by a vulture gnawing on the liver.f A striking allegory: but one which is not inaptly applied to characterize the painful and acute diseases which are visited upon the inebriate. Dr. Rush was an early advocate of the cause. He likened the effects of the various degrees of alcohol, in spirituous drinks, to the artificial mensuration of heat by the thermometer, and took a decided stand in pointing out its poisonous effects upon the system, in the generation of a numerous class of diseases, acute and chronic.
If unhealthy food had been the cause of such disorders, the article would be rigidly shunned. No man would choose to eat twice of the cicuta ; to use bread having a portion of lime in it; or to drink frequently of a preparation of sugar of lead. Even the intemperate would fear to drink of alcohol, in its state of chemical purity, for its effects would certainly be to arrest the functions of life. Yet he will drink of this powerful drug, if diluted with acids, saccharine and coloring matter, water and various impurities, under the disguised names of wine, brandy, rum, malt liquors, whisky, cordials, and mixed potations, which all tend to pamper the natural depravity of the human heart, and poison its powers of healthful action.
Alcohol is one of the preparations which were brought to light in the
* Dr. JoWon. T Zoonomia.
age of the Alchemysts—when the human mind had run mad in a philosophic research after two substances which were not found in nature—the philosopher's stone, and the universal panacea. One, it was believed, was to transmute all substances it touched into gold, and the other, to cure all diseases. The two great desires of the world—wealth and long life, were thus to be secured in a way which Moses and the Prophets had never declared. A degree of patient ascetic research was devoted to the investigation of natural phenomena, which the world had not before witnessed; and modern science is indebted to the mistaken labors of this race of chemical monks, for many valuable discoveries, which were, for the most part, stumbled on. So far as relates to the discovery of the alcoholic principle of grains, a singular reversal of their high anticipations has ensued. They sought for a substance to enrich mankind, but found a substance to impoverish them: they sought a power to cure all diseases, but they found one to cause them. Alcohol is thus invested with great talismanic power: and this power is not to create, but to destroy—not to elevate, but to prostrate—not to impart life, but death.
How extensive its uses are, as a re-agent and solvent, in medicine and the arts—or if its place could be supplied, in any instances, by other substances—are questions to be answered by physicians and chemists. But admitting, what is probable to my own mind, that its properties and uses in pharmacy and the arts are indispensable in several operations, in the present state of our knowledge—does this furnish a just plea for its ordinary use, as a beverage, in a state of health 1 No more than it would, that because the lancet and the probe are useful in a state of disease, they should be continued in a state of health, And do not every class of men who continue the use of ardent spirits, waste their blood by a diurnal exhaustion of its strength and healthy properties, more injurious than a daily depletion; and probe their flesh with a fluid too subtle for the physician to extract?
The transition from temperate to intemperate drinking, is very easy. And those who advocate the moderate use of distilled spirits are indeed the real advocates of intemperance. No man ever existed, perhaps, who thought himself in danger of being enslaved by a practice, which he, at first, indulged in moderation. A habit of relying upon it is imperceptibly formed. Nature is soon led to expect the adventitious aid, as a hale man, accustomed to wear a staff, may imagine he cannot do without it, until he has thrown it aside. If it communicates a partial energy, it is the energy of a convulsion. Its joy is a phrenzy. Its hope is a phantom. And all its exhibitions of changing passion, so many melancholy proofs of
"the reasonable soul run mad."
Angelic beings are probably exalted above all human weaknesses.—