A National Vice
IN that scene of Othello (Act II. Sc. 3) in which Iago betrays Cassio into drunkenness, he sings a clattering drinking song, as to which he says to his victim, “ I learned it in England, where, indeed, they are most potent in potting: your Dane, your German, and your swag-bellied Hollander . . . are nothing to your English.” But remember, complacent brother Yankee, that this description of English manners concerns you directly. You cannot say that the galled jade in England may wince, but your withers are unwrung. It is your forefathers that Shakespeare thus describes by the lips of that jovial soldier and prince of good fellows, “mine ancient.” You have just the same concern in the picture that your British cousin has : no more, but not a whit less. You may have taken Falstaff’s counsel to himself to forswear sack and live cleanly ; but if any one is at all implicated in the potting of Englishmen between two and three hundred years ago, you are the man. Nevertheless, there is at the present day a very manifest difference between the two great divisions of the English race in this matter, although the amount of wine and whisky and beer consumed in America seems to increase year by year, rather than to diminish. What may be called domestic drinking has, however, much fallen off among us within the memory of living men. In the days of the fathers of the present active generation, some forty years ago, it was the custom here to offer cake and wine to ladies who paid morning calls, and not long before that time, wine was in use even at funerals. These customs have happily passed away, and although they may have been succeeded by others not less objectionable in the same respect, the use of alcoholic drinks in the household, except at dinner, and on festive occasions, has diminished so greatly that the change is one of the most notable that has taken place in our society. In England, however, although wine is not offered, as a matter of course, to callers, wine, beer, and spirits are in free and in daily use in households of a grade and a character which here would be a warrant that nothing stronger than coffee or tea, or, of late years, on extraordinary occasions, a little lager beer, would be seen upon the table. For, in England, not only do people who live generously, not to say freely, and with a respect for creature comforts, draw regularly upon the cellar or the tap, but, with very few exceptions, all of that large class — it is almost equally large in both countries — which unites narrow means, frugal living, and a strong religious and ascetic feeling are constant drinkers of malt liquor, and most of them of spirits, although in a moderate and truly temperate way. With this class in America it is both virtuous and economical to substitute, for cakes and ale, pie and water.
The free use, not only of wine and beer, but even of spirits, by all classes, and by both sexes, among people of the highest respectability and the most decorous life, was the very first of English habits which attracted my attention. My readers may remember the mention of my observation of this habit at the morning performance at the Birmingham musical festival, where, at midday, between the parts of the concert, sandwiches and biscuit were accompanied by highly fragrant draughts from silver and gold-mounted flasks, which were freely taken by ladies in all parts of the immense hall, even by those in the “ president’s seats,” where the nobility and the “ swells ” in general were carefully roped off from the rest of the audience, and where there was an archbishop who might have said high grace over what his friends around him were about to receive. They may remember, too, that fair and delicate woman with whom, the next day, I was shut up alone in a firstclass carriage between Birmingham and London, and who startled me by filling her horn, not exactly as Diana fills hers, with a fluid that made our compartment as highly odorous as a cellar in Cognac. The impression made upon me by these incidents was deepened every day that I spent in England. In London I saw respectable-looking women coming out of tap-rooms, wiping their lips, at ten o’clock in the morning. They were not “ladies,” but they were women of decent dress and demeanor ; women of a sort that here would be frightened at the thought of entering a bar-room. At restaurants I saw the same freedom on the part of women of a much higher grade. I mentioned this to a New York woman who had gone over in the same steamer with me, and who was with her party for a few days at the same hotel. She, who had been in England two or three times, had, nevertheless, been newly impressed in like manner; and she told me that only the day before, when her party, which included her brotherin-law, her sister, her nephew and niece, after a fatiguing morning of sight-seeing, had gone to a restaurant to take a hearty luncheon, in the order for which ale and brandy and water had been included, to her amazement the waiter placed the ale before the gentlemen, and the brandy, by no mistake, but deliberately, before her. The waiter, when he was requested to change the arrangement, made no apology, and did not seem to think that he had been guilty of a blunder. She enjoyed the joke too much to be offended.
I hasten to say, however, that I did not see, in any part of England, in any society to which I had the pleasure of being admitted, a single instance, even among men, of perceptible excess in drinking. And I venture to add that I am so far from being squeamish upon this point myself, that I respected a friend, a man not only of character and high social standing, but of strong religious feeling, when he said to me one morning, “ Last night, when I was talking with you, I was somewhat excited by wine ” (I had hardly observed it), “ and perhaps was somewhat vehement. Some people are ashamed to own that they are, or have been, excited by wine. I am not.” I could not but reflect, however, that a similar confession by an American of his years and character would be almost an impossibility.
This gentleman, moreover, was a man of active benevolence, and was one of a few who had undertaken the establishment in one of the large towns of chocolate houses for the benefit of the laboring people, to win them away if possible from the ale-house, the tap-room, and the gin palace. I visited one of these chocolate rooms with him, and was pleased to see the simple earnestness with which he made inquiries of the person in charge as to the favor with which they were regarded by those for whose good they were established, and the satisfaction with which he received information that the number of visitors was increasing. But the result of my observations on the whole did not lead me to look for much social amelioration of England by this well-meant and possibly wise project. The Englishman, and particularly the Englishman of the laboring class, is wedded to his beer. He feels that it is the great comfort, and one of the very few enjoyments, of his life. And not only is the chocolate room or any other like contrivance “ slow,” but there is about it an implication that he is taken in hand and managed by his betters, like a child, which he not unnaturally resents. Rightly or wrongly, he feels more ashamed of being treated in this way than he does of being drunk once a week, — once, however, being here a word of wide signification. For in these cases “ the same drunk ” often extends from Saturday night to Monday and not unfrequently into Tuesday. The result of this habit, which may almost be called a custom, is deplorable and socially injurious to a degree of which we in America have a very imperfect idea. The beer of England is not like the light German beer which has come so much into vogue here of late years under the name of “ lager,” and of which a man of any stability of brain and knee might drink enough to swim in without feeling any other effect than that of unpleasant distention ; it is heady, strongly narcotic, and apparently not exhilarating, but depressing. Drunk in large quantities, after a short period of excitement it dulls the brain and fills the drinker’s whole bulk with liquid stupefaction. He becomes not intoxicated, but besotted. Not only laboring men and men who ought to labor, but do not, give themselves up to this debasing habit of beer-drunkenness through two or three days of the week, but skilled artisans, men whose work is of a kind and of an excellence which is worthy of respect and admiration. I was more than once told in regard to an artisan of this class, a man whose work was always in demand at the highest price, and who could with ease have kept himself and his family in perfect comfort and have laid up money, that he would not work for any man or at any price more than four days in the week. Blue Monday is a recognized “ institution ” in England ; and as I have intimated, the blueness of it extends not unfrequently into Tuesday, and this among the very best of the skilled artisans. One bookbinder told me that his two best men, “ finishers ” to whom he gave his finest work in perfect confidence that it would be done unexceptionably both in workmanship and in style, never made any “ time,”that is, never got really at work, before Wednesday. Like stories were told me of other equally accomplished workmen. This is not only ruinous to the men and to their families, but the aggregate industrial loss to England must be very great. And this steady, besotted drunkenness seems to be at the bottom of most of the distress and most of the crime of England. A clergyman whose work lay much among the laboring classes told me that he felt utterly powerless before this vice, which was a constant quantity in the problem that he was called upon to solve. I knew a lady who was a district visitor in a suburb of London, one of those ministering angels who in England, more, it seems to me, than in any other country in the world, give themselves up to the work of helping and bettering the most wretched and degraded of their kind, and who carry Christian love and purity and grace into dens of filth and sin and suffering which, if they did not see them, would be beyond their chaste imaginations ; and I asked her one day if she met with any encouragement, and if she thought she had been able to do much real good. With a sad, sweet smile she answered, “Very little. The condition of these people seems hopeless; and they are hopeless. All that we can do is to help them from time to time ; and we find them always where we left them, or if possible yet lower, more degraded, more wretched. And at the bottom of it all is drunkenness. The men are always more or less drunk, and the women are almost as bad. They earn a little money, and they get drunk. Husband and wife get drunk together ; they quarrel; they fight; and the children grow up with this before them. They are never really quite sober unless they are starving or ill. What can be done for such people ? How can they or their condition be made better ? ” The tears gushed from her eyes as she spoke. I knew that it was so. My own observation, very small and of little worth as compared with hers, had yet shown me this. And I was struck with horror at the besotted condition of so many of the women, — women who were bearing children every year, and suckling them, and who seemed to me little better than foul human stills through which the accursed liquor with which they were soaked filtered drop by drop into the little drunkards at their breasts. To these children drunkenness comes unconsciously, like their mother tongue. They cannot remember a time when it was new to them. They come out of the cloud-land of infancy with the impression that drunkenness is one of the normal conditions of man, like hunger or like sleep. Punishment for mere drunkenness, unaccompanied by violence, must seem strange to them, one of the exactments which separate them from the superior classes, from whom come to them, as from a sort of Providence, both good and evil.1
Those superior classes seem, however, to have been, not very long ago, at least as much given to intoxication as their inferiors are now. The adage “ as drunk as a lord” is indeed obsolescent, and with good reason ; but its existence is proof of the habits of the class which it makes a basis of comparison. The adage, however, is, I am inclined to think, not a very old one. I know no instance of its use more than one hundred and fifty or two hundred years ago; and I am inclined to the opinion that it witnesses a condition of society which did not obtain until after the Restoration, and which was most fully developed in the last century. In literature, particularly in dramatic literature, of an earlier time, there is no evidence that Englishmen of the higher ranks were notably given to intoxication ; had they been so, this evidence could hardly have been lacking in the plays of Dekker, of Heywood, and of others. We all know, however, the habits in this respect of a large proportion of the men of rank in England, at the end of the last century and at the beginning of this. The evidence upon this point is so strong, and shows such a condition of society in this respect, that the change to the present admirable temperance and decorum, which I have already mentioned, is not only to be admired but to be wondered at as having been effected in so short a time. It is safe to assume that, in the last century, among English people who were able to live generously and who were not under the restraint of religious asceticism, the large majority of both sexes were more or less fuddled every day after dinner, which then among such people was at about three or four o’clock, afternoon. This fact affords an explanation, and to me it is the only admissible or conceivable explanation, of the behavior of the elegant people of that century and the early years of this at the theatre, and even in the drawingroom when there was sentimental singing like Tom Moore’s. Men as well as women would weep openly ; and at the hearing of tragedies, the very reading of which now would make us yawn, damp handkerchiefs were waving all over the house, especially in the boxes. At very affecting passages ladies would swoon or shriek, and be carried out in hysterics. When Tom Moore sang, in his little voice that could hardly be heard over a large drawing-room, ladies of the highest rank hung over him at the piano-forte, and gave way to their emotions in the most effusive and engaging manner, so that there too they not unfrequently were faint or hysterical. The men were hardly behind them. It is difficult to believe that these are the manners and customs of the same race, only two generations removed, in which now the mark of good breeding is the restraint of all expression of emotion, particularly that of a sentimental kind. It would be impossible to believe it, were not the change accompanied by one with regard to ebriety which explains it. At those theatres and in those drawing-rooms it might have been said, as the Reverend Mr. Stiggins remarked to Brother Tadger at the Brick-Lane Branch of the Ebenezer Temperance Society, “ the meetin ’s drunk.” Doubtless a large majority of those present were, if not intoxicated, maudlin with drink, and ready to be affected with that which would not have stirred them a jot had they led constantly sober lives. Only on such a supposition as this can the impression which was produced by The Beggar’s Opera be accounted for. How such words and such music could have set the town wild, and caused lords to fall in love with the actresses and ladies with the actors, is otherwise quite incomprehensible.
Even now, however, the consumption of wine and beer in the higher ranks of life in England, although it rarely, I believe, leads past the bounds of a decorous hilarity, is very great when compared with that of well-to-do people in the United States whose grandfathers were born in the country. Unmitigated water is rarely drunk, and is generally regarded with mingled aversion on the score of taste and dread on the score of health. “What is that you are drinking, G–? ” said an elderly gentleman to his nephew as we sat after the ladies had withdrawn ; and he peered curiously down the board at the young man’s glass. “ Water, sir,” replied the young fellow. “ Hm-m-m ! wa-ater,” and then a puzzled silence. He did not say, as his most gracious majesty William, the fourth of that name, is reported by Greville to have been graciously pleased to say on a like occasion, “ I ’ll be da—shed if any man shall drink water at my table; ” but evidently he was very royally minded upon the subject. I should have remembered the occasion, even if my host had not emphasized it by speaking to his nephew; for it was, I believe, the only one at which I saw pure water drunk at a dinner-table in England. I do not remember even one lady who confined herself to the simple element; and I am speaking now not of dinner parties, or of occasions at all festive, but of the daily habits of families in which I had the honor and the great pleasure of being received without ceremony and made quite at home Upon this point there is a corroborative passage in the very amusing Court Etiquette by Professor Fanning, of Toronto, Canada, who speaks, we are informed, with the authority of one who has received instruction in the lord chamberlain’s office. He says that at family dinners “young ladies are limited to three glasses of light wines, while married ladies are accustomed to drink sometimes six.” A matron in France may go to the Palais Royal; in England her privilege is three more glasses of wine at dinner. Then there is the wine and the beer which is drunk at luncheon, which is a substantial meal at about two o’clock, with a joint and a pudding.
But the constant and somewhat free drinking of wine on the part of the ladies was not all that attracted my attention ; I was astonished at a certain disregard of simplicity in their potations ; their drinking was multiform, and in what was to me a somewhat disturbing way. I have seen English ladies, after having had their full allowance of sherry, champagne, and claret at dinner, drink down a tumblerful of beer, or even of black porter ! The first time I saw this done the performer was an actress; and as some of the ladies of her profession are said to be not quite so scrupulous as to certain social matters as, let us say, the leading ladies of the Baptist and Methodist persuasions are, I supposed that I might set down the porter to this slight professional eccentricity. None the less, however, was I puzzled to account for the unfastidiousness of palate which could desire, and the stoutness of stomach which, after sherry, champagne, and claret, could retain, a great glass of porter with a tawny head upon it, at the mere sight, of which even my masculine gorge rose in rebellion. But as to my former supposition I was entirely wrong; for I saw ladies of position, and of high rank, after dinner was over (not regularly, but occasionally) drink off a glass of very strong beer, so strong, indeed, that one glass of it alone would turn the heads of most American women. My fair friends in England were, however, not disturbed by it; or certainly they were not before they retired from the drawing-room.
This looking upon wine or beer as a necessity of life gives to the condemnation of malefactors, public and domestic, to a diet of bread and water, which is so often referred to in our literature, a severer significance than it has to us in America. I remember that when I used as a boy to read and to hear of this aggravation of punishment, I supposed the deprivation to be, as it was in my own case, of milk, of tea, and of coffee, — but the privation which it really did impose was that of beer and wine ; and indeed the form of the sentence dates from a time when coffee and tea were unknown. But to an American, or I should rather say to a Yankee, who does not belong to the drinking classes the deprivation of wine, beer, and spirits during imprisonment would not add appreciably to its discomfort. Not so with Britons of any class.
A short time ago a friend of mine, an officer in the army, received a letter from a friend in England, introducing an actress who had come here with intentions of pursuing her profession. He called, and as he was taking leave he asked the lady if there was anything that he could do for her, meaning any service that he could render her as a stranger. “ Oh, yes,” she at once replied, “do send me a case of claret; for in this dreadful place I ’m expected to drink wa-a-ter or some nasty washy stuff they call lager, and I’m so famished for some wine that I think I shall die. Do send me some, please.” I am sorry to say that my friend did not send the case of wine, and was so taken aback by such a request on a first interview that his first call was his last; and indeed the lady, disgusted, I suppose, with a country where she was expected to drink water, went back to England without making an engagement. He was a little too shy and suspicious. Such a request from an actress to a British officer would not startle him as being much, if at all, out of the way, and almost any officer would have so heartily sympathized with this lady in her privation that he would gladly have supplied this deficiency in her commissariat.
In London streets I myself had similar requests made to me, although on a much smaller scale. These requests were altogether new to me, and caused me some astonishment. They were made as I was strolling in New Bond Street or in Regent Street. I declined compliance at first ; but one evening, as I was returning to my lodgings from dinner at a restaurant, a youngish woman dressed plainly in black, not at all pretty, but with a modest and pleasant manner, stepped up to me and said in a sweet voice, “ Please, sir, would you kindly give me a glass of wine ? ” I reflected that I was a perfect stranger there, and might do with impunity what I would not think of doing at home (as English and American ladies go to the Mabille in Paris), and wishing to see how the thing was done, I said, Yes, and asked where we should get it. “ There’s a wine-room, yonder,” she replied, pointing across Regent Street. I went with her ; and surely there could not be a place less adapted to lure man or woman to mirth or pleasure. It was a small room not more than twelve feet square. The floor was of deal boards, not positively dirty, but not too clean. The walls were of a dingy nondescript color, and without ornament or decoration of any kind. Across one side, opposite the door, was a deal counter or bar, also dingy. On the floor were a chair or two and two or three small casks, upon which men were sitting. Behind the counter were other small casks with taps. So utterly doleful and forlorn a drinking place I had never seen. But the men were decently dressed, and were chatting pleasantly ; their manner was decorous, and they were plainly not roughs. I asked my fair friend what wine she would have. She said, Port; whereupon two glasses with stems, but with straight sides, holding about as much as a small champagne glass, were filled from one of the casks and placed upon the counter. I gave one to her, and touching my lips to the other as she took a draught, I paid for the wine, and setting down my glass bade her good evening and went out. I had not gone far before I heard the pattering of feet and the rustling of skirts behind me. She laid her hand gently upon my arm, and said in a tone of distress that went to my heart, “ Oh, sir, sir, how could you treat me so ? To take me there and leave me to drink my wine alone ! You might have waited. 1 was so ashamed.” Her manner was perfectly simple and decorous ; and she was evidently hurt. I apologized and explained to her that I was a stranger, quite unfamiliar with the etiquette of such places, and that I supposed she merely wanted the refreshment of a glass of wine, which I gave her with pleasure. “ Well, well,” she answered, “ I suppose you meant no harm ; but it was awfully hard. Thanks, sir ; good night! ” and we went our several ways. I was truly sorry ; but I had not supposed that a woman who asked me for wine in the street would mind much how she got it, or under what circumstances she drank it. Familiar as I have been from my boyhood with the streets of New York, at all hours of the day and night, this was my first experience of the kind; and it was my last in England, although the same request was made of me again and again, by day as well as by night.
Applications of this kind to a “ gentleman ” are of the commonest occurrence in England. Any information or assistance that I asked was generally given to me with good-natured alacrity, and without any intimation that a “ tip ” was expected ; but in the case of persons of inferior condition, I always found that sixpence was accepted with pleasure, and as being quite in order. More than once, though, when my inquiries had extended into something like conversation, I found an answer to my last query rounded off with, “ And I should be very 'appy to drink your ’elth, sir.” Of course I produced the means of securing such disinterested wishes for my wellbeing.
Once, however, I was tempted to say, “ Oh, my health is so good that it does n’t need drinking; ” but I was not reviled, as I had expected, and I may almost say hoped, to be. There was only a bewildered stare, and a silent turning away. The only sign that I saw of a ruffled temper from the absence of an expected fee was from a French waiter at a very “ swell ” restaurant. The little account which he presented had across the top, printed in large letters, “Attendance charged in the bill,” which is common in England. Determined to see what this meant, when the waiter returned with my change, I put it all into my pocket; whereupon this Frenchman, who had been all bows and smiles and pleased alacrity, instantly became so insolent in his manner that I was tempted to make a complaint against him and test the question. But I reflected that I was “ only a passenger,” and merely retaining in my pocket the sixpence that otherwise would have found its way into his hand, I went out.
To return to the subject of drink. It is generally expected that when a “ gentleman ” goes among men of lower classes, and talks with them, he will, in the common phrase there, “ stand something,” which means pay for beer for all; and as a pint may be had for twopence, the tax is not very heavy. If he remains while the beer is drunk, one spokesman says for all, “ Your very good ’elth, sir.” The beer is drained off and the drinkers wipe their lips with the backs of their hands, and the backs of their hands upon their trousers. I observed the pronunciation of ’elth in these cases. It is not merely health with the h suppressed, but a gulping of the syllable low down in the throat. Indeed, this pronunciation of I is as much a distinctive mark of lower-class English as the suppression of h or its superfluous addition. The higher classes give it with exactly the same sound that it has in the speech of educated Yankees.
Men are, however, not alone in expecting a gentleman to stand something. As I was walking through a narrow street in Birmingham, I saw a comfortable-looking dame of decent mien at the door of a little house, and, asking her some trifling question, fell into talk with her. She soon invited me in, with that freedom of hospitality which I found common wherever I went. I entered what proved to be her kitchen and living-room. It was very tidy and orderly. There was a fire in the grate, and the kettle was singing and puffing upon the hob. There were two other women of her sort there, chatting (everybody in England seems to have time and inclination to talk), and they kindly allowed me to enter into conversation with them. But erelong one of them said, “ Perhaps the gentleman would like to treat us.” I was startled, for it was my second day in England, but of course assented. When the question was put, “ Shall it be beer or gin ? ” I announced to my entertainers that I was perfectly indifferent on that point, and taking out half a crown gave it to one of them and bade them good-morning; for I must confess that in my inexperience upon the subject of gin and beer in England, I felt very doubtful into what hands I had fallen. The probability is that they were perfectly respectable people of their class. It was merely a custom of the country.
As to the disposition to drink intoxicating liquors which has made drunkenness a national vice in England, it is to be said that there are reasons for it which do not exist in other countries. England lacks good water, and produces no wine. Although I drank much less water while I was there than I ever did during the same length of time before, I did drink much more than I am sure any native of the island does in thrice that time. But only twice did I have a draught of pure “ soft ” water Nor in my walks and drives did I see one spring. Of course there are springs enough there; but I think that in the southern part of the country at least they must be much less common than they are in New England and in the Middle States, where one can hardly take a country walk without coming upon one of these clear, cool, over-brimming cups of pure refreshment offered by the hand of Nature. Many people cannot drink the unqualified water of England with out being made illThen the climate itself makes stimulants more welcome, if not more necessary, there than elsewhere ; and it also increases the capacity of stimulating drink. I was surprised not only at the quantity that I could drink at any time and at all times with impunity, and with apparently good effect, but at the eagerness with which my whole body seemed to imbibe it. I shall never forget a certain place — it was in Fleet Street, I believe — where porter was to be had at a penny a pot. It is well known for the quality of its tap, and a friend took me to it one day, saying that he would “stand tuppence” and give me a treat. We had just had a hearty breakfast; but as I turned up my glass of this black fluid I seemed to absorb a good part of it on its passage down my throat. It was of delicious flavor, cool without being cold, and of an inexpressible lightness, notwithstanding its thick, heavy look. There was a stream of people going in and out, and I was told that the stream of people and of porter did not cease from morning till night. In America I should as soon think of drinking pure alcohol directly after breakfast as a glass of porter.
These material and consequent physiological conditions should always be considered in judging English habits of drinking. Moreover, there is the traditionary custom. Time out of mind beer has been the common beverage in England. It has not been so in America. The establishment of public breweries requires time and capital which the early colonists had not to spare for that purpose ; nor had they in their small households the means of supplying themselves with home-brewed malt-liquor. Consequently the stimulating beverages of this country have been until lately rum, cider, whisky, and imported wine. The first was nearest at hand in the West Indies, and was afterwards made in New England; the second came into use soon after the apple orchards reached maturity ; whisky began to be made after there was grain enough to spare from making bread. Wine was a luxury. Hence in the early colonial days women and children commonly drank no beverage of this kind, except a little cider, wine being a luxury for the wealthy; and this custom, coming of necessity, and strengthened in New England by puritan asceticism, extended a gradually diminishing influence even to our own day. Beer was almost unknown, and was regarded, perhaps not altogether without reason, as a very coarse drink. For example, I can say that although not unfamiliar in my boyhood with cider and good wine (including, by the way, such Madeira as I did not taste in England) I had not drunk four pints of beer before I left college. In England a boy might drink four pints in a day, although he might not do so every day. In England the custom of brewing beer at home is still kept up at many of the great houses. I expressed surprise at this, as brewing is such a troublesome operation, particularly when performed on a small scale, and as such excellent beer may be had by the cask or the dozen, left at every door even in the country. The reply was characteristic. It was that it having been found upon calculation that the cost of the home-brewed beer and the public brewers’ beer was about the same, those who had large households chose to keep up their old custom. Plainly, if home-brewing had been a little more costly, economy would have kicked the beam, and old custom would have gone up into the air.
The outcome of all this is that water as a fluid for internal application is treated with very little respect in England. Possibly so much is applied by nature to the inhabitants externally that they think they have quite enough of it in that way. Of every other thing drinkable you see a plentiful supply all around you; but Dives did not beg Lazarus for wine ; and if you have that thirst upon you that nothing but cold water can slake, you must needs, like the rich man in the parable, put up your special petition for it. And if you ask a butler for a glass of water at the dinnertable, not improbably he will receive the request with such a look of fish-eyed wonder as he might put on if a chance whale should wallow into the diningroom and ask for the material for a spout; and then you may see him turn to a footman — lower means suit lower ends — and say, “Tubbs, ah, ah, gloss of — ah — wa-a-ter.”
Notwithstanding the enormous quantity of beer and wine and spirits now consumed in England, and the besotted condition of so large a number of the lowest class (and the largest class) of the people, the consumption and the drunkenness are gradually diminishing, not positively, but in proportion to the population. Those who had observed society there for many years assured me that the change for the better was appreciable, although not great; and a lady who was the mistress of a house in which the family consisted almost entirely of men, and in which dinner parties, mostly of men, were frequent, told me that she, who controlled the whole household supplies, had remarked a steady but slow diminution during the last fifteen or twenty years in the quantity of wine required, although the number of the entertainments and of the guests at each had somewhat increased. England seems, therefore, to be gradually freeing herself from the vice which for so many centuries has been regarded as national in her. It will be long before she is able to cast it off completely; for the subject is involved with one of the most important principles of constitutional liberty, the freedom of individual action, the liberty of the subject or the citizen. Moreover, in England the brewers and the licensed victuallers are a great power. Nor is abstemiousness so easy or so desirable as it is in America; and hardest although most desirable of all things everywhere is, not abstemiousness, but temperance.
Richard Grant White.
- Not unreasonably some of my readers might suppose that this picture was highly colored; but a day or two after this article was sent to the press, I found in a New York newspaper the following extract from the London Telegraph: —↩
- “ No substantial progress can be made in the laudable enterprise of grappling with the curse of strong drink in this country until the fact is more largely and more candidly recognized that women as well as men are accustomed to get outrageously tipsy. Although the proportion of women sots is not so large as that of men, a female drunkard may be more mischievous than a male one, because the home, when the wife and mother drinks, must inevitably be broken up, and the children, in the majority of instances, take after the drunken habits of the parent of whom they see the most. A very painful illustration of this recently came under the notice of the magistrate at Marlborough Street, when a married woman, who was brought up on remand as a 'drunk and disorderly,’ herself applied, under the Habitual Drunkards’ act, to be sent to a home for inebriates. The poor woman had been married twenty-three years, and had brought up a numerous family, but latterly she had taken to drinking to excess, had turned her two daughters into the street, and threatened to tear her boy’s tongue out and to set fire to the house.”↩