The Attainment of Temperance


IT is common ground that some public control of the sale of alcoholic beverages is needed, with a view to securing moderation in consumption, and proper standards of quality and strength. The problem has been attacked by legislatures in various ways, including the method of prohibition, which in some instances has been abandoned as a failure. The abandonment of prohibition has resulted from the realization that legislative restraints which exceed the sanctions of public opinion are unsuccessful, are regarded as tyrannies, and thereby create reactions contrary to the public weal. That legislation which first regards public opinion, and then guides it, gets farthest.

England is a striking example of a country which is becoming notably and progressingly temperate, and this through the education and enlightenment of the people as much as, if not more than, through administrative control. Drunkenness is seldom seen; it is condemned in all classes, and the offender soon knows it. Although a restriction is placed on hours of sale, there is not the special control as in Canada of the sale of spirits. During the period 1924—:29 the drop in the consumption of spirits was 58 per cent, of beer 28 per cent, while the importation of wines increased 34 per cent. These figures hold despite an increasing population. Recently statistics of the consumption of alcohol were gathered at three large, fully licensed refreshment houses, where people congregate not only to take refreshment but to converse. These houses serve together an average of 40,000 such persons a day. The average estimates of these three houses per day showed that 82 per cent of the customers took no alcohol, and, of the 18 per cent who did, the large majority drank beer or light wine. These are notable figures, and are in some measure accounted for by the excellent surroundings afforded by the houses in question.

Now this does not mean that the 82 per cent who took no alcohol are total abstainers; far from it. It shows rather that a large proportion of the customers were not availing themselves on that particular occasion of the opportunity to take wine or beer. They were not making the good things of life commonplace by the monotony of too frequent repetition. In England, to promote temperance further, the ‘public house’ should be replaced by establishments incorporating all that the ‘hostelry’ used to stand for. There are such hostelries in London serving many millions of persons annually, and inquiry would show that in them the sale of alcoholic drinks amounts to less than 8 per cent of the general trade.

Is there not in the figures I have been citing a lesson for the statesman? Encourage the conditions which give such good results and such useful instruction in the art of living. Persuasion and guidance are the essence of leadership. Governments should lead often, and coerce seldom.

Some provinces of Canada have tried and abandoned prohibition, which widens and misdirects the consumption of alcohol, and, by causing that consumption to be clandestine, favors the stronger drinks and the creeping in of dangerous impurities. Even now, except in Quebec, the regulations are faulty in that their operation favors drinking apart from eating, the consumption of spirits rather than of wine, and do not secure sufficient supervision over that great desideratum of quality which is a most important factor in the promotion of temperance.


I would not have it thought that in my opinion alcohol is a necessity of every man’s existence. Many men are better or equally well without it, just as there are men better without meat, and others better without, say, sweets or cigarettes. Teetotalers please note this. It is agreed that the child and the adolescent should not take alcohol. Alcohol is not a necessity of existence, but an attribute of the art of living, and, taking man as a social being, it can add in a unique way to his health and content. I submit that to say that because alcohol is used in excess by some it should be abandoned by all is unsound reasoning. The general application of this argument would lead us to negation and gloom. Because some love too well rather than wisely, are we to cease our worship of Venus? Because speech sometimes maddens us, are we to ordain silence?

It is true that alcohol is a food. It provides energy, and does not require digestion. It can in a measure replace fats and carbohydrates, but to be told that one ounce of alcohol is the equivalent of one ounce of butter leaves a man cold.

We take alcohol because it adds to the relish and aids the digestion of our food when we are weary with the day’s strivings. ‘Use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake and thine often infirmities,’ says Saint Paul. Alcohol gets the mind out of the groove left by concentration on the day’s work and helps it to roam over pastures new, brightens the outlook, brings cheerfulness and content, and aids preparation for the next day’s duties. It further rids the sensitive man of his inhibitions, and sets his mind and tongue free. How well our forefathers understood this! Listen to what the Water Poet, John Taylor, of the early seventeenth century, says of beer: —

‘It is fragrant to the scent; it is most pleasant to the taste; the flowing and mantling of it with the verdant smile of it, is delightful to the sight; it is touching or feeling to the braine and heart; and to please the senses all, it provokes men to singing and mirth, which is contenting to the hearing. The speedy taking of it dothc comfort the heavy and troubled minde.’

The alcohol taken into the body is burned up, and at a certain rate. Until it is burned up it resides in the blood. If the blood constantly contains alcohol, the tissues and therefore the health of the body deteriorate. What emerges? That the drinking of alcohol must not be frequently repeated, that it must not be taken strong, and that it must be free of deleterious impurities so rife in prohibition countries. Little and good is the watchword — and the reason for emphasis on the good is that good beers and wines, and especially wines, owe their virtues not only to their alcoholic content, but to those subtle‘compound ethers’ which, though imponderable, exert so notable an influence. A glass of claret, of hock, of beer — give the equivalent of each in pure alcohol correspondingly diluted, and does it produce the same effect? By no means. It is the subtle content, the charm, that gives each its own quality. To talk of substitutes for the juice of the grape is an impiety. As well replace the flowers of your garden mid their radiance by the productions of the factories. Seek, then, that discernment of quality which requires moderation in quantity and choice of occasion. That is why the lighter wines are so worth the cultivating.


Our ancestors up to the sixteenth century understood this admirably. All classes drank home-brewed ale, and the lighter wines of France, and enjoyed their frolic and fun in Merrie England. Though at times they dropped into excess, it was not by intention, and the act was unhonored. The same was true in Elizabeth’s time. The habits of the humbler people were well described in such words as these: ‘And now and then surffetting and drunkennesse, which they rather fall into for want of heed-taking than wilfullie following or delighting in those errours of set mind and purpose . . . they take it generallie as no small disgrace if they happen to be cupshotten.’

The following tribute by Lemmius, a foreign observer, who wrote in 1560, is worthy of notice: —

‘At their tables, althoughc they be very sumptuous, and love to have good fare, yet neyther use they to overcharge themselves with excesse of drincke, neyther thereto greatly provoke and urge others, but suffer every man to drincke in such measure as best pleaseth hymselfe; which drinck being eyther Ale or Beere, most pleasaunte in taste and holsomely relised, they fetch not from foreine places, but have it amonge themselves brewed.’

A different picture is shown by the following from an old record giving the charges for the diet of Mary Queen of Scots at Tutbury and elsewhere: ‘For ale bought at dyverse pryces 1148 gallons at 9d the gallon.’ One can only conclude that the guard were numerous and thirsty!

I cannot resist quoting also from ‘A new boke of the natures and properties of all wines that are commonly used in England,’ by William Turner in 1568, a volume with which Shakespeare was probably familiar: —

‘Seeing that Almighty God, our Heavenly Father hath given thee this noble creature of Wine, so many way profitable for our bodies and minds, thank Him with all thy heart, not only for it, but also for that He hath sent learned physicians to tell thee how, in what measure, and in what time thou should use them, and not use them, and for what complexions and ages they are good, and for what complexions and ages they are evil.’ It is interesting to note that the author was himself a physician, and thought well of his profession!

As the seventeenth century advanced, though wine became more expensive and therefore less widely drunk, it remained mild in strength — claret, canary, sack, tent. It was only preserved in barrels, for, until the beginning of the eighteenth century, bottles were only used to serve wine; they were globular in shape, and thus could not lie down but only stand. Further, tight-fitting corks were unknown.

The corkscrew was discovered at the end of the seventeenth century — alas, the discoverer has hitherto remained unknown. Should his name be found, will not a statue be reared to his fame? And I ask, by way of speculation, in what country first?

In the early eighteenth century began trouble. First the stronger wines of Portugal were, for political reasons, favored, the lighter wines disappeared and the increased importation of brandy followed, and then to raise revenue the government allowed distilleries for coarser spirits to be erected in England. A disastrous change to spirit, including gin drinking, spread over the country. Drunkenness took possession of all classes; for over one hundred years there was no abatement, and for one hundred and fifty years no advance toward temperance. It took a long while to undo that tragic error. It has been in large measure undone now and we are well on the way to appreciate the virtues and the pleasure of wine and beer, good in quality and small in quantity.

Wine was part of the earlier civilizations of Egypt, Greece, and Rome. Its use pervades the Bible throughout. It is entwined in history; it is the emblem of the Highest Act of Remembrance. In the words of Solomon: ‘Wine drunk in season and to satisfy is joy of heart and gladness of soul.’ It is with us for that happy purpose.